Learning from (Near) Catastrophe

Americans learn from catastrophe,
and not from experience. Teddy Roosevelt

That’s a great quote by one of my favorite presidents; I feel like we have been having a bit of a healthcare catastrophe now in Washington DC. And it’s a great learning experience. Unfortunately, it comes with a steep price.
Back in 2010 we began warning the hemophilia community about coming changes in healthcare reimbursement through our event Pulse on the Road, and our newsletter Pulse. Insurers were balking at the high cost of treatment and care,
especially for those with chronic disorders like hemophilia. While for years insurers carefully sidestepped irritating and challenging the hemophilia community about prices of drugs—perhaps because of our tragic history with contaminated blood products—they began slowly applying the screws to what they would and would not cover . It shocked us then—how dare they? But nothing seems to shock us now, from the antics of the current administration to the all out assault on the
gains for those with chronic disorders through Obamacare.
Through Obamacare (formally, The Affordable Care Act [ACA]), our community finally enjoyed no lifetime limits, no annual limits, no discrimination through pre-existing conditions, and children would stay on their parents plan, married
or not, till age 26. Medicaid coverage was expanded in many states to include more people in need. We also warned that this came at a price, and this is where the conflict lies. Who will pay for all this? It’s like giving a teen a credit card with no limit. The spending has to stop somewhere and costs must be contained.
The Trump Administration introduced it own bill, to repeal Obamacare. The Better Care Reconciliation Act sought to unravel some of the gains, including rolling back the individual mandate (that each American must have insurance, with notable exceptions), shrinking the Medicaid expansion, offering massive tax cuts, and reducing federal funding. The Congressional Budget Office, which is bipartisan (meaning it doesn’t favor one party or another) calculated that 24
million Americans would be uninsured by 2026 if this bill passed. Premiums would drop to 20% lower but deductibles (out of your pocket) would increase. Insurers would no longer have to cover Essential Health Benefits. Why do some Republicans want it? It cuts $600 billion in taxes that help pay for Obamacare, which covered extended coverage costs through taxes on couples earning more than $250,000.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell postponed this bill after the scathing assessment by the CBO. In one poll only 17% of voters approved it! And senators listened to their voters. In a nailbiting session, the Senate voted early Friday morning to block the “Skinny Repeal.” John McCain (R-AZ) stole the show by casting his vote “No,” which led to an audible gasp.
My friend Deena from Arizona, whose son has hemophilia and inhibitors, wrote on Facebook, “I heart John McCain! Thank
you Senator for doing what so many didn’t and thinking of your constituents! Once a hero… Always a hero! I’m so proud to be an Arizonan! Pre-existing conditions just got a post-existing boost!”
John McCain flew all the way to Washington DC to vote a mere two weeks after brain surgery for cancer. Stunning
dedication. Our community was thrilled overall, and so many rose to call, fax and tweet their senators not to vote for this bill. I saw NHF, HFA, and all the chapters rallying around one battle call, “Vote no!”
And it came to pass. We have a reprieve.
But it’s far from over. The House Republicans are angry with the Senate Republicans. The Trump administration seems at war with itself, firing appointees left and right. I hope Teddy Roosevelt was right that we learn from catastrophe, or near-catastrophe. We need to learn fast because there will be more skirmishes and battles, as we continue to fight to protect healthcare coverage for our loved ones with bleeding disorders.
Congress is on vacation now, and I am leaving today for Utah, to escape to the wilderness for a few days to visit my
daughter, who proudly works for the US Forestry Service, and away from news about the reality-TV drama that is Washington DC these days. Score one for us… for now.
Read more about what this means for bleeding disorders here:

Rx for Post-Inauguration Healthcare Uncertainty

To live in freedom, one must grow used to a life full of agitation, change and danger. — Alexis de Tocqueville

The inauguration is over and we have a new president. The day after the inauguration, mass protests for women’s rights occurred in major cities across America.  There’s a predominant feeling of fear and uncertainty in America now, perhaps more so than with any other new president that I can ever remember. Some of it is reflective of the times we are in: wars in the Middle East, radical terrorist groups, manufacturing decline and job outsourcing, dictators with their fingers on threatening global weapons and a seeming hatred for America. Uncertainty clouds our future look at the economy, international stability, and above all for families with bleeding disorders, the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

I recall in 2008 we hit the road to present our symposia “Pulse on the Road” to several states each year, to alert our community to the coming insurance reform. In 2009 so many audiences we met with had no clue what was about to happen. Insurance caps, copays, tiers, PBMs, formularies, Medicaid changes, preauthorization—this was all new stuff. Around 2011, we noticed a marked change. Audiences were picking up all the terms and concepts. Why? They were beginning to experience the changes. Some of the changes were brilliant: no caps! You could get as much factor as you needed. No pre-existing conditions! Really, anyone with hemophilia should be able to get insurance. And limits to out-of-pocket costs. The Medicaid expansion gave people in some states eligibility. Millions of people accessed healthcare that didn’t have it before.

But the “affordable” in Affordable Care Act was always suspect to me. Who was going to pay for these changes? No annual caps and no lifetime limits meant we could get the drugs we needed, a blessing for those with chronic disorders. The parents of children with hemophilia who burned through $1 million of coverage in a few years would have had to change insurance or change jobs even. Some parents simply couldn’t do that. Now, no longer, thanks to the ACA.

But we saw that insurance companies—payers—were being hit with the skyrocketing costs as a result. Their countermove was not surprising: cost-shifting to consumers. This manifested in different ways: restriction of choice. You suddenly couldn’t get the specialty pharmacy you wanted. Next came restrictions of drugs to a formulary. You could get factor but maybe not the one you want. Higher copays—way higher. Higher premiums. The benefits that seemed so great suddenly had a consequence that bit into our disposable income while restricting access to some of the therapies we wanted.

The ACA became a double-edged sword. Payers were fighting back.

President Trump, as he pledged, on his first day on the job, issued an executive order addressing the Affordable Care Act, basically seeking repeal of it. Now, nothing can happen overnight. The administration needs heads of the departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and the CMS Administration and IRS Commissioner to be confirmed in order to act on this executive order. This will take time.

While we wait, the best advice our Pulse on the Road team kept giving our audiences in these truly uncertain times:

1.     Read your insurance plan every year at enrollment time. So much is changing so fast, and you must know the print, and the fine print. Don’t ever assume that just because you have the same employer, same insurer and same plan, things are staying the same.
2.     Calculate annual out-of-pocket costs. You need to have a few thousand saved up just to cover rising coinsurance, copays and deductibles.
3.     Sign up for your factor manufacturer’s co-pay assistance program. They all have them, and from what the manufacturers tell me, a lot of people in the bleeding disorder community are not taking advantage of them. Big mistake!
4.     Sign up for a free factor program. You can get limited free trial doses of a different product from what you are on; or your factor manufacturer may have a compassionate program to keep you, the loyal customer, with factor until you can get insurance to cover you.
5.     Talk to your social worker at your HTC and/or your state hemophilia organization to get up-to-date information about what’s happening in your state, with your plan.

It’s going to be an uncertain time for a while, but the bleeding disorder community is one of the best medical patient communities for advocating for its needs, and for keeping informed. Sign up at or for current news about the ACA, and health care reform and repeal as it relates to bleeding disorders.

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