The National Consumers League supports expanded COBRA coverage

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

In a perfect world, every person in the United States would have quality health care coverage, irrespective of whether they were employed or whether their employer-offered health insurance. The National Consumers League (NCL) has long advocated for universal access to health insurance for every American.

For political reasons, however, we still have a hybrid, expensive, and patchwork health care system. Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act addresses some of these disparities for millions, but our health care system in the United States still leaves many gaps in who can get coverage. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the gaps in our social safety net have been made very stark indeed. Estimates are that 27 million Americans who have lost their jobs have lost their health insurance as well, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

An estimate from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found between 25 million and 43 million people could lose their employer-sponsored insurance in the coming months if job losses continue.

However, help is on the way.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act passed the House of Representatives on May 15, 2020. The bill addresses the COVID-19-induced massive unemployment/loss of health insurance crisis for Americans who receive their health insurance through their employer.

The HEROES Act allows individuals eligible for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage to maintain their employer-sponsored coverage after a layoff, reduction in hours or furlough without having to pay premiums through January 2021. The bill also would provide two special enrollment opportunities for individuals to obtain health insurance: (a) during the emergency period for Medicare-eligible individuals residing in an emergency area who have not previously enrolled in Medicare and (b) during an eight-week enrollment period for an Affordable Care Act exchange for individuals who are uninsured for whatever reason. The bill would authorize veterans without a disability or health insurance to qualify for special enrollment in the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system for a 12-month period. Finally, the bill would expand the Medicaid expansion pathway provided for in Families First, which covered 100 percent of testing costs. HEROES would expand this pathway to include full federal coverage for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines without cost-sharing for certain Medicaid enrollees.

There are issues, of course, with handing over billions of dollars to the health care industry through expanded COBRA that they might not have received otherwise. Among them, they pay excessive salaries to their CEOs that should trouble all of us who pay insurance premiums.

There is also the possibility that increasing access to private insurance via COBRA subsidies could stunt nationwide efforts to expand Medicaid for more vulnerable populations, to some degree.

But this is a case where we cannot let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good. For nearly 40 million Americans struggling with loss of employment, passage of the HEROES Act will mean that they will not have to worry that neither they, nor their families, will lose health insurance.

We agree with Actors’ Equity, which issued this statement before the HEROES Act was adopted, “it is time for Congress to consider a 100% COBRA subsidy to ensure that no one loses their health care in the middle of a pandemic.” Similarly, our friends at Families USA have echoed the call for fully subsidizing COBRA coverage for displaced workers, among other robust consumer assistance measures. To read more, click here.  

Fully or heavily subsidizing COBRA coverage will have multiple benefits – particularly for consumers with chronic illnesses who have already satisfied their annual deductible- who would either be faced with potentially starting a new deductible from scratch, or with an entirely new provider altogether. By subsidizing COBRA coverage, families will be able to seek medical care, access vaccines and testing for COVID, and will have the full array of health care protections. It is a measure that will be good for the entire nation and will lessen the already frightening and painful loss of employment.

As a result, NCL strongly supports the HEROES Act provisions to subsidize COBRA benefits to the many millions who have lost employment. The House of Representatives has done its part. Now we need the Senate to approve the HEROES Act and move it to the President’s desk for signature. The nation will be far healthier if everyone can have access to health care in the age of this catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic.

NCL expresses concern about Trump Administration’s NBPP rule for 2021

May 26, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, expresses concern about the Trump Administration’s Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters Rule for 2021.

The following statement is attributable to NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll across the country, consumers should not be subjected to additional obstacles when trying to access the care they need. We are therefore deeply troubled by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision to permit health plans to use accumulator adjustment programs in its Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters Rule for 2021.

This is a step in the wrong direction at a time when consumers are struggling to make ends meet. Under these programs, health insurers are not required to count manufacturer cost-sharing assistance toward patients’ annual deductibles, even when no medically appropriate generic equivalent is available. Many patients typically rely on very specific treatments that have no generic or other alternative, resulting in already high out-of-pocket spending. Removing this cost-sharing assistance will force those patients to pay thousands of dollars more in unexpected costs at the pharmacy. These new costs could push some to forego those medications, leading to worsened health outcomes. This could compromise medication adherence and will lead to increased health care costs over time.

Given the significant financial pressure this will place on patients and the negative impact it could have for our health care system as a whole, we ask that HHS reconsider the reversal of its original protections against these programs. Any subsequent course of action should seek to take the burden off of consumers. Employers and insurers must recognize that this is not the time to create barriers to care and refrain from implementing accumulator adjustment programs in 2021.”

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL expresses concern about Trump Administration’s NBPP rule for 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832
Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, expresses concern about the Trump Administration’s Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters Rule for 2021.

Top of mind: Full coverage should mean full coverage

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

The National Consumers League is troubled by the recent report by Public Citizen, “Insurers’ Offers of Free Care for Coronavirus Are Often Confusing and Limited.” In these traumatic and confusing times, it’s critical that consumers can rely on their healthcare insurers to follow the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. This includes being crystal clear about what is covered, under what conditions, and for how long. 

Public Citizen’s research into 25 of the largest health insurers turned up a range of concerning practices. Most fee waivers will expire by early summer, well before the crisis will subside. Few appear to cover costs of out-of-network care, a hardship when the urgency of the illness and overwhelmed facilities may make it untenable to get in-network care. The 60 percent of people in private insurance plans who are covered by their employers’ self-insured plans may not even be covered if the employer does not opt-in. And of long concern to NCL, even free tests may come with associated services the patient may not be aware of, and that lead to surprise billing not prohibited by the law.

We urge insurers to act in good faith. Use the savings you are accruing from lower elective care costs to fully cover the costs associated with this pandemic. Remove arbitrary restrictions. Be clear and fully transparent about what you are offering. Hold the course for the duration. The consumer community is here to help make it happen.

NCL calls on insurers to cover air medical services during COVID-19 crisis

May 5, 2020

Contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL) last week sent a letter to the CEOs of Cigna, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group, urging them to enter into productive negotiations with air medical service providers to ensure coverage of emergency air medical transportation. The ask comes as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the country, making air medical services even more essential, particularly in rural America.

In its letter, NCL notes that it is increasingly concerned about emergency air medical access during this crisis, and that it believes this life-saving care should be covered by every insurance plan. NCL asks that insurers review the robustness of their coverage policies and immediately to enter into network negotiations with air medical providers so that this critical service is covered, and patients are never left with a bill they cannot pay.

Text of the letter, signed by NCL Executive Director Sally Green is below:

Dear Mr. Wichmann, Mr. Cordani, and Ms. Lynch:

The National Consumers League has long advocated for health care as a right and argued for fair treatment for all stakeholders across the health care spectrum – patients, physicians, hospitals, health plans, and health care providers. Our mission is particularly acute during the global COVID-19 pandemic, when medical professionals are on the frontlines fighting for our health and safety, stricken patients need life-saving care, and nearly everyone is focused on their health and that of their loved ones.

In this vein, we are increasingly concerned about access to emergency medical care, especially in rural America, as the virus indiscriminately makes its way across the country. When minutes count, Americans who fall victim to COVID-19 must be assured that they can get to the nearest, most appropriate medical facility as quickly as possible. As COVID-19 strains hospital capacity and critical medical equipment like ventilators become attenuated, emergency air medical transports between facilities are often the only way for patients to get the care they need.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85 million Americans can only reach a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center within one hour if they are flown by an air medical helicopter. The effects of this access problem are staggering, and even more pronounced as we wrestle with the COVID-19 crisis. For many Americans, air medical ambulances are a vital link to timely, life-saving care.

We believe that such life-saving care should be covered by insurance. Patients pay their monthly premiums – and copays and deductibles – so they are not bankrupted should the worst befall them or their loved ones. Unfortunately, there have been far too many stories of people who were transported by air ambulance because it was ordered by a first responder or doctor, only to be told later by their insurance company that they would have to shoulder the bulk of the cost. This should not be the case anytime, but especially now as our nation wrestles with a pandemic.

This explains why we at the National Consumers League are writing to you for your input and thoughts. We believe that emergency air medical transportation should be included in every health coverage plan. We think that insurance companies and air medical providers must work together to bring these services in-network, so patients are not left footing a bill they can never hope to pay.  Adequate network agreements are imperative so that patients are not told – after the fact – that they were transported by an air ambulance that was not in-network. When an emergency happens, or worse yet, a pandemic strikes, patients are not choosing whether to take an air ambulance, let alone choosing a particular provider.  Similarly, coverage denials based on “medical necessity” should be the exception, not the rule, in light of the fact that patients are not a part of the decision-making process.

We ask that your companies immediately take a comprehensive look at your coverage policies for air medical services and the robustness of your provider networks. We urge you and the air ambulance community to enter into network negotiations, take patients out of the middle, find a middle ground on reimbursement that fairly compensates both sides, and ensure rural communities have access to air ambulance transports. Refusing to fairly negotiate is simply not an option in light of the current crisis. Entering into productive negotiations immediately will ensure that patients across the country have access to the medical care they need and that they are simultaneously protected from balance bills.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns.

Sincerely,

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Nation’s pioneering consumer-worker organization demands massive COVID-19 testing production, universal testing

April 23, 2020

Contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer and worker advocacy organization, is demanding that the federal government put its support behind massive COVID-19 test production and, as quickly as is feasible, put in place a testing protocol for every citizen so that America can get back to work.

“There are calls across the country to reopen businesses; we understand and share that frustration,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “However, as we are currently not allowing tests for people who are asymptomatic—and because 25 percent of people who carry the virus don’t show symptoms—doing so would be reckless. It’s a Catch-22. Until everyone is tested, we can’t send symptom-free people back into the world. So the government’s first order of business must include giving America’s labs and drug companies the goal and the means to produce rapid-response testing for every American within the next month.”

NCL has laid out the following recommendations:

Meet the need for testing in clinics and doctors’ offices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must oversee the process of improving techniques and reliable, accurate test production. Many labs are working on this, addressing the immediate need for care providers to have enough, high-quality tests.

“The Senate has voted to include $25 billion for the clinical labs that make the tests in the next COVID legislative package” said Greenberg. “That is welcome news because states cannot do this alone; they end up competing against each other for tests and other supplies.”

As Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) said this week, “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from across the world. It’s nowhere where it needs to be.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) noted that the President’s claims that the country has enough tests for the virus are “delusional.”

Clearly, quality is paramount. The serious stumbles at such premier institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot continue. “The federal government must continue to support and expand the production of quality tests, and at capacity to meet the current needs of care providers,” said Greenberg.

Universal testing

As stated above, though, in order to get people back out to restart the economy, we cannot only test those who show serious symptoms and go to care providers to get tested. We must develop tests that can be self-administered, and in adequate numbers so that each person can test for COVID before leaving the home on any given day.

“Millions of workers have to take drug tests every day to keep their jobs; those tests are rapid-response. Consumers can buy rapid response tests for strep throat and pregnancy,” said Greenberg. “Those are approved FDA products that are tested for accuracy and safety. We must get to a rapid response COVID-19 home test as soon as possible.”

In order to determine who has COVID-19 and should be quarantined, every American must be able to test for the virus on a regular basis. Those who test positive, with or without symptoms, go into quarantine for 14 days, as do the people in that individual’s household. Those who test negative are cleared to go out in the world to get the trains running again. This would call for hundreds of millions of tests to enable on-going testing, as it is the only path forward at this time.

And the technology is not “pie-in-the-sky.” The FDA has already approved one home-test kit, though it requires lab analysis. And BARDA/HHS has funded another company to develop “a rapid antigen and antibody diagnostic to identify current or past SARS-CoV-2 infections in 60 seconds.” We are on the road.

Antibody testing

While it’s not clear how long antibodies create immunity, there is a belief that they at least do so for the short-term. So the next step would be to provide serology testing for people who test negative for COVID-19, using only tests approved by the FDA to ensure quality and accuracy. To date, the FDA has approved only four tests of the many available, but this is an important start.

Those who are determined to have a sufficient level of antibodies should be cleared to go back to work, while still wearing masks and gloves until science has confirmed decisively that antibodies create immunity. If the individuals don’t have antibodies, they would be advised to stay home, but could be cleared to go back to work so long as they test every day before heading out.

Contact tracing

Everyone who tests positive reaches out to everyone they’ve had contact with and those people test for COVID-19. Anyone then testing positive goes into quarantine, and the process repeats.

Use technology to self-surveil

Finally, we need a system for uploading test results each day to our phones – like the bar codes we use to board an airplane – or to carry evidence that we have taken the test, have antibodies to COVID-19, and can work or otherwise go out.  Enforcement would be a new challenge, given our commitment to civil liberties, but one that we can certainly work out.

Longer term: Vaccinate

In a year or more, when a vaccine arrives, 95 percent of Americans will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and widespread protection.

“Our nation has the know-how and manufacturing infrastructure to produce the millions of tests needed to determine whether someone has the virus,” said Greenberg. “But due to lack of leadership at the top, our testing capacity is still, several months after the outbreak, extremely limited. To date only 3.3 million people have been tested, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That’s about 1 percent of the population. That is simply not enough.”

NCL is demanding that the Federal government respond to the current national Coronavirus emergency as President Roosevelt responded to World War II, and challenge Americans to “harness the efficient machinery of America’s manufacturers” to fight the pandemic.

“We need that call to action now, to challenge America’s labs and drug companies with the goal of producing testing for every American within the next month. Federal health care agencies including CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and FDA should be their partners, and this should be a shared cost,” said Greenberg. “In the midst of the worst unemployment numbers ever seen in American history, and with millions of businesses having their existence threatened, we need federal leadership, expertise, and financial support to make this happen, and we need it now.”

###

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Ten years later: ACA consistently proves to be America’s safety net, especially in times of crisis

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

Ten years ago, the United States Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after many decades of unsuccessful attempts at achieving universal health care by advocates. For the first time, the ACA provided coverage options for every American across the economic spectrum, expanding Medicaid in many states and offering the self-employed access to insurance on the open exchange. For NCL, the ACA is the safety net program the founders of the League sought to see put in place from the organization’s inception at the turn of the 20th Century.

Today with the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus across America, patients’ access to health care is more critical than ever. Yet despite the clear need we all have for health care coverage, over the past decade, the ACA has been under attack by conservatives in Congress and survived multiple attempts at repeal. The latest came from the Texas v. United States case – and now it threatens to render the entire ACA unconstitutional, following the repeal of the ACA’s  individual mandate provision. Why conservatives wish to deprive people of health care escapes us at the NCL. In fact, the ACA has transformed the way Americans interact with the healthcare system.

Throughout its short life, the ACA has cemented into law numerous consumer health protections and has expanded access to health coverage for over 20 million people. 37 states have expanded Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans. Prioritizing preventive care, the ACA mandated that health insurance providers  cover preventive services for all adults, women, and children – free of cost to the patient. The ACA also made it unlawful for insurers to deny or reduce benefits based on preexisting conditions. These include diagnostic included screenings, vaccines, birth control, and access to certain medications. For the first time, those 26 under could retain their health coverage through their parents’ insurance plans.

Research has shown that ACA Medicaid Expansion has improved access to care, financial security, health outcomes, economic mobility, and have reduced uncompensated care. Despite the progress made by the ACA, there are still 29 million uninsured people in the United States. If the ACA is repealed, 25 million Americans may lose their coverage overnight, without the promise of its replacement. Perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak will change the calculus and bring home how devasting it would be to repeal the ACA. Insurers would no longer be obligated to provide protections offered by the law, allowing plans to deny coverage indiscriminately, leaving millions of families along with low-income and high-risk individuals without care.

The true impact of the ACA will be even more apparent as the national continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming months. COVID-19 has upended the economy and affected virtually every industry and has caused unemployment to soar. On March 21, unemployment claims reached a record 3.3 million – the highest level of jobless claims in history (the Great Depression saw levels of 24 percent unemployment at its peak but there was no unemployment insurance safety net during the 1930s and thus no jobless claims, just breadlines). Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that by summer, approximately “14 million workers will lose their jobs due to the coronavirus shock.”

A report by FAIR Health estimates that potential treatment for COVID-19, resulting in an average six-day hospital stay, could total to a whopping $73,300 for the uninsured: a devastating prospect in the middle of a global financial collapse. With the increased loss of employer-based health insurance, the ACA proves to be more crucial than ever as individuals and families may turn to the health insurance marketplace to secure coverage. NCL is backing legislation – and the health plans support this too – to move workers losing jobs and health insurance to the COBRA program with heavy subsidies so they can ride out the pandemic –  COVID-19 has exposed so many severe deficiencies in the healthcare system. To learn more about statewide efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, click here.

While the fate of the ACA remains uncertain, it is still the law of the land. If you are concerned about loss of coverage during this time, several state-run health plans have enacted Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, click here to learn more. NCL believes that healthcare is a right and that protections offered by the ACA make this country a far stronger, more robust nation. We will continue to work diligently to protect universal access affordable and reliable health coverage. To learn more about what’s at stake and how you can help prevent the potential repeal of the ACA, click here.

Idaho Patient Act a model for other states for protecting consumers from medical debt

I spent a week last month in Boise with two members of the staff of Melaleuca—a company that makes more than 400 nutritional, cleaning, personal care, and cosmetic products—making lobbying visits to the Idaho legislature. Katie Hart and Jay Cobb work for Frank Vandersloot, CEO of Melaleuca. Vandersloot is a highly successful, conservative businessman who is committed to protecting Idaho residents from abusive medical debt collection practices after discovering that one of his employees was hit with thousands of dollars in bills—including hefty lawyers’ fees and court costs—based on a $294 medical debt that she couldn’t even identify. The stark reality is that 50 percent of bankruptcies in America are caused by medical debt. He was championing a bill called the Idaho Patient Act, House Bill 515.

Many people believe federal law provides broad protections for people in debt. While the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), enforced by Federal Trade Commission, makes it illegal for debt collectors to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when they collect debts, it doesn’t address how debts are calculated or curb predatory fees, penalties and court costs.

NCL has worked with Melaleuca for several years, first to fight a bill in Congress that would have essentially legalized pyramid scheme activity. Last October, I flew to Melaleuca headquarters in Idaho Falls to meet nearly half of the state’s legislators who came to town as part of their tour of businesses in Idaho. At that gathering, Vandersloot discussed his hope to pass a bill to address these predatory collection practices, aiming his fire at the practice of ginning up the cost to patients of medical debts with thousands in lawyers’ and court fees; often patients have no idea where the debt is from and debt collectors aren’t required to provide that information to them. The Idaho Patient Act addresses that issue.

Vandersloot also puts his money where his mouth is: not only did he propose a legislative remedy, he and his wife Belinda created a $1 million fund to provide legal counsel to Idahoans who have been hit with these attorney bills. Consumer advocates like NCL have been working for decades to curb the excesses of this industry. But to see  a conservative CEO take on this issue gives the effort a new push.

Sticking up for the little guy is not out of character for Vandersloot. He spoke with the same fervor when we worked together fighting a bill that would have legalized pyramid schemes. In neither case was there any financial reward coming to Melaleuca—Vandersloot took a stand on this issue because he felt it was the right thing to do. Though we may disagree on a host of other matters, on this we are aligned and that is a good thing for vulnerable consumers. Strange bedfellows are a big advantage when it comes to getting things done in the political arena.

Katie Hart has been wisely deployed to live and work in Boise while the legislature is in session and navigate this important bill through the complicated legislative process. She’s a smart and charismatic lawyer—she and Jay Cobb, an expert strategist, could teach Lobbying 101: they’ve met with the Idaho Hospital Association, Idaho doctors, insurance companies, and the Idaho trial lawyers and revised the bill to address their concerns. 

Specifically, the Idaho Patient Act proposes the following:

  1. All health care providers must submit all charges for procedures performed to an insurance carrier within 45 days.
  2. Within 60 days, the patient must receive a summary of services rendered during treatment and recovery, including the names and contact information for all entities that may be billing the patient separately, such as an individual doctor.
  3. All providers must then send a final statement with a total amount owed by the patient after insurance. The bill must correspond with the original list of services.
  4. Health care providers must wait 60 days after sending the final notice before charging a patient interest on an outstanding bill and hiring a collection agency. They must wait 90 days from the final statement before they take “extraordinary collection actions,” which means a lawsuit, or reporting a patient to a credit bureau for failure to pay.
  5. Finally, in medical debt cases that result in litigation, the legislation limits the amount attorney fees and costs that can be shifted to the patient to $350 for uncontested cases and $750 for contested cases. Currently, there is no official cap for fees that can be charged to delinquent patients by collection agencies and their representing lawyers.

In Boise, my first order of business was to register in the Idaho capitol building as a lobbyist, even though I was only going to be there for the day.  We wanted to do everything by the book! For $11 the Secretary of State’s office put me into the system and off we went.

Jay Cobb explained that Idaho is very conservative where rules or regulations are frowned upon. Of the 70 members of the Idaho House, 56 are Republican and some of those lean far right. 14 are Democrats. Of the 35 members of the Senate, only 7 are Democrat. The Governor is Republican, as is the Secretary of State and the Attorney General.

Katie and Jay have been working for months with elected officials, revising the bill without compromising its impact, and last week the measure was  reported favorably from the House Business Committee by a 15-2 vote (after a 5 hour hearing with many witnesses and terribly sad stories). Adding to the challenge of getting this bill enacted the second Vice Chair of the Republican Party in Idaho, and a member of the Idaho legislature were adamantly opposed to the legislation because as their egregious medical debt collection practices were epicenter of the problem.  Now the bill goes to the full House and over to the Senate.

While in the state house, we met with Senator Grant Burgoyne, a democrat who has provided legal representation to the collections industry. His observation? this bill would rein in “bad actors,” and the collections industry as a whole doesn’t oppose it. Senator Michelle Stennett, a democrat from Ketchum, told us about the challenges of getting what she thought were reasonable measures out of committee in Idaho because members are so loathe to pass any laws. The longest serving Democratic House member told us she believes the bill will pass, and the very smart and entertaining newly elected Boise Representative Steve Berch, who ran five times as a democrat in a red district and finally got elected, also predicts a positive outcome for this bill.  

To cap off the day, both U.S. Senators were in the State House and I had the chance to say hello to one of them, Senator James Risch (R-ID) and meet his DC staff.

The calculus changes when a conservative CEO with political clout backs a bill to offer protections to consumers who -through no fault of their own -have medical debt. Thanks to Frank Vandersloot, Katie Hart and Jay Cobb and the whole team at Melaleuca for making their case to the Idaho legislature so persuasively.

We hope this bill gets enacted in Idaho. If it does, the law will become a template for other states to put reasonable guardrails around collection of medical debt and offer some much-needed consumer protections. And maybe we can even hope that Vandersloot’s willingness to use his clout and bully pulpit to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice will be emulated by other CEOs.

Postscript

On March 9, the Idaho Senate passed the Idaho Patient Act 32-1. On March 16 Idaho Governor Brad Little signed the bill into law.

Congratulations to Frank Vandersloot, Melaleuca’s CEO, to his talented team of Katie Hart and Jay Cobb, and to all the members of the Idaho state legislature, who stood up for consumers and understood that one in seven Idahoans struggle with medical debt.

To quote the words on the Hanukkah dreidel, “A great miracle happened there.”

NCL urges caution following HHS drug importation announcement

December 20, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL)urges caution in light of this week’s announcement on drug importation from the Department of Health and Human Services. Our primary concerns are that this proposed new rule will put the public at greater risk of counterfeit drugs while not clearly passing on any cost savings on to consumer.

NCL recently launched the Fake Rx Action Center in conjunction with our site Fraud.org, which aims to educate consumers on the risks posed by counterfeit medicines, and how to spot, avoid, and report them should consumers come across any fakes. Counterfeit medicines have already claimed lives across the country, and this proposal further endangers consumer health by undermining the security of the American pharmaceutical supply chain.

Opening the door for states, pharmacies, and distributors to obtain medications beyond U.S. borders means that consumers could more easily fall prey to bad actors from around the globe when being provided medications that have originated outside of the U.S. regulated manufacturing and distribution supply chain. As the World Health Organization has noted regarding the broader counterfeit issue, patients may end up with medications that have the wrong active ingredient, the wrong amount of active ingredient, no active ingredient, or dangerous added ingredients. While we will continue to advocate for access to affordable drugs, it is not clear from the regulations that any potential cost savings from obtaining medications outside the U.S. borders will be passed on to individual consumers. The goal of lowering prices for consumers without a clear assurance of out of pocket cost savings in these regulations is not worth increasing the risk of harm to consumers by exposing them to medications that may not meet the clear standards of U.S. law.

Our organization has put consumers first for more than 100 years. It is our belief that there are safer and more effective ways to provide access to necessary prescription medications than to expose Americans to potentially deadly counterfeits originating outside the United States.

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.