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Category: Health Policy

Climate Change: The Future of the Quality Movement

By MARIE DUNN

A little more than 20 years ago, the IOM report To Err is Human catalyzed the profession around the realization that our health care system was killing around 98,000 people a year from medical error. I am part of a generation of professionals that learned to adopt systems thinking; to measure, monitor, and improve; and to ultimately improve quality of care. 

Today, we face a different set of challenges. Health care is in the midst of a global pandemic, a reckoning with systemic racism, not to mention the great resignation. But also, we face a climate crisis. Are these things connected? Is there something we all can do? The answer is undoubtedly yes, and I write to advocate for climate change to be included on this list of strategic and moral imperatives for health care leaders everywhere. 

Why is that?

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Can Democracy Survive In The Absence of Health Care Security?

By MIKE MAGEE

In my course this fall at the President’s College at the University of Hartford, we began by exploring the word “right” at the intersection of health care services and the U.S. Constitution.  But where we have ended up is at the crossroads of American history, considering conflicting federal and state law, and exploring Social Epidemiology, a branch of epidemiology that concentrates on the impact of the various social determinants of health on American citizens.

What makes the course timely and relevant is that we are uncovering a linkage between health and the construction or destruction of a functional democracy at a moment in America’s history when our democracy is under direct attack.

This was familiar territory for Eleanor Roosevelt. She spent the greater part of World War II creating what she labeled in 1948 “Humanity’s Magna Carta” – aka the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR.)

Embedded in the declaration was a much broader definition of health. It reads “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The Marshall Plan, for reconstruction of war torn Germany and Japan, embodied these principles, and successfully established stable democracies by funding national health plans in these nations as their first priority.

Although our nation signed the UDHR, it carried no legal obligations or consequences. In fact, the U.S. medical establishment’s bias was to embrace a far narrower definition of health – one that targeted disease as enemy #1. They believed that in defeating disease, health would be left in its wake.

In contrast, neighboring Canada took the UDHR to heart, and as a starting point asked themselves, “How do we make Canada and all Canadians healthy?” Where our nation embraced profiteering and entrepreneurship, leaving no room for solidarity, Canada embraced the tools of social justice and population health.

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What is the “Right” to Health Care Worth? It Depends

By MIKE MAGEE

In my course this Fall at the University of Hartford, titled “The Right to Health Care and the U.S. Constitution”, we have concentrated on the power of words, of precedents, and the range of interests with which health has been encumbered over several hundred years.

The topic has been an eye-opener on many levels. On the most basic level, it is already clear that the value of this “right” depends heavily on your definition of “health.”

We’ve highlighted three definitions worth sharing here. 

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Tech Can’t Fix the Problems in Healthcare

By KIM BELLARD

Shira Ovide, who writes the On Tech newsletter for The New York Times, had a thoughtful column last week: Tech Can’t Fix the Problem of Cars.  It was, she said, inspired by Peter Norton’s Autonorama: The Illusionary Promise of High Tech DrivingThe premise of both, in case the titles didn’t already give it away, is that throwing more tech into our cars is not going to address the underlying issues that cars pose. 

It made me think of healthcare. 

What’s been going on in the automotive world in the past decade has truly been amazing. Our cars have become mobile screens, with big dashboard touchscreen displays, Bluetooth, and streaming. Electric cars have gone from an expensive pipedream to an agreed-upon future, with Tesla valued at over a trillion dollars, despite never having sold a half-million cars annually before 2021. 

If we don’t feel like driving, we can use our smartphones to call an Uber or Lyft. Or we can use the various autonomous features already available on many cars, with an expectation that fully self-driving vehicles are right around the corner. Soon, it seems, we’ll have non-polluting, self-driving vehicles on call: fewer deaths/injuries, less pollution, not as many vehicles sitting around idly most of the day. Utopia, right? 

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Godwin’s Law and the Rise of Hyperbole on MedTwitter 🙄

By @roguerad

I first clashed with authority when I was eight. Every Saturday bunch of brown kids, children of Indian immigrants to Britain with an identity crisis who longed for the culture they left behind, attended a class in the temple about “our culture” taught by a joyless scholar of Hinduism – a pundit – whose major shtick was punctuality. When I turned up late, even by a minute, he’d make me stand outside, even if freezing. Some kids called him “Hitler,” or “Hitler uncle,” the qualifier “uncle” indicated that because he was as old as our fathers, he deserved respect. 

Then, I believed that Hitler meant authority. I preferred calling the pundit “wanker” or “asshole” but the foul language would have gotten me afoul with my parents, my authority figures. “Hitler” amply conveyed disdain for our pot-bellied teacher who exercised his authority whenever he could, without tarnishing our nubile vocabulary.  

Eventually, I understood the significance of Hitler, and of World War 2, the Nazis, and the Holocaust. Though related neither morphologically to the perpetrators nor ethnically to the victims of this ghastly period in human history, I developed a reverence, a sensitivity if you will, to such allusions. The Lord of the Old Testament instructed Moses that his name be not used in vain, lest every blocked sink or traffic jam evoked “oh my God.” I resolved never to use Nazi as an epithet frivolously. 

I was surprised how common Nazi name-calling was in American political discourse across the political spectrum, which peaked during the Trump Presidency. Some likened migrant detention facilities to “concentration camps.” Many saw in the rise of white nationalism during Trump’s reign parallels with the Third Reich. The former White House strategist, Steven Bannon, was compared to the Nazi propagandist, Goebbels. Bannon is loathsome, detestable, a wanker. Goebbels is a mass murderer – no adjectives are needed to describe him further. 

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State-Based Marketplaces 2.0 Part 2: Engines of Innovation, Competition, and Consumerism

By ROSEMARIE DAY and DAVID W. JOHNSON

Within the current political reality, how can America implement policies that increase access to health insurance while also reducing premium costs and enhancing responsiveness to consumer priorities and needs? 

Large-scale healthcare reform appears off-the-table for the Biden Administration. Yet, given the impact of the COVID pandemic on people who have lost (or have worried about losing) their employer-based insurance coverage and the intensifying pressure to reduce overall healthcare costs, solutions that increase health insurance access and affordability have become more important than ever. A significant answer to this complex puzzle can be found at the state level. 

Enabled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, state-based marketplaces (SBMs) currently operate in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Another six states operate as SBMs using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov technology platform. Three states, Kentucky, Maine, and New Mexico, will become full SBMs by 2022.

While federal measures to improve insurance access have stalled or been reversed over the past eight years, SBMs have quietly implemented programming modifications for stabilizing local markets that improve the quality and marketability of health insurance offerings to the benefit of consumers.

In Part 2 of our series on marketplace health plan innovations, we examine how SBMs have operated as experimental policy laboratories. They’ve taken their own paths to expand consumer choice, increase access to vital healthcare services, and lower premiums.

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In “Riding” Abortion, Is Greg Abbott Driving Texas Toward Divestiture?

By MIKE MAGEE

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been on a tear lately, and his central theme appears to be “revanchism.” Faced with declining demographics, he is retaliating against enemies and newcomers alike, aligning himself with slippery politicians and vigilantes. As they say in Texas, “He’s on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck”, and the game he’s playing appears to be “South Africa – 1950.”

The formal establishment of apartheid in South Africa occurred in 1948, though racial injustice had been baked in centuries earlier. Violence and intimidation, embedded in legislation supported by a 15% white minority, led to the creation of the African National Congress (ANC) which launched what they called their “Defiance Campaign.” By 1962, their party had been outlawed, and their dynamic leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned.

And yet resistance continued to grow, inside and outside the country. Religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, took to the street, organizing huge, peaceful rallies. In 1976, images of Black children being attacked and killed in Soweto township during a protest spread like wildfire around the world. 176 died and thousands were injured. In response, the United Nations called on its member states to divest and impose economic sanctions. Only 2 leaders did not. (More on that in a moment.)

Minority rule, oppression, vigilantism, and disenfranchisement are eventually losing propositions as Greg Abbott is learning. A majority of 52% now say his state is moving in the wrong direction. The list of grievances is long and continues to grow. Catholic bishops decried his inhumane handling of immigrant families this year. Baptist minister Rev. Frederick Haynes III spotlighted the Republican legislature’s voter suppression law recently suggesting they were “dressing up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo.” Only 39% approve of his handling of the pandemic, and many Texans find the renewed endorsement of “vigilante justice” for unfortunate women and girls seeking abortions to be a disturbing and dystopian new reality. By the way, 1 in 5 Texans lack health insurance, and Texas is one of twelve Republican-led states that continue to refuse federal offers to expand Medicaid coverage of their citizens.

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State-Based Marketplaces 2.0 – Part 1: The Coming Expansion in Access, Affordability, and Value

By ROSEMARIE DAY and DAVID W. JOHNSON,

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) survived its third challenge at the Supreme Court on June 18, 2021, by a 7-2 vote, signaling that Obamacare is here to stay. With a divided Congress and a Biden administration challenged by multiple urgencies, there is little hope for national legislation to address healthcare’s access, cost, and quality deficiencies comprehensively. 

Despite this lack of dramatic progress or sweeping change at the federal level, reformers need not lose hope. Quietly, state-based marketplaces are making health insurance provision more accessible, affordable and effective. 

A Biden Administration’s executive order signed in January 2021, reopened the federal health insurance marketplace to individuals seeking to purchase or modify health insurance policies. The fifteen state-based marketplaces (SBMs) followed suit by enacting their own versions of this special enrollment period.

The Administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, enacted on March 11, 2021, includes a narrow but powerful provision that temporarily grants premium subsidies to higher-income Americans and reduces premium costs for lower-income Americans.  The “Build Back Better Act” currently moving through the House of Representatives would make these subsidies permanent. It would also provide funding for more experimentation with state-based health insurance affordability programs.

These new policies align with measures undertaken by many SBMs during the past eight years to improve the quality, affordability, and marketability of their health insurance offerings. In this decentralized, real-world way, SBMs have operated as experimental policy laboratories to assess programming modifications for stabilizing local markets, expanding consumer choice, increasing access to vital healthcare services, and lowering premiums. 

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The Vaccine Brawl – A Legal Battle in Process

By MIKE MAGEE

The power to mandate vaccines was litigated and resolved over a century ago. Justice John Marshall Harlin, a favorite of current Chief Justice Roberts, penned the 7 to 2 majority opinion in 1905’s Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Its impact was epic.

In 1905, Massachusetts was one of 11 states that required compulsory vaccinations. The Rev. Henning Jacobson, a Lutheran minister, challenged the city of Cambridge, MA, which had passed a local law requiring citizens to undergo smallpox vaccination or pay a $5 fine. Jacobson and his son claimed they had previously had bad reactions to the vaccine and refused to pay the fine believing the government was denying them their due process XIV Amendment rights.

In deciding against them, Harlan wrote, “liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own [liberty]…” 

Of course, a state’s right to legislate compulsory public health measures does not require them to do so. In fact, as we have seen in Texas and Florida among others, they may decide to do just the opposite – declare life-saving mandates (for masks or vaccines) to be unlawful. At least 14 states have passed laws barring employer and school vaccine mandates and imposing penalties in Republican-controlled states already.  

So state powers are clearly a double-edged sword when it comes to health care. 

Questions anyone?

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More Laughing, More Thinking

By KIM BELLARD

There was a lot going on this week, as there always is, including the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of the NFL season, so you may have missed a big event: the announcement of the 31st First Annual Ig Nobel Awards (no, those are not typos).  

What’s that you say — you don’t know the Ig Nobel Awards?  These annual awards, organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, seek to:

…honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.  

Some scientists seek the glory of the actual Nobel prizes, some want to change the world by coming up with an XPRIZE winning idea, but I’m pretty sure that if I was a scientist I’d be shooting to win an Ig Nobel Prize.  I mean, the point of the awards is “to help people discover things that are surprising— so surprising that those things make people LAUGH, then THINK.”   What’s better than that?

Healthcare could use more Ig.

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