Will Disclosing Prescription Drug Prices in TV Ads Make Any Difference?

Why did the Trump administration last Monday propose requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose their prices in television advertisements? A cynic might believe the rule comes at least in part because the drug industry opposes it.

Now, I carry no water for Big Pharma. For instance, I opposed their effort earlier this year to repeal an important restraint on Medicare spending. But this particular element of the administration’s drug pricing plan appears to work in a similar manner as some of the president’s tweets—to dominate headlines through rhetoric, rather than through substantive policy changes.

Applies Only to Television

The rule “seek[s] comment as to whether we should apply this regulation to other media formats,” but admits that the administration initially “concluded that the purpose of this regulation is best served by limiting the requirements” to television. However, five companies alone accounted for more than half of all drug advertisements in the past year. Among those five companies, the advertisements promoted 19 pharmaceuticals—meaning that new disclosure regime would apply to very few drugs.

If the “purpose of this regulation” is to affect pharmaceutical pricing, then confining disclosures only to television advertisements would by definition have a limited impact. If, however, the “purpose of this regulation” is primarily political—to force drug companies into a prolonged and public legal fight on First Amendment grounds, or to allow the administration to point to disclosures in the most prominent form of media to say, “We’re doing something on drug costs!”—then the rule will accomplish its purpose.

Rule Lacks Data to Support Its Theory

On three separate occasions, in the rule’s Regulatory Impact Analysis—the portion of the rule intended to demonstrate that the regulation’s benefits outweigh its costs—the administration admits it has very few hard facts: “We lack data to quantify these effects, and seek public comment on these impacts.”

It could encourage people to consume more expensive medicines (particularly if their insurance pays for it), because individuals may think costlier drugs are “better.” Or it could discourage companies from advertising on television at all, which could reduce drug consumption and affect people’s health (or reduce health spending while having no effect on individuals’ health).

Conservative think-tanks skewered several Obamacare rules released in 2010 for the poor quality and unreasonable assumptions in their Regulatory Impact Analyses. Although released by a different administration of a different party, this proposed regulation looks little different.

Contradictions on Forced Speech?

Finally, the rule refers on several occasions to the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year in a case involving California crisis pregnancy centers. That case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, overturned a California state law requiring reproductive health clinics, including pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, to provide information on abortion to patients.

The need for that distinction arises because the pharmaceutical industry will likely challenge the rule on First Amendment grounds as an infringement on their free speech rights. However, a pro-life administration attempting to force drug companies to disclose pricing information, while protecting crisis pregnancy centers from other forced disclosures, presents some interesting political optics.

A Political ‘Shiny Object’

Ironically enough, most of the administration’s actions regarding its prescription drug pricing platform have proven effective. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has helped speed the approval of generic drugs to market, particularly in cases where no other competitors exist, to help stabilize the marketplace.

Other proposals to change incentives within Medicare and Medicaid also could bring down prices. These proposals won’t have an immediate effect—as would Democratic blunt-force proposals to expand price controls—but collectively, they will have an impact over time.

This administration can do better than that. Indeed, they already have. They should leave the political stunts to the president’s Twitter account, and get back to work on more important, and more substantive, proposals.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

How Single-Payer Supporters Defy Common Sense

The move to enact single-payer health care in the United States always suffered from major math problems. This week, it revived another: Common sense.

On Monday, the Mercatus Center published an analysis of single-payer legislation like that promoted by socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). While conservatives highlighted the estimated $32.6 trillion price tag for the legislation, liberals rejoiced.

Riiiiiigggggggghhhhhhhhhttttt. As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Given that even single-payer supporters have now admitted that the plan will lead to rationing of health care, the public shouldn’t just walk away from Sanders’ plan—they should run.

National Versus Federal Health Spending

Sanders’ claim arises because of two different terms the Mercatus paper uses. While Mercatus emphasized the way the bill would increase federal health spending, Sanders chose to focus on the study’s estimates about national health spending.

Although it sounds large in absolute terms, the Mercatus paper assumes only a slight drop for health spending in relative terms. It estimates a total of $2.05 trillion in lower national health expenditures over a decade from single-payer. But national health expenditures would total $59.7 trillion over the same time span—meaning that, if Mercatus’ assumptions prove correct, single-payer would reduce national health expenditures by roughly 3.4 percent.

Four Favorable Assumptions Skew the Results

However, to arrive at their estimate that single-payer would reduce overall health spending, the Mercatus paper relies on four highly favorable assumptions. Removing any one of these assumptions could mean that instead of lowering health care spending, single-payer legislation would instead raise it.

First, Mercatus adjusted projected health spending upward, to reflect that single-payer health care would cover all Americans. Because the Sanders plan would also abolish deductibles and co-payments for most procedures, study author Chuck Blahous added an additional factor reflecting induced demand by the currently insured, because patients will see the doctor more when they face no co-payments for doing so.

Second, the Mercatus study assumes that a single-payer plan can successfully use Medicare reimbursement rates. However, the non-partisan Medicare actuary has concluded that those rates already will cause half of hospitals to have overall negative total facility margins by 2040, jeopardizing access to care for seniors.

Expanding these lower payment rates to all patients would jeopardize even more hospitals’ financial solvency. But paying doctors and hospitals market-level reimbursement rates for patients would raise the cost of a single-payer system by $5.4 trillion over ten years—more than wiping away any supposed “savings” from the bill.

Finally, the Mercatus paper “assumes substantial administrative cost savings,” relying on “an aggressive estimate” that replacing private insurance with one single-payer system will lower health spending. Mercatus made such an assumption even though spending on administrative costs increased by nearly $26 billion, or more than 12.3 percent, in 2014, Obamacare’s first year of full implementation.

Likewise, government programs, unlike private insurance, have less incentive to fight fraud, as only the latter face financial ruin from it. The $60 billion problem of fraud in Medicare provides more than enough reason to doubt much administrative savings from a single-payer system.

Apply the Common Sense Test

But put all the technical arguments aside for a moment. As I noted above, whether a single-payer health-care system will reduce overall health expenses rests on a relatively simple question: Will doctors and hospitals agree to provide more care to more patients for the same amount of money?

Whether single-payer will lead to less paperwork for doctors remains an open question. Given the amount of time people spend filing their taxes every year, I have my doubts that a fully government-run system would generate major improvements.

But regardless of whether providers get any paperwork relief from single-payer, the additional patients will come to their doors seeking care, and existing patients will demand more services once government provides them for “free.” Yet doctors and hospitals won’t get paid any more for providing those additional services. The Mercatus study estimates that spending reductions due to the application of Medicare’s price controls to the entire population will all but wipe out the increase in spending from new patient demand.

If Sanders wants to take a “victory lap” for a study arguing that millions of health care workers will receive the same amount of money for doing more work, I have four words for him: Good luck with that.

Health Care Rationing Ahead

I’ll give the last word to, of all things, a “socialist perspective.” One blog post yesterday actually claimed the Mercatus study underestimated the potential savings under single-payer: “[The study] assumes utilization of health services will increase by 11 percent, but aggregate health service utilization is ultimately dependent on the capacity to provide services, meaning utilization could hit a hard limit below the level [it] projects” (emphasis mine).

In other words, spending will fall because so many will demand “free” health care that government will have to ration it. To socialists who yearningly long to exercise such power over their fellow citizens, such rationing sounds like their utopian dream. But therein lies their logic problem, for any American with common sense would disagree.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

White House Budget Summary

Overall, the budget:

  • Proposes $362 billion in savings, yet calls for $429 billion in unpaid-for spending due to the Medicare physician reimbursement “doc fix” – thus resulting in a net increase in the deficit. (The $429 billion presumes a ten year freeze of Medicare physician payments; however, the budget does NOT propose ways to pay for this new spending.)
  • Proposes few structural reforms to Medicare; those that are included – weak as they are – are not scheduled to take effect until 2017, well after President Obama leaves office.  If the proposals are so sound, why the delay?
  • Requests just over $1 billion for program management at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, of which the vast majority – $864 million – would be used to implement the health care law.
  • Requests more than half a billion dollars for comparative effectiveness research, which many may be concerned could result in government bureaucrats imposing cost-based limits on treatments.
  • Includes mandatory proposals in the budget that largely track the September deficit proposal to Congress, with a few exceptions.  The budget does NOT include proposals to reduce Medicare frontier state payments, even though this policy was included in the September proposal.  The budget also does not include recovery provisions regarding Medicare Advantage payments to insurers; however, the Administration has indicated they intend to implement this provision administratively.
  • Does not include a proposal relating to Medicaid eligibility levels included in the September submission, as that proposal was enacted into law in November (P.L. 112-56).

 

Discretionary Spending

When compared to Fiscal Year 2012 appropriated amounts, the budget calls for the following changes in discretionary spending by major HHS divisions (tabulated by budget authority):

  • $12 million (0.5%) increase for the Food and Drug Administration – along with a separate proposed $643 million increase in FDA user fees;
  • $138 million (2.2%) decrease for the Health Services and Resources Administration;
  • $116 million (2.7%) increase for the Indian Health Service;
  • $664 million (11.5%) decrease for the Centers for Disease Control;
  • No net change in funding for the National Institutes of Health;
  • $1 billion (26.2%) increase for the discretionary portion of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services program management account; and
  • $29 million (5.0%) increase for the discretionary Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control fund.

With regard to the above numbers for CDC and HRSA, note that these are discretionary numbers only.  The Administration’s budget also would allocate additional $1.25 billion in mandatory spending from the new Prevention and Public Health “slush fund” created in the health care law, likely eliminating any real budgetary savings (despite the appearance of same above).

Other Health Care Points of Note

Tax Credit:  The Treasury Green Book proposes expanding the small business health insurance tax credit included in the health care law.   Specifically, the budget would expand the number of employers eligible for the credit to include all employers with up to 50 full-time workers; firms with under 20 workers would be eligible for the full credit.  (Currently those levels are 25 and 10 full-time employees, respectively.)  The budget also changes the coordination of the two phase-outs based on a firm’s average wage and number of employees, with the changes designed to make more companies eligible for a larger credit.  According to OMB, these changes would cost $14 billion over ten years.  Many may view this proposal as a tacit admission that the credit included in the law was a failure, because its limited reach and complicated nature – firms must fill out seven worksheets to determine their eligibility – have deterred American job creators from receiving this subsidy.

Comparative Effectiveness Research:  The budget proposes a total of $599 million in funding for comparative effectiveness research.  Only $78 million of this money comes from existing funds included in the health care law – meaning the Administration has proposed discretionary spending of more than $500 million on comparative effectiveness research.  Some have previously expressed concerns that this research could be used to restrict access to treatments perceived as too costly by federal bureaucrats.  It is also worth noting that this new $520 million in research funding would NOT be subject to the anti-rationing provisions included in the health care law.  Section 218 of this year’s omnibus appropriations measure included a prohibition on HHS using funds to engage in cost-effectiveness research, a provision which this budget request would presumably seek to overturn.

Obamacare Implementation Funding and Personnel:  As previously noted, the budget includes more than $1 billion in discretionary spending increases for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which the HHS Budget in Brief claims would be used to “continue implementing [Obamacare], including Exchanges.”  This funding would finance 256 new bureaucrats within CMS, many of whom would likely be used to implement the law.  Overall, the HHS budget proposes an increase of 1,393 full-time equivalent positions within the bureaucracy.

Specific details of the $1 billion in implementation funding include:

  • $290 million for “consumer support in the private marketplace;”
  • $549 million for “general IT systems and other support,” including funding for the federally-funded Exchange, for which the health law itself did not appropriate funding;
  • $18 million for updates to healthcare.gov;
  • $15 million to oversee the medical loss ratio regulations; and
  • $30 million for consumer assistance grants.

Exchange Funding:  The budget envisions HHS spending $1.1 billion on Exchange grants in 2013, a $180 million increase over the current fiscal year.  The health care law provides the Secretary with an unlimited amount of budget authority to fund state Exchange grants through 2015.  However, other reports have noted that the Secretary does NOT have authority to use these funds to construct a federal Exchange, in the event some states choose not to implement their own state-based Exchanges.

Abstinence Education Funding:  The budget proposes eliminating the abstinence education funding program, and converting those funds into a new pregnancy prevention program.

Medicare Proposals (Total savings of $292.2 Billion)

Bad Debts:  Reduces bad debt payments to providers – for unpaid cost-sharing owed by beneficiaries – from 70 percent down to 25 percent over three years, beginning in 2013.  The Fiscal Commission had made similar recommendations in its final report.  Saves $35.9 billion.

Medical Education Payments:  Reduces the Indirect Medical Education adjustment paid to teaching hospitals by 10 percent beginning in 2014, saving $9.7 billion.  Previous studies by the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) have indicated that IME payments to teaching hospitals may be greater than the actual costs the hospitals incur.

Rural Payments:  Reduces critical access hospital payments from 101% of costs to 100% of costs, saving $1.4 billion, and prohibits hospitals fewer than 10 miles away from the nearest hospital from receiving a critical access hospital designation, saving $590 million.  The budget does NOT include a proposal to end add-on payments for providers in frontier states, which was included in the President’s September deficit proposal.

Post-Acute Care:  Reduces various acute-care payment updates (details not specified) during the years 2013 through 2022, saving $56.7 billion – a significant increase compared to the $32.5 billion in savings under the President’s September deficit proposal.  Equalizes payment rates between skilled nursing facilities and inpatient rehabilitation facilities, saving $2 billion.  Increases the minimum percentage of inpatient rehabilitation facility patients that require intensive rehabilitation from 60 percent to 75 percent, saving $2.3 billion.  Reduces skilled nursing facility payments by up to 3%, beginning in 2015, for preventable readmissions, saving $2 billion.

Pharmaceutical Price Controls:  Expands Medicaid price controls to dual eligible and low-income subsidy beneficiaries participating in Part D, saving $155.6 billion according to OMB.  Some have expressed concerns that further expanding government-imposed price controls to prescription drugs could harm innovation and the release of new therapies that could help cure diseases.

Anti-Fraud Provisions:  Assumes $450 million in savings from various anti-fraud provisions, including limiting the discharge of debt in bankruptcy proceedings associated with fraudulent activities.

EHR Penalties:  Re-directs Medicare reimbursement penalties against physicians who do not engage in electronic prescribing beginning in 2020 back into the Medicare program.  The “stimulus” legislation that enacted the health IT provisions had originally required that penalties to providers be placed into the Medicare Improvement Fund; the budget would instead re-direct those revenues into the general fund, to finance the “doc fix” and related provisions.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $590 million; when included in last year’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $3.2 billion.

Imaging:  Reduces imaging payments by assuming a higher level of utilization for certain types of equipment, saving $400 million.  Also imposes prior authorization requirements for advanced imaging; no savings are assumed, a change from the September deficit proposal, which said prior authorization would save $900 million.

Additional Means Testing:  Increases means tested premiums under Parts B and D by 15%, beginning in 2017.  Freezes the income thresholds at which means testing applies until 25 percent of beneficiaries are subject to such premiums.  Saves $27.6 billion over ten years, and presumably more thereafter, as additional seniors would hit the means testing threshold, subject them to higher premiums.

Medicare Deductible Increase:  Increases Medicare Part B deductible by $25 in 2017, 2019, and 2021 – but for new beneficiaries only; “current beneficiaries or near retirees [not defined] would not be subject to the revised deductible.”  Saves $2 billion.

Home Health Co-Payment:  Beginning in 2017, introduces a home health co-payment of $100 per episode for new beneficiaries only, in cases where an episode lasts five or more visits and is NOT proceeded by a hospital stay.  MedPAC has previously recommended introducing home health co-payments as a way to ensure appropriate utilization.  Saves $350 million.

Medigap Surcharge:  Imposes a Part B premium surcharge equal to about 15 percent of the average Medigap premium – or about 30 percent of the Part B premium – for seniors with Medigap supplemental insurance that provides first dollar coverage.  Applies beginning in 2017 to new beneficiaries only.  A study commissioned by MedPAC previously concluded that first dollar Medigap coverage induces beneficiaries to consume more medical services, thus increasing costs for the Medicare program and federal taxpayers.  Saves $2.5 billion.

Lower Caps on Medicare Spending:  Section 3403 of the health care law established an Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with limiting Medicare spending to the growth of the economy plus one percentage point (GDP+1) in 2018 and succeeding years.  The White House proposal would reduce this target to GDP+0.5 percent.  This approach has two potential problems:

  • First, under the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent baseline, IPAB recommendations would not be triggered at all – so it’s unclear whether the new, lower target level would actually generate measurable budgetary savings.  (In August 2010, CBO concluded an IPAB with an overall cap of GDP+1 would yield $13.8 billion in savings through 2020 – not enough to make a measurable impact on a program spending $500 billion per year.)
  • Second, the Medicare actuary has previously written that the spending adjustments contemplated by IPAB and the health care law “are unlikely to be sustainable on a permanent annual basis” and “very challenging” – problems that would be exacerbated by utilizing a slower target rate for Medicare spending growth.

According to the budget, this proposal would NOT achieve additional deficit savings.

Medicaid and Other Health Proposals (Total savings of $70.4 Billion)

Medicaid Provider Taxes:  Reduces limits on Medicaid provider tax thresholds, beginning in 2015; the tax threshold would be reduced over a three year period, to 3.5 percent in 2017 and future years.  State provider taxes are a financing method whereby states impose taxes on medical providers, and use these provider tax revenues to obtain additional federal Medicaid matching funds, thereby increasing the federal share of Medicaid expenses paid while decreasing the state share of expenses.  The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, enacted by a Republican Congress, capped the level of Medicaid provider taxes, and the Bush Administration proposed additional rules to reform Medicaid funding rules – rules that were blocked by the Democrat-run 110th Congress.  However, there is bipartisan support for addressing ways in which states attempt to “game” the Medicaid system, through provider taxes and other related methods, to obtain unwarranted federal matching funds – the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities previously wrote about a series of “Rube Goldberg-like accounting arrangements” that “do not improve the quality of health care provided” and “frequently operate in a manner that siphons extra federal money to state coffers without affecting the provision of health care.”  This issue was also addressed in the fiscal commission’s report, although the commission exceeded the budget proposals by suggesting that Congress enact legislation “restricting and eventually eliminating” provider taxes, saving $44 billion.  OMB scores this proposal as saving $21.8 billion.

Blended Rate:  Proposes “replac[ing]…complicated federal matching formulas” in Medicaid “with a single matching rate specific to each state that automatically increases if a recession forces enrollment and state costs to rise.”  Details are unclear, but the Administration claims $17.9 billion in savings from this proposal – much less than the $100 billion figure bandied about in previous reports last summer.  It is also worth noting that the proposal could actually INCREASE the deficit, if a prolonged recession triggers the automatic increases in the federal Medicaid match referenced in the proposal.  On a related note, the budget once again ignores the governors’ multiple requests for flexibility from the mandates included in the health care law – unfunded mandates on states totaling at least $118 billion.

Transitional Medical Assistance/QI Program:  Provides for temporary extensions of the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provides Medicaid benefits for low-income families transitioning from welfare to work, along with the Qualifying Individual program, which provides assistance to low-income seniors in paying Medicare premiums.  The extensions cost $815 million and $1.7 billion, respectively.

Limit Durable Medical Equipment Reimbursement:  Caps Medicaid reimbursements for durable medical equipment (DME) at Medicare rates, beginning in 2013.  The health care law extended and expanded a previous Medicare competitive bidding demonstration project included in the Medicare Modernization Act, resulting in savings to the Medicare program.  This proposal, by capping Medicaid reimbursements for DME at Medicare levels, would attempt to extend those savings to the Medicaid program.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $3 billion; when included in the President’s budget last year, these changes were scored as saving $6.4 billion.

Rebase Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments:  In 2021 and 2022, reallocates Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals treating low-income patients, based on states’ actual 2020 allotments (as amended and reduced by the health care law).  Saves $8.3 billion.

Medicaid Anti-Fraud Savings:  Assumes $3.2 billion in savings from a variety of Medicaid anti-fraud provisions, largely through tracking and enforcement of various provisions related to pharmaceuticals.  Included in this amount are proposals that would remove exceptions to the requirement that Medicaid must reject payments when another party is liable for a medical claim.

Flexibility on Benchmark Plans:  Proposes some new flexibility for states to require Medicaid “benchmark” plan coverage for non-elderly, non-disabled adults – but ONLY those with incomes above 133 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., NOT the new Medicaid population obtaining coverage under the health care law).  No savings assumed.

“Pay-for-Delay:”  Prohibits brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers from entering into arrangements that would delay the availability of new generic drugs.  Some Members have previously expressed concerns that these provisions would harm innovation, and actually impede the incentives to generic manufacturers to bring cost-saving generic drugs on the market.  OMB scores this proposal as saving $11 billion.

Follow-on Biologics:  Reduces to seven years the period of exclusivity for follow-on biologics.  Current law provides for a twelve-year period of exclusivity, based upon an amendment to the health care law that was adopted on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate (one of the few substantive bipartisan amendments adopted).  Some Members have expressed concern that reducing the period of exclusivity would harm innovation and discourage companies from developing life-saving treatments.  OMB scores this proposal as saving $3.8 billion.

FEHB Contracting:  Proposes streamlining pharmacy benefit contracting within the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, by centralizing pharmaceutical benefit contracting within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Some individuals, noting that OPM is also empowered to create “multi-state plans” as part of the health care overhaul, may be concerned that these provisions could be part of a larger plan to make OPM the head of a de facto government-run health plan.  OMB scores this proposal as saving $1.7 billion.

Prevention “Slush Fund:”  Reduces spending by $4 billion on the Prevention and Public Health Fund created in the health care law.  Some Members have previously expressed concern that this fund would be used to fund projects like jungle gyms and bike paths, questionable priorities for the use of federal taxpayer dollars in a time of trillion-dollar deficits.

State Waivers:  Accelerates from 2017 to 2014 the date under which states can submit request for waivers of SOME of the health care law’s requirements to HHS.  While supposedly designed to increase flexibility, even liberal commentators have agreed that under the law’s state waiver programcritics of Obama’s proposal have a point: It wouldn’t allow to enact the sorts of health care reforms they would prefer” and thatconservatives can’t do any better – at least not under these rules.”  The proposal states that “the Administration is committed to the budget neutrality of these waivers;” however, the plan allocates $4 billion in new spending “to account for the possibility that CBO will estimate costs for this proposal.”

Implementation “Slush Fund:”  Proposes $400 million in new spending for HHS to implement the proposals listed above.

Obamacare Not a Rock-Solid Deal for Seniors

The Associated Press ran a story yesterday on the Medicare “doughnut hole” changes included in Obamacare, which provides some anecdotal examples of potential savings.  But the most important numbers quoted in the article are these:  Only about two million Americans out of 47 million Medicare beneficiaries have benefited from the new discount program.  That means a very small percentage of program participants actually are receiving benefits from Obamacare.

Second, the true savings for beneficiaries in the doughnut hole may in reality be less than they appear; if the richer benefits in the coverage gap just prompt seniors to continue buying more expensive brand-name drugs rather than using less costly generics, they won’t really have “saved” much.  (It also would increase health costs, not lower them.)

Last but not least, all seniors will be paying higher Part D premiums in order for a select group of beneficiaries to receive richer coverage.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that “the law would lead to an average increase in premiums for Part D beneficiaries of about 4 percent in 2011, rising to about 9 percent in 2019.”  That means that 17 million seniors are paying higher premiums, but only about 400,000 beneficiaries passing through the doughnut hole will actually receive the full benefit of the discount regime established in the law. (Many of the beneficiaries in the “doughnut hole” are low-income seniors, and the Medicare program already covered their additional costs in the coverage gap prior to Obamacare.)  Some would categorize this redistributive scenario as “spreading the wealth around.”

Of course, Big Pharma is virtually guaranteed to benefit from its “rock-solid deal” struck behind closed doors with President Obama and Congressional Democrats.  But will seniors actually benefit from this portion of Obamacare?  The evidence is clear that most beneficiaries won’t.

The President’s Shrinking Entitlement Savings

The President’s deficit proposal released this morning claims to achieve $320 billion in deficit savings.  As we’ve previously noted, given the size of our entitlement programs, that’s a comparatively insignificant amount – barely enough to finance a long-term “doc fix,” let alone make Medicare and Medicaid solvent for the long term.  But what’s interesting is how the size of the health care savings put forward by the President has actually SHRUNK over time.  The White House’s April “deficit framework” (i.e., a speech) claimed to achieve $340 billion in savings – $20 billion MORE than this morning’s proposal.

So what exactly prompted the President to LOWER his sights for entitlement savings over the last five months?  Was it the unprecedented downgrade of America’s debt rating?  The stock market swoon that quickly followed?  The chaos in Europe as that continent struggles to achieve fiscal discipline and avert a sovereign default crisis?  Or was it the event that happens on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November every fourth year?  You be the judge…

All that said, a detailed summary of the President’s (new) proposal follows below.  Keep in mind that Administration/OMB estimates may vary significantly from CBO scores, so remember that your budgetary mileage may vary.  (All scores are over a ten-year period unless otherwise indicated.)

 

Medicare Proposals (Total savings of $248 Billion)

Bad Debts:  Reduces bad debt payments to providers – for unpaid cost-sharing owed by beneficiaries – from 70 percent down to 25 percent over three years, beginning in 2013.  The Fiscal Commission had made similar recommendations in its final report.  Saves $20.2 billion.

Medical Education Payments:  Reduces the Indirect Medical Education adjustment paid to teaching hospitals by 10 percent beginning in 2013, saving $9.1 billion.  Previous studies by the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) have indicated that IME payments to teaching hospitals may be greater than the actual costs the hospitals incur.

Rural Payments:  Ends add-on payments for providers in frontier states, saving $2.1 billion.  Reduces critical access hospital payments from 101% of costs to 100% of costs, saving $1 billion, and prohibits hospitals fewer than 10 miles away from the nearest hospital from receiving a critical access hospital designation, saving $3 billion.

Post-Acute Care:  Reduces various acute-care payment updates (details not specified) during the years 2014 through 2021, saving $32.5 billion.  Equalizes payment rates between skilled nursing facilities and inpatient rehabilitation facilities, saving $4.5 billion.  Increases the minimum percentage of inpatient rehabilitation facility patients that require intensive rehabilitation from 60 percent to 75 percent, saving $2.6 billion.  Reduces skilled nursing facility payments by up to 3%, beginning in 2015, for preventable readmissions, saving $2 billion.

Pharmaceutical Price Controls:  Expands Medicaid price controls to dual eligible and low-income subsidy beneficiaries participating in Part D, saving $135 billion according to OMB.  However, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 Budget Options (Option 25), this proposal would generate smaller savings ($112 billion).  Some have expressed concerns that further expanding government-imposed price controls to prescription drugs could harm innovation and the release of new therapies that could help cure diseases.

MA Repayment Provisions:  Recovers payments to insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage (MA) program.  MA plans are currently paid on a prospective basis, with those payments adjusted according to the severity of beneficiaries’ ill health.  Some sample audits have discovered instances where plans could not retrospectively produce the necessary documentation to warrant the prospective coding adjustment that some beneficiaries received.  The deficit plan would apply this adjustment, currently contemplated for some beneficiaries based on the sample audit, to ALL beneficiaries.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $2.3 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $6.2 billion.

Anti-Fraud Provisions:  Assumes $600 million in savings from various anti-fraud provisions, including limiting the discharge of debt in bankruptcy proceedings associated with fraudulent activities.

EHR Penalties:  Re-directs Medicare reimbursement penalties against physicians who do not engage in electronic prescribing beginning in 2020 back into the Medicare program.  The “stimulus” legislation that enacted the health IT provisions had originally required that penalties to providers be placed into the Medicare Improvement Fund; the budget would instead re-direct those revenues into the general fund, to finance the “doc fix” and related provisions.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $500 million; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $3.2 billion.

Imaging:  Reduces imaging payments by assuming a higher level of utilization for certain types of equipment, saving $400 million.  Also imposes prior authorization requirements for advanced imaging, saving $900 million.

Additional Means Testing:  Increases means tested premiums under Parts B and D by 15%, beginning in 2017.  Freezes the income thresholds at which means testing applies until 25 percent of beneficiaries are subject to such premiums.  Saves $20 billion over ten years, and presumably more thereafter, as additional seniors would hit the means testing threshold, subject them to higher premiums.

Medicare Deductible Increase:  Increases Medicare Part B deductible by $25 in 2017, 2019, and 2021 – but for new beneficiaries only; “current beneficiaries or near retirees [not defined] would not be subject to the revised deductible.”  Saves $1 billion.

Home Health Co-Payment:  Introduces a home health co-payment of $100 per episode for new beneficiaries only, in cases where an episode lasts five or more visits and is NOT proceeded by a hospital stay.  MedPAC has previously recommended introducing home health co-payments as a way to ensure appropriate utilization.  Saves $400 million.

Medigap Surcharge:  Imposes a Part B premium surcharge equal to about 15 percent of the average Medigap premium – or about 30 percent of the Part B premium – for seniors with Medigap supplemental insurance that provides first dollar coverage.  Applies beginning in 2017 to new beneficiaries only.  A study commissioned by MedPAC previously concluded that first dollar Medigap coverage induces beneficiaries to consume more medical services, thus increasing costs for the Medicare program and federal taxpayers.  Saves $2.5 billion.

Lower Caps on Medicare Spending:  Section 3403 of the health care law established an Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with limiting Medicare spending to the growth of the economy plus one percentage point (GDP+1) in 2018 and succeeding years.  The White House proposal would reduce this target to GDP+0.5 percent.  This approach has two potential problems:

  • First, under the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent baseline, IPAB recommendations would not be triggered at all – so it’s unclear whether the new, lower target level would actually generate measurable budgetary savings.  (In August 2010, CBO concluded an IPAB with an overall cap of GDP+1 would yield $13.8 billion in savings through 2020 – not enough to make a measurable impact on a program spending $500 billion per year.)
  • Second, the Medicare actuary has previously written that the spending adjustments contemplated by IPAB and the health care law “are unlikely to be sustainable on a permanent annual basis” and “very challenging” – problems that would be exacerbated by utilizing a slower target rate for Medicare spending growth.

According to the Administration document, this proposal would NOT achieve additional deficit savings.

Medicaid and Other Health Proposals (Total savings of $72 Billion)

Medicaid Provider Taxes:  Reduces limits on Medicaid provider tax thresholds, beginning in 2015; the tax threshold would be reduced over a three year period, to 3.5 percent in 2017 and future years.  State provider taxes are a financing method whereby states impose taxes on medical providers, and use these provider tax revenues to obtain additional federal Medicaid matching funds, thereby increasing the federal share of Medicaid expenses paid while decreasing the state share of expenses.  The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, enacted by a Republican Congress, capped the level of Medicaid provider taxes, and the Bush Administration proposed additional rules to reform Medicaid funding rules – rules that were blocked by the Democrat-run 110th Congress.  However, there is bipartisan support for addressing ways in which states attempt to “game” the Medicaid system, through provider taxes and other related methods, to obtain unwarranted federal matching funds – the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities previously wrote about a series of “Rube Goldberg-like accounting arrangements” that “do not improve the quality of health care provided” and “frequently operate in a manner that siphons extra federal money to state coffers without affecting the provision of health care.”  This issue was also addressed in the fiscal commission’s report, although the commission exceeded the budget proposals by suggesting that Congress enact legislation “restricting and eventually eliminating” provider taxes, saving $44 billion.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $26.3 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $18.4 billion.

Blended Rate:  Proposes “replac[ing]…complicated federal matching formulas” in Medicaid “with a single matching rate specific to each state that automatically increases if a recession forces enrollment and state costs to rise.”  Details are unclear, but the Administration claims $14.9 billion in savings from this proposal – much less than the $100 billion figure bandied about in previous reports this summer.  It is also worth noting that the proposal could actually INCREASE the deficit, if a prolonged recession triggers the automatic increases in the federal Medicaid match referenced in the proposal.  On a related note, the deficit plan once again ignored the governors’ multiple requests for flexibility from the mandates included in the health care law – unfunded mandates on states totaling at least $118 billion.

Limit Durable Medical Equipment Reimbursement:  Caps Medicaid reimbursements for durable medical equipment (DME) at Medicare rates, beginning in 2013.  The health care law extended and expanded a previous Medicare competitive bidding demonstration project included in the Medicare Modernization Act, resulting in savings to the Medicare program.  This proposal, by capping Medicaid reimbursements for DME at Medicare levels, would attempt to extend those savings to the Medicaid program.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $4.2 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $6.4 billion.

Third Party Liability:  Removes exceptions to the requirement that Medicaid must reject payments when another party is liable for a medical claim, saving $1.3 billion.

Rebase Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments:  In 2021, reallocates Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals treating low-income patients, based on states’ actual 2020 allotments (as amended and reduced by the health care law).  Saves $4.1 billion.

Medicaid Anti-Fraud Savings:  Assumes $110 million in savings from a variety of Medicaid anti-fraud provisions, largely through tracking and enforcement of various provisions related to pharmaceuticals.

Amend MAGI Definition:  Amends the health care law to include Social Security benefits in the new definition of Modified Adjusted Gross Income used to determine eligibility for Medicaid benefits.  As previously reported, this “glitch” in the law would make millions of early retirees – who receive a large portion of their income from Social Security – eligible for free taxpayer-funded benefits, and would discourage work by providing greater subsidies to those relying on Social Security, as opposed to wage earnings, for their income.  Saves $14.6 billion.

Flexibility on Benchmark Plans:  Proposes some new flexibility for states to require Medicaid “benchmark” plan coverage for non-elderly, non-disabled adults – but ONLY those with incomes above 133 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., NOT the new Medicaid population obtaining coverage under the health care law).  No savings assumed.

“Pay-for-Delay:”  Prohibits brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers from entering into arrangements that would delay the availability of new generic drugs.  Some Members have previously expressed concerns that these provisions would harm innovation, and actually impede the incentives to generic manufacturers to bring cost-saving generic drugs on the market.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $2.7 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $8.8 billion.

Follow-on Biologics:  Reduces to seven years the period of exclusivity for follow-on biologics.  Current law provides for a twelve-year period of exclusivity, based upon an amendment to the health care law that was adopted on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate (one of the few substantive bipartisan amendments adopted).  Some Members have expressed concern that reducing the period of exclusivity would harm innovation and discourage companies from developing life-saving treatments.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $3.5 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $2.3 billion.

FEHB Contracting:  Proposes streamlining pharmacy benefit contracting within the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, by centralizing pharmaceutical benefit contracting within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Some individuals, noting that OPM is also empowered to create “multi-state plans” as part of the health care overhaul, may be concerned that these provisions could be part of a larger plan to make OPM the head of a de facto government-run health plan.  OMB now scores this proposal as saving $1.6 billion; when included in the President’s budget back in February, these changes were scored as saving $1.8 billion.

Prevention “Slush Fund:”  Reduces spending by $3.5 billion on the Prevention and Public Health Fund created in the health care law.  Some Members have previously expressed concern that this fund would be used to fund projects like jungle gyms and bike paths, questionable priorities for the use of federal taxpayer dollars in a time of trillion-dollar deficits.

State Waivers:  Accelerates from 2017 to 2014 the date under which states can submit request for waivers of SOME of the health care law’s requirements to HHS.  While supposedly designed to increase flexibility, even liberal commentators have agreed that under the law’s state waiver programcritics of Obama’s proposal have a point: It wouldn’t allow to enact the sorts of health care reforms they would prefer” and thatconservatives can’t do any better – at least not under these rules.”  The proposal states that “the Administration is committed to the budget neutrality of these waivers;” however, the plan allocates $4 billion in new spending “to account for the possibility that CBO will estimate costs for this proposal.”

Implementation “Slush Fund:”  Proposes $400 million in new spending for HHS to implement the proposals listed above.

White House Deficit Proposal: Only $42 Billion in Net Health Savings

Based on preliminary press reports, Peggy Lee might have written the President’s deficit reduction proposal – because many observers, upon reading it, may be asking “Is That All There Is?”

The White House fact sheet claims $340 billion in savings over ten years – “an amount sufficient to fully pay to reform [sic] the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) physician payment formula while still reducing the deficit.”  However, the President’s budget estimated the cost of a ten-year “doc fix” at $370 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the net cost at $297.6 billion over ten years.  Assuming Congress utilizes the President’s proposed savings to fund a “doc fix,” the NET deficit reduction from the White House’s health proposals will be $42.4 billion – this when the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is scheduled to be insolvent in nine short years according to the Congressional Budget Office.  And the proposal does NOTHING to reduce spending on the $2.6 trillion new entitlement created under the health care law.

A slightly longer summary of the proposal’s health care details (such as they are available) follows below  – they include the new and old (i.e., those included in the President’s 2012 budget submission) proposals.  Details are not available for many of the proposals – most notably a new plan to reform Medicaid matching rates – as well as other efforts regarding delivery system reform.

However, the top-line numbers on the net deficit reduction from the health provisions are sufficient to disappoint those calling for the President to lead on comprehensive entitlement reform – because a “Where’s the Beef?” proposal will do nothing to solve the looming fiscal crises facing Medicare and Medicaid.

 

The New

Lower Caps on Medicare Spending:  Section 3403 of the health care law established an Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with limiting Medicare spending to the growth of the economy plus one percentage point (GDP+1) in 2018 and succeeding years.  The White House proposal would reduce this target to GDP+0.5 percent.  This approach has two potential problems:

  • First, under the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent baseline, IPAB recommendations would not be triggered at all – so it’s unclear whether the new, lower target level would actually generate measurable budgetary savings.  (In August 2010, CBO concluded an IPAB with an overall cap of GDP+1 would yield $13.8 billion in savings through 2020 – not enough to make a measurable impact on a program spending $500 billion per year.)
  • Second, the Medicare actuary has previously written that the spending adjustments contemplated by IPAB and the health care law “are unlikely to be sustainable on a permanent annual basis” and “very challenging” – problems that would be exacerbated by utilizing a slower target rate for Medicare spending growth.

Expanded Price Controls:  Expands Medicaid price controls to dual eligible beneficiaries participating in Part D, which according to the Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 Budget Options (Option 25) would generate $112 billion in savings.  Some have expressed concerns that further expanding government-imposed price controls to prescription drugs could harm innovation and the release of new therapies that could help cure diseases.

Medicaid Restructuring:  Proposes “replac[ing] the current complicated federal matching formulas” in Medicaid “with a single matching rate for all program spending that rewards states for efficiency and automatically increases if a recession forces enrollment and state costs to rise.”  Details and potential budgetary impacts are unclear, but it’s worth noting that automatic increases during times of economic hardship could INCREASE budget deficits rather than reducing them.  The proposal also discusses receiving recommendations from governors “for ways to reform and strengthen Medicaid,” but ignored the governors’ multiple requests for flexibility from the mandates included in the health care law – unfunded mandates on states totaling at least $118 billion.

The Old

“Pay-for-Delay:”  Prohibits brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers from entering into arrangements that would delay the availability of new generic drugs.  Some Members have previously expressed concerns that these provisions would harm innovation, and actually impede the incentives to generic manufacturers to bring cost-saving generic drugs on the market.

Limit Durable Medical Equipment Reimbursement:  Caps Medicaid reimbursements for durable medical equipment (DME) at Medicare rates.  The health care law extended and expanded a previous Medicare competitive bidding demonstration project included in the Medicare Modernization Act, resulting in savings to the Medicare program.  This proposal, by capping Medicaid reimbursements for DME at Medicare levels, would attempt to extend those savings to the Medicaid program.

Medicaid Provider Taxes:  Reduces limits on Medicaid provider tax thresholds, beginning in 2015; the tax threshold would be reduced over a three year period, to 3.5 percent in 2017 and future years.  State provider taxes are a financing method whereby states impose taxes on medical providers, and use these provider tax revenues to obtain additional federal Medicaid matching funds, thereby increasing the federal share of Medicaid expenses paid while decreasing the state share of expenses.  The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, enacted by a Republican Congress, capped the level of Medicaid provider taxes, and the Bush Administration proposed additional rules to reform Medicaid funding rules – rules that were blocked by the Democrat-run 110th Congress.  However, there is bipartisan support for addressing ways in which states attempt to “game” the Medicaid system, through provider taxes and other related methods, to obtain unwarranted federal matching funds – the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities previously wrote about a series of “Rube Goldberg-like accounting arrangements” that “do not improve the quality of health care provided” and “frequently operate in a manner that siphons extra federal money to state coffers without affecting the provision of health care.”  This issue was also addressed in the fiscal commission’s report, although the commission exceeded the budget proposals by suggesting that Congress enact legislation “restricting and eventually eliminating” provider taxes, saving $44 billion.  As proposed in the budget, the above provisions would save $18.4 billion.

Potential Fiscal Impact

Small Net Savings:  The White House fact sheet claims $340 billion in savings over ten years – “an amount sufficient to fully pay to reform [sic] the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) physician payment formula while still reducing the deficit.”  However, the President’s budget estimated the cost of a ten-year “doc fix” at $370 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates the net cost at $297.6 billion over ten years.  Assuming Congress utilizes the President’s proposed savings to fund a “doc fix,” that means the NET deficit reduction from the White House’s health proposals will be $42.4 billion – this when the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is scheduled to be insolvent in nine short years according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Budget Wrap Up

Several quick hits coming out of yesterday’s budget release:

More Details on Obamacare Funding:  A glance through the HHS Budget in Brief provides some additional context into where and how the Administration seeks funding to implement the health care law.  Specific new discretionary appropriation requests related to the law include:

  • $37 million for Medicaid and SCHIP implementation (page 82);
  • $38 million for “a one-stop shopping website” for consumers – even though the private sector has maintained similar sites for years (pages 82-83);
  • $28 million to enforce the insurance mandates in the bill (page 83);
  • $236 million for health insurance Exchanges (page 83); and
  • $120 million to implement the CLASS Act Ponzi scheme (page 101).

Of course, the universe of health law implementation spending is far from limited to these requests that the Administration specifically included in its budget.  As CMS Administrator Berwick admitted yesterday, “all of the agencies have features of the [law] that impact their budgets,” – meaning money is fungible, and increases in funding will almost by definition be used to support implementation of Democrats’ unpopular 2700-page health care law.

On a related note, the HHS budget justification to appropriators indicates how the billion-dollar mandatory implementation “slush fund” created in the reconciliation measure last year is being spent.  Page 253 of the document notes that “in FY 2010, $128 million of this funding was obligated by agencies within HHS and by the Department of Treasury.  HHS estimates that $790 million will be obligated by agencies within HHS, the Department of Treasury, and the Office of Personnel Management in 2011.  The remaining $82 million will be obligated in 2012.”  This additional mandatory spending means that the HHS implementation budget will swell far more than the “modest” increases included in the discretionary requests outlined above.

Missing the Plot on True Entitlement Reform:  The Associated Press has an interesting summary of the President’s health care proposals.  The lead paragraph however says it all: “President Barack Obama’s budget fixes a looming cut to doctors that could devastate Medicare, but it offers no cure for the underlying problem of rising health care costs that threatens to break the bank.  It’s like stabilizing a patient in the emergency room and sending him home until the next crisis.”

“Doc Fix” Pay-for Gimmicks?  Two interesting quotes about the pay-fors used to finance the Administration’s two year “doc fix.”  A Wall Street Journal article pointed out the Administration’s budget estimate of nearly $8.8 billion in savings from “pay-for-delay” legislation is more than triple the $2.7 billion in savings estimated by CBO – raising questions about the scorekeeping methods used to calculate the supposed savings.  And the same article points out that “pay-for-delay” legislation failed to advance in a Democrat-dominated Congress last year – so why does the White House think it has any chance of passage this Congress?  In a similar vein, Kaiser Health News noted that the “doc fix” proposals “would get little traction on Capitol Hill.”

Administration’s “Repeal and Replace” for Onerous 1099 Paperwork Mandate:  A correction from my missive last night, when I implied that the Treasury proposed a full repeal of the new 1099 paperwork mandate on small businesses.  A review of the Treasury Green Book finds the key paragraph on page 97:

The proposal would repeal the additional information reporting requirements imposed by the Affordable Care Act.  Further, the proposal would require businesses to file an information return for payments for services or for determinable gains aggregating to $600 or more in a calendar year to a corporation (except a tax-exempt corporation).

As phrased above, the Treasury proposal would REPEAL the new 1099 mandate (which applies to goods and services transactions over $600 in a given year), and REPLACE that mandate with a different 1099 requirement applying just to services.  In other words, a business’ transaction with a gas station wouldn’t warrant a 1099 form, but transactions with a lawyer, plumber, or accountant would. (The last would of course prove especially ironic – businesses will need to give their accountant a 1099, due to all the money he’s charging them to prepare their other 1099s.)  This “repeal and replace” (or, if you like, “bait and switch”) strategy explains why the Treasury’s 1099 proposal only results in a revenue loss of $9.2 billion, compared to the $19 billion cost of full 1099 repeal.

Updated Summary of President’s Budget Proposals

Apologies for sending a further e-mail, but this revised (hopefully final) summary reflects documents that weren’t available when I sent out my first summary document around lunchtime.  Specifically, the below reflects the Administration’s justifications for reductions and terminations, the HHS Budget in Brief, and the Treasury’s Green Book proposals.

Below is a summary of the changes included in the President’s budget proposal.  As previously indicated, the budget includes $62 billion in mandatory health care savings that would pay for approximately two years of a Medicare “doc fix.”  (However, the budget does NOT specify offsets for the $315.4 billion cost of a “doc fix” beyond 2013.) The $62 billion in savings comes from a “grab bag” of relatively minor tweaks to entitlement spending – the largest of which are $18.4 billion in savings from a reduction in Medicaid provider taxes and $12.9 billion in savings from the pharmaceutical industry, including a shorter exclusivity period for follow-on biologics and provisions to end so-called “pay-for-delay” arrangements.

I’ve also included discretionary request amounts for major HHS divisions below.  These numbers have been updated, and reflect the budget authority proposals included in the HHS Budget in Brief document.  (Some of these numbers are slightly different from the OMB budget document, but it’s not fully clear why – and unfortunately HHS staff weren’t particularly enlightening on this technical detail during their budget briefing.)  Of particular note is the more than $1 billion, 30% increase in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services discretionary program management account – which likely reflects money needed to implement the health care law.  (Remember when Democrats attempted to refute the CBO letter indicating the law would lead to $115 billion in discretionary appropriations?  This 30% increase is a down payment on that $115 billion total…)  Since it’s drawn some attention, I’ll also point out that the Administration proposed eliminating the Graduate Medical Education program for children’s hospitals, which is a discretionary $318 million program run through HRSA. (For more details, see page 16 of the terminations document.)

I didn’t include it in the below summary, but page 97 of the Treasury Green Book “would repeal the additional [1099] information reporting requirements imposed by” the health care law.  However, the Treasury document scores this proposal as costing only $9.2 billion over ten years – far less than the $19 billion cost the Joint Committee on Taxation has previously assigned to 1099 repeal – so it’s unclear whether this discrepancy is a result of the differences in OMB and JCT scoring models, or whether there’s some other explanation.

A final note: Please keep in mind that these proposals were scored by the Office of Management and Budget, not CBO; the specific details on the scoring may change slightly when CBO issues its re-estimate of the budget in a few weeks.  (All numbers in my summary represent 10-year totals, except for the section on discretionary appropriations.)

 

Mandatory Spending

Medicare “Doc Fix”:  Freezes Medicare physician payments under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) mechanism, preventing a scheduled cut of more than 25 percent scheduled to take effect in January 2012.  Total cost of the provision is $369.8 billion over ten years – $54.4 billion in 2012 and 2013, and $315.4 billion in 2014 and succeeding years.  While the cost of the two-year fix is paid for, the $315.4 billion extension beyond 2014 is not – the budget summary tables include a line marked “offsets,” but none are specified in the document.  (Details of the $62.2 billion in pay-fors that would fund a two year fix are listed below.)  Note also that this year’s proposal calls for a ten-year freeze on physician payments; last year’s budget document assumed a 1 percent per year increase, likely explaining its higher cost ($371 billion last year vs. $369.8 billion this year).

Tricare for Life:  Assumes $530 million in new Medicare spending associated with a proposal to shift Uniformed Services Family Health Plan enrollees into Tricare for Life and Medicare.

Transitional Medical Assistance/QI Program:  Provides for temporary, nine-month extensions of the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provides Medicaid benefits for low-income families transitioning from welfare to work, along with the Qualifying Individual program, which provides assistance to low-income seniors in paying Medicare premiums.  The extensions cost $665 million and $495 million, respectively.

Liability Reform:  The Justice Department portion of the budget calls for $250 million in new mandatory spending – $100 million in fiscal year 2012, followed by $50 million in 2013 through 2015, to “provide incentives for state medical malpractice reform.”  Specific details are unclear, but an article on this issue can be found here.

Discretionary Spending

When compared to Fiscal Year 2010 appropriated amounts, the budget calls for the following changes in discretionary spending by major HHS divisions (tabulated by budget authority):

  • $380 million (13.8%) increase for the Food and Drug Administration;
  • $684 million (9.1%) decrease for the Health Services and Resources Administration;
  • $572 million (14.1%) increase for the Indian Health Service;
  • $580 million (9.0%) decrease for the Centers for Disease Control;
  • $745 million (2.4%) increase for the National Institutes of Health;
  • $1.029 billion (30.6%) increase for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services program management account; and
  • $270 million (86.8%) increase for the discretionary Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control fund.

With regard to the above numbers for CDC and HRSA, note that these are discretionary numbers only.  The Administration’s budget also would allocate $1 billion in mandatory spending from the new Prevention and Public Health “slush fund” created in the health care law, likely eliminating any real budgetary savings (despite the appearance of same in the table referred to above).

Detail to Fund Two Year “Doc Fix” (Total savings of $62.2 billion)

Program Integrity Provisions (Total savings of $32.3 billion)

Medicaid Provider Taxes:  Reduces limits on Medicaid provider tax thresholds, beginning in 2015; the tax threshold would be reduced over a three year period, to 3.5 percent in 2017 and future years.  State provider taxes are a financing method whereby states impose taxes on medical providers, and use these provider tax revenues to obtain additional federal Medicaid matching funds, thereby increasing the federal share of Medicaid expenses paid while decreasing the state share of expenses.  The Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, enacted by a Republican Congress, capped the level of Medicaid provider taxes, and the Bush Administration proposed additional rules to reform Medicaid funding rules – rules that were blocked by the Democrat-run 110th Congress.  However, there is bipartisan support for addressing ways in which states attempt to “game” the Medicaid system, through provider taxes and other related methods, to obtain unwarranted federal matching funds – the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities previously wrote about a series of “Rube Goldberg-like accounting arrangements” that “do not improve the quality of health care provided” and “frequently operate in a manner that siphons extra federal money to state coffers without affecting the provision of health care.”  This issue was also addressed in the fiscal commission’s report, although the commission exceeded the budget proposals by suggesting that Congress enact legislation “restricting and eventually eliminating” provider taxes, saving $44 billion.  As proposed in the budget, the above provisions would save $18.4 billion.

Medicaid Third-Party Liability:  Strengthens third-party liability provisions allowing Medicaid to recover costs from other insurers, saving $1.6 billion.

High-Risk Products:  Requires states to track high prescribers and utilizers of prescription drugs within Medicaid, saving $3.5 billion. Also creates a system to validate orders for high-risk products and services (e.g., imaging services, DME, home health, etc.), saving an additional $1.8 billion.

MA Repayment Provisions:  Recovers payments to insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage (MA) program.  MA plans are currently paid on a prospective basis, with those payments adjusted according to the severity of beneficiaries’ ill health.  Some sample audits have discovered instances where plans could not retrospectively produce the necessary documentation to warrant the prospective coding adjustment that some beneficiaries received.  The budget would apply this adjustment, currently contemplated for some beneficiaries based on the sample audit, to ALL beneficiaries.  The budget scores this proposal as saving $6.2 billion.

Other Provisions:  Also included in the program integrity section are proposals that would:

  • Require manufacturers to repay states in cases of improper reporting (savings of $125 million);
  • Allow civil monetary penalties for providers who do not update enrollment information (savings of $80 million);
  • Permit the exclusion of officials affiliated with sanctioned entities from participating in health care programs (savings of $50 million);
  • Require prepayment review for all power wheelchairs (savings of $240 million);
  • Use up to 25 percent of Recovery Audit Contractor recoveries to implement anti-fraud actions (savings of $230 million);
  • Provide flexibility to HHS/CMS in using predictive modeling to recover improper and/or fraudulent payments (savings of $100 million); and
  • Limit debt discharges in bankruptcy proceedings associated with fraudulent activity (savings of $150 million).

Provisions without Scoreable Savings:  Included on this list are proposals to:

  • Enforce Medicaid drug price rebate agreements;
  • Increase penalties on drug manufacturers for fraudulent non-compliance with Medicaid drug price rebate agreements;
  • Require drugs to be listed with the FDA in order to be reimbursed under the Medicaid program
  • Prohibit federal funds from being used as a state’s share of Medicaid/SCHIP spending unless specifically authorized;
  • Increase scrutiny of providers receiving Medicare reimbursement through higher-risk banking arrangements;
  • Study the feasibility of using universal product numbers in Medicare to improve payment accuracy; and
  • Strengthen penalties for illegal distribution of Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP identity and billing information

Medicaid Provisions (Total savings of $10.6 billion)

Limit Durable Medical Equipment Reimbursement:  Caps Medicaid reimbursements for durable medical equipment (DME) at Medicare rates.  The health care law extended and expanded a previous Medicare competitive bidding demonstration project included in the Medicare Modernization Act, resulting in savings to the Medicare program.  This proposal, by capping Medicaid reimbursements for DME at Medicare levels, would attempt to extend those savings to the Medicaid program.  Saves $6.4 billion.

Rebase Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments:  In 2021, reallocates Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals treating low-income patients, based on states’ actual 2020 allotments (as amended and reduced by the health care law).  Saves $4.2 billion.

Medicare Provisions (Total savings of $6.5 billion)

Quality Improvement Organizations:  Includes several provisions regarding the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) program within Medicare.  Proposals would require QIO contracts to be determined on a geographic basis to maximize efficiency (savings of $2.2 billion), eliminate conflicts of interest between QIOs’ activities on beneficiary protection and quality improvement (savings of $710 million), expand the eligible pool of QIO contractors (savings of $170 million), extend QIO contract from three to five years (savings of $160 million), and align QIO contract terminations with federal regulations (no savings scored).  Provisions would save $3.1 billion total.

Health IT Penalties:  Re-directs Medicare reimbursement penalties against physicians who do not engage in electronic prescribing beginning in 2020 back into the Medicare program.  The “stimulus” legislation that enacted the health IT provisions had originally required that penalties to providers be placed into the Medicare Improvement Fund; the budget would instead re-direct those revenues into the general fund, to finance the “doc fix” and related provisions.  Estimated savings of $3.2 billion.

Pharmaceutical Provisions (Total savings of $12.9 billion)

Follow-on Biologics:  Reduces to seven years the period of exclusivity for follow-on biologics.  Current law provides for a twelve-year period of exclusivity, based upon an amendment to the health care law that was adopted on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate (one of the few substantive bipartisan amendments adopted).  Some Members have expressed concern that reducing the period of exclusivity would harm innovation and discourage companies from developing life-saving treatments.  Saves $2.3 billion over ten years.

“Pay-for-Delay:”  Prohibits brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers from entering into arrangements that would delay the availability of new generic drugs.  Some Members have previously expressed concerns that these provisions would harm innovation, and actually impede the incentives to generic manufacturers to bring cost-saving generic drugs on the market.  Saves $8.8 billion over ten years.

FEHB Contracting:  Proposes streamlining pharmacy benefit contracting within the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, by centralizing pharmaceutical benefit contracting within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  Some individuals, noting that OPM is also empowered to create “multi-state plans” as part of the health care overhaul, may be concerned that these provisions could be part of a larger plan to make OPM the head of a de facto government-run health plan.  Saves $1.8 billion.

Preliminary Analysis of the “Official” Medicare Trustees Report

Below is a first cut of the highlights of the “official” Medicare trustees report released this morning.  I emphasize the “official” portion because, for reasons that the report makes clear, the trustees (or, more specifically, the Office of the Actuary, which prepares the trustees report) do not believe many of the cost savings in current law – including those created by the health care law – are realistic or sustainable.  Thus they have prepared an alternative technical report with additional information and assumptions. (I’ll summarize that report under separate cover shortly.)

Overall, the report projects significant uncertainty about the impacts of the new law, and questions about whether the law’s reductions can be sustained.  In the longer run though – and irrespective of the effects of double counting in the health care law, which the actuaries have already exposed – it’s clear that Medicare remains on an unsustainable path:  Expenses continue to grow at high rates, as do projections for future Medicare spending (except, interestingly enough, with respect to the privately-provided Part D prescription drug benefit).  Excerpts from the report follow below:

On the substantial uncertainty associated with PPACA:

“The effects of some of the new law’s provisions on Medicare are not known at this time, with the result that the projections are much more uncertain than normal, especially in the longer-range future.” (page 2)

On the dubious nature of the productivity adjustments included in the law:

“It is possible that providers can improve their productivity, reduce wasteful expenditures, and take other steps to keep their cost growth within the bounds imposed by the Medicare price limitations. Similarly, the implementation of payment and delivery system reforms, facilitated by the ACA research and development program, could help constrain cost growth to a level consistent with the lower Medicare payments. These outcomes are far from certain, however. Many experts doubt the feasibility of such sustained improvements and anticipate that over time the Medicare price constraints would become unworkable and that Congress would likely override them, much as they have done to prevent the reductions in physician payment rates otherwise required by the sustainable growth rate formula in current law. (pages 2-3)

“It is important to note that the improved outlook for the HI trust fund depends in part on the feasibility of the productivity adjustments to payment updates for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, and hospice care organizations. There is a significant likelihood that these providers would not be able to reduce their cost growth rates sufficiently during this period to match the slower increases in Medicare payments per service, in which case they would eventually become unable to continue providing health care services to Medicare beneficiaries. If such a situation occurred, and Congress overrode the productivity adjustments, then actual costs would be higher.” (page 26)

On the trustees’ report’s unrealistic assumptions:

“It is important to note that the actual future costs for Medicare are likely to exceed those shown by the current-law projections in this report. We recommend that the projections be interpreted as an illustration of the very favorable financial outcomes that would be experienced if the productivity adjustments can be sustained in the long range—and we caution readers to recognize the great uncertainty associated with achieving this outcome. Where possible, we illustrate the potential understatement of Medicare costs and projection results by reference to an alternative projection that assumes—for purposes of illustration only—that the physician fee reductions are overridden and that the productivity adjustments are gradually phased out over the 15 years starting in 2020.” (page 3)

On the inadequacy of the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance – HI) trust fund:

“The [Hospital Insurance trust] fund is still not adequately financed over the next 10 years. HI expenditures have exceeded income annually since 2008 and are projected to continue doing so under current law through 2013.” (page 5)

“Although much improved, the HI trust fund still does not meet the short-range test of financial adequacy. In the long range, projected HI expenditures and scheduled tax income are much closer to balancing because of the new legislation, if the slower price updates can be continued indefinitely. If not, and prices are increased, then HI income and expenditures will remain substantially out of balance. Under either scenario, the trust fund does not meet the test of long-range close actuarial balance.” (page 8)

On rising tax rates for all Americans as a result of the health care law:

“The standard HI payroll tax rates are not scheduled to change in the future under current law and will remain constant at 2.90 percent. As noted, high-income workers will pay an additional 0.9 percent of their earnings above $200,000 (for single workers) or $250,000 (for married couples filing joint income tax returns) in 2013 and later. Because these income thresholds are not indexed, over time an increasing proportion of workers will become subject to the additional HI tax rate. Thus, HI payroll tax revenues will increase steadily as a percentage of taxable payroll.” (page 27)

On the rapid growth of costs in Medicare Part B:

“Part B costs have been increasing rapidly, having averaged 8.3 percent annual growth over the last 5 years, and are likely to continue doing so. Under current law, an average annual growth rate of 4.8 percent is projected for the next 5 years. This rate is unrealistically constrained due to multiple years of physician fee reductions that would occur under current law, including a scheduled reduction of 23 percent for December of 2010. If Congress continues to override these reductions, as they have for 2003 through November of 2010, the Part B growth rate would instead average roughly 8 percent.” (page 6)

On the fifth straight warning under the Medicare “trigger” (included in the prescription drug bill passed by Republicans) that the program is under-funded:

“The difference between Medicare’s total outlays and its “dedicated financing sources” is estimated to reach 45 percent of outlays in fiscal year 2010, the first year of the projection. This threshold is reached much earlier than projected in previous reports primarily due to lower HI payroll taxes in 2010. Based on this result, the Board of Trustees is required to issue a determination of projected “excess general revenue Medicare funding” in this report. This is the fifth consecutive such finding, and it again triggers a statutory “Medicare funding warning,” indicating that Federal general revenues are becoming a substantial share of total financing for Medicare. The law directs the President to submit to Congress proposed legislation to respond to the warning within 15 days after the date of the Budget submission for the succeeding year.” (page 6)

On the decrease in both actual and projected costs for the Part D prescription drug benefit:

“The projected Part D costs shown in table II.F1 and elsewhere in this report are somewhat lower than those in the 2009 report. The difference is primarily attributable to lower-than-expected spending in 2008 and 2009 as well as a reduction in the projected growth in prescription drug spending in the U.S. for the next 10 years. The reduced estimates are due to a higher market penetration of generic drugs and a decline in the number of new drug products that are expected to reach the market during this period. This impact is partially offset by higher costs from the gradual elimination of the Part D coverage gap (or “donut hole”) under the Affordable Care Act.” (page 35)

Getting the Facts Straight on Medicare

In anticipation of Medicare’s 45th anniversary today, the Center for American Progress released a report that attempts to promote Democrats’ closing of the Part D doughnut hole as part of health care “reform.”  The report asserts that “Part D beneficiaries who stay in” the doughnut hole would save an average of 23 percent off their drug spending, while “prescription drug savings will be even greater for the more than half a million” beneficiaries who pass through the doughnut hole.

But the Center for American Progress study misses the point on several fronts.  First, the true savings for beneficiaries in the doughnut hole may in reality be less than they appear; if the richer benefits in the coverage gap just prompt seniors to continue buying more expensive brand-name drugs rather than using less costly generics, they won’t really have “saved” much.  Second, and more importantly, all seniors will be paying higher Part D premiums in order for a select group of beneficiaries to receive richer coverage.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that “the law would lead to an average increase in premiums for Part D beneficiaries of about 4 percent in 2011, rising to about 9 percent in 2019.”  That means that 27 million seniors will pay higher premiums, but only what the report quantifies as “more than half a million” beneficiaries passing through the doughnut hole will actually receive the full benefit of the discount regime established in the law.  Some would categorize this redistributive scenario as “spreading the wealth around.”

Also in conjunction with the Medicare anniversary, I would direct you to this one-pager previously released regarding the impact of health “reform” on seniors.  Of particular note is the analysis from CBO that the health care law’s changes to Medicare “would not enhance the ability of the government to pay for future Medicare benefits.”