HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Monday, July 21, 2014

Choice and Costs

The New York Times reports on complaints by consumers about limitations on their access to physicians and hospitals. According to the story, insurers have restricted their provider networks to contain costs, while misleading their customers about the extent of the restrictions.

Without more information, one cannot draw firm conclusions about the problems. We cannot tell the extent to which insurers are acting badly, nor can we tell how much we are seeing the same backlash as in the 1990's when managed care organizations tried to contain costs by limiting their provider networks.

But the reports are not surprising. Limiting patient choice can be an important way to reduce costs. However, it is a politically unpopular way to do so. Hence, we often are told by candidates and elected officials that their health care reform will promote the three C's--greater coverage, lower costs, and broad choice. 

It will be important to see how much the public tolerates restrictions on choice. It may make a big difference on whether the health insurance exchange premiums remain favorable.

July 21, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Cost, Coverage, Health Care Costs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reading Hobby Lobby narrowly

I write this post with more than a little trepidation; I’m as unhappy as anyone about what the Court made of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week.  Nonetheless, given the current state of play, I’ve tried to see whether there are any ways to try to limit the damage. 

This Supreme Court term has featured a striking number of unanimous decisions.  What has drawn unanimity in these cases has been the narrow basis on which they were decided.  Commentators have praised Justice Roberts for his political skills in bringing the Court together—demonstrating that at least one branch of government remains functional and shoring up claims to judicial legitimacy.  Other observers note, however, that the unanimity is only skin deep—and point to the cases in which the Court divided 5-4 as symptomatic.  So suppose we perform a thought experiment on one of the most divisive decisions of this term, Hobby Lobby.  How could the decision have been narrowed?  How should it have been narrowed?  Such an examination is invited by Justice Alito’s statement that the Court’s holding is “very specific.”  It is also invited by Justice Kennedy’s concurrence, which opens with the assertion that the Court’s opinion “does not have the breadth and sweep ascribed to it by the respectful and powerful dissent.  Finally and disturbingly, it is also invited by the observation that the Court has quite quickly, in the case involving Wheaton College, opened wide one of the apparently narrow doors. 

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July 7, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Health Care Reform, Insurance, Obama Administration, PPACA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hobby Lobby and Overreaction

Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court has been too solicitous of corporate rights in recent years. And without doubt, reproductive rights are under siege from many state legislatures and federal judges. But these concerns do not justify the dramatic characterizations of yesterday’s Hobby Lobby decision.

According to Emily’s List, the Court’s decision to “restrict women’s health care” is a “devastating setback.” According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, “millions of women must have their bosses’ permission to access birth control.” And according to Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, “countless women, already struggling to make ends meet, will not have the benefit of the family planning coverage provided to all others under the Affordable Care Act.”

In fact, the Court's decision need not result in limits on women’s access to contraception. To be sure, the Court agreed with Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood) that they should not have to pay for methods of birth control that violate their religious beliefs (morning after pills and IUDs in this case). But the Court also observed that the federal government could use other approaches to guarantee access for women to contraception.

Indeed, wrote the Court, the government can employ the same accommodation for companies such as Hobby Lobby that it employs for religiously-affiliated, non-profit institutions such as universities. Under that accommodation, the organization’s insurer provides a separate plan for contraceptive coverage and does not bill the organization or the employee. In other words, the female employees receive full coverage without imposing a burden on the employer’s religious practice.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the erosion of reproductive rights in the United States. And it is possible that the narrow holding of Hobby Lobby will be expanded in the future. But the decision itself does not entail a compromise of reproductive health.

July 1, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Coverage, PPACA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why Sen. Elizabeth Warren's Memoir is of Special Interest to Health Profs

I'm a guest over at prawfsblog this month--come visit-and my posting today was about why law professors should be interested in Sen. Elizabeth Warren's new memoir.  You can read the whole pitch below--it includes that it's a funny, warm, well-written and interesting account of a remarkably successful career.  I also noted how important her efforts at fixing student loan debt are as a platform on which to build needed change in higher education.  Finally, she has very interesting things to say about balancing work and family as well as going beyond the classroom to help the individuals affected by the law she studied.   At a recent executive board meeting of the AALS Section on Law, Medicine and Health Care, current chair Dr. Ani Satz noted that there are not many mechanisms for recognizing that kind of service.  (side note--consider yourself warmly invited to the terrific panels our chair elect, Dr. Thad Pope, has organized for us to present and co-sponsor, more information to come).

But for a health prof audience, I'd also point out that she discusses her empirical work (with a team of top social scientists--she didn't do the math herself) that finally demonstrated the major flaw in our employer based health insurance system.  Medical bills turned out to be the leading cause of bankruptcy--and very often among families already insured.  Either their insurance was inadequate (maybe we should get these folks together with the people who are upset they can't keep their "old" plans) or, worse, their illness meant they could no longer work.  Whether the debt came directly from medical bills or from using credit cards and home equity loans to pay the bills--the results were equally catastrophic.

That this actually happens--that medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy--is as far as I know not currently disputed.  But I'd be remiss in this context not to point out that as part of the opposition research arising from her running to Senate-the Breitbart blog has made available a series of angry accusations from the 1990's of misconduct about that study.

 It will be a while before we see if the Affordble Care Act is going to do much to fix this problem--and predictions are mixed.  See this as opposed to this.   There's a federal study finding bankruptcies down in Massachusetts following Romneycare.   Common sense suggests that changes like no exclusions for pre-existing conditions and the lift of lifetime caps will make things better (for people with plans bound by those provisions).

But although certainly not usually described as such, Sen. Warren is, if not a Health Law Prof, certainly one whose work is very important to us. 

 

May 3, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Blog, Consumers, Coverage, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Health Care Reform, Insurance, PPACA, Proposed Legislation, Reform, Research, Research Ethics, State Initiatives, Workforce | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Continued Skepticism re "Wellness Programs"

A big part of the job of being a Health Law Prof is to help students understand the intersection of the many legal specialties that comprise the big tent of "Health Law."  Wellness Programs are a good way of doing that because one of the key features of the Affordable Care Act is the flexibility it provides employers to link the cost their employees pay for health insurance with the individual employee's participation in a company sponsored "welleness program."  Here's an article I wrote explaining how PPACA went about doing that.  Here's a link to the Department of Labor's summary of the current rules and a good overview by the law firm Nixon-Peabody.  This report from Rand is an overview of what these programs are and how companies have increasingly fallen in love with them.   At this point just about every insurance company is offering to create one--here's some information from Aetna.  

The problem is, there's very little evidence that these programs do anything to demonstrably improve health (whatever that may mean).  And quite a bit that they may promote many different kinds of social injustice.

 This article in the Harvard Business Review does a great job describing the kinds of programs that are now descending on employees and how they are creating disatsifaction without any scientifically supportable improvement in "health."

There is also a growing literature suggesting that these programs may disproportionately discourage workers who employers aren't that unhappy to see go--but might not legally be able to actually fire.  Here is some very interesting testimony by Jennifer Mathis Director of Programs, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
On Behalf of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.

Michelle Mello at Harvard has coined the term "life-style discrimination" to describe the ways Wellness Programs may target individuals employers may perceive as undesirable because they are obese, smoke or have other non-job related characteristics.

Studying Wellness Programs--and the issues they raise--can be an accessible entry point for students who can easily be intimated by the regulatory complexity of health law and can also be a bridge to understanding how fundamentally the Affordable Care Act has affected the way health care will be paid for and delivered as our students begin their careers in advising those struggling to implement these new regulations.

 

 

 

 

February 28, 2014 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Coverage, Disabilities, Effectiveness, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Genetics, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Insurance, Mental Health, Obesity, Policy, Politics, PPACA, Prevention, Public Health, Quality, Reform, Workforce | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The AOL Babies: Our Healthcare Crisis in a Nut

Where does one start with AOL CEO Armstrong's ridiculous and unfeeling justifications for changes in his company’s 401(k) plan. Cable TV and Twitter came out of the blocks fast with the obvious critiques. And the outrage only increased after novelist Deanna Fei took to Slate to identify her daughter as one of the subjects of Armstrong’s implied criticism. Armstrong has now apologized and reversed his earlier decision.

As the corporate spin doctors contain the damage, Armstrong’s statements likely will recede from memory, although I am still hoping The Onion will memorialize Armstrong’s entry into the healthcare debate (suggested headline, "CEO Discovers Nation's Healthcare Crisis Caused by 25 Ounce Baby”). But supposing (just supposing) your health law students ask about the story in class this week. What sort of journey can you take them on?

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February 10, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Cost, Coverage, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Law, HIPAA, privacy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get to Know the 9 ACA Exemptions-Health Care Sharing Ministries

Stacey Tovino, a rock-star health law professor and Lincy Professor of Law at the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law and I were nearly knocked off our chairs at a presentation by Wellesley College Professor Charlene Galarneau, PhD on The ACA Exemption of Health Care Sharing Ministries at the ASBH- American Association of Bioethics and the Humanity’s annual Meeting last month.  If you are a health law professor (or hobbyist) and do not yet know what a Health Care Sharing Ministry is, prepare to be surprised.  It is NOT insurance but rather a non-binding agreement among people of faith to share their health care costs.  As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.”  It specifically does not provide the essential services of an ACA qualified plan.  Yet those without health insurance who are participating in one of these ministries are exempt from the obligation to purchase insurance or pay a penalty—even though it is highly likely that the cost of their care will fall on the community where they become sick and seek treatment.  Read more about it here and here.  Health Care Sharing Ministries are among the 9 exemptions in the Affordable Care Act, yet have not attracted significant attention.  Given their important role in exempting large numbers of people from the obligation of obtaining health insurance, they deserve a place, or at least a shout-out, in all of our classes.

 

December 17, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Health Care, Individual Mandate , Policy, Politics, PPACA, Private Insurance, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Exchange Day!

Despite best efforts to prevent the exchanges, or marketplaces, from going on line, today the exchanges have begun to do the work of facilitating a health insurance home for people in the United States.  If you live in a state that has declined to create its own exchange, then you should visit https://www.healthcare.gov/, the federal website for the federal health insurance marketplace.  Though there were reports of the site crashing, as of 3:00 this afternoon it seems to be working.  And, the site will guide you to your state's marketplace site, as necessary.  No need to rush though, as open enrollment lasts through March of 2014.

Many probably saw Governor Beshear's op-ed in the New York Times last week regarding the reasons that Kentucky has created its own state-based exchange (and will accept federal funding for the Medicaid expansion), here.  The commentary seems even more relevant in the wake of the House Republicans shutting down the federal government over health insurance.

October 1, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Reform, HHS, PPACA, States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 27, 2013

More states are expanding Medicaid than you might think

Big news in the world of ACA implementation: CMS approved Arkansas' proposed waiver for an alternative mechanism for Medicaid expansion, which is to be called the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program.  Arkansas proposed a premium assistance program, wherein newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries will obtain insurance through the Arkansas health insurance exchange by receiving financial assistance for premium costs.  This will place the new Medicaid population in qualified health insurance plans, i.e. private health insurance, which is administratively more expensive than government-sponsored insurance, but it may help to deal with the problem of "churn" between Medicaid and Marketplace-based private insurance.

CMS's approval of Arkansas' Medicaid demonstration program is significant for a number of reasons, but here I'd like to focus on what I think is one of the biggest: this waiver approval will pave the way for other states that are "undecided" to finally declare their intent to expand their Medicaid programs.  I believe this will happen relatively quickly, because most states are already working on expansion.  You would not think this is true from the national media's reporting on the Medicaid expansion.  If you have been following any of the many color-coded maps depicting the five possible categories of expansion (expanding, not expanding, leaning toward expanding, leaning toward not expanding, and alternative model), you would think that just over half of the states are participating in the Medicaid expansion.  The national media has gotten this story wrong, because they do not pick up on the negotiations, investigations, committees, special commissions, and other ways in which the "leanging toward not participating" states are actually exploring how they can expand their Medicaid programs.  To understand how dynamic the state decision making is, you have to track the local newspapers that follow every move of the state legislatures and their conversations with their governors (which I have been doing all summer).

After NFIB v. Sebelius was decided, I wrote that most states would still expand their Medicaid programs.  It appears that most states are now working toward Medicaid expansion in some form.  In future posts, I will explain this dynamic federalism story in more detail.  For today, I will emphasize that CMS has opened the door to more state waivers, which will lead to more states expanding their Medicaid programs.  Though I am not necessarily on board with federalism by waiver, espcially given states' history of waiver mistakes and failures, I do think that in this instance, alternative expansion is better than no expansion.  Otherwise, many of our poorest citizens will be left out of the attempt at national insurance coverage, not paying a penalty, but not having access to much-needed healthcare either.    

September 27, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, Constitutional, Coverage, Health Care Reform, Health Reform, HHS, Medicaid, PPACA, Spending, States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chilling Thoughts from Chilmark about Data Analytics and Patients

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.

[LPF]

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)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Beyond Medicaid--How the Affordable Care Act Will Change Mental Health Treatment--and some helpful Apps for further research

This is a helpful article from a mental health perspective about how the Affordable Care Act will change mental health treatment. 

Given the volume of material health lawyers need to review about not just law directly but also health policyFor anyone who has not yet entered the world of content aggregation, I'm also recommending Zite, a free app that will create a personalized "magazine" consisting of any specific website you visit on a regular basis and also sites within a content area that help you get the news you are looking for without having to visit dozens of individual sites.  Another similar app is Feedly and less serious (more fun) is Stumbleupon which is similar to the experience of browsing in a library.

JSB

June 14, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, Coverage, Medicaid, Mental Health | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)