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Newsletter, 'What's Going On...", August 31, 2010

August 31, 2010


Health Care?  Or Healthcare?  There’s a nice, literate discussion of which words to use on the Health Care Blog.  Kinda fun.


Kaiser Health News staff writer Jessica Marcy reports: "Under federal rules, most people with disabilities who are younger than 65 aren't eligible for Medicare until more than two years after they qualify for Social Security disability income. A coalition of more than 65 organizations led by the Medicare Rights Center has been pushing Congress to do away with the waiting period. But the effort has stalled because of the high cost to the federal government -- an estimated $113 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office" (Kaiser Health News).


On children: "Even prior to the onset of the economic recession in 2008, nearly one in four American parents with health insurance reported that their coverage was so inadequate they were unable to access the medical care their children needed," HealthDay/Bloomberg Businessweek reports. "Parents of kids with health problems or special needs were more likely than others to say their insurance coverage did not meet their needs. ... And the problem of 'underinsurance' seems to be worse for children covered by private insurance than those with government-funded coverage, the study found. ... About a quarter (24.2 percent) of children with private health insurance had problems getting the care they needed, compared to 14.7 percent of children with public health insurance, such as Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)." The study, which is published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, "analyzed data on nearly 92,000 children [whose] parents took part in the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health" (Goodwin, 8/25).  Medscape: "The main reason for categorizing children as underinsured was that costs not covered by insurance were considered to be sometimes or always unreasonable by the parents or guardians. Some children -- 3.9 million -- had health insurance that did not meet their needs, and 2.9 million children had coverage that sometimes or never allowed them to see needed providers, the authors found. ... The authors also suggest that, as healthcare reform evolves, it may be worthwhile to consider the adequacy of coverage for children with current insurance, and not just to focus on the number of uninsured children" (Lowry, 8/25).   From Kaiser Health Report.


Business Insurance: ….. "Nearly two-thirds of employers say they intend to make health care plan design changes to shift more costs to employees in 2011, according to a survey released Wednesday. The Aon Consulting survey found that 65% of respondents plan to increase cost-sharing through actions such as boosting deductibles, copayments, coinsurance or out-of-pocket limits. In addition, 57% said they expect to boost health care plan premiums paid by employees" (Geisel, 8/25). Kaiser Health News


The Wall Street Journal: "Faced with mounting debt and looming costs from the new federal health-care law, many local governments are leaving the hospital business, shedding public facilities that can be the caregiver of last resort. ... (Sataline, 8/29).  From the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report. 


Small Businesses Skip the Health-Care Tax Credit Business Week by David Lerman and Liz Smith.  Eager to promote the new small-business tax credit, the government this spring mailed 4 million eligible companies postcards with highlights of the program. The response has been tepid, according to insurance brokers who sell small-group policies. The reason, they argue, is that the credit starts to phase out for companies that pay average annual wages of more than $25,000 or employ more than 25 workers. The value of the benefit declines quickly, so many business owners in high-cost states get no tax break, and those elsewhere often say the credit is too small to make much of a difference. Sales of health plans have gotten "very little traction so far," says James Stenger, director of business development for BenefitMall, which sells small-group plans in New Jersey.


Maggie Mahar calls attention to a couple of New Studies Highlight Unintended Consequences of Medicare Drug Benefit.  One was an AARP Report concluding: “ In 2009, the average annual increase in retail prices for 217 brand name prescription drugs widely used by Medicare beneficiaries was 8.3 percent, and was notably higher than the rate of increase observed during any of the prior four years (i.e., 2005 to 2008), which ranged from 6.0 percent to 7.9 percent. In contrast, the rate of general inflation was -0.3 percent over the same period.


California has become the first state to pass legislation creating a health insurance exchange, reports Anna Wilde Mathews: "The California exchange would be governed by a new board, which will be given robust authority, including the power to selectively contract with insurers to offer plans within the exchange. That provision drew opposition from some health insurers. 'Health plans are concerned that an appointed board could decide to limit choice to the disadvantage of consumers,' said Patrick Johnston, chief executive of the California Association of Health Plans."  From the Wonkbook.  The legislation is now on Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk awaiting his decision whether to sign it.


Why should women pay more for health care than men do?  That’s the question last week from California One-Care.  (30-second-long video)


Oregon is planning to examine a single-payer proposal in its next legislative session.


On June 28, 2010, Honeywell locked out the 230 union workers at its uranium hexafluoride plant in Metropolis, Ohio.  The members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-669 refused to accept the company proposal to increase workers’ out of pocket health care maximum to $8,500 a year and to end retiree health coverage.   A sister Honeywell plant in Canada, the only other site of manufacture of uranium hexafluoride, recently went through smooth contract renegotiations, but the cost of health insurance in Canada was, of course, not an issue as it was in Ohio.  Kay Tillow, in Firedoglake. 


In 2008, Lisa Knapp Stillman shared her personal story of caring for her twenty-four year old son with severe mental illness (SMI). Of all of the struggles she has faced, she emphasized the effect of his illness on his oral health:  “Within one year of my son’s diagnosis, after taking the prescribed medications, his teeth began to disintegrate. Because his medications caused him to have dry mouth coupled with the negative symptoms of his SMI, his teeth developed severe decay that led to over $15,000 in dental reconstruction. We were fortunate that we could provide dental treatment for him, whereas many others with SMI are not that fortunate and consequently lose their teeth.”  After several years of hard work, Ms. Stillman has created the “Dental Voice for Mental Health” project with her sister. The goal is to increase awareness of oral health needs for people receiving mental health treatment, as “mental health care recipients are being left out in the cold when it comes to oral and dental health.”


“More than a quarter of Americans who take prescription drugs have skipped doses, split pills or cut other corners to save money in the last year, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.”  From the Wonkline. 


Igor Volsky (The Wonkroom) wrote: “Yesterday, I argued that given the pressure Medicare spending places on the federal budget, Republicans would be crazy to repeal the cost controls in the health care law and would probably maintain some version of the IPAB board if they actually regain power. But the Minnesota Start Tribune reminds me that the sponsors of the kill-IPAB bill are two Republican lawmakers — Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) — whose constituents would probably face the highest cuts:  No surprise that Texas is where many of these higher-cost providers are clustered. A high concentration is also in Tennessee, home of Republican Rep. Phil Roe, author of the House companion bill to Cornyn’s legislation. Both politicians disingenuously pitch their bills as getting bureaucrats out of health care. In reality, the bills are all about protecting special interests back home. In doing so, these bills would obliterate one of the most promising proposals to date to get the deficit under control.”


You would have read, of course, of Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or at least the portions they find most repugnant.  The Congressional Budget Office calculated that to do so would add nearly half a trillion dollars to the deficit.


There was a piece or so this week about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on health insurance offered to college students.  Here’s an example: Colleges say new health law may imperil student policies.  Turns out the controversy was overblown


Politico PULSE:  “THERE'S A WIDGET FOR THAT - Healthcare.Gov debuted late (last) Tuesday an insurance finder widget, for use on web sites and blogs, that searches for plans using an individual's home state and family status. Todd Park's announcement: http://bit.ly/aWV5mu


For those with strong stomachs: “Putting the Brakes on ObamaCare Wall Street Journal by GRACE-MARIE TURNER (president of the Galen Institute) - If Republicans take control of one or both houses of Congress this fall, many will have been elected with a promise to "repeal and replace" ObamaCare. But what are their options, really? There likely will be an initial showdown, but President Obama will surely veto any challenge to the law, and it would be hard to imagine mustering the votes to overturn it… Here are six key strategies that a Republican Congress could employ to put on the brakes: Defund it…. Dismantle it…. Delay it… Disapprove regulations.. Direct oversight and investigation.. Delegate to the states…”From Peter Van Vranken. 


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Visit www.HandsOffOurMedicare.org


Thursday, September 23, 8 PM CDT.  PNHP’s monthly activist phone call.  Please call me for the phone number and access code. 


Saturday, October 2.  Peace, Jobs, Justice Labor rally in Washington D.C.  About 500 nurses from National Nurses United and an unknown number of Physicians for a National Health Program will march.  In some states there are AFL-CIO busses carrying participants to and from the event…stay tuned for what we can make happen here.


Sunday, October 3,  7PM CDT.  Healthcare-NOW monthly activist phone call. Please use this Dial-in Number 1-218-862-1300 and Conference Code 441086. To mute and unmute the line, please hit *4.

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