Good Friday afternoon, and welcome to the Weekly Scan.  Here are some of the key stories you may have missed in the debate on America’s health care future:

A new story from The Washington Post highlights the struggle many patients in rural communities face just to get access to health care.  The story, entitled “‘Out here, it’s just me’: In the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 square miles,” explains:

In the medical desert that has become rural America, nothing is more basic or more essential than access to doctors, but they are increasingly difficult to find.  The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as “medically underserved.”  It is home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but fewer than 10 percent of its doctors, and that ratio is worsening each year because of what health experts refer to as “the gray wave.”  Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60.  Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat.

This story underscores the need for solutions that increase access to care, not diminish it – which is why calls for a new government-controlled health insurance system known as the public option are so dangerous.  A recent study, conducted by Navigant for the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, finds that the public option could put more than 1,000 rural U.S. hospitals in 46 states “at high risk of closure.”  These hospitals serve more than 60 million Americans, and as Kaiser Health News and NPR report, hospital closures can have “profound social, emotional and medical consequences,” while RevCycleIntelligence also reports“[p]atient access to care suffers when a rural hospital closes its doors for good, and consequently, patient outcomes can deteriorate.” 
 
And, as some presidential candidates and Members of Congress continue to claim that this new government-controlled health insurance system would simply provide an additional choice for consumers, the Partnership reminds Americans that the facts show otherwise.  As Dr. Scott Atlas of Stanford University explained recently in The Wall Street Journalthe public option would “mainly erode, or ‘crowd out,’ private insurance, rather than provide coverage to the uninsured.”  And not only that but, “[t]he public option would cause premiums for private insurance to skyrocket because of underpayment by government insurance compared with costs for services … A single-payer option is not a moderate, compromise proposal.  It’s inevitable consequence is the death of affordable private insurance.  Even Democratic presidential candidates calling for ‘a public option’ openly admitted in the recent debate that it would inevitably lead to a single-payer-dominated system.”

To cut through the noise surrounding these new so-called “moderate” fallbacks – such as the public option, Medicare buy-in and ‘Medicare for all who want it’ – the Partnership also rolled out a new explainer highlighting the unaffordable costs and risks American families would face under these government-controlled systems.  In a story headlined “How a Medicare Buy-In or Public Option Could Threaten Obamacare,” The New York Times reports that the “public option may well threaten the A.C.A. in unexpected ways.”  Crucially, nearly a decade after its implementation, there is “an emerging mosaic of evidence that … the ACA is making some Americans healthier — and less likely to die,” The Washington Post reports. They write:

With about 20 million Americans now covered through private health plans under the ACA’s insurance marketplaces or Medicaid expansions, researchers have been focusing on a question that was not an explicit goal of the law: whether anyone is healthier as a result … It is difficult to prove conclusively that the law has made a difference in people’s health, but strong evidence has emerged in the past few years.  Compared with similar people who have stable coverage through their jobs, previously uninsured people who bought ACA health plans with federal subsidies had a big jump in detection of high blood pressure and in the number of prescriptions they had filled, according to a 2018 study in the journal Health Affairs.  And after the law allowed young adults to stay longer on their parents’ insurance policies, fewer 19- to 25-year-olds with asthma failed to see a doctor because it cost too much, according to an analysis of survey results published earlier this year by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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