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Category: Politics

Everyone Is Having the Wrong Healthcare Debate

By STEVEN MERAHN, MD

In 1807, in an effort to spite the British and French for shipping interference (and forced recruitment of American citizens into military service), the United States Congress passed an Embargo Act, effectively shutting down trade with these two countries. Britain and France quickly found other trading partners; the US, then limited in our capacity to sell products outside our borders, was left with a devastated economy and a gaping hole in our face. It took only weeks before Congress passed a loophole; they repealed the act within 15 months of its passing. It was a great lesson in unintended consequences.

Today, ignoring history, both Republicans and Democrats seem to spar continuously around healthcare: whether the message is about tearing down the Affordable Care Act or about some version of Medicare (For-All, For Whoever Wants It, For America, or For Better or Worse), both parties are terribly wrong.

Assuming the social imperative for healthcare is to eliminate preventable morbidity and disability (and associated costs) and improve (or sustain) quality of health of all our citizens (in order to help as many of them as possible remain productive, contributing members of society), another approach to ‘universal care” would be to flip the figure/ground relationship for our current efforts: instead of developing better payment systems, let’s develop and commit to a universal clinical operating framework that ensures that every member of society has the same opportunity to optimize their health status.

“Centralizing” the methodology around a universal model for how we plan for care, and allocate resources to ensure care plan goal achievement, would be far more valuable to society than centralizing the sources of funds to pay for care, because then we’d know what we’re paying for.

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Off the Couch, Onto the Stage: My First, Only and Not-So-Great Presidential Debate

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (C) speaks while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (R) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) listen during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31,
GETTY IMAGES

By MICHAEL MILLENSON

I could’ve been Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Marianne Williamson all rolled into one. That’s how I might have handled my first, only, and not-so-great presidential debate. 

No, I wasn’t actually running for president. But I was involved in the campaign of someone who was: Barack Obama. In September, 2008, the campaign asked me to serve as a surrogate in a debate with John McCain’s health care adviser when one of Obama’s close advisers – as opposed to me, who’d met the candidate once at a campaign event – couldn’t make it. 

As a policy wonk and politics junkie, I was ecstatic. Entering the debate, I was confident. Afterwards, metaphorically dusting the dirt off my clothing and checking for cuts and bruises, I was chastened. 

Getting off the couch and onto the stage, even a small one, is tougher than it looks. Watching the cluster of Democratic presidential candidates go at it on health care, I scoffed and sneered along with other experts at their obfuscations and oversimplifications. (More on that in a moment.)  But I also sympathized. 

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Doctors Will Vote With Their Patients

By MIKE MAGEE, MD

As Robert Muller’s testimony before Congress made clear, we owe President Trump a debt of gratitude on two counts. First, his unlawful and predatory actions have clearly exposed the fault lines in our still young Democracy. As the Founders well realized, the road would be rocky on our way to “a more perfect union”, and checks and balances would, sooner or later, be counter-checked and thrown out of balance.

On the second count, Trump has most effectively revealed weaknesses that are neither structural nor easily repaired with the wave of the wand. Those weaknesses are cultural and deeply embedded in a portion of our citizenry. The weakness he has so easily exposed is within us. It is reflected in our stubborn embrace of prejudice, our tolerance of family separations at the border, our penchant for violence and romanticism of firearms, our suspicion of “good government”, and –unlike any other developed nation – our historic desire to withhold access to health services to our fellow Americans.

In the dust-up that followed the New York Times publication of Ross Douthat’s May 16, 2017 article, “The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump”, Dahlia Lithwick wrote in SLATE, “Donald Trump isn’t the disease that plagues modern America, he’s the symptom. Let’s stop calling it a disability and call it what it is: What we are now.”

Recently a long-time health advocate from California told me she did not believe that the majority of doctors would support a universal health care system in some form due to their conservative bend. I disagreed.

It is true that, to become a physician involves significant investment of time and effort, and deferring a decade worth of earnings to pursue a training program that, at times, resembles war-zone conditions can create an ultra-focus on future earnings. But it is also true that these individuals, increasingly salaried and employed within organizations struggling to improve their collective performance, deliver (most of the time) three critical virtues in our society.

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Pending Federal Privacy Legislation: A Status Update

Vince Kuraitis
Deven McGraw

By DEVEN McGRAW and VINCE KURAITIS

This post is part of the series “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Privacy? Sharing? Both?”

In our initial blog post of February 20th, “For Your Radar – Huge Implications for Healthcare in Pending Privacy Legislation,” we broadly discussed six key issues for healthcare stakeholders in the potential federal privacy and data protection legislation. We committed to future posts comparing and contrasting specific legislative proposals.  

What’s happened since then? 

Additional bills have been introduced and hearings have been held in both the House and the Senate.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also hosted two days of hearings on the FTC’s Approach to Consumer Privacy.  

The buzz around federal privacy legislation continues, but as of yet there appear to be no proposals or bills that have emerged as the lead bills. 

In the meantime, the clock is ticking.  As we mentioned in our February 20th post, a significant catalyst for federal privacy legislation is the desire of companies covered by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) to have that broadly-applicable, stringent state law preempted by a more company-friendly federal law.  The CCPA, which sets stringent consent and other requirements for large companies, or companies collecting or monetizing large amounts of consumer data from California residents, goes into effect January 1, 2020 – less than six months from today.  

Is it possible for a legislative body to move quickly on such a controversial topic?  Again, California’s experience may be instructive. The CCPA was passed into law and signed on June 28, 2018, about a week after it was introduced. Lawmakers were in a rush in order to keep a popular and even stricter consumer privacy ballot initiative from being put before the California voters.  (The sponsors of the ballot initiative agreed to withdraw it if the CCPA were enacted by the June 28th deadline.). 

Tech companies held their noses and supported the legislation because changing legislation is easier than changing a ballot initiative adopted by the voters. However, this strategy is not fool-proof.  Although the CCPA has been successfully modified once to address some company concerns and to clarify confusing language, more recent attempts to amend it have failed (modification bills are still pending).  With the deadline fast approaching, and the prospect for further significant modifications to the CCPA looking less likely, the pressure on Congress is reaching a fever pitch.

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Announcing a New Series: “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?

By ZOYA KHAN

I would like to introduce you to a new ongoing series that THCB will be featuring called “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?”. It is about time we started talking about health data privacy and policy, and we have just the experts on hand to do so: Vince Kuraitis and Deven McGraw.

The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?” series will cover a whole host of topics that discuss, clarify, and challenge the notion of sharing data and if it should be kept private or made public. On the one hand, sharing health information is essential for clinical care, powering medical discovery, and enabling health system transformation. On the other hand, the public is expressing greater concerns over the privacy of personal health data. This ‘Goldilocks Dilemma’ has pushed US policymakers towards two seemingly conflicting goals: 1) broader data interoperability and data sharing, and 2) enhanced data privacy and data protection.

But this issue is even more nuanced and is influenced by many moving parts including: Federal & State privacy legislation, health technology legislation, policy & interoperability rules, data usage from AI & machine learning tools, data from clinical research, ethical concerns, compensating individuals for their data, health data business models, & many more. 

Fear not, Deven & Vince are here to walk readers through this dilemma and will be providing pieces to help explain what is going on. Most of their discussion & pieces will cover 2 specific affected areas: 1) How are policymakers addressing health data privacy risks, and 2) The impact on business models within the Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma.

We hope you enjoy the series and if you have any pieces to add to it, please email me zoya@thehealthcareblog.com

Zoya Khan is the Editor-in-Chief of THCB & an Associate at SMACK.health

Is “Medicare For All (Who Want it)” Enough?

By MIKE MAGEE

In the 2nd night of the Democratic Primary debate on June 27, 2019, Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he supported Medicare-For-All. He responded, “I support Medicare for all who want it.” 

In doing so, he side-stepped the controversial debate over shifts of power from states to the federal government, and trusted that logic would eventually prevail over a collusive Medical-Industrial Complex with an iron lock grip on a system that deals everyone imaginable in on the sickness profitability curve – except the patient.

On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law “Medicare,” a national insurance plan for all Americans over 65. He did so in front of former President Truman, who 20 years earlier had proposed a national health plan for all Americans, and for his trouble was labeled by the AMA as the future father of “socialized medicine.”

For Truman, there was a double irony that day in 1965. First of all, the signing was occurring at around the same time as our neighbor to the north was signing their own national health plan, also called “Medicare”, but their’s covered all Canadian citizens, not just the elderly.

The second incongruity was that Truman was fully aware that in 1945, as he was being tarred and feathered as unpatriotic by taxpayers for having the gall to suggest that health care was a human right, those very same citizens were unknowingly funding the creation of national health plans as democracy stabilizers in our two primary vanquished enemies – Germany and Japan – as part of the US taxpayer funded Marshall Plan.

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DANGER! COURSE CORRECTION ALERT!

By JOE FLOWER

A hot take on healthcare in the Democratic debate: They’re doing it wrong.

Healthcare is not a reason to choose between the Democratic candidates. 

They are all for greater access and in some way to cover everyone, which is great. 

None of their plans will become law, but if they are elected those plans will become the starting point of a long discussion and legislative fight. The difference in their plans (between, say, Buttigieg or Biden and Warren or Sanders) is more of an indication of their general attitude toward governance rather than an outline of where we will end up.

Democrats are focused on coverage, Trump is on cost. 

Around 90% of Americans already have coverage of some sort. Polls show that healthcare is voters’ #1 priority. Read the polls more closely, and you’ll see that it’s healthcare cost specifically that they are worried about.

Democrats seem to assume that extending more government control will result in lower costs. This is highly debatable, the devil’s in the details, and our past history on this is good but not great. 

The President, on the other hand, can make flashy pronouncements and issue Executive Orders that seem intended to bring down costs and might actually. It’s highly questionable whether they will be effective, or effective any time soon. Still, they make good headlines and they especially make for good applause lines at a rally and good talking points on Fox.

But, Ms. and Mr. Average Voter will hear that Trump is very concerned about bringing down their actual costs. The Democratic plans all sound to the untutored ear (which is pretty much everyone but policy wonks like you and me) like they will actually increase costs while taking away the insurance that 90% already have in one way or another.

It is important to take care of everyone. But it is a mistake for the Democrats to allow this to become a battle of perception between cost and coverage. Voters’ real #1 concern is about cost, not coverage.

Joe Flower has 40 years of experience in the healthcare world and has emerged as a thought leader on the deep forces changing the system in the United States and around the world.

Can we move on?

By CHADI NABHAN MD, MBA, FACP

Every so often, my cynical self emerges from the dead. Maybe it’s a byproduct of social media, or from following Saurabh Jha, who pontificates about everything from Indian elections to the Brexit fiasco. Regardless, there are times when my attempts at refraining from being opinionated are successful, but there are rare occasions when they are not. Have I earned the right to opine freely about moving on from financial toxicity, anti-vaxers, who has ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to the health care system, the patient & their data, and if we should call patients “consumers”? You’ll have to decide.

I endorse academic publications; they can be stimulating and may delve into more research and are essential if you crave academic recognition. I also enjoy listening to live debates and podcasts, as well as reading, social media rants, but some of the debates and publications are annoying me. I have tried to address some of them in my own podcast series “Outspoken Oncology” as a remedy, but my remedy was no cure. Instead, I find myself typing away these words as a last therapeutic intervention.

Here are my random thoughts on the topics that have been rehashed & restated all over social media outlets (think: Twitter feeds, LinkedIn posts, Pubmed articles, the list goes on), that you will simply find no way out. Disclaimer, these are NOT organized by level of importance but simply based on what struck me over the past week as grossly overstated issues in health care.  Forgive my blunt honesty.

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Is America Flourishing? A Key Question For Health Reformers.

By MIKE MAGEE, MD

Today the notion that health is a preferred state of being, rather than a set of disconnected functions or services, is increasingly being embraced. A recent JAMA article promoted a health measurement system called the “flourishing index” focused on 6 key domains: happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material security. 

Dr. Gro Brundtland, former director-general of the World Health Organization, wrote in the World Health Report 2000 that “The objective of good health is twofold – goodness and fairness; goodness being the best attainable average level; and fairness, the smallest feasible differences among individuals and groups.”

In the age of Trump, with forced separation of immigrant mothers and children, criminalization of abortion, and purposeful obstruction of enhanced access to health care for vulnerable populations, it becomes impossible to ignore a significant modern-day truism. Health is profoundly political. 

Health is a collection of resources unequally distributed in society. Health’s “social determinants” such as housing, income, and employment, are critical to the accomplishment of individual, family, and community well being and are themselves politically determined. 

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Six Health-Focused Fixes for SNAP

By CHRISTINA BADARACCO

The $867 billion Farm Bill squeaked through our polarized Congress at the end of last year, though it was nearly derailed by arguments over work requirements for SNAP recipients. That debate was tabled after the USDA crafted a compromise, but it is sure to continue at the state level and in the next round of debates. While Republicans tend to favor work requirements and Democrats tend to oppose them, here’s something both sides can agree on: SNAP should help Americans eat healthy food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as food stamps—provides financial resources to buy food and nutrition education to some 40 million low-income Americans. Costing taxpayers almost $80 billion per year, the program serves Americans across the spectrum of ages, ethnicities, and zip codes. Simultaneously, we reached a deficit of almost $800 billion in 2018. So how can we ensure this at-risk population of Americans can access nutritious food and better health outcomes within the confines of our current resources?

Studies have proven time and again how participation in SNAP reduces rates of poverty and food insecurity. And the program has improved substantially in recent years, with recipients now using debit-style cards to buy groceries and receiving increased benefits at thousands of farmers markets across the country.

Despite these clear benefits, SNAP dollars often don’t support healthy diets. In fact, a 2015 study determined that SNAP participants had poorer diets, with more empty calories and less fresh produce, than income-eligible non-participants. In 2017, another study found that participants have an increased risk of death due to diet-related disease than non-participants. The authors reported that the discrepancy might be partly caused by individuals who think they have high risk of poor health and/or struggle to pay medical bills are more likely to put in the effort to enroll in and redeem SNAP benefits. A recent survey of Americans across the country showed that foods purchased using SNAP benefits were higher in calories and unhealthy components, like processed meat and sweeteners, than those purchased by non-participants of the same income level.

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