Tag Archives: Austin Frakt

Health Policy Updates: February 18 2017

It hasn’t been a good week for Obamacare. More insurers are pulling out, and the Trump Administration seems to be split on whether it wants the exchanges to die now or hang around a little longer to provide for a smooth transition.

“The administration’s zigzags haven’t placated worried insurers, who see another year of red ink from enrollees that are older and sicker than they had expected. Congress’ paralysis on repeal and replacement translates into precisely the kind of uncertainly that makes risk-averse insurers want to run for cover. And Trump’s executive order, signed just hours after his inauguration, unnerved the health plans with its call for government agencies to abolish as much of the law as possible through administrative action. That fueled fears that his administration won’t enforce the individual mandate requiring most Americans to get coverage.”

Continue reading Health Policy Updates: February 18 2017

Health Policy Updates: January 28 2017

One of the first (the first?) actions that Donald Trump took as president was an executive order to begin to dismantle the ACA. Authors at The Incidental Economist reviewed all the things that could be accomplished by executive order alone, without any additional action from Congress.

“Whether and which actions a Trump HHS chooses to pursue will depend on the administration’s willingness to gamble the stability—already quite fragile, in some states—of the individual market. And it will depend, too, on what Congress is willing to do through legislation.” Continue reading Health Policy Updates: January 28 2017

Health Policy Updates: December 24 2016

Physicians have not always been on the forefront of health care reform. In fact, we have often opposed it. A brief history and predictions for the near future, by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker.

“Doctors have typically framed their opposition to reform in terms of the need to protect the doctor-patient relationship from outside interference. That’s understandable and legitimate. But many doctors have also fought reform because it runs counter to their financial interests. As an A.M.A report once said, doctors ‘display a consistent preoccupation with their economic insecurity’; more bluntly, ‘They think about money a lot.'”

Continue reading Health Policy Updates: December 24 2016

Health Policy Updates: November 26 2016

It is important to remember that rising insurance costs are not a phenomenon limited to the Obamacare exchange plans. Health care costs continue to rise overall, and insurance companies have to charge higher premiums and copays to keep up. Employment-based health insurance plans will be costing 5.5% more, and employee out-of-pocket costs continue to increase even faster and have now nearly doubled since 2009.


A recent study in JAMA Oncology highlighted an important point regarding the “financial toxicity” of cancer care – having Medicare coverage is often not enough to protect from catastrophic costs. 10% of Medicare patients with a new diagnosis of cancer will spend two-thirds of their annual income on health care bills.

“Beyond highlighting the need for innovative initiatives for delivery of care, the high level of hospital-associated OOP costs may also demonstrate potential adverse consequences of Medicare’s current design of benefits…Assigning beneficiaries such a high responsibility of cost sharing for inpatient care may not be an effective use of cost sharing, as hospitalizations are usually not at the discretion of beneficiaries.”


A conversation on the potential for Obamacare repeal, from The Incidental Economist bloggers Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt.

“They’re actually in a tough policy spot. They’ll get the blame if they don’t fix or repeal the A.C.A., and they’ll get the blame if they don’t replace it with something people like better. Health policy is a very difficult and thankless task. I think they’ll opt for something they can call repeal and replace, but they could also just let Obamacare struggle and die. Neither looks good.”


In order to convince health insurance companies to engage in the ACA/Obamacare exchanges, the law included a provision known as the “risk corridors.” In sort, if insurance companies ended up losing money because they insured sicker-than-average patients who incurred higher-than-average health care costs, the risk corridor system would give them money to recoup the losses. So, insurance companies joined the ACA exchanges. And they dutifully lost money. However, Congress did not appropriate money for the risk corridors, so these insurers are still short billions of dollars that was promised to them, and are suing the government to get it.

Nicholas Bagley reports on the debacle at the NEJM.

“For now, the Justice Department is fighting the lawsuits. But the insurers’ legal arguments have considerable force. Indeed, HHS has openly acknowledged that risk-corridor payments are ‘obligation[s] of the United States for which full payment is required.'”


Surgeon General Murthy on ending the opioid epidemic.

Health Policy Updates: October 22 2016

The big policy news from this last week was that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the so-called “final rule” on the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, also known as MACRA.

What is MACRA, you ask? And what is a “final rule”? Well, you may remember intermittent debates, fights, and panics a few years ago about the Sustainable Growth Rate, and Medicare reimbursement formula that always threatened to drastically cut doctors’ pay under Medicare, except for the fact that Congress kept “temporarily” delaying it for years. MACRA is the replacement – no huge cuts to doctors’ pay immediately, but it does put into place a new regime of cost-controlling strategies linked to holding physicians accountable to a range of quality-of-care measures. The final rule finalized, ahem, the exact cadre of payment incentives, deductions, and implementation time frames that constitute MACRA. Health Affairs summarizes here.

“As an initial sign they hit the target, key Members of Congress have already weighed in applauding the Rule. Here’s a tip: when Members applaud a regulation like this so quickly, two things are going on: 1) they are taking a solid helping of credit for changes the agency has made; and 2) they are putting affected stakeholders on notice that they have an uphill battle in securing new changes soon. Read: this is as good as it’s going to get.”

Continue reading Health Policy Updates: October 22 2016