Day: October 26, 2021

Simplify insurance for better health care

It is an unfortunate fact that most everyone has a health care insurance horror story.

In our overly complex and convoluted health care system, even routine checkups and minor appointments sometimes snowball into bureaucratic exercises of patience and will. While we thought health insurance would solve these issues, for some it has been made worse.

Whether at the primary care doctor, the dentist or the eye doctor, our reliance on insurance means that a simple transaction between patient and provider can often become complicated. For those without stellar plans, they must pay for care, then submit a claim to the insurer, negotiate the costs, wait for reimbursement and forward that payment to the provider. And that’s assuming the insurance company accepts the claim.

And while reform has been attempted at all levels of government, however well-intended, these have often served to further complicate the issues that come with being a patient in the American health care system, all the while giving more power to insurers.

At least one measure of progress can be found in a bill being pushed through the Pennsylvania Senate that would radically simplify the insurance process for dental patients.

State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and others have introduced a bill, SB850, that would enact what is known as assignment of benefits reform, requiring insurers to follow enrolled patients’ requests that the insurer directly pay a patient’s health care provider. There would be no additional forms, no additional waiting, and it would simplify the process so that patients could focus on getting what they need, rather than chasing an insurance claim.

This sounds intuitive, but at present, many dental insurance reimbursements must be vetted by the insurance company and then routed to the patients to pay their dentists. Not to mention any clauses found in insurance contracts that add additional steps.

If we were to simplify this process and empower patients, it would do wonders to improve care in this state — and perhaps free up at least one part of our health care system.

Critics of these reforms say they would put pressure on insurers, who would need to simplify and quickly pay health practitioners when patients tell them.

But conceding that point would mean allowing health insurers — who already have a dominant role in the health care industry — to complicate the process of reimbursing patients and providers with burdensome clauses and exemptions in their contracts.

After the Affordable Care Act and several Medicare reforms, assignment of benefits is a standard practice in general health care but so far does not exist across all medical categories. Passing this bill and getting it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk would be a strong measure of support for consumers and patients.

Of course, this level of legislation is far from the the large-scale reform needed. An eventual decoupling of insurance from dental and primary care for a more direct-to-consumer model altogether would be a radical way to improve our system, but this bill is a step in the right direction.

These laws have already been passed in states such as South Dakota, Colorado and West Virginia and are trending across the country, but more will be needed.

Indeed, there are plenty of easy reforms state legislatures could enact that would help improve care: fostering innovation, reducing bureaucracy, giving incentives to patients to use direct-to-consumer options and more.

Tax-saving accounts for education have been widely successful, and we could do more with health savings accounts even at a state level. Here, there is a role for government.

If we can continue to promote competition and transparency to provide better care, then patients and consumers will benefit. There are many patients and consumers with great plans that serve their needs. Nevertheless, there are still millions of Americans who want a better process.

Let us hope the Legislature understands this key point and helps make our health care easier, more affordable and pain-free.

Originally published here

Not all PFAS are the same, and why this matters for future regulation

On 17 October, a stakeholder consultation led by the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway on the use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) closed. By 2022, the European Chemicals Agency is expected to submit its restriction proposal for the use of PFAS in firefighting foams and other products. Combined with pressure from green groups calling for complete avoidance of these chemicals, the European Union is on the brink of a very costly and unfeasible policy move: a complete PFAS ban.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that can be found in a variety of consumer products. Some popular uses include medical equipment, food packaging, and firefighting foam. In the case of medical equipment, for example, these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy, and inhaler canister coatings.

However, that is not to say that all of these chemicals are safe. When improperly dumped into the water supply, or when the exposure exceeds specific threshold levels, they do pose a danger. These concerns are justified and shouldn’t be understated or misrepresented. At the same time, they shouldn’t direct our attention away from the benefits of PFAS in certain production processes.

Because of their chemical resistance and surface tension lowering properties, PFAS are hard and expensive to replace. A complete ban would put the production of these vital consumer items in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. Declaring all PFAS hazardous without first considering risks associated with each use, and considering the feasibility and safety of alternatives, is a dangerous policy path.

In the United States, calls for a complete ban are also dominating the discourse. The PFAS Action Act, which is currently under review in the Senate, fails to consider that all these chemicals carry different risks depending on their use and exposure levels. The European Union’s approach aims to achieve similar outcomes. The idea is to divide PFAS into two groups: essential and non-essential. However, eventually, all are sought to be phased out.

Both strategies turn a blind eye to the uncomfortable evidence-based truth about these chemicals. PFAS have already been largely phased out from being used where they are not necessary. A  2018 Toxicological Profile for Perfluoroalkyls by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry  says that “Industrial releases have been declining since companies began phasing out the production and use of several perfluoroalkyls in the early 2000s.”

A complete ban on PFAS being used also doesn’t necessarily mean that these man-made chemicals will cease to be produced or sold. The unintended consequence of extremely restrictive policies is a spike in production elsewhere. Bans in the EU and US will likely result in China ramping up their production. And given how necessary PFAS can be for both medical equipment, and consumer goods, an EU or US ban would be simply shifting production to countries who largely fail to meet general standards for environmental stewardship.

It is crucial that while assessing PFAS, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic do not fall prey to calls for complete avoidance. PFAS are diverse and while some of them might need to be restricted or banned, others are crucial and necessary, as in the case of medical equipment. One size doesn’t fit all, and the necessary uses of PFAS, especially when they don’t pose a risk to human health, shouldn’t be left out of the discourse.

Originally published here

No reason to toast federal tax on non-alcoholic beer

Across the board, we should expect better from Ottawa, and the tax on non-alcoholic beer is yet another example of where they’ve gotten it wrong.

Sin-taxes, across all sectors, are fairly excessive in Canada. At almost every turn the government sinks its tax teeth into the process of you purchasing the products you like. This is true for cannabis products, alcohol, tobacco, vaping, gas, and annoyingly so, non-alcoholic beer. Yes, non-alcoholic beer in Canada is not exempt from federal excise taxes.

You read that right. The federal government also extends its sin-tax regime for non-alcoholic beer, at a rate of $2.82/hectolitre.

The application of excise taxes for non-alcoholic beer is problematic for a variety of reasons. The first, and most glaring, is that it is hypocritical given that the federal government has exempted non-alcoholic wine and spirits from the excise tax. Why apply it for beer, but not wine and spirits? Obviously, a more consistent approach would be to simply exempt all non-alcoholic beverages from the excise tax, because the purpose of the sin tax is to recover alcohol-related healthcare costs. That said, there are no alcohol-related healthcare costs at all from non-alcoholic beer, which immediately shows the lunacy of sin-taxing these products.

In addition to correcting hypocrisy, removing the excise tax for non-alcoholic beer would put federal policy in line with how the provinces treat these products. Provincial regulators, including Alberta, don’t require non-alcoholic beverages to be sold at licensed alcohol retail outlets, because they’ve accepted the obvious that these products don’t have alcohol in them and thus shouldn’t be strictly regulated. That is why in Alberta these products are often sold alongside carbonated water and pop. Removing the excise tax would be the federal government following the lead of the provinces in treating non-alcoholic beer differently than beer, because they are in fact different.

On the industry side, the federal excise tax acts as a barrier for product development in Canada, mostly because other beer producing jurisdictions (US,EU,UK) don’t tax non-alcoholic beer. Because of this the domestic industry in those jurisdictions has flourished, offering consumers more choice and at better prices. Their sane tax policy, coupled with increased consumer demand, is in large part why the non-alcoholic beer market is expected to grow to over $4 billion by 2025. These drinks aren’t just for hipsters, designated drivers and pregnant women anymore.

Lastly, and most importantly, is how non-alcoholic beer is yet another example of new products reducing harm for consumers. And while I don’t personally enjoy these drinks, I can see why someone would still want to enjoy a beer with their friends, or at a bar, without the alcohol that comes along with it.

From a harm reduction perspective, it makes perfect sense to have different tax strategies for products that vary in risk. The Trudeau government, at times, has championed harm reduction for illegal drugs but appears to have a blind spot when it comes to legal substances. This is an uncomfortable trend from Ottawa that is perfectly exemplified by the excise tax on non-alcoholic beer. Ottawa has kept the excise tax system for non-smokable THC cannabis products, like edibles and beverages, despite the fact they are significantly less harmful. They’ve sought to ban vape flavours, despite the fact that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, and flavours are an incredibly useful tool for adult smokers trying to quit.

Across the board, we should expect better from Ottawa, and the tax on non-alcoholic beer is yet another example of where they’ve gotten it wrong. Hopefully, come Budget 2022, they can correct this mistake and remove the excise tax from these products entirely.

Originally published here

The EU and the U.S. Need a Common Digital Market Strategy to Counter China

The past few weeks have been hardly an easy time for Facebook.Frances Haugen’s leak, combined with a six-hour blackout last week, has reinforced some politicians’ desire to further regulateFacebook, or even completely break it up, as proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, while the EU and U.S. are thinking long and hard about their next move against big tech, China has been taking over our digital space in the West slowly but consistently.

Following a report by an anonymous researcher, Hikvision, a Chinese surveillance company, is now facing scrutiny over a privacy breach in Europe. The high-tech cameras produced by Hikvision have been found to be vulnerable and carry risk of malicious code insertion or cyberattacks.

In the U.S., Hikvision was put on the sanctions list under President Trump in 2019. China’s appetite for data is hardly news, and as Europe is finally starting to open its eyes to its scope, it’s time for a shared action. To counteract growing Chinese influences, the EU and U.S. need a comprehensive transatlantic agreement on digital policies.

In January 2021, the European Commission presented the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA). At first glance, both acts aim to curb innovation in the EU by keeping American tech giants at bay. Combined with antitrust investigations against Facebook and Amazon, the European Union’s behavior can be easily classified as hostile toward the U.S. However, both DSA and DMA are inept attempts to understand how online platforms work and seemingly fail to strike a balance between the need to safeguard the competition while allowing smaller enterprises to innovate.

To level the playing field for all platforms regardless of their size, the Digital Markets Act put in place a series of ex-ante restrictions to determine the acceptable market behavior for big players. DSA and DMA are not anti-American per se; it just happens that the U.S. tech sector is fertile ground for disruptive platform businesses, which makes them a prime target for EU authorities.

Even U.S. lawmakers have been determined to clip the wings of big tech to encourage future digital innovation. Throughout the years, Facebook has had to fight several antitrust complaints to disprove the claims of its alleged monopoly in the social networking market. Last year, Amazon faced its first antitrust lawsuit, and Google has been flooded with these as well. Most of these proceedings are a knee-jerk reaction to the continuously growing market power of businesses that are fundamentally different from conventional supply chains and corporations that sell physical goods. The Internet has changed everything.

U.S. state and federal regulators and their European counterparts are equally puzzled about how best to address the sudden and continuous exponential growth of tech giants, services that have provided vast benefits to consumers. But in a quest to come up with a perfect piece of legislation to tame tech companies, both the EU and the U.S. have lost sight of the far-reaching hand of the Chinese Communist Party and its influence in the digital market and beyond.

TikTok is a well-known case of how one popular app with ties to China can threaten what we in the liberal democracies value most: freedom. A 2019 report released by The Guardian showed that TikTok was as much a social media platform for sharing videos as a strategically organized censorship and propaganda machine.

The app was found to not only have banned specific anti-Chinese government videos, but also promoted various Chinese organizations, ministries, schools, and universities founded outside China that pushed the Communist Party’s narrative. Huawei’s backdoor to mobile networks globally is another example of how technology is used by the Chinese government to undermine national security and privacy in liberal democracies.

The EU and the U.S. should stand up to China and its growing influence in all areas, but especially on the digital front. The potential extent of its surveillance powers in our countries is terrifying. According to a 2019 research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, Global Tone Communications Technology Co. Ltd, supervised by China’s Central Propaganda Department, mines data in more than 65 languages from 200+ countries. Since the company is state-owned, the bulk data can be used by others who have access to it.

If left unconstrained, China’s playbook on controlling its citizens could spread to liberal democracies. The EU and the U.S. must work together to develop a common digital strategy to tackle the ever-expanding influence of the CCP.

It is more important that we protect our consumers from a spy country that has detained three million Uyghurs. As such, an EU-U.S. agreement on a digital strategy centered around a shared goal to stop China is paramount to preserving our freedoms.

Originally published here

Should Saskatchewan adopt a tax on soft drinks?

In case you missed it, a tax on sugary drinks is coming to Atlantic Canada, but could it also work in Saskatchewan?

Earlier this week, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced it was introducing a tax of 20 cents a litre on soft drink products in September 2022, a move that could bring in roughly $9 million a year in revenue to the province.

The concept of a soft drink tax is nothing new as several countries have either debated the idea or implemented a sugar tax or sweetened beverage tax (SBT), including the U.K., South Africa and Mexico.

Several U.S. states or cities have also introduced a levy on sugary drinks. However, some areas like Cook County, Ill. have repealed their taxes.

Read the full article here

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