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The Coming DRexit

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Brexit was a British version of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” a famous line from the film “Network.” Brits were fed up with intrusive and nonsensical regulations from the European Union, including whether eggs could be sold by the dozen — really important stuff affecting the lives and well-being of our neighbors across the pond.

“Frexit” may be the next iteration, as one of the leading French presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen, promises voters a referendum to leave the E.U. Donald Trump’s election to the presidency is the American version, in which voters chose to leave behind the political and media Establishment and favored a new direction.

Now, in medicine, a similar movement is called “DRexit,” as described by Dr. Niran Al-Agba, a pediatrician in Washington State, who wrote about this in a blog post — and it may be pushing physicians away from stifling bureaucracies of government-run health care. Endless rules, regulations, and mandates are turning physicians from healers into robots and transforming the medical clinic into the post office or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Hospitals Helping Hospitals Be Better Hospitals

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The moment that an accreditation team shows up unannounced can spike the pulse of even the most seasoned hospital executive. The next several days will amount to one big exam for the safety and quality of care, as surveyors meet with executives, managers and care teams, and watch first-hand as care is delivered. Make the wrong move or give a wrong answer, have them see rust on a ceiling sprinkler, and your hospital may get dinged. Get dinged too many times or have findings of serious patient risks, and your accreditation (and the federal funds attached to that) may be in jeopardy.

This is a useful and essential exercise. It makes sure that hospitals are doing what they’re supposed to. For example, do they have an infection prevention and control plan? Do they conduct fire drills? Do they inspect, test and maintain medical equipment? Do doctors sign their orders and notes?

Regulators have been innovating how they evaluate hospitals to make their reviews more meaningful and impactful for patient safety. Yet, if we truly want to strive for the best possible care, end preventable patient harm and reduce needless costs, meeting regulations alone isn’t nearly enough. Regulations may help identify the “bad apples” and ensure compliance with minimum requirements. Yet these regulations alone have not been enough to transform a health care system that still harms patients too often, improves too slowly, wastes too much and innovates too little. How do we help hospitals to excel?

A Doctor’s Dilemma: A Case of Two Right Answers

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Imagine you are a doctor running a clinic in a primarily lower-income neighborhood, where many of your patients are recent immigrants from different parts of the world. You are granted a fixed annual budget of $100,000 through your local public health department, and it is unlikely that you can obtain additional funding later in the year. Traditionally, you have used your entire budget for the past several years, which usually lasts from January until December. This allows you to care for all of the few thousand patients who come to you for treatment throughout the year.

One day in January, a frightened, thin young man appears to the clinic with a folder of medical records. He is accompanied by his aunt, who explains to you that he has recently traveled from El Salvador, where he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer that, if untreated, will result in his death within 6 months. After further inquiry, you determine that his cancer is treatable, but will require $50,000 of your budget to save his life. What do you do?

Thinking Through the Moral Dilemma

The ethical dilemma in this case is one that physicians and public health practitioners confront often, particularly in very low-resource settings: the care of the individual versus the equitable distribution of resources to the society at large. For this case, treating this single patient means that there will not be enough money to treat all of the other patients who come to the clinic over the course of the year. In economic terms, we might say that his care is not cost-effective because for the same amount invested in supplying the clinic, we could prevent many more deaths or disability adjusted life years (DALYs) for a greater number of patients. However, allowing a patient to die of a treatable condition feels wrong on many levels.

Thinking through this further, we must look closely at our values as a country and a health system: thanks to EMTALA, we ensure that no patient will ever be allowed to die of an emergency condition while in a hospital; thus, we value saving people from imminent, preventable death.

Trump Friend & Ally: “Donald, Build Universal Healthcare!”

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Opinions are flying. Opinionators with a plan to fix healthcare in America are suddenly as common as waiters with a script in Santa Monica. Few are worth a second glance. They fall into the “that’ll never pass” pile or the “that’ll never work” pile.

So why should we pay any attention to Christopher Ruddy’s idea? Because he’s a prominent conservative, the CEO of Newsmax, and a long-time friend and ally of Trump—and he is advocating for at least a “lite” version of universal coverage.

Insurance Is Not the Problem. It’s Also Not the Solution

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Most everyone is talking about Healthcare lately and I just can’t take it anymore and had to send out a primer, because there is so much bad information being floated.  I don’t like the ACA replacement because the idea is still based on the premise that you can give-away insurance as an entitlement program.  The problem is that you can’t “give-away” insurance, it’s an oxymoron, if there is no skin in the game for the insured they’ll never care.

I’m an insurance guy and Trump voter.  I only point this because I want you to know that my healthcare recommendation is heartfelt and I offer it with no real bias other than offering my experience and expertise on the matter.  My idea is just an independent thought and many Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats would hate it, but I think Trump (the Independent) would love it.  And I feel it’s the only way for Trump to try and “solve” the healthcare problems in the U.S. and keep his commitment that “all” would be covered.

Value-Based Purchasing and “Free Lunch Syndrome”

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Imagine that a drug company released a “study” that claimed to find that if all 75 million Americans with high blood pressure took the drug company’s hypertension drug the nation’s annual medical expenditures would drop by $20 billion. Imagine as well that the “study” failed to take into account the $40 billion cost to patients and insurers of buying all those hypertension drugs. Such a study would be roundly criticized for failing to take into account an essential component of cost – the cost of the intervention that led to lower medical expenditures.

But studies like the hypothetical drug company study appear constantly in the health policy literature. Almost all peer-reviewed papers that examine managed-care interventions – HMOs, ACOs, “medical homes,” “value-based purchasing,” etc – fail to report the cost of the intervention. Instead, they measure only medical costs or medical utilization rates. If they find that costs or utilization rates fell, the vast majority of studies imply or come right out and claim that “costs“ went down. This unethical practice is so widespread and so chronic I propose we give it a name. I propose we call it the “free lunch syndrome.”

CBO 24 GOP 0

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If you carve a huge chunk of revenue out of Obamacare and shift more subsidies to the middle class it should not be a surprise that the lower income folks will pay the price

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that 14 million  people would lose coverage in 2018, 21 million in 2020, and 24 million in 2026 if the House Republican plan is allowed to significantly amend the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare).

In my last post, I called the House Republican bill “mind boggling” for the negative impact I believe it would have on the number of those uninsured and the viability of the individual insurance market. Guess the CBO agrees with me.

The CBO’s report came after the Brookings Institute estimated 15 million people would lose Medicaid and individual health insurance coverage at the end of ten years under the Republican plan. The arguably more business oriented S&P Global estimated between 6 million and 10 million people would lose coverage between 2020 and 2024.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA): Why It’s Not Going Away Anytime Soon and What You Need to Know

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Last Monday, as promised, House Speaker Paul Ryan fulfilled his pledge to offer up the GOP’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. 

In reality, America’s Health Care Act (AHCA) is not a new plan. Rather, it’s an updated version of the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015” that passed the 114th Congress October 23, 2015 before being vetoed by President Obama. Surrogates for this plan are quick to point out that their Repeal and Replace effort also encompasses administrative orders from HHS Secretary Tom Price, executive orders from President Trump and legislation to be passed through regular order (requiring 60 Senate votes). But the AHCA is unquestionably the first and most important of these elements: it signifies to Repeal and Replace proponents that the new Republican majority intends to make good on its promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. 

Its status is this: the AHCA cleared the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committee votes last week. Later today, the Congressional Budget Office will render its assessment of the plan’s financial impact and its underlying assumptions about possible changes in insurance coverage. After passage in the House, it will go to the Senate where it will be modified and likely passed along party lines under the restrictions of reconciliation. Its sponsors hope it will be law within six weeks as their initial phase of Repeal and Replace. 

How Trump Can Kill the Cancer In Obamacare Without Congress

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Cancer is a devious and devastating disease. All it takes are a few bad cells to grow uncontrollably, first destroying organs, then an entire person. It can also lie dormant for years after supposedly being cured, then at some moment awaken from its remission slumber to resume its search-and-destroy mission. Even if cancer is controlled, it can still leave its victim in a weakened or debilitated condition, a shadow of its former robust self.

What if the Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as Obamacare, was unintentionally infected with cancer back in 2010 when it was voted into law? What if the cancer could be reactivated at any time? After all, we had to “pass the bill to find out what’s in it” according to one of its proponents. Surprise, the dormant cancer is already in the law.

Ideally, cancer is removed from the body entirely. A true cure. For Obamacare, this would mean repealing the bill entirely. Despite campaign promises of repeal, legislatively, this is a nonstarter. This is worth a brief review as many think a simple repeal bill from the House is possible.

Price Transparency and All Its Very Large Warts

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Transparency – including price, quality, and effectiveness of medical services is a vital component to lowering costs and improving outcomes.  However, it is imperative transparency go hand-in-hand with financial incentives for patients and consumers; otherwise the quest will be in vain.  The single best way of reducing costs while not worsening health outcomes is to redistribute resources from less cost-effective health services to more cost-effective ones.  Americans are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of making decisions based on cost but we must become fluent in the language of cost and more comfortable making decisions based on price information for healthcare expenditures to stabilize. 

Legislators in more than 30 states have proposed legislation to promote price transparency, with most efforts focused around publishing average or median prices for hospital services. Some states already have price transparency policies in place. California requires hospitals to give patients cost estimates for the 25 most common outpatient procedures. Texas requires providers to disclose price information to patients upon request. Ohio passed price transparency legislation last year; however a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Hospital Association has delayed implementation.  The cost of a knee replacement is $15,500 at the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, whereas the national average is $49,500