Articles Posted in Insurance

axiosinsurancecost-300x170With the 2020 presidential campaign obsessing early about health insurance rather than costly health care overall, voters may wish to reframe their thinking about coverage and candidates’ views on making it affordable. Their chief query may need to be this: Just how much of the vig should the bagman take?

That may be a blunt a way to put it, but is the vernacular of the criminal “protection” racket all that out of place here? Michael Hiltzik, a financial columnist for the Los Angeles Times, makes pretty much the same argument, that the bagman’s share ought to be zero.  Why not get rid of health insurers, he asks in a bit of evidence-based hyperbole? He finds the companies don’t fulfill much of a public mission, save, as a former insurance executive describes it, to make themselves money and to persuade all of us that they are essential. Indeed, as Hiltzik sees it, insurers are not just a rip-off but a failure in their own terms:

“Let’s start by examining what the insurers say are their positive contributions to healthcare. They claim to promote ‘consumer choice,’ simplify ‘the health care experience for individuals and families,’ address ‘the burden of chronic disease,’ and harness ‘data and technology to drive quality, efficiency, and consumer satisfaction.’ (These claims all come from the website of the industry’s lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). They’ve achieved none of these goals. The increasingly prevalent mode of health coverage in the group and individual markets is the narrow network, which shrinks the roster of doctors and hospitals available to enrollees without heavy surcharges. The hoops that customers and providers often must jump through to get claims paid impose costly complexity on the system, not simplicity. Programs to manage chronic diseases remain rare, and the real threat to patients with those conditions was lack of access to insurance (until the Affordable Care Act made such exclusion illegal). Private insurers don’t do nearly as well as Medicare in holding down costs, in part because the more they pay hospitals and doctors, the more they can charge in premiums and the more money flows to their bottom lines. They haven’t shown notable skill in managing chronic diseases or bringing pro-consumer innovations to the table.”

armstrong-240x300Neil Armstrong served as a naval aviator, test pilot, federal administrator, and a university professor. He earned his place in history as space pioneer — the first astronaut to walk on the moon. The American hero, who spoke the legendary phrase about “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind,” also now offers a textbook case about nightmares in health care. Can others avoid these by learning about what happened to him?

As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 flight, an anonymous tipster has disclosed information to two news organizations that his death was due to botched care. His family, which included a lawyer who represented their interests, reached a $6 million settlement with the community hospital involved.

Armstrong was known for keeping out of the media and public glare. His family kept that tradition in keeping private how he died in 2012, why, and the tense negotiations that resulted in the sizable payment to them by the hospital. Full information about his case may never be fully disclosed. But it already provides a possible series of check points for patients to protect themselves and their loved ones in dealing with doctors and hospitals:

insurerscam-300x188What happens when a whistle blower provides detailed information about a burly Texan  — with convictions for felony theft and felony injury of a child  — and a burgeoning scam to rip off health insurers for $25 million? Pretty much nothing. For years.

If that sounds outlandish, investigative reporter Marshall Allen has a doozy of a tale to tell about a crook in suburban Fort Worth, Texas named David Williams. His long-running defrauding of some of the nation’s biggest health insurers matters to us all because, as Allen reported for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site ProPublica:

“There are a host of reasons health care costs are out-of-control and routinely top American’s list of financial worries, from unnecessary treatment and high prices to waste and fraud. Most people assume their insurance companies are tightly controlling their health care dollars. Insurers themselves boast of this on their websites. In 2017, private insurance spending hit $1.2 trillion, according to the federal government, yet no one tracks how much is lost to fraud. Some investigators and health care experts estimate that fraud eats up 10% of all health care spending, and they know schemes abound. Williams’ case highlights an unsettling reality about the nation’s health insurance system: It is surprisingly easy for fraudsters to gain entry, and it is shockingly difficult to convince insurance companies to stop them. Williams’ spree also lays bare the financial incentives that drive the system: Rising health care costs boost insurers’ profits. Policing criminals eats away at them. Ultimately, losses are passed on to their clients through higher premiums and out-of-pocket fees or reduced coverage.”

saslowstory-295x300Twenty Democrats who are campaigning for president  took to network television for four hours and two nights last week to put health care as a central issue of their campaigns.

The format of this initial candidate “debate,” including hand-raised answers to complex issues, failed to allow the presidential aspirants to delve much into the details of their proposals. But tons of news coverage followed on — and likely will keep doing so up until Americans enter the voting booth — about Medicare, the government health coverage for seniors, and how it might be expanded to benefit tens of millions more. Those interested may wish to check out this podcast primer on the issue.

These future-looking discussions also already have tended to eclipse a key part of the existing Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration initiative that remains a subject of hot dispute a decade after its passage: The expansion of Medicaid, the federal program to assist the poor and working poor with health coverage.

reuterslogo-300x169The blame and shame for the opioid-drug overdose crisis that kills tens of thousands Americans annually has moved to yet another set of individuals and institutions now — judges and courts that handled Big Pharma lawsuits and may have been too quick to seal from the public information that would have warned of painkillers’ addictive and lethal characteristics.

Makers’ false claims about opioids and their problematic practices in promoting, selling, and distributing the drugs were hidden, too, in the “pervasive and deadly secrecy that shrouds product-liability cases in U.S. courts, enabled by judges who routinely allow the makers of those products to keep information pertinent to public health and safety under wraps,” Reuters reported.

The news agency dug deep into the judicial practices, finding:

logombh-300x61Nonprofit hospitals added almost $40 billion to their bottom lines in the last year and lavished a $3.5 million average salary on their chiefs. But their relentless grubbing for cash apparently was unsated still. The institutions, exempted from federal, state and local taxes in exchange for “community benefits” like charity care and financial support for patients in need, are acting like Dickensian debt collectors, harassing patients with lawsuits and wage garnishments.

Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative web site, partnered with MLK50, a local news organization, to describe the avalanche of financial travail with which Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has inundated its poor and middle-class patients in Memphis, Tenn. The hospital, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has filed more than 8,300 lawsuits pursing “aggressive collection practices [that] stand out in a city where nearly 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line.” As the journalists reported of Le Bonheur:

“Its handling of poor patients begins with a financial assistance policy that, unlike many of its peers around the country, all but ignores patients with any form of health insurance, no matter their out-of-pocket costs. If they are unable to afford their bills, patients then face what experts say is rare: A licensed collection agency owned by the hospital. Lawsuits follow. Finally, after the hospital wins a judgment, it repeatedly tries to garnish patients’ wages, which it does in a far higher share of cases than other nonprofit hospitals in Memphis. Its own employees are no exception. Since 2014, Methodist has sued dozens of its workers for unpaid medical bills, including a hospital housekeeper sued in 2017 for more than $23,000. That year, she told the court, she made $16,000. She’s in a court-ordered payment plan, but in the case of more than 70 other employees, Methodist has garnished the wages it pays them to recoup its medical charges.”

campaign2020-300x194Starting this week in Miami, 20 Democrats over the course of two nights will try to make the case that they deserve to be elected President. Now what will they and Republicans have to say about health care, which voters have declared a troubling issue that’s on the top of their minds?

In recent weeks, the current administration and members of the GOP could not have made clearer that Medicaid, Medicare, and, of course, the Affordable Care Act will be major matters to tussle over, still. Is health care a fundamental right or a privilege? Should the government assist the poor, working poor, and middle class with more affordable health care? Plenty of recent developments with federal social safety net programs will give politicians much to talk with voters about, including:

  • In Arkansas, a GOP-embraced notion — that the elderly, disabled, chronically ill, and children, as well as others who get health care help through the federal Medicaid program also should  work for their benefits or prove they cannot work — has flopped, as opponents warned it would. Instead, Harvard researchers found that Draconian measures requiring Medicaid recipients to repeatedly prove they could not work, were seeking employment, or had some kind of jobs “caused thousands of poor adults to lose coverage without any evidence the target population gained jobs,” the Kaiser Health News service reported. KHN’s article said, “the Harvard study is the first to provide evidence that the [Medicaid policy] change left [program participants] uninsured and did not promote employment. The results, based on a telephone survey of about 3,000 low-income adults in Arkansas, concluded that the law befuddled enrollees and that its mandatory reporting requirements led many to unnecessarily lose coverage.”

Praise be: Churches nationwide are leaping in with their congregations’ blessing and financial support, putting up small sums to buy up and wipe out one of the huge shames of the American health care system: patients’ medical debt.

The faithful work with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, N.Y., that provides the know-how to many kinds of donors to help eliminate bills that can crush patients and their loved ones for a lifetime, the Kaiser Health News service reported. Roxie Hammill wrote how this all works in modern medicine:

toomey-150x150casey-150x150Federal regulators have given up the unwarranted secrecy enshrouding their watchdog efforts on the nation’s most problematic nursing homes.

With prodding from the U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey (above left) and Republican Pat Toomey (above right), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) disclosed its list of hundreds of nursing homes that perform so poorly they are on the brink of regulators’ most dire supervision.

CMS had declined to disclose its candidates for designation  as a “Special Focus Facility” (SFF), preferring instead just to tell the public about its worst of the worst nursing homes, 88 facilities with the SFF tag that receive a targeted, higher level of inspection because of their poor performance. The most rigorous oversight can be resource intensive, and CMS can only scrutinize at the highest level a few poor performing homes, whose infamy is made public. When one facility “works its way off” an SFF designation by improving its failings, others are on the heretofore secret list to take their place.

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