Friday, November 15, 2013
Solving Two Federal Problems at Once: Lets Mail Information to Those Losing Their Inadequate Health Insurance
The efforts by both Congress and the President to ensure that people can keep individual health care policies which do not meet the Obamacare minimum coverage standards are so misguided that if it weren't for the fact that vulnerable people are being caused needless suffering it would be comical.
so far, there is no evidence that anyone is going to be worse off with the coverage now available to them on the exchange than they were with the policies being cancelled. In fact, information available to us from sources like the Kaiser Family Foundation, Business Insider, and Families USA about the characteristics of the policies being cancelled is that whatever peace of mind they provided to those paying for them was illusory.
The fact that this insurance did not meet Obamacare criteria means that it is highly likely that the coverage they had:
- Excluded the conditon for which they were most likely to need care
- Had a far higher deductible than the policies now available on the exchange
- And if it covered mental illness at all, did not do so at the same level as other covered illness.
Moreover, these policies were subject to cancellation as soon as they were needed (for example after a diagnosis of cancer or after a debilitating accident).
Yet these facts are of no help to people without access to information about their alternatives.
Here's one thought--instead of requiring insurance companies to continue making these inadequate plans available, why couldn't they be required to send individualized information about alternatives on the exchange at the same time they send the cancellation letters?
The fact that they already have the relevant information about their policy owners means that those individuals don't need the web site to find out about their options.
In retrospect, depending on any web site to provide all the information to everyone who needed it was a bad idea from the beginning. But letting people continue to pay good money for bad coverage is not the right solution.
Here's a win/win idea--why don't we activate an already existing but underused government resource to get individualized information out quickly to those who need it---the U.S. Postal System.
Friday, November 8, 2013
is that most of what I do is in the "no spin zone." I may agree or not with a holding or a policy, but my job is to explain--not (in my view) editoralize.
Unless something is really wrong--and this headline is really wrong. Obama: ‘I’m Sorry’ About Americans Who Are Losing Current Health Plans
Yes, I heard President Obama say he was "sorry" that people who "liked" their health insurance were losing it. But there are no facts to support the implied conclusion that they were reasonable in their affection.
So--are people "losing" health insurance they had because it provided so little coverage (so little value for money) that it was as good as being uninsured? Yes. But are there any identifiable people who experienced an illness, were satisfied with the level of coverage they had from these policies? Not that I've heard speak in any form that can be recorded for review.
I'm from Connecticut and to say that people are losing coverage they "liked" is to suggest that those unlucky enough to pay a peddler for a piece of wood shaped like a nutmeg "liked" it well enough to continue putting sawdust in their eggnog for years to follow. Sure, maybe they had thought they got a bargain and at the time could not have afforded a real nutmeg. But there's a solid old time English word for what they experienced: they were swindled. And would in no sense describe their feeling about the old block of wood as "liking."
What's missing here is any definition--let alone understanding--of what it means to "like" insurance coverage for which you are paying a monthly premium only to discover on needing it that it's not worth what you paid for it. People who had this insurance did so either because they were defrauded or because they had no other access to health insurance and were hoping for the best from it.
Here's my concern--I'm not qualified to assess the politics of this or even the longterm economics. But I do know that many vulnerable people who either now have solid, excellent insurance through Medicare, the VA or their jobs believe that they could lose it because of Obamacare. And that's simply not true.
All of us who are health law professors field questions from students, friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances about Obamacare all the time--and my answer to almost everyone until very recently was, "I don't know--we'll have to see what happens when it actually takes effect."
But here is something I do know---the people who are "losing" healthcare are losing something that was never worth having--and which, by the way, they would surely have lost instantly the first time they made a claim. Thus putting them in the same catagory of people from whom we have heard no complaints--those without access to health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or prohibitive premiums and now find it available and affordable.
Folks who are finding out that the coverage they had did not meet minimum standards and who now have the option of buying insurance that is worth what it costs may well not know the details yet--because they haven't been able to get on line to read about it. And if they were lucky enough to never have had to use their policies, they may never have known how little they had.
But lets not forget that the system we had was responsible for 62% of personal bankruptcies due to medical bills. And that includes a lot of people who had health insurance they "liked" but which proved inadequate when needed.
Not being a pundit--let alone an expert on presidential speech writing--I can't imagine how President Obama thought it was a good idea to make a promise that he had as much power to keep as that it wouldn't rain on anyone's Fourth of July Parade or that the entire United States would be covered by an even blanket of new snow on Christmas Eve.
Most people with "good" insurance through work face changes in doctors, hospitals, and covered medications just about everytime their employer re-negotiates their contract. It's a reality we all live with.
But are people who had adequate and affordable insurance losing coverage? To switch states for a moment, we have to all be from Missouri. Show us.
Until we see what options are available to these folks who were paying monthly premiums to plans, now being cancelled, which would not be there when needed, lets stop scaring people by telling them that the adequate insurance they do have is going to be taken away. And that they will become uninsured.
Sure, the roll out is a disaster--and in retrospect predictable once it became apparent how many states were declining the opportunity to set up their own exchanges and shifting the burden onto the woefully unprepared department of Health and Human Services.
But lets not confuse the messenger with the message. The actual insurance available is from private insurance companies--which for the first time must by law provide comprehensive health insurance for a fair price. There's no reason to think it will be worse than the expensive and inadequate plans it replaces. And certainly it will be far better than nothing. And it seems like the people directly affected by these cancellations know that because with all the glitches and apologies, the majority of Americans continue to support the increased access to affordable care insurance at the same rate they did when the bill was passed--three years ago!.
Getting back to being a professor, one of the biggest problems in explaining this topic is that it's a moving target and a substantial mistrust about sources of information. Once again, I recommend the non-profit and non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation which continues to gather and explain facts. If indeed the people "losing" their insurance do not soon have access to better coverage at an affordable price, then there is a serious problem far past computer glitches. Lets wait and see.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Dartmouth Institute has just published its Atlas of areal differences in utilization of prescription drugs by Medicare Part D recipients. The Atlas--unsurprisingly but disturbingly--details significant differences. Pharmaceutical interventions are classified as effective, discretionary (where there is diagnostic or therapeutic uncertainty), and likely to be harmful in the patient population at issue. A caveat, however, is that the report measured prescriptions filled and thus may underestimate actual provider behavior.
An initial variation involved sheer numbers of prescriptions, with a high average of 63 per year in Miami and a low average of 39 per year in Colorado (overall, the average was 49 standardized 30 day prescriptions filled per year per Part D beneficiary). In general, the Mountain West had the lowest prescription average and the Rust Belt and Appalachian states the highest. These differences could not be explained primarily by overall burden of disease but instead appear to reflect variations in provider prescribing practices. For example, the American Heart Association recommends use of beta blockers in heart attack patients for three years post-attack. However, rates of prescriptions for these drugs in the first six months ranged from highs of 94% to lows of under 68%, and persistence in the next six months was only slightly lower, ranging from highs of 92% to lows of under 68%. Variations in statin use were even greater, ranging from just over 91% in Ogden, Utah, to below 45% in Abilene, Texas. Interestingly, there was little correlation between effective use of beta blockers and effective use of statins.
The other two therapies analyzed in the Atlas were treatment of diabetes and treatment of patients with fragility fractures. Diabetic patients fared somewhat better than heart attack patients, albeit still with significant variations. Osteoporotic patients, however, fared dismally, receiving a high of 28% and a low of 7% with filled prescriptions for drug to combat osteoporosis after fragility fractures in sites other than the hip (such treatment is recommended to decrease the risk of future hip fractures).
Most interesting of all, there was no correlation between drug expenditures and measures of effective care. In other words, patients in some regions may be spending a great deal on their drugs (paid for under Part D), but receiving far less benefit that patients in other regions who spend a great deal less.
October 17, 2013 in Access, Chronic Care, CMS, Consumers, Cost, Drug and Device, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Medicare, Prescription Drugs, Quality, Spending | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, September 23, 2013
Chilmark Research produces evidence-based reports of health IT and market trends in the health IT industry.
A recently issued Chilmark report, 2013 Clinical Analytics for Population Health Market Trends Report, which I have not read because it costs $4500, details the conflicting interests of clinicians and payers with respect to insights gleaned from data analytics. The hope of EHRs in combination with data analytics is better patient health, for example through alerts about needed preventive measures or care management strategies. But different payment may reimburse categories of care differently--so a diabetic covered by one type of payment structure might get reminders when her counterpart with different coverage might not. Even worse, patients whose prognosis is seen as "hopeless" through the predictive lens of analytics might get very different treatment recommendations under cost-conscious reimbursement structures.
Cora Sharma's post on the Chilmark blog details these likely conflicts with chilling precision.
September 23, 2013 in Access, Accountable Care Organizations, Chronic Care, Consumers, Cost, Coverage, Disparities, Electronic Medical Records, Health Care Costs, Insurance, Prevention, Private Insurance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Don't miss a fascinating article in the August 30th issue of Science, "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function." The article contends that there is a causal explanation for the correlation between poverty and disfunctional behavior, such as the failure to keep medical appointments or to employ healthy behaviors. Put crudely, the connection is that people in poverty have to think about so much just to keep going that they don't have the cognitive bandwidth to make carefully reasoned decisions.
The authors of the article, Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainanthan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao, present two studies in support of their claim. The first study involved four experiments in which shoppers at a New Jersey mall were paid participants. The income level of the shoppers varied, from the bottom quartile of US income to over $70,000. In the first experiment, participants were asked to think about a decision about how to pay for car repairs, and were randomized to inexpensive ($150) or expensive ($1500) costs of the repair. They were then asked to perform simple cognitive tests on a computer. Among those asked to think about the inexpensive repair, there were no significant differences by income level in performance of the cognitive task. By contrast, there were significant differences in performance by income among those confronted with the more expensive repair. Variations on this experiment involved problems where sums of money were not involved (to control for math anxiety), incentives in the form of getting paid for getting the right answers on the cognitive tests, and situations in which participants came to a decision about the financial problem, engaged in intervening activities, and then were asked to perform the cognitive tests. Each of these variations produced results similar to the initial experiment: the performance of people in poverty on the cognitive tests was significantly associated with the expensive repair, but the performance of those in higher income groups was not.
In the authors' second study, participants were a random sample of sugar cane farmers in Tamil Nadu in southern India. They were interviewed before and after the cane harvest. Pre-harvest the farmers faced more significant financial pressures (as measured by criteria such as numbers of pawned items, numbers of loans, and the like) than post-harvest. Performance on cognitive function tests was significantly higher post-harvest than pre-harvest. Because the cane harvest extends over a considerable time period, the authors were able to control for calendar effects; the difference was similar early or later in the 5 month period of the harvest. The authors conclude that poverty has about the same cognitive consequences as the loss of a night's sleep.
To be sure, other variables might explain the authors' findings. They are careful to discuss many of these such as physical exertion, stress, nutrition, or training effects. If the authors are right, however, their findings have some impressive implications for health policy. One, which they note, is that it may just be more difficult for people who are poor to perform complex tasks needed to apply for eligibility for programs such as Medicaid (why are we surprised that so many who are eligible don't sign up?). Another is that programs designed to incentivize healthy behaviors may just not work very well if they ignore cognitive loads.
September 5, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Reform, Medicaid, Obesity, Prevention, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)