Articles Posted in Insurance

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.

alexanderlamar-150x150murraypatty-150x150Doctors, hospitals, health insurers, and Big Pharma have become so abusive to patients with their billing and pricing that they may have accomplished what many consider a political impossibility   ̶  angering Democrats and Republicans in Congress as well as the White House, pushing them all toward bipartisan legislation and executive actions.

Don’t bet on the exact outcome of the latest stirrings. They’re grist for a surge in coverage by the New York Times (click here), Washington Post (here), Wall Street Journal (here),  Kaiser Health News (here), Modern Health Care (here), Stat (here), and Pro Publica (here). The stories point out that the partisan divide is too great for Congress and the White House to get near serious work on big health care-related issues like improving the Affordable Care Act.

So, instead, as the articles report, lawmakers are taking varying approaches to attack medical billing, particularly so-called surprise bills (out-of-pocket charges patients get hit with when they get medical services from providers outside their health insurance networks) and balance billing, when medical providers chase patients for charges above what they’ve already recouped from insurers. Health reporters have drilled down on stories about such billing outrages. Drug and hospitals prices also are big targets.

ctscan-300x214As Walmart tries to work with its 1 million-plus U.S. employees in controlling health care costs, the retailing giant has not only struck a blow for quality medical treatment, it also has raised key questions about a costly and booming specialization in health care: medical imaging.

Walmart decided to shake up this diagnostic field by telling its employees to pay more themselves or to first seek CT scans and MRIs at one of 800 imaging centers that a company-retained health care consulting firm has identified as providing high-quality care. Covera Health, a New York City-based health analytics company, “uses data to help spot facilities likely to provide accurate imaging for a wide variety of conditions, from cancer to torn knee ligaments,” Kaiser Health News Service reported.

KHN reporter Phil Galewitz said Walmart targeted improved imaging based on the giant retailers’ experiences already in funneling workers to select facilities its research has found to offer efficient, high-quality care in specific areas, such as organ transplantation, back and knee surgeries, and heart and cancer treatment.

Spending’s askew when billions go for unproven surgical robots while lack of affordable care leads thousands of poor, black, and brown patients to need diabetic amputations

amputations-300x171If U.S. health care leaders look ahead to 2020 and wonder why their sector of the economy will be one of the key concerns of presidential candidates and voters, they can only blame themselves for allowing the public to conclude that the industry’s big money and big profit drives have gone haywire.

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Even as more felony charges may follow in drug epidemic, sleep med warning suggests pill popping stays too popular

Five top executives at a major drug maker have been convicted of criminal racketeering for their aggressive and deceptive marketing of a fentanyl spray in a case that prosecutors long have said may warn corporate leaders about their culpability in the nation’s opioid painkiller crisis.

Federal jurors deliberated for 15 days before finding guilty John Kapoor, founder and CEO of drug maker Insys (shown at right). Jurors also convicted Richard M. Simon, former Insys national director of sales; Sunrise Lee and Joseph A. Rowan, both former regional sales directors; and Michael J. Gurry, former vice president of managed markets. As the New York Times described the case against them:

doud-300x175An estimated 400,000 Americans have died due to opioid drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017 — and the fatalities only are increasing. By 2025, according to expert forecasts, there will be 700,000 more opioid deaths. Prosecutors now are saying  that at least some of the causes of this crisis are nothing less than criminal behavior by people wearing white coats and ties.

Federal and state prosecutors are bringing felony charges against doctors and Big Pharma executives as if they were street drug dealers and crime bosses.

This formal faulting for the nation’s opioid crisis hasn’t yet spread widely among drug makers, those at the pinnacle of the pharma pipeline. The legal war, however, has resulted in aggressive steps by federal prosecutors accusing not only scores of doctors across seven states with improperly prescribing painkillers for cash and sex, but also with officials filing for the first time drug-trafficking charges against a major pharmaceutical distributor and two of its former executives.

AmProgressBIRcosts-300x245When patients battle with the desperate extremes of a disease like a fast-spreading cancer, it isn’t just the radiation and chemo therapies that sap their spirits, there’s a  demoralizing runner-up concern: The constant battling with doctors, hospitals, and insurers over medical bills.

Medical billing and insurance-related costs are so over the top that they pile up a half-trillion-dollars a year in burdensome administrative costs — half of which is excessive and wasteful, according to new research from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

The center reviewed past studies of administrative costs in U.S. health care, seeking to address criticisms of their methods and conclusions. Still, the new findings raise points that may stagger patients, policy makers, and politicians, say Emily Gee, a health economist for the group, and Topher Spiro, its vice president for Health Policy and a senior economic fellow.

Bracescamarrest-238x300Federal authorities have busted up what they say is a $1.2 billion Medicare fraud that should give taxpayers and patients pause about long-distance medical consultations and the huge sums of cash washing around the medical device industry.

Two dozen people, some of them doctors, have been charged in a complex ploy to gull seniors into asking about back, shoulder, wrist, and knee braces that were promoted as free on TV and radio ads nationwide. When the older adults called to inquire about the devices, they were transferred to telemarketing centers in the Philippines and Latin America.

In the far-away boiler rooms, trained operators extracted important personal information from callers, then connected them for “telemedicine” consultations with cooperating doctors. The MDs asked cursory questions before then prescribing the devices, whether needed or not. The orders were filled by select companies, which then would send out the braces and charge them to Medicare.

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