As those nationwide prepared for their holiday gift exchange, American lawmakers inexplicably put an end to a different type of exchange: a life-saving and successful public health tool called needle exchange.
House Republicans fought for, and won, a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs in a massive spending bill passed in December that will fund the federal government until the fall of 2012. The ban prevents the federal government from spending money funding needle exchange programs not only in the United States, but also restricts the State Department from funding syringe programs internationally. Providing federal funding to such programs had been banned from 1988 to 2009, until finally the ban was ended after the election of Barack Obama. Now it’s back.
These programs focus on high drug-use neighborhoods, providing free clean needles to intravenous drug users in an effort to prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases, including HIV/AIDS. They are often accompanied by HIV counseling and testing, and typically also provide referrals to drug users for treatment. After much debate about their effectiveness, data have shown that the programs drastically reduce infection rates and do not increase illegal drug use. Further, the programs, which currently exist in 33 states, are widely supported by the scientific and public health community, from the CDC to the AMA to the National Academy of Sciences. When the Washington, D.C. Department of Health looked at the efficaciousness of its needle exchange programs, 800,000 needles had been exchanged, 5000 HIV tests had been offered, and 900 people had been referred to drug treatment. Unsurprisingly, the number of new HIV/AIDS infections dropped 60 percent in Washington, a city devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In New York, the numbers of intravenous drug users with HIV have dropped from 50 percent in the 1980s to 16 percent today, following the implementation of a needle exchange program.
Not only do they make scientific sense, but they also make fiscal sense: needle exchange programs reduce health spending in the long run. According to a 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine, needle exchange programs save between $3,000 and $50,000 for each infection prevented.
But the news was not all baffling over the holidays. In New Jersey, state lawmakers approved a bill allowing pharmacists to sell needles and syringes without a prescription, and it now awaits Governor Chris Christie’s signature. Although previously against needle exchanges, Christie has said he has an open mind and will carefully review the bill. And unsurprisingly, according to the New Jersey State Health Department, more than 40 percent of the state’s HIV or AIDS cases were a result of intravenous drug users’ use of contaminated needles.
When it comes to such common sense policy that is effective in reducing new infections, provides support and outreach to those struggling with addiction, is supported by data and the scientific community, and provides smart savings on health care costs in the long run, the ban on such a policy is not only confounding and irresponsible, but dangerous to us all.
Clean Needles in New Jersey, N.Y. Times Editorial, Dec. 14, 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/opinion/clean-needles-in-new-jersey.html?_r=1 (last accessed Jan. 3, 2012).
Emily Badger, Feds Poke Hole in Needle Exchange Funding, Miller-McCune, Dec. 20, 2011, available at http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/feds-poke-hole-in-needle-exchange-funding-38518/ (last accessed Jan. 3, 2012).
Kristen Gwynne, Risking Lives: In 2012 Spending Deal, House GOP Slaps Ban on Federally Funded Syringe Exchange Programs, AlterNet, Dec. 16, 2011, available at http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/749233/risking_lives%3A_in_2012_spending_deal,_house_gop_slaps_ban_on_federally_funded_syringe_exchange_programs/ (last accessed Jan. 3, 2012).
N.J. Lawmakers Approve Sales of Needles, Action News, Dec. 5, 2011, available at http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=8455789 (last accessed Jan. 3, 2012).
Sarah Barr, Needle-Exchange Programs Face New Federal Funding Ban, Kaiser Health News, Dec. 21, 2011, available at http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2011/December/21/needle-exchange-federal-funding.aspx (last accessed Jan. 3, 2012).
Last week, Nic Terry compiled a list of current threats to Medicaid funding. As he noted then, Medicaid coverage is increasingly becoming meaningless for those seeking specialist care. Though more people are slated to enter the program, policymakers are unlikely to fix these flaws before they arrive. To the contrary, “physician reimbursement will decrease, and hospitals are looking to cross-subsidize some of their Medicaid patient expenditures from the privately insured.” Something to remember next time we hear about how imperative it is to cut public health expenditures: there is an inevitable pressure to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
The budget drama narrative has so far focused on Republican efforts to further slash (or end) Medicaid, and Democratic resistance. But now even the Obama Administration is showing signs of reverting to form and endorsing a patina of Medicaid coverage without its substance. It is now too scared to even try to assess the full extent of the access problem. Like “death panels” before, the buzzword “spying on doctors” ended a promising program to measure the relative difficulty of getting access to care using different forms of insurance.
Obama officials are also engaged in more troubling substantive capitulations. Consider this CBPP report:
An Obama Administration proposal that’s on the table for budget negotiators would reduce federal Medicaid expenditures by reducing the federal share of Medicaid and CHIP costs, shifting costs to states and likely prompting states to cut payments to health care providers and to scale back the health services that Medicaid covers for low-income children, parents, people with disabilities, and/or senior citizens (including those in nursing homes). . . . The proposal would replace the various matching rates at which the federal government reimburses states for their costs in insuring people through Medicaid and CHIP with a single “blended rate” for each state. A state’s blended rate would be set at a level that provided the state with less federal funding than under current law, thereby saving the federal government money.
Abigail Moncrief has noted that states “are statutorily required—and should be judicially required—to pay a reasonable price for the services they buy” by the Medicaid Act’s equal access provision (42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(30)(A)). But the Obama Justice Department is apparently complementing the budget team cost cutters by arguing that the Supremacy Clause does not “provide a cause of action for an injunction to enforce” the equal access provision. As Steve Vladeck observes, this is “a shift in policy that, if endorsed by the Supreme Court, would make it all-but-impossible to enforce the equal access mandate–one of the most important statutory requirements of the Medicaid program.”
I don’t think anyone expected the Democratic leadership and the president to walk away from their own hard fought health care reforms before they even had a chance to be implemented. . . . I did think they would have wanted to give their legacy issue a chance to be implemented in full at the beginning, so they could continue to brag about bringing health care to 30 million uninsured Americans if nothing else. . . .But as the president says, in these tough times the government has to tighten its belt just like all American families. I guess he must realize that one of the things American families have had to cut out is their health insurance. So much for that legacy.
Perhaps a “balanced solution” to the budget debate is impossible now. But let’s at least acknowledge where we are heading with the endless Medicaid cost cutting. Much of the developing world has what is essentially a “charity option” for the very poor: they have nowhere near the purchasing power necessary to buy care, but have to rely on the kindness of strangers or NGO’s. We are not imminently headed to that level of catch-as-catch-can care for all of the Medicaid population’s problems: very urgent problems will continue to get attention due to some combination of EMTALA and Medicaid funding. But for many other types of issues, we may need to rely more and more on a combination of cost-shifting and charity. One model is the Global Eye Foundation in India, where “more than 80 percent of the surgeries that the model hospital performs are free of cost to the patient.” When you hear establishment economists talk about increasing the “competitiveness” of the American labor force, and fighting rising health care costs, remember that moving to a developing world model of care is one powerful way of achieving those ends.
Filed under: Obama Administration, Private Insurance
A UPI article (via the RWJF feed) notes that the PPACA provision that allows “young adults who are not full-time students to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26 years old,” has resulted in a gain of 600,000 additional persons to the insurance rolls in the first quarter of this year according to Forbes Magazine.
The article also notes that a recent Kaiser study shows that “46 percent more small businesses- those with 10 or fewer employees – were now offering health insurance to their workers.
The gain was prompted by a tax benefit offered in the Affordable Care Act.”
Looks like steps in the right direction. Read more here.
Filed under: Insurance Companies, Secretary Sebelius
In a post last week, “Insurers’ Profits Swell, Nation Can’t Afford to Get Sick, Can’t Afford to Get Well,” I noted with some distaste that health insurers were said to be looking “for premium increases amidst what [Reed] Abelson describes as ‘flush’ reserve coffers and shareholders ‘rewarded with new dividends.’”
As you might have gleamed from the title of the post, the primary reason for the increased profits was thought to be attributable to “a recessionary mindset” which has led to the insured deferring treatment and thereby not utilizing their health insurance benefits.
As I noted then, despite record profits now, “someday there might be a rainy day” [was/is] a common refrain/justification among insurers.”
Apparently, the Obama administration was none too thrilled with either the prospect of double digit premium increases or the justification. The New York Times reports that
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, issued a final rule establishing procedures for federal and state insurance experts to scrutinize premiums. Insurers, she said, will have to justify rate increases in an environment in which they are doing well financially, with profits exceeding the expectations of many Wall Street analysts.
“Health insurance companies have recently reported some of their highest profits in years and are holding record reserves,” Ms. Sebelius said. “Insurers are seeing lower medical costs as people put off care and treatment in a recovering economy, but many insurance companies continue to raise their rates. Often, these increases come without any explanation or justification.”
PPACA requires annual reviews of “unreasonable increases in premiums.” Starting in September, insurers will need to justify rate increases over 10 percent–with state by state adjustments to that presumptive number the following year. You can read more about the details here, in the Times.
Filed under: Fraud & Abuse, Health Reform, Medicare & Medicaid
On December 15, 2010, President Obama signed the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 (the Medicare Physician Pay Fix Bill). In addition to its one-year delay of a 25% cut in Medicare reimbursements to physicians, the act repeals § 6502 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which would have become effective on January 1, 2011. This move stands in stark contrast to a recent trend toward increased individual liability, specifically the increased exclusion of individuals from federal healthcare programs for fraud and abuse violations.
The federal government, through the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG), has increased its focus on individuals, with exclusions for fraud and abuse violations. As previously reported, OIG released an internal advisory document on October 20, 2010, setting out nonbinding factors for permissive exclusions under § 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act. The new Guidance changed the permissive exclusion standard to a quasi-mandatory standard, by creating a presumption in favor of exclusion when an individual exercises ownership, operational or managerial control over a sanctioned entity and there is evidence that such individual knew or should have known of the prohibited conduct.
OIG swiftly acted on the new Guidance by excluding Marc S. Hermelin, Chairman of the board and majority shareholder of K-V Pharmaceutical. As a result, K-V announced on November 17, 2010 that Hermelin had resigned and agreed to divest himself of all K-V stock. On December 7, 2010, Gregory E. Demske, Assistant Inspector General, announced that the exclusion of Hermelin was “preview of things to come.”
Further, on November 9, 2010, former GlaxoSmithKline Vice President and Associate General Counsel Lauren Stevens was charged with obstruction of justice and making a false statement in response to a Food and Drug inquiry. Michael W. Peregrine, with McDermott Will & Emery LLP, told BNA that, “the Stevens prosecution is a piece of a broader puzzle based in part on the responsible corporate officer doctrine and reflects the government’s heightened interest in fostering individual accountability and that is consistent with other recent attempts by prosecutors to target individuals they believe are responsible for corporate misconduct.”
Section 6502, which was repealed on December 15, would have continued the trend toward increased individual liability. It would have mandated state Medicaid agencies to exclude an individual or entity that “owns, controls, or manages” a Medicaid-participating entity that:
- Has delinquent, unpaid Medicaid overpayments
- Is suspended or excluded from participation in Medicaid, or
- Is affiliated with an individual or entity that has been suspended or excluded from participation in Medicaid
The Medicaid exclusion authority of § 6502 is different than § 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act. Unlike § 1128(b)(15), which provides for permissive exclusion from all federal health care programs, § 6502 would have provided for mandatory derivative exclusion from Medicaid only. Laurence Freedman, an attorney with Patton Boggs told BNA that “this mandatory Medicaid exclusion needed to be repealed to avoid a broad, and I believe, unintended impact. It would have reached former executives or board members of excluded subsidiaries, for example.”
A week before the election, the L.A. Times quoted Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as saying his party “could come up with a healthcare system that American people would not only be proud of, but would actually love.” That same article reported how Republican and other conservative candidates have been promising to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) without proposing a viable alternative. In fact, the Republican track record for the past decade isn’t anything to trumpet. Rather than lowering healthcare costs and expanding access to care,
from President George W. Bush’s election in 2000 to the end of GOP congressional majorities in 2006, Republicans failed to pass major healthcare changes despite evidence of an escalating crisis.
American workers saw their health insurance premiums jump 78%, as the average price tag for an employer-provided family health plan surged to $11,480 a year, according to a survey of employer health benefits by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.
That took a toll on businesses and employees. In 2000, 69% of employers provided their workers with health benefits, the Kaiser surveys found. In 2006, 61% were offering health insurance.
By the time Republicans lost control of Congress, an estimated 43.6 million Americans did not have health insurance, up from 41.3 million six years before.
Be that as it may. The election has taken place, the Republicans have regained control of the House, and the country is left to wonder: are the days of PPACA — or any kind of healthcare reform — numbered? The Washington Post observes that election day “[e]xit polls showed… roughly half the public wants to repeal the bill but that the other half wants to keep or expand it, setting the stage for a potential showdown.” Prescriptions, a N.Y. Times health blog, interviewed a a portfolio manager and health care strategist, and found that he “‘[didn't] think anybody wants to kiss off 30 million new customers’…. What the health insurers and drug and device makers want is not repeal, he argued, but ‘reform light.’”
Granted, the Democrats still control the Senate, a Democratic president remains in office for at least two more years, and the Republicans didn’t win enough seats to override a presidential veto. So if an outright repeal isn’t in the cards, then what other options do the Republicans have to scale back this “monstrosity,” to borrow the colorful phrase used by incoming House Speaker and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)?
The N.Y. Times suggests that Republicans might direct Congress to chip away at or eliminate the less popular PPACA provisions, such as the tax on manufacturers of medical devices, the requirement for many employers to contribute to insurance for employees, or the mandate that everyone have health insurance. The article notes that
with Republicans winning control of many governors’ mansions and making gains at the state legislative level, they will be able to determine how the new law is carried out locally.
Republicans in Congress said they would try to give states more latitude and discretion on issues like the design of health insurance exchanges. The law calls for creation of an exchange in each state and says only government-approved insurance plans can be sold on the exchange.
The new rules, though stricter than in the past, may well be less stringent than they would have been if Democrats had not taken what Mr. Obama described as “a shellacking.” In addition, Republicans said they would try to cut the budget for federal enforcement of the law and related rules.
On Wednesday, Rep. Boehner expressed his belief that “the health care bill will kill jobs in America, ruin the best health care system in the world and bankrupt our country.” In response to these claims, Kaiser Health News asked 3 dozen people across the country, including physicians, CEOs and Presidents, administrators: ”[i]f you ended up in an elevator with Rep. Boehner, what single thing would you urge him to do about health care in this country?” (Click here to read their responses.) I’d urge him to repeal his stance.
Filed under: Ethics, Global Health Care, Health Reform, Public Health
The White House recently released its HIV/AIDS strategy to reduce the number of new infections in the United States by 25% over the next five years. During a press conference, President Obama observed that “[t]he question is not whether we know what to do, but whether we will do it. Whether we will fulfill those obligations… to prevent a tragedy.” Those obligations primarily concern reducing the number of new infections through HIV prevention programs, increasing access to and quality of care for those living with HIV, and decreasing HIV-related health disparities. Right now there are 56,000 new infections in the United States every year. Approximately 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, but 1 in 5 don’t know it.
Advocates have criticized both the administration and Congress for failing to adequately fund HIV/AIDS efforts at home and abroad. A recent AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) “Who’s Better on AIDS?” advocacy advertisement unfavorably compared President Obama’s track record to that of President Bush. (In 2003, the Bush administration implemented the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a multibillion dollar initiative which has proved successful in lowering the AIDS death rate in Africa, though not the rate of HIV infection). Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, told CNN that:
“when you see what this administration has done on AIDS, you have to give them very low grades.”
Obama has “consistently underfunded AIDS” programs, Weinstein said. The president “did not mention the word AIDS for the first five months of his administration. This national AIDS strategy has been worked on for 15 months, [and] I think it could have been done in 15 minutes. There’s nothing new in it.”
Weinstein [also] criticized the administration’s intention to redirect money to those groups at greatest risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. “It’s not good to pit one group against another and it’s unnecessary,” he said. “The bottom line is that we should be seeking to get all sexually active people to get an HIV test.”
Some recent Canadian research also suggests another bottom line: treating people with HIV reduces the number of new infections. And there the treatment is free.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently presented its findings that heterosexuals living below the poverty line ($10,000 or less) in American cities were twice as likely to be infected with HIV as their higher-income neighbors. The statistics translate to 1 in 42 people (the national average is 1 in 222 people). Most studies focus on sexual orientation, race, and/or intravenous drug use. None of those factors were included here though. Kevin Fenton, a CDC HIV/AIDS expert, said that “HIV clearly strikes the economically disadvantaged in a devastating way.” Researchers found that the risk of spreading HIV came from a lack of access to medical care and unawareness of infection. Dr. Carlos del Rio, Chair of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, frames the issue differently as “[y]ou can talk about ‘Can we decrease the HIV burden in the United States?’ I would say, ‘What can we do to decrease poverty in the United States?’”
The 18th International AIDS Conference took place last week in Vienna, Austria. Policymakers, researchers, advocates, and persons living with HIV met to draw attention to the epidemic and assess the global response to it. According to the Associated Press, Julio Montaner, President of the International AIDS Society and Chairman of the Conference, opened the event by pointing to how:
the G-8 group of rich nations has failed to deliver on a commitment to guarantee so-called universal access and warned this could have dire consequences.
“This is a very serious deficit,” Montaner said. “Let’s rejoice in the fact that today we have treatments that work … what we need is the political will to go the extra mile to deliver universal access.”
With the global economic crisis in full swing, AIDS activists are concerned about developed countries reducing their foreign aid, including funding for AIDS assistance.
In its annual report released last week, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that global AIDS spending has “flattened.” Although public and private sources contributed $15.9 billion in 2009, the amount was $7.7 billion short of the estimated $23.6 billion needed to combat AIDS in low and middle-income countries. Contributing governments included the U.S. (58%), United Kingdom (10.2%), Germany (5.2%), the Netherlands (5%), France (4.4%), and Denmark (2.5%). The report noted that “without U.S. funding, international AIDS assistance from donor governments would have significantly declined between 2008 and 2009.”
Effective 2014, as part of the new health care law, most U.S. citizens will be required to obtain some type of health care insurance or be hit with a tax penalty. This federal mandate is part of an effort by the Obama administration to use the penalty (or tax) to prevent uninsured Americans from shifting their $43 billion in healthcare costs to others.
However, this mandate did not sit well with some states, as many have filed suits seeking to invalidate the law. Virginia was the first to butt heads with the federal government in court. In a two-hour hearing, the federal government and Virginia both made their arguments before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
The NY Times reports that Judge Hudson, “who was appointed by the first President George Bush, questioned both sides aggressively and said he would rule within 30 days. The judge predicted that the challenges to the health care law ‘will at some point in time define the outer boundaries’ of federal regulatory power.”
Although the hearing primarily concerned the issue of whether Virginia had legal standing to bring this claim, part of that analysis requires the court to look at the likliehood of the party seeking standing to have the injury alleged redressed. The requirements for standing are nicely stated in “The ‘Lectric Law Library“:
Standing. The legal right to initiate a lawsuit. To do so, a person must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand, and there must be a case or controversy that can be resolved by legal action.There are three requirements for Article III standing: (1) injury in fact, which means an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal relationship between the injury and the challenged conduct, which means that the injury fairly can be traced to the challenged action of the defendant, and has not resulted from the independent action of some third party not before the court; and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision, which means that the prospect of obtaining relief from the injury as a result of a favorable ruling is not too speculative. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 2136 (1992) (Lujan). The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing each of these elements. Id.
The state here would seem to bear the burden of showing, among other things, that any harm that may or may not be experienced by its individual citizens is a concrete and particularized harm to the state itself. As for the crux of the issues beyond standing, The NY Times reports:
[States'] central argument is that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution cannot be interpreted to allow government penalties on Americans for refusing to buy a product, or as Virginia’s lawsuit puts it for “an absence of commerce.”
“We’re saying you can’t draft someone into activity so you can regulate him,” Virginia’s solicitor general, E. Duncan Getchell Jr., told Judge Hudson.
Mr. Getchell said the Justice Department’s defense of the law “evinces hostility to federalism.” He called the law “a radical, radical claim of power” that, if upheld, would allow the federal government to require citizens to buy most any commercial product in the name of advancing the national interest.
Ian H. Gershengorn, a deputy assistant United States attorney general, countered that the insurance requirement fitted well within the Supreme Court‘s parameters for Congressional regulation of interstate commerce. A choice not to obtain coverage, he said, is not inactivity, as Virginia and the other state plaintiffs claim, but an active decision to pay for future medical care out of pocket. Because many Americans cannot afford the cost of surgeries and hospitalization, their choice to go uninsured shifts the uncompensated cost of their care to hospitals, taxpayers and commercial policyholders.
Despite Virginia’s efforts to protect the interest of the state and its citizens, not everyone in Virginia is pleased with the state’s action to nullify the new health care law. Some citizens of Virginia seemed more concerned about affordable health care than state’s rights. As one small business owner puts it, “…seems to me that our attorney general and our current administration are putting politics first and are not taking care of the citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia.”
The Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cucinelli “said at a news conference after the hearing that the state has “a better than even chance of prevailing” at each step along the way to the lawsuit’s ultimate destination: the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Judge Hudson’s comment, that “the health care law ‘will at some point in time define the outer boundaries’ of federal regulatory power,” is interesting in this context. It seems to denote a question, even if not answered at this time, as to where the line lay.
Professor Mark Hall, in posts here at HRW and later picked up by the Washington Post and New York Times, would beg to differ with Mr. Cucinelli (and perhaps Judge Hudson). Professor Hall’s posts appear below:
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.
Is BP (and the government) performing an unauthorized experiment on public health and the environment? That’s the unsettling conclusion one might draw, given the use of dispersants in the Gulf.
As Tom Dickinson’s excellent Rolling Stone article describes the issue,
On May 14th, two days after the first video of the gusher was released, the government allowed BP to apply a toxic dispersant that is banned in England at the source of the leak – an unprecedented practice in the deep ocean. “The effort should be in recovering the oil, not making it more difficult to recover by dispersing it,” says Sylvia Earle, a famed oceanographer and former NOAA chief scientist who helped the agency confront the world’s worst-ever oil spill in the Persian Gulf after the first Iraq War. The chemical assault appeared geared, she says, “to improving the appearance of the problem rather than solving the problem.”
Filed under: Health Reform, Proposed Legislation
In what is surely a watershed moment in American social and political history, the Health Reform bill passed on Sunday, March 21, 2010. In the company of historic enactments such as Social Security and Medicare, the bill passed, 219 Yea, 212 Nay. The bill required 216 votes to pass.
Republican members of the House voted en masse against and vowed to further obstruct enactment of the bill through any means at their disposal.
To say that the battle to pass a health reform bill was long and arduous is not to engage in hyperbole. The debate raged on throughout the year, with a raucous and often maddening to and fro in an attempt to reach at first bipartisan consensus, and then just critical mass in a parliamentary sense.
To say, however, that the passage of this bill is an end to the battle to bring about health care reform is to miss the point. It is, I believe, a first but crucial step in what must be an ongoing effort. The bill encompasses well over a thousand pages; like anything that large it will have to be adjusted as need requires. The health care system is, perhaps, today one step closer to being just that– a system, as opposed to just an ill-fit hodgepodge of perverse incentives and dysfunction.
Last year, as President Obama took office, considering health care and national productivity, I wrote that
One of the first national health lessons this country received came on the heels of World War I.
“With the United States’ entry into the battle, hundreds of thousands of military personnel were drafted and trained for combat. After the war was fought and won, statistics were released from the draft with disturbing data regarding fitness levels. It was found that one out of every three drafted individuals was unfit for combat and many of those drafted were highly unfit prior to military training. Government legislation was passed that ordered the improvement of physical education programs within the public schools.”
“During the period from September 1917 through November 1918, records show that 2,801,635 men were inducted into the Army. Out of the approximately 10,000,000 registered men, roughly 2,510,000 were examined by local draft boards. During the first 4 months of mobilization, roughly one in three men were rejected on physical grounds, but the rejection rate dropped to one in four during the following 8 months.” (p. 149)
Having put forth the effort to remedy such, we were better physically prepared when it came time to fight World War II. We will be fortunate if some cataclysmic event does not lead us now to some statistical reckoning of our “unfit” and “extremely unfit” as regards our national productivity.
I do not point this out as a means of suggesting that we need to actively prepare ourselves for some form of larger global military conflict. But perhaps in some ways the “event” has already occurred, and only the reckoning remains. In his inaugural address President Barack Obama entreated us:
“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”
“America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”
He’s right. We must “come forth to meet it.” We cannot turn back and we cannot falter as we struggle to deliver this hard won gift of freedom to future generations. And it would be best if– as we brave these icy currents in this winter of our hardship– we were not sick. And if we were sick, that we all had doctors. And if we all had doctors, that they were not too busy filling out paperwork designed to frustrate them. As we learned through World War I, as a nation, we simply cannot afford to squander our physical and intellectual capital.
And now, on March 21, 2010 we have come further forth to meet that challenge. It is reckoned that because of the enactment of the bill an additional 32 million people will now have health insurance. That is 32 million people who can see a doctor when they get sick. 32 million people who mostly will not show up in emergency rooms in a critical and costly condition which they could have avoided had they merely gone to a doctor sooner. 32 million people who stand a far better chance of not having to declare bankruptcy related to medical costs. And 32 million people who will not contribute to the shameful amount of deaths each year attributed in this country to a lack of health insurance.
A good start.
1. The Final Push: Kaiser Health News compiles the latest news stories detailing the final push that is underway by Democrats and the White House to try and pass their comprehensive health reform plan.
2. Rep. Paul Ryan: Ezra Klein interviews Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; the two discuss the economic impact of the Democrats’ health reform plan.
3. Abortion: Tim Jost does a yeoman’s job of laying out the differences between the House and Senate bills regarding abortion funding.
4. Health Summit Redux: Ewe Reinhardt discusses the lessons learned from the Health Summit.
5. Health IT: John Halamka covers the new HITECH-related NPRM that HHS recently released. The newest NPRM deals with the process of certifying EHR systems under the CMS’s incentive-based framework for meaningful EHR use.
6. Health IT Review: For those trying to catch up on health IT developments, Computerworld has a critical yet thorough account of the high speed push towards EHR adoption.
7. Isn’t That Nice: A feel good story about the The Oracle of Omaha and Dr. Atul Gawande.
Filed under: Obama Administration, Proposed Legislation
Interesting article in the Washington Post worth taking a quick view. According to WaPo:
Increasingly, the White House appears to favor having the House pass a version of the measure that cleared the Senate with 60 votes in December. The Senate would then pass changes to the bill to satisfy some demands of House Democrats. That Senate vote would take place under a parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation, which requires 51 votes rather than 60.
It remains unclear whether Democrats have enough votes within their ranks for this strategy to work. At the same time, it is only “one option” the president is considering, a senior White House official said Sunday.
In addition, the Washington Post points out that White House adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle “said on Sunday she thinks Democrats will secure enough ayes on the measure and signaled that the administration could be moving toward trying to pass it along party lines.”
The Wall St. Journal’s Health Blog points out, however, that there may be some difficulty in implementing such a plan:
But the process of keeping enough Democrats in line for even a simple majority is tricky: House members in particular still like their bill better than the Senate version and the changes they seek from the Senate also aren’t a sure thing before the House votes.
The President is expected to unveil his strategy later in the week.
There are any number of places to find recaps and summations of the Health Care Reform Summit. This article from AP’s Erica Werner, “Obama, GOP agree on some health areas,“ outlines the commonalities and differences; this article from AP’s Charles Babington, “Obama, GOP fail to reach accord on health bill,“ focuses more on the apparent failure of the process. Perhaps the two articles display a glass half-full/ half- empty rift within A.P. as well.
Seemingly, the one aspect of the health care and the health care finance system Democrats and Republicans agreed most strongly on is that the glass is, euphemistically stated, half- empty. The fundamental disparities between the two groups, however, become apparent as soon as the discussion moves towards how to fill that glass. Notably, the Republicans have strongly espoused that the year’s worth of work represented by the House and Senate bills be “scrapped,” or, in the words of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, “start over with a blank piece of paper.” The Senate bill runs 2400 pages.
But perhaps the most significant thing which happened today at the summit is what was not said. When Republicans repeatedly asked for reassurances that Democrats would not circumvent the parliamentary procedure of the filibuster with the parliamentary procedure of reconciliation, the Democrats, including President Obama, declined. In doing so, the Democrats reserved for themselves the ability to pass a bill with a simple majority in the Senate (51 votes) instead of the 60 votes it would require to overcome a filibuster.
Obama sent a very strong signal toward the end of the summit: He wants a bill even if the only way to get it is through the reconciliation route. “I don’t think that the American people are interested in the process inside the Senate,” Obama replied in response to Sen. John McCain’s criticism of the idea that the Senate might try to pass a bill with fewer than 60 Senate votes. Most Americans, Obama said, believe in “majority rule.” So they do.
I have already written about my own constitution based questions and misgivings regarding the filibuster as practiced in modernity–wherein Senators need not go through the arduous task of actually holding the floor with non-stop speech. Where arguably, the day-in and day-out de facto supermajority requirement for the Senate to pass legislation begs the question: Yes, “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings….” but what happens when the rule of procedure swallows the law?
Ezra Klein writes:
According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.
But perhaps this can all be reconciled.
1. Principle or Posturing (or both)? –Kaiser Health News discusses the sudden plea from certain Senators for a reintroduction of the public plan into the Senate’s bill.
2. Starting From Scratch? — The Hill highlights polling indicating that many Americans favor scrapping the health bill and starting over, an option that President Obama has repeatedly said is not an option.
2a. Presidential Preemption? — Interestingly, the New York Times details the possibility of Obama posting his own health reform bill on the Internet ahead of the much-hyped health care summit. Could Obama use his “new” bill as evidence of a “fresh start” to appease Republicans?
3. Back to Basics — Maggie Mahar details the longstanding debate about whether health insurance actually saves lives.
4. Scoop on Standards — Dr. John Halamka, a physician who serves as CIO of Beth Israel Hospital and Chairman of the Health Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) at the ANSI, shares his thoughts on the vocabulary standards that will come to be the Esperanto of HIT.
5. HIT Funding — On Febuary 12th, the first $1 billion of federal funding for HIT promised under the HITECH Act was made available, with $10.6 million going to Massachusetts for the creation of a health information exchange.
6. Health Reform “Casualty”: The New York Times reported that former Congressman-turned head of PhRMA Billy Tauzin is resigning. Betting on the passage of health reform, Tauzin offered billions in concessions to the White House in exchange for, among other things, favorable patent exclusivity periods for pricey biologics.
7. Health 2.0 — The Health Care Blog reports on the purchase of online pain management company ReliefInSite.com by PatientsLikeMe.com–the popular patient web site which claims to be the “leading online community for patients with life-changing diseases.” Don’t be to surprised to see further growth of similar “Health 2.0″ websites that seek to take advantage of the increasing digitization of health care delivery and research.
8. The Science Behind Reform — Stephen Novella at Science-Based Medicine revisits the question of the effectiveness of colonoscopies.