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eridani

Profile Information

Gender: Female
Hometown: Washington state
Home country: USA
Current location: Directly above the center of the earth
Member since: Sat Aug 16, 2003, 02:52 AM
Number of posts: 42,916

About Me

Major policy wonk interests: health care, Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid, election integrity

Journal Archives

Hospital's lack of contract renewal with insurers unknowingly puts patients out of network

Georgia Health News
http://www.georgiahealthnews.com/2014/11/grady-blue-cross-impasse-contract-expires/

Contract standoffs between hospital systems and health insurers typically have a way of being resolved — often right before a deadline.

But high-stakes negotiations between Grady Health System and Georgia’s biggest insurer failed to produce a new contract before the midnight deadline Sunday.

That means Grady Memorial Hospital is now “out of network” for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia members. Patients with Blue Cross insurance will face higher out-of-pocket costs at the Atlanta hospital and its clinics.

Lindsay Caulfield, senior vice president of public affairs at Grady, said in a statement Monday that Blue Cross “pays our health system up to 70 percent less than it pays other Georgia hospitals. By paying us unfairly low rates, Blue Cross Blue Shield has long put Grady at a disadvantage and threatens our long-term sustainability.”

Grady proposed several compromise plans, Caulfield said, “but Blue Cross continually refused to move in their position in any meaningful way.”

The lack of an agreement will affect Blue Cross in trauma services, where Grady has a strong profile, Smith said. But he added that he believes the two sides will eventually reach a new deal. “It’s going to be very difficult for any hospital not to have the largest payer in the state,’’ he said.


Comment by Don McCanne of PNHP: We’ve heard similar stories many times before. The largest insurer in Georgia, WellPoint’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, has been unable or unwilling to negotiate a contract renewal with Grady Memorial Hospital, the home of one of the most prominent trauma centers in the nation.

Although Grady will continue to provide emergency services, it is the patients who will be exposed to excessive costs, only because we have a system in which we insist that private, for-profit, autonomous corporations be allowed to take charge of our health care dollars.

The solution is obvious - fire WellPoint and the other private insurers and replace them with our own single payer national health program - an improved Medicare that covers everyone.

Maybe You Don't Need Long-Term Care Insurance After All

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-11-12/maybe-you-don-t-need-long-term-care-insurance-after-all.html

Report from Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
http://crr.bc.edu/briefs/long-term-care-how-big-a-risk/

Mediciad.gov - Community-Based Long-Term Services & Supports
http://www.medicaid.gov/affordablecareact/provisions/community-based-long-term-services-and-supports.html

The biggest threat to a retiree's nest egg isn't a stock market crash. It's a long illness requiring round-the-clock care.

The statistics behind that scenario -- $81,000 a year for a nursing home, $184,000 for 24-hour home care -- are what sells long-term care insurance policies. But while past research suggested that many more people needed the coverage than bought it, a new study suggests that most people should just skip it.

The study, by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, focused on singles, who now make up the majority of Americans. Long-term care insurance makes financial sense only for the richest 20 to 30 percent of unmarried people, it finds. For the rest, it makes more sense to go without. If they need care, spending down their assets and then letting Medicaid pick up the tab is the most practical solution.

Long-term insurance can pay off for wealthier singles, even under the Center’s new math. It takes $260,405 in assets, or about $90,000 in annual income, to put a household in the top 25 percent, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Congressional Research Service estimate. These affluent customers can afford the premiums, and insurance can protect their heirs' inheritance if that's a goal. The same logic works for couples, but only if they're even wealthier. Webb warns that forthcoming research will show long-term care insurance makes even less sense for married couples than it does for singles.


Comment by Don McCanne of PNHP: The Affordable Care Act included Senator Ted Kennedy’s Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (CLASS Act) which would have provided long-term care. Unfortunately the specifics of the CLASS Act proved to be unworkable and thus it has been suspended. But according to this new study, unless you are wealthy, you do not need long-term care insurance anyway. Most of us can simply spend down our assets and then Medicaid will take care of us.

Think about how that could apply to the increasing use of patient cost-sharing, especially the ever-higher deductibles. We could eliminate individual health insurance coverage. When individuals are faced with expensive acute or chronic conditions, they could simply spend down their assets and then go on Medicaid to cover their future health care costs.

The obvious flaw in all of this is that it would require near destitution for us to have our heath care expenses covered. Other nations automatically cover these expenses for everyone without forcing them to relinquish their assets. It is a sad commentary that we accept the policy that a person must go broke before we will provide them with long-term care. This should not happen in a caring society.

But what are we doing with moderate-income individuals and families right now? We are requiring cost-sharing, especially deductibles, at a level that wipes out liquid assets for many of them, if they even have such assets. Financial hardship has become an expected consequence for far too many people who have significant medical needs. It is primarily wealthier individuals and families who have the assurance of being able to obtain health care without losing their assets.

Long-term care should be covered by our health care financing system, and significant cost-sharing should be eliminated. A single payer system would ensure that all of us could get the care we need, including long-term care, without adverse financial consequences.

If we really do expect that people should use their personal assets to contribute to the financing of health care, do it through estate taxes, but make the taxes equitable, that is, progressive. Do not take away from our seniors what little they have in the final years of their lives.

And do not charge the estate specifically for the amount of health care that was given. We shouldn’t deprive families of their modest inheritances just because medical bills were high late in life. Estate tax rates should not apply to smaller estates, but then the rates should increase with the size of the estate, unrelated to whatever health care costs the family faced. Yes, the rich would pay more, but that’s the way it should work in a caring society.



My Insurance Company Killed Me, Despite Obamacare

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/11/24/how-the-health-care-bureaucracy-killed-me.html

Malcolm MacDougall, a prominent speechwriter and creative director, was diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year. Even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, his insurance company delayed and denied cancer treatments despite MacDougall paying his premiums. This is his story, in his own words, written five days before he died.

How far will a health-insurance company go to deny coverage when you are really sick?

How willing are they to risk their customers’ health and possibly their lives? Well let me tell you my experience with Health Republic and its affiliate MagnaCare.

For five months—ever since I was diagnosed with stage-four metastasized prostate cancer—they refused to pay my medical bills. On Oct. 20, a nurse with Health Republic overruled my oncologist and my primary-care physician and declared that a critical test to determine the progress of my cancer was unnecessary.

It seems she was wrong. As a result, I am writing this from Lenox Hill Hospital, where I am undergoing emergency tests and treatments ordered by three prominent New York doctors who didn’t agree with that health-insurance nurse.

This latest fiasco is not at all surprising. I have been fighting to get Health Republic and MagnaCare to explain why they suddenly and inexplicably refused to pay for my doctors and my treatments even though I followed their rules for members, went to their online list of providers, and actually received two form letters stating the treatments the doctors had ordered were legitimate.

It’s a long story, but if you want to know what it’s like dealing with the health-insurance bureaucracy when it’s a matter of life and death, you might want to stick with me.

Unable to Meet the Deductible or the Doctor

http://www.healthcare-now.org/unable-to-meet-the-deductible-or-the-doctor

Patricia Wanderlich got insurance through the Affordable Care Act this year, and with good reason: She suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2011, spending weeks in a hospital intensive care unit, and has a second, smaller aneurysm that needs monitoring.

But her new plan has a $6,000 annual deductible, meaning that Ms. Wanderlich, who works part time at a landscaping company outside Chicago, has to pay for most of her medical services up to that amount. She is skipping this year’s brain scan and hoping for the best.


“To spend thousands of dollars just making sure it hasn’t grown?” said Ms. Wanderlich, 61. “I don’t have that money.”

About 7.3 million Americans are enrolled in private coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than 80 percent qualified for federal subsidies to help with the cost of their monthly premiums. But many are still on the hook for deductibles that can top $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for families — the trade-off, insurers say, for keeping premiums for the marketplace plans relatively low. The result is that some people — no firm data exists on how many — say they hesitate to use their new insurance because of the high out-of-pocket costs.

Insurers must cover certain preventive services, like immunizations, cholesterol checks and screening for breast and colon cancer, at no cost to the consumer if the provider is in their network. But for other services and items, like prescription drugs, marketplace customers often have to meet their deductible before insurance starts to help.

While high-deductible plans cover most of the costs of severe illnesses and lengthy hospital stays, protecting against catastrophic debt, those plans may compel people to forgo routine care that could prevent bigger, longer-term health issues, according to experts and research.

Why Americans Are Drowning in Medical Debt

Because for actual sick people, insurance is a totally useless product. Most of the bankrupted Americans had it, to no avail.

http://www.healthcare-now.org/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt

After his recent herniated-disk surgery, Peter Drier was ready for the $56,000 hospital charge, the $4,300 anesthesiologist bill, and the $133,000 fee for orthopedist. All were either in-network under his insurance or had been previously negotiated. But as Elisabeth Rosenthal recently explained in her great New York Times piece, he wasn’t quite prepared for a $117,000 bill from an “assistant surgeon”—an out-of-network doctor that the hospital tacked on at the last minute.

It’s practices like these that contribute to Americans’ widespread medical-debt woes. Roughly 40 percent of Americans owe collectors money for times they were sick. U.S. adults are likelier than those in other developed countries to struggle to pay their medical bills or to forgo care because of cost.

California patients paid more than $291,000 for the procedure, while those in Arkansas paid just $5,400.
Earlier this year, the financial-advice company NerdWallet found that medical bankruptcy is the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. With a new report out today, the company dug into how, exactly, medical treatment leaves so many Americans broke.



Americans pay three times more for medical debt than they do for bank and credit-card debt combined, the report found. Nearly a fifth of us will hear from medical-debt collectors this year, and they’ll gather $21 billion from us, collectively.

Why Americans Are Drowning in Medical Debt

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/why-americans-are-drowning-in-medical-debt/381163/

After his recent herniated-disk surgery, Peter Drier was ready for the $56,000 hospital charge, the $4,300 anesthesiologist bill, and the $133,000 fee for orthopedist. All were either in-network under his insurance or had been previously negotiated. But as Elisabeth Rosenthal recently explained in her great New York Times piece, he wasn't quite prepared for a $117,000 bill from an “assistant surgeon"—an out-of-network doctor that the hospital tacked on at the last minute.

It's practices like these that contribute to Americans' widespread medical-debt woes. Roughly 40 percent of Americans owe collectors money for times they were sick. U.S. adults are likelier than those in other developed countries to struggle to pay their medical bills or to forgo care because of cost.
California patients paid more than $291,000 for the procedure, while those in Arkansas paid just $5,400.

Earlier this year, the financial-advice company NerdWallet found that medical bankruptcy is the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. With a new report out today, the company dug into how, exactly, medical treatment leaves so many Americans broke.

Americans pay three times more for medical debt than they do for bank and credit-card debt combined, the report found. Nearly a fifth of us will hear from medical-debt collectors this year, and they'll gather $21 billion from us, collectively.


The single-payer model: a foundation for professionalism

http://www.pnhp.org/print/news/2014/october/the-single-payer-model-a-foundation-for-professionalism


Dr. Brian Day, founder of Vancouver’s Cambie Surgery Centre, and other commercial specialty clinics are suing B.C. to allow private funding of medical care. This would facilitate expansion of private diagnostic and surgical procedures and undermine the single-payer model. The integrity of Canada’s entire health system could be at risk.

Advocates for commercialized healthcare funding, now prohibited by the Canada Health Act, often promote a “hybrid model.” In 2012, Dr. Day wrote in a newspaper column that European countries successfully combine universal care with a public-private system, but he failed to address the different contexts of North America and Europe.

European insurance and healthcare sectors are highly regulated. For instance, in France, even supplemental health-insurance funds are not-for-profit, unlike in Canada, where supplemental insurance, now limited to pharmaceuticals, dental, vision and complementary care, is offered by for-profit corporations.

Canada has extensive commercial ties to the United States, not to Europe, and were the “hybrid” advocates to prevail, U.S. insurers could invoke NAFTA to gain access to an expanding Canadian health-insurance market.

U.S. insurance companies are unlikely to submit to a European-style model in Canada, where regulation in most sectors is already more American than European because of harmonization under NAFTA.

Furthermore, these insurance companies have the resources to get what they want. In 2013 the leading U.S. health insurers reported $12.7 billion in profit on $313.7 billion in revenue (U.S. dollars). According to OpenSecrets.org, that same year health insurers spent $154 million on lobbying U.S. lawmakers.

Using their financial clout, they could quickly change the landscape in Canadian healthcare funding for not only procedural medicine but primary care, mental-health care and other specialties.

Costs Can Go Up Fast When E.R. Is in Network but the Doctors Are Not


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/29/us/costs-can-go-up-fast-when-er-is-in-network-but-the-doctors-are-not.html

Patients have no choice about which physician they see when they go to an emergency room, even if they have the presence of mind to visit a hospital that is in their insurance network. In the piles of forms that patients sign in those chaotic first moments is often an acknowledgment that they understand some providers may be out of network.

But even the most basic visits with emergency room physicians and other doctors called in to consult are increasingly leaving patients with hefty bills: More and more, doctors who work in emergency rooms are private contractors who are out of network or do not accept any insurance plans.

When legislators in Texas demanded some data from insurers last year, they learned that up to half of the hospitals that participated with UnitedHealthcare, Humana and Blue Cross-Blue Shield — Texas’s three biggest insurers — had no in-network emergency room doctors. Out-of-network payments to emergency room physicians accounted for 40 to 70 percent of the money spent on emergency care at in-network hospitals, researchers with the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin found.

“It’s very common and there’s little consumers can do to prevent it and protect themselves — it’s a roll of the dice,” said Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the nonpartisan center and an author of the study
.

Center for Public Policy Priorities study of out-of-network emergency room doctors:
http://forabettertexas.org/images/HC_2014_09_PP_BalanceBilling.pdf

KFF on state balance billing restrictions:
http://kff.org/private-insurance/state-indicator/state-restriction-against-providers-balance-billing-managed-care-enrollees/

Comment by Don McCanne of PNHP: A consequence of allowing health insurers to contract selectively with health care professionals (physicians) and institutions (hospitals) is that patients not only are financially penalized should they elect to obtain their care outside of the contracted networks, they may unavoidably face such penalties when they have sought care only within networks.

One of the more egregious examples is when they obtain emergency services at a contracted emergency room only to find out after the fact that the physicians staffing the emergency room are not in the network. The patient then is billed not only for deductibles and copayments applied to allowed charges, but also for the balance of the charges in excess of the allowed charges - a process known as balance billing.

“The Affordable Care Act provides some protections for enrollees in need of emergency services, but does not prohibit balance billing by out-of-network providers” (KFF). For further information on state restrictions on balance billing, use the KFF link above.

When something is not right, as it clearly isn’t here, it is important to define the problem before crafting a solution. State regulators and legislators are defining this as a problem of balance billing “abuse” and are looking at mechanisms to prohibit balance billing. But is that really the problem?

Insurers, with the complicity of state and federal legislators, have established limited networks of providers to leverage more favorable payment rates for health care services. But these rates neglect the health care delivery system outside of the networks. Now states are considering making out-of-network physicians comply with contracts to which they never agreed. That is as unreasonable as making insurers pay out-of-network fees in full simply because the insurers did not have a contract with the physicians. Do you have a contract or not? You can’t have it both ways.

The problem here needs to be redefined. Balance billing is not the primary defect. It is the nature of our complex, dysfunctional financing infrastructure that leads to a multitude of perverse consequences such as balance billing - an infrastructure that was perpetuated and expanded by the Affordable Care Act. We need to rebuild the infrastructure. We need a single payer national health program. Balance billing would not exist under such a system.

British Economist magazine on the Affordable Care Act

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21618788-americas-health-care-system-remains-dysfunctional-it-could-be-made-better-how-fix

It is now nearly a year since the roll-out of Obamacare.

Ironically the “socialist” Mr Obama did not do the one thing that might have cut taxpayers’ costs dramatically: introduce a European “single payer” health-care system. Instead he tried to tweak America’s system in two ways - to expand coverage and to reduce costs.

The results are mixed. Practically every competent health-industry lobbyist managed to insert a line protecting the services his paymasters provide - so Obamacare is too costly and too complicated.

So what would make American health care better now? Since its failings lie more within the system than with the president’s attempt to reform it, health reformers should concentrate on three areas that could make its flawed market work better: directing handouts towards the poor rather than the affluent, nudging individuals to take charge of their own health care, and making sure that prices are transparent.

If America wants to stick to the idea that it has a health-care market, then it should focus on trying to make it more like a market - with prices, competitors and some form of choice.


Comment by Don McCanne of PNHP: After telling us that it is ironic that President Obama did not introduce a single payer system, The Economist tells us that we should use prices, competitors and choice if we want to make our health care system more like a market. That seems odd advice since their system is not only single payer, it is socialized medicine - a national health service.

The Economist is not naive. They certainly know of the work of Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow showing us that markets do not work in health care. Maybe their recommendation for market reform of U.S. health care stems from their reputation as excelling in understated wit, but what the market approach has done to drive up costs and impair the functioning of our health care delivery system isn’t really very funny.

Let’s just take them at their word that a single payer system would have been a much more effective choice. And we can still make that choice.

MBAs vs MDs

http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2014/07/money-vs-mission-how-generic-managers.html

On Health Care Renewal, we emphasize problems in leadership and governance in large health care organizations, and how they affect health care professionals' attempts to carry out their mission, and ultimately how they affect patients' and the public's health. Large health care organizations are increasingly led by people trained in business, not health care professionals, thus generic managers. The stewards of these organizations, the members of their boards of directors or boards of trustees, are also increasingly current or former managers without direct health care experience. Yet all too often, health care leadership is ill-informed, incompetent, unsympathetic or hostile to health care professionals' values, self-interested, conflicted, dishonest, or even corrupt.

Recently, in an effort to "bridge the gap" between physicians and MBAs, a new article in Becker's Hospital Review by Todd Kislak discussed differences in the thinking and values among business trained health care managers and physicians. The author, an MBA, listed nine issues on which MDs and MBAs have different views. I have summarized below what appear to me to be the main points, somewhat reorganized from how he did it. Whether he meant to or not, Mr Kislak showed why physicians may have reason not to trust their new generic managers.

1. Making Widgets vs Treating Patients Mr Kislak wrote that MBAs see health care in terms of orderly, uniform and standardized processes, while physicians see it in terms of the complexity and variability of patients, the ambiguity of diagnosis, and the unpredictability of outcomes.

2. Scalability. As a rule, MBAs tend to seek solutions to problems in a way that they perceive to be scalable and replicable, trained in the belief that the capacity to perform repetitively and consistently leads to better efficiency and quality. One-off situations are by definition outliers, and as such their importance tends to be downplayed.
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