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The Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act: A Year Later, The False Attacks Continue

Conservatives often push myths and misconceptions of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as a way to increase opposition. During the debate in Congress in the run-up to passage of the new health reform law, conservatives pushed wild accusations that the law would be a “government takeover” and establish “death panels,” claims that were labeled “the lie of the year.” Now, a year after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, inaccurate claims and mistruths against the law continue.

Conservatives continue to make false claims against the law as a way to repeal it, undermine consumer protections, and put insurance companies back in charge of our health system. The reason these false statements endure is clear: There are those who would rather take us back to the way our health system was before when insurance companies were in charge rather than move forward and protect our care.

This issue brief is a response to recent false attacks conservatives have made against the law. As we will demonstrate, the Affordable Care Act will create jobs, lower health care costs for families, help small businesses provide health insurance to their employees while maintaining the private sector’s key role in health insurance, and ensure we provide quality health care to all Americans at a lower cost to them and American taxpayers.

The Affordable Care Act will help create jobs

The Affordable Care Act helps our economic recovery by bringing health costs under control, freeing businesses to use that money to invest in job creation. The real threat to job creation is the conservative push to take us back to the old health system where costs were on an unsustainable path. Harvard University professor and Center for American Progress Senior Fellow David Cutler found that repealing the Affordable Care Act—and going back to the unsustainable costs—would cost up to 400,000 jobs annually over the next decade.

To push this “job destroying” argument, conservatives cite the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimates that the law will reduce the labor supply (although conservatives dismiss CBO reports when they conclude the law will cut the deficit and reduce premiums). Yet conservatives fail to recognize that one reason for this reduction is that older workers, now forced to hold on to jobs to get health insurance, will now be able to retire—with insurance—when they choose.

The Affordable Care Act lowers premiums and costs for families

The Affordable Care Act takes steps to get our health costs under control and lowers costs for families. The real threat to costs is the conservative push to repeal the law. Cutler found that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase total health spending by $125 billion and raise family premiums by nearly $2,000.

More small businesses are providing health coverage to their employees, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act

Conservatives try to downplay the impact of the small business tax credits to provide health insurance to their employees. The truth is that last year, more than 4 million small businesses were eligible to receive a tax credit to make health coverage more affordable. According to the Los Angeles Times, “major insurers around the country are reporting that a growing number of small businesses are signing up to give their workers health benefits,” adding that an “important selling point” was the small business tax credits.

The Affordable Care Act keeps the employer-based health system intact

Conservatives claim the Affordable Care Act will undermine the employer-sponsored health coverage that millions of Americans enjoy when the state health insurance market exchanges become functional. This is not true. According to Mercer’s recent “National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans,” the vast majority of employers, particularly large employers, will continue to offer their employees health coverage. Indeed, the survey notes that if the Affordable Care Act follows the Massachusetts health law, “few employers of any size” will choose to drop coverage.

The Affordable Care Act ensures quality care and has flexibility for states

The Affordable Care Act provides states with considerable flexibility. Each state gets to decide how to set up their own marketplace of health options for consumers to choose which plan suits them best. States have flexibility in how they implement insurance reforms and consumer protections. The law encourages state innovation by allowing them to obtain waivers from some requirements provided the alternative proposal provides comparable coverage and affordability. President Obama recently endorsed legislation from Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Scott Brown (R-MA) that would move the start date for those waivers by three years.

At the same time, conservatives argue there is not enough flexibility in the Affordable Care Act. They criticize the Obama administration for granting too many waivers on so-called “mini med” plans that have a low annual limit. Since many of the consumer protections and mechanisms to increase patient choice—such as the state marketplaces—are not operational until 2014, the administration has in some instances granted waivers from the law’s early requirements, to avoid leaving people with nothing. CAP Senior Fellow Judy Feder told Congress that until the law is fully implemented, the goal should be to “make matters better, without making them worse.”

States can save money from the Medicaid reforms under the law

Medicaid is a federal-state health program that provides health coverage to predominantly lower-income families, elderly people, and people with disabilities. The federal government matches state funding on the program. For people made newly eligible for Medicaid by the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay 100 percent of costs in the early implementation of the Affordable Care Act. In the later years, states will have to pay only 10 percent.

Conservatives charge that the Affordable Care Act will increase state Medicaid spending by $118 billion. An Urban Institute study, however, found that states will save between $40.6 billion and $131.9 billion from 2014-2019 by replacing state and local spending for uncompensated care and mental health with federal Medicaid funds and by replacing federal Medicaid funding for adults with incomes over 133 percent of the federal poverty level with federal subsidies in the marketplaces.

There is no secret $105 billion hidden in the law

Conservatives such as Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) claim that $105 billion of mandatory funding was secretly put in the law unbeknownst to members of Congress. This is false. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker said this claim is “bordering on ridiculous” and “does not have credibility.” The truth is there was a considerable amount of transparency before the Congress approved the Affordable Care Act. In the House alone, there were: 79 bipartisan hearings, totaling 100 hours; 181 witnesses; and 239 amendments considered. The House bill was posted online 30 days before committee markup.

The law keeps Medicare solvent and cuts the deficit

Conservatives argue that the Obama administration “double counted” the Medicare savings for the law, arguing it went to save the Medicare Trust Fund and cut the deficit. The facts are these: The law cuts the deficit by $1 trillion over the next two decades and keeps Medicare solvent until 2029—12 years longer than before the law was passed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained how this works before the House Budget Committee:

There’s no double-counting involved in recognizing that Medicare savings improve the status of both the federal budget and the Medicare trust funds. In the same way, when a baseball player hits a homer, it both adds one run to his team’s score and also improves his batting average. Neither situation involves double-counting.

Conclusion

The conservative false attacks are meant to repeal the Affordable Care Act and bring our health system back to the time when insurance companies could discriminate because of a pre-existing condition. Despite these false attacks, the facts are clear: Millions of families, small business owners, and seniors are seeing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. More than 4 million small businesses are eligible to receive tax credits to make health coverage more affordable. As many as 4 million seniors received help to make their prescription drugs more affordable. Already this year, more than 150,000 seniors with Medicare had a free wellness exam. And children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be excluded from insurance plans. We should move forward with this law and tell those who want to repeal it that we won’t go back.

By: Tony Carrk, Center For American Progress, March 21, 2011

March 22, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Death Panels, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Insurance Companies, Medicaid, Medicare, Pre-Existing Conditions, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Death Panels’ and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: End-of-Life Planning Scare Resurfaces

Hammer or death mallet? You be the judge...

A hammer is supposed to be used to pound nails. But as the Beatles pointed out more than 40 years ago, it can also be used as a murder weapon. Nobody, however, is calling for a ban on hammers or calling them “death mallets.”

Maybe that’s why the resurrection of the “death panel” canard, as applied to end-of-life planning, seems so unnecessary. Here’s how the New York Times started its story a few days ago:

“When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over ‘death panels,’ Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.”

The only opponent quoted in the story was this:

Elizabeth D. Wickham, executive director of LifeTree, which describes itself as “a pro-life Christian educational ministry,” said she was concerned that end-of-life counseling would encourage patients to forgo or curtail care, thus hastening death.

“The infamous Section 1233 is still alive and kicking,” Ms. Wickham said. “Patients will lose the ability to control treatments at the end of life.”

Which, with all due respect, was no more accurate a summary of “Section 1233” or the new regulation than “death mallets” would be to describe hammers.

Don’t believe me? Section 1233 was contained in one early draft of the health care reform bill. Here’s the text of that version of the bill (search for “advance care planning consultation”). It would have allowed Medicare to pay for one such consultation every five years, if the patient wanted it.

Such consultation was to include: an explanation of advance care planning, advance directives, health care proxy, list of resources for further information, explanation of palliative and hospice care, explanation of the advantages of an up-to-date advance treatment order. It would have required training for health care providers (you’d be shocked at what some doctors don’t know about this stuff). And would have required standardization of information and forms used.

It also listed some of the conditions that could be included in a directive. And said that Medicare would pay for more frequent consultations if there were a significant change in condition.

Overly detailed and controlling? Maybe so. Death panels? Not hardly. Limit a patient’s ability to control treatments at the end of life? Not in any clause or sub-clause I can find.

Jump to the new regulation. (It’s in here.) The relevant passage is a lot shorter than the killed section of reform legislation. It adds “voluntary advance planning upon agreement with the individual” to the items that Medicare will pay for during an annual physical. Here’s the whole thing:

“Voluntary advance care planning” means, for purposes of this section, verbal or written information regarding the following areas: (1) An individual’s ability to prepare an advance directive in the case where an injury or illness causes the individual to be unable to make health care decisions. (2) Whether or not the physician is willing to follow the individual’s wishes as expressed in an advance directive.”

That’s it. No panels, death or knotty pine. Just a conversation with your doctor if you want it. No loss of patient control unless the patient is in a condition where conscious control is impossible — in which case the whole point of the planning is to ensure that the patient’s wishes be followed.

Since the New York Times figures Wickham has enough clout to stand in for all opponents, I tried to contact her. No joy. I checked her organization’s website for more insight into her objections. I found that LifeTree is not a generically Christian group, but one that has Catholic roots, starting with the blessing of the bishop of Raleigh, N.C.

So I shifted my search to the National Catholic Bioethics Center, figuring I’d find a reasoned critique that would likely be in accord with the beliefs of LifeTree. I found Marie T. Hilliard, the center’s director of bioethics and public policy. She was more than willing to engage me in civil discussion.

The Catholic Church is in favor of end-of-life planning, she said.

“The issue is not whether a discussion by a health care practitioner with a patient on end-of-life care issues is a good. It is a good,” she said. “And encouraging providers to have truly informing discussions on this issue also is a good.”

So what’s Hilliard’s beef with the regulation? She fears the way that written “orders for life-sustaining treatment” (called “POLST” or “MOLST”) could be abused. A form signed today might not include the actual situation that pops up years down the road.

In other words, a patient could complete a POLST/MOLST form indicating the patient did not want life sustaining treatment, which could be an antibiotic or a blood transfusion or proportionately beneficial assisted nutrition and hydration, before any of the facts that would be appropriate to such decision-making were in play.

The new regulation actually addresses at least one of her concerns in that it makes the consultation available annually, rather than using the bill’s five-year rule. And a standardized form can certainly include the vast majority of situations a patient is likely to encounter. The version prepared by the Rabbinical Council of America, for instance, covers persistent vegetative state, coma, lesser brain injuries along with a terminal illness, and brain injury without a terminal illness along with 31 possible procedures.

But there are conditions and procedures the form does not address. Would a longer form, with more choices, make the possibility of error less likely? Or would a form that’s much longer make it less likely that someone would be willing to fill it out at all?

Hilliard also raises a “slippery slope” argument, suggesting that widespread use of such forms would be employed to put pressure “on persons with disabilities and their families to forgo life sustaining health care treatments.”

To which argument I have consistently replied that if you have a doctor who wants you or your loved one dead, your problem is bigger than a signed form.

Hilliard recommends the use of “health care agents,” a sort of human advance directive. This could be a family member or some other designated person who has the authority to speak for the patient.

The concept was actually included in the killed portion of the health care reform bill, referred to as a “health care proxy.” Perhaps it should have been included in the new regulation.

I think Hilliard and I both agree that the biggest problem with end-of-life planning is that far too often it’s done poorly.

We have a 24/7 consultation line on medical ethics; (1,400 calls per year) and the most frequent call we receive is on end-of-life care, NOT because there is not an advanced directive, often because there is and it does not address the situation at hand, and no helpful discussion had been held with the health care agent. Then there is the question of whether or not the health care agent is locked in by the letter of the law, knowing that the spirit of the will of the patient may be violated.

And that’s for people who have directives or health care agents. Imagine the situation for the far greater number of people who never address these issues until there’s a crisis.

I have some personal experience in this matter. My dad died earlier this year. He was 92. Several years before, my wife had prodded him (and the rest of us) to fill out advance-care directives. Her career has been in long-term health care and she’d seen too many families torn apart by being forced to consider these decisions only under the most terrible stress.

Because we’d talked about the topic once, nudged into it by filling out the directive, we found it easier to return to the subject over the years as my dad’s condition faltered. We and his doctors were all clear about what he wanted — right up to the point when he decided he’d had enough. I cannot imagine how much more difficult those final days would have been without those previous conversations.

But most families do not have the advantage of having an elder-care expert “on staff.” If this regulation prods more doctors into a difficult conversation, if it prods more people into thinking about these issues when they have the luxury of time for reflection, that seems like a good idea to me.

Can such a process be abused? There is no system created by humanity that cannot be turned to evil ends. And yet most of us own a hammer.

By: Jeffrey Weiss-Correspondent-Politics Daily, January 2, 2011; Photo- Getty Images

January 3, 2011 Posted by | Death Panels | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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