The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Palin’

Health Care Reform Matters Clients Need to Know

Posted by Alan on August 11, 2010

As discussed in my previous post, while some brokers spend their time venting about health care reform and others expend their energy ignoring it, prepared brokers are busy talking with their clients (and the clients of those other brokers) about decisions, challenges, and opportunities that need to be addressed now. that post used as an example the need to discuss the Grandfathered plan provisions with both individual and group employers. There are other pressing issues to address, too. Here’s a few more:

Dependent Children to Age 26: Most people are aware that starting September 23, 2010 all health plans will need to cover dependent children up to age 26 (and that most carriers voluntarily began offering this coverage weeks ago). But as anyone whose ever actually read an underwriting guide, it’s not quite that simple. Which is why reviewing the FAQ posted by HHS concerning coverage for “young adults” is a worthwhile expenditure of time. There’s a few interesting nuances you’ll learn. For example, the coverage is available to the member’s child regardless of that child’s marital status, financial dependence on the parents, residency, or school enrollment status.  About the only circumstances which could result in excluding the young adult dependent is where a Grandfathered plan is involved and if the child has access to other employer-based coverage – and even this exemption expires for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Significantly, dependent coverage need only be extended to the child, not to the child’s dependents. So if the 24 year old son of a covered employee is married the parent’s carrier needs only cover the son, not the daughter-in-law.

Small Business Tax Credit: Help for some small businesses in paying health insurance premiums were among the first elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to take effect. To qualify, firms must have no more than 25 full-time equivalents (which is a way of counting employees that takes into account part-time employees). As the IRS FAQ on the small business health care tax credit explains, the full benefit of the credit is available only to firms with up to 10 full-time equivalents. It’s also worth noting that the tax credit is calculated against the actual premiums paid for the small business’ coverage or the average small group premiums in the employer’s state, whichever is less. The IRS published a table indicating the average premium by state to be used for calculating this cap in 2010.

This table is interesting for answering other questions, too. For example, which state’s small businesses pay the highest average premiums? Alaska with an employee-only rate of $6,204 and Massachusetts with a family rate of $14,138 (which is enough to make one look forward to the 2012 candidate debates should both former Governor’s Mitch Romney and Sarah Palin both run for president).

Early Retiree Reinsurance Program: Much attention has been paid to the impact of the PPACA on individual and small group health insurance, but the legislation’s impact on larger groups shouldn’t be ignored. For example, the legislation sets aside $5 billion to help employers lower the cost of covering early retirees. Providing coverage for any retirees is rare in all but the largest groups, but for those enterprises that qualify this could mean a welcome reduction in health care costs. The reimbursements can be used to reduce the sponsor’s health benefit premiums or health benefit costs, the participants premium contributions or out-of-pocket costs, or a combination of the two. Eligibility and details surrounding how the early retiree reinsurance program works is available from the Department of Health and Human Services. Most importantly, for employers who qualify for the program, the reimbursements are available for claims dating back to June 1, 2010.

There are other provisions of the health care reform legislation taking effect in 2010. We’ll discuss them in future posts. But one takeaway should already be clear: there’s a lot to talk about with your clients. And the time to be talking with them is now.


Posted in Health Care Reform, Healthcare Reform, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PPACA | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Health Care Reform and the Euthanasia Hoax

Posted by Alan on August 13, 2009

Health care reform is complicated. Constraining the cost of medical care in the face of an aging population, new technologies, and increased health care expectations is hard. Providing health care coverage to the millions of Americans who cannot afford it or feel they don’t need it is challenging. And the list goes on.

Given this reality, one might hope the focus of the nation would be on the many legitimate public policy differences worthy of debate. Are current proposals for a public plan creating fair competition with private carriers or unfair competition? What is the appropriate role (if any) for an exchange? How can comparative effectiveness research restrain medical costs without shackling doctors to menu medicine?

Unfortunately attention is being diverted from these substantive issues to those which generate fear and conflict, but do nothing to illuminate or resolve tough issues.

Take euthanasia, or what former Governor Sarah Palin refers to as the “death panels.” Section 1233 of "America’s Affordable Health Choices Act" (HR 3200) is the source of this controversy. Section 1233 makes consultations between patients and doctors concerning end-of-life discussions a covered expense under Medicare. It does not require these discussions. Nor does it require patients to consult with a government panel nor is the patient obliged to take any action as a result of the discussion. All this section does is reimburse doctors for taking the time to talk about what services (such as palliative care and hospice) Medicare will cover and how powers of attorney, living wills, and the like work. That’s it. And it only covers these consultations once every five years, when there is “a significant change in the health condition of the individual,” or when the patient enters a skilled-nursing facility, nursing home or hospice. In other words: twice a decade or when the individual needs to talk about these matters.

Section 1233 is written in legislative language which is, admittedly, difficult to follow (but then, it is legislation). Take the time to read it, however (it starts on page 424), and it clearly does not encourage euthanasia. It takes a substantial twisting of common sense and logic to make it even seem so. Apparently it’s all about “context.” Here’s Governor Palin convoluted reasoning as presented on her Facebook page:

  1. President Barack Obama has said that one purpose of health care reform is to “bend the curve” on medical costs. Authorizing payments for end of life consultations is, consequently, a cost cutting move. Costs will be reduced not by informing patients of lower cost options (hospice versus nursing home versus hospital care versus home care), but by encouraging the patient to commit suicide.
  2. Because HR 3200 calls for paying doctors to have these consultations physicians will have an incentive to initiate these talks. Due to the fact that doctors are authority figures in white coats, unwilling seniors will be pressured to have them. In order to reduce overall medical care spending in the country, doctors will use their influence to coerce patients into “’formulation’ of a plug-pulling order right then and there. Apparently doctors are so greedy a fee for spending time with a patient is enough to turn Dr. Welby into Dr. Kevorkian. Yet they are so patriotic they will kill off their patients in order to reduce health care costs. They also must be dumb. Because if they initiate these discussions only to make a few bucks, you’d think they’d be smart and  greedy enough to figure out that dead patients pay no bills. If Governor Palin was being consistent, wouldn’t she assume the doctors would be encouraging people to hang in there and consume as much health care services as possible?
  3. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an advisor to President Obama on health care and the brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has written that medical spending needs to take into account the patients age, condition and chances of recovery. While I haven’t seen Dr Emanuel’s statements in context, what do they have to do with the legislation? The language of a bill is the language of a bill. What someone wants it to say does not trump what it does say. You’d think a governor might know that.
  4. So, as mentioned, it all comes down to context. Health care reform is about cutting medical costs, doctors are greedy, patriotic and stupid, and what a presidential advisor says trumps the clear meaning of the legislative language.  Given this context, Section 1233 can only be read as a cost cutting measure that will encourage doctors to talk their patients into committing suicide. (I still don’t see where the death panels come into this. They must be in the fine print only real Americans can see).

Maybe it’s me, but this doesn’t strike me as logic. But it does look like fear mongering. Or ignorance. Or maybe it’s just evidence of a world view that sees Democrats as elder-killers, doctors as untrustworthy, and older Americans as incapable of comprehending that that suicide is not only illegal, it’s optional.

Nah. It’s fear mongering.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the health care reform put forward in Congress thus far and to fight for a better reform package. Let’s stick to the rational ones.

Posted in Barack Obama, Health Care Reform, Healthcare Reform, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 23 Comments »

Health Care Reform: Fear and Loathing

Posted by Alan on August 10, 2009

Health care is personal, important, confusing and expensive. No wonder so many people are upset at attempts to reform America’s health care system. The status quo may be broken, but the devil known is more welcome than the devil coming to town.

It’s especially scary for conservatives who look at the folks doing the reforming and are terrified. When they see President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi they see liberals – actually they see LIBERALS. The kind their parents warned about. These aren’t fellow Americans with whom they happen to disagree, they’re “the others,” the socialists, the government building, boogie men of talk radio and a certain 24 hour news station. (And yes, this being America, there’s a 24 hour news station boosting fear of conservative boogie men, too).

It takes a giant leap to think that elected leaders in America are plotting to create a system with death panels that will impose euthanasia on seniors, make virtually every health care decision in the country, murder millions of children and much more. Yet those are the accusations made by former Governor Sarah Palin, Cal Thomas, Representative Virginia Foxx, and Representative John Shadegg. And many on the right take are predisposed to take these accusations seriously.

Then there are more legitimate controversies that health care reform impacts. For example, should health plans health plans be required to cover abortions? That’s a legitimate public policy issue although it’s often weighed down by political rhetoric that obscures the real issues.

All of this makes it easy for liberals to dismiss these concerns. They see the need for a public health insurance plan to increase competition, not drive private carriers out of business. Evaluating the cost and effectiveness of care makes common sense and sound economics. It has nothing to do with being intrusive. There’s nothing sinister about this approach, but conservatives view such claims with fear and loathing.

What we have here are two groups of people looking into the same room from different windows. What they see is colored by where they stand and the prejudices they bring to the view. Where one sees conspiracy and death panels the other sees common sense and prudent regulation.

This is more than just a fascinating glimpse into the human psyche and how it plays out in the public policy arena. It underscores the challenge facing those seeking change. They need to not just fashion a workable system, but they have to deal with the fears and suspicions of those who instinctively oppose them – fears and suspicions that are stoked for self-aggrandizement and profit by the Glenn Becks and Michael Moores of the world.

Then there’s the political element of this dynamic. Liberals can comfortably ignore the concerns of conservatives regarding health care reform. All they need to do is bring enough moderates along to build the majorities needed to pass their legislation.

But in American politics the pendulum swings. In 2001 the President was George W. Bush, the Senate Majority Leader was Trent Lott and the House Speaker was Dennis Hastert (just two years earlier it had been Newt Gingrich). Their view of how a public health plan should work – what it covers and who it benefits – varies considerably from the Obama/Reid/Pelosi view. Yet the greater the role liberals give the government over health care, the more control over issues like abortion conservatives like Bush/Lott/Hastert will have when they take power again – and eventually, they will.

Fear and suspicion, anger and foolishness knows no ideology. The left and right are equally susceptible to assuming and perceiving the worst in the actions and words of the other side. Both have paid cheerleaders to make stoke their worst predilections.

As lawmakers consider the impact of health care reform they should keep in mind the American political wheel turns. Eventually all of us watch our elected leaders with fear and loathing. And the greater the influence government has on health care the more vitriolic the suspicion, anger – and the danger.

Posted in Health Care Reform, Healthcare Reform, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »