Dear Donald: Here’s How Health Insurance Works

handwritten lettter

Dear Donald (I can call you Donald, right?):

I really appreciate that you think there are certain parts of “Obamacare” worth keeping. Like continuing to be able to cover adult children up to age 26 on your health insurance (I’ve got one of those on our health insurance right now) and ensuring that health insurers can’t discriminate or charge higher premiums based on preexisting conditions.

There’s just one teeny, tiny problem. There is no way to keep the preexisting condition part without also keeping the mandate that everyone has some kind of health insurance.

It might be a little complicated for you, so I’ve done my best to bring it down to a first-grade reading level.

An Analogy for How Health Insurance Works

1) Insurance, any insurance, is based on a risk model. The more people in the risk pool, the less impact the truly risky have on the pool.

Think of it this way. If you put five drops of red food coloring in a swimming pool, there’s no change in color. If you put … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act health insurance healthcare reform Obamacare

The Election and the ACA: Why I’m Sad, and Will Be For A Long Time

Ballot box with national flag on background - United States of America

I’ve been writing this blog on and off for about eight years. And in all that time, I’ve tried to keep it as apolitical as possible. But, at my core, I am a writer. It’s all I’ve ever done for 30 years. And when writers can’t make sense of the world, or don’t know what to do with their feelings, well, they write.

So, spoiler alert, I am devastated by Tuesday night’s results for so many reasons. For an end to women’s reproductive rights. For an end to what I thought was a decent, inclusive country. For an end to a free press. For an end to LGBT rights. For an end to the respect we once had from the rest of the world.

And for the horrific overt racism and homophobia that has been unleashed in this country in just the past few days.

But, since I earn my living as a healthcare writer, the one I’m going to focus on here has to do with the almost-certain death … Continue Reading

Labels:
ACA Affordable Care Act blog federal budget Obamacare politics

Is The ACA As Big A Mess As Everyone Says?

 

Affordable Care Act – Image of pills and coinsMaybe. But many of the problems the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now encountering – insurance companies on the exchanges pulling out, large premium increases in some states – are not unexpected given the design of the program.

Major problem? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill set the penalties for not having insurance too low. Far lower than the cost of the insurance to begin with. So there is little incentive for healthy people to enroll. Without healthy people enrolling, it was only a matter of time before the death spiral began.

It’s a simple equation: Sick people + no preexisting condition restriction – healthy people = high spending that outstrips existing premiums.

To add insult to injury the government was too lenient in allowing people to sign up outside of open enrollment, ie, when they got sick and needed the insurance. Plus, as The New York Times explained in a recent editorial, insurers set premiums too low in the beginning in order to attract enrollees.

Is the ACA … Continue Reading

Labels:
ACA Affordable Care Act blog health insurance healthcare reform

Value-Based Reimbursement: There’s a New Player in Town

Value Based Reimbursement Webinar

 

There’s a new player in town. In case you haven’t heard, his name is VBR – value-based reimbursement. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s out to break you down and build you up. And if you’re a healthcare provider, there is nowhere to hide.

For several years now I’ve been writing about the “coming” revolution in healthcare reimbursement as the system moves from a fee-for-service approach (ie, the more you do, the more you earn) to one based on cost and outcomes, aka, value. Well, the revolution has begun. Just consider:

➢ On April 1, nearly 70 hospital systems will switch from billing separately for each component of a knee or hip replacement to receiving a bundled payment for all care provided from the time the patient enters the hospital until 90 days after discharge. Just consider the possibilities!

➢ Two weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is driving the value-based revolution, announced a proposal to change the way physicians are paid for drugs administered in their offices (mainly oncology medications).

Today, doctors get the … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Value-based reimbursement

Ladies: Stop Cutting Off Healthy Breasts

bra_breast_cancerReally scary story in The Wall Street Journal this week about a dramatic increase in double mastectomies in this country — and not for women who need them.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer only need a lumpectomy in the affected breast or, more rarely, a mastectomy. There is no evidence that removing the healthy breast reduces the risk of recurrence or increases survival.

Yet rates of double mastectomy among women diagnosed with breast cancer have skyrocketed in the past 13 years, from 2 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2011. And no, it’s not because women have been diagnosed with more severe breast cancer or some major study showed that slicing off healthy breasts keeps cancer at bay.

As one plastic surgeon quoted in the Journal article tells his patients: “Why don’t we simply remove your foot? It will have the same effect on survival.”

Don’t take my word for it; check out this study of 190,000 women with breast cancer that compared survival rates in those who had a double mastectomy vs those who underwent lumpectomy followed by radiation. Bottom line: … Continue Reading

Labels:
cost health insurance waste

How Much Is That CT Scan In the Window?

transparencyDo you know how much that 50-inch, flat-screen TV cost? How about your car? The cashmere cardigan you just had to have?

So how much did that visit with your gyn because of your painful period cost (men: substitute whatever you want here)? The ultrasound to see if you had a fibroid? The myomectomy to remove the fibroid?

A few years ago it didn’t matter so much; most of us only had to handle relatively small copayments and many of us didn’t even have deductibles. Fast forward to today, when the cost job-based health insurance has grown faster than our incomes, essentially eating up any salary increases over the past 10 years. In fact, the average deductible has more than doubled for most employees regardless of the size of their companies.

Note I said the past 10 years. Which means you can’t blame the five-year-old Affordable Care Act entirely. In fact, out-of-pocket payments would likely be higher without the ACA; a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund found a “marked slowdown in premium growth in 31 states and the District of Columbia.” However, that same report also found that premiums increased about … Continue Reading

Labels:
cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform payment

Who’s In Charge? You or Your Doctor?

babyshowerSunday was the first baby shower I’d been to since. . . well, let’s just say that my youngest kid turned 19 a few days ago. There were the mandatory sherbet-colored decorations; a watermelon fruit bowl designed to look like a sleeping infant (complete with pacifier); infused water; chattering ladies; a table piled high with gifts. Only one thing was missing: the guest of honor. For even as everyone arrived for the shower, she was already in labor. And, ever the obliging young woman, she delivered a healthy baby boy before the shower ended.

I’m assuming she had great care in the hospital. Most women who have babies do. But far from the cozy, wood-floored, prettily painted maternity suites lies the healthcare system the rest of us have to deal with. Like another young woman at the shower, 26-year-old Mary.

I happened to overhear her talking to someone else and caught the words “migraine,” and “doctor,” and “frustrated.” Manna to my ears. “What’s up?” I asked.

Turns out she’d been having horrific, daily migraines and vertigo for months. The urgent care doctor told her … Continue Reading

Labels:
blog healthcare reform healthcare system; patient-centered healthcare

A Letter to a Friend (or, I’m Sorry I Lost My Temper Last Night”)

Sibling RivalrySo I did something last night that I’m not proud of. I got into an argument – complete with raised voices – with a friend. Over health care and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), of course. (Note that he continually called it “Obamacare” in a somewhat sneering tone, which, as those of you who read my blog regularly or know me, know I consider a derogatory term for a very important piece of legislation).

I felt terrible after we left and tossed and turned all night coming up with things I wished I said (not to mention wishing I hadn’t lost my temper).

So I decided to write my friend a letter via this blog.

Dear Friend:

I am really sorry about last night’s discussion, er, argument. I should have remained calmer (I’m blaming it on the martini you made me, which, by the way, was very, very good). So here is a cooler version of responses to some of the points you made.

The government should not be paying for health insurance.

Well, I notice that you are quite happy to … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act blog health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare

Why Repealing the Affordable Care Act Won’t Stop Healthcare Reform

So the election is over. The Republicans now control both houses. And several are promising that one of their first jobs is to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I’m sure there are lots of people jumping up and down with glee.

This reaction reminds me what one doctor told me a couple of weeks ago after I spoke to his group (abdominal surgeons) about healthcare reform (you can read more about the experience here). “This (the ACA) is going to go away and things will return to normal.”

Um, not quite.

Sure, if the ACA goes away we’ll return to more than 40 million uninsured Americans who can’t afford health care. States that have expanded Medicaid will have to pick up the full tab for those expansions (instead of 10% beginning in 2020). Young adults who are still covered on their parents’ policies will now have to buy their own — if they can afford them. Women will once again be discriminated against in terms of premiums and plan designs. People with preexisting conditions will be unable to find affordable health insurance on the individual market. We’ll have no guarantee of a basic set of benefits (for instance, some … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system;