LAS VEGAS — Despite Trump administration warnings about "Medicare for All" and other expansions of public coverage upending the private market, some executives at HLTH last week seemed more agnostic about the Democrat-backed plans, some of which would eliminate private insurance altogether.
"It's a symptom of a pricing issue, and a rate issue," Vivek Garpialli, CEO of Medicare Advantage plan provider Clover Health, said. "Until we see a better idea, it's actually not a bad framework to have a debate around and, unless a better one comes along in the next three, five, 10 years, it probably is inevitable."
Democratic candidates hoping to take on incumbent President Donald Trump in 2020 are pitching a slate of proposals to give the current healthcare system a major facelift. Former Vice President Joe Biden endorses a public option and bolstering the Affordable Care Act, while Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are stumping for a Medicare for All-type system that would terminate private insurance.
The debate itself is a "good example of the fact that the status quo needs to change," Tom Richards, global strategy and business development leader at Cigna, told Healthcare Dive.
Many healthcare tech startups have configured their products to be compatible within multiple platforms or companies, including myriad providers, Medicare, insurance on the ACA exchanges or employer-based coverage, so the payer platform doesn't matter as much to them — or their margins.
"So long as innovation is maintained, I think it could go either way," Pranay Kapadia, CEO of voice-enabled digital assistant startup Notable, said.
But executives, even on the startup side, seemed leery about the uncertainty Medicare for All would inject into the system.
"At the end of the day, the government is already unable to fully fund its obligations, from Social Security, to Medicare, to Medicaid," Ali Diab, CEO of employer-sponsored insurance startup Collective Health, said.
"Unless someone proposes a means to actually fund it that's credible, I just don't see a way for the government to take on more of the financial burden," he said, though he clarified he didn't have an opinion on the politics either way.
Moving to some form of a nationalized healthcare system could drag down profit margins across the industry (especially for payers). Cost estimates for the plans vary in the tens of trillions, from Sanders' $33 trillion to Warren's $52 trillion, both spread out over a decade.
Democratic backers say Medicare for All will drive down overall costs in the long run, despite hiking federal spending. Warren, who released her plan Friday, pledged there would be no middle-class tax increases and that Americans' pocketbooks would be helped overall due to the elimination of premiums and other out-of-pocket costs.
But industry isn't so sure the government could implement such a sweeping plan, even if it wanted to.
"I just don't see the legislators getting their act together to make this happen and, frankly, I don't want to wait for them," Marijka Grey, executive leader for transformation implementation at 150-hospital CommonSpirit Health, said.
At HLTH, Trump administration officials kept up their drumbeat of criticism of the idea.
It would "hand the reins to government bureaucrats to fix all our problems" and is marked by an "unwarranted confidence in government central planners," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said, while White House policy official and ex-pharma lobbyist Joe Grogan said Democrats "cannot accept no one is smart enough to design a healthcare system for all Americans."
Few Democrats have released comprehensive healthcare proposals, though 11 of the remaining 16 candidates support some version of single-payer healthcare.
"Quite frankly, branding-wise it's not horrible," Adam Boehler, the former head of CMS' innovation center, said. "In my opinion, it's the content versus the brand in terms of whether something will work or not."