Posts Tagged ‘Gail Wilensky’

Is Medicare in Peril if the Supreme Court Rules Against the ACA

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Could there be collateral damage if the Supreme Court rules to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Some healthcare experts are warning of potential collateral damage if the Supreme Court strikes down the entire ACA: potential chaos for Medicare.  “The Affordable Care Act has become part and parcel of the Medicare system, encouraging providers to deliver better, more integrated, better coordinated care, at lower cost,” said Judy Feder, a public policy professor at Georgetown University and former Clinton administration health official.  “To all of a sudden eliminate that would be highly disruptive.”

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, is more blunt: “We could find ourselves at kind of a grand stopping point for the entire healthcare system.”  It’s not only Democrats warning of potential problems.  Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare and Medicaid during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, doesn’t think it’s likely that the court will strike down the entire health law.  But if it does, she warns, “it seems like it takes everything with it, including those aspects that are only very peripherally related to the expansion of coverage.”

One reason that so many experts are concerned is that the ACA altered the payment rates for nearly every type of healthcare professional who treats Medicare patients.  Every time Medicare sets a payment rate, it must cite a legal authority.  Since 2010, according to Rosenbaum, that legal authority has been the ACA.  If the law is ruled unconstitutional, she said, every one of those changes “doesn’t exist anymore because the law doesn’t exist.”  The result?  “You have agencies sitting on two years of policies that are up in smoke,” she said.  “Hospitals might not get paid.  Nursing homes might not get paid.  Doctors might not get paid.  Changes in coverage that have begun to take effect for the elderly, closing the donut hole might not happen.  We don’t know.”

Writing for the Huffington Post, Ethan Rome, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now, says that “The Supreme Court will uphold the ACA not only because it’s constitutional, but because to do otherwise would impose a massive judicial intervention in one of the economy’s most complex sectors and derail a train with millions of individuals and businesses on board.  If the conservative justices disregard decades of legal precedents and strike all or part of Obamacare, they would not merely be tearing down the most sweeping piece of social legislation since Medicare and Medicaid, they would be taking away substantial consumer protections and benefits from millions of America’s seniors, families and small businesses.  The court would have to take responsibility for dismantling the law piece by piece, a task as difficult as it is unconscionable.  The law is two years old.  Implementation is moving forward, and hundreds of complicated provisions are in effect, helping millions of Americans.  States, businesses, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies have undertaken major, costly changes in anticipation of the improved insurance marketplace developing right now.  The fact is that serious wreckage would result from a bad decision.  Attempting to unscramble this omelet would be a national nightmare.”

Politico’s J. Lester Feder offers this perspective. “If America is hoping a Supreme Court ruling will end the legal uncertainty hanging over the healthcare system once and for all, there’s a chance it could be sorely disappointed.  Most legal experts are hoping the Supreme Court will give a clear thumbs up or down to the healthcare law.  But they’re worried about the possibility that, if the court strikes down just part of the health law, it could outsource the job of figuring out precisely which provisions of the gargantuan law stay or go.  That could mean at least another year of legal proceedings before the country — and the states that have to build the health exchanges — really know the rules its health system will operate under.  And that doesn’t even include the wild card of the election.  The parties challenging the law attempted to head off this scenario by specifically asking the court to consider whether the individual mandate could be severed from the rest of the law.  But if the Supreme Court decided it lacked the capacity — or the desire — to settle questions of how dependent the various parts of the law are on the individual mandate, it could remand the case to the lower courts to work through the details, legal experts say.  Another outside possibility is that the Supreme Court could appoint a ‘special master’ to sift through it under the high court’s supervision, though special masters usually oversee complex settlements or disputes among states, not dismantling politically charged legislation.”

If the unthinkable happens and the Supreme Court does strike down President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, employers and insurance companies — not the government — will be the primary drivers of change over the next decade.  They’ll borrow some ideas from Obamacare, and push harder to slash costs.  Business can’t and won’t take care of America’s 50 million uninsured.  Workers will pay more of their own medical costs as job coverage changes to plans with higher deductibles.  Another part of the equation will be tax-free accounts for routine medical expenses, to which employers can contribute.  Employees and their families will be steered to hospitals and doctors that can prove to insurers and employers that they deliver quality care.  These networks of medical providers would earn part of their fees for keeping patients healthy, similar to the accountable care organizations in the ACA.

Medicare Times Are a Changing

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Baby boomers may not like it — and whoever wins the White House this year — but the Medicare that our parents knew and love is destined to change. And it’ll be like it or lump it.

With more than 1.5 million baby boomers enrolling in Medicare every year, the program’s future is one of the most crucial economic issues for anyone who currently is 50 or older. Healthcare costs are the most erratic part of retirement expenses, and Medicare remains a great deal for retirees, who often get benefits worth significantly more than the payroll taxes they paid while working.  “People would like to have what they used to have.  What they don’t seem to understand is that it’s already changed,” said Gail Wilensky, a former Medicare administrator. “Medicare as we have known it is not part of our future.”

Consider these numbers.  Medicare’s giant trust fund for inpatient care is expected to run out of money in 2024.  When that happens, the program will collect only enough payroll taxes to pay 90 percent of benefits.  Additionally, researchers estimate that as much as one-fifth and even two-thirds of the more than $500 billion that Medicare now spends every year is spent on treatments and procedures of little or no benefit to patients.

Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Finance Committee, is leading the charge on changing Medicare.  Ryan’s current proposals will not impact people now 55 or older would not have to make any changes.  But how would it work?  Would it save taxpayers’ dollars?  Would it shift costs to retirees, who are least able to afford it?   Will Congress ultimately end traditional Medicare?  These questions are still waiting for answers.  “I’m not sure anybody has come up with a formula on this that makes people comfortable,” said health economist Marilyn Moon, who formerly served as a trustee overseeing Medicare finances.

The White House’s preference is to keep the existing structure of Medicare while “twisting the dials” to control spending, said Medicare trustee, economist Robert Reischauer of the Urban Institute think tank.

Ryan’s original approach would have put 100 percent of future retirees into private insurance.  His most recent plan, written with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), would keep traditional Medicare as an option, competing with private plans.

Writing for AARP, Ricardo Alonzo Zaldiver says that, “This could mean more Medicare recipients joining private insurance plans (currently, only about 25 percent of Medicare recipients are in private ‘Medicare Advantage” plans, while the other three-quarters participate in the traditional, government-run Medicare program).  A new voucher-for-private-Medicare plan would be available to anyone currently under 55.

“It could also mean keeping the existing Medicare structure but making certain tweaks to control spending.  Under President Obama’s healthcare overhaul, the Independent Payment Advisory Board could force Medicare cuts to service providers if costs rise above certain levels and Congress fails to act.  Obama has said he’ll veto any plan to cut Medicare benefits without raising taxes on the wealthy.  During failed budget negotiations last summer, he indicated a willingness to gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67, revamp co-payments and deductibles in ways that would raise costs for retirees, and cut payments to drug makers.  ‘For the 76 million baby boomers signing up over the next couple of decades, it will pay to be watching.’”  President Obama has promised that he will veto any plan to cut Medicare benefits without raising taxes on the wealthy.

The Chicago Sun-Times offers this sage advice: “Fix Medicare, ignore scare talk.”  According to writer Steve Huntley, “I’ve contributed to Medicare every year of its existence. Yet, it’s a myth that seniors have paid the costs of their Medicare services, as demonstrated by the research of economists Eugene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane of the Urban Institute think tank.  Their study showed that a two-income couple earning $89,000 a year would pay $114,000 in Medicare taxes during their careers but could expect to receive $355,000 in medical care in retirement. They could get prescriptions, doctor visits and hospital services valued at three times their contribution to Medicare.

“Medicare combined with Medicaid and Social Security add up to an entitlement time bomb —  they’ll consume all tax revenues by 2052, according to a Heritage Foundation analysis —  for the people who’ll be stuck with the bill: working Americans.  In 1950, there were 16 taxpaying workers for each retiree; by the time the baby boomers all retire, there will be two workers for each retiree. Entitlement reform has to happen.”

Healthcare Fight Could Be Settled by Stealing an Idea From Medicare

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The Obama administration may have a card up its sleeve in its battle against states’ attempts to have the new healthcare reform law declared unconstitutional.  Even if the Supreme Court ultimately rules that the federal government cannot require that individuals purchase healthcare insurance, the administration could borrow a strategy that Medicare has used for decades that encourages consumers to participate in new insurance groups.  Medicare coverage for physician visits is voluntary and is paid for by a separate premium.  Even so, 90 percent of Medicare recipients sign up for the plan because opting out when they become eligible carries a lifelong penalty that only increases the longer they resist.

The healthcare reform law could incorporate a similar penalty instead of the current mandate.  Such a move would persuade reluctant but healthy people to enroll in a healthcare plan.  The primary benefit is that this keeps premiums affordable because the law makes it impossible for insurers to refuse to treat sick people.  “It wouldn’t be a nirvana solution,” said Chris Jennings, a health policy consultant who advised President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton during their 1990s push for healthcare reform.  According to Jennings, the current law covers more people at lower cost, although “it would be irresponsible not to try an alternative” if the courts overturn the legislation.

Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare for President George H. W. Bush, described the ploy as “mandate lite”.  A modification of what is done with seniors on Medicare would be a much more powerful tool.  You don’t have to buy insurance.  But if you don’t, the first time you come in, we’re going to add a penalty that you’ll have to pay for the next four or five years.”

The case is likely to be tied up for years in more than 20 lower federal and state courts before it potentially reaches the Supreme Court.  In the meantime, provisions of the law will be phased in.  President Obama is firm in his belief that the law will be proven constitutional and that the possible fallback plan will not be necessary.