Being involved in the immigrant community as a member and a professional, my concerns in any legal field almost instinctively gravitate towards how my fellow immigrants would be affected. Thus, when examining the regulatory changes to health law under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), I was disappointed to discover that the large pool of undocumented immigrants living in the United States will continue to receive absolutely nothing, regardless of the impact that this might have on them, U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents.
The most important changes in the United States health care system under PPACA are probably the requirements for all individuals to have medical insurance and the expansion for eligibility for government-funded health insurance under Medicaid— which will include people from any age range so long as they meet certain financial criteria. However, none of the changes apply to undocumented immigrants. As noted by the Congressional Research Service,
… PPACA expressly exempts unauthorized (illegal) aliens from the mandate to have health coverage and bars them from a health insurance exchange. Unauthorized aliens are not eligible for the federal premium credits or cost-sharing subsidies. Unauthorized aliens are also barred from participating in the temporary high-risk pools.
PPACA mandates that all individuals maintain “minimum essential” health insurance (public or private) or else pay a “shared responsibility payment” to the government in the form of additional taxes at the end of the year. The individual health insurance requirement is a smart move because it will have the effect of injecting financial resources into the health care system through payments to private and public insurances. However, the exemption of over 10 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. from the individual health insurance requirement under PPACA is disadvantageous because it wastes resources that are readily available to further fund the health care system. Specifically, the exemption is wasteful because statistics show that the undocumented immigrant community includes a large number of healthy individuals who would provide more financial support for the system, while not exacting more in health care costs than they have paid in.
Under Medicaid, an individual is eligible if he or she is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident for at least 5 years; no changes to these criteria were made through PPACA. And, again, undocumented aliens are forbidden from taking part in the Health Insurance Exchange and thereby whatever discounts one might expect from this competitive marketplace. Thus, the desirable benefit of having health insurance will remain unattainable for undocumented immigrants who are unable to afford the costly expenses of having non-discounted and un-subsidized private insurance. So for the large undocumented immigrant population there will be no change with regard to their accessibility to the health care system, and the only available coverage will continue to be through the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) and any available local government health benefits that might be offered in each state.
Having EMTALA as one of the few viable options for medical treatment for all uninsured individuals, regardless of their immigration status, is harmful to the financial stability of the health care system because the type of treatment that must be made available under EMTALA is for emergency medical conditions. Inherently, the costs for treating an emergency condition, which is defined as a condition that could reasonably be expected to place the health of the individual in serious jeopardy or cause serious impairments to bodily functions, is much higher than providing care for preventive medical treatment before the emergency stage. Thus providing health care government assistance to undocumented immigrants for preventive treatment could save the government money in the long run.
The possibility of negative consequences to U.S. citizens when denying affordable medical care to undocumented immigrants should be contemplated when considering an extension of health coverage for minimal essential benefits to undocumented immigrants. For instance, it would be far less costly for the government to subsidize pre-natal treatment for undocumented mothers-to-be (who will, by virtue of their being here, give birth to American citizens) than to assume the costs for the lifetime of a U.S. citizen who is born with permanent disabilities. Similarly, it would be less costly for the government to provide enough medical insurance coverage for an individual to be checked for HIV/AIDS rather than assume the costly treatment to U.S. citizens that could have acquired HIV/AIDS from an immigrant that did not know that he or she was carrying the disease.
Because providing undocumented immigrants some type of health benefit or greater access to health insurance would be more beneficial to the country in numerous ways, the U.S. government should consider putting to use all the financial and human power potential that the undocumented immigrant community offers— rather than casting them out as less than worthy human beings.
Noemi Simbron is a native of Peru and a current law student at Seton Hall University School of Law. Her interest in immigration law stems from her current work as a law clerk at a well known immigration law firm in Newark, N.J., and her own background. She hopes to one day represent her fellow immigrants in a variety of legal fields– including immigration.
Filed under: Health Care Employment, Health Law, Uninsured
The health law section at AALS put on a truly outstanding program. Jennifer Bard posted on the speakers and topics here, and I’d wanted to do a post reporting on the program. But there was so much there that I’ll try to draft a post on each speaker, or at least a column from the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics that reflects her or his approach. Fortunately, as Bard reported, “the Indiana University Robert H. Mckinney School of Law’s Health Law Review has agreed to print pieces about these programs as well as the proceedings of the panel in a Spring 2012 volume.”
The first speaker was Prof. Charity Scott, Catherine C. Henson Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law, Health & Society at Georgia State University College of Law. Her presentation, “Collaborating with the Real World: Opportunities for Developing Skills and Values in Health Law,” was a terrific mix of high level observation, on-the-ground experiences, practical examples from her own health law program, and articles she edited as editor of the Teaching Health Law column of the JLME. Scott noted that experiential learning can happen in time slots ranging from an hour to a day to a semester or year, so any committed professional can fit some opportunities into their schedule at some point. She particularly focused on how students could help attorneys, doctors, and community members solve pressing problems. In coming weeks, I’ll blog on some of the particular programs she mentioned.
As we bid farewell to 2011 while ushering in the new year, some thoughts about health care — my own — emerge. I underwent major surgery this last year, having had roughly 15% of one kidney–or, more precisely, the cancerous portion of one kidney– removed. I chose to blog about the experience, chronicling the process from the onset, back when the tumor was initially thought to be a kidney stone or a cyst. But found early, it was small, they say they got it all and that it had not spread. I was lucky. A relatively rare form of the disease (roughly 50,000 cases per year), the survival rate for kidney cancer is not great because it is largely asymptomatic and is not generally tested without a family history for such. Often, by the time someone wanders into a doctor’s office with complaints of an aching lower back or bloody urine, the tumor has grown to the size of a baseball, the cancer has spread, and the prognosis is not optimum. My tumor was found, as is so often the case, “incidentally” as they were looking at something else.
And that something else has me thinking; without it I’d be walking around with a ticking time bomb firmly ensconced and concealed in my kidney. Which brings me to July of this past year when I awoke torn by excruciating pain from what I was to later discover were two kidney stones. Wave after wave of fortunate pain brought me to the emergency room. A CT scan discovered the stones–and something else– that ultimately turned out to be that cancerous tumor approximately 2.2 cm, lying in wait.
And there’s the rub. I had health insurance. Without health insurance I might have still gone to the hospital–the pain was immense– but I would have refused the CT scan. I know of what I speak. A lack of health insurance is a state of affairs and a mindset that is distinctly different from that of having health insurance: as one deprives Peter to pay Paul “home medicine” takes on new meaning. And if forced to see a doctor, one minds the bottom line always ready to refuse treatment, especially avoiding diagnostic tests such as x-rays, CT scans and MRIs as they are the well traveled road to poverty if not bankruptcy.
And there it is. Without health insurance I would have refused the CT scan which may well have saved my life.
Instead, I ultimately had one of the nation’s top surgeons (the brilliant Dr. Paul Russo, most recently described by Maureen Dowd in the NY Times as “exuberantly blunt”) at Sloan-Kettering pluck the ticking time bomb from my body, while saving the affected kidney and me.
In the hands of a less skilled surgeon, my entire kidney may have been removed (it’s easier), and even if alive I’d have spent the rest of my life at a increased risk for hospitalizing events from chronic kidney disease, heart disease, and even hip fractures. The bill for my stay and surgery was roughly $27,000; my co-pay merely double digits (thank you Cigna).
And as I sit here reflecting on my good fortune and the providence of kidney stones timely sent, I cannot help but think of all those men and women across America without health insurance (or with junk insurance) who are left to face this coming year with health issues and hard economic choices each day–choices which will lead many to practice “home medicine” when faced with excruciating pain and the hidden harbingers of disease. Choices which will leave prescriptions unfilled. Choices which will lead many to refuse that costly x-ray, CT scan or MRI which might have saved their lives.
There but for the Grace of God–and a job with good health insurance.
And that’s not hyperbole: it’s a new year; it’s estimated that 45,000 people in America will die in it due to lack of health insurance.
We’ve talked often on this blog about the difficulties experienced by the uninsured. About the expenses associated with health care and how hard those expenses fall on some– how people eschew treatment because of cost, and even how a governor, by releasing two inmates, rid his state of the cost of care for dialysis and possible transplant. Maybe the following is just a natural extension of the premise–or the flip side of the governor as a cost-shifting state benefactor in a down economy amidst rising healthcare costs.
A 59-year-old former truck driver took it upon himself, with the tools available to him, to engage in some cost shifting as well. In need of medical care and unable to afford it– and seemingly unwilling to bankrupt himself or his family through medical expense– he robbed a bank.
After losing his truck driving job of 17 years and a short lived driving job thereafter, James Richard Verone, who took a job as a convenience store clerk in a failed attempt to make ends meet, entered into a Gastonia, N.C. bank and, with a note, demanded of the cashier the sum of $1 and some medical attention. He then told the teller he would sit and wait for the police.
The convenience store job, apparently, took its toll on Verone. Yahoo News reports that
But Verone’s body wasn’t up to it. The bending and lifting made his back ache. He had problems with his left foot, making him limp. He also suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
Then he noticed a protrusion on his chest. “The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” Verone told the Gaston Gazette. “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.”
Verone knew he needed help–and he didn’t want to be a burden on his sister and brothers. He applied for food stamps, but they weren’t enough either.
So he hatched a plan. On June 9, he woke up, showered, ironed his shirt. He mailed a letter to the Gazette, listing the return address as the Gaston County Jail.
“When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me,” Verone wrote in the letter. “This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”
Mr. Verone is being held awaiting trial under a charge of larceny. As of last week, he was scheduled to see a doctor this week. Mr Verone is said to have observed, “If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”
By Labinot A. Berlajolli
Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions may now begin applying for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Under the recently passed health care law (PPACA), the government set aside $5 billion to fund the plan from July 1, 2010 through Jan 1, 2014. Money is expected to be allocated based on each state’s population as well as its costs. Although, HHS officials said they might shift funding among states if the new $5 billion program to cover the uninsured runs out more quickly in some states than in others.
To qualify for coverage, individuals must be U.S. citizens or legal residents, have been denied coverage because of a preexisting medical condition, and have been uninsured for the past six months. Administration officials said people who apply by July 15 will begin receiving coverage by Aug. 1. States were required to let HHS know by April 30 whether they wanted to use federal grant money to set up a high-risk pool. As of now, 21 states have chosen to join the federal run pools and 29 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to go it alone. The 21 states that have chosen to opt into the federal plan are: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. Several of the largest states operating their own plans, including California, Illinois and New York, are not expected to begin enrollment until August. The administration expects that all states will begin enrolling people by the end of the summer.
Joining the plan will not be cheap. The Los Angeles Times reports that premiums, as well as benefits, are expected to vary greatly from state to state, with some plans charging as little as $140 a month and some as much as $900 a month. Independent experts, on the other hand, estimate premiums will average around $400 to $600 a month.
However, serious questions remain about the new risk pools. Specifically, whether the $5 billion allocated will be enough. Many experts expect the $5 billion to run out well before 2014 because of high demand. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has estimated that the $5 billion will last for only two years. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the funding is not enough to cover all eligible participants, and that the administration will have to limit enrollment to only 200,000 people through 2013, though there are roughly 12.6 million with pre-existing conditions, according to the Miami Herald. Others who advise Congress and the administration have warned the funds could be exhausted as early as the end of 2011.
Those interested in applying for the high-risk pools may visit the newly launched website, healthcare.gov, for more information and instructions on how to apply.
Filed under: 501(c)(3), Hospital Finances, Uninsured
A few weeks ago I wrote here about my unhappy experience of inadvertently mixing two different types of drain cleaners together. I learned then, and thought it useful to relate, a painful in-home science lesson: the combination of hydrochloric acid and hypochlorite (bleach) apparently forms chlorine gas, which was used as an agent of chemical warfare early in World War I. Serious lung damage and death are real possibilities. After a trip to the emergency room, a follow-up visit to my doctor and the passage of time– I’m ok.
But the other day I got the bill, or thankfully, as I am insured through my employer, the explanation of benefits. My present insurance company, CIGNA, detailed the claim in an easy to read and understandable manner. It is telling.
I was in the Emergency Room for about 4 hours (they had wanted to keep me overnight for observation but released me under the condition (and my pleading) that I return immediately if any number of things happened). I received oxygen and breathing treatments, x-rays, lab work, an electrocardiogram, and the care of a physician. The total billed was $2,270. But perhaps more importantly, the amount “discounted,” or the amount my insurance company did not pay through its negotiated pricing contract with the hospital, was $2007. Which is to say that my insurance company paid a total of only $263 of this bill. Thankfully, I owe nothing except a small co-pay.
The greatest single item of the billed amount is actually the charge for being in the Emergency Room itself. That charge, presumably triggered the moment I signed in, was $1,364.40. My insurance company, by agreement, paid only $158 of that charge.
But what if I weren’t insured?
Presumably, I would presently owe that hospital–which is a tax-exempt entity under 501(c)(3) with a concomitant mandate to deliver “community benefit” — a sum total of $2,270. This for services my insurance company paid a sum total of $263.
I understand robbing Peter to pay Paul, and quite frankly $263 seems a little cheap for the care and services I received (as $2,270 seems rather expensive). But if Peter is out of work and lacks insurance does it make sense to charge him 9x more than Paul? Does anyone wonder why uninsured Peter will do his best to avoid the hospital at almost any cost– even at great risk to his health?
I’ve written about this subject before. How seemingly no one except the uninsured pay “the chargemaster rate”; how many nonprofit hospitals in a recent IRS informational survey disclosed that they count the discounts they offer insurers and Medicare as “community benefit”; how even more nonprofit hospitals who bill greater amounts to the uninsured wind up counting the full amount billed, if collection efforts fail, as “a community benefit.” (e.g., if uninsured Peter above had received the care I received he would have been billed $2,270. If he failed to pay, not considering the harm to his credit record or the potential for being sued and a resultant judgment entered against him, the hospital then counts the unpaid $2,270 as “community benefit.”)
Thankfully, the reverse Robin Hood charging practice is about to change for at least some people. As Associate Dean Kathleen Boozang pointed out in her post last week, provisions in the new Health Reform law, PPACA, address the issue in part. Among other provisions aimed at tax exempt 501(c)(3) hospitals is the following:
Financial Assistance Policy. Hospitals must develop a financial assistance policy which enumerates a) eligibility criteria, b) an explanation of how hospital charges are calculated, c) the process for applying for financial assistance, and d) whether such assistance includes free or discounted care. If the hospital does not have a separate collections policy, the financial assistance policy must explain what happens if a hospital bill is not paid, including collections actions and reports to credit agencies. The financial assistance policy must be widely publicized throughout the entity’s service area.
Limitations on Patient Charges. Hospital charges for emergency or other medically necessary care provided to patients eligible for financial assistance may not exceed the lowest amounts charged to insured patients, and may not be based upon gross charges.
But of course, the Limitations on Patient Charges apply only to patients eligible for financial assistance, which may or may not apply to Peter who, if not eligible for financial assistance, may still be subjected to a $2,270 bill for services I paid $263 for. And seemingly, if Peter, ineligible for financial assistance, doesn’t pay that bill, hospitals are still able to claim as a “community benefit” the full amount of that non-payment of a bill 9x as high as an amount they were willing to accept for the same services from someone else.
In May of last year I wrote the following; it is worth considering again:
In recent posts we’ve pointed out some of the questionable characterizations of “community benefit” by nonprofit hospitals under 501(c)(3), a portion of the Internal Revenue Code which garners tax exemptions for those entities, such as nonprofit hospitals, which it harbors. In particular, we’ve focused on how matters such as “bad debt,” Medicare “shortfalls,” and even Private Insurer “shortfalls” have often been construed by nonprofit hospitals to constitute the conveyance of a community benefit. A “shortfall” may be deemed to have occurred when although the hospital receives the amount it had agreed to with a Private Insurer, or which was designated by the government through Medicare, that amount is less than the hospital’s “list price” for such services.
Despite this rather lax standard, Kaiser.org reports that an in-depth review by the Boston Globe determined that “the value of abundant tax exemptions extended to Massachusetts General Hospital, and other private non-profit hospitals, ‘far exceeds the amount the state’s leading hospitals spend on free care for the poor and other community benefits.’”
Kaiser reports that in Massachusetts
The ten biggest hospitals in the state benefited from $638 million in tax breaks in 2007, but reported only $265 million in “community benefits” provided that year, the Globe found.
Even if one accepts the questionable characterizations of community benefits, that still leaves an excess of $373 million in tax exemptions–for merely 10 hospitals–in only one state.
By Christine Davis
For medically uninsurable people, or people with pre-existing conditions who cannot find coverage, coverage may soon materialize. Even before President Obama signed the PPACA, CMS had provided “Qualified High Risk Pool” grants to qualifying states, in order to cover these higher risk people since 2007. (45 CFR Part 148) Thirty-five states participated. Before health care reform passed in 2010, states could qualify for operational or seed grants, which they could use to cover eligible individuals. (Federal Register, v 73, no 81). PPACA authorizes the development of a temporary national high risk pool, which will operate similar to what is happening now with the state grants and will function as a temporary fix until the insurances exchanges kick in after 2014 and insurance companies are mandated to cover all individuals with pre-existing conditions. This is a unique part of the new bill because it seems to be something both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Previously, the majority of these state high risk pools had lifetime maximum payouts, usually around $1 million, (three states had lifetime maximums of $500,000). Once these individuals reached that amount, they had no other way to be insured. (http://www.federalgrantswire.com/seed-grants-to-states-for-qualified-highrisk-pools.html).
The goal of the national risk pool is to transition the uninsurable until health care exchanges are established in 2014. Once that happens, there will no longer be lifetime or annual limitations on coverage. The idea here is that an individual will never reach a point where there is absolutely nowhere else to go for coverage.
By 2014, eligible individuals will be people “who have not had creditable coverage for the previous six months and now have a pre-existing condition.” As of now, most state pools require those seeking coverage to (a) submit proof that they have been denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or (b) show that they have applied recently for coverage and were a victim of “adverse underwriting actions,” such as limiting benefits or charging extraordinary premiums (for example, diabetics). (Coverage: Creating a Temporary National High Risk Pool: the New Health Dialogue Jan 12, 2010). One concern of these eligibility requirements is that they might discriminate against those who only recently lost coverage, because they are making every individual prove they have not had coverage in the past.
An advantage to a national high risk pool as opposed to a state high risk pool is that it will be more balanced and less costly, because the premiums charged won’t be as high. Although, if annual or lifetime limits aren’t capped once these exchanges kick in, these costs could skyrocket. However, a downside is that in some states, these high risk pools have limited eligibility and low enrollment, and for example, monthly premiums costing an individual well over $1,000/month. However, the news is not all bleak. States like Minnesota have been doing it right all along, even with broad eligibility, by finding additional streams of revenue, such as tobacco settlement funds, with which to support the pool. In order to be successful, the national pool, should model itself after successful states like Minnesota.
Filed under: Obama Administration, Private Insurance, Uninsured
As the Health Care Reform debate winds to a frenzied conclusion, President Obama visited Ohio to reach out in favor of the bill’s passage. I’ll let the President speak for himself, but there’s a letter below this video that you should read. Natoma Canfield sent the letter to President Obama back in December; it epitomizes, I believe, the every day tragedy which is the current state of health care and health care finance. Since then, it’s gotten even worse. Facing the prospect of unaffordable increases in her insurance premiums, Ms. Canfield took, and lost, the gamble that no one wants to take. Unable to pay, she discontinued insurance coverage; she was just recently diagnosed with leukemia.
While Medicaid Enrollment Rates Increase, States Face Financial Pressure to Decrease State Medicaid Spending
Filed under: Medicaid, Medicare, Medicare & Medicaid, The Uninsured, Unemployment, Uninsured
Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report indicating a large jump in state Medicaid enrollment from June 2008 to June 2009. The report said that the 7.5 percent increase was the greatest one-year jump in enrollment rates ever, with over 3 million people joining the public health program funded jointly by the federal government and individual state governments. The reason for the increase is thought to be that because more people became unemployed due to the economic crash, more individuals turned to Medicaid for health coverage. However, because the economic downturn meant less revenue entering into state budgets, state Medicaid programs have not been able to keep up with the rise in new enrollees.
During a convening of state governors at the White House this week, state officials will likely raise the issue of Medicaid spending. The issue is pressing in light of the impending funding cut when stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will expire in December of this year. The governors will likely ask that the stimulus funding be continued until states can somehow make up for their large current budget deficits. In addition to asking for more money, the governors will also likely discuss the feasibility of health care reform efforts. With both House and Senate versions of health care reform proposing increases to state Medicaid programs to ensure the coverage of more uninsured individuals, the state governors would, understandably, like to know where the money for such expansion would come from.
The National Association of State Medicaid Directors estimates that states’ budgets will fall short $140 billion in the next fiscal year. This means even less money for the likely further increase in Medicaid enrollment to come this year, as Medicaid enrollment generally lags behind unemployment. To account for the deficit, many states are planning to reduce their Medicaid programs. USA Today finds that three categories of such reductions exist:
- California, Arizona and Virginia propose reducing who’s eligible. In Arizona, 310,000 people would lose coverage. California also wants to increase premiums.
- Michigan, Tennessee, Massachusetts and others propose eliminating benefits. Masachusetts’ elimination of restorative dental services would save $56 million, says Medicaid director Terry Dougherty.
- Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and others propose cutting payments to hospitals, doctors or nursing homes. Several states are considering new taxes on hospitals as a way to avoid cutting these payments.
States that accepted stimulus money to expand their Medicaid programs in 2009 are restricted from any such cuts that would affect low-income enrollment. However, if the stimulus funding is not extended, some states are planning on heightening eligibility requirements. For other states, while decreasing hospital and doctor reimbursement seems like the worst possible option– given that many doctors have already stopped accepting Medicaid patients due to what they deem to be an insufficient rate of reimbursement– many states’ officials find that the only other viable option they have is raising taxes. Many state leaders refuse to increase taxes in fear of the political backlash come November.
Realizing the need for health care reform to help manage the burden of paying for health care, state governors have stated a desire to be part of the health care reform conversation. Many have already expressed their dislike for individual mandates, which they believe will drive more individuals to state Medicaid programs. For the most part, however, the governors want reform and they want it now, finding that they simply can’t afford to wait another year.
It is also worth noting that an underlying issue from these new numbers is whether the Medicaid program is actually a good prototype for expanding health care coverage. Drew Altman, President and CEO of Kaiser, put in perspective Kaiser’s report as well as the concerns of public spending that were sparked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ projections for 2009-2019– which forecast that public spending on health care will surpass private spending. He noted that while spending in public health insurance programs would increase, the cost-benefit would be better, since per capita costs on health care were lower in government-run programs than in private insurance programs. According to Altman, such numbers did not undermine health reform efforts, but instead denoted “the need to control health care costs in the public and the private sectors alike.”
Filed under: Health Reform, Hospital Finances, Obama Administration, Uninsured
Last week, President Obama announced plans to hold a bipartisan health care summit to push forward on health care reform and to give both sides an opportunity to discuss ideas for health reform legislation that will be able to garner enough votes for passage. While President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders want to use the health care proposals that have already passed in the House and in the Senate, Republicans say that they are unlikely to vote for a bill unless the current proposals are scrapped and the process is started afresh. It seems like Americans, once again, may be left watching the theatrics of the health care reform debate without actually being the focal point of it.
Some conservative Congress members have already responded to the President’s invitation publicly to make their steadfast positions known. Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said this past week that he was not willing to discuss a “health reform package that spends money we don’t have.” He added that “House Republicans have offered the only plan that will lower health care costs.” If that is true, it is likely attributable to the fact that the House Republican bill would cover only 3 million uninsured Americans, compared to the Democratic House bill which would insure an additional 36 million Americans.
On Monday night, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Oh.) joined Cantor in submitting a letter to White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, which said that the Republicans were not willing to come to the table unless certain prerequisite questions were answered. You can see the whole letter here. In the letter, Cantor and Boehner express their non-support for reform that the American people themselves are not supporting; the basis for such being the recent Republican Senate win in Massachusetts.
Exactly what are the citizens of American thinking about health care reform anyway? CNN reported on Tuesday that nearly two-thirds of Americans want Congress to persist in passing health care reform legislation. The poll, an ABC News/Washington Post survey, also indicates that Americans blame both Democrats and Republicans on their unwillingness to compromise. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius herself is quoted as saying, “When people look up close at the personal activities of Congress they are confused and disgusted with the whole process and too afraid that whatever is going on can’t possibly be good for them or their families.”
Many believe that the idea for the health care summit was to address the back-door processes that led to American distrust and to make it all more transparent. Still, there appear to be more differences between the conservative version of reform and the liberal version than points of reconciliation. Though the prolonged tug-of-war between both sides does not seem like one that might be resolved in a day of convening, the summit is, perhaps, at least a start.
And, while the political contenders decide what to do about the summit, the health reform stalemate has presently-occurring repercussions. Many hospitals, which were holding on to the hope of reform, are now at the point where downsizing their health systems is thought to be the only step left. Hospitals all around the country have been seeing more and more uninsured patients, and with no one to cover the full cost of services, the hospitals providing unreimbursed care are said to be further sinking into debt– and must therefore cut staff as well as services. On the individual level, Americans are also finding it difficult to keep up with the costs of health care, and while many forgo insurance, those that cannot due to chronic illness or necessity of care are finding the cost further prohibitive.
It would make sense, then, that Americans do want reform. Andrew Rubin, Vice President for Medical Center Clinical Affairs for NYU Langone Medical Center and radio show host for HealthCare Connect, says that one of the underlying reasons why Americans are reluctant to give support for legislation is their lack of understanding of what is happening, not because they do not want to see change. Let’s hope that the proposed health care summit will be used to clarify issues for Americans who do need and want health care, instead of for just another political brouhaha.
Filed under: Ethics, Undocumented Aliens, Uninsured
The LA Times reported this past week that the pending health care reform would negatively affect rather than improve the health of California’s citizens. Why would this be the case? Nearly thirty percent of the state’s population consists of immigrants. In L.A. County itself, there are more uninsured residents than any other U.S. county; as the L.A. Times calculates, the majority of that uninsured population are likely immigrants:
It’s a safe bet that the majority of those people are immigrants, because health officials say that 40% of all the patients treated at county hospitals are undocumented. In recognition of that fact and of the hospitals’ legal and ethical responsibilities to treat the uninsured ill and injured — regardless of their immigration status — Washington currently subsidizes their care at facilities, like L.A. County’s, with “disproportionate” numbers of such patients.
The House bill for health care reform would reduce the funding for such subsidies modestly, while the Senate bill would significantly decrease payments towards the subsidies. Whatever the outcome of the compromise bill, L.A. County will be left worse off.
As we know, neither the House nor the Senate bill would cover undocumented immigrants, or allow them to receive subsidies or tax credits for purchasing insurance. However, even if the country will not be paying for the health coverage of such immigrants, it will be and already is paying for the high costs of having immigrants treated in emergency rooms, since many hospitals, such as those mentioned in the L.A. Times piece above, treat patients regardless of their immigration status. Hospitals that provide emergency services and participate in Medicare are required to treat all who come to them for emergency services by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act; some of the costs for the emergency care are covered through Medicaid, while others result in expenditures that the hospitals incur as debt. The effects of the debt can result in higher hospital fees for other patients. But greater hospital charge rates for the uninsured are a matter of contention, and tend to obscure the actual value of services rendered and unpaid for. Having said that, it is not unimaginable to think that provisions in the health care bills may actually drive up medical expenses for some segments of the population–and that such increased expenses will have significant adverse affect upon the whole.
Again, the House bill does a better job than the Senate version does at addressing the issue of immigrant health, as the House would allow for undocumented immigrants to participate in the health insurance exchange by permitting them to purchase insurance policies. While the House bill would require immigrants to pay for the policies entirely, the Senate bill does not allow for immigrants to participate whatsoever. It is worth considering that the immigrant community consists largely of young, healthy individuals; the impact upon the risk pool of their inclusion is no small thing.
Some health care advocates believe that resolution lies in immigration reform, so that immigrants can become citizens of the United States. An LA Times story about a UCLA study released this last week is also worth considering:
The report said that legalization, along with a program that allows for future immigration based on the labor market, would create jobs, increase wages and generate more tax revenue. Comprehensive immigration reform would add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years, according to the report.
Though many Americans seem to feel that immigrants are taking jobs away from unemployed American citizens, CNN writer Ruben Navarrette, Jr. points out that much of the labor immigrants participate in is in areas of work that Americans themselves have shunned.
Behind the politics of both health and immigration reforms lies the compelling stories of immigrants who have labored in our county and who are in desperate need of health care. While data and numbers can show the cost-benefits of allowing immigrants to participate in health care, the issue of treating ill humans seems an ethical one– not something to be justified by statistics alone. But at the heart of this is the simple question, is healthcare a human right? Or is it a luxury–a “treat,” if you will, to be dispensed according to the rules of carrots and sticks? and not just a luxury.
During the reconciliation process of the House and Senate bills, one of the issues likely to be raised is what to do with the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP. Under the Senate bill, federal financing for CHIP would be extended for another 2 years past the current expiration date of 2013. The House bill, on the other hand, would allow CHIP to come to a close in 2013 since the bill plans to expand coverage for children through Medicaid and through the health insurance exchange– where subsidized health insurance would be available. Whether or not these health reform initiatives will be able to meet the medical needs of children is a matter of debate.
CHIP is a “state-federal partnership” that was created in 1997 under the Balanced Budget Act to help insure those children who are from families that earned too much to qualify for Medicaid. Similar to Medicaid, the federal government matches state dollars spent on CHIP (average of 57% federal responsibility for Medicaid spending, 70% for CHIP), but unlike Medicaid, the allocations to states for CHIP is capped. CHIP also places greater discretion in individual state’s hands regarding eligibility requirements.
One of the first bills Obama signed as President was the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, or CHIPRA, in February 2009. CHIPRA added $33 billion in federal funds to use towards providing coverage to 4.1 million children via Medicaid and CHIP through the year 2013.
In 2007, over 80% of eligible children nationwide participated in Medicaid or CHIP. Currently, 29 million children are enrolled in Medicaid, 7 million in CHIP. If CHIP were to be allowed to expire and absorbed (at least partially) by an expansion of Medicaid, however, the lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid could mean that those children transferred would not have access to as many health care providers as they would have had under CHIP. While Medicaid might seem to be a sufficient substitute, it would still leave gaps that CHIP had filled if the reform does not include higher reimbursement rates for Medicaid and automatic enrollment provisions, as proposed by the House. In addition, as it stands, because of the relatively low reimbursement rates from Medicaid, many doctors have ceased to accept either new or all Medicaid patients.
The alternate option of funneling children to the insurance exchange does not seem promising either. Many children currently enrolled in CHIP could become uninsured if their families cannot afford the plans offered in the exchange, which is a concern– as many families will still have a hard time meeting the premiums– even after the proposed subsidies from the government. Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania have proposed to avoid some of these issues by expanding CHIP until 2019, a move that they say would benefit our country’s children by ensuring their access to health coverage.
In considering the options, it would behoove us to remember that “a stitch in time saves nine,” and that the regular health maintenance of children– much more likely for those children who have insurance– will pay dividends in the form of less of those costly visits to the emergency room and hospital stays. We would also be advised to remember that uninsured children in the hospital have bbeen shown to face a 60% greater risk of death than those children who have either private or government health insurance.
As we come upon this new year and the prospect of House and Senate Bill reconciliation, I find myself taken by the process. The length of it–the depth of it–or perhaps more precisely, the lack of depth thereof. Back in the dog days of summer I wrote this:
The debate wandering to and fro and fueled by hyperbole, the desire for “victory” (whatever that may mean), and lobbyist dollars descending upon the corridors of Washington until they have become, in the words of T.S. Eliot, ”Streets that follow like a tedious argument / of insidious intent.”
The words, unfortunately, seem as apt now as they did then. The passage of time harboring more of the same as the process “followed” into the need for 6o votes and the compromises (if not betrayals) necessary to garner the same.
“Had we but world enough and time/ This coyness, Lady, were no crime”
This article published back in September is worth considering
Research released this week in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that 45,000 deaths per year in the United States are associated with the lack of health insurance. If a person is uninsured, “it means you’re at mortal risk,” said one of the authors, Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The researchers…determined that the uninsured have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those with private health insurance as a result of being unable to obtain necessary medical care. The researchers then extrapolated the results to census data from 2005 and calculated there were 44,789 deaths associated with lack of health insurance.
Last New Year’s Day I wrote this in anticipation of the continued economic meltdown as it regarded Health Reform:
As we ring in the New Year and begin to contemplate the inter-relatedness of the macro-economy and commence what may well be the “fall into a ‘death spiral’ of unemployment, disfiguring ailments, and a tendency to be underemployed due to such ailments,” it might be worth a moment to consider the often sudden and unexpected nature of both job loss and catastrophic illness– and John Donne.
The bell which John Donne refers to in his most famous quote is “the passing bell,” tolled by the Church for those who are dying. As Donne lay very ill in his bed and heard this bell being tolled, he wondered if he were, in fact, sicker than he thought. And that perhaps that bell was being rung for him personally. He came to realize, however, that whether that was the case or not was largely irrelevant because
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
In the midst of the year long “tedious argument / of insidious intent,” that bell tolled for thee another 45,000 times.
Filed under: Health Care Plans, Medicaid, Uninsured
Recently released data has indicated that young people don’t care about health care reform. Or at least not in large numbers. The poll, released by Gallup, says that only 34% between the ages of 18 and 34 want their Congress members to vote for reform legislation.
But this conclusion, drawn by so many, may be somewhat at odds with what the underlying situation might realistically be: that young people actually do care about health care reform itself– but are reluctant to bear the costs for not only themselves–but aging boomers as well–especially as young people have borne disproportionately the effects of the economic crisis. For those of us who are in between still being dependents on our parents’ insurance and having health coverage of our own through employment, health care coverage is important –and we’re not so stubborn so as to not admit it– but the cost of insurance at the onset of a working life can be a significant barrier.
Why is there a problem of young uninsured people anyway? 19 years of age seems to be the limit for when young people in our country can still get medical coverage under their parents’ policies. Although many states have altered this equation, many have not. For many private insurance companies as well as Medicaid, young people are cut off from coverage at the age of 19 or when they graduate from high school. Many insurance companies cover those dependents that go on to college, and many college insurance plans provide some level of coverage. But those who choose to join the workforce directly following high school graduation are largely left without. In addition, once a “young and invincible” graduates from college, most are severed from insurance coverage altogether (that is, if they weren’t already).
Again, what might lend itself to misconstrual among all the data on health care legislation support is the difference between young people wanting health reform and being able to afford it– even if we get it. According to the Commonwealth Fund, the majority of the uninsured young adult population (ages 19-29) are from low-income households. Also, more than 2.5 million recent college graduates are unemployed. Important to remember is the fact that recent graduates simultaneously face the difficulty of paying off college loan debt. Thankfully, President Obama has not forgotten that fact.
Some policymakers think that because young people are so “invincible” we make an ideal group to add into the health care insurance pool: we are healthy, cheap to cover, and take up a small percentage of overall costs on health care. For them, it makes perfect sense to add a relatively healthy group to the larger pool of Americans requiring insurance so as to drive premiums down overall and/or increase the profitability of insurers. Ideas like this overlook (or disregard) the resultant fact that young people will then bear the responsibility of subsidizing health care costs of older generations– counterintuitive and somewhat contraindicated when we look at wage status and unemployment numbers for recent high school and college graduates entering the workforce, don’t you think?
Importantly, besides the issue of unemployment, the types of work young people are usually able to secure affect their chances of getting health coverage too. Those who are able to obtain jobs usually start off working part-time or lower-wage jobs, ones which typically do not offer benefits such as medical insurance. Read the story about this young woman who was highlighted in the LA Times; she was unlucky enough to need an operation to remove a cyst while she was still in the introductory period as a new-hire (no insurance until you prove yourself, of course). The only way she was able to cover the out-of-pocket expense of $12,000 was through her parents’ refinancing of their home.
Implicit in all this is age rating. For many reasons beyond its potential negative effects on both young and old, age rating should be divorced from actual health care reform. Age rating would allow insurance companies to actively discriminate against its beneficiaries based on age alone. For young people, such proposed age-rated, young-invincible plans are not even comprehensive; they would only cover medical care in times of emergencies or extreme illness, giving the plans the name of “catastrophic insurance.” That sounds enticing. Hard to believe young people wouldn’t be banging down the doors of their elected officials, adamantly demanding “catastrophic insurance,” right?
Better plans would incorporate the real needs of young people: preventive care, prescription benefits, and affordability. These issues are not just unique to older generations. If we want to keep the so-called invincibles healthy, we have to give them better options than just care in times of dire need. Keeping young people on their parents’ insurance until a certain age limit is a good idea, as long as it plays out in practice too. Anything is better than forcing young people to get coverage they can’t afford. If you want our support for health care reform, try tailoring some of the reform bills to what we actually need.
Filed under: Cost Control, Health Reform, Undocumented Aliens, Uninsured
Several commentators have already observed the absence of any discussion of undocumented aliens in the discussion about health care reform. And yet, the issue is huge, particularly for those ten or so states in which these individuals disproportionately live and work. The June 2009 issue of American Journal of Kidney Disease includes an article on a survey of nephrologists who report an increasing number of undocumented aliens with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Unsurprisingly, access to care for these individuals is inadequate and shrinking, with about one third of physicians reporting undocumented patients to be wholly reliant on emergency dialysis, which carries with it higher cost and morbidity; 67%, however, reported availability of long-term dialysis care.
A significant minority of physicians reported advising their undocumented patients to move to another state or country to access care, even though accessing appropriate renal care is difficult due to scarcity in Mexico, the native country of the majority of undocumented aliens in the United States. On the other hand, undocumented aliens present much younger (40′s) with ESRD, which causes many nephrologists to argue that provision of kidney transplants would be a much less costly care approach, long-term. Federal law prohibits use of Medicaid funds for transplants for this population.
Many hospitals find themselves “stuck” with chronically ill patients who no longer require acute care, but require discharge to nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities because their debilitation is so severe. These include victims of car accidents and crimes, for example. These patients originally appear in hospital emergency rooms in acute distress, thereby requiring the hospital to treat and stabilize pursuant to their EMTALA obligations. Medicaid has in the past made some monies available to reimburse hospitals for this episode of care (although it was never enough, according to the hospitals, and while the most recent authorization law expired in 2008, funds remained for distribution into 2009). Further, hospitals are required by Medicare Conditions of Participation to prepare and implement an appropriate discharge plan. This becomes impossible to accomplish if there is no hope of reimbursement for the subsequent care facility.
Assuming there are Medicaid monies to be had for the emergency care of this population, courts have been split over the question of whether the Medicaid emergency services coverage provision covers the long-term and chronic aftermath of an acute situation. Specifically, the question is whether the reimbursement is limited to the treatment required to stabilize the patient with leukemia, ESRD, or brain injury, or whether it extends to the post-stabilization care required to prevent a future emergency condition. Greenery Rehabilitation Group v. New York City Human Resources Administration, 150 F.3d 226 (1998), concluded that if the patients’ post-emergency injuries were properly classified as chronic rather than acute, they do not qualify for Medicaid coverage. Scottsdale Healthcare Inc., v. Arizona Health Care Cost Containment Syst. Admin., 75 P.3d 91 (D.C. Ariz. 2003), rejected the Second Circuit’s focus on stabilization as too narrow, holding instead that the “focus must be on whether the patient’s current medical condition–whether it is the initial injury that led to admission, a condition directly resulting from that injury, or a wholly separate condition–is a non-chronic condition presently manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity that the absence of immediate medical treatment could result” in an emergency condition. Id. at 98. The issue has also been taken up in the last few years by the Connecticut and North Carolina Supreme Courts, in which both plaintiffs’ received emergency room diagnoses of leukemia and sought coverage of their subsequent chemotherapy treatments — these Courts also split on the issue.
These cases are merely a snapshot of a much larger issue. A health care reform bill that doesn’t address the health care of both legal and illegal aliens will be inadequate, and adversely and disproportionately affect the several states where large numbers of immigrants live, work, and school their children. The solution must address access to primary and emergency care as well as treatment for chronic conditions. Those states whose workers compensation systems are inadequate in their coverage of immigrants disabled in the course of their employment might also ameliorate the crisis presented by this population by reform in this area as well.
 Hurley & Kemp, et al., Care of Undocumented Individuals with ESRD: A National Survey of U.S. Nephrologists, 53 Am. J. Kidney Disease 940 (2009).
 Id. at 947.
 CMS Uniform Policy Manual § 3000.01