On Thursday, the Census Bureau reported that 50.7 million Americans had no health insurance last year. Never before have so many Americans gone without health insurance since tracking began in 1987. The Midwest and South experienced the largest increases in uninsured. According to KHN both Democrats and Republicans are starting to use the report as fodder for their rhetoric. Democrats are saying the report is evidence of the need for the health care reform law passed this year, while Republicans will say that the report is proof that Democrats are failing to improve the economy.
The report also stated that roughly a third of Americans (estimated at 93 million) are now covered by government insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid. In addition to insured data, the report also revealed that 43.6 million people lived in poverty in 2009, marking three straight years of an increase in poverty among Americans. Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of social medicine and health policy at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill described the report as “devastating.”
Health Care Reform Law FAQ Released
KHN released a very informative FAQ (frequently asked questions) guide for consumers explaining several key provision of the health care law that have taken shape over the past six months. One question is dedicated to Medicare, asking if benefits will change. The answer explains that Medicare benefits will expand, while Medicare Advantage plans will lose some extra benefits. It also states that next year beneficiaries will receive a 50% discount on brand name drugs and a 7% discount on generic drugs while in the doughnut hole. Also, beneficiaries won’t have to pay co-payments or deductibles on many preventative care services. To read the full FAQ, click here.
Medicare Saves $33 Billion through Generic Drugs
According to a Congressional Budget Office report, generic drugs saved both the government and beneficiaries roughly $33 billion in 2007. Businessweek reports the trade group Pharmaceutical Care Management Association expects an additional $14 billion in savings over the next few years due to new generics entering the market through 2012.
Medicare and FDA Testing Concurrent Product Reviews
For years companies and Medicare beneficiaries have complained about the time it takes for products to come to market. Not only does a new product have to go through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it must then also go through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Now the both organizations are starting a pilot project that would see new product reviews take place concurrently by both organizations. This new process is expected to significantly reduce the lag to market and provide much faster access to the latest medical technology.
Jobless Straining Social Security
Yet another government life line is in danger. Though it has long predicted that Social Security would go bankrupt at some point in the future, the Great Recession has accelerated that pace. According to a Washington Post article, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2018. According to the article, applications to the program increased 21% in one year alone to 2.8 million.
Social Security officials cite the high unemployment rate as the main reason for the sudden spike in applications and enrollments. One official stated that many of the applicants are older workers who got laid off and can’t find a job. They are too far away from being eligible from the retirement fund, so they do all they can to get on disability. The average age of new recipients is 49, with less than 1% returning to work.
Lawmakers may decide to transfer money from the retirement fund to extend the life of the disability fund, but this decision won’t be an easy one as baby boomers are going to swell the number on the retirement fund. The retirement fund is going to need every penny to handle the influx of retirees, so it will be interesting to see how Social Security resources will be distributed.
Medicare Advantage Quality Ratings Study Released
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report entitled “Quality Ratings of Medicare Advantage Plans.” The report explains how quality ratings for Medicare Advantage plans are currently calculate, the effects of key changes in the 2010 health care reform law, the share of enrollees in high and low star plans, and more. If you are selling Medicare Advantage, it makes for a good read. Get it here.
Sources: AP, Businessweek, KHN, Reuters, Washington Post