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Romney says he accepts being linked to Obamacare – Yahoo! News

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Speaking at a Univision forum Wednesday night, the Republican presidential nominee said that now and then Obama calls him the grandfather of Obamacare.

Romney said, “I don’t think he meant that as a compliment, but I’ll take it.” He went on to defend the Massachusetts law but says it is wrong for the federal government to take that approach.

via Romney says he accepts being linked to Obamacare – Yahoo! News.

Governor Romney was also the Godfather of former California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s omnibus health care reform plan in 2007-08 that was largely based on Romney’s Massachusetts reforms featuring a state health benefit exchange and an “individual mandate” that everyone have public or private health coverage.  I know because I covered “ArnoldCare” nee RomneyCare from its beginnings to inglorious collapse in the state Senate as Sacramento health care correspondent for the Bureau of National Affairs.

California could adopt own health reform plan with individual mandate if PPACA ruled unconstitutional

March 30, 2012 2 comments

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides this summer that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) mandate that all Americans have health coverage or purchase it by 2014 is unconstitutional, California could nevertheless move forward with its own health reform plan including such a mandate.  That’s according to the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley, per this excerpt from this story appearing in today’s Sacramento Bee:

If the court does rule the federal law unconstitutional, state Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley said California should at least consider enacting its own universal health care legislation, including requiring every Californian to buy insurance.

“I think that we should be committed to making this system more rational than it is today, and improving the health of the people of California,” Dooley said in an interview. “If we ask the insurance plans to take everybody and insure everybody with no screens or pre-existing conditions, then we have to have everybody buying some level of health insurance to meet their responsibility to the system.”

That reciprocity was a core principle of the Health Care Security and Cost Reduction ActIn early 2008, California lawmakers considered but rejected the legislation championed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and top legislative leaders.  Like the PPACA, the act was modeled after Massachusetts legislation enacted in 2006 that also served as a prototype for the PPACA and included as a central feature the so-called “individual mandate” requiring adults to have some form of public or private health insurance or managed health care plan.  In turn, insurers and health plans would abandon medical underwriting and accept all applicants regardless of medical history, thereby making coverage accessible to more people.  Other key policy goals of the mandate are to alleviate “cost shifting” in which those who have coverage end up paying for health care costs of those without coverage through higher premiums and to reduce the threat of adverse selection that can rapidly render payers insolvent.

It remains to be seen whether California would move forward with its own reform plan if the PPACA fails to survive judicial scrutiny by the nation’s highest court.  Increasing the probability is the view among the Golden State’s health care industry leaders that health care reform has achieved critical mass and will move forward regardless of what happens at the federal level.

Also generating momentum for reform is the state’s already partially spent federally funded investment in setting up the California Health Benefit Exchange under the PPACA to create a marketplace to help individuals and small employers aggregate their purchasing power.  Then there are the state’s demographics.  California is the nation’s most populous state and has more people in the individual health insurance market than other states — about eight percent of those 65 and younger versus about five percent in the nation as a whole.  It also has a relatively large percentage of medically uninsured residents, whose numbers have increased as many people lost employer-paid coverage in the economic downturn.

The recession was just getting underway when the Health Care Security and Cost Reduction Act was before the California Legislature, prompting then-state Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill to question if the state could afford its tax credits, subsidies and other costs.  Four years later, the state’s finances remain under siege amid ongoing deep budget deficits. Selling the individual mandate could also prove politically challenging as it did in 2008, when California health care payers were divided over it and business and consumer interests nearly uniformly opposed.

California ballot measures to cap hospital prices, regulate health insurance rates emerge out of perennial conflict of trial bar and unions versus business groups

Even though they have not yet qualified for California’s general election in November and are still in the signature gathering stage, proposed ballot initiatives to limit hospital profits and subject health insurance and managed care plan premium rates to prior regulatory approval are already generating considerable political heat and smoke.

Both measures are playing not so much as health care reform measures designed to apply brute governmental force to hold down rapidly rising health care costs and premiums.  More accurately, they represent new battlefronts in California’s perennial conflict between plaintiffs attorneys and labor unions on one side and tort reform and business interests on the other.  Health payers and providers are aligning in the latter camp to oppose the measures.

Hospitals argue the proposed Fair Healthcare Pricing Act of 2012 that would cap hospital profit margins at 25 percent is an attempt by unions representing health care workers to gain leverage at the bargaining table.  Meanwhile, health care providers this week announced a coalition to oppose the proposed insurance rate regulation measure, the Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act.  It would add health insurance to existing law put in place by a 1988 ballot measure, Proposition 103, that subjected most property/casualty insurance rates to prior approval by the state’s elected insurance commissioner and subsidizes costs of those who intervene on behalf of the public to contest proposed rate increases.  A similar proposal stalled in the current legislative session.

Health reform seen as unstoppable in California — notwithstanding U.S. Supreme Court ruling on PPACA

While constitutional soundness of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is to be decided this year by the U.S. Supreme Court, health care reform will continue to move along a rapid trajectory of change in California regardless of the high court’s ruling.  That’s the view of health care industry panelists at a recent symposium hosted by the Sacramento Business Journal, according to this item from the California HealthCare Foundation’s California Healthline.

Michael Taylor — senior vice president of operations for Dignity Health’s Greater Sacramento-San Joaquin area — said, “We believe we need to drive health care reform whether it’s legislated or not.” He added, “Health care costs are out of control and we need to bend the curve.”

According to the California Healthline item, the panelists agreed reforms must address a shortage of primary care physicians, the need to refocus health care on prevention instead of treatment of preventable conditions, and a transition away from employer-based health coverage to a new model where individuals dictate plan purchases instead of employers. I’ve lately read suggestions by some observers that shift could take the form of a defined contribution health plan.

PCIP unlikely to reduce ranks of medically uninsured

March 27, 2011 1 comment

The Interim High Risk Pool created by the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) one year ago has not changed the underlying dynamics of the individual health insurance market and consequently appears to be having a negligible impact on reducing the ranks of the medically insured.

The pool, formalized as the Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Program (PCIP), was created to provide temporary coverage for those with pre-existing conditions who don’t meet minimum medical underwriting standards of insurers and managed care plans.  It goes away on January 1, 2014, when the PPACA outlaws medical underwriting and requires payers to accept all applicants regardless of medical history.

So far, few have signed up for the plan.  As prior to the PCIP, younger people who would be eligible for PCIP enrollment pay lower rates for coverage but tend to go without.  Older folks in their 50s and early 60s who want coverage are finding PCIP rates out of reach. An added deterrent, other observers note, is the requirement that applicants for coverage be continually uninsured for at least six months.

“The PCIP is a great health plan and the out-of-pocket maximum is low,” Barry Cogdill, president of Business Choice Insurance Services in San Diego, told SignOn San Diego.  Nevertheless, he added, PCIP premiums are too expensive for many.  “That’s why health care reform happened,” Cogdill explained.  “The individual market has been the Achilles’ heel of the health insurance market. You end up with a lot of uninsured people.”

It appears many in this circumstance who aren’t covered by group or government plans will remain so.  Whether they will be able to find affordable coverage when state health benefit exchanges designed to aggregate purchasing power of individuals and small employers open for business in January 2014 remains to be seen.

Californians see Patient Protection and Affordability Act as first step with additional reforms needed

In the month following its March 23 enactment, California registered voters were supportive of the Patient Protection and Affordability Act (H.R. 3590), results of a Field Poll released this week show.  Voters support the law 52 percent to 38 percent, according to the poll that was conducted in April.

What’s striking about the poll numbers is fully one third of the 1,522 registered voters surveyed favor repeal of the landmark legislation.  While job losses and peoples’ difficulty obtaining affordable coverage provided popular support for the legislation, at the same time people are looking for immediate relief in a sour economy that isn’t forthcoming since most of the Act’s provisions don’t take effect until 2014.  Take for example Amber Hall, an uninsured 41-year-old mother of two who lives near Modesto.  Hall told the Sacramento Bee she supports the Act but isn’t sure she’ll will directly benefit from it — most likely because there’s little she can point to that helps her now.

This combined with residual opposition as shown by the high numbers of California voters who want the legislation scrapped could create political problems for the Act and lead to even more reform efforts.  In that respect, the Act rather than being a permanent, comprehensive overhaul of how Americans are covered for medical treatment could instead end up serving as a framework or floor for additional reforms.  Indeed, 58 percent of those in the Field Poll view the Act as only a first step with more reforms needed.

Health care crisis is socio-economic problem

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has issued a report on how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect California, which decades ago was the birthplace of the notion that a superior health care payment scheme is prepaid health maintenance rather than post-care health insurance.  The Golden State and more specifically Kaiser Permanente pioneered the health maintenance organization (HMO) as an alternative to indemnity “major medical” insurance designed to cover hospitalizations and other major unforseen health care costs.

The rapid rise in health care costs over the past decade has turned the principle that preventative care costs less than “insured” care on its head.  Since about 2003, California HMO premiums have ironically gone up faster than those for indemnity-based catastropic and preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, sending more people into the latter category and paying higher deductibles and cost shares than previously.

The LAO report suggests the HMO’s health maintenance objective has been stymied by a fragmentation of services and a lack of care coordination among providers and treating diseases but not necessarily focusing on improving the overall health of patients.  Another cost driver identified in the LAO report is financial incentives that reward the quantity of services provided rather than the quality of that care.  Services more accurately described not so much as health maintenance but sick care. 

I believe America’s health insurance crisis is fundamentally due to the growing commercialization of health care and pharmaceuticals combined with a post-industrial service economy in which many people spend most of their sleep deprived waking hours commuting to and working at sedentary jobs.  Too little time for exercise, sleep and nutritious “slow” food exacts a major toll on the nation’s overall health status.  This is a socio-economic problem that no amount of health reform can solve. 

The Obama administration and Congress can rightly claim to have made history by enacting health care reform after multiple failed attempts dating back to the administration of Frankin Delano Roosevelt.  But unless Americans change how they work and live and value their health, it will be a hollow accomplishment.  Health care costs will continue to go up as Americans get older and sicker, less fit and fatter.  If current trends continue, by the time most of the reform provisions take effect in 2014, it will become actuarially evident that no system of paying for health care — pre or post reform — can be affordable.  The health insurance crisis will be subsumed by a overarching health crisis.

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