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Category: Health Policy

The “Antebellum Paradox”: What is it and why it matters.

BY MIKE MAGEE

I recently made the case that “Health is foundational to a functioning democracy. But health must be shared and be broadly accessible to be an effective enabler of good government.” I also suggested that the pursuit of good health is implied and imbedded in the aspirational and idealistic wording of our U.S. Constitution, and that the active pursuit of health as a nation is essential if we wish to rise to Hamilton’s challenge in Federalist #1 and prove that we are “capable of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” So why are native white males lagging behind in health?

Our progress as a nation toward health was severely hampered from the start. The reality of self-government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” applied only to 6% of inhabitants, all white male land owners at the time. Health was never voiced as a priority, though modern day critics insist it is clearly implied in the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what was that promise worth in the late 18th century, in a nation that allowed slavery, disenfranchised women, and slaughtered and dislocated its indigenous brothers and sisters?

In those earliest years of the birth of this nation, in the first half of the 19th century, what was the state of health for enfranchised native born white citizens of this nation? Most may presume (as I did) that the general health and standard of living over the next two hundred years, as reflected in lifespan, was a straight (if gradual) upward slope. But what I learned from a bit of digging is that uncovering the facts on mortality, fertility, migration, and population growth during those early years of our nation is a complex venture at best.

Our federal government did conduct a census every ten years, but one hundred years passed before we reliably collected vital statistics including comprehensive birth and death registration. Beginning in 1850, age, sex, race, marital status, occupation and cause of death were supposed to be collected. But an audit in those years disclosed that mortality (for example) was 40% underreported.

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Cardiology update: Should mRNA vaccine myocarditis be a contraindication to future COVID-19 vaccinations ?

BY ANISH KOKA

Myopericarditis is a now a well reported complication associated with Sars-Cov-2 (COVID-19) vaccinations. This has been particularly common with the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines (BNT162b2 and mrna-1273), with a particular predilection for young males.

Current guidance by the Australian government “technical advisory groups” as well as the Australian Cardiology Society suggest patients who have experienced myocarditis after an mRNA vaccine may consider a non-mRNA vaccine once “symptom free for at least 6 weeks”.

A just published report of 2 cases from Australia that document myopericarditis after use of the non-mRNA Novavax vaccine in patients that had recovered from mRNA vaccine myocarditis suggests this is a very bad idea.

The case reports

Case 1 involves a 26 year old man who developed pericarditis after the Pfizer vaccine. Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac the heart lives in, developed about 7 days after the Pfizer vaccine. The diagnosis was made based on classic findings of inflammation on an electrocardiogram associated with acute chest pain. The symptoms lasted 3 months, and a total of 6 months after the first episode of pericarditis, he received a booster vaccination with the Novovax (NVX-CoV2373) vaccine. 2-3 days after this he developed the same sharp chest pain and shortness of breath with elevated inflammatory markers (CRP) as well as typical findings of pericarditis seen on ECG. To add insult to injury, he contracted COVID 2 months after the second episode of pericarditis, but had no recurrence of the symptoms of pericarditis.

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Can Missouri Pass The Muster

BY MIKE MAGEE

A case has been made that a logical approach to reforming America’s violent and racist leanings would be to adopt the values and practices of Health Care for All. These include a commitment to compassion, understanding, and partnership; extending the linkages between individual, family, community and society; addressing fear and worry for individuals and populations; and promoting an optimistic and equitable future for all Americans. 

Nurses and doctors and pharmacists and other health professionals pledge oaths and spend years training to exhibit and practice these values in the course of providing preventive and interventional care to select Americans. Imagine the effect of delivering these many benefits in an equitable way, in all communities, with the intent of making not only Americans, but also the American culture healthy.

Or we could simply continue to accept the values exhibited by the Missouri State Legislature, where misogyny and brass knuckles have risen to the top of their legislative calendar.

In June, 2021, a Missouri News-Press editorial commented that “one vote last week might strike some as a sign that Missouri’s lawmakers could use some help with time management and prioritization.” The Republican led body had soundly passed HB 1462 which included Section 571.020 and 571.107 which read “This act repeals prohibitions on the possession and selling of brass knuckles, firearm silencers, and switchblade knives.” The same act addressed the taxpayer burden for possession of their weaponry by providing “that all sales of firearms and ammunition made in this state shall be exempt from state and local sales taxes.”

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Medicare Advantage UpCoding Has Been Eliminated by CMS Effective 2022

By GEORGE HALVORSON

Medicare Advantage now enrolls almost exactly half the people enrolled in Medicare — and has both significant fans and hardline opponents in the health care policy circles who disagree about its performance.

The biggest attack point that comes from the critics deals with the issues of coding accuracy by the plans. The payment model for the program is capitation — and that capitation is based on the average cost of fee-for-service Medicare in every county. The people who designed the model believed that the country should use the average cost of fee-for-service Medicare in every county as the baseline number and should have the plans paid less than that average Medicare cost going forward every year in their capitation cash flow.

Medicare fee-for-service has a strict and consistent payment level based on a list of approved Medicare services — and they add up the cost of those services in every county and let the plans bid a lower number than that fee for service Medicare cost, if the plans believe they can offer all of the basic benefits and possibly add more benefits and additional services for that amount.

The fee-for-service Medicare cash flow and costs in each county tend to be very stable over time, with a continuous and steady increase in the actual functional cost for taking care of those fee-for-service patients for each year that they receive care. That total cost of fee-for-service Medicare care is a visible and clear baseline number that we can use each year with confidence and knowledge that it is what we are spending now on those Medicare members in the counties.

The direct capitation amount that is then paid to each of the plans is based on the age, gender, health status, and diagnosis profile of the Medicare Advantage members who enroll in the plans. The plans have been reporting those patient profile numbers to the government through the Risk Adjustment Processing System (RAPS) over a couple of decades to set up their payment levels and to create the monthly cash flow for each plan.

That’s where the upcoding accusations relative to the plans arise.

The plans get paid more if the patients have more expensive diagnoses — so the plans have had a strong and direct incentive to make sure that every diabetic enrollee is recorded and reported as being diabetic for their RAPS filings.

They also have a strong incentive to be sure that every congestive heart failure patient has their diagnosis recorded in their RAPS report.

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Fighting the Wrong (Culture) War

By KIM BELLARD

News flash from the culture wars: they’re coming to take our gas stoves!

Well, actually, “they” are not, but the kind of people who got alarmed about it are a threat to our health, and to theirs.

The gas stove furor started with a Bloomberg News interview that Richard Trumka, Jr, a Consumer Product Safety Commission commissioner. “This is a hidden hazard,” he said. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

He was referring to the well known but little acknowledged fact that gas stoves emit various pollutants, especially nitrogen dioxide. Last year the AMA adopted resolutions about the risks of gas stoves, and urged migration efforts to electric stoves. Shelly Miller, a University of Colorado, Boulder, environmental engineer has said:

Cooking is the No. 1 way you’re polluting your home. It is causing respiratory and cardiovascular health problems; it can exacerbate flu and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in children…you’re basically living in this toxic soup.

So one can see why the CPSC might be concerned. But the outcry about Mr. Trumka’s comments were immediate and vociferous. “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove. If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) tweeted. The Atlantic further reported:

Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted a cartoon of two autographed—yes autographed—gas stoves. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio declared simply, “God. Guns. Gas stoves.” Naturally, Tucker Carlson got involved. “I would counsel mass disobedience in the face of tyranny in this case,” he told a guest on his Fox News show.

Almost as immediately, Mr. Trumka clarified: “To be clear, CPSC isn’t coming for anyone’s gas stoves. Regulations apply to new products.” CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric issued a statement making it clear that, while “emissions from gas stoves can be hazardous…I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.” The White House issued its own denial. Case closed, right?

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The Danger of Stroking a Tiger

By MIKE MAGEE

On the evening of December 29, 1940, with election to his 3rd term as President secured, FDR delivered these words as part of his sixteenth “Fireside Chat”: “There can no appeasement with ruthlessness…No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it.”

Millions of Americans, and millions of Britons were tuned in that evening, as President Roosevelt made clear where he stood while carefully avoiding over-stepping his authority in a nation still in the grips of a combative and isolationist opposition party.

The Germans were listening as well and sent a different type of message as the Luftwaffe, in concert with the address, launched their largest yet raid on the financial district of London. Their “fire starter” group, KGr 100, initiated the attack with incendiary bombs that triggered fifteen hundred fires that began a conflagration ending in what some labeled the “Second Great Fire of London.”

There was nothing happenstance about the timing or methods of the attack. The night was moonless, keeping RAF fighters lacking air-to-air radar grounded. There were high winds to fan the flames that night. High explosive bombs were used to target water mains to hamper fire fighters, and the Thames was at low tide making accessing it for a water supply neigh impossible.

Combined with Roosevelt’s words, the actions of December 29, 1940, now 82 years later, highlight two truisms when confronting evil orchestrated at the hands of racist, autocratic leaders.

First, appeasement does not work. It expands the vulnerability of a majority suffering the “tyranny of the minority.”

Second, the radicalized minority will utilize any weapon available, without constraint, to maintain and expand their power.

The battle to save democracy in these modern times has not been won. As was FDR at the time of his address, we are in the early years of this deadly serious conflict, and still in catch-up mode, awakened from a self-induced slumber on January 6, 2020.

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Healthcare, Meet Southwest

BY KIM BELLARD

Customers experiencing long, often inexplicable delays, their experiences turning from hopeful to angry to afraid they’ll never get back home.  Staff overworked and overwhelmed.  IT systems failing at the times they’re most needed.  To most people, that all probably sounds like Southwest Airline’s debacle last week, but, to me, it just sounds like every day in our healthcare system.

Southwest had a bad week.  All the airlines were hit by a huge swath of bad weather the weekend before Christmas, but most airlines recovered relatively quickly.  Southwest passengers were not so lucky; the airline’s delays and cancellations numbered in the thousands and stretched into days.  Overnight, it seemed, Southwest went from being one of the most admired airlines – loyal customers, on-time service, happy employees, consistent profitability – to one with “its reputation in tatters.

CEO Bob Jordan has had to do his mea culpas, and he’s not done.  

Some pointed to Southwest’s reliance on point-to-point flight schedules, in contrast to other airlines’ use of hub-and-spoke models, but most seem to agree that the root problem was that its IT infrastructure was not up to task – particularly its employee scheduling system, which told its employees who needed to be where when and how to accomplish that.  Casey A. Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told The New York Times: “Once one card falls, the whole house falls here at Southwest.  That’s our problem. We couldn’t keep up with the cascading events.”

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The Constitution, Health, and Culture in America

By MIKE MAGEE

The Right to Health Care and the U.S. Constitution.” On the surface, it sounds like a straightforward topic – a simple presentation. But a gentle scratch at the surface reveals a controversy that literally dates back 250 years and more. Is it a right”, a privilege”, or simply a necessity?”

I’m not a lawyer or Constitutional scholar. But I do know health care, its history, and its many strengths and weaknesses. What does our Constitution have to do with health care? The answer: That depends on how broadly you define “health.”

Before we were ever a nation, there existed a 300 year period of war and conquest, of genocide and superstition masquerading as science, of promises made and promises broken in the Americas. The naive fledgling nation that declared its independence in 1776, knew that what they were attempting was a long shot. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the first Federalist paper, the pressing question was “… whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.” It was, and is, an open question.

One hundred and seventy years after our Declaration of Independence, General George Marshall raised the same question when charged with rebuilding the destroyed societies of vanquished enemies, Germany and Japan, from ashes. Where should he begin? In 1946, he decided to begin by establishing national health plans in each of those nations. He believed that by creating services that emphasized safety and security; handed out compassion, understanding and partnership in liberal amounts; reinforced bonds between individuals, families and their communities; and processed a population’s collective fears and worries day in and day out, would help establish a level of trust and tranquility necessary to secure the foundations of a thriving and lasting democracy. It was, if you will, a “nation building” plan, The Marshall Plan.

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“All Men Would Be Tyrants.” History Reverberates!

By MIKE MAGEE

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This striking and sweeping statement of values, the Preamble to our Constitution, was anything but reassuring to the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of the Founding Fathers. Abigail Adams well represented many of them in her letter to John Adams in March, 1776, when she wrote:

Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”

Her concern and advocacy for “particular care and attention” reflected a sense of urgency and vulnerability that women faced, and in many respects continue to face until today, as a result of financial dependency, physical and mental abuse, and the complex health needs that accompany pregnancy, birth, and care of small infants.

The U.S. Constitution is anything but static. In some cases, the establishment of justice, or the unraveling of injustice may take more than a century. And as we learned in the recent Dobbs case, if the Supreme Court chooses, it may reverse long-standing precedents, and dial the legal clock back a century overnight.

Roe v. Wade was a judicious and medically sound solution to a complex problem. Perfection was not the goal. But in the end, most agreed that allowing women and their physicians to negotiate these highly personalized and individualized decisions by adjusting the state’s role to the reality of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimester made good sense. But getting physicians to step forward and engage the issue was neither simple nor swift.

In July, 1933, McCall’s magazine published one of hundreds of ads that year for contraceptive products. This one was paid for by Lysol feminine hygiene. It pulled punches, using coded messages, and suggesting that the very next pregnancy might finally push a women over the edge, and that would indeed be a “travesty.”

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Bad Backs & Deductibles

It’s time again for me to use my bad back as a case study in why American health care has such crazy incentives. 

About a month ago at the HLTH conference in Vegas, over the course of a few hours I developed debilitating leg pain. To quote from my earlier twitter  thread on my time in Vegas,  “After 3 days of excruciating pain, my wife insisted I went to the ER. The public policy person in me was horrified but we had already spent our deductible, so the cost was actually lower than paying cash for an MRI”

What actually happened was that after 3 days of dreadful pain & inability to walk (including getting myself home from Vegas using multiple wheelchairs, and being that guy who crawls off the plane onto a wheelchair), I got in to see my chiropractor. He said, you need an MRI to figure out what’s wrong with you. The alternatives were 

Looking good on the gurney!

1) Get insurance to pre approve the MRI. His guess was that that would take a few days or more. I actually called One Medical‘s urgent care video line and the PA I spoke to told me that usually insurance would only approve an MRI after I had done 6 weeks of physical therapy.

2) Pay $500 cash for a free standing MRI that could probably get me in during the next few days 

3) Go to the ER

Now the “incentives” part of this starts to really matter.

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