Photograph of a Medicare for All rally

Medicare-for-All Wouldn’t be Medicare if it Eliminated Private Insurance

By Robert Field

Should Medicare-for-All replace private insurance? That question, although central to many current health reform debates, presents a fundamental contradiction. If Medicare-for-All were to eliminate private coverage, it wouldn’t be Medicare, which has made room for private insurers from the start.

Medicare could have been designed as a pure single payer with comprehensive coverage for all health care needs. However, that approach would have risked alienating several important constituencies, including the insurance industry, and provoking their opposition. Before the program was enacted, private Insurers enjoyed a sizeable market through which they sold coverage of some sort to about half the nation’s elderly. Medicare eliminated that market but created an attractive new one to replace it. It did this by enabling insurers to sell Medigap policies that filled some of the program’s most significant coverage gaps, such as coverage for vision and dental care, and that reduced or eliminated its sizeable copayments and deductibles. When the program launched, more than 80 percent of beneficiaries who had previously maintained private coverage purchased these new supplemental policies. Medicare also gave some insurers the chance to earn additional revenue by administering claims as carriers and intermediaries.

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Protesters hold up signs that read "everyone deserves healthcare"

The Future of Health Care? How States are Trailblazing Medicaid Buy-In Programs

States can be laboratories of health reform.

Massachusetts and Oregon expanded insurance coverage during previous periods of federal inaction, and with solutions unlikely to come from a politically divided Washington D.C., how will states tackle the problem of health insurance becoming increasingly unaffordable and unattainable for many families?

Is there a role for the government to play a greater role in making health insurance affordable and accessible? As public support for action on health care grows, what options are available to states now?

I spoke to former Petrie-Flom Student Fellow and Medicaid policy scholar Emma Sandoe about states that have begun to explore Medicaid Buy-In policies, which allow people to purchase government backed health insurance or Medicaid-like plans. Read More

a row of paper dolls holding hands

Administration’s Guidance on State Innovation Waivers under the ACA Violates the Act’s Statutory Guardrails

By Joel McElvain

This post was originally published on Take Care. 

The Affordable Care Act reformed the individual health insurance market to protect persons with pre-existing conditions. Insurers who participate in this market must sell plans with a standard set of comprehensive benefits, and may not deny coverage to, or impose higher premiums on, persons with pre-existing conditions.

Through legislative, regulatory, and litigation efforts, the Trump Administration has sought to depart from the ACA’s regime to allow the sale of plans that are medically-underwritten, offer more limited health benefits, or both.

The Administration’s latest such effort comes in the form of guidance by the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services that adopts a broader reading of the Act’s provision for state innovation waivers. Read More

"I voted" sticker on a finger.

Election Round Up: Medicaid Expansion is an Electoral Winner

With the midterm elections now behind us, I thought it was time to revisit a prior blog post where I discussed the prospects of state Medicaid expansion ballot propositions in Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska. I had predicted that despite the conservative nature of these states, Medicaid expansion would have a good chance of passing due to the program’s popularity.

Indeed, voters in all three states endorsed Medicaid expansion. It received 60 percent support in Idaho and 53 percent in both Utah and Nebraska.

The latter two results were closer than what I was expecting.

In the case of Utah this may because a funding mechanism was explicitly included as part of the ballot proposal. Regardless, this means that roughly 300,000 people will be newly eligible for Medicaid. Not only do may patients stand to benefit, but this could be a huge boon for struggle rural and safety-net hospitals. Read More

Anya Prince on Gene Therapy and Exacerbating Health Care Inequalities

Anya Prince, a legal scholar and thought leader in the field of genetic discrimination, will present a new paper at Monday’s Health Law Workshop that interrogates whether gene therapies will exacerbate inequalities in health care, as more treatments enter the market. “Gene Therapy’s Field of Dreams: If You Build It, Will We Pay?” focuses on some of the many issues raised by the prices of gene therapies.
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Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance Can Now Be Less Short-Term

Short-term, limited-duration insurance was designed as a temporary gap-filler while a person transitions from one kind of health insurance to a different plan or coverage. In 2016, recognizing its serious limitations, an Obama Administration rule mandated that coverage of short-term, limited-duration insurance be limited to three months, including any period of renewal.

But due to a final rule in August 2018 from the Trump Administration, short-term, limited-duration insurance coverage contracts can now last as long as one day short of a year, and can last as long as three years with renewals or extensions. The Trump Administration explained in its final rule that it selected this standard to promote access to choices of health coverage and to individual health insurance coverage. The rule also acknowledged this kind of insurance may not be the most appropriate or affordable for everyone. As of Tuesday, October 2, insurers can sell these “skimpy” plans for the extended duration.

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Don’t miss today’s Health Law Workshop with Matthew Lawrence

Matthew J. B. Lawrence is Assistant Professor of Law at Penn State Dickinson Law. From 2013 to 2015 he was an Academic Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center, where his research focused on civil procedure, health law, and administrative law. His scholarship has been published in the New York University Law Review, the University of Cincinnati Law Review, the Fordham Law Review, and the Indiana Law Journal. During his fellowship Matt also designed and taught a class at Harvard Law School entitled “Law and Medicine: The Affordable Care Act,” and spoke widely at conferences and events on health law issues.

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shopping trolley with medicine

Step therapy explained: An increasingly popular tool for cost control

News that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will allow Medicare Advantage programs to enact “step therapy” programs for drugs under Part B as part of an effort to combat rising drug prices has been making rounds in the health policy world recently.

Step therapy is used by all major private insurers and is aimed at curbing expenditures on expensive drugs. It requires that a patient to try a less expensive alternative treatment. Those who fail treatment with the less expensive drug would then be eligible for coverage of the more expensive treatment. Note that it is very similar to prior authorization, a ubiquitous policy tool in which a drug is approved for coverage only after ensuring certain clinical criteria are met.

What was once a relatively rare tool is now commonly used. I examined UnitedHealthcare’s list of step therapy drugs and there are now over 100 listings. This is an order of magnitude increase from the number of drugs listed just four years ago, when I first got interested in this issue.

Drugs listed for step therapy tend to be either new, extremely expensive therapies (e.g., 3rd-line biologics for rheumatoid arthritis, sofosbuvir for hepatitis C) or more expensive formulations of common drugs (e.g., extended release formulation of quetiapine).

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Insurers are making it harder for me to treat my opioid-addicted patients

By Brian Barnett, via the Washington Post

Brian Barnett is an addiction psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. On February 28, 2018, he was participated in the panel discussion Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred” at Harvard Law School. 

I’m an addiction specialist, and my voice-mail inbox is always nearly full. Some messages are from desperate individuals looking for outpatient treatment or help finding a detoxification program. Others are from patients needing a letter confirming their treatment for a child-custody dispute or care providers informing me that my patients have been hospitalized.

It’s hard to know what to expect, but invariably one type of message awaits: voice mails from pharmacies informing me that a patient’s insurance provider will not approve payment for the medication to treat their opioid addiction unless I obtain prior authorization from the insurer.  Read More

Forced Christian Arbitration Agreements Trivialize Health Care

It is no secret that more and more for-profit companies and non-profit organizations are using binding religious arbitration agreements as a means to bypass legal liability. It has been reported that entities that have little or no religious purpose, such as bamboo floor vendors and vocation cabin rental agencies, have quietly inserted binding arbitration clauses into everyday agreements. In the event of a dispute the consumers or victims cannot take these entities to a secular court, but rather to a religious tribunal that claims to be capable of settling any dispute using their interpretations of the Bible. A common reaction against these questionable practices follows this line of critique: shouldn’t religious arbitration, if tolerated at all, only be used for disputes concerning religious or spiritual matters on which the secular courts cannot adjudicate? What does buying bamboo floors or renting a vocation cabin have anything to do with Christian doctrines?

Unfortunately, these questions cannot adequately challenge the religious reasoning behind Christian arbitration agreements. This is due to the counter-intuitive fact that, according to relevant biblical texts, disputes settled in a so-called Christian arbitration tend not to be about important spiritual matters, but trivial matters instead. Here is the text pertaining to lawsuits among Christian believers:

“When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! 4    (1 Corinthians 6: 1-4)

At first look, these verses seem to make a strong case for Christian arbitrations. However, upon a closer look, it could be argued that Christians can still settle disputes with others in court under certain circumstances. Verse 1 suggests that Christians shouldn’t “dare to go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints,” but it only excludes the court system if we assume that the judges at the civil courts are all “unrighteous sinners”. What if they’re not? What if some judges turn out to be devout Christians in private or possess “righteous” and “saintly” qualities? The remaining verses all point to the scope of judging powers the believers are entitled to, since they are to judge the entire world and even angels. Nonetheless, the structure of these rhetorical questions is meant to convince the believers that because they are qualified to judge angels, trivial earthly matters should be a piece of a cake. Since the disputes between Christians are not at all about angels or the whole world, these lines essentially imply that the matters that fall under the purview of Christian arbitrations are precisely trivial matters pertaining to this life on earth, not complicated spiritual affairs. Read More