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Decision Fatigue. For Doctors, Too?

This article by John Tierney in the New York Times suggests that humans suffer from decision fatigue, the tendency to make worse decisions as you make a series of hard decisions as the day goes along.  Here are some pertinent excerpts:

No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move. Once you’re mentally depleted, you become reluctant to make trade-offs, which involve a particularly advanced and taxing form of decision making. Continue reading…

Why Bother With Government?

On Friday, a federal Court of Appeals held unconstitutional a central feature of the new healthcare law-its requirement that almost all Americans obtain healthcare insurance through private insurance markets. This ruling came only days after the debt-ceiling debacle — a “tempest in a tea party” — during which our country’s credibility for honoring its debts was held hostage to the conviction that tax revenues should regularly ratchet down, but never up. Both the subtext of the majority’s opinion in the healthcare case and the anti-tax fervor evident in the debt-ceiling debate share a common underlying philosophy: the belief that government activity is largely hostile to prosperity and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore the less of it, the better. But this view of government is incorrect.

Government, to paraphrase Congressman Barney Frank, is just the name we give for the things we the people decide to do together. And taxes in turn are just the amounts we chip into the collective pot to buy whatever package of goods and services that we have agreed to purchase collectively.

In ordinary commercial settings, the private sector is more efficient at allocating scarce resources than is the government, which is why the United States relies so heavily on private markets. So why should we bother to do things together through the mechanism of government? One answer is that only government can address an “incomplete” market, which occurs when the private sector cannot or does not provide a market solution to an economic problem. Healthcare insurance is a classic case of an incomplete market that results in real economic burdens.

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Medicare Musings

I have been thinking about the connection between healthcare cost growth and the budget crisis. Many pundits have pointed out that rising Medicare costs are one of the biggest contributors to our budget mess. Republicans want deep cuts in future Medicare spending while Democrats are sensitive to constituents who demand the Congress keeps its hands off “their Medicare.” Current Medicare spending growth trends are unsustainable – at some point the math will trump the politics.

There are several options for putting Medicare on a much lower cost trajectory. Here is what I have come up with:

1) Do nothing but pray. Projections of future spending growth are mostly guesswork. Maybe the guesses are wrong. Consider that technological change has been a major driver of cost growth. (It is interesting to ask why medical technology nearly always seems to cause spending to increase, but I will save that for another blog.) Perhaps medical science has reached the bottom of the well and that output of costly new technologies will slow to a trickle. Of course, this will also mean that a century of advances in medical care will come to an end. I don’t know if we will really be better off; we will spend less on medical care than we projected, but we will also receive fewer benefits than we projected. Besides, the head-in-the-sand approach to cost cutting hasn’t worked yet. (Note to readers. Please do not comment that we can save the system through prevention. The Committee on the Cost of Medical Care already made the same point – in 1932.)

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HIT Trends Summary for July 2011

Specialty EMRs. There is a market for EMRs that specialize by practice type.  This month, the ophthalmologists tell us what’s required to help them.  They have specialized vital signs, testing and measurement devices.  It is likely all specialties would benefit if EMRs get more specialty-specific.  Some specialty EMR solutions have found a successful niche markets in cardiology, oncology and other segments.  This could be another.

Medscape reports that AAFP’s smaller practice members like EMRs that focus on them.  This report is focused on user satisfaction.  The combination of easy-to-use software and physician involvement is leading to high satisfaction with products from vendors focused on small practices.  And yet, we have also heard from prior KLAS reports that many practices (30%) are abandoning current vendors for market leaders.

A national study also reports that smaller practices are interested in new care models, but may lag implementation because they tend to underutilize needed technology.  The study included 1,344 practices with fewer than 20 physicians each.  The EMR is central to success of emerging collaborative and more accountable care models.  Using registries to help manage patient populations is a core element as is medication management through e-prescribing.   This study confirms that it will take a while for smaller practices to get the utilization required to be effective in the new model.

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WhiteGlove Health’s Growth Fueled by Technology


Bob Fabbio is a tech industry veteran most known for founding systems management company Tivoli which went public in 1995 and a year later sold to IBM for $743 million. He’s been a part of other successful exits such as selling Dazel Corp., which was acquired by HP in 1999. His latest venture is WhiteGlove Health’s which now has 500,000 members primarily in its home state of Texas.

An enterprise software veteran isn’t the obvious person to lead a healthcare provider. However, as outlined in Healthcare Disruption: Healthcare Providers Repeating Newspaper Industry Mistakes, it’s frequently not the obvious competitors that create the greatest disruption in the marketplace.

The legacy healthcare payment model for primary care is a Gordian Knot designed by Rube Goldberg. Consider the legacy model versus WhiteGlove’s model in the tables below.

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(Some) Illinois Hospitals Losing Tax-exempt Status

From the Chicago Tribune and AP.

The decisions were announced to the hospitals Tuesday morning, Revenue Department officials told The Associated Press. They follow last year’s Illinois Supreme Court ruling that found a central Illinois hospital wasn’t doing enough free or discounted treatment of the poor to qualify for an exemption, costing it $1.2 million in local property tax payments per year.

In addition to Prentice Women’s Hospital [a Northwestern facility] in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, the revenue department now has decided that Edward Hospital in Naperville and Decatur Memorial Hospital in Decatur don’t quality for property tax exemptions. The hospitals have 60 days to ask an administrative law judge to review the decisions. In Illinois, property taxes are collected by county governments, and the Department of Revenue decides which institutions are eligible for tax exemptions.

In a written statement, Illinois Hospital Association President Maryjane A. Wurth said she was disappointed and “deeply concerned” by the Revenue Department’s preliminary rulings, and worries that the hospitals will be forced to reduce services and increase costs for patients and employers.

It’s neither surprising nor inappropriate that state policymakers are holding hospitals to account.

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Individual Mandate: Can PPACA Survive Without It?

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed, opponents have looked for ways to overturn it in the court of law and the court of public opinion. They’ve had reasonable success in both arenas, using opposition to the individual mandate to buy health insurance as Exhibit A. Ironically, President Obama wasn’t a big fan of the individual mandate at the outset. In the primary election, Hillary Clinton favored an individual mandate while Obama opposed it. But somehow the mandate –at its core a Republican concept of personal responsibility– has become synonymous with so-called Obamacare.

With the recent court decision, it seems reasonably likely we will end up in a situation where the individual mandate is overturned but the rest of the law is upheld. Observers have some thoughts on what would happen:

  • Insurance companies will be unhappy. PPACA puts many restrictions on health plans, e.g., minimum medical loss ratio, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions but the upside is the mandate: lots of new customers, and a reduction in adverse selection, because everyone has to buy insurance and you can’t wait till your sick
  • Many fewer people will be enrolled in insurance.  Jonathan Gruber’s objectivity may be suspect, but he persuasively argues that repeal of the mandate would lead to many fewer people in coverage and higher premiums due to adverse selection. And the cost of the law wouldn’t drop by much despite the lower impact
  • Some opponents think/hope that eliminating the mandate will cause the whole law to collapse. I really doubt it.

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Attacks on IPAB Gather Strength—And Waste Energy?

The Washington Post reports that the Affordable Care Act’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, intended to constrain Medicare spending increases, is under increasing pressure from Republicans, health care lobbyists—and a significant number of Democrats.

As specified by the ACA, the IPAB will consist of fifteen health care “experts” to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, with authority to make cuts to Medicare if spending exceeds specified targets, starting in 2015. Congress could overrule the panel, but only by mustering a super-majority in the Senate or by creating an alternate plan to save the same amount.

The ACA imposes narrow limits on the IPAB. By law it cannot ration care, cut benefits, change eligibility rules, or raise revenue by increasing beneficiary premiums or cost-sharing, nor can it—until 2020—reduce payments to hospitals. This means that the brunt of any IPAB-proposed savings will fall on physicians and drug and medical device companies.

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Why the 11th Circuit’s Opinion on Health Care Reform Self-Destructs

Like a tragic literary figure, the 11th Circuit’s opinion declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional is doomed to failure by its own internal contradictions.  What follows is a series of quotes directly from the opinion, paired to show how desperately the majority twisted logic in order to find its path to a unsupportable conclusion:

1.  On the key necessary and proper argument, the court obfuscated as follows:

The government’s argument derives from a Commerce Clause doctrine of recent [1995] vintage: . . . the “essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity” language in Lopez. . . . Raich [is the] the only instance in which a statute has been sustained by the larger regulatory scheme doctrine.

HOWEVER, the court was well aware that

The Supreme Court’s most definitive statement of the Necessary and Proper Clause’s function remains Chief Justice Marshall’s articulation in McCulloch v.Maryland: 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 421 (1819).

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In Obamacare Case, Constitution Is Victor

Today is a great day for liberty.  By striking down the individual mandate, the Eleventh Circuit has reaffirmed that the Constitution places limits on the federal government’s power.  Congress can do a great many things under modern constitutional jurisprudence, but, as the court concludes, “what Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”  Indeed, just because Congress can regulate the health insurance industry does not mean it can also require people to buy that industry’s products.

One of the striking things about today’s ruling is that, for the first time in one of these cases, a Democrat-appointed judge, Frank Hull, has ruled against the government.  Just as the Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton made waves by being the first Republican appointee to rule in the government’s favor, today’s 300-page ruling shows that the constitutional issues raised by the healthcare reform—and especially the individual mandate—are complex, serious, and non-ideological.

Supporters of limited constitutional government need to temper their celebrations—just as they wisely tempered their sorrows after the last ruling—because we must all now realize that this will not end until the Supreme Court rules.  Nevertheless, today’s decision gives hope to those who believe that there are some things beyond the government’s reach and that the judiciary cannot abdicate its duty to hold Congress’s feet to the constitutional fire.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.

This post first appeared at Cato@Liberty – Cato Institute Blog.

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