Three Reasons You Won’t Keep Your Doctor Under Single Payer

Over Fourth of July week, liberal activists took solace in the results of a poll that they said demonstrates the popularity of a single-payer health system. The survey showed diminished support for a “‘Medicare for All’ [system] if it diminished the role of private insurers.” However, support rose by nearly ten points if pollsters described single payer as a system that “diminished the role of private insurers but allowed you to keep your preferred doctor and hospital.”

Staff for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claimed the survey showed single payer “is wildly popular when you tell people what it would actually do.” That claim misses the mark on several levels. First, most individuals wouldn’t consider a 55 percent approval rating—the level of support for a single-payer plan that allows patients to keep their doctors—as evidence of a “wildly popular,” as opposed to mildly popular, policy.

More fundamentally, though, single payer has precious little to do with keeping one’s doctor. For at least three reasons, many patients will lose access to their preferred physicians and hospitals under a single-payer system.

‘Free Care’ Means People Will Demand More

Second, the Sanders legislation would virtually eliminate medical cost-sharing—deductibles, co-payments, and the like. As a result, individuals who currently have health insurance would use more care once it becomes “free.”

In their analysis of single-payer legislation, both the Rand Corporation and the liberal Urban Institute have estimated that induced demand would result in capacity constraints for health care supply. In other words, so many more people would clamor for “free” care that the system would not have enough doctors or facilities to treat them.

More Work, Less Pay

As I noted last year, single-payer supporters operate under the fanciful premise that doctors and hospitals will perform more procedures for less money. Nearly three-quarters of hospitals already lose money on their Medicare patients—and single payer would extend those Medicare reimbursement rates to all patients nationwide. A study earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that a single-payer system linked to Medicare payment levels would reduce hospitals’ revenue by $151 billion annually.

More Soul-Crushing Regulations

The federal government has already caused physicians countless hours of paperwork and grief. Thanks to requirements regarding electronic health records introduced in President Obama’s “stimulus,” an emergency room physician makes an average of 4,000 clicks in one shift. Rather than practicing their craft and healing patients, physicians have become button-clicking automatons, forced to respond to Washington’s every whim and demand.

The combination of more work, less pay, and added government intrusion under single payer could cause many physicians to leave the profession. For instance, the electronic records requirements caused my mother’s longtime physician to retire—he didn’t want to spend all his time staring at a computer screen (and who can blame him).

Some physicians could instead eschew the single-payer route, offering their services on a cash basis to wealthy patients who can afford to opt-out of the government system (provided the government will permit them to do so). Still other individuals may make alternative career plans, abandoning medicine even before they begin their formal training.

Here’s hoping that the American people never get an opportunity to discover the fanciful nature of Sanders’s promise that you can keep your doctor and hospital under single payer.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Inside the Federal Government’s Health IT Fiasco

Recent surveys of doctors show a sharp rise in frustrated physicians. One study last year analyzed a nearly 10 percentage point increase in burnout from 2011 to 2014, and laid much of the blame for the increase on a single culprit: Electronic health records. Physicians now spend more time staring at computer screens than connecting with patients, and find the drudgery soul-crushing.

What prompted the rise in screen fatigue and physician burnout? Why, government, of course. A recent Fortune magazine expose, titled “Death by 1,000 Clicks,” analyzed the history behind federal involvement in electronic records. The article reveals how electronic health records not only have not met their promise, but have led to numerous unintended and harmful consequences for American’s physicians, and the whole health care market.

Electronic Bridge to Nowhere

The Fortune story details all the ways health information technology doesn’t work:

  • Error-prone and glitch-laden systems;
  • Impromptu work-arounds created by individual physicians and hospitals make it tough to compare systems to each other;
  • An inability for one hospital’s system to interact with another’s—let alone deliver data and records directly to patients; and
  • A morass of information, presented in a non-user-friendly format, that users cannot easily access—potentially increasing errors.

The data behind the EHR debacle illustrate the problem vividly. Physicians spend nearly six hours per day on EHRs, compared to just over five hours of direct time with patients. A study concluding that emergency room physicians average 4,000 mouse clicks per shift, a number that virtually guarantees doctors will make data errors. Thousands of documented medication errors caused by EHRs, and at least one hundred deaths (likely more) from “alert fatigue” caused by electronic systems’ constant warnings.

Other anecdotes prove almost absurdly hysterical. The EHR that presents emergency room physicians 86 separate options to order Tylenol. The parody Twitter account that plays an EHR come to life: “I once saw a doctor make eye contact with a patient. This horror must stop.” The EHR system that warns physicians ordering painkillers for female patients about the dangers of prescribing ibuprofen to women while pregnant—even if the patient is 80 years old.

What caused all this chaos in the American health care market? One doctor explained his theory: “I have an iPhone and a computer and they work the way they’re supposed to work, and then we’re given these incredibly cumbersome and error-prone tools. This is something the government mandated” (emphasis added). Therein lies the problem.

Obama’s ‘Stimulus’ Spending Spree

In June 2011, when talking about infrastructure projects included in the 2009 “stimulus” legislation, President Obama famously admitted that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” Electronic health records, another concept included in the “stimulus,” ran into a very similar problem. Farzad Mostashari, who worked on health IT for the Obama administration from 2009-11, admitted to Fortune that creating a useful national records system was “utterly infeasible to get to in a short time frame.”

At the time, however, the Obama administration billeted electronic health records as the “magic bullet” that would practically eliminate medical errors, while also reducing health costs. Every government agency had its own “wish list” of things to include in EHR systems. Mostashari admitted this dynamic led to the typical bureaucratic problem of trying to do too much, too fast: “We had all the right ideas that were discussed and hashed out by the committee, but they were all of the right ideas” (emphasis original).

Meanwhile, records vendors saw dollar signs, and leapt at the business opportunity. As Fortune notes, many systems weren’t ready for prime time, but vendors didn’t focus on solving those types of inconsequential details:

[The] vendor community, then a scrappy $2 billion industry, griped at the litany of requirements but stood to gain so much from the government’s $36 billion injection that it jumped in line. As Rusty Frantz, CEO of EHR vendor NextGen Healthcare, put it: ‘The industry was like, ‘I’ve got this check dangling in front of me, and I have to check these boxes to get there, and so I’m going to do that.’’

The end result: Hospitals and doctors spent billions of dollars—because the government paid them to do so, and threatened to reduce their Medicare and Medicaid payments if they didn’t—to buy records systems that didn’t work well. These providers then became stuck with the systems once they purchased them, because of the systems’ cost, and because providers could not easily switch from one system to another.

David Blumenthal, who served as national coordinator for health IT under Obama, summed up the debacle accurately when he admitted that electronic health records “have not fulfilled their potential. I think few would argue they have.”

Electronic health records therefore provide an illustrative cautionary tale in which a government-imposed scheme spends billions of dollars but fails to live up to its hype, and alienates physicians and providers in the process. When the same thing happens under Democrats’ next proposed big-government health scheme—whether single payer, or some “moderate compromise” that only takes away half of Americans’ existing health coverage—don’t say you weren’t warned.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

How the Status Quo Leaves Medicare Ripe for Abuse

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran its second major expose in as many months about abuses in the Medicare program.  Last month’s article was about the way drug companies abused reimbursement for anti-anemia drugs; yesterday’s piece focused on providers “up-coding” – that is, claiming to see patients for longer and more intense visits, so as to claim higher reimbursement from Medicare.  The article notes the practice has become widespread, and costs Medicare billions annually:

Thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have billed Medicare for increasingly complicated and costly treatments over the past decade, adding $11 billion or more to their fees — and signaling a possible rise in medical billing abuse, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.

Between 2001 and 2010, doctors increasingly moved to higher-paying codes for billing Medicare for office visits while cutting back on lower-paying ones, according to a year-long examination of about 362 million claims.  In 2001, the two highest codes were listed on about 25 percent of the doctor-visit claims; in 2010, they were on 40 percent.  Similarly, hospitals sharply stepped up the use of the highest codes for emergency room visits while cutting back on the lowest codes….

Medicare billing data do not indicate that patients are getting more infirm, as their reasons for visiting their doctors were essentially unchanged over time. And annual surveys by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found little increase in the amount of time physicians spend with patients.  That suggests that at least part of the shift to higher codes is due to “upcoding” — also known as “code creep” — a form of bill-padding in which doctors and others bill Medicare for more expensive services than were actually delivered, according to health experts and the data analysis by the center.

Because physicians and hospitals are paid by Medicare in a fee-for-service format according to the services they perform, many have discovered that they can get paid more by billing for more, and/or more intense, procedures and services.  Ironically, the Post article notes that “the aggressive push to electronic medical records” – which Obama Administration officials claimed would lower health costs – “is likely fueling the trend toward higher codes” and greater Medicare spending.

What does Obamacare do to change fee-for-service medicine?  The answer ranges from “precious little” to “not enough.”  The law does include various demonstration programs designed to improve coordination of care, and shift emphasis back towards primary care physicians.  But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, in a January report analyzing dozens of Medicare demonstration programs over decades, said these programs did not contain health costs – because of the flawed and perverse incentives included in fee-for-service medicine:

The evaluations show that most programs have not reduced Medicare spending….Demonstrations aimed at reducing spending and increasing quality of care face significant challenges in overcoming the incentives inherent in Medicare’s fee-for-service payment system, which rewards providers for delivering more care

Ironically, Medicare premium support could encourage a movement away from fee-for-service medicine – by offering an avenue for providers and insurers to come up with new and innovative payment methods that focus on value and quality rather than performing services.  But President Obama and liberal Democrats have decided to oppose these reforms – which means that, under President Obama, we’re likely to see even more stories about how Medicare providers are manipulating and abusing the reimbursement system to the tune of billions of dollars.

Federalism’s Quiet Victory

More than a week after the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, some have discovered the ruling was not the unqualified victory for the Obama Administration that reporters made it out to be on the day of the decision.  Multiple press reports have focused on statements by governors indicating they may not, or will not, participate in the law’s now-optional expansion of Medicaid. (A good summary of where states stand on the expansion based on public comments to date can be found here.)

On the substance, it’s easy to see why states would be greatly concerned.  As Matt Salo, head of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, stated, the idea that the Medicaid expansion is “free” to states is nothing but a massive prevarication:

State officials retort that the notion that expansion is free for states until 2017 is “a big lie,” in Salo’s words.  While the federal government will pay many of the administrative costs, states will share in the expense of some information technology and personnel.  And the requirement that most individuals carry insurance is expected to spur at least some of an estimated 13 million people who currently qualify for Medicaid, but are not enrolled to sign up, Salo said.  States will receive their traditional federal funding match for those people.

Those administrative costs will be significant – one Heritage Foundation study pegged them at nearly $12 billion in the first six years alone.  And there’s also the fact that the law’s spending reductions are widely predicted by experts to be unsustainable, meaning it’s entirely possible Congress could reduce the federal Medicaid match – sticking the states with even more added costs – down the line if lawmakers need to undo Medicare payment reductions to ensure seniors still have access to care.

More fundamentally, however, the ruling gives states something they have not had in their relations with the federal government in quite some time – leverage.  The federal government will no longer be able blithely to dismiss state concerns, or order them to expand Medicaid just as Washington says – or else.  It’s particularly noteworthy that just one day after the Supreme Court ruling, former Speaker Pelosi publicly floated the idea of “re-thinking” the federal Medicaid match – increasing the federal share to compensate states for their unfunded mandates.  It’s unclear whether that would actually happen – or if so, how the increased federal payments would be paid for – but it shows that in light of the ruling, federal politicians cannot ignore states’ concerns, a step in the right direction in restoring the long-lost balance between Washington and the states.

And that is as the Framers intended it to be.  In Federalist 46, James Madison wrote that federal infringements on the states would spark popular outrage, just as Obamacare sparked a majority of states to sue the federal government for exercising unconstitutional coercive power on their sovereignty:

Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand.  The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.

But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only.  They would be signals of general alarm.  Every government would espouse the common cause.  A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole.  The same combinations, in short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread of a foreign, yoke; and unless the projected innovations should be voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made in the one case as was made in the other.

The Court’s ruling echoed Madison’s comments about the “general alarm” that the law has inflicted upon the states; it struck down the coercive requirements of the Medicaid expansion as “economic dragooning” that puts “a gun to the head” of states.  What’s more, Chief Justice Roberts’ ruling laid down a marker implying that additional laws could also be struck down as unconstitutional impositions on states: “We have no need to fix a line [defining coercion] either.  It is enough for today that wherever that line may be, this statute is surely beyond it.”

Whatever one thinks of the merits of the Chief Justice’s opinion on the individual mandate, the Court’s ruling on the Medicaid expansion is already having an impact on politics and policy in dozens of states – and the constitutional implications of the decision could influence the state-federal relationship for years to come.  This at least is an outcome some conservatives can value.

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

The Washington Post this morning released a “Fact Checker” piece taking issue with claims regarding President Obama’s broken promise to cut premiums by $2,500.  However, in reaching its conclusions, the article left out two significant facts.

First, even though Obamacare itself wasn’t enacted until March 2010, much of the Obama health agenda was enacted within weeks of the President taking office.  The Obama campaign’s 2008 memo said that health IT was one of the ways the new Administration would make good on its premium savings promise.  And health IT legislation passed more than a year before Obamacare – it was enacted in February 2009 as part of the “stimulus.”  Also in February 2009, Obama signed the massive SCHIP insurance expansion into law.  And here’s what he said at the time of the SCHIP bill signing, on February 4, 2009: “If Congress passes [the “stimulus], in just one month, we will have done more to modernize our health care system than we’ve done in the past decade.”  So either the Administration achieved significant reforms on health care within weeks of taking office – in which case that legislation should have been cutting premiums by now, as the Obama campaign promised – or the President went around in early 2009 making false claims about the scope of his accomplishments.  Which is it?

Second, the Fact Checker column says that Obama’s promise of a premium cut doesn’t apply until 2019.  Well, that’s not what Jason Furman – then a campaign advisor, and now a senior economic official in the Obama Administration – told the New York Times during the 2008 election campaign.  In July 2008, he said that:

We think we could get to $2,500 in savings by the end of the first term, or be very close to it.

Mind you, after the election, the Obama Administration did water down their promise, claiming that their “reforms” would now save only $2,000 by 2019 – instead of the $2,500 by 2012/13 that Furman promised on behalf of the campaign.  But if you’re the Obama Administration, why wouldn’t you define your premium promise down, such that it would only be met – or broken – years after you leave office?

It’s not surprising that an Administration would attempt to use the soft bigotry of low expectations to try and circumvent the unrealistic nature of their campaign promises after taking office.  What is surprising however is when “fact checking” journalists accept these excuses at face value and don’t call them on it.

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.

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.

Fact Check on President’s Premium Promises

A little bit ago, Rep. Hinojosa claimed at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing that the President’s campaign promise to cut health insurance premiums by $2,500 shouldn’t apply until 2014, because that’s when most of the major provisions of the health care law take effect.  But that’s not what was promised during the campaign.  Jason Furman – then an Obama campaign adviser, now Deputy Director of the National Economic Council – told the New York Times in July 2008 that “We think we could get to $2,500 in savings by the end of the first term, or be very close to it.

Less than a month into his Administration, President Obama signed a massive expansion of government-funded health care in the SCHIP bill.  He then also signed the $800 billion “stimulus,” and claimed at its signing ceremony that “we have done more in 30 days to advance the cause of health care reform than this country has done in an entire decade.”  The President and Democrats can’t simultaneously take credit for “advanc[ing] the cause of health care reform” within weeks of taking office, while claiming that promised premium reductions need not materialize until 2014 because the coverage expansions don’t start until then (a delay which some people might note was done largely to reduce the law’s 10-year costs anyway).

So once again, candidate Obama promised to cut premiums by $2,500 for the average American family – and do so by the end of the President’s first term.  A graph showing the Administration’s “progress” on this issue follows below.

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.

“Doc Fix” Update

In order to prevent the 23 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursement levels scheduled to take effect on January 1, Sens. Reid, McConnell, Baucus, and Grassley have reached agreement on a one-year extension of the “doc fix.”  The legislation is being hotlined tonight, in the hope that it can pass by unanimous consent to allow for House consideration of the measure.

The legislation provides a zero percent update in physician reimbursement levels for calendar year 2011, and stipulates that the payment increase shall be disregarded for purposes of calculating SGR rates for periods after December 31, 2011.  The bill also includes several one-year extensions of expiring Medicare provisions (which are usually extended with the SGR), as well as some technical changes that were agreed to on a bipartisan basis.

The bill is paid for by increasing recapture payment thresholds for health insurance subsidies created under the health care law.  Current law provides that subsidy eligibility will be determined on the basis of prior year financial information (e.g., tax returns, etc.).  The bill would increase on a sliding-scale basis the $400 ($250 for individuals) amount that families will have to repay the federal government if they are found to have received a higher subsidy than their actual income warranted (because, for instance, a family member received a raise that wasn’t reflected on the prior year tax return).

A more complete summary follows below.  If your boss has concerns with this legislation, please contact the cloakroom.

 

Medicare Physician Payment:  Provides for a 0 percent update in reimbursement levels for 2011.  Provides that the 0 percent update for 2011 shall not be considered when calculating the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) reimbursement levels in 2012 and future years.  Spends $14.9 billion over five and ten years.

Medicare “Extenders:”  Extends for one year a series of Medicare and health-related provisions, all of which would expire at the end of the calendar year unless otherwise noted:

  • Section 508 hospital reclassifications (expired on September 30, 2010) at a cost of $300 million over ten years;
  • Geographic floor for work, costing $500 million over ten years;
  • Therapy caps exception process, costing $900 million;
  • Technical component of certain physician pathology services, costing $100 million;
  • Reimbursement raises for ambulance services, costing $100 million;
  • Mental health reimbursements (5% increase), costing $100 million;
  • Outpatient hold harmless provision, costing $200 million;
  • Reasonable cost payments for clinical diagnostic laboratory tests in rural areas (expires on July 1, 2011 under current law); no significant score;
  • Qualifying Individual (QI) program, assistance to low-income seniors in paying Medicare premiums, costing $600 million;
  • Transitional Medical Assistance, which provides Medicaid benefits for low-income families transitioning from welfare to work, costing $1 billion; and
  • Two year extension of special diabetes programs that fund research into Type 1 diabetes and prevention and treatment of diabetes through Indian Health Service facilities, costing $600 million.

Other Provisions:  Repeals the health law’s delay of the revised skilled nursing facility prospective payment system.  Includes other clarifying amendments with respect to drafting errors in the health care law.  Includes language regarding affiliated hospitals and provisions in the health care law surrounding distribution of medical residency positions, as well as a technical correction maintaining childrens hospitals’ ability to participate in the 340B discount program with respect to orphan drugs.  Includes clarifying provisions regarding eligibility for Medicaid health IT funding provided in the “stimulus.”

Funding for Claims Re-processing:  Provides $200 million in mandatory appropriations to CMS to re-process claims for calendar year 2010, as a result of the changes in Medicare payment policy enacted mid-year.

Medicare Improvement Fund:  Utilizes $275 million in funding from the Medicare Improvement Fund, which was created in 2008 “to make improvements under the original Medicare fee-for-service program.”

Health Insurance Subsidy Recapture:  The bill increases the repayment levels for insurance subsidies provided under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Under the health law, new health insurance subsidies are based on an individual’s (or family’s) most recent tax return – so that subsidy levels beginning in January 2014 will be based on reported income for 2012.  However, a family’s circumstances can change significantly during this time lag for a variety of reasons – a change in job, significant raise, divorce, birth, or death, to name just a few.

PPACA established a reconciliation process intended to recapture any subsidy over-payments – but the law capped the amount of such repayments at $250 for individuals and $400 for families for all families with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $88,200 for a family of four); above 400% FPL, no limits currently apply.  The bill would raise these limits on a sliding scale basis to:

Income between 100-200% FPL:  $300 for an individual, $600 per family

Income between 200-250% FPL:  $500 for an individual, $1,000 per family

Income between 250-300% FPL:  $750 for an individual, $1,500 per family

Income between 300-350% FPL:  $1,000 for an individual, $2,000 per family

Income between 350-400% FPL:  $1,250 for an individual, $2,500 per family

Income between 400-450% FPL:  $1,500 for an individual, $3,000 per family*

Income between 450-500% FPL:  $1,750 for an individual, $3,500 per family*

(*While subsidies are only available to individuals and families with incomes below 400% FPL, the above recapture penalties would apply to individuals who received subsidies, yet were not eligible for ANY subsidies based on their income.  As noted above, currently individuals with incomes above 400% FPL would have to pay back ALL of the insurance subsidy amounts they received in error.)

CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation score this provision as saving $19 billion over ten years; the provision would also reduce coverage estimates for the new insurance subsidies by an estimated 200,000 individuals.

Many may argue that this provision does NOT represent a tax increase, on the grounds that individuals will be repaying a subsidy they received in error. (In addition, most of the subsidies provided under PPACA are refundable in nature, and some would argue that limiting refundable subsidies reduces government spending, rather than increasing taxes.)

 

UPDATE: CBO tables for the bill match the descriptions included above.  Note that per CBO, the asterisk on the second page of the score indicates a net deficit reduction of less than $50 million.  (Also FYI, the shell vehicle for the “doc fix” is H.R. 4994; I neglected to mention that earlier.)