Tagged Medicaid

Medicare Open Enrollment Is Complicated. Here’s How to Get Good Advice.

If you’ve been watching TV lately, you may have seen actor Danny Glover or Joe Namath, the 77-year-old NFL legend, urging you to call an 800 number to get fabulous extra benefits from Medicare.

There are plenty of other Medicare ads, too, many set against a red-white-and-blue background meant to suggest officialdom — though if you stand about a foot from the television screen, you might see the fine print saying they are not endorsed by any government agency.

Rather, they are health insurance agents aggressively vying for a piece of a lucrative market.

This is what Medicare’s annual enrollment period has come to. Beneficiaries — people who are 65 or older, or with long-term disabilities — have until Dec. 7 to join, switch or drop health or drug plans, which take effect Jan. 1. By switching plans, they can potentially save money or get benefits not ordinarily provided by the federal insurance program.

For all its complexity and nearly endless options, Medicare fundamentally boils down to two choices: traditional fee-for-service or the managed care approach of Medicare Advantage.

The right choice for you depends on your financial wherewithal and current health status, and on future health scenarios that are often difficult to foresee and unpleasant to contemplate.

Costs and benefits among the multitude of competing Medicare plans vary widely, and the maze of rules and other details can be overwhelming. Indeed, information overload is part of the reason a majority of the more than 60 million people on Medicare, including over 6 million in California, do not comparison-shop or switch to more suitable plans.

“I’ve been doing it for 33 years and my head still spins,” says Jill Selby, corporate vice president of strategic initiatives and product development at SCAN, a Long Beach nonprofit that is one of California’s largest purveyors of Medicare managed care, known as Medicare Advantage. “It’s definitely a college course.”

Which explains why airwaves and mailboxes are jammed with all that promotional material from people offering to help you pass the course.

Many are touting Medicare Advantage, which is administered by private health insurers. It might save you money, but not necessarily, and research suggests that, in some cases, it costs the government more than administering traditional Medicare.

But the hard marketing is not necessarily a sign of bad faith. Licensed insurance agents want the nice commission they get when they sign somebody up, but they can also provide valuable information on the bewildering nuances of Medicare.

Industry insiders and outside experts agree most people should not navigate Medicare alone. “It’s just too complicated for the average individual,” says Mark Diel, chief executive officer of California Coverage and Health Initiatives, a statewide association of local outreach and health care enrollment organizations.

However, if you decide to consult with an insurance agent, keep your antenna up. Ask people you trust to recommend agents, or try eHealth or another established online brokerage. Vet any agent you choose by asking questions on the phone.

“Be careful if you feel like the insurance agent is pushing you to make a decision,” says Andrew Shea, senior vice president of marketing at eHealth. And if in doubt, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion, Shea counsels.

You can also talk to a Medicare counselor through one of the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, which are present in every state. Find your state’s SHIP at www.shiptacenter.org.

Medicare & You, a comprehensive handbook, is worth reading. Download it at the official Medicare website, www.medicare.gov.

The website offers a deep dive into all aspects of Medicare. If you type in your ZIP code, you can see and compare all the Medicare Advantage plans, supplemental insurance plans, known as Medigap, and stand-alone drug (Part D) plans.

The site also shows you quality ratings of the plans, on a five-star scale. And it will display your drug costs under each plan if you type in all your prescriptions. Explore the website before you talk to an insurance agent.

California Coverage and Health Initiatives can refer you to licensed insurance agents who will provide local advice and enrollment assistance. Call 833-720-2244. Its members specialize in helping people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

These so-called dual eligibles — nearly 1.5 million in California and about 12 million nationwide — get additional benefits, and in some cases they don’t have to pay Medicare’s monthly medical (Part B) premium, which will be $148.50 in 2021 for most beneficiaries, but higher for people above certain income thresholds.

If you choose traditional Medicare, consider a Medigap supplement if you can afford it. Without it, you’re liable for 20% of your physician and outpatient costs and a hefty hospital deductible, with no cap on how much you pay out of your own pocket. If you need prescription drugs, you’ll probably want a Part D plan.

Medicare Advantage, by contrast, is a one-stop shop. It usually includes a drug benefit in addition to other Medicare benefits, with cost sharing for services and prescriptions that varies from plan to plan. Medicare Advantage plans typically have low to no premiums — aside from the Part B premium that most people pay in either version of Medicare. And they increasingly offer additional benefits, including vision, dental, transportation, meal deliveries and even coverage while traveling abroad.

Beware of the risks, however.

Yes, the traditional Medicare route is generally more expensive upfront if you want to be fully covered. That’s because you pay a monthly premium for a Medigap policy, which can cost $200 or more. Add to that the premium for Part D, estimated to average $41 a month in 2021, according to KFF. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

However, Medigap policies will often protect you against large medical bills if you need lots of care.

In some cases, Medicare Advantage could end up being more expensive if you get seriously ill or injured, because copays can quickly add up. They are typically capped each year, but can still cost you thousands of dollars. Advantage plans also typically have more limited provider networks, and the extra benefits they offer can be subject to restrictions.

Over one-third of Medicare beneficiaries nationally are enrolled in Advantage plans. In California, about 40% are.

The main appeal of traditional Medicare is that it doesn’t have the rules and restrictions of managed care.

Dr. Mark Kalish, a retired psychiatrist in San Diego, says he opted for traditional fee-for-service with Medigap and Part D because he didn’t want a “mother may I” plan.

“I’m 69 years old, so heart attacks happen; cancer happens. I want to be able to pick my own doctor and go where I want,” Kalish says. “I’ve done well, so the money isn’t an issue for me.”

Be aware that if you don’t join a Medigap plan during a six-month open enrollment period that begins when you enroll in Medicare Part B, you could be denied coverage for a preexisting condition if you try to buy one later.

There are a few exceptions to that in federal law, and four states — New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut — require continuous or yearly access to Medigap coverage regardless of health status.

Make sure you understand the rules and exceptions that apply to you.

Indeed, that is an excellent rule of thumb for all Medicare beneficiaries. Read up and talk to insurance agents and Medicare counselors. Talk to friends, family members, your doctor, your health plan — and other health plans.

When it comes to Medicare, says Erin Trish, associate director of the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, “it takes a village.”

This KHN story first published on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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Aging Asking Never Hurts California Medicaid Medicare

Consejos para inscribirse bien en Medicare durante la complicada inscripción abierta

Puede que hayas visto al actor Danny Glover o a Joe Namath, la leyenda de la NFL de 77 años, en comerciales de TV animándote a que llames a un número 800 para obtener fabulosos beneficios extra de Medicare.

Hay muchos otros anuncios de Medicare, algunos de ellos con un fondo rojo, blanco y azul para sugerir que son oficiales; aunque si te acercas a la pantalla del televisor, podrás ver que la letra chica dice que no están respaldados por ninguna agencia del gobierno.

En realidad, son agentes de seguros de salud compitiendo agresivamente por un pedazo de un mercado lucrativo.

A esto es a lo que ha llegado el período de inscripción anual de Medicare. Los beneficiarios —personas de 65 años o más, o con discapacidades a largo plazo— tienen hasta el 7 de diciembre para participar, cambiar o dejar los planes de salud o de medicamentos, que entran en vigencia el 1 de enero.

Al cambiar de plan, se podría ahorrar dinero o conseguir beneficios que normalmente no ofrece el programa federal.

A pesar de toda su complejidad y de sus opciones casi infinitas, Medicare se reduce fundamentalmente a dos alternativas: la clásica tarifa por servicio del Medicare Tradicional o el enfoque de atención administrada de Medicare Advantage.

La elección correcta para cada uno depende de los recursos financieros y del estado de salud, así como de los futuros escenarios de atención médica que a menudo son difíciles de pronosticar.

Los costos y beneficios entre la multitud de planes de Medicare que compiten entre sí varían, y el laberinto de normas y otros detalles puede resultar abrumador.

De hecho, la sobrecarga de información explica, en parte, porqué la mayoría de las más de 60 millones de personas que tienen Medicare, incluidos más de 6 millones en California, no hacen comparaciones ni se cambian a planes más adecuados.

“LLevo haciendo esto 33 años y mi cabeza todavía da vueltas”, dijo Jill Selby, vicepresidenta de iniciativas estratégicas y desarrollo de productos de SCAN, una organización sin fines de lucro de Long Beach que es una de las mayores proveedoras de cuidados administrados de Medicare de California, conocida como Medicare Advantage. “Definitivamente es un curso universitario”.

Esta es la razón por la que los medios de comunicación y los buzones de los correos electrónicos se abarrotan con publicidad de gente que se ofrece a ayudarle a aprobar “el curso”.

Muchos promocionan Medicare Advantage, que es administrado por aseguradoras de salud privadas. Puede que se ahorre dinero, pero no necesariamente, y las investigaciones sugieren que, en algunos casos, le cuesta al gobierno más que administrar el Medicare tradicional.

Pero el marketing no es necesariamente un signo de mala fe. Los agentes de seguros autorizados buscan la buena comisión que reciben cuando contratan a alguien, pero también pueden proporcionar información valiosa sobre los desconcertantes matices de Medicare.

Los conocedores de la industria y los expertos coinciden en que la mayoría de las personas no debería navegar solas por Medicare. “Es demasiado complicado”, asegura Mark Diel, director ejecutivo de California Coverage and Health Initiatives, una asociación estatal de organizaciones de alcance local y de inscripción en el cuidado de la salud.

Pero si la decisión es consultar con un agente de seguros, hay que mantenerse alerta. Pídeles a personas de confianza que te recomienden agentes, o visita eHealth o cualquier otra agencia en línea establecida. Pon a prueba al agente que elijas haciéndole preguntas por teléfono.

“Tenga cuidado si siente que el agente de seguros lo está presionando para que tome una decisión”, advierte Andrew Shea, vicepresidente de marketing de eHealth. Y si tienes dudas, busca una segunda opinión, aconseja Shea.

También puedes hablar con un consejero de Medicare a través de uno de los Programas Estatales de Asistencia de Seguros de Salud (SHIP), presentes en todos los estados. Encuentra el SHIP de su estado en www.shiptacenter.org.

Vale la pena leer Medicare & You, un manual completo. Descárgalo en el sitio web oficial de Medicare, www.medicare.gov.

El sitio web ofrece una inmersión profunda en todos los aspectos de Medicare. Si escribes tu código postal, puedes ver y comparar todos los planes de Medicare Advantage, los planes de seguro suplementario, conocidos como Medigap, y los planes de medicamentos (Parte D).

El sitio también te muestra las calificaciones de calidad de los planes, en una escala de cinco estrellas. Y los costos de tus medicamentos en cada plan. Explora el sitio web antes de hablar con un agente de seguros.

California Coverage y Health Initiatives puede remitirte a agentes de seguros autorizados que te proporcionarán asesoramiento local y asistencia para la inscripción. Llama al 833-720-2244. Sus miembros se especializan en ayudar a quienes son elegibles tanto para Medicare como para Medicaid, el programa de seguro de salud para personas de bajos ingresos.

Los llamados elegibles duales —casi 1.5 millones en California y cerca de 12 millones en todo el país— obtienen beneficios adicionales, y en algunos casos no tienen que pagar la prima médica mensual de Medicare (Parte B), que será de $148.50 en 2021 para la mayoría de los beneficiarios, pero más alta para las personas que superan ciertos umbrales de ingresos.

Si eliges el Medicare tradicional, considera un suplemento de Medigap si puedes pagarlo. Sin él, serás responsable del 20% de los costos de tu médico y de servicios ambulatorios, así como un elevado deducible de hospital, sin un límite a lo que pagas de tu propio bolsillo. Si necesitas medicamentos recetados, probablemente convendrá un plan de la Parte D.

Por su parte, Medicare Advantage es una ventanilla única. Por lo general, incluye un beneficio de medicamentos además de otros beneficios de Medicare, con un costo compartido para servicios y recetas que varía de un plan a otro. Los planes de Medicare Advantage suelen tener primas bajas o nulas, aparte de la prima de la Parte B que la mayoría de las personas paga en cualquiera de las dos versiones de Medicare. Y cada vez más ofrecen servicios adicionales, incluyendo visión, dental, transporte, entrega de comidas e incluso cobertura en el extranjero.

Pero ten cuidado con los riesgos.

Sí, la ruta tradicional de Medicare suele ser más cara al principio si deseas estar totalmente cubierto. Eso se debe a que pagas una prima mensual por una póliza Medigap, que puede costar $200 o más. Añade a eso la prima de la Parte D, estimada en un promedio de $41 al mes en 2021, según KFF. (KHN es un programa editorialmente independiente de KFF.)

Sin embargo, las pólizas Medigap a menudo te protegerán contra grandes facturas médicas si necesitas muchos cuidados.

En algunos casos, Medicare Advantage podría terminar siendo más caro si te enferma o lesionas gravemente, porque los copagos pueden sumar rápidamente. Por lo general, tienen un límite máximo cada año, pero aun así pueden costarte miles de dólares. Los planes Advantage también suelen tener redes de proveedores más limitadas, y los beneficios adicionales que ofrecen pueden estar sujetos a restricciones.

Más de un tercio de los beneficiarios de Medicare a nivel nacional están inscritos en los planes Advantage. En California, alrededor del 40%.

El principal atractivo del Medicare tradicional es que no tiene las reglas y restricciones de la atención médica administrada.

El doctor Mark Kalish, un psiquiatra retirado de San Diego, dijo que optó por el tradicional pago por servicio con Medigap y la Parte D porque no quería un plan en que tuviera que “pedir permiso”.

“Tengo 69 años, así que los ataques al corazón ocurren; el cáncer ocurre. Quiero poder elegir mi propio médico e ir a donde quiera”, señala Kalish. “Me ha ido bien en la vida, así que el dinero no es un problema para mí”.

Ten en cuenta que si no te inscribes en un plan Medigap durante el período de inscripción abierta de seis meses, que comienza cuando te inscribes en la Parte B de Medicare, se te podría negar la cobertura de una condición preexistente si intentas comprar una más tarde.

Hay algunas excepciones a esto en la ley federal, y cuatro estados —Nueva York, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut— exigen el acceso continuo o anual a la cobertura Medigap sin importar el estado de salud.

Asegúrate de entender las reglas y excepciones que aplican en tu caso.

De hecho, esa es una excelente regla general para todos los beneficiarios de Medicare. Lee y habla con los agentes de seguros y los consejeros de Medicare. Habla con amigos, familiares, tu médico, tu plan y otros planes de salud.

Cuando se trata de Medicare, dijo Erin Trish, directora adjunta del Centro Schaeffer de Política y Economía de la Salud de la Universidad del Sur de California, “se necesita de una comunidad”.

Esta historia de KHN fue publicada primero en California Healthline, un servicio de la California Health Care Foundation.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Florida’s New Hospital Industry Head Ran Medicaid in State and Fought Expansion

With its choice of a new leader, the Florida Hospital Association has signaled that seeking legislative approval to expand Medicaid to nearly 850,000 uninsured adults won’t be among its top priorities.

In October, Mary Mayhew became the association’s CEO. Mayhew, who led the state’s Medicaid agency since 2019, has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion adopted by 38 other states. She has argued that expansion puts states in a difficult position because the federal government is unlikely to keep its financial commitment to pay its share of the costs.

Had Medicaid been expanded in Florida, hospitals there would have gained thousands of paying patients. But the institutions have done little in recent years to persuade the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis, also Republican, who oppose such a move.

Mayhew acknowledged in an interview with KHN that expanding Medicaid to cover more uninsured patients could help hospitals financially, especially at a time when facilities have seen demand for services decline as people avoid care for fear of contracting COVID-19.

With that in mind, she said, she is now open to the idea of expanding Medicaid. “We need to look at all options on the table,” she said. “Is it doable? Yes.”

Still, she was quick to point out concerns about whether Florida can afford to expand.

Under the ACA, the federal government pays 90% of the costs for newly enrolled Medicaid recipients. In the traditional Medicaid program — which covers children, people who are disabled and pregnant women — the federal government pays nearly two-thirds of Florida’s Medicaid costs.

“It will be financially challenging in our state budget as revenues have dropped,” Mayhew said, echoing comments of state officials. “That 10% cost has to come from somewhere.”

Mayhew’s hire worries advocates who have spent more than seven years lobbying lawmakers to expand Medicaid. Without strong support from the hospital industry, they fear they’re unlikely to change many votes.

“It may make it harder,” said Karen Woodall, executive director of Florida People’s Advocacy Center, a group that lobbies for policies to help low-income citizens. Marshaling hospital support is important, she said, because of the industry’s money and political clout.

In many state capitals, hospitals have led the fight for Medicaid expansion either by lobbying lawmakers or bankrolling ballot initiatives. The latest example was in Missouri, which this summer expanded Medicaid via a voter initiative. The campaign for the measure was partly funded by hospitals.

But in Florida, hospitals appear to have made a calculated decision to avoid pushing an initiative that Republican leaders have said they don’t want. Among the dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid, Florida is second only to Texas in the number of residents who could gain coverage.

Aurelio Fernandez, CEO of Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, who was chair of the hospital association board when it hired Mayhew, said her opposition to Medicaid expansion never came up in the process. The association hired Mayhew because of the “phenomenal job” she did guiding hospitals amid the COVID pandemic, he said.

“There is no appetite at this juncture [for the legislature] to expand the Medicaid program with Obamacare,” said Fernandez, despite his belief that expansion would help hospitals and patients.

Mayhew, sounding more like a state official than a hospital industry spokesperson, said the ultimate decision on expansion will be up to lawmakers, who must review spending priorities. When states face a financial crunch, lawmakers look to reduce spending in education and Medicaid, which are the biggest parts of the budget, she said.

“The last thing we want to see is the state budget balanced on the backs of hospitals with deep Medicaid reimbursement cuts,” Mayhew said.

Mayhew said her previous opposition to expanding Medicaid occurred when she was responsible for balancing the state budget and managing the programs in Florida and, before that, in Maine. When she ran Maine’s program, she said she opposed expanding Medicaid to allow nondisabled adults into the program while there were disabled enrollees already on waiting lists to get care.

The Florida Hospital Association, which represents more than 200 hospitals, spent years lobbying state lawmakers to expand Medicaid. But since DeSantis was elected in 2018, the group has focused on other issues because the governor and Republican lawmakers made clear they would not expand the program.

Asked what the association’s current position is on Medicaid expansion, Mayhew noted she has been in her job less than a month and “we have not had that policy decision by the board for me to answer that.”

Miriam Harmatz, executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project, an advocacy group, said Mayhew’s hire suggests that hospitals are unlikely to get behind a fledgling effort to put the expansion question to voters in 2022.

Others advocating for Medicaid expansion agree.

“It does not look like they [Florida’s hospitals] are on board with helping us expand Medicaid at the moment,” said Louisa McQueeney, program director of Florida Voices for Health, a consumer group helping with the ballot initiative.

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Patients Struggle to Find Prescription Opioids After NY Tax Drives Out Suppliers

NEW YORK — Mike Angevine lives in constant pain. For a decade the 37-year-old has relied on opioids to manage his chronic pancreatitis, a disease with no known cure.

But in January, Angevine’s pharmacy on Long Island ran out of oxymorphone and he couldn’t find it at other drugstores. He fell into withdrawal and had to be hospitalized.

“You just keep thinking: Am I going to get sick? Am I going to get sick?” Angevine said in a phone interview. “Am I going to be able to live off the pills I have? Am I going to be able to get them on time?”

His pharmacy did not tell him the reason for the shortage. But Angevine isn’t the only pain patient in New York to lose access to vital medicine since July 2019, when the state implemented an excise tax on many opioids.

The tax was touted as a way to punish major drugmakers for their role in the opioid epidemic and generate funding for treatment programs. But to avoid paying, scores of manufacturers and wholesalers stopped selling opioids in New York. Instead of the anticipated $100 million, the tax brought in less than $30 million in revenue, two lawmakers said in interviews. None of it was earmarked for substance abuse programs, they said.

The state’s Department of Health, which has twice this year delayed an expected report on the impact of the tax, did not respond to questions for this story.

The tax follows strong efforts by federal and New York officials to tamp down the use of prescription opioids, which had already cut back some supply. Now, with some medications scarce or no longer available, pain patients have been left reeling. And the law appears to have missed its target: Instead of taking a toll on manufacturers, the greater burden appears to have fallen on pharmacies that can no longer afford or access the painkillers.

Among them is Epic Pharma. Independent Pharmacy Cooperative, a wholesaler, confirmed it no longer sells medications subject to the tax, but still sells those that are exempt, which are treatments for opioid addiction methadone and buprenorphine and also morphine. AvKARE and Lupin Pharmaceuticals said they do not ship opioids to New York anymore. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures Angevine’s oxymorphone, declined to comment, as did Mallinckrodt.

Since the tax went into effect, Cardinal Health, which provides health services and products, published an extensive 10-page list of opioids it does not expect to carry. Cardinal Health declined to comment.

The New York tax is slowly gaining attention in other states. Delaware passed a similar tax last year. Minnesota is assessing a special licensing fee between $55,000 and $250,000 on opioid manufacturers. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy proposed such a tax this year but was turned down by the legislature.

The company that makes the first point of sale within New York pays the tax. That isn’t always the drugmaker. It can mean wholesalers selling to pharmacies here are assessed, explained Steve Moore, president of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York.

Independent Pharmacy Cooperative said about half its revenue from opioid sales in New York would have gone to taxes.

Mark Kinney, the company’s senior vice president of government relations, said the law is putting companies in a very difficult position.

When wholesalers like IPC left the opioid market, competitive prices went with them.

Without these smaller wholesalers, it’s hard for pharmacies to go back to other wholesalers “and say, ‘Hey, your prices aren’t in line with the rest of the market,’” Moore said.

Indeed, nine independent pharmacies told KHN that when they can get opioids they are more expensive now. They have little choice but to eat the cost, drop certain prescriptions or pass the expense along.

“We can trickle that cost down to the patient,” said a pharmacist at New London Pharmacy in Manhattan, “but from a moral and ethics point of view, as a health care provider, it just doesn’t seem right to do that. It’s not the right thing to ask your patient to pay more.”

In addition, Medicare drug plans and Medicaid often limit reimbursements, meaning pharmacies can’t charge them more than the programs allow.

Stone’s Pharmacy in Lake Luzerne was losing money “hand over fist,” owner Leigh McConchie said. His distributor was adding the tax directly to his pharmacy’s cost for the drugs. That helped drive down his profit margins from opioid sales between 60% and 70%. Stone’s stopped carrying drugs like fentanyl patches and oxycodone, and though that distributor now pays the tax itself, the pharmacy is still feeling the effects.

“When you lose their fentanyl, you generally lose all their other prescriptions,” he said, noting that few customers go to multiple pharmacies when they can get everything at one.

If pharmacies have few opioid customers, those price hikes have less impact on their business. But being able to manage the costs is not the only problem, explained Zarina Jalal, a manager at Lincoln Pharmacy in Albany. Jalal can no longer get generic oxycodone from her supplier Kinray, though she can still access brand-name OxyContin. New York’s Medicaid Mandatory Generic Drug Program requires insurers to provide advance authorization for the use of brand-name prescriptions, delaying the approval process. Sometimes patients wait several days to get their prescription, Jalal explained.

“When I see them suffer, it hurts more than it hurts my wallet,” she said.

One of Jalal’s customers, Janis Murphy, needs oxycodone to walk without pain. Now she is forced to buy a brand-name drug and pays up to three times what she did for generic oxycodone before the tax went into effect. She said her bill since the start of this year for oxycodone alone is $850. Lincoln Pharmacy works with Murphy on a payment plan, without which she would not be able to afford the medication at all. But the bill keeps growing.

“I’m almost in tears because I cannot get this bill down,” she said in a phone interview.

Several pharmacists raised concerns that patients who lose access to prescription opioids may turn to street drugs. High prescription prices can drive patients to highly addictive and inexpensive heroin. McConchie of Stone’s Pharmacy said he now dispenses twice as many heroin treatment drugs as he did a year ago. Former opioid customers now come in for prescriptions for substance use disorder.

Trade groups and some physicians and state legislators opposed the tax before it went into effect, voicing concerns about a slew of potential consequences, including supply problems for pharmacists and higher consumer prices.

New London Pharmacy said one of its regular distributors stopped shipping Percocet, a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Instead, the pharmacy orders from a more expensive company. The pharmacist estimated that a bottle of Percocet for which it used to pay $43 now costs up to $92.

“Even if we absorb the tax, we’re not getting a break from reimbursements either,” a pharmacist who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained, adding that insurance reimbursements have not increased in proportion to rising drug costs. “We’re losing.”

Latchmin Raghunauth Mondol, owner of Viva Pharmacy & Wellness in Queens, has also seen that problem. The pharmacy used to be able to purchase 100 15-milligram tablets of oxycodone for $15, but that’s now $70, she said, and the pharmacy is reimbursed only about $21 by insurers.

Other opioids are just not available.

Mondol said she has been unable to obtain certain doses of two of the most commonly prescribed opioids, oxycodone and oxymorphone — the drug Angevine was on.

After Angevine lost access to oxymorphone, his doctor put him on morphine, but it does not give him the same relief. He’s been in so much pain that he stopped going to physical therapy appointments.

“It’s a marathon from hell,” he said.

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Medicaid Medicare Pharmaceuticals States

Red States’ Case Against ACA Hinges on Whether They Were Actually Harmed by the Law

Attorneys for GOP-controlled states seeking to kill the Affordable Care Act told the Supreme Court last week that at least some of the 12 million people who newly enrolled in Medicaid signed up only because of the law’s requirement that people have insurance coverage — although a tax penalty no longer exists.

The statement drew a rebuke from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who said it belies reason. Several health experts also questioned the argument that poor people apply for Medicaid not because they need help getting health care but to meet the ACA’s individual mandate for coverage.

The point is vital to the Republicans’ case to overturn the ACA, an effort supported by the Trump administration. The states are trying to prove they were harmed by the 2010 health law — and thus have “legal standing” to challenge its constitutionality. They argue their Medicaid spending increased because of the mandate, even though Congress eliminated the tax penalty for not having health coverage in 2019. Even when the penalty existed, most poor people were exempt because of their low income.

Under the ACA, states can opt to expand Medicaid eligibility to all adults earning less than 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $17,600 for an individual. States and the federal government share the cost of their care.

If the states cannot prove they have standing, the justices can toss their case without ruling on its merits. The case also involves two individuals who purchased private insurance from Texas and are suing to have the law overturned.

The Medicaid costs issue was one of several ways Texas and other GOP-controlled states participating in the lawsuit say they were harmed by the ACA even after the individual mandate penalty was reduced to zero. Several justices, including conservatives Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett, posed questions about whether the states had standing.

The case heard last Tuesday, California v. Texas, was the third time the high court has taken up a major suit on the ACA. Republican attorneys general in 18 states and the Trump administration want the entire law struck down, a move that would threaten coverage for more than 20 million people, as well as millions of others with preexisting conditions, including COVID-19.

Even if the court rules the states have legal standing, the ACA opponents must prove the elimination of a penalty makes the entire law unconstitutional.

The Republican states assert that since the law was upheld under Congress’ taxing powers by the Supreme Court in 2012, once the tax penalty is gone, the entire law must fall, too.

A group of Democratic-controlled states led by California and the Democratic House of Representatives are urging the court to keep the law in place.

Sotomayor raised serious doubts about the plaintiffs’ Medicaid argument and whether the states had suffered injury.

“At some point, common sense seems to me would say: Huh?” Sotomayor told Kyle Hawkins, Texas’ solicitor general, who is leading the GOP states’ legal fight. She questioned whether it seemed reasonable that once Medicaid enrollees are told there is no tax penalty for people who don’t have coverage they would “enroll now, when they didn’t enroll when they thought there was a tax? Does that make any sense to you?”

Hawkins defended his case, saying states need to show that only one person signed up for Medicaid because of the individual mandate. “There’s a substantial likelihood of at least one person signing up for a state Medicaid program, which, of course, would cause at least one dollar in injury and satisfy the standing requirement,” he said.

He cited a Congressional Budget Office report issued in 2017, when lawmakers were considering the change in the penalty. It said some people would continue to buy insurance or seek coverage “solely because of a willingness to comply with the law,” even if the individual mandate penalty were eliminated.

Few surveys have asked Medicaid enrollees why they signed up for the program.

One of them, by University of Michigan researchers that same year, posed the question to 1,750 adults who had become eligible for Medicaid in the state as a result of the ACA expansion. The most common reasons respondents gave for enrolling were that they had lost other health coverage and had a medical condition that required care. Just 2% of respondents cited the need to avoid the individual mandate tax penalty.

With the tax penalty eliminated, legal and health policy experts said, it’s likely the share of respondents signing up for Medicaid because of the health coverage mandate has dropped closer to zero.

Richard Kay, a law professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, said it’s clear most people don’t seek coverage because of the individual mandate — particularly since there is no longer a financial penalty. But there could be a few who still do.

“Do you stop at a stop sign if you are in the country and no one is around for miles?” he said. “It’s not impossible that some people get insurance just because the law requires them.”

Kay said there is no precise guidance on how courts decide whether a plaintiff has been penalized enough to prove it has legal standing. “It’s a very confused area of the law,” he said.

Pratik Shah, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group fighting to preserve the law, said the plaintiffs in the case have not proved standing.

“It does not make logical sense,” he said of the argument that state budgets were harmed by people signing up for Medicaid even after the individual mandate penalty was eliminated.

“It’s hard to see how the 2017 amendment to the health law would have forced more people into Medicaid,” he said. “If they weren’t signed up before, they would be less likely to get it without the penalty.”

The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.