Symbol of law and justice, banknote of one dollar and United States Flag.

Saving Lives and Decreasing Costs: The Economic Case for Health Justice

By Wendy Netter Epstein

Most proponents of health justice will tell you that health is a fundamental human right. They will say that there is a moral imperative to eliminate health inequities and to give all people equal opportunity to lead a healthy life. And they will be correct. Health justice as a framework is driven by this narrative — the laudable goals of health equity and social justice.

What you aren’t as likely to hear from health justice advocates, however, is that health justice is economically efficient. To the contrary, most health justice advocates see its framework as an alternative to the markets, efficiency, autonomy, and individual responsibility that are the hallmarks of conservative ideology.

Yet, there is no question that health inequities are costly to the individuals that bear them, in higher health care expenses, missed days of work, and fewer years lived. There are also significant costs to society — both direct and indirect. According to one analysis, disparities lead to $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity per year.

Making the economic case for health justice, and noting how it is inextricably linked to the moral case, is crucial. Because not only is the framework bolstered by notions of both fairness and efficiency, but also, as a practical matter, getting legislative and regulatory buy-in to fund initiatives to address health inequities requires making the economic case.

If health inequities could be ameliorated, government health spending and other safety net spending would be drastically reduced, workforce productivity would increase, and even healthy and wealthy Americans — who are the most likely to oppose the health justice framework — would benefit.

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illustration of person tracking his health condition with smart bracelet, mobile application and cloud services.

Reforming How Medicare Pays for Digital Health

By Robert Horne and Lucia Savage

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as the digital revolution, leverages technology to blur the lines between products and services. In the health insurance sector, this revolution offers policymakers unique opportunities to improve coverage and payment efficiencies while providing meaningful benefits to beneficiaries.

Medicare could lead this charge. Congress has an opportunity to reform Medicare in 2024, when the Trust Fund will become insolvent. Policymakers expect Congress to address this problem legislatively to prevent interruptions in coverage for seniors.

If past behavior is any indication, the legislation will also include reforms to improve how the program operates and spends money. Reforms to Medicare’s traditional coverage and reimbursement approaches that harness the digital revolution can help the program secure additional value. We know this because other sectors of the U.S. economy that have fully embraced this revolution have realized additional value.

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Doctor working with modern computer interface.

To Set the Price Tag for Telehealth, First Understand Its Value

By Mary Witkowski, Susanna Gallani, and David N. Bernstein

As the economy reopens, a debate has emerged about whether to continue supporting telehealth and digital practices, or whether to return to pre-pandemic practices, practically relegating telehealth solutions and digital interactions to lower-value exceptions to traditional medical care.

The next set of regulatory and payment policies will likely set the trajectory for how digital health is integrated into the overall care model. We suggest that rather than making these policy decisions based on incremental thinking relative to historical pricing of in-person care, they ought to be based on an assessment of how they generate value for patients.

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Biden’s Early Focus: Durable and Attainable Private Insurance

By Zack Buck

Though health policy debates during the 2020 presidential primaries centered around expanding access to public health insurance programs (e.g., “Medicare-for-All”), the focus of the nascent Biden administration has been on making private health insurance more durable, not deconstructing it.

While these changes are likely to make private insurance plans more affordable and attainable, choosing to reinforce private insurance plans puts global systemic reform, the goal of many advocates, further out of reach.

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U.S. Capitol Building at Night

A Legislative Override Could Save the ACA (and Fix Other Misapplications of Health Laws)

By John Aloysius Cogan, Jr.

The Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration need not wait for the Supreme Court to determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas; they can take charge of the case today by enacting and signing into law overriding legislation. 

Since the threat to the ACA is based on the interpretation of a federal statute — the ACA’s “inseverability clause” — Congress is within its rights to take charge of the case. Why? Because courts are not the final word on the meaning of a statute, Congress is.

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Medical bill and health insurance claim form with calculator.

Price Transparency: Progress, But Not Yet Celebration

By Wendy Netter Epstein

Price transparency has long eluded the health care industry, but change — fueled by rare bipartisan support — is afoot. 

The Trump Administration promulgated new rules relating to health care price transparency, and the Biden Administration seems poised to keep them. Though patients have grown accustomed to going to the doctor and agreeing to pay the bill — whatever it ends up being — they aren’t happy about it. The majority of the public (a remarkable 91%) supports price transparency. And lack of access to pricing has long been a significant glitch in a system that relies on markets to bring down prices. 

Though recent rulemaking looks like progress, it is still too soon to celebrate. Questions remain about consumer adoption, the role that providers will be willing to play, and the impact that transparency will have on pricing. The possibility that transparency will worsen existing inequities also requires careful observation.

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Block Grants: Sound Theory or Doomed to Fail?

Block grants are all the rage. Take the latest G.O.P. proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act: the Graham-Cassidy bill. It proposes to replace the current system and instead give grants to the states, essentially taking the funds the federal government now spends under the ACA for premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion and give those funds to the states as a lump sum with little regulation.

There is a complicated formula by which the bill proposes divvying up this money among the states. Many think the formula is unfair, that it benefits red states over blue states, and that it just flat isn’t enough money. These are incredibly important concerns. But let’s put them to the side for just a moment and consider the theory behind block granting. Is there any world, for instance assuming that the amount and allocation of the funding could be resolved (probably crazy talk), in which switching to block granting may actually improve upon the status quo?

Proponents of block granting health care make two main arguments. First, it will reduce costs. By block granting Medicaid and the ACA subsidies, we end the blank check open entitlement that these programs have become and give states more skin in the game. Second, these cost savings will come from empowering states to innovate. States will become more efficient, improve quality, and solve their own state-specific problems.

These arguments have an understandable appeal. But how will states really react to providing health care coverage on a budget? Read More