Medicare for All, Google's health care plans, and more. 2019's most popular stories.

Topics: Health Care Reform, Politics and Policy, Providers, Payments and Reimbursement, Finance, Care Delivery, Care Models

As 2019 comes to an end, we're looking at back at our most popular health care stories of the year. From the 2020 election to value-based care models, American Health Line's coverage in 2019 focused on topics most affecting the health care industry.

What were the most popular stories of the year? Here are American Health Line's top 10 most-read stories of 2019.

1. Where the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates stand on health care issues

The 2020 Democratic presidential field quickly became one of the most crowded primary fields in modern U.S. history, as dozens of Democrats kicked off their presidential campaigns within the first few months of 2019. But over the past few months, the number of Democratic presidential hopefuls has whittled down from 28 candidates to 15. Among the remaining candidates, health care has emerged as the centerpiece of many of their campaigns. Stay up-to-date on the candidates' positions on health care with our candidate tracker.

2. These 10 common substances would get you banned from Major League Baseball

American Health Line's Ben Palmer combed through the list of more than 140 substances banned under Major League Baseball's (MLB's) performance-enhancing drug (PED) rules and found most of the substances on the list are in fact illegal—but not all of them. Palmer narrowed the list of banned substances to 10 of the most common ones found in everyday products in pantries and medicine cabinets. Check out the list to see what products could potentially be standing in the way of your professional baseball career.

3. Sanders just revised his 'Medicare-for-All' proposal. Here's what you need to know

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, first unveiled a proposal to expand Medicare coverage to all U.S. residents in 2017. But less than two years later, Sanders revised his so-called "Medicare-for-All" proposal to include long-term care coverage. In 2019, Sanders' plan went from a talking point to a seriously debated proposal that nearly every declared Democratic challenger to President Trump has gotten behind, if only in concept rather than in the specific policy details. The debate over whether the United States should replace the current health care system with a single-payer model will likely continue to play a key role in next year's election.

4. Your odds of dying in the US, in 5 charts

A 2019 report from National Safety Council (NSC), along with data from CDC mortality statistics, shed light on how U.S. residents are dying, how the top causes of death are changing, and much more. For example, the CDC data showed U.S. residents are more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause—but suggested cancer might soon overtake heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Take a look at the five charts visualizing the data to learn more about the leading causes of death in the United States.

5. HHS just unveiled 5 new value-based payment models. Here's what you need to know

The ACA's enactment authorized Medicare to experiment with value-based payment models and shift away from fee-for-service payments. In 2019, the Trump administration expanded value-based care to primary care providers, unveiling five new voluntary payment models designed to test whether performance-based payments in combination with providers taking on financial risk will reduce health care costs and maintain or improve health outcomes and quality of care. All five of the voluntary payment models are scheduled to begin in 2021.

6. Google's health care ambitions are way bigger than you realize

American Health Line's Jackie Kimmell explored the full scope of Google's health care ambitions and found the tech giant's health efforts are far more reaching than anyone would have expected. Kimmell's reporting revealed the difficulty of keeping track of Google's health care projects—which include initiatives led by Google Brain, Google Fit, Google's parent company Alphabet, and GV, Alphabet's venture capital arm. Kimmell found Google's seemingly disconnected health care projects are united by six themes, which are inherent to the company's vision for the future of "Google health care." Since Kimmell's story published, Google has continued to make waves in the U.S. health care system and is likely to continue to make more moves in the health care industry in 2020.

7. Leapfrog grades 2,619 hospitals 'A' to 'F'

The Leapfrog Group in May released its Spring Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades and assigned a total of 2,619 general acute-care hospitals in the United States "A" to "F" letter grades. Overall, 31.8% of hospitals—or 832—earned an "A," 26%—or 681—earned a "B" rating, and 35.8% of hospitals—or 938—earned a "C" rating. In Leapfrog's fall update, released last month, 34% of hospitals earned an "A" rating, 24.8% earned a "B" rating, and 33.3% earned a "C" rating. According to Leapfrog, 50,125 lives could be saved annually if hospitals with "B" ratings or lower improved their patient safety to level of hospitals with "A" ratings.

8. Map: The healthiest (and unhealthiest) states, according to the Commonwealth Fund

The Commonwealth Fund in June released its 2019 Scorecard on State Health System Performance that ranked all 50 states on key health measures. The scorecard named Hawaii the healthiest state and Mississippi the least-healthy state. Overall, the researchers found "most states are losing ground on key measures related to life expectancy" as a result of an increase in suicide-, alcohol-, and drug-related deaths—or so-called "deaths of despair." 

9. Trump issues executive order to expand private Medicare plans

President Trump in October issued an executive order intended to expand private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and introduce other Medicare reforms. The executive order seeks to expand MA plans by altering benefit structures and plan designs in ways that could potentially improve beneficiaries' access to Medicare Medical Savings Accounts, supplemental benefits, and telehealth services. Trump framed his executive order as a response to the "Medicare-for-All" proposals being backed by Democratic presidential candidates, which suggests MA plans might play a key role in his reelection campaign. In 2019, MA signups increased by 6.8% when compared to 2018, which means enrollment could further increase next year as more health plan options become available.

10. The Trump admin's top 3 health care priorities

In July, HHS Secretary Alex Azar laid out three of the Trump administration's health care priorities heading into the 2020 election: bolster public health, change how health care is financed, and improve the value of health care. Azar said the Trump administration will build on existing initiatives, such as the administration's efforts to improve kidney care and the donation allocation process, reform Medicaid through tighter eligibility requirements, and pursue health care price transparency. In recent weeks, we've already seen the Trump administration take action on some of these proposals, and we expect to see additional developments as we head into the 2020 presidential elections.