Consumer Power Report #327
When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the administration would require the coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients as preventive care under President Barack Obama’s health care law, I pointed out there was a simple and logical ramification of this: Institutions would choose to drop coverage rather than abide by the mandate. After all, why should any organization compromise its members’ beliefs, paying for services that are anathema to their faith, when these institutions can simply pay a fine for refusing to abide by the employer mandate in Obamacare?
The mandate is currently slated to be an annual tax penalty of $2,000 for every full-time employee (or equivalent) beyond the first 30 workers. For some organizations, this will be a high price to pay. But they may find it worth it to retain their right to exercise their religious beliefs. And given the rising premium costs under Obama’s law–according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, premiums for a family policy exceeded $15,000 a year in 2011, increasing an average of $1,300 from 2010–this might actually make fiscal sense, too.
This was the case for Franciscan University, in Steubenville, Ohio, which announced last week it would drop student policies rather than abide by the mandate:
Franciscan University of Steubenville will drop its student health insurance policy as of the coming fall semester. The school cites the national health care law mandate requiring all insurance providers cover services that run counter to Catholic teachings as its reason for dropping the policy. The university’s current health care plan expires Aug. 15.
“The Obama administration has mandated that all health insurance plans must cover ‘women’s health services’ including contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. … Up to this time, Franciscan University has specifically excluded these services and products from its student health insurance policy, and we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life,” the statement reads.
Vice President of Advancement Mike Hernon said the decision was “painful” for university officials, but they’ve already received positive feedback from both students and parents.
Franciscan, it turns out, is not alone.
Ave Maria University in Florida, also a Catholic college, is contemplating whether to follow suit. And, it was announced Monday, Franciscan University, along with Notre Dame University, the Catholic University of America and dozens of other Catholic institutions have filed suit against the administration challenging the HHS mandate.
Here’s the full list of the 43 institutions challenging the mandate in court.
What remains profoundly frustrating about all this is how unnecessary an overreach this is. Contraception is inexpensive and easily available in every drug store in the country. Cities and localities give away millions of condoms for free every year. But instead HHS sought to provoke a fight with these institutions on purpose, out of little more than spite, and they are responding accordingly, by putting their faith first. And the Obama administration may ultimately discover the effort to bring religious institutions to heel will just push more people into the taxpayer-subsidized coverage on Medicaid or Obamacare’s exchanges–further increasing the costs of the law for everyone.
— Benjamin Domenech
IN THIS ISSUE:
HOW TO STOP OBAMACARE AT THE STATE LEVEL
I participated in a live blog yesterday (May 22) at FreedomWorks along with some distinguished guests:
With the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare looming and the continued unpopularity of the bill, our activists want to know what can be done at a state level to stop the implementation of this overreaching legislation.
We’ve put together a fantastic panel of health care policy experts and we’ll be offering you the opportunity to ask them specific questions as to how we can stop Obamacare. This live blogging event is free and open to anyone who is interested in taking direct action to stop Obamacare.
Our panel of experts include:
Dean Clancy – Legislative Counsel and VP of Health Care Policy at FreedomWorks
Michael Cannon – Director of Health Policy Studies at the Cato Institute
Christie Herrera – Director of Health and Human Services Task Force at ALEC
Benjamin Domenech – Managing editor of Health Care News and research fellow at the Heartland Institute.
SOURCE: FreedomWorks LiveBlog
PORTER NOVELLI GETS $20 MILLION TO DO OBAMACARE PROPAGANDA
According to PR Week, Porter Novelli is the agency of choice for the PPACA propaganda campaign to the tune of $20 million of taxpayer dollars:
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has selected Porter Novelli to launch a national multimedia education campaign mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
The contract is worth $20 million. The organization selected the firm after an RFP process that included Weber Shandwick and Fleishman-Hillard.
“The campaign will inform the American people about the many preventive benefits now available to those with Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” a representative from the Department of Health & Human Services said.
SOURCE: PR Week
MEDICARE ACTUARY TO CONGRESS: IT’S WORSE THAN YOU THINK
A few choice excerpts:
On April 23, 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its official 2012 Medicare Trustees Report [RPC Analysis]. The trustees report made assumptions about cost reductions that are mandated under current law. However, some of the assumptions are unlikely to occur such as the projected physician reimbursement cuts under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. On May 18, the CMS actuary released the Medicare “alternative projection,” which looks at the financial footing of Medicare using more realistic assumptions.
The alternative data paint a dire picture – demonstrating the need to strengthen Medicare. Below are the report’s key findings:
“The Trustees Report is necessarily based on current law; as a result of questions regarding the operations of certain Medicare provisions, however, the projections shown in the report under current law are clearly unrealistic with respect to physician expenditures and, in addition, may well understate expenditures for most other categories of health care providers.” (Page 1)
“… the long-range implications of the productivity adjustments mandated by the Affordable Care Act are very uncertain, but they could have serious consequences for the Medicare program if left unchanged. Likewise, the large reductions in Medicare payments rates to physicians would likely have serious implications for beneficiary access to care; utilization, intensity, and quality of services; and other factors.” (Page 12-13)
“Our intent is to help inform Congress and the public at large that an evaluation of the financial status of Medicare, based on the provisions of current law, is likely to portray an unduly optimistic outcome. This paper is also an attempt to promote awareness of these issues, to illustrate and quantify the amount by which the Medicare projections are potentially understated, and to help inform discussions of potential policy reactions to the situation.” (Page 13-14)
SOURCE: Medicare Trustees
SURPRISE: HOSPITALS GET BETTER INSURER RATES THAN DOCS
Why all the consolidation? Here’s why:
Hospitals and outpatient care centers have been more successful at bargaining for higher rates from employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) health plans than physicians so far this year, according to the 2012 Milliman Medical Index.
Analysts at Seattle-based Milliman Inc. examined the cost of inpatient hospitalization, outpatient care, professional services and pharmacy services, and concluded that some providers are seeing higher rates from PPOs than others, according to LifeHealthPro.
For instance, hospitals costs have gone up 7.6 percent since 2011, and outpatient care costs are up 8.6 percent, the analysts found. Physician costs, however, rose only 5 percent.
Moreover, the size of hospitals and services they provide also factor into negotiated rates with insurers. A study in this month’s Health Affairs found that hospital systems are using their large size and market clout to demand hefty payment rates from insurers. The study also noted that hospitals offering specialized or unique services have increased market clout and can leverage higher prices, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
SOURCE: Fierce Health Care
THE HIGH PRICE OF CHEAP DRUG IMPORTS
An interesting point from Gregory Conko, in the context of making the case for PDUFA:
With the Senate set to vote on one of the few “must-pass” bills of the year, pharmaceutical industry critics are plotting ways to add poison pills to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act. PDUFA, as it’s known in health policy circles, was first enacted in 1992 and has significantly sped up the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) drug-approval process, giving new hope to millions of patients suffering from debilitating and fatal diseases that a cure is on the way. It is arguably the most important piece of health care legislation you’ve never heard of.
Here’s how it works. Biopharmaceutical companies pay a “user fee” to the FDA each time they submit a drug or other medical product for the agency’s safety and effectiveness review. Under a bill circulating in the Senate, the industry will pay $4.6 billion in fees over the next five years.
Before PDUFA, FDA typically took two years or more to evaluate new drugs – that’s after they already had been through nearly 10 years of clinical testing. The net effect was that American patients were often the last to benefit from important medical breakthroughs. Since 1992, the PDUFA user fees have enabled the FDA to hire new medical reviewers and improve its scientific capacity. More important, the average drug-approval period was cut in half, to just more than a year.
Ideally, individual firms should not have to pay user fees to fund regulatory oversight that is ostensibly for the public’s benefit. But in an era of tighter federal budgets, Congress has given the FDA more and more responsibilities but not the additional revenue to fund them. Without PDUFA, the FDA’s budget shortfall would mean fewer new medicines reaching the patients who need them.
Reauthorizing the user fees is a second-best choice, but in the face of a slow economy and pressure to reduce the federal budget deficit, it seems to be the best available option. That’s why small-government conservatives can vote for PDUFA with a clear conscience. But this year’s bill also includes a few much-needed FDA reforms that should make reauthorization a no-brainer.
SOURCE: Washington Times
THE EVER-EXPANDING FOOD POLICE STRUCTURE FUELED BY TAXPAYER DOLLARS
Amanda Carpenter reports on the Institute of Medicine’s taxpayer-funded racket:
A new study from an influential, federally funded think tank encapsulates the latest thinking among those who seek to regulate the consumption of sweets. In its new report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of a Nation,” the Institute of Medicine recommended that federal, state, and local governments increase prices on sugary foods, but also spearhead a marketing campaign to dissuade Americans from eating sugary foods, monitor the weight of pregnant women, implement new exercise requirements for children in school and daycare, and create a “food literacy” program for schools.
Specifically, the IOM, which relies on government funding for 65 percent of its operating funds, recommended governments pursue policies to:
- “[R]educe unhealthy food and beverage options and substantially increase healthier food and beverage options at affordable competitive prices.” For example, IOM suggested enacting “specific excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages” based on the “cents per ounce of liquid, cents per teaspoon of added sugar.”
- Use “financial incentives” to encourage retailers that serve healthy foods, like supermarkets, and “limit the concentration of unhealthy food vendors,” like fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.
- Instruct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin “exploring the optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”
- Develop a social marketing campaign with “carefully targeted, culturally appropriate messages aimed at specific audiences (for example, tweens, new parents, and mothers.)” As a part of this project, IOM said governments should work with “entertainment media” to explore “message placement in popular entertainment, viral and social marketing, and platform advertising–including online, outdoor, radio, television, and print.” The think tank also suggested “encouraging and supporting news media’s coverage of obesity prevention policies through the development of local and national media programs.”
- Ensure “implementation and monitoring of sequential food literacy and nutrition science education, spanning from grades K-12, based on food and nutrition recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
As the NCPA recently noted, this trend is extending to public schools: “Maryland’s Montgomery County has prohibited bake sales entirely, Massachusetts will not only limit the bake sale capability of students – it will also forbid students from handing out sweets such as cupcakes on their birthdays, and New York City public schools prohibit students from selling unapproved home-baked goods, but still allow complying processed foods to be distributed (such as Kellogg’s Pop Tarts).”
SOURCE: Office of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint