More States Are Proposing Single-Payer Health Care. Why Aren’t They Succeeding?

“Health care policy researchers Erin C. Fuse Brown and Elizabeth McCuskey tracked the number of unique single-payer bills introduced in state legislatures across the country from 2010 to 2019, finding a sharp uptick in bills introduced since 2017. During each of those three years, at least 10 single-payer proposals were introduced, according to Brown and McCuskey’s research, for the first time since 2013. In total, state legislators proposed more single-payer bills from 2017 to 2019 than in the previous seven years combined. And for 2021, we’ve identified 10 single-payer bills that legislators introduced across the country, from liberal states like California and Massachusetts to more conservative ones including Iowa and Ohio.1

What do all these proposals have in common? They’ve all universally failed. In fact, Vermont, the only state that managed to pass single-payer health care in 2011, ended up shelving its plan three years later.”

“passing single-payer health care at the state level is next to impossible, as states are particularly limited in how they can allocate federal and private health care funds. There is, however, evidence that Americans may have an appetite for a public option, or government-run health insurance that people can opt into at the state level. Three states (Colorado, Nevada and Washington) have already passed a public option. It’s not single-payer health care reform, but it’s possible that we might see more states adopt their own public-option reforms.

One big reason single-payer proposals haven’t caught on at the state level is because finding a reliable way to pay for such a program is challenging. Single-payer advocates originally envisioned a federal proposal that would cover all Americans under a more generous version of a preexisting program — that is, Medicare, but now for all. Doing this state-by-state would require each state to apply for waivers to divert federal funds used for Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act exchanges to be used for their own single-payer plans. And that’s tricky because the Department of Health and Human Services has wide discretion to approve or deny states’ requests, which makes any proposal highly dependent on the national political climate.”

“Employer-sponsored health insurance plans, which cover 54 percent of Americans, are another hurdle for states trying to pass single-payer health care. Federal law largely prevents states from regulating employer-provided health insurance, so states can’t just stop employers from offering their own health care benefits. The exact scope of this law has been litigated for decades, but suffice it to say that it’s successfully put the kibosh on many statewide health care reforms. Single-payer health insurance is particularly tricky as there’s no way to get everyone onto the plan without first changing how private insurance works. States have tried to address this through measures like increasing payroll taxes or restricting providers’ ability to accept reimbursement from private insurance plans. But the more elaborate these mechanisms get, the more complicated it becomes to implement — and the more people that could slip through the cracks.

Finally, another big financial barrier is that state governments have far less leeway than the federal government to increase budgetary spending. That means tax increases, which come with their own political challenges, are often necessary for states to secure the funding they need.”

“All of this creates a daunting picture for statewide single-payer health care.”

The frustrating Covid-19 test reimbursement process is a microcosm of US health care

“The United States health system, more than any other in the developed world, forces patients to manage their health care on their own. They pay a lot of their own money for medical care. They have to make sure their specific doctor is covered by their specific insurer. And even if their doctor believes they need a certain treatment, patients must follow rules set by their health insurer, or risk delays in treatment or ultimately having their insurance claims denied.

Patients run into these obstacles all the time — with serious consequences for their well-being. A recurring finding in health care research is that when patients run into any friction, whether high cost-sharing, limited access to providers, or something else, they tend to receive less timely and appropriate care. Over time, that will make people more likely to develop serious health conditions and, ultimately, die younger than they would with proper care.

It starts with the sheer cost of health care to US patients. Out-of-pocket spending per person is higher in the US than in any other wealthy country save Switzerland, and roughly twice as much as in countries like the UK, the Netherlands, and Japan. Recent research has found that even small cost obligations, as little as $10 for a prescription, can discourage patients from taking their medicine as prescribed. A third of Americans have reported in public opinion surveys that they skip medications or other necessary medical care because of the cost.

But the US health system puts up other, subtler hurdles. Insurers don’t cover care at every doctor’s practice or hospital; they instead contract with certain providers to create provider networks, within which their patients must seek care for their treatment to be covered. These networks put the onus on patients to figure out where they can go for care, at the risk of incurring huge medical bills if they get it wrong. That problem came to the forefront in the recent debate over surprise billing: Many people were going to the hospital for an emergency, only to find out after the fact that either the hospital or a doctor who treated them was not covered by their insurer.

That has been a common experience for American patients: About one in four heart attacks lead to the patient being charged for out-of-network care in the emergency department or if they are admitted.

Networks also make shopping for health insurance more difficult. Patients have to try to figure out in advance whether their existing primary care doctor or specialists, or the local hospital, will be covered by their new plan.”

“Patients can run into the same kind of problem with drug formularies, a list of approved drugs that health plans use to prioritize coverage for certain medications. If a drug is not on a plan’s formulary, customers must pay more of their money than they would for approved drugs. Sorting out which drugs are covered or preferred under a health plan’s formulary can be a headache, and research has shown that such restrictions lead to patients using fewer medications.”

Texas, Florida see uptick in Obamacare enrollment

“About 4.6 million people signed up for Obamacare through the fifth week of open enrollment, with roughly 923,000 people newly enrolled, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Enrollment is up 20 percent in Texas and 9 percent in Florida compared to this time last year, administration officials told reporters…crediting increased subsidies from the American Rescue Plan.”

“These two states also have some of the highest uninsured rates in the country. Texas leads the nation with 17.5 percent of its population uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida ranks fifth, with 12.3 percent of its population uninsured.”

“Overall, states that have not expanded Medicaid — which includes Florida and Texas — saw a 9 percent uptick in enrollment, officials said.”

Can Health Regulation Move Beyond Markets?

“I document a large and mounting body of empirical research that shows that key market-based policies in health care have failed. Even if well intended, these policies have often not helped people make meaningful choices of medical care or insurance plans. And neither have they controlled spending, as experts promised.

In fact, they are doing exactly the opposite. They are setting people up to make poor choices and are scaffolding a massive, ineffective market bureaucracy.

One-third of people said they would rather file their taxes than read the terms of a health plan. And reams of studies summarized in my article affirm that people do not choose well among health insurance plan options, and these errors are hard to remedy with anything short of a strong default plan—in which case, one must ask whether “choice” even matters.

Likewise, even when people have to pay a large share of their own medical care and have easy access to price information, they still do not compare prices or choose the lowest-price options, even for services with little variation in quality. One partial explanation is that health care patients look to doctors—not price lists—to steer their care. Patients lack the desire, time, knowledge, and skills to navigate medical decisions as “consumers.”

The focus of the last several decades of health regulation has been to try to fix broken markets and flawed consumers through constant regulatory, technocratic tinkering—either to spur competition or to nudge consumers toward better choices. This tinkering has fallen short, and it has produced a massive market-based bureaucracy.

Thick layers of government regulations and regulators attempt to scaffold failing market-based policies. Plus, this scaffolding has deeply embedded private health care enterprises—with high profits and salaries—into the bureaucracy. As one example, the 2018 salary for the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan was recently reported to be $19 million, which is not an unusual sum among health care executives.

Because markets do not meaningfully enhance choice, do not avoid bureaucracy, and have certainly not solved cost problems, it is time to stop tinkering and to seek a better foundation for the next era of health policy and regulation.”

“It is time to give up the false hope that health care markets and individual purchase decisions will produce a health care system that Americans want and, in the process, drive down spending. Policymakers have spent a half-century avoiding the hard questions about what values, objectives, and tradeoffs should guide health policy, by hoping that markets would magically answer these questions.

The reality is that the only way to build effective health policy—and, in turn, health regulation—is by engaging deeply in these hard questions and the challenging political battles they necessarily provoke.”

Do high deductibles lower healthcare prices? Price Controls VS Managed Market Healthcare.

Video Sources: Do high deductibles lower healthcare prices? Price Controls VS Managed Market Healthcare.

High-Deductible Health Plans Reduce Health Care Cost And Utilization, Including Use Of Needed Preventive Services Rajender Agarwal et al. 10 2017. HealthAffairs. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2017.0610 Does High Cost-Sharing Slow the Long-term Growth Rate of Health Spending? Evidence from the States Molly Frean and Mark