New CBO Analysis: Cutting Subsidies Would Backfire on Trump

By Wendy Netter Epstein 

The cost-sharing reduction payments are an essential component of the ACA.  These payments reduce out-of-pocket costs for lower income enrollees so that individuals can actually use their insurance coverage and not be prevented from seeking care because of a high deductible or a copay they can’t afford.  President Trump has been threatening since he took office to end these payments.  And there is at least some possibility that he has the authority to do (see House v. Price).

Politically speaking, Trump’s goal in threatening to end these payments is either to hasten what he sees as the inevitable demise of Obamacare—or at least to use the threat of ending the payments to hold the feet to the fire of those who have resisted “repeal and replace.”  Either way, Democrats have widely condemned Trump’s threats and the instability they cause in the market. Continue reading

Petrie-Flom Panelists Contribute to new Guiding Framework for Designing and Implementing Serious Illness Programs

By Mark Sterling

As part of the Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted two convenings on Critical Pathways to Improved Care for Serious Illness.  Through roundtable discussions and working sessions at these convenings, expert panelists reviewed innovative programs designed for the aging population with chronic illnesses, focusing on those with declining function and complex care needs.  These convenings contributed to the development of a framework to guide healthcare providers in developing and scaling programs to deliver high quality care to individuals with serious illness, which is of increased importance given the growth of this population and the development of alternative payment models.  The convenings were held in March and June, and the panelists, agendas, slide decks, and related program materials remain available on the Petrie-Flom website (Session 1 & Session 2).

C-TAC, which collaborates with Petrie-Flom on the Project on Advanced Care and Health Policy, now has published a Report, Toward a Serious Illness Program Design and Implementation Framework, to help providers develop, replicate, and scale programs across a variety of serious illness populations and settings.  The Report’s Framework provides steps to allow healthcare organizations to assess evidence-based options for each facet of care model design and implementation.  As noted in the Report, the Framework is designed to:

  • Inform serious illness program development, replication, and scaling;
  • Integrate with care model payment design;
  • Inform care model and proforma simulator development;
  • Inform other aspects of design and development such as policy, standardized measurement, and regulatory analysis.

Continue reading

OK, Now What? Health Care Reform Next Steps

By Carmel Shachar

The latest push to repeal at least some aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) died late into Thursday, July 27, 2017 when John McCain (R-AZ) joined Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to vote against a much stripped down repeal bill.  This dramatic moment has been replayed over and over again by health policy wonks and on cable TV.  However, now that we have all “watched the show” a pressing question is unavoidable: What happens next?

Next Steps for Congress

The failure to pass repeal and replace (in the form of the Better Care Reconciliation Act), complete repeal (in a variation of the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act), or skinny repeal (in the form of the Health Care Freedom Act), suggests that Congress may have to resort to something previously considered unthinkable: bipartisan action.  Indeed, soon after Senate Republicans failed to pass a health care bill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (R-NY), stated that “[o]n health care, I hope we can work together to make the system better in a bipartisan way.” Continue reading

Is There a Fourth Amendment Expectation of Privacy in Prescription Records? According to the Utah District Court, Maybe Not

It might come as a surprise to many in the United States that they may have no Fourth Amendment reasonable expectation of privacy in their physicians’ records when their physicians transfer these records to state agencies under state public health laws. Yet on July 27, the federal district court for the state of Utah said exactly this for records of controlled substance prescriptions—and perhaps for medical records more generally. (United States Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration v. Utah Department of Commerce, 2017 WL 3189868 (D. Utah July 27)). Patients should know that their physicians are required by law to make reports of these prescriptions to state health departments, the court said. Because patients should know about these reports, they have no expectation of privacy in them as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.  And, so, warrantless searches by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are constitutionally permissible at least so far as the district of Utah is concerned.  Physicians are by law required to make many kinds of reports to state agencies: abuse, various infectious diseases, possible instances of bioterrorism, tumors, abortions, birth defects—and, in most states, controlled substance prescriptions.  The Utah court’s reasoning potentially throws into question the extent to which any of these reports may receive Fourth Amendment protection.

Continue reading

Prime Health: Should Amazon Purchase a Hospital Chain?

Cross-posted from Medium.

By Nicolas Terry

The devotees of digital health and disruption recently lit up the Internet after reports that Amazon had deployed a secret health tech team codenamed 1492 (presumably a reference to healthcare visionary Columbus). The real surprise would be if Amazon did not have such a team in place. Other tech companies, Alphabet, Apple, IBM, Samsung, et al, understand that, while a latecomer to technologies, future healthcare will be data-driven and that there will be multiple opportunities to sell cloud storage, analytics services, and immodestly-priced wearables.

But, let’s pose a far more interesting question. What if Amazon decided to go beyond participating in upstart digital health with its interest in wellness, and took a swing at traditional healthcare and sickness? What, in other words, if Amazon purchased a hospital chain or network? Let’s assume that “1492” is the internal code name for Prime Health. On its face, the idea of what only a few years ago was just an online bookseller entering the healthcare field seems ridiculous. After all, healthcare is more complicated by several orders of magnitude than any other industry. Also, healthcare is particularly hard for outsiders to disrupt due to intrinsic market failures, overarching structural issues, the illiquidity of healthcare data, provider and patient heterogeneity, underperforming HIT technologies, third-party reimbursement, and so on. Saliently, healthcare is not about warehousing hard goods and distributing them with AI-based logistics. Rather, healthcare is all about bricks-and mortar facilities, services more that goods, face-to-face interactions, neighborhoods, customer needs that cannot be left to “spoil,” and a “last mile” problem that is incredibly hard to solve with technology. In other words, it’s quite like selling groceries. However, here’s the thing, Amazon recently purchased the upscale grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.4 Billion! Continue reading

Obamacare as Superstatute

By Abbe R. Gluck

I am have always been a partial skeptic about Eskridge and Ferejohn’s “superstatute” theory—their groundbreaking argument that certain statutes are special because they transform and entrench norms beyond the rights embodied in the statute itself. Some of my resistance stems from how hard it has been for scholars to identify and reach consensus on which statutes, apart from Eskridge and Ferejohn’s paradigm example of the Civil Rights Act (which beautifully fits the theory), fit the bill. (The other part of my resistance comes from dissatisfaction with the doctrinal implications of their theory.)

But since last October, Eskridge and Ferejohn have been paramount in my mind and I may need to eat some crow. It has been impossible to watch the past eight months of debate and drama over the Affordable Care Act without thinking of superstatute theory. I have nearly finished an article making that case, but given this week’s events, I could not resist putting the idea out there sooner.

The ACA seems to clearly satisfy the threshold criteria of superstatute theory. It has survived (several) election cycles, including a change in Administration. It has survived more political contestation than any statute in modern memory, including not only the 50 times Congress tried to repeal it under Obama and the four other, more serious, attempts that we just saw; but also four years’ worth of sabotage by Congress to starve to death with lack of funding. It also has survived not one, but two, high profile showdowns in the U.S. Supreme Court that had the potential to take the entire statute down (NFIB and King), and other important challenges to discrete aspects of the law (e.g., Hobby Lobby). Continue reading

It’s Time To Take Responsibility, Senators

Crossposted from the Take Care blog

By Rachel E. Sachs

Yesterday, the Senate took a key procedural vote in service of the Republicans’ never-ending quest to repeal (or at least partially repeal) the ACA. Fifty Republican senators and Vice President Mike Pence voted to proceed to debate on repeal – without knowing the final product they will vote on. As I and others have written before, this is a recipe for disaster when it comes to an area of policy as complex as health care. But I want to write here to emphasize a different aspect of the procedure: the elusive conference committee.

Specifically, a lot of the rhetoric coming from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans in the days before the vote went something like this: the goal is just to find something that 50 Republican Senators can agree on for now, and after that there will be a conference committee with the House of Representatives to settle on a final bill (examples hereherehere, and here). This tactic should remind health care followers of the rhetoric coming out of the House after they approved their own bill in May – at least some electorally vulnerable Representatives noted that they didn’t actually vote to pass their disastrous bill, they just voted to send it to the Senate, which would then clean it up.

There’s just one problem: the Senate doesn’t have the ability to control whether they go to a conference with the House. If the Senate successfully passes something – whether that be skinny repeal or some other mystery bill still to be determined – the House can simply pass that text into law without making changes.

Let’s go to my new favorite source, which is Riddick’s Senate Procedures, named after Senate Parliamentarian Emeritus Floyd M. Riddick. (NB: If you think I should have titled this blog post “The Chronicles of Riddick-ulous,” please drop me an email.) Riddick’s, last revised in 1992 is an encyclopedic treatise containing all Senate Procedures, and it has some thoughts about conference committees. And, because it is now 2017, there are also two terrific CRS reports from 2015 (here and here) detailing conference committee procedures.

So what do Riddick’s/the CRS reports provide for, here? In short, it’s not up to the Senate whether they go to conference with the House. It’s up to the House. The House could just pass the bill passed by the Senate, as is. Or it could agree to go to a conference with the Senate, further delaying the repeal process and requiring an additional vote in each chamber.

Don’t believe the spin from Senators who tell you that theirs is just a vote to go to conference. They don’t control that. This may be their final vote – they should act like it, and own the consequences.

This post originally appeared on the Take Care blog on July 26, 2017.  

How to Destabilize Insurance Markets Without Really Trying

Cross-posted from the Take Care blog

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the latest draft of his effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As of last night, it appears that this version of the bill is dead, with four Senators declaring that they won’t vote to move it forward. But provisions of this bill are worth talking about, both for what they reveal about health insurance and for what they reveal about the process by which the Senate is considering ACA repeal.  The latest draft contains a number of new provisions, but two caught my eye: (1) Senator Ted Cruz’s attempt to bifurcate the individual insurance market and (2) a clause about membership in a health care sharing ministry as satisfying the requirement of “continuous creditable coverage.”

The Cruz amendment has received a large amount of coverage both in the popular press and by more specialized policy outlets. But there has been little attention to the clause about health care sharing ministries. Fortunately, I wrote a 5,000 word book chapter on the ministries as part of an academic conference in 2015 (here I am presenting on the topic, if you’re really interested). Continue reading

EPSDT: The little known acronym that helped millions of children

By Emma Sandoe

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the legislation that created the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) program. The program requires states to provide screening and treatment to Medicaid eligible low-income children under the age of 21. In 2014 an estimated 40 million American children, or nearly one in every two kids, were eligible for this program. The Republican Obamacare repeal bills, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) gives states the option to end this program for certain kids. EPSDT has improved the lives of millions of children and families in the Medicaid program over the last 50 years and has incidentally improved care for many millions more Americans.

As part of the first bill that made changes to Medicaid, this policy would become one of the most significant developments in the history the public health insurance program. Medicare and Medicaid were passed and signed into law in July of 1965 under the Medicare Act of 1965. A year later, the Medicaid program began to be implemented in states that took up the option. By the end of 1967, 38 states had opened their Medicaid programs to enrollment and begun providing services to low-income single-parent families and elderly and disabled individuals. Despite these coverage gains and medical treatment, many low and moderate-income children in two parent households lacked access to medical care. EPSDT was the first of many significant Medicaid coverage expansions to children. What was unforeseen at the time was the way that the benefits of EPSDT have been felt across the health care system and broader population. Continue reading

How the GOP Misread Public Anger over Obamacare

By David Orentlicher

In today’s New York Times, Kate Zernike reports on the lack of excitement among conservative activists for the Republican health care legislation. As Zernike observes, “President Trump and congressional leaders are getting little support from what were once the loudest anti-Obamacare voices.”

Some observers think that activists are disappointed in the failure of the GOP proposals to go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act. But that’s not the real story. In general, the public likes many of Obamacare’s key provisions, such as the protections for people with preexisting medical conditions or the ability of parents to insure their children up to age 26. Even among Republicans, there is majority support for the ban on higher premiums because of preexisting conditions and also for the mandate that insurers cover “essential health benefits.” And by 2014, Obamacare had faded as a campaign issue for Republican candidates for Congress.

So why don’t grassroots Republicans care so much about repealing the Affordable Care Act? Tea Party activists and other voters were genuinely mad about Obamacare, and they fueled the Republican wave in the 2010 House elections that saw Republicans gain 63 seats. But what made them angry was the feeling that President Obama cared more about health care than he did about the economy. In March 2010, when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. The public cared much more about jobs than about health care insurance, and they saw their President focusing on health care. Remember how many times Obama promised to “pivot” back to the economy?

Voters elected President Trump and gave Republicans majorities in the House and Senate because they wanted more jobs at better pay. If the GOP lets health care distract it from economic stimulus, we may see another wave election in 2018.

Better Care Act Targets Immigrants

If you need yet another reason to conclude that the Senate Republicans’ proposed health care bill – the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA)– is designed more to appease different parts of the Republican base than improve the health care financing system, look no further than page 2 of the draft. There hiding in plain sight are provisions barring certain classes of documented immigrants from participating in health insurance exchanges. To understand why the bill includes these provisions, and why they make no sense from a health policy perspective, a bit of history is helpful.

As Patricia Illingworth and I document in our recent book, The Health of Newcomers: Immigration, Health Policy, and the Case for Global Solidarity, anti-immigrant sentiment has long distorted health policy. That was the case during the summer of 2009, when opponents of what became the ACA rallied in town hall meetings charging that President Obama wanted to provide coverage to undocumented immigrants. When Obama pledged to a joint session of Congress that undocumented immigrants would not be covered by his plan, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out “You lie.” Continue reading

WHO: Global Patient Safety Leadership

By John Tingle

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just produced a very informative and helpful report on the need to view patient safety as a global concern and to highlight resources that they have made available to deal with the problem and those in development. Patient safety is a fundamental principle of health care and this is fully acknowledged in the report. The report begins by quoting several facts and figures which emphasize the fact that medical errors should be regarded as a matter of acute global concern:

“According to a new study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. In the United Kingdom, recent estimations show that on average, one incident of patient harm is reported every 35 seconds. Similarly, in low- and middle income countries, a combination of numerous unfavourable factors such as understaffing, inadequate structures and overcrowding, lack of health care commodities and shortage of basic equipment, and poor hygiene and sanitation, contribute to unsafe patient care (p1).”

Approximately two-thirds of all adverse health events happen in low-and middle-income countries. Fifteen per cent of hospital expenditure in Europe can be attributed to treating patient safety accidents. Continue reading

ERISA: A Bipartisan Problem for the ACA and the AHCA

By Allison K. Hoffman

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided another case that enhances ERISA’s deregulatory impact, Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton (holding that pension plans maintained by church-affiliated organizations, including hospitals, are exempt from ERISA’s pension protections as “church plans.”). Justice Sotomayor joined the majority opinion but wrote a concurring opinion lamenting its outcome and suggesting that Congress rethink ERISA — a suggestion Justices Thomas and Ginsburg have also made in the past. Abbe Gluck, Peter Jacobson, and I wrote the following on ERISA’s increasingly outsized influence and how it poses an impediment to health reform in the Health Affairs Blog on June 2, 2017.

From our post:

The Supreme Court has once again been called on to mediate the boundaries of a far-reaching, infamously complex, federal employee benefits law. And once again this law may have an important and unanticipated effect on health care.

The main goal of this law, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), was to provide uniform, federal regulation of pensions and employee benefit plans (including health care). But the law has had a far more dramatic impact on health policy beyond what Congress ever contemplated. Because ERISA pushes aside state regulation of these plans, it has impeded the states’ ability to partner with the federal government to achieve key health policy goals. ERISA has also stymied some of Congress’s goals under the Affordable Care Act, and may prove an even greater obstacle to Republican efforts to return more authority over health policy to the states. Continue reading

President Trump’s Tort Reform

By Alex Stein

President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018 proposes a thoroughgoing reform of our medical malpractice system [Executive Office of the President of the United States, Major Savings and Reforms, Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2018, at 114 (2017) (hereinafter, the “Budget”)]. The reform’s stated goals are “[to] reduce defensive medicine … limit liability, reduce provider burden, promote evidence-based practices, and strengthen the physician-patient relationship.”

To achieve these goals, the reform will introduce the following measures:

  • a cap on non-economic damage awards of $250,000 (adjustable to inflation);
  • a three-year statute of limitations;
  • allowing courts to modify attorney’s fee arrangements;
  • abolition of the “collateral source” rule (to allow judges and jurors to hear evidence of the plaintiff’s income from other sources such as workers’ compensation and insurance);
  • creating a safe harbor for clinicians who follow evidence-based clinical-practice guidelines.

Continue reading

Is it legal for Trump to punish health insurers that do not support repeal of Obamacare?

By Christopher Robertson

In a recent story about how the health insurance marketplaces are being destabilized by the Trump administration’s vacillation, the LA Times reports:

At one recent meeting, Seema Verma, whom Trump picked to oversee the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, stunned insurance industry officials by suggesting a bargain: The administration would fund the CSRs if insurers supported the House Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

For what its worth, the Trump administration denied that she had done so.  But if she did, is that legal?  Can politicians actually offer to give money from the Federal Treasury to companies in exchange for their political support (or withhold it for lack of that support)?  If Ms. Verma was corruptly offering a “quid pro quo” exchange (as TalkingPointsMemo says), that would fit the statutory definition of the crime of bribery, as I discuss in a 2016 paper, The Appearance and Reality of Quid Pro Quo Corruption. However, this case also implicates the First Amendment rights of the insurance companies to support or oppose the Obamacare repeal. Continue reading

Nathan Cortez on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

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With help from our good friend Nathan Cortez from SMU School of Law we discuss the American Health Care Act. Nathan is a thought leader in both health law and policy and administrative law and legislation–intersecting forms of expertise particularly valuable in these turbulent times.

In addition to coming to grips with some of its complex provisions, we speculated on how it will fare in the Senate, given emerging details about working groups and Democratic bridge-building by the Gang of Three (Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Tim “Copper Plan” Kaine). Here Professor Cortez’s expertise on Reconciliation and the Byrd Amendment proved essential. We also, let truth be told, took the opportunity to get a few things off our collective chests!

For background on AHCA: Andy Slavitt has been a diligent collector of summaries & critical commentary. In a media environment where the lies being told about AHCA’s effects on coverage are described as “flagrant,” “bald-faced,” and “gas-lighting,” expert voices are needed now more than ever. Some predict that the class warfare embodied in the bill’s distributional effects would cause a “humanitarian crisis” if it came to pass; others worry it would undo the pillars of not merely Obamacare and Medicaid, but also employer-sponsored plans. One thing appears certain: expect bankruptcy law to renew its advance onto health law syllabi. Continue reading

Petrie-Flom Center Welcomes New Executive Director!

PFC Logo-New-Horizontal_slide

shachar_peopleWe are thrilled to announce that Carmel Shachar, JD, MPH (HLS ’10, HSPH ’10) will join the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School as our next Executive Director. In this role, Carmel will be responsible for oversight of the Center’s sponsored research portfolio, event programming, fellowships, student engagement, development, and a range of other projects and collaborations.

“We are delighted that Carmel will be joining the Center,” said I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center. “Throughout her career, Carmel has focused on designing, developing, and executing large health law and policy projects. This expertise and leadership will be a strong resource for the Center as it implements the vision for its second decade.”  Continue reading

Health in the Factory: The Historical Roots of Italian Citizen Science

This post is part of Bill of Health’s symposium on Critical Studies Citizen Science in Biomedical Research. In this post, Giulia Frezza and Mauro Capocci offer a historical look at how workers and scientists shaped a new approach to occupational and environmental health in Italy, asking if current practices of citizen science share the lineages of such radical movements. Background on the symposium is here. You can call up all of the symposium contributions already published by clicking here.

By Giulia Frezza and Mauro Capocci

The radical movement  critique of science in the turbulent decades of 1960s-70s in Italy, is a significant episode that can be useful for a critical reappraisal of contemporary definitions of the scope and the aims of Citizen Science (CS).

In those years, the deep social transformation of Italian society also involved a new perception of science and technology which emphasized that science was not neutral. Far from being a tool for workers’ empowerment, it became apparent that science and technology were ideologically determined. Trespassing the orthodox boundaries of Marxism, a group of scientists advocated a new relationship between science and society, while at the same time workers understood that they needed a new alliance with scientists in order to foster real social progress. An early result of this movement was the involvement of researchers and health professionals in the struggle for better working conditions within the factory. Through their personal experience and developing hegemonic power, workers criticized the traditional notions of risk management and health protection by actively collecting data and pointing to flaws in the existing industrial systems and the science behind them. Eventually, this activism resulted in a widespread science-based “Health in the Factory” movement. At the same time, a large number of sympathetic physicians and epidemiologists engaged in social efforts to create groups and associations that lent scientific support to activists. This proved to be of paramount importance when tragic accidents happened, such as the Seveso and Manfredonia chemical explosions that occurred within the span of a few months in 1976. Such tragedies proved instrumental for breaking “the illusory boundary” separating the factory and the outside world; the impact of what took place inside the production sites was far-reaching. Industrial accidents eventually connected local ecology, the city environment, families, citizens, scientists studying harmful substances in the lab, and society as a whole. These events were a turning point for spreading social awareness, allowing local struggles to turn into national developments, and resulting in the evolution of the public health system and regulations of risk prevention (exposure thresholds, health assessment of working conditions, prevention and management of industrial accidents). Continue reading

A Quarter of the Work Force: International Medical Graduates and the Lives They Save

By Wendy S. Salkin

On Monday, May 1, 2017, International Workers’ Day, thousands took to the streets across the United States to demonstrate in support of immigrants’ rights in the United States and against immigration policies recently rolled out by President Trump.

Among the Presidential Actions taken by President Trump during his first hundred days in office has been the issuance of his “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order, issued just two weeks ago on April 18, 2017, in which the President states that “[i]t shall be the policy of the executive branch to buy American and hire American.” What is meant by “hire American” is detailed in section 2(b) of the Executive Order:

Hire American. In order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad, including section 212(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(5)).

Continue reading

Advancing the Global Patient Safety Agenda

By John Tingle and Jen Minford

All too often it seems that patient safety and health quality policy makers work in their own silos unaware of what is taking place in other countries, wasting valuable resources by trying to re-invent the wheel. There is a clear need to have a way of cascading the news down on what is happening in patient safety globally. Developing and transitioning countries do not always have the resources to build up patient safety infrastructures, tools and policies and letting them know about initiatives going on in other countries fulfils a very important global public health need.

There is also the concept of ‘reverse innovation’.  Developed countries’ patient safety practices and policies can be informed by the experiences of developing and transitioning countries who may be using them in a different and novel way. Patient safety learning can be a two-way street. Continue reading