Articles Posted in Health Care Reform

ACAsigning-300x176As the coronavirus pandemic causes Americans sky-high anxiety about their health and how they might access and afford extensive medical treatment if infected, the nation slid with only modest public attention into the second decade of one of its landmark health care experiments — the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare became the law of the land on March 23, 2010, when the 45th president signed the 2,000-page bill for which he had campaigned long and hard. Republicans in the White House and Congress have attacked the ACA relentlessly ever since.

Researchers have spent a decade scrutinizing the ambitious act’s outcomes with zeal. The New York Times summarized some of the independent, nonpartisan evaluations, finding key areas that the public may wish to recognize in how Obamacare changed the complex U.S. health care system, on which Americans spend more than $3.5 trillion annually. In brief, as a result of the ACA, the newspaper reported (with boldface emphases mine):

hhslogo2-150x150The Trump Administration, to its credit, has put out finalized new rules that aim to give patients greater access to and use of their all-important medical records, now mostly captured and contained in electronic form.

Federal officials had to battle a handful of wealthy, powerful corporations that own and install proprietary software and computing systems to try to help patients.

They also instantly created major new concerns with their “interoperability” regulations for doctors and hospitals:

acapopularpoll-300x168Timing may be everything in life and the law: The U.S. Supreme Court — while giving the Trump Administration a small political break for now — may give the president’s fall reelection campaign plenty of upset still. Whether the court will give the country a health care disaster is another question.

The high court, acting on a request by Democratic state attorneys general, has agreed once more to consider the fate of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, on an expedited basis, even before a federal trial court and appellate judges finish their consideration of the latest legal challenge to the ACA.

This will be the third time the justices have taken up an ACA lawsuit, with this challenge representing not only  another Republican attack on government-assisted health insurance for the poor, working poor, and middle class. This also may be a legal extreme for questioning Obamacare, as the New York Times reported:

Budget-300x156President Trump’s 2021 budget proposal is thicker than an old-fashioned phone book. Lots of the document became little more than chaff the instant it was printed, due to the likelihood of big changes in the spending plan by congressional Democrats and lawmakers of the president’s own party.

The fiscal wish list, unsurprising at its contents were, may raise a big political question: How, with evidence like this, does the leader of the free world campaign on a counter-factual argument that his policies and practices protect and advance the health of the American people — a prime concern, pollsters say, of the voting public?

The $4.8 trillion Trump budget, for example, proposes to slash the Medicaid and food stamp programs by $1 trillion over a decade, with presidential critics noting the various, sometimes bureaucratic means to do so, ultimately, will reduce desperately needed social supports and throw millions of vulnerable Americans off aids for their health care. (Federal courts, including the appellate panel overseeing Arkansas, have rejected the latest way the administration and GOP states have sought to reduce Medicaid costs by imposing draconian work, reporting, and qualifying rules.)

commonwealthglobalhccostcomp-300x225If rigorous research drove policy making in a more optimal fashion than it now apparently does, how might politicians and regulators react to findings like these:

The well-respected Commonwealth Fund has revisited earlier studies, finding anew that the United States “spends more on health care as a share of the economy — nearly twice as much as the average [industrialized Western European] country — yet has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 nations. The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden and an obesity rate that is two times higher than the average [in comparable Western industrialized and European countries.] Americans had fewer physician visits than peers in most countries, which may be related to a low supply of physicians in the U.S. Americans use some expensive technologies, such as MRIs, and specialized procedures, such as hip replacements, more often than our peers. Compared to peer nations, the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.”

Even while spending more than any other nation on health care and getting poorer outcomes, which Americans bear the heaviest burdens of the system’s costs? Here’s what researchers at the nonpartisan and independent RAND Corporation have found in a newly published study:

mlk-300x207With the nation taking a holiday to celebrate the remarkable life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his pioneering push for Americans’ civil rights, it may be worth remembering that his far-reaching visions of equality and social justice were deeply unpopular in their time, as was he.

King infuriated many, including in medicine and health care, observing, for example, that:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

CaseDeaton-300x169Even as economic inequity and inequality fuel a nationwide plague of “deaths of despair,” a runaway and inefficient health system hits Americans hard in their pocketbooks, in effect imposing an $8,000 annual tax on every household, a pair of leading economists say.

The crushing cost of the U.S. health system, exceeding $1 trillion a year, forces all Americans to pay this “tribute,” as if it were going to a foreign power, except this is a toll on themselves that we tolerate and allow, say Anne Case and Angus Deaton. The Princeton economists have reached this conclusion, as part of their research for their upcoming book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.”

Case told economists at a San Diego conference: “A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us.”

alexahhs-150x150cmsseemav-150x150Here’s a point to ponder: A quarter of Americans say they or someone they know has put off treatment for a serious medical condition due to cost. That’s the worst such response pollsters at Gallup have gotten on this matter in almost three decades.

Two people have a lot to say about Americans’ health care finances, including their insurance, drug prices, and protections if they are poor, old, young, or chronically ill, physically or mentally. But, gee, the duo of Alex and Seema just can’t get along. They’re not playing nice. It’s gotten so bad that their big bosses, Don and Mike, have called them both in for a tough chat about working together.

carecostdelaychart-300x215Now, if it were you and me, and the office politicking got so out of hand that it attracted enough national attention to potentially embarrass majordomos of the organization, wouldn’t there be a screen door banging with some suits also getting tossed to the curb?

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

shooting-300x201When it comes to key health concerns of the American public, President Trump and his administration have offered evidence anew that whatever they say may not last to the next political moment, that inaction is its own powerful kind of action, and that what officials say they’re doing may be exactly the opposite.

This is not intended as partisan commentary. It reflects the turn of a few news cycles and how Trump and his officials have dealt with:

  • The outbreak of serious lung illnesses and deaths tied to vaping
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