President Trump’s Salute to Patients Promises Welcome Changes, But Special Interests Attack

The week before President Trump’s Independence Day “Salute to America” he gave a welcome Salute to Patients when he signed Executive Order 13877, “Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare To Put Patients First.”

As free market champion Dr. Keith Smith of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma puts it, the “healthcare industry price gougers wore out their welcome” and were “kicked to the curb by President Trump.”

What does the order do? Its first priority is to end “opaque pricing structures,” that “benefit powerful special interest groups, such as large hospital systems and insurance companies,” but, “generally leave patients and taxpayers worse off than would a more transparent system.”

But there’s more: the order also aims to “enhance patients’ control over their own healthcare resources” by removing failed policies that impede patients from choosing to enroll in affordable Direct Primary Care practices or alternatives to big insurance like Health Care Sharing Ministries.

The bottom line is increasing patient freedom and choice is the centerpiece of President Trump’s order. However, make no mistake, it is also put a target squarely on the middlemen who have for too long taken advantage of backroom deals made with government cronies. And the middlemen are already fighting back with a vengeance and working to undermine the order.

Underestimating the special interests’ power to stop the good changes is not an option. Just last week the Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) cartel killed a White House proposal that would begin to unwind corrupt kickbacks that result in out of control price hikes for life saving drugs through disingenuous propaganda that lower prices would somehow raise premiums.

And the fake news campaigns about the Transparency Order are already underway.

Thankfully physicians like Chad Savage, MD are debunking the industry lies:

No price transparency will not lead to higher prices. “This is akin to saying the best way to get a good price on a new Sony TV is to have no idea what it costs. If someone said that to you, you would rightly reject any future advice from that individual,” explains Dr. Savage.

Marni Jamison of the Association of Independent Doctors exposes another tactic of those who oppose transparency:

The cronies are “lawyering and lobbying up, busily working to undermine, narrow and water down the order. They are not going to give up the hundreds of billions of excess dollars flowing their way easily,” she writes and shares examples of weasel words insurers and mega health systems will attempt to use to corrupt the outcome.

Middlemen’s fingerprints are already evident on the order itself to some extent. For example the “Health Quality Roadmap” provisions empower the use of failed quality metrics that are already driving up the cost of care with out any benefit to outcomes. “Practitioners who practice according to the needs of their individual patients, not according to some standardized protocol approved by a third party whose only focus may be efficiency and cost-cutting, may be penalized,” warns Twila Brase of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom and award-winning author of Big Brother in the Exam Room. AAPS, while overall supportive of the order, flagged provisions as potentially harmful to privacy rights and urged that “patients’ right to consent to use of their data must also be respected.”

Winning these battles for patients and those who care for them will not be easy! But nothing worthwhile ever is. So let’s all Salute President Trump for taking these bold steps by stepping to help him fend off the special interests trying to thwart his welcome orders.

What is Healthcare? And How to Fund It.

Dear Chairman Alexander,

Thank you very much for asking America’s MD and DO Physicians to weigh in on solutions to improve Americans’ health and launch an efficient and sustainable path for the healthcare ecosystem.

The first critical step is educating your colleagues that there is a difference between medical care and health insurance. My recent article published in Medical Economics may help policymakers understand that the difference matters: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/med-ec-blog/what-healthcare

Solving the current healthcare policy disaster ultimately means less federal intervention and regulation, combined with more freedom and liberty.

Please consider:

1. Expanded universal HSA heath savings accounts for all, independent of insurance, and usable for every healthcare service, medication and device.

2. Remove ACA restrictions on insurance policies and stop multi-billion dollar bailouts of the insurance industry. Insurers have driven up costs. Instead allow a diversity of insurance plans to compete side by side: from catastrophic with high deductible to first dollar HMO-coverage. Unique individuals should be shopping for unique plans to suit their own needs.

3. Repeal the Group Purchasing Organization safe harbor to the Anti Kickback Statute that is also being abused by Pharmacy Benefits Managers. The federal government has permitted kickbacks disguised as “rebates“ for decades and it must stop. Make kickbacks illegal again. GPO and PBM middleman must compete legally and not extort manufacturers.

4. Innovative solutions like Direct Primary Care (DPC), and similar direct payment arrangements between specialists and their patients are must not be subject to over-regulation under insurance rules . These arrangements are not insurance but cut out the third party bureaucracy driving up the cost of care. DPC serves to strengthen patient-physician relationships not interfere in them. This healing relationship is critical for regaining health and health maintenance. It makes both patients and physicians responsible to each other directly, as it should be.

5. Allow physicians and patients to opt out of Medicare, MACRA, and other top-down government programs. They should be voluntary, not compulsory. Direct contracting between patient and physicians will save lives and tax dollars.

6. Consider legislation to protect patient access to physicians of their choice, even if they are not in their plan’s network. Narrow networks serve to trap patients into obtaining care in the most expensive settings instead of from higher quality and less expensive options like independent physicians.

Please feel free to contact me via letter, email, social media, phone, or any other mechanism for short and long-term planning. Together we can harness free market and personal individual responsibility to organically solve America’s healthcare crisis.

My article catalog: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/authors/craig-m-wax-do

Best wishes for good health,

Craig M. Wax, DO
Family Physician
VP Healthcare Policy, Practicing Physicians of America
National Physicians Council on Healthcare Policy member
Independent Physicians for Patient Independence
Host of Your Health Matters
Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS FM
Twitter @drcraigwax
HealthIsNumberOne.com

AT RISK: Bill to Let Patients Use HSAs for DPC

Earlier this week we heard the good news that H.R. 365 was finally going to be considered by the House Committee on Ways and Means, bringing the use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for Direct Patient Care (DPC) one step closer to reality.

Then we learned “a few small changes” had been made to the bill. Unfortunately the “few small changes” have greatly damaged the legislation.

You can read a copy of the latest bill here: https://goo.gl/B6imgQ.

Under the new language, DPC practices would have to comply with several federal requirements in order to become HSA-eligible. One provision limits the care provided under the agreement to specific CPT codes.  Another would prohibit DPC arrangements priced over a certain threshold from being HSA-eligible. Others further limit how the pricing can be structured and what care can and cannot be included. Specialists would be blocked from offering innovative HSA-eligible monthly membership payment arrangements.

To us, these changes are unacceptable and might be worse than no bill at all. If the bill passes in this form it would put practices that don’t comply with the federal rules at a competitive disadvantage to practices that align their model to satisfy DC instead of their patients.

One more problem:  these changes were tucked in at the last second barely a day ahead of Wednesday’s mark up session of the Bill in House Ways and Means.  That’s right, the new bill is headed to be pushed through committee with little chance for public input.

Today, AAPS sent a letter to every Ways and Means Committee member, and the committee staff, expressing our concerns about this bill and a few other bills the committee will consider on Wednesday, July 11.  Overall, we like a number of the bills under review, because they do expand HSA flexibility. But there are several key problems that tilt the playing field to the advantage of corporate medicine. Read more in our letter here: https://goo.gl/XYutr5.

What can you do?  Please send the committee a message ASAP before Wednesday at 2pm Eastern.  Here are the steps:

1) Copy the following text:

Dear Chairman Brady, Ranking Member Neal, and Members of the House Committee on Ways and Means,

Tomorrow you will be considering replacement language to H.R. 365, the Primary Care Enhancement Act. The addition of improper requirements means the new bill will not accomplish the goal of allowing patients to use their Health Savings Accounts to see the Direct Patient Care physicians of their choice.  I encourage the committee to consider adopting H.R. 365 as written, while rejecting the recent changes. In addition I encourage you to please consider AAPS recommendations about this bill and others you are considering today. The AAPS letter to the committee is available at https://goo.gl/XYutr5.

2) Visit https://waysandmeans.house.gov/contact/ and paste the comment in to the appropriate field and modify as desired.

2a) You can also fax your comment to the committee: (202) 225-2610

3) If your representative is on the Ways and Means Committee, email the note to the Health Legislative Assistant for your Member of Congress. A list of committee members and their health staff contact information, sorted by state, is available here: https://goo.gl/8iqw3u.

Thank you for speaking out!

One Easy Hack @RealDonaldTrump Can Use to Ignite a Consumer-Directed Revolution in American Medicine

Options are about to multiply for 12-million Americans trapped in ObamaCare plans, the 12% uninsured, and others ACA victims, with coming new proposals from the Trump administration.  After signing “Right to Try” into law Wednesday, President Trump hinted that these changes are mere weeks away.

Once the new policies are in place, new lower cost and flexible insurance alternatives will be unleashed, freeing Americans from disruptive (in a bad way) ObamaCare rules that drive up costs and decrease patients’ and workers’ choices.

Here are the two expected policies plus one hack that will floor the accelerator on their impact:

First, the Department of Labor is set to expand the availability of Association Health Plans. These will give Americans with common connections the ability to join together in plans they control.  Less regulation is not the only advantage of AHPs, although savings will be significant: an estimated $9,700 a year less compared to the individual market by 2022, reports Avalere.  Escaping state-based mandates is another advantage; these plans can be sold across state lines. In addition, association plans will allow employees to more readily keep their plan if their work situation changes.

The second anticipated policy, this one from the Department of Health and Human Security, will increase access to short term health insurance plans that are almost completely free of failed ACA requirements. Under President Obama, these plans were limited to 90 days of coverage, but Secretary Azar is expected to extend the limit to 364 days.  Coverage in such a plan would costs on average $342 a month, vs. $619 per month for an exchange plan, reports Michael Cannon of CATO. Mr. Cannon also suggests the administration should allow short term plans to offer guaranteed renewability or even sell the guarantees separately (he estimates the average cost at $86/month).  Renewability options would not only help consumers retain these plans long term, but would also inhibit expensive enrollees from being pushed back into the ACA exchanges.

Both of these proposals are going to help Americans; however the Trump administration could turbo-charge these good ideas with one simple hack. One sleek additional change to federal policy would lower costs even further, while increasing patients’ access to high quality care.

What else should the Trump administration do immediately? It’s simple: let patients use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for Direct Primary Care (DPC).

Most people already know about HSAs but, perhaps aren’t yet familiar with DPC, a direct arrangement between doctors and patients, that cuts the red tape out of health care, kicks the bureaucrats out of the exam room, and is set to sweep across the U.S.   Dr. Marilyn Singleton explains DPC like this: “The Direct Primary Care (DPC) model is burgeoning as patients yearn for quality time with their doctor at an affordable price. Here, all primary care services and access to basic commonly used drugs at wholesale prices are included in a fixed transparent price,” often around $50 to 75 per month.

The bottom line is DPC saves money for patients and downstream payers (like Medicare), increases quality of care, and it relieves physicians of counterproductive red-tape hassles that are driving them out of practice. DPC is a win-win-win.

You’d think everyone would agree that encouraging the use of DPC is a no-brainer. Shockingly, the Internal Revenue Service is blocking the use of this innovation for the 30 million Americans with HSAs. Thanks to a letter issued by Obama’s IRS commissioner, John Koskinen (yes the same one who stonewalled efforts by Congress to investigate IRS retaliation against conservatives) patients are prohibited from contributing to their HSA if they are in a DPC practice. To add insult to injury, HSA funds cannot be used for DPC.

As the public becomes aware of this flawed IRS decree —deserving of a blue ribbon in the Health Policy Hall of Shame—momentum grows for change. Just last month, Senators Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson wrote Treasury asking for a reversal.  In addition 1,125 patients and doctors have asked Congress to pass the Primary Care Enhancement Act (HR 365/S 1358) and force the IRS to change its misguided interpretation of law.

Disrupting (in a good way) Koskinen’s obstruction of patient freedom must be a priority for the Trump Administration as it moves forward with other reforms to remedy past policy disasters.  Allowing patients to use HSAs for DPC will turbo-charge the ability of patients with short term and Association-based plans to make their health care dollar go even further and get the best care from the physicians of their choice.

Need one last reason, President Trump? DPC will boost your plans to lower prescription drug costs.  A 72-year old female patient with multiple chronic conditions purchases all nine of her medications through a Direct Primary Care office in Allentown, Pennsylvania for $14.63 per month. Through Medicare “coverage” her cost would be $294.25 per month.

There is simply no legitimate reason for blocking patients with HSAs from DPC physicians … unless you are a middleman profiting off the status quo.

Don’t get stuck in ER surrounded by flu victims. Joining a concierge practice is a no brainer.

Dr. Tom LaGrelius writes in:

Joining a concierge practice is a no brainer, unless you want to sit surrounded by coughing masked flu victims in a packed ER unable to treat you with antivirals anyway. The hospitals are using Tamiflu only on patients so sick they are in the ICU. And in most of those cases they need not have bothered. They got their first dose long long long after the effectiveness window had closed. They should save it for the ones ill less than two days when it actually works!

The hospitals are currently swamped with flu victims and have no beds or ER space.  Continue reading

Alexander-Murray Exacerbates Flaw in ACA’s “Catastrophic Plans”

DPC physicians and patients take note!

An aspect of Alexander-Murray will exacerbate an under-appreciated flaw in ACA requirements for plans considered “catastrophic plans.”

Alexander-Murray will allow anyone to have a “catastrophic plan” as such plan is defined by ACA. ACA limits enrollment in these plans to enrollees under 30 years of age or enrollees who have a waiver. Alexander-Murray would do away with these limitations. So far so good.

Another ACA limitation on these plans — found in  ACA section 1302(e) — is that the plans will provide no benefits until the enrollee’s annual out of pocket limit has been reached, except that the plan must cover “at least 3 primary care visits.”

This will harmful to patients of DPC practices and is bad policy. It essentially forces primary care to be handled in-network — great for the insurance companies but not for the patients orthe doctors.

Ideally the requirement should be struck from ACA.  Alternately, a small change along the lines of this or something similar [in brackets] might help fix this problem:

(B)the plan provides—
(ii)coverage for at least three primary care visits, [unless the enrollee is separately contracted with a direct primary care physician, in which case the plan will refund to the enrollee an amount equal to the value of such coverage.]

CMS wants your comments on market-based Healthcare innovation. Deadline Nov. 20.

CMS has caused quite a stir this week by announcing they are shaking up their CMMI “Innovations” office.
They are looking for input on “Consumer-Directed Care & Market-Based Innovation Models”  that might be beneficial to Medicare and Medicaid patients.
“What options might exist beyond FFS and MA for paying for care delivery that incorporate price sensitivity and a consumer driven or directed focus and might be tested as a model and alternative to FFS and MA?”
Here’s a link to the full request:
The deadline for submitting comments is November 20 and the link to their webpage on this is here:
And the response form is here https://survey.max.gov/429625