Trump

Trump

Trump’s Healthcare Plan: Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription

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Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.37.58 AMDonald Trump recently released a healthcare reform plan. If only he had spent as much time crafting it as he does his hair. 

The GOP frontrunner is right that Obamacare has failed to fix what ails America’s healthcare system. As Trump put it, the Affordable Care Act has “tragically but predictably resulted in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition and fewer choices.”  He famously said that he wants to “repeal and replace with something terrific.”

But “terrific” his plan is not.

Take, for instance, his proposal to legalize the importation of “safe and dependable [prescription] drugs from overseas.”

Importing cheaper drugs from other countries may seem like a great way to reduce the cost of medicine for Americans. But there are important reasons why it’s currently prohibited.

Is the ACA Merely a Step Towards Single-Payer “Medicare-for-All?”

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A recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal announced, “Obamacare’s meltdown has arrived.” Over the years I’ve heard conspiracy theories that the Affordable Care Act was designed to fail, as a means to nudge a reluctant nation one step closer to a single-payer, Medicare-for-All health care system.

Bernie Sanders famously advocated for single-payer during his campaign.  In 2011, the Vermont legislature passed a bill to create a single-payer initiative. Green Mountain Care was abandoned in 2014 by Vermont’s governor — a Democrat — as being too costly. Despite an 11.5 percent payroll and a sliding-scale income tax of up to 9.5 percent, Green Mountain Care was projected to run deficits by 2020.   

A similar single-payer initiative is now taking place in Colorado. Amendment 69, known as ColoradoCare, would create a taxpayer-funded health insurer. ColoradoCare would be available to nearly all Colorado residents, including Medicaid enrollees. Federal programs, such as Medicare, TRICARE and the VA would remain in place, however.

The Meme-ifcation of Health Care

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flying cadeuciiWhy can’t we have nice things? As a self-anointed health policy wonk, I find myself asking this question many times. It seems that every potentially transformative (to use a tired cliché) health care trend must eventually go through a process I’ll call “meme-ification.” And I’ll preface by saying that this applies across the political spectrum.

Take the hobby horse of many progressive reformers – single payer. If you’ve spent any time immersed in health care policy, you’ve probably heard it all: every other advanced country does it, insurance companies (and profits) are evil, health care can’t be a for-profit (evil) industry etcetera.

Of course, if you’ve spent any time immersed in health care policy you probably also understand that attempting to extrapolate lessons from the U.K. (relatively homogeneous, over 250 people per square kilometer, and about 1 homicide per 100,000) to the U.S. (about as diverse as you can imagine, about 35 people per square kilometer, and nearly five homicides per 100,000) is at best, an uphill battle.

Dinosaur-Driven Health Reform

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I grew up during the last great age of Jurassic parenting.

We called our Dad “T-Rex” because he was the ultimate alpha predator with a big mouth, sharp teeth, limited peripheral vision and small arms that prevented him from doing any housework. His home was his castle.

Our dining room table was his bully pulpit, and fact-checking was an act of sedition, prohibited when he was on a roll. On occasion, a courageous teen would put his college education to work to question my father’s draconian position on the war in Vietnam (“Bomb the NVA back into the Stone Age”) or social protest (“America, love it or leave it”). My father would listen incredulously and then ruthlessly suffocate the nascent rebellion like a banana republic dictator.

My father is no Archie Bunker. At 86, he’s lost a step and repeats himself, but he still understands Keynesian economics. He’s a tried-and-true carnivore capitalist who borders on being libertarian. He has an IQ of 170, and in his heyday he was the regional CEO of a large ad agency. But he has major blind spots and a black-and-white view of the world. His reptilian brain is in fear mode thanks to Fox News and a world that has been reduced to a dozen meds and 3,000 square feet. Before the election, he was angry—always interpreting any action by Obama as a sign of a decline in the values and ethic that made America great. His contradictions would come fast and furious:

“No, I don’t want immigrants. Oh, yes, I do love my immigrant caregivers.”

“I hate socialized medicine, but I love Medicare and don’t want to pay more for it.”

“Bush Jr. was an idiot, but Obama is worse.”

When I listen to Donald Trump, I hear my father.

An Independent Medical Review Panel for the Candidates

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Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 9.10.32 AMAs unusual as the 2016 presidential election has been, one obvious aspect has gone largely unnoticed: By the time the next president of the United States is inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, he or she will have reached or come close to reaching 70 years old.

That all the remaining major candidates are among the “young old” at this stage of the election process is unprecedented. Yet, in spite of the stakes for the American people, there is no independent source that can provide an adequate accounting of the medical condition of the next president.

Historians have examined the ways that previous administrations have been affected by the medical problems of presidents including Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. The news has not always been positive.

Open Enrollment 2016… Can the Exchanges Be Saved? And Other Trending Questions

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It’s open enrollment season—the annual period in which tens of millions of consumers wallow in the misery of health insurance choices and costs.  So, let’s pause to reflect on the status of things—enrollment-wise—with employer coverage, Medicare, and the exchanges. 

In particular, do consumers have better tools these days to help them choose insurance plans? 

For people with employer-based coverage—about 150 million Americans—things are okay and stable, but not great. The latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, released last month and based on a detailed survey of 1,900 employers (small, mid-size and large), indicates that premiums rose on average a modest 3% in 2016—to just over $18,000 for family coverage.  Workers paid 29% of that. 

A similarly small increase in premiums has prevailed for several years and is expected again for 2017. 

Almost all firms with 50 or more employees offer health benefits and the vast majority claim their coverage meets the ACA’s requirements for value and affordability.  Overall, 56% of employers offer health benefits because hundreds of thousands of small firms either choose not to offer it or can’t afford it—especially the smallest Mom and Pop shops.

Not Quite DOA: Why Reports of the Demise of the President’s Budget May be Exaggerated

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Ceci ConnollyAnyone who has spent a few years in Washington knows the federal budget dance: President stands behind podium with a fancy seal and flags and unveils a giant tome. The next morning newspapers declare the tome DOA, Dead on Arrival. And we all return to regularly scheduled programming.

This year was no exception. Even the White House seemed to acknowledge the fact by releasing the 182-page blueprint on the same day as the Iowa caucuses with Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz grabbing the headlines.

But budget nuggets have a way of seeping into the policy fabric and eventually taking hold. Legislative staff scrub the document for ideas, not to mention numbers. Candidates steal liberally, adding favorites to their rhetorical arsenal. Eventually, some of those candidates become lawmakers, cabinet secretaries and even president. So the ideas live on.

Happily, President Obama chose his final budget proposal to draw attention to the inexplicable, indefensible rise in drug prices in this country. Our nonprofit, provider-sponsored plans know better than most the clinical value of so many of today’s medications. At ACHP, we have the privilege of partnering with organizations that are in pursuit of the 4Rs – the Right patients receive the Right treatments at the Right time for the Right price. From Capital Health Plan’s Center for Chronic Care, which reduces health costs for the entire community by providing concierge-type care for the sickest one percent of Capital members, to Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin’s pioneering initiative embedding pharmacists in primary care clinics to track patients who may need additional treatment management, ACHP members are working to ensure patients always receive the medications they need.

And the Democrats Wonder Why They Lost the Election?

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Now I have insurance. But I can’t use it. What am I supposed to do? I know this one is long but it’s worth a read if you want to understand issues pertinent to the Affordable Care Act. My personal story illustrates many of the problems with the ACA.

I started taking notes on the Health and Human Services Secretary hearing, and I will share more as I scrutinize the hearing in more detail but let’s start with the breakdowns below and my experience with Obamacare.  Here goes:

These are the breakdowns of who gets what coverage in the United States:

Medicare 18% – 52m

Employer 61% – 178m

Medicaid 22% – 62m

Individual 6% – 18m (exchanges cover 4% of the 6%–these are the people who have been forced onto the Obamacare plans)

Note: this writer is in the BOTTOM of the barrel here (Individual). Most of the individuals in the “Individual” category are either the upper contingent of the working poor, those who work for small businesses like restaurants or family owned grocery stores and the like that don’t provide health insurance benefits (more and more common these days), and/or sole proprietors like myself. Many health care providers are self employed hence we have been forced into the Obamacare exchanges if we are not high earners. High earners won’t buy on the marketplace and will purchase individual plans outside of the marketplace.

The Physician’s Case For Trump

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Brexit has been hailed as a turning point in the history of Western Democracy by a collection of liberal and conservative elites that decry the vote of a disenchanted and ignorant populace.  The greatest threat to democracy in the modern age turn out to be the very same people that make up the democracy.  We are told these are the same forces that propel Donald Trump forward.  It is a convenient narrative that extinguishes any real debate on policy.  If you support Brexit or Donald Trump you are an uninformed, xenophobic bigot.  Yet here I am – an Indian immigrant, a physician, and a lifelong democrat to boot, who sees no other choice than Trump this election cycle.

I must confess that I have no emotional connection with Mr. Trump – his public demeanor, braggadocio, and above all, the coarseness of his manner when he engages opponents are not what are familiar or soothing to eye or ear.  Yet, as a physician who has struggled through the last eight years of policies and regulations that have made my ability to take care of patients more and more difficult, Mr. Trump has taken on the form of an orange-tinged life preserver.

Fail to Scale: Why Great Ideas In Healthcare Don’t Thrive Everywhere

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In the world of fine wine, it is well known that some types of wine grapes grow only in very specific climates and ecologies. The concept borrowed from the French is “terroir” (ter-WAHR). Terroir explains why the finest champagne grapes grow only in a small district in northeastern France, characterized by rolling hills and a chalky limestone subsoil that provides a steady level of moisture and imparts a mineral note to the wine’s flavor.

Health policy advocates have sought for generations to propagate promising forms of health care organization across the country. Yet one finds repeatedly that some forms of organization that prosper in one part of the country fail to thrive in others. Is it possible that the concept of terroir also applies in health care?

The Case Of Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente’s health plans would be a great example. Kaiser has been a darling of health policy advocates such as Alain Enthoven, Paul Ellwood, and others because of its integrated structure, global risk, and salaried employment model of physician practice. Yet, despite repeated federal interventions, beginning with the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973, Kaiser only recently exceeded 10 million in enrollment for the first time in its 71 year history. Moreover, 82 percent of that enrollment is in two states—Oregon and California—where Kaiser originated. The percentage of Kaiser’s enrollment that derives from its origin states is basically unchanged in a decade.