Tag Archives: Obama

Getting Ready for the Insurance Exchanges

There’s been a lot of talk about the state-based health insurance exchanges set to debut in 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act. How will they work? Will all states participate? Will they be ready on time?  Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a series of rules that aim to answer some of those questions.

One set of federal guidance that hasn’t gotten much attention is a final rule outlining the workings of the reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment programs in the health law. The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on March 23, the 2-year anniversary of the ACA.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy.

The 127-page document isn’t exactly a quick read, but it does shed some light on how the government is trying to remove any incentives health plans might have to try to avoid enrolling people with high medical costs. The programs also are designed to make health plan costs are predictable under the exchanges so that premiums will be relatively stable.

The ACA relies on one permanent and two temporary programs to guard against the premium fluctuations that could result if some health plans were flooded with the sickest patients, while others had only healthy customers. Under the permanent risk adjustment program, HHS is seeking to spread the financial risk of the health plans by providing payments to plans that attract higher risk patients. That risk will be offset by funds from health plans that have enrolled lower risk patients. The program will apply to all non-grandfathered plans in the individual and small group markets both in and out of the exchanges.

HHS also released details on the temporary reinsurance program, which aims to stabilize premiums in the individual insurance market during the early years of the exchanges, when officials expect a lot of people with chronic or expensive medical needs to be insured for the first time. From 2014 through 2016, all health insurers and self-insurance group plans will contribute to the reinsurance program to help cover these patients.

Another temporary program is the risk corridors program. It too is designed to reduce health insurers risk of being in the exchange early on. From 2014 through 2016, exchange plans that have costs at least 3% lower than previous cost projections will pay a percentage of those savings to HHS. The government will then pass the money on to health plans whose costs were at least 3% higher than projected.

— Mary Ellen Schneider

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Poll: Most Want the Mandate Nixed. Do You?

As the Supreme Court prepares to take on challenges to the Affordable Care Act, new data suggests that Americans remain divided on the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance. Little more than half of Americans (54%) think the individual mandate should be ruled unconstitutional and that the Supreme Court will likely agree (55%), according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll was based on telephone interviews with 1,206 adults in the United States from. Jan 12-17.

Courtesy Kaiser Family Foundation

The poll also found that more than half (59%) of Americans think the Supreme Court Justices will base their ruling on their own opinions.  That sentiment is being echoed by the conservative interest group Freedom Watch, which recently filed its second petition to request Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself. Supporters of the petition take issue with Justice Kagan’s former position as Solicitor General and close adviser to President Obama while the law was being written.

If the mandate were ruled unconstitutional, it’s not clear if the rest of the law would remain solvent. According to the poll, 55% of American thought remaining provisions of the law would survive but 30% said it would mean the end of the law entirely.

Courtesy Kaiser Family Foundation

Further, the Kaiser poll shows that Americans are split on their own opinions of the ACA. According to the poll, 44% are against the law, 37% support the law, and 19% are unsure.

However, a majority (67%) oppose the mandate because it forced American to do something they don’t want to do (30%) or because health insurance is unaffordable (25%). An additional 22% just don’t like the idea of paying a fine for not having insurance.

Those who do support the mandate (30%) said it guarantees that everyone needs health coverage (32%) and that the mandate can guarantee that (17%). Some also said the mandate could control costs (15%).

Do you agree with these findings? Tell us more.

– Frances Correa (FMCReporting)

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The Trauma of Politics in Medicine

It’s been a quick reversal for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, reinstating funding some 72 hours after cutting off Planned Parenthood because of new criteria barring grants to organizations under investigation, prompted in this case, by a Republican congressman.

“We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political,” Komen CEO and founder Nancy Brinker said in a statement issued Friday.

The uproar brought more than $3 million in donations to Planned Parenthood in just three days, but also highlights the volatile mixture of politics and medicine.

Dr. Richard Carmona recently observed that one of the most popular presentations he made during his tenure as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States did not address emerging infections, physical trauma, or national diasters, but rather the plague of politics in medicine.

“This traumatic plague of politics is more insidious and virulent than emerging infections; has potentially more morbidity and mortality than hemorrhagic shock or blunt or penetrating trauma; has virtually no diagnostic criteria; and is resistant to all therapy, especially voices of reason, substantive discussion or positions of compromise,” he said during a memorial lecture at the recent meeting of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

Dr. Richard Carmona Patrice Wendling/Elsevier Global Medical News

Dr. Carmona didn’t have far to look for examples to flesh out his diagnosis.

More than a century ago, public health officials’ efforts to control the bubonic plague outbreak of 1900 in San Francisco were nearly derailed by politicians who claimed that quarantine procedures, including closing the city’s harbor to incoming ships, were an over-reaction that would impede commerce and tourism, and result in the collapse of San Francisco, and possibly California. The Surgeon General who intervened based on the scientific evidence was labeled a heretic and asked to resign.

In the 1980s, similar calls were made after former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop refused to back down from statements that HIV could be prevented. At the time, Dr. Carmona reminded the audience, senior elected officials were telling the American public that HIV was God’s way of punishing homosexuals.

In the 1990s, the tenure of Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders  was cut short after controversy erupted over a 1994 speech at the United Nations World AIDS Day that included remarks that masturbation was a normal part of sexuality and that abstinence-only education was “child abuse.”

During his own term under President George W. Bush, Dr. Carmona said, abstinence-only became the mantra of the administration, “based solely on ideological and theological concepts, and not science.

“Science had really demonstrated that abstinence alone was a failed proposition,” Dr. Carmona said. “Ironic, that an administration that was repeatedly caught up in the issue of abortion did not see the connection that comprehensive sex education was the best method to prevent STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortions. As Surgeon General, this is a science-based position I have always held.”

Dr. Carmona, the only Surgeon General to be unanimously confirmed to the position in over 200 years, said the trauma of politics and its preventable deleterious outcomes are owned equally by politicians on both sides of the aisle.

He pointed out that over-the-counter sales of Plan B stalled under the Bush administration before gaining limited approval in December 2006, but fared no better seven years later under the more liberal Obama administration. In December 2011, HSS Secretary and Democrat Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s decision to make the emergency contraceptive available, without prescription, to girls of all childbearing ages. While Sebelius cited a lack of conclusive data, Dr. Carmona said it was the administration’s desire to avoid a political battle in the face of an upcoming election.

“The immunization for preventing the continued viralness of political trauma is transparency, full disclosure, accountability for elected officials, a citizenry that is informed and participatory, coupled with civil discourse of complex issues,” he said.

–Patrice Wendling

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Filed under Family Medicine, Health Policy, health reform, IMNG, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Spurring Health IT Adoption

The Obama administration really, really wants doctors to start using electronic health records (EHRs). For the past few years, they have been out urging physicians to invest in the systems and offering a pretty big carrot for adoption. Under the 2009 HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act, physicians who meet certain quality metrics through the use of certified health IT systems can qualify for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid. Under the Medicare program, the maximum incentive is $44,000 over 5 years. Under Medicaid, it’s nearly 64,000 over 6.

HHS officials want to make paper medical records a thing of the past. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy Photo by Rod Duren/ Public Domain.

Now officials at the Health and Human Services department are trying to drive up adoption by removing a potential barrier to early participation in the program. HHS recently announced that physicians can begin participating in the incentive program this year and not have to meet quality standards until 2014. Previously, if a provider reported to HHS that he or she was using health IT as part of the incentive program in 2011, they would have to meet the quality standards starting in 2013. But those that started sometime in 2012 wouldn’t have to meet the standards until 2014 and would still qualify for the maximum incentive payments. It can get a little complicated, but essentially HHS is trying to take away reasons for people to hold off on adopting EHRs.

It’s hard to tell if this latest policy change will make a big difference to physicians considering an EHR. But the incentive program as a whole does seem to have physicians interested. A new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 52% of office-based physicians report that they plan to take advantage of the new incentive payments. As for doctors who have already adopted some type of “basic” EHR, that number has climbed from 17% in 2008 to 34% this year.

Tell us what’s driving your decision to adopt an EHR in your practice? Take our poll:

— Mary Ellen Schneider

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OSHA Denial Roils Resident Work-Hour Reformists

Reaction has been mixed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recent decision to deny a second petition from the Public Citizen Health Research Group and other groups to have OSHA, rather than the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, regulate resident/fellow work hours.

The American Medical Association, which had worked to keep ACGME at the helm, applauded OSHA’s decision in a recent statement .

“The ACGME is the appropriate body to regulate and monitor resident duty hours, as it is optimally suited to oversee resident and fellow physician duty hours on behalf of both the profession and the public,” AMA president Dr. Peter Carmel said. “We are pleased that OSHA agrees.”

In denying the petition, OSHA officials wrote that resident duty hour standards are “best addressed within the context of resident training and education,” and that new duty hour standards and enforcement mechanisms that took effect in July 2011 “provide an opportunity for ACGME to take meaningful steps to protect the health of resident physicians within the context of their overall residency experience.”

OSHA officials also noted that federal whistleblowers provisions protect residents and interns who voice concerns related to extended work hours.

Public Citizen fired back in a letter to OSHA that the Obama administration was rehashing “the same discredited Bush-era arguments of nine years ago when our first petition was rejected on almost identical grounds.”

The group went on to say that “OSHA has, once again, opted out of its legal obligation to protect residents from excessive work hours, deferring instead to a largely unaccountable private entity, the ACGME.”

Currently, when a resident reports work-hour violations, they risk retaliation from colleagues and put their training programs at risk for probation and even loss of accreditation, Sonia Lazreg, health justice fellow with the American Medical Student Association, said in an interview.

After the 2003 work rules were implemented, more than 80% of residents reported that their programs were in violation when they could report anonymously to an external body, she said. During the same period, ACGME resident survey reporting suggested that only 3% of programs were in violation.

“Only when we have external enforcement, beyond the ACGME, will we see true implementation of duty hours,” she added.

The AMSA co-petitioned OSHA based on what Lazreg described as overwhelming evidence that current schedules cause an increase in mood disorders, motor vehicle accidents, pregnancy complications and needle-stick injuries among residents. As the federal body tasked with ensuring employee safety and health, she said OSHA has a responsibility to intervene when evidence so strongly points to worker harm.

“OSHA’s denial translates into continued employee risk, injury and death,” Lazreg said.

With so much on the line, it’s unlikely that either side will give ground on this contentious issue any time soon. Notably, OSHA said it had received 15 letters in support of OSHA regulating resident hours and 26 letters in opposition.

 Where do you fit it? Let us know.

By Patrice Wendling

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Pushing the Supercommittee: The Policy & Practice Podcast

The AMA launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign to push for an SGR fix now. Courtesy AMA

As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the Supercommittee, works behind closed doors to find more than a trillion dollars in debt reductions, the American Medical Association is pulling out all the stops to get a permanent fix to the Sustainable Growth Rate Formula on the agenda. Whether the committee chooses to address the SGR issue, they have until Nov. 23 to get their recommendations out.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has awarded nearly $300 million in scholarships and loan repayment to physicians willing to spend two to four years working in rural communities. The initiative is aimed at boosting the physician workforce shortage in under-served areas.

For more on that, take a listen this week’s Policy & Practice Podcast.

Stop in next week to hear more about the legal wranglings of the Affordable Care Act and physician pay concerns.

– Frances Correa (@FMCReporting)

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Time to Bundle: The Policy & Practice Podcast

Federal health officials are looking for providers to test new bundled payment models under Medicare. With four options for bundling, the government is hoping to appeal to a wide range of health providers. So far, the American Medical Association has praised the model for its flexibility.

Courtesy C-SPAN

In other news, the Congressional Budget Office released its summer report and is warning lawmakers to make drastic cuts or face the grim prospect of skyrocketing budget deficits.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Fund released a report showing that a majority of Americans who’ve lost their jobs in the recession are going without needed medical care. Although the Obama administration is disputing the findings, the fund recommends extending jobless benefits.

For more on that, listen to this week’s Policy & Practice podcast:

Check back next week for details on the first steps of Congress’ deficit-reduction super committee.

—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)

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Here Comes the Super Committee: The Policy & Practice Podcast

photo courtesy of iStock

The names are in and the lobbying has begun. Physicians — and others — are weighing in with their priorities for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — better known as the Super Committee. The group is charged with cutting $1.5 trillion of federal spending by Thanksgiving.

At the top of most doctors’ list: A permanent fix to the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, which could lead to a 30% pay cut on Jan. 1. But physicians from several specialties have other concerns they want addressed as well.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate is unconstitutional, pushing the law one step close to its much-predicted airing in front of the Supreme Court.

Regardless of legal wranglings, the feds are busy pushing ACA programs along, with announcements of more than $200 million worth of programs last week.

LISTEN:  For details, check out this week’s Policy & Practice Podcast. Let us know what you think.

—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)

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Lawmakers Agree on Debt Plan: The Policy & Practice Podcast

After weeks of contentious debate, lawmakers have finally reached an agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. The plan includes cuts to lower the deficit by about $1 trillion over 10 years and creation of a committee to determine future cuts. The plan did not address the Sustainable Growth Rate formula and the committee could potentially reduce physician pay under Medicare and Medicaid. Congress is expected to vote on the plan today or tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of iStock

While the details of further cuts remains unclear, federal economists released their predictions on the growth of U.S. health care spending. Not surprisingly, health spending growth was low last year, due to the impact of the recession. And even in 2014, when many Affordable Care Act provisions kick in, the rate of spending growth is predicted to be just 2%  over the average annual growth rate for the rest of the decade.

In related news, a repeal to the unpopular Independent Payment Advisory board has gained bipartisan support. For details on that and more, listen to this week’s Policy & Practice podcast.

Check back next week for more on the fallout from the debt agreement and health reform implementation.

—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)

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Examining the IPAB: The Policy & Practice Podcast

The Independent Payment Advisory Board, the new panel that will be charged with reducing the growth in Medicare spending, was the focus of intense debate on Capitol Hill last week. In the July 18 edition of the Policy & Practice podcast, we have all the details on the two House hearings held on the panel and why physicians are worried about its impact.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) was created under the Affordable Care Act to help keep Medicare spending under control. But most physician groups are calling on Congress to scrap the board or substantially change how it operates. Opponents, who include the American Medical Association, say that if the IPAB goes forward, physicians would be subject to two levels of cuts: one from the IPAB and one from Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Physicians are already facing a nearly 30% Medicare fee cut next year from the SGR unless Congress steps in.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tours Frager’s Hardware Store in Washington, D.C., before an event to announce new rules on health insurance exchanges. HHS photo by Chris Smith.

This week’s Policy & Practice podcast also has news on the new federal regulations for how states can set up health insurance exchanges. Those exchanges, which aim to make it easier for Americans to buy insurance, are slated to be up and running by 2014. And check out the podcast for the latest on the debt ceiling negotiations and how Medicare could be affected.

Take a listen and share your thoughts:

Check back with us next week for more on the debt ceiling legislation and the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations on what preventive services health plans should cover for women.

— Mary Ellen Schneider (on Twitter @MaryEllenNY)

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