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Round-up, Pause for Reflection, & Makeover

July 26, 2023

Greetings HJM readers –

I’m using a different format today.

#1 – Round-up. Plenty of recent news items exemplify the usual rocky functioning of US health care. Here’s a sampling:

Medicaid: Eligibility assessment post-COVID proceeds apace, with 4 million disenrolled so far, widely variable by state (Texas is highest). CMS has asked some states to pause due to problems with the eligibility redetermination. One company is profits very well with this process. Meantime, the DHHS Inspector General found that prior authorization denial rates are especially high in Medicaid, which is 70% under managed care. So, in summary, it’s harder to stay on Medicaid and on Medicaid harder to get care, and private companies profit in the process.

Medicare: Risk selection of healthier individuals (within diagnosis) by Medicare Advantage plans yields 11% lower medical costs than enrollees in traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Higher diagnostic coding intensity adds 6%. The total cost difference of 17% represents $70 billion per year, or $1500 per MA enrollee. Another estimate comes in at 20%. And artificial intelligence (AI) is being misused to arbitrarily limit care. Meantime, drug companies are suing to stop price negotiations in the Inflation Reduction act. Who profits? MA plans and Pharma, of course.

Patients: Administrative barriers to getting care can be very dangerous and extraordinarily expensive. This brings to life the stats — individuals spend 8 hours per month coordinating health care, and one in four insured patients delay or forego care due to administrative hurdles. Medical debt and bankruptcy are pervasive.

Insurers: Profits galore, billions and billions. Definitively covered in Wendell Potter’s HEALTH CARE un-covered. Largely due to Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care (see above).

Hospitals: Dubious hospital billing practices are being challenged, as hospital profits grow. Meantime, many rural hospitals suffer existential threats from low private insurer payment rates.

There’s more … there’s always more; our fragmented and dysfunctional insurance approach can be counted on to generate stories of care denied coupled with profits maximized. But enough for today.

#2 – Pause for Reflection

Reading a terrific book, The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy by Anand Giridharadas. For those committed to progressive policy change, it’s revelatory – laying out vividly what persuasive strategies work. I’m contemplating how the insights can bolster single payer advocacy.

I’m also busy this summer with family travel and cataract / glaucoma surgery (luckily, I have very good insurance, and terrific ophthalmologists).

So, HJM posts will slow.

#3 – Makeover

The HJM website will be reborn later this year in much grander fashion. It will still have all the blog posts, plus some from Don’s prior “quote of the day”, with an advanced search capacity. Plus a glossary and FAQs, as well as visuals and resources for activism. Some short videos too. Stay tuned. If you want to be a “beta tester”, let me know.

Hope you’re having a great summer. – JGK

About the Commentator, Jim Kahn

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Jim (James G.) Kahn, MD, MPH (editor) is an Emeritus Professor of Health Policy, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on the cost and effectiveness of prevention and treatment interventions in low and middle income countries, and on single payer economics in the U.S. He has studied, advocated, and educated on single payer since the 1994 campaign for Prop 186 in California, including two years as chair of Physicians for a National Health Program California.

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