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Friday, September 18, 2009

Pay or Play or Pay and Pay; Obama versus Baucus Health Plans

Baucus Health Plan
Senator Baucus of Montana broke away from his committee to present his approach to a United States health care overhaul. His plan proposes a complicated series of benefit changes in Medicare/Medicaid, along with taxes on health care suppliers, employers, and individuals, depending on the health care scenario. It is like trying to look through depression era glass for the economy in this approach. First of all, I don’t think adding more taxes to an already expensive health care delivery system will make it less expensive. If anything, this type of proposal will drive more people into the government option Obama plan.
Both the Obama and Baucus health plans rely on the employer system for health care financing, as opposed to a program based on individuals selecting their health plan from regional cooperatives, with a tax credit allowance, and some employer allowance. I am often asked why we expect employers to provide health care in the USA and my only answer is, "because that is the way it is now." It would be interesting to hear what employers, both large and small think about their preferred level of contribution to health care for their workers. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2009 Health Confidence Survey, 83% of their constituent’s support a public health option. An employer mandate for a national health plan gleans 75% support as well. This organization is a conservative, employer, and insurance based entity, so if this is what their subscribers are saying, Brunhilde has finished her aria, and the curtain is coming down on the current health care marketplace.
Similarities
Similarities between the Baucus and Obama plans include the following features: guaranteed ability to obtain coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, less predatory pricing based on gender and age, and a reduction in the uninsured populations. These are all good mechanisms to get more people eligible to obtain treatment, so their medical conditions can be better managed and less expensive in the long run.
Differences
Baucus recommends the use of nonprofit health care purchasing cooperatives (Community Health Plans or Health Maintenance Plans), to meet the needs of the uninsured population. Does he mean HMO’s or CHP’s? The problem with spreading the cooperative method to the entire United States population is scale; these are localized primary care provider organizations, not national health care institutions. Also, Community Health Plans deliver primary care at a lower cost than HMO’s although their history is briefer. The Obama public option would have the advantage of existing scale with the government already providing a number of health care services. The government is in a position to negotiate the largest discounts for supplies (theoretically) and prescriptions. Since insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping sick individuals from their plans and they will be required to accept all new applicants, there will be some attrition in the number of providers. Depending on your economic perspective, this is either an intended or unintended consequence of the policy change.
Medicare Reform
Obama’s plan expressly closes the gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors, called the donut hole, which is good. I also like his intent to improve quality and care coordination for Medicare recipients. Most of us will be on Medicare coverage someday and that is when we will experience our highest health care expenses. Since the costs for Medicare are escalating beyond sustainability, as a population we should be reviewing this program for efficiencies as a part of our national health care reform initiatives.
Things I would change in Medicare payments include the following:
-Establish an evidence based payment policy for orthopedic treatments (including hip transplants), that considers value delivered over life expectancy
-Tighten up on medical supply payments for motorized wheelchairs and other areas of abuse
-Optimize government purchasing power for the Medicare prescription program
-Stop paying for Viagra on Medicare (increases the risk of a cardiac event)
-Align reimbursements with optimized treatment protocols, which offer sound clinical results and affordable treatments
Finally, I would also institute a fee schedule for Medicare premiums based on earnings, which was voted down by the AARP years ago. Note to the AARP, look you are relying on the current taxpayers to finance your health care, and you are going to have to compromise a little. Be nice to the young people, we will need them when we are old.
My verdict on the Baucus Plan is that it is DOA, but it certainly contributes to an improved level of discussion on health care reforms, when someone else had the guts to reveal his plan. Like the Greek God of wine, Senator Baucus, I raise a glass to you.

This article was written by Roberta E. Winter, MHA, MPA and may be reprinted with her permission, 9/17/2009

1 comment:

Arlene said...

Hi Roberta,
Don't you think we expect employers to pay because we don't have a public option like they do in Europe and Canada. It seems in the US they all want their cake and eat it too.
The fact is that those who have the privileges to make great deals of money off the backs of employees and the purchases of customers, need to give back. Giving back is in the form of taxes or fees. they can't hoard the wealth even if they think they work harder than the rest of us -- which they don't.

You might like my podcast about this change of era we are entering for the next 16 years. Come to my blog and listen . Its 15 minutes and it is valuable information.
Take care,
Arlene