Health care will take a large step toward becoming a privilege for those who can afford it rather than a human right under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Government programs to hold down the cost of medications are targeted for elimination in the TPP, which, if adopted, would grant pharmaceutical companies new powers over health care. This has implications around the globe, as such rules could become precedents for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trade In Services Agreement, two other deals being negotiated in secret. The U.S. Congress’ failure to pass “fast-track” authority in the past week has thrown a significant roadblock in the path of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but by no means has this most audacious corporate power grab been defeated.
By Dr. Robert Zarr for Physicians for a National Health Program. Washington, DC – Today’s decision by the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies in about three dozen states will spare more than 6 million Americans the health and financial harms associated with the sudden loss of health insurance coverage. For that reason alone the decision must be welcomed: Having health insurance is better than not having coverage, as several research studies have shown. That said, the suffering that many Americans are experiencing today under our current health care arrangements is intolerable, with approximately 35 million people remaining uninsured, a comparable number underinsured, and rapidly growing barriers to medical care in the form of rising premiums, copayments, coinsurance and deductibles, and narrowing networks.
By BMA – Doctors have warned that public health medicine is under threat, to the detriment of the NHS and patients. They have criticised ‘wholesale’ reductions in medically qualified jobs in local authorities in England and cuts to public health funding. The BMA annual representative meeting also called for recognition of the importance of public health medical executives. Cornwall consultant radiologist John Hyslop said the professional voice of public health medicine was needed by commissioners and managers, but England was seeing the ‘unravelling’ of public health since it became the responsibility of local authorities as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. He also expressed concern about what would happen in the future as more areas sought to emulate Manchester, which has embarked on a programme to devolve health and social care.
By Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The 50 hospitals in the United States with the highest markup of prices over their actual costs are charging out-of-network patients and the uninsured, as well as auto and workers’ compensation insurers, more than 10 times the costs allowed by Medicare, new research suggests. It’s a markup of more than 1,000 percent for the same medical services. “There is no justification for these outrageous rates, but no one tells hospitals they can’t charge them,” says Anderson, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “For the most part, there is no regulation of hospital rates and there are no market forces that force hospitals to lower their rates. They charge these prices simply because they can.”
By Wendy Joan Biddlecombe in Metro – Last year 64 million Americans had difficulty paying their medical debt, according to a report by the Commonwealth Fund, down from 75 million in 2012 and 73 million in 2010. Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico think they can put a dent in America’s medical debt crisis, and want to help those who really need to pay their bills, no strings attached. At face value, Ashton and Antico are perhaps unlikely advocates for those who owe medical bills. They have decades of experience as medical debt collectors. They recently launched RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit, and accompanying initial crowdfunding campaign to raise $74,500 to purchase and absolve strangers’ medical debt. The goal for the first year is to raise $14 million, purchase $1 billion of medical debt and abolish it.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurers cover about a third of Americans, through a national network that dates back decades. Now, antitrust lawsuits advancing in a federal court in Alabama allege that the 37 independently owned companies are functioning as an illegal cartel. A federal judicial panel has consolidated the claims against the insurers into two lawsuits that represent plaintiffs from around the country. One is on behalf of health-care providers and the other is for individual and small-employer customers. The antitrust suits allege that the insurers are conspiring to divvy up markets and avoid competing against one another, driving up customers’ prices and pushing down the amounts paid to doctors and other health-care providers.
If you ask any economist the main purpose of health insurance, the answer you’ll probably get back is this: to protect against financial catastrophe. Yes, the free annual check-ups or discounted gym memberships that health plans sometimes offer are nice. But the real thing you’re purchasing with your monthly premium is protection against financial ruin. You’re paying for someone else to be on the hook for the big medical bills that can and will pile up in the case of serious illness or accident. Except, increasingly, insurance does not provide that type of protection. That’s the main takeaway from a new Commonwealth Fund report on the “underinsured,” or people who have health insurance that leaves them exposed to really big costs — and who appear to skip care due to the price.
For the past three years, Ashley Diamond has been denied health care as well as protection from recurring violence from the men around her. But she has been fighting back — and her fight has been making headlines and wresting small changes from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Her story starkly illustrates the challenges facing trans women behind bars — from frequent violence and sexual assaults to the denial of hormones and other medical neglect. But Diamond’s experiences are far from unique, or even unusual. Nor is her decision to challenge prison policies around trans health care and safety an exception. Across the country, trans people have individually challenged and collectively organized to be free from physical, sexual and medical violence.
The rate of growth in medical costs and insurance premiums has slowed in recent years. However, millions of consumers continue to be saddled with high out-of-pocket health care costs. While the number of underinsured people in the United States held constant in 2014, the steady growth in the proliferation and size of deductibles threatens to increase underinsurance in the years ahead. The Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions and protections have greatly improved the quality of insurance coverage available to people who lack job-based health benefits. In addition, cost-sharing subsidies significantly reduce deductibles for people with low incomes who buy plans in the marketplaces. But those subsidies phase out quickly, leaving families with deductibles that may be high relative to their incomes.
New disturbing information has surfaced that the House Republicans’ trade adjustment assistance bill, which supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, contains a Medicare poison pill. The bill includes $700 million in Medicare cuts at the end of a 10-year budget period to cover the cost of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, Americans who will lose their jobs because of lower cost imports. Please let members of Congress know that they should not support the bill in its current form. Covering the cost of assistance for displaced workers is important. But, in the words of several groups representing older Americans, including the Medicare Rights Center and The Alliance for Retired Americans, “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank every time the government needs funding for other purposes.”
The health insurance industry took advantage of Washington’s infamous revolving door last week when it named former Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, perceived by many to be a liberal Democrat, as the face of its latest K Street-operated front group. Schwartz, a former five-term member of Congress who made an unsuccessful bid for Pennsylvania governor last year, announced in an email blast Tuesday that she had found work again, not back home but back inside the Beltway. “Today I will begin as President and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance,” she told her “friends and supporters.” The Better Medicare Alliance is a so-called 501(c)(3) nonprofit that appears to have been created with funding from insurance companies by APCO Worldwide, a Washington influence firm with a long history of running front groups for its clients.
A University of Georgia student faces sanctions from the school’s student judiciary board after he was arrested in Atlanta for protesting on the steps of the state Capital. Adam Veale, a 20-year-old political science major, said in an interview he was stunned to learn he faced two violations from UGA’s Office of Student Conduct after the March 2 arrest in Atlanta. He was offered a deal with the school that would have included 16 hours of community service and lunches with faculty members, but turned it down. Instead, he said, he’ll take his chances with a hearing before a judiciary panel on April 24. “I was unsatisfied with that offer. We weren’t being reckless. This was an act of symbolic speech,” said Veale. “We were saying we’re not going to stand idly by while the governor and the Legislature refuses to expand Medicaid.”
The Affordable Care Act is a sitting duck. Working with private insurance companies, hospital chains and Big Pharma, Congress superimposed arcane regulations on an already Byzantine system of financing health care. Dr. John Geyman cannot resist this target. His new book, How Obamacare is Unsustainable, confirms that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not the pathway to a better health-care system. It is one of the biggest impediments. The structure of this critique reflects Geyman’s organized mind. The first of three parts reviews the unhappy history of American health-care reform. The second assesses our health-care landscape five years into the ACA. The last presents a solution: a national single-payer health plan.
Despite claims by the Obama administration that the Affordable Care Act will reduce health insurance companies’ spending on overhead, thereby channeling a greater share of consumers’ premium dollars into actual patient care, insurers’ financial filings show the law had no impact on the percentage of insurer expenditures on such things as administration, marketing and profits. That’s the chief finding of a team of researchers, including two prominent physicians on the faculties of the City University of New York’s School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, in an article published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Health Services. The ACA sets limits on insurers’ overhead, mandating an MLR of at least 80 percent in small-group markets and 85 percent in the large group market. However, the Obama administration changed the traditional yardstick by which the MLR is measured.
In 2010 the giant health insurance company WellPoint created an algorithm that searched its database, located breast cancer patients, and targeted them for cancellation of their policies. A few years earlier Michael Moore’s stunning documentary, “Sicko,” showed an unending list of illnesses that had been used by insurers to refuse to sell people policies, to charge them much more, or to deny payment for “pre-existing conditions.” The public became acutely aware of these harmful, widespread practices and sharply condemned them. So it was not by chance that this insistent popular support resulted in inclusion of a ban on these practices in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed in 2010. The government website explains. “Your insurance company can’t turn you down or charge you more because of your pre-existing health or medical condition like asthma, back pain, diabetes, or cancer. Once you have insurance, they can’t refuse to cover treatment for your pre-existing condition.”