Premiums projected to increase by double-digit again in 2019. The only visible actions we see on healthcare premiums is to cast blame.

June 14, 2018

The headlines about premium increases are not getting the attention that the they produced just 2 years ago. Why is that? Projections across the country are for premiums for Exchange Plans will increase by 8-10% in the West to 19% to 59% in the East. Our minimal math skills tell us that these increases are not good but when compounded on previous increases then premiums reach staggering levels.

Why are Insurers increasing these premiums? Data which we’ll discuss below reflect 2017 as the best year for insurers since they signed on to the Exchanges.

But the blame game is in full swing and that may be partly why the headlines don’t command the attention they did in previous years. The American people are a lot smarter about these news stories than most politician give them credit. When citizens see Insurers cast blame and politicians cast blame and no one doing anything to help; they become skeptical if not down right cynical about the news. That cynicism is something with which I can relate.

The biggest “excuse” and most “blame” is that the Trump administration has refused to make the subsidy payments to insurers that the Obama administration had made in prior years. Remember those subsidy payments? The ones that allow members below certain income levels to pay little or no premium as well as lower the out-of-pocket cost for members. The burden of these payments was not authorized by Congress, say the GOP folks, plus the original ACA called for states to be weaned off Federal subsidies.

But now the bill comes due and everyone has their hands in their pockets as they pass the check around the table to see who will bite. Reminds me of a friend of mine.

Let’s talk about the insurers which are crying poverty. They state that the ACA requires them to accept all enrollees without consideration of current or past health status and cover any pre-existing health issues. In 2014, this was a valid concern. No one could accurately project what the cost of guarantee coverage with no pre-existing waivers would be, without a crystal ball. But, the Insurers sold policies, paid claims that were probably astonishing, received their subsidy payments then raised premiums again and again, anyway.

Now Insurers are looking at year 5 of the ACA. Insurers have increased premiums several hundred percent over the past 7 years and while their membership count maybe the same or even lower overall their revenues are much higher.

A recent article by the Kaiser Family Foundation included excellent analysis finding that Insurers in 2017 had their best financial year selling individual market health insurance since the Affordable Care Act began requiring guaranteed access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in 2014.

This analysis finds insurers posted their strongest performance in the individual market using two different financial indicators:

  • The average share of health premiums paid out in claims (or medical loss ratio) fell to 82 percent in 2017 from 96 percent in 2016 and 103 percent in 2015.
  • Average premiums collected in excess of claims (or gross margins) reached $79 in 2017 per member per month, up from $14 in 2016 and -$9 in 2015.

One can look at the reports by many Insurers that show enrollment down, some by as much as 40%, yet revenues have sky rocketed. Can you imagine if your business serviced 40% fewer clients but your revenues were higher than ever? Hard to digest isn’t it?

Anyway, the point is that the press can see that putting the “Premiums to increase dramatically” stories on Page One no longer compete with the other stories of the day. And I don’t even want to get started on what the other news is that they focuses upon, give me a break.

If you’re on a group plan sponsored by your employer you’ll be better off than if you were on your own. If your employer provides an HRA to tie with your group plan you will be in great shape. With employment numbers soaring it means that more people could be covered by employer sponsored plans. That’s good.

I hate the frog in the hot water analogy but that’s a bit of what we have here. Next week we’ll discuss the efforts by 19 state’s Attorneys General to void the “No pre-ex” portion of the ACA with actions that state “if the individual mandate is out then the no pre-ex is gone” which presents an interesting argument. Can’t wait.

These are confusing political times but we must remain committed because we are all in this together.

Until Next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

Yes it’s true: California Voters have a chance to lower healthcare costs plus improve access. But it will take the proper “Vote” in the June 5th Primary and again Nov 6th in the general election.

May 31, 2018

As much as I hate to repeat a Post, I just can’t help it today because the subject is too important. California’s health plans are the most expensive in the land with killer high out of pockets and “way too skinny” PPO networks.
That’s not News, so why is that important?
Because, with your vote June 5th, you have a chance to set forth the real possibility of changing the healthcare delivery and plans available in Ca. Be sure to VOTE!

It’s true and for certain, California voters have a chance to start taking back control of the crazy out-of-control,  high-premium, low-benefit healthcare system in California. Premium increases exceeding 300%, since 2010, have literally destroyed our citizen’s access to the healthcare we need.

To lower premiums, improve benefits, increase access to more providers and get more health plan options – Voters just need to vote:

 Insurance Commissioner  –  Steve Poizner

For Governor  –    Travis Allen or John Cox
(Current polls show Cox in 2nd place trailing Gavin Newsome)

It’s that simple, REALLY!

Then, we can begin introducing the solutions that you have read about in previous Posts. Can you imagine a California in which you have:

  • Dozens of high quality health plans available.
  • Plans with benefits that fit your need – not the Government’s.
  • Rich plan benefits or narrow plan benefits.
  • Plans with huge provider lists.
  • Plans with narrow provider lists.
  • Premiums that are affordable and 50% lower!
  • Reasonable reimbursement for providers.
  • Transparency and better control.
  • Most of all: available when you need it!

I know what you’re thinking. How can two elected positions create such possibility for change? The truth is that it will take effort and a little time but my bet is that Ca. citizens would start seeing a difference within nine to fifteen months after these men take office.

Reports are starting to emerge projecting insurer premiums for 2019. Estimates are that premium may increase from 15% to as much as 100% depending on the state or region of the country. In Ca. we will see increases on employer sponsored group plans in the range of 10% to above 50% with further push toward Silver and Bronze plans.

Of course, we all know that the premiums we pay for Silver and Bronze don’t buy us first dollar benefits and leave huge out of pocket risks. If they do provide copays then those copays range from $50 to $250 which of course means people defer their medical care.

Regardless if you are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian or Green; we all have been hurt by the changes brought about by the ACA. This Fall’s election, the so-called mid-terms, provide Ca. citizens a chance to make a difference.

And isn’t that something we all crave, “a chance to make a difference”?

I could spend another 10,000 words outlining the potential improvements that might become reality if we vote wisely June 5th and Nov 6th.
But I’ll save that for future Posts.

Certainly we can all agree that elections provide a time when truly “we’re all in this together”.
Let me know what you think.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

Memorial Day: we all look forward to it but what do we really know about it. Please take just a moment now to know that we honor a true American Holiday.

May 25, 2018

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Let’s take a moment to look at its origin and history.

Memorial Day History

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Local Observances Claim To Be First Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.

Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Ill., cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866. Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.

Official Birthplace Declared In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.

It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.

Some States Have Confederate Observances Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.

The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”

To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.

The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella La Spada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

I want to give a special thank you to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for the facts about our history. It’s through the efforts of these fine folks that we all can stop what we’re doing, just for a moment, to appreciate the sacrifice that so many fellow Americans made for your and my benefit. It’s these American heroes that allowed the United States to become the beacon of hope and the land to which so many want to immigrate. In its brief 240 year existence let’s hope we’re just getting started.

Surely, those brave men and women who we celebrate would want us to know that “we’re all in this together”.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

 

A special post Mother’s Day Post. Everyone has or had a Mother and we generally honor them on Mother’s Day. But do you ever wonder what your delivery cost your Mother? Let’s look.

May 17, 2018

I know that you are reading this after Mom’s special day but give me two minutes to enlighten you on the cost to your Mom, at least medical cost, of bringing you in to this world. Now, I can’t address all that you cost your Mom since then but that is another day.

The tipping point for maternity costs, all medical costs really, was 1967 and the Medicare Act. Yep, that grand old bill that 80+ million Americans count on today was the catalyst for an explosion in healthcare costs.

My first daughter was born in 1986. When we visited the hospital where she would be delivered we were ushered into a room with dozens of other hopeful couples. The hospital staff’s goal was to convince us to utilize their hospital when our lucky day arrived. So, they presented all of the terrific features the hospital offered as well promoted their staff as being experienced, caring and loveing what they do.

The hospital administrator presented several option for delivery each having a different price attached as well as easy payment plans, if desired.

  • If you just planned to stop in, pop out the new little one, then go home in less than 22 hours the cost would be $1,800. I remember the 22 hours comment specifically because I remembered thinking, how does someone get in, deliver a child, and get out in 22 hours.
  • Then, for you more traditional types who plan to take your time, labor for 20 hours, then get some rest before you go home and the cost would be $5,600. I remember the $5,600 because it struck me as an arbitrary number and I wondered how many times they actually kept to that estimate.
    Heck, we all know aspirin cost $12-$18, depending on time of day.
  • Now, for you couples who might have a little complication in delivery or just want to choose the day and time of day your baby is born, they offered cesarean or C-section delivery. That was $12,800. For that price they’ll let you stay 3-4 days, teach the Dad how to change a diaper and feed you a steak & lobster dinner on your last night. Got to admit, the steak and lobster was pretty good.

That experience was at a respected hospital in the west San Fernando Valley of California. These prices, as well as last meal, vary greatly as one crosses the country.

I remember people telling me what a delivery would cost in “the old days”. Great friends of ours, who were 30 years older, regaled me with stories of how their first son, born in 1953 cost $250. Plus they paid the nurse $50, just because she was so nice to them.
I’ve had dinner for 4 in the San Fernando Valley that cost more than $250.

We’ve all heard the stories of the doctor getting paid a couple of chickens or a prize pig for his OB work. I can’t imagine the anguish of giving up my prize pig. That’ll make sense for those of you who know my origins.

On the other end of the spectrum there are the unfortunate many who have premature or early delivery or other complications. In 1993, I heard Leonard Schaffer, former CEO of Blue Cross of Ca., state to a group that  Blue Cross of Ca. had a $1 million baby born every week. He did not mean it in any glib sense but only as a fact related to healthcare cost that would be meaningful to the group.

In 2018, babies are as adorable as ever but a lot more expensive. Again, I’m speaking only of delivery, not the other stuff they cost their parents. But as we celebrate or rather celebrated Mother’s Day we should all reflect on this lesson to share with our kids.

Abstinence is the only means to 100% prevent pregnancy. Seriously.
Jeez, that sounded like Smokey the Bear and his forest fire warning. That doesn’t work either.

The point in this post Mother’s Day Post is that we love our Mom’s, or the memories of our Mom’s and this day gives us a chance to pause to be thankful. But also that it’s a great example of how healthcare has changed in both services available and costs. It also amplifies the urgency to solve the crisis in healthcare cost and access.
Plus, because of our Mom, we’re all in this together!

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

California Voters have a real opportunity to lower healthcare costs and improve access. But it will take the proper “vote” in the June 5th Primary and again Nov 6th in the general election.

May 10, 2018

It’s true and for certain that California voters have a chance to start taking back control of the crazy out-of-control healthcare system in California that has literally destroyed the citizen’s access to the healthcare we need.

To lower premiums, improve benefits, increase access to more providers and get more health plan options – Voters just need to vote for Steve Poizner for Insurance Commissioner and Travis Allen of John Cox for governor. It’s that simple.

Then, we can begin introducing the solutions that you have read about in previous Posts. Can you imagine a California in which you have:

  • Dozens of high quality health plans available.
  • Plans with benefits that fit your need not the Government’s.
  • Rich plan benefits or narrow plan benefits.
  • Plans with huge provider lists.
  • Plans with narrow provider lists.
  • Premium options that are affordable.
  • Reasonable reimbursement for providers
  • Transparency

I know what you’re thinking. How can two elected positions create such opportunity for change? The truth is that would take some time but my bet is that Ca. citizens would start seeing a difference with in nine to fifteen months.

Reports are starting to emerge projecting insurer premiums for 2019. Estimates are that premium may increase from 15% to as much as 100% depending on the state of region of the country. In Ca. we will see increases on employer sponsored group plans in the range of 10% to above 50% with further push toward Silver and Bronze plans.

Of course, we all know that the premiums we pay for Silver and Bronze don’t buy us first dollar benefits generally. If they do provide copays then those copays range from $50 to $250 which of course means people defer their medical care.

Regardless if one is Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian or Green; we all have been hurt by the changes brought about by the ACA. This Fall’s election, the so-called mid-terms, provide Ca. citizens a chance to make a difference.
And isn’t that something we all crave, “a chance to make a difference”?

I could spend another 2000 words outlining the potential actions, legislation, executive orders etc. that might become reality if we vote wisely June 5th and Nov 6th.
But I’ll save that for future Posts.

Certainly we can all agree that elections provide a time when truly “we’re all in this together”.
Let me know what you think.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

Once again, the calendar makes its call for – Platrix Chapter 2, “Queen of the Cow Counties” and so I must go. No Brethren cannot resist the call.

May 3, 2018

Two times each year your humble author retreats from his solemn duties to Trek to
E Clampus Vitus, Platrix Chapter #2, that most ancient and honorable group. This is one of those times, kid. Would you like to read just a bit about The History of ECV.

E CLAMPUS VITUS is said by its adherents to be the most ancient of all fraternal orders. It’s founding, as the tale is told, was coeval with the origin of the human race.

It is related that in 1852 Steamboat Jake. a merchant from Yreka, thinking to improve his business by fraternal affiliations, made arrangements through certain Clampers for initiation into the Masons, the Odd Fellows and E CLAMPUS VITUS at one bargain priceof $98.50. When the various brethern were assembled at the Hall of Comparative Ovation and Jake, bound and blindfolded was brought to be initiated, the question arose as to which Order should first apply the branding iron. It was agreed that the oldest should have priority.

 The Odd Fellows presented their claim for that honor, stating that their order was created by a charter issued in the form of a golden tablet by the Emperor Titus to his Jewish Legion in the first century A.D.

 The Masons disputed the claim, relating the scholarly history of Reverend Dr. Anderson to prove that the Grand Master Moses often marshaled the Israelites onto a regular and general lodge whilst in the wilderness, and that King Solomon was “Grand Master of the Lodge at Jerusalem”.

 The Noble Grand Humbug of E Clampus Vitus then rose and confounded the rival organizations with proof abducted from the unimpeachable unwritten works of St. Vitus, the final authority in all such matters, that E CLAMPUS VITUS was founded by our Clamp Patriarch Adam himself in the Garden of Eden, and that the original Staff of Relief, which figures so greatly in the Clamper ritual, was a branch that Adam broke from the Tree of Knowledge and smuggled out with him, hidden beneath his apron, when he was driven from Eden. All present in the Hall agreed that such antiquity was beyond compare.

The seniority of the Clampers was recognized, and Steamboat Jake accordingly was given into the hands for initiation. It is then told that by the time they were through with him he had lost all desire for further fraternal connections.

The unsurpassable antiquity of E CLAMPUS VITUS has been recognized and proven on many occasions. There are those who claim they can trace it through the times of the Old Testament and the beginnings of the Christian Era when its rites were conducted in the catacombs of Rome and referred to as the “Enigmatical Book of Vitus” and the “Curious Book of the Clampers”. These tales tell how it was spread through Europe by the Frolicking Friars, and carried to the Orient by the indomitable Vituscan Fathers.

According to the Clampers, the introduction of the order into the United States has long been shrouded in mystery and legend. Only recently has the true history been traced by the Royal Platrix Chapter and the Archivist of the West Virginia Lodge. The result of this research supposedly proves by documentary evidence that the secrets and symbols of E CLAMPUS VITUS were imparted by the Emperor of China, Tao-Kwang, Great Hotchot of the Chinese Grand Lodge to Caleb Cushing when the latter visited China in 1844 to negotiate the first treaty between the United States and the Celestial Kingdom. Cushing was specially charged by the Emperor to deliver the secrets and signs of authority to Ephrairn Bee, innkeeper of Bush Creek, Boone County, Virginia, to be disseminated by him at his discretion among the fellow citizens so that the Chinese and American People might henceforth be united by the Bonds of Fraternal Brotherhood as well as by the more formal ties of diplomatic relations. By virtue of his authority, Ephraim Bee traveled about his native state organizing lodges of E CLAMPUS VITUS in villages and county seats.

It is also said that among others, a number of drummers were taken into the order, with or without authority from Bee. These travelers took the gullible villagers and townsmen along their routes into the Brotherhood, until by 1849, the East and Middle West were dotted with Clamper Lodges. From these Lodges many lusty Clampers went West in the Gold Rush and founded the historic lodges in the mining camps that constituted themselves as guardians of the morals of these communities.Their duty as they saw it was to prevent the preachers and pious wives who followed the 49′ers, from imposing any excess of morality that might hamper the full enjoyment of life. How well the Clampers performed this function is commonly known, despite the lack of written records. This lack of written records is attributed to the circumstance that during the meetings there was never anyone capable of keeping the minutes and that afterwards no one remembered what had taken place.

As E CLAMPUS VITUS mushroomed along with the rapid growth of the gold towns, it declined as rapidly as they did, and, therefore, lived only in the memory of a few ancient dwellers in the mountains and in the annals of the county histories until, in 1930, when a new prophet, a second Ephraim Bee , appeared in the person of Carl Wheat to reorganize the historic organization.

Members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS have always been adventurers and many have been leaders in conquest of their respective countries. The most noteworthy of that band of stalwarts was Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a doughty explorer in the service of the Spanish Empire, who on October 19, 1542, raised the Spanish Flag at a point near the beach city of Hueneme in Ventura County and took possession of the land in the name of the King. Cabrillo is buried on San Miguel island and some Clampers make an annual pilgrimage to his grave.

Sir Francis Drake was a Clamper but not in good standing because of his piratical exploits until June 15, 1579, when this bold buccaneer reached California in the famous ship, the “Golden Hind”, and anchored in Drakes Bay where he raised the English Flag and took possession for Queen Elizabeth and called the land New Albion.

Then Spain decided to occupy California to protect her colonial possessions, so two courageous Clampers were selected for the expedition: one was Don Gaspar de Portola, and the other was Father Junipero Serra. These men raised the Emperors flag at San Diego on May 17, 1769.

After Mexico revolted from Spain, an admirable Clamper, General Antonio de Santa Ana, ordered the flag of the Mexican Republic raised at Monterey on January 7,1769.

John Charles Fremont was a peripatetic Clamper and he raised his ensign as Captain of the United States Topographical Engineers above every camp that he made in California during his expeditions between 1844 and 1846. That flag is now in the custody of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.

On June 14, 1846, a Sonoma group of justly indignant Clampers rebelled against the aggression of Mexican officials. They captured the garrison at Sonoma, issued a Clamp Potent proclamation declaring California to be an independent republic and raised a crudely designed but historic Bear Flag.

 Clampers played an important part in the history of California in the nineteenth century because the American members of this Order worked in unison. Commodore John D. Sloat in command of the Pacific Squadron of the U.S. Navy captured Monterey and on July 7, 1846 he instructed a fellow Clamper William Mervine to raise the flag of the United States above the customhouse. When Fremont learned of Brother Sloat’s coup he ordered the Bear Flag struck at Sonoma and replaced by a 28-star flag of the United States.

It is manifest that Clampers have been leaders throughout the history of California and the flag-raising members of the Order of E CLAMPUS VITUS have contributed glamor and deeds of courage and gallantry to our heritage. It must be noted however that this history has never been proven.

CREDO QUIA ABSURDUM – BECAUSE ITS ABSURD I BELIEVE
QUOTED FROM E CLAMPUS VITUS, THEN AND NOW, 1852-1979

As for me, I celebrate 25 years this Spring as I’ve been a “clamper” since 1993 at the Tehachapi Loop.
How many of you are Brothers of the Order?

Next week, we’re back to common sense ideas for healthcare reform. Promise!
Until then remember, we’re all in this together.
What sayeth the Brethren? Satisfactory!

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

California Legislature proposes “fixing” our soaring healthcare costs by setting “fixed” levels of reimbursement to providers. Does that sound familiar?

April 26, 2018

Reports from California is that their is legislation proposed that would set the fee schedules by which providers would be paid by insurers and other private medical plans.  Services ranging from hospital inpatient stays, doctor and specialist visits, surgeries, lab and diagnostics such as MRI or CT scans plus basically every health care service would have a fee schedule attached for which providers would be paid. If legislation introduced recently in Ca is passed it would drastically change the way healthcare services are paid.

Is setting a fee schedule a new idea?  No.
Has it been tried before? Yes.
Will providers oppose it? Oh, yes!
Will it work? Yes probably, if not sabotaged by political ideology.

We are all aware that, since 2010, the cost of health care and the premiums to pay for that care has risen 100%+ and is causing crushing financial pain for tens of millions of Americans. The politics surrounding the healthcare issue makes it seem that nobody has an answer and no one seems willing to try new ideas.
But that’s not exactly true, the private sector is continually trying new ideas but gets very little press supporting its actions. This idea of setting a fee schedule has been and is currently being used by many plans in Ca.

In fact, this proposal submitted in the Ca. legislature is already successful in the private healthcare sector being used for medical plans, dental plans as well as vision and wellness plans. Employers as well as insurers are boldly trying to control their costs and the cost to their employees, our citizens. Too often, it’s the government that gets in the way of the private sector’s innovations.

The California proposal would affect private health plans of insurers as well as plans sponsored by employers which then provide the medical coverage to their employees. The idea is to limit or set the reimbursements to providers as a percentage of what Medicare allows. According to the proposal a commission of some number of people, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would actually set the reimbursement rate for basically every service provided by doctors, hospitals, surgery centers and other facilities.

While I hate the political nature of “a commission of appointees) the fee structure must be determined in some transparent manner. Setting reimbursements as a percentage of Medicare would be transparent.

In the private sector this concept of reimbursements being tied to Medicare is referred to as Reference Based Pricing (RBP). Some health plan payers call it Value Based Pricing in an effort to add a little marketing pizzazz. But it is a concept with merit because Medicare pricing is supposed to be based on setting a reimbursement that covers a provider’s cost-plus a little profit. People often forget that Medicare allowed rates include a profit margin.

There are a number of examples of how this idea of a fix rate has/is being used now.

  • Dental Plans – One common and successful method is a scheduled plan that dental plans have implemented for years. The dental plan pays a set amount for each service that a dentist can provide.
    For ex:
    * Exam pays $60
    * Cleaning pays $75
    * X-rays pays $45
    These fix schedule dental plans are generally less expensive that standard dental plans yet provide very rich benefits.
  • Medical plans have used EPOs (Exclusive Provider Organization) which means on that plan you only see “in Network” providers or else it is not paid for at all.
  • How ever, many insurers took this EPO idea to the extreme after the ACA was enacted. Insurers created plans with what’s known as “skinny” networks which drastically reduces the number of providers in a member’s area. Most of these “skinny” network plans suck, to be blunt but honest. Few members are satisfied with the choice of Docs on these skinny networks but these plans helped reduce or at least slow the premium increases Americans faced.

The proposal to set reimbursement levels faces opposition in the heavily Liberal Ca Legislature.  One reason may be because many on the Left wish to push for Single Payer and any prospect of controlling costs or improving benefits produces obstacles to the healthcare take-over that Single Payer represents. Thus, many lawmakers are unwilling to make significant changes even if those changes could help lower costs for the employers and employees in Ca.

A good example of this reluctance to help lower cost is the Ca. healthcare law known as SB 161. This SB 161 was enacted to make it virtually impossible for small employers with fewer that 100 employees to self-insure the group health plan they provide for their employees. SB 161 set artificial pricing levels for re-insurers that increase the risk and cost that small employers would bare. It makes the option of self-insuring to risky.
SB 161 was enacted solely to protect Covered California group plan (Ca.’s Exchange)  thereby shielding Covered Cal from the competition by employers self-insuring their health plans. Simply put legislators wanted SB 161 to eliminate Covered Ca’s competition even though it eliminated a popular alternative for employers with as few as 15 employees.

The point is that many Ca. legislators want single payer so badly that setting reimbursement levels which could reduce costs is contrary to their objectives.

Initially, the proposal sets reimbursement levels at 125% to 140% of what Medicare would pay a provider for the same service. The Private sector has many TPAs implementing RBP for employers and the reimbursement level of 125% to 180% is common.

Some argue that these price controls could push doctors to move out-of-state or retire. That’s always the fear-tactic for innovative ideas. Opponents say that it will be much harder for folks to see a physician when they’re sick, or will force hospitals to lay off staff and cut back or even close. Again a common fear tactic used by opponents.

“No state in America has ever attempted such an unproven policy of inflexible, government-managed price caps across every health care service,” Dr. Theodore Mazer, the CMA president, said in a statement.

Dr. Mazer is partially correct however his statement is a bit skewed. Medicare and Medical already sets reimbursements and in Ca accounts for 30+% of Ca.’s 34 million people. It’s true that not every provider accepts Medicare because of the reimbursement levels but that can be addressed in private plans.

But if the State backed this idea of RBP affecting private payers, such as insurers and self-funded employers, then it would bring down the unit cost of care dramatically. We all know that the total cost of healthcare is the unit cost of care times the number of units consumed. Controlling the unit cost of care is a big step to controlling total cost.

Dietmar Grellman, senior vice president of the California Hospital Association states, “from the providers perspective there is some concern and rightly so. Paying hospitals 125 percent of Medicare’s rate would cut $18 billion in revenue and force them to trim nurses and other support staff”.

Mr. Grellman’s point is valid and highlights why our healthcare delivery and finance system has run so a muck.
He says, “Private insurers make up for the low payments from government-funded health care, which doesn’t cover the full cost of care”. It is a fact for 40 years and once again the actions by the government cost employers, employees, you and me because the Hospitals and other Providers charge us more to make up what they say they lose to Medicare plans.

This proposed legislation in Ca. is not the worse idea ever considered in Ca. Trust me on that. But, it may not get traction because of the forces amassed against it. No one wants Hospitals to curtail services or lay off staff. That is not part of the solution to an already over-stressed delivery system. But there must be some room for discussion.

Several years ago, a friend of mine who managed a medium size hospital in the mid-west was grousing about the cut backs his hospital had to accept by insurers and the government. I’ll simplify but he said:

  • We invoiced $460 million for services.
  • We only collected $340 million.
  • I asked “What were your operating cost to provide services”?
  • He said “I can’t/won’t tell you that”

Maybe that’s why an aspirin can cost $18 dollars in some hospitals.

This idea of RBP is a good idea but it is not the save-all to end-all in the fight against rising premiums and care. We need to tie several of these good ideas, we discussed, together to make the solution that all America is hoping for and deserves.

Together, we could make it happen, because we are all in this together.
Let me know what you think.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It stands for “Walk the Faith”.

Last July, our Post heading was “What would the consequences be if the GOP passes NO legislation to Repeal & Replace? Let’s look at the impact on insurance coverage.” Were we RIGHT?

April 19, 2018

Below is a re-Post of July 27th 2017 with a few comments highlighted in Red. With midterms only 6+ months away, will the decisions made by the GOP last year come back to bite? Read on to see if we were close.

 As I write this post, the Senate has voted to open hearings and take amendments for the Senate’s R&R bill. Basically this is the Senate’s last effort do accomplish anything  for now on Repeal & Replace. Without being pessimistic, I would wager that the smart money will be bet on nothing coming of this.

Regardless of one’s political leaning everyone must agree that action is needed to either replace the ACA (with something better) or make repairs to the ACA (that will keep it alive). I realize that is a big summation but if we are honest then we must conclude that the ACA is failing so one way or another action is needed. Either for the benefit of the millions of Medicare Expansion subsidized enrollees or for the tens-of-millions of premium paying citizens and employers, the ACA needs either fixed or replaced.

So, what would the consequences be if our House & Senate don’t do anything. That is, if they don’t provide or modify the subsidies for the insurers and all of the other ACA issues that need changed to survive or don’t replace the whole darn thing, then we will see a number of absolutely predictable results.

Of course, the Politician’s thoughts will immediately turn to their own future and the 2018 elections (probably have been already) but I want to focus on the impact to all of us, the hard-working premium paying, mortgage paying, car payment making, tax paying citizens. It won’t be good but let’s look at it:

  1. Regardless of whether or not the subsidies of the ACA are paid to insurers we will see: (Correctly so, they’re not paid, yet.)
    a. Premiums for individual plans increase double-digit (20% or more) and be projected to continue for the next few years. It’s happening!
    b. The Counties without an insurer for the individual ACA plans will continue to increase. It’s projected that as many as 1/3 of all counties will have no individual ACA plan available. In the more rural states we could see the number of counties with no individual plans exceed 80% of the counties within those states.
    YEP, that’s what’s happening!
    c. The number of insurers willing to even offer plans anywhere in the country will decline, including those insurers offering plans outside the ACA Exchanges for both group and individual plans. Sadly, for rural areas this is true.
  2. Medicaid enrollment will continue to rise. Even though Medicaid plans provide lower benefits and there are fewer providers, most people don’t realize those facts until it’s too late. Besides, the idea of “free insurance” will become more and more appealing as premiums continue to rise for the tens-of-millions of premium paying citizens that use very little or no healthcare each year. “Why should I pay premium when I never use my plan and those folks are getting it for free?”. Right?
    This is happening plus a few states are trying to expand further.
  3. To summarize: fewer insurers offering fewer choices with few participating providers all at premiums increased each year. That is correct, Madam.
  4. Of course, the result of # 1, 2, and 3 above will lead to another crisis because there won’t be enough money to pay for all of the Medicaid claims and insurer’s subsidies. Which will lead to:
    a. Increased taxes or create new taxes on benefits to generate more funds.
    b. Decrease the benefits at either the plan benefit level or utilization level. That means the IPAB “Independent Patient Advisory Board” or Death Panel will decide what gets authorized and covered and what does not.
    Your 90-year-old mom may need a new hip but will the IPAB authorize it?”
    Luckily, as you read in previous Posts the IPAB is dead, not your 90-year-old mom.

We could go on and on because it is clear that the entire healthcare finance and delivery system will feel the impact of our Congress doing nothing. There is some hope though due to the President’s EOs for AHPs.

One additional concern is the “overly optimistic political corrected” desire to pass a “skinny bill” that would simply repeal the Play or Pay mandates. That could be catastrophic to insurers and to premiums that would need to be increased.

I don’t understand politics and have the scars to prove it but I do try to understand human nature. Human nature will drive most politicians to look out for themselves in their own individual voting district throughout the healthcare debate. This is already occurring in many districts.
Sad thing is that the GOP seems to be immobilized from taking action on R&R  due to the criticisms from people who wouldn’t vote for them regardless of any action taken.

Makes you want to ask, “So, a small percentage of people in your district, who wouldn’t vote for you under any circumstances, are preventing you from doing what’s right for tens of millions of American?” See this example before, haven’t we?
As I said, I don’t understand politics.

Sorry for the negative outlook concerning our Congress and especially its leadership. But, since neither the House nor Senate bills actually repeal the ACA there seems to be little to ignite optimism. And of course, times and circumstances change the immediate need of the population so all help is on hold.

I think we can point to the children’s book “The Emperor’s New Suit” as the beginning of the GOP’s downfall.  You can’t tell people it’s an ACA repeal bill, while leaving the core foundation of the ACA including taxes, and expect the people to embrace it. Reducing the Play or Pay penalties to zero and calling it repeal  does not repeal the Play or Pay core fear of the ACA. It only increases premiums.
I didn’t like that book when I was a kid, and I still don’t!

Well, we’ll see what happens this week and together we will address it.
Because, we’re all in this together, right?
It’s because we suffer with these political blunders together that makes it more frustrating. Together, we are fed up and should do something.
I know – vote.

Until next time.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

 

Insurers expected to increase ACA premiums sharply this Fall because they did not get their “bail out” funds. Guess who gets the blame?

April 12, 2018

 

Isn’t it interesting that when predictions come true about the failures of the ACA, the Left and the Media go looking for someone to blame? In this case the failure predicted is collapse of ACA State Exchanges with the projected “premium spikes” for the Fall of 2018 and the blame goes to Congress and the President.

But the blame game continues as Insurers, politicians at every level, and the Media lay the blame for the expected premium increase squarely on the Congress and the President. The “blamer’s” logic is that Congress failed to include any funding for bailing out Insurers in the Tax Reduction and Jobs Act in December 2017.

 The “blamers” also are saying that the GOP  had a chance to lower rates with an amendment that a couple Republicans had hoped to attach to the $1.3 billion  spending package passed on March 23, 2018.

Let’s clarify a couple things:

  • The ACA’s re-insurance “subsidy” program paid participating insurers huge taxpayer subsidies from 2014 until the program was scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.
  • The subsidies were designed help get the ACA Exchanges up and running but not remain intact beyond that point. The intent was to cover two issues:
    • One – the claims of high-cost patients for whom the law’s preexisting-conditions provisions provided guaranteed coverage.
    • The extra subsidies were supposed to keep premiums from skyrocketing. Obviously that failed as premium increased astronomically each year since 2010. By the end of 2016, premiums had doubled from pre-ACA levels.
  • The premium spikes you are hearing about will only affect the individual plans in state exchanges, the so-called Obamacare Plans. The premium increase will impact less than 10 million Americans and 90% of those receive subsidies so they pay almost nothing for their coverage and care. 
  • These points are important to remember because the Media will try to stir up activist who will then cry for single payer.

 You know this Post is no fan of the GOP’s efforts to R&R the ACA over the past 12 months, actually past 7 years. Additionally, we predicted delays and Democrat inspired litigation issues as the GOP continues its piecemeal approach to fixing our healthcare finance and delivery system.

We have already witnessed evidence of this by the lawsuits filed against the President’s efforts for Association Health Plans and allowing Short Term Medical plans to extend to 12 months.

Who does this lack of “bail out” impact the most? The Media would try to make you believe that the folks covered will be harmed but as we stated earlier that is untrue since 90% of the folks covered by these Omabacare plans pay nothing or almost nothing for their premium or services that they receive.

So, who else does this impact? The answer is the states that so enthusiastically embraced the ACA and rushed to create their Exchanges back in 2010 through 2014. They knew that their citizens would get the subsidies offered so they anticipated great enrollment numbers and enrollees would be “hooked” on Obamacare and unable to leave. It’s the so-called “blue” states feeling the biggest impact.

Reports indicate that some states are seeking their own solutions. Ironically, this funding issue may actually cause states to adopt realistic changes and better solutions than the ACA could ever provide. Let’s face it, government bailouts, especially bailouts for government initiated programs, seldom resolve issues and generally lead to more and more funding. Lot’s of examples of that over the pass 50 years.

Some reports indicate that a few states (mostly blue) are looking for how a they could restore the individual mandate (IM). Actually, there are many experts,”real experts”, who believe the elimination of the IM will lead to more reliance on Employer sponsored coverage thus reliving that burden on the states where the citizen lives.
Two things come to mind about that.

  • One – Employer sponsored plans tend to be less costly to members and provide richer benefits than the ACA individual plans.
  • But we wonder- Do “blue” states really want their citizens to leave the state-run and controlled plan for an Employer’s plan? The state would lose control/dominance over that member so you decide the state’s motivation.
  • States are in the news about their plight and their possible steps to fund the Insurers themselves. But will any of them really step up? Or is it just talk?
  • It is realistic to see states take steps to utilize the opportunities President Trump set forward with AHPs and 12 month Short term Med Plans. We’ve already seen efforts by Utah, Iowa, and Wisconsin to initiate steps in that direction.
    Of course, the Dems have threatened litigation.

In an election year it’s easy to predict that these issues will get much press, mostly uninformed or lopsided, but that noting will be resolved. As we’ve witnesses in the discussion concerning the Daca folks and immigration, issues are more important than solutions for certain politicians.
This premium spike issue will work for candidates because most or our citizens will not realize that it affects only the Exchange Individual plans (less than 10 Million people) which is less than 3% of our total population.

The states that ramped up their subsidized Exchange Plans as well  as expanded Medicaid eligibility are in a financial bind. As stated by Mila Kofman, executive director of the D.C. health exchange, “States don’t print money, and individual markets, to become stable, need an infusion of federal dollars,”. Doesn’t the verbalization that “states don’t print money” sound a bit creepy coming from a bureaucrat’s mouth?

In 2010 to 2014, many of us predicted that the ACA subsidy program would become an issue, when it became clear to us that the Federal funding for these programs would cease in 2016. Come on…, we all know that States receiving Federal subsidies is like an addiction! Did anyone expect States to wean themselves off the addiction?

You can see now that while the Media gives time for politicians (including a few in the GOP) to complain and lay blame the crisis was predictable and the solutions are available. But, it’s an off-year election year so getting elected and re-elected is more important than real solutions.

What do you think? In this case we truly are all in this together because the assistance the politicians seek for less than 10 million will adversely impact 330 million of us.
Again, that’s 330 million people impacted so, we really are in this together!

Until next week,

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds, wtf
It stands for “Walk the Faith”.

 

 

How can the average American stay informed about the public issues and policies that impact our lives? It’s not easy folks!

April 5, 2018

I realize the heading to this Post is a bit superficial and maybe beneath our readers standards but in such an important election year the news we see and hear is, too often, either salacious to attract viewers, narrowed by the presenter’s bias, intended to distract from important issues or just plain fake.

The talking heads on TV, both Cable and Network, will pick up a story line planted by someone with an agenda then pontificate upon the subject with what ifs and maybe’s for days. It’s tiresome for viewers, for sure. Then the initial story will be proven false or inaccurate or simply fade away.

We are in a period now in which the news should be full of Big Pharma & Insurer profits and high premiums, weak coverage with few providers and the overall failure of the ACA to accomplish what it was advertised to do. The News should be honestly covering other important issues such as immigration and the Dem’s neglect for Daca, Russian provocations, President’s planned meeting with NOKO leader, the effects of other country’s unfair trade policies  on America, terrorism within our borders, not to mention the unimaginable breach of our privacy by Social Media, to name a few.

What do we get for news instead? On most outlets its the story of Russia-Trump collusion and if that doesn’t work the private affairs of the President before he was in office, some reaching back 20 years or more. Or maybe the less scandalous but equal waste of time; the discussion about the House proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Experience tells us that our government in general and congress specifically understands the news cycles and what steps to take to engage what they desire and avoid what they choose to avoid.
For instance:

  •  Remember the Millions of Dollars in hush money pay by Congress on behalf of Congress members to cover sexual harassment allegations? We all wanted to see a list of those pay outs didn’t we. Have we seen such a list?
  • Remember Lois Lerner and John Koskinen of IRS fame? The GOP was going to uncover that for us so that it could never happen again. Lois Lerner’s testimony is sealed in Congress said to be for her personal safety. What about the safety of our citizens against the first or second most powerful force in America.
  • Unmasking of Americans by the Obama administration. US Ambassador Samantha Powers requested the unmasking of 360 Americans ( that’s right 360) during the last year of the Obama reign. Hear anything about that lately?
  • Catch and Release at the southern border. Sure, the number of crossings went down for several months in 2017 but ICE and the Border teams have no more space for retention or authority to retain those crossing the border.
  • Sanctuary cities and politician’s actions to restrict ICE. What’s being done to protect the legal citizens including those who immigrated legally. We are starting to hear about brave Americans like the those Los Alamitos, Ca who have taken a stand but will it gain notoriety?
  • Plus, the failures of the ACA to deliver better access and more affordable health insurance.

I could go on and you probably have other issues in mind as well. The point is that the average American, which is about 330 million average people, can’t stay up to date and certainly not excited about most of these issues. You’re busy going to work, raising your family, scratching out a living in an increasingly complex world.

The only people who seem to stay active and focused on issues is generally the folks who are impacted, or think they are, by current laws, policies, or morays. The other group that stay focused and mobilized are the folks who make a living off of generating headlines, often with misleading stories, to anger and excite the groups from which they profit.

We see it plainly in the marches recently by kids against guns, by people allegedly for DACA and immigration, against sexual harassment, for gender equality and so forth. Sometimes don’t you wish the policies or programs you support had the energy and outside money that some of these other groups receive.
Frankly, it impossible to maintain the pace to battle for what’s right and for justice.

I guess it’s human nature to be strongly for or against some issue but then run out of gas in the efforts to promote one’s beliefs. Plus, it’s frustrating to see Congress avoid common sense to process the expedient but worse to see Congress avoid common sense for their own benefit.

So it’s ho-hum, nothing’s changed including the frustration many feel. The answer is keep up the fight if you can, try to stay as informed, as you can and participate when you can.
After all, we are all in this together!

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It stands for “Walk the Faith”.