In case you missed it, in the wake of the opening ceremony to the Olympics which featured a tribute to Great Britain’s National Health Services, Uwe E. Reinhardt, an Economics Professor at Princeton, had an interesting piece in The New York Times regarding the negative attitudes of Americans towards “socialized medicine” in general, G.B.’s NHS in particular, and at least one American anomaly in practice. Reinhardt writes:
I have found that one effective way I can stop N.H.S.-bashing dead in its track is to ask bashers this simple question: “Why don’t you like my son?” I posed that question to a congressman who had berated “socialized medicine” during a hearing on health insurance reform at which I testified.
In response to the stunned look this question invariably elicits, I go on: “You see, our son is a retired captain of the U.S. Marine Corps. He is an American veteran. Remarkably, Americans of all political stripes have long reserved for our veterans the purest form of socialized medicine, the vast health system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (generally known as the V.A. health system). If socialized medicine is as bad as so many on this side of the Atlantic claim, why have both political parties ruling this land deemed socialized medicine the best health system for military veterans? Or do they just not care about them?”
You can read the rest here, and it’s well worth it–even if only for the Steven Hawkins story.
Professor Frank Pasquale wrote a featured Op-ed in The Record, New Jersey’s most awarded newspaper, regarding a constitutional right to health care. Professor Pasquale, who is Associate Director of the Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy and Editor in Chief of HRW, writes:
SHOULD the Supreme Court weigh in on America’s great health care debate? Yes. It should declare a constitutional right to health care.
This right is already enjoyed by prisoners. Law-abiding citizens deserve it, too.
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including… medical care.”
Many advanced countries have adopted – and lived up to – similar commitments.
Of course, that’s not on the Supreme Court’s agenda. Instead, it will decide whether to cripple last year’s health reform, known as the Affordable Care Act, by declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional.
I understand objections to the mandate. Cash-strapped Americans don’t deserve one more drain on their resources. I’m also not a fan of making people buy health insurance from private insurers. They waste a lot of money, and are one reason why U.S. doctors’ administrative costs are a whopping 400 percent higher than those in Canada.
If I designed the ACA, I’d have given everyone a public option, modeled on Medicare.
But I didn’t write the bill, Congress did. In precedents going all the way back to the 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland (and affirmed as recently as 2010), the Supreme Court has deferred to Congress’s constitutional powers to solve national problems.
The court risks looking political if it abandons that approach now. It has already jettisoned once-venerable holdings on campaign finance, equal protection and antitrust.
Filed under: Health Benefit Costs, Insurance Companies, Private Insurance
Angela Braly, CEO of health insurance giant WellPoint, deserves a raise. As regular readers of this column know, Ms. Braly did not make as much as Aetna’s Ronald A. Williams in 2008.
Aetna’s Ronald Williams received $24,300,112 last year. That’s $467,309.85 per week. That’s a house. Maybe not a house that Mr. Williams would live in, but a house nonetheless. The man makes a house a week. And interestingly enough, if Mr. Williams were to eschew the purchase of a house on any given week and instead look to deposit the money in a bank– in order to remain FDIC insured (up to $250,000)– he would actually need to open more than one account–every week. Lest we lament the fate of the other CEOs on the list, in 2008 Ms. Braly had to get by on $189,311.76 per week….
Less than half of what Mr. Williams brought in, in 2008 Ms. Braly was forced to make ends meet on $9,844,212.
In 2007, her first year on the job: $9,094,271. Which, for those keeping score at home, is $174,889.83 per week. Her predecessor at Wellpoint, Larry Glasscock, received $23,886,169 in total compensation in 2006. Again, in 2008 Ms. Braly had to get by on $189,311.76 per week. True, it was $14,421.93 more per week than she had made the year prior, but that won’t be nearly sufficient for this year.
So why does Angela Braly deserve a raise? Pay so high that the FDIC limits on insurance (yes, it’s somewhat ironic) won’t work for her weekly paycheck? Because WellPoint subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross of California has found the audacity to raise individual insurance premiums in that state 39%. That’s right, 39%. This, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, “as WellPoint Incorporated, has seen its profits soar, earning $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009 alone.”
Profits “soar,” raise rates. What more could Wall Street want?
Secretary Sebelius has demanded “justification” for the increase. In a letter sent to the Wellpoint subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross, she writes:
One of the biggest pressures facing families, businesses and governments at every level are skyrocketing health insurance costs. With so many families already affected by rising costs, I was very disturbed to learn through media accounts that Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise premiums for its California customers by as much as 39 percent. These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make health care unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy.
Your company’s strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand. As you know, your parent company, WellPoint Incorporated, has seen its profits soar, earning $2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009 alone.
And there you have it, profits soar, raise rates, the stock soars–as will, presumably, Ms. Braly’s stock options. She won’t have “to get by on $189,311.76 per week” for all that much longer. With that kind of move it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself in Mr. Williams’ neighborhood.
Now that the healthcare reform debate awaits its Summit, from the vantage point of its nadir, one might imagine other Insurance Company CEO’s to embark upon a similar strategy. Good thing we jettisoned all those proposed pesky insurance regulations contained in the House & Senate bills.
Because it never gets old to me, here’s the list of Insurance Company CEO Total Compensation:
Res Ipsa Loquitur.
Ins. Co. & CEO With 2007 Total CEO Compensation
- Aetna Ronald A. Williams: $23,045,834
- Cigna H. Edward Hanway: $25,839,777
- Coventry Dale B. Wolf : $14,869,823
- Health Net Jay M. Gellert: $3,686,230
- Humana Michael McCallister: $10,312,557
- U.Health Grp Stephen J. Hemsley: $13,164,529
- WellPoint Angela Braly (2007): $9,094,271
L. Glasscock (2006): $23,886,169
Ins. Co. & CEO With 2008 Total CEO Compensation
- Aetna, Ronald A. Williams: $24,300,112
- Cigna, H. Edward Hanway: $12,236,740
- Coventry, Dale Wolf: $9,047,469
- Health Net, Jay Gellert: $4,425,355
- Humana, Michael McCallister: $4,764,309
- U. Health Group, Stephen J. Hemsley: $3,241,042
- Wellpoint, Angela Braly: $9,844,212
Filed under: Private Insurance, Proposed Legislation, Public Plan
On January 8th, 2010, the Alliance for Health Reform and The Commonwealth Fund co-sponsored and moderated a panel discussion on the health insurance exchanges that are being proposed in both the House and the Senate health reform bills. The panel consisted of Washington and Lee professor Timothy Jost, John Kingsdale of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, and Philip Vogel of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), which runs the non-profit CBIA Health Connections, a health insurance exchange for the state of Connecticut.
The co-sponsors have uploaded all of the event’s materials, including a webcast of the entire event, as well as all of the powerpoint slides and papers. All of this information can be found here.
Professor Jost and the Commonwealth fund created detailed charts comparing the differences between the two bills. Below is a reproduction of Professor Jost’s chart, which can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnails.
Both the House and the Senate bills would create new health insurance exchanges that would help consumers and employers navigate the purchase of health insurance. Though the common thread of a regulated marketplace runs through both bills, all three panelists noted the stark difference in the vision and implementation of the exchanges under the respective bills.
Below are some of the key distinctions between the two bills.
The House Bill — Public Option with Opt-Out Possibility
The House’s bill, H.R. 3962 (click here for entire pdf) provides for a federal exchange that would essentially eliminate the individual marketplace for health insurance going forward. A public plan would be offered that would reimburse providers at negotiated rates between those of Medicare and commercial rates. The applicable section of the House’s bill is Title III, entitled Health Insurance Exchange and Related Provisions.
Title III of the House Bill would create the Health Choices Administration with a Commissioner who would oversee the exchange. Citing Section 301 and 308 of the Bill, Professor Jost notes on page 17 of his paper:
The exchange operates at the national level, established within a new Health Choices Administration. The Commissioner of the HCA can, however, permit individual states or groups of states to administer an exchange within their territory in place of the national exchange if specific requirements are met, subject to revocation if the state ceases to meet the requirements of the bill. Even if the HCA delegates exchange authority to a state, the Commissioner retains enforcement authority and can further specify functions retained by the Commissioner and not delegated.
Thus, the House’s bill would create an exchange system that is fairly centralized and regulated, but with added flexibility. If the states fail to implement their own exchange then HHS will implement an exchange for them. Only those policies considered “grandfathered” could be sold outside of the exchange, and such “grandfathering” can only occur in the individual market. (See Section 202). Insurance offered inside the exchange would fit into one of four tiers: basic, enhanced, premium, and premium plus. (See Section 303). These tiers would correspond to different actuarial values of the plans. Subsidies would be provided on a sliding scale that is determined by the purchaser’s income.
The House bill would also limit the medical loss ratio of plans offered in the exchanges to 85 percent, largely prohibit the rescission of contracts, eliminate lifetime coverage limits, eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, as well as require guaranteed issue and renewal of plans. Variations in premiums based on the age of the insured could only vary by a maximum of 2:1.
Not all of the panelists agreed with every provision. For example, Mr. Vogel took issue with the dependence on the medical loss ratio in regulating the market, instead arguing for a greater reliance on the “claim dollar” as a guide post.
Whether offered inside the exchange or grandfathered, all plans must meet certain requirements in terms of essential benefits, which would be determined by HHS, and would be based on the recommendation of the Health Benefits Advisory Committee–a public/private hybrid entity.
- Click here to jump to section 223 outlining the Health Benefits Advisory Committee
These benefits would include hospitalization, outpatient care, prescriptions drugs, equipment, and a host of other benefits.
- Click here to jump to the section 222 which details the essential benefits.
The House bill would also impose rules regarding the transparency of the plans offered in the exchange by requiring certain information about the plans to be disclosed.
The Senate Approach — No Public Option; Multistate Substitute Would Exist
For whatever reason, the Senate crafted a more complicated framework of exchanges.
A crucial point of divergence from the House bill is the Senate bill’s lack of a federally financed public plan offered through the exchange. However, as discussed below, part of the Senate plan attempts to act as a substitute. Another area of divergence is that existing individual and group plans may continue alongside newly created exchanges, in addition to any grandfathered plans. This is in stark distinction to the House bill that would eliminate some existing policies. Though as noted, the House bill would allow for some grandfathering.
The Senate’s exchange framework is based on section 1001 of the bill which provides that HHS will, with the help of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), craft standards regarding the minimum benefits and other aspects of the plans sold through the various exchanges.
In terms of the Senate’s framework for exchanges, it is as follows. The Senate bill will allow for a number of exchanges that would exist on variety of different governmental levels. Whereas the House bill envisions a more federal exchange system, the Senate bill would instead allow for state-based exchanges, multistate exchanges (i.e. regional), or substate exchanges.
- Click here for a pdf version of Senate bill, as passed.
For the individual and the small group markets, the Senate bill would require each state to create a American Health Benefit Exchange for individual purchasers of insurance, and a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) for small businesses purchasers. HHS would regulate these exchanges (See section 1321(a)(1)). These exchanges would be governed by regulations promulgated by HHS, unless the states adopt alternative standards that the HHS finds acceptable.
The state may combine the individual market exchanges with the small business (SHOP) exchanges. Additionally, states have the flexibility to establish regional exchanges or smaller subsidiary exchanges that target specific geographic areas within the state. (See Section 1311(f)). If the states do not create a system of either separate exchanges for individuals and small business, or some combination, HHS will establish an exchange or utilize a non-profit insurer to fill the void. See 1321(c).
The multistate exchanges are important, as they may mollify those who have been touting the idea of interstate health insurance offerings as a panacea for the woes of U.S. health insurance.
Regardless of how any states’ exchange(s) plays out, many of the important provisions of the Senate’s bill such as certain minimum benefits, the ban on lifetime or annual dollar limits, the ban on rescission, and medical loss ratio requirements would apply across the landscape of exchanges.
State Opt-Out Possible
Under the Senate bill, the states would be eligible in 2017 to opt-out of the federal requirements listed above if they can demonstrate that they are providing affordable coverage that is at least as affordable and comprehensive as the Bill requires. Alternatively, the state may be allowed to create a “public health plan” for those under 200% of the federal poverty level. Under this arrangement, the federal government would compensate the state for 95 percent of what would have been provided through premium tax credits as well as cost-sharing reduction payments. (See Section 1331).
Multistate plans: A Compromise?
One major amendment passed on December 24th was section 1334 which amended section 1333 which dealt with multistate exchanges. Under section 1334, The Office of Personnel Management (OPM)–the agency that governs the federal employees health benefit program (FEHB)–will enter into contracts with insurance carriers to offer at least 2 multistate plans through each exchange in each state. (See 1334(a)(1)). These plans will cover the individual and small group market. At least one of those plans must be a non-profit insurance plan, and must be in accordance with the general standards set forth for health insurance plans.
Though there would be a minimum level of benefits and protections required for all plans, the States would be entitled to offer multistate plans with more substantial benefits. However the state will have to defray the costs of the additional benefits.
Unlike the House bill which eliminates the state-based individual market, the Senate bill envisions exchanges that would co-exist with both the individual and small-group markets, and operate under the same rules. Though the Senate bill allows for flexibility, the subsidies provided by the federal government could only apply to insurance plans sold through the exchange.
One of the most important and controversial sections of the amended Senate bill is section 1334(a)(4), which specifies that, in administering the multistate plan, OPM will have the same bargaining power as they currently have for plans offered in the FEHB. Thus, OPM would be able to negotiate for a specified medical loss ratio and profit margin, as well as specified premium rates and any other terms in the “interest of the enrollees.” The goal is for these plans to be offered nationwide. Whether the OPM-run exchange will succeed is obviously yet to be determined, but some like Professor Timothy Jost are worried that the Senate’s plan to allow some plans to operate outside of the exchange complicates the federal government’s job in risk adjustment.
Filed under: Chronic Conditions, Health Reform
In case you missed it: Health Reform Watch regular, Professor John V. Jacobi, interviewed by Lester Feder for Legal Issues in Health Reform, a publication of The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. In part:
Covering the Chronically Ill: An Interview with John V. Jacobi
John V. Jacobi is Dorothea Dix Professor of Health Law and Policy at the Seton Hall University School of Law. The O’Neill Institute’s Lester Feder spoke with him about health reform and covering those with chronic illness.
Lester Feder: Generally speaking, what do you think of what it is looking like we’re going to get out of Congress?
John V. Jacobi: I think that there are two big clusters of issues: one is covering the uninsured, which has gotten most of the attention, for good reason. The other issues, which I’ve been most concerned about is access for the most vulnerable: people with chronic illness and disabilities. On the first part it’s anybody’s guess on how well we’re going to do at covering the uninsured. On the second part, there are lots of interesting structural pieces in the bills that will help people with chronic illness, but I think that the overall structure of the reform may end up undercutting that quite a bit.
The pieces in the bills that are helpful are the ones that create medical homes, or chronic care management, or assure coordination of care for people with chronic illness. It is the sort of change that our delivery system and our finance system really need to be looking at. The problem with getting those innovations to actually work is that much of the coverage under the plans for the chronically ill will be provided through the private marketplace.
And here’s the problem with that: Private insurance companies are more or less profitable depending on the risks that they accept. They are much more likely to be profitable if they are good at risk selection than if they are efficient and provide good service in other ways. There is such a dramatic concentration of cost in any actuarial pool that if an insurance company can avoid the 10 percent of the sickest people it is going to be doing quite well, whether it’s good or bad at delivering its services. And the ones that attract those 10 percent of the sickest are going to be in trouble unless there’s quite a good risk-adjustment program for premiums, which doesn’t seem to be available yet.