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Tag: Aaron Carroll

A Fail For Activity Trackers: The I Told You So’s vs Need More Datas

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Perhaps the normally measured physician-economist Aaron Carroll best captured the reaction and sentiments of the healthcare community in response to a recent JAMA article demonstrating that subjects in a weight reduction study using activity trackers lost significantly less weight than those in the control group:

“I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!” (Emphasis in original.)

These results were cheered for several key reasons.

First, many in healthcare are irritated by the idea of simplistic technical fixes for complex medical (and social) (and cultural) (and economic) problems–like obesity.

Second, as Carroll has pointed out, exercise is healthy for many reasons, but weight loss is probably not one of them; changing your diet seems to matter a lot more.

However, it’s important to critically evaluate research even (especially) when it seems to produce an ego-syntonic conclusion–a conclusion with which we so strongly agree.

My initial reaction to the result was that perhaps it reflects an example of the concept of “moral licensing” that Malcolm Gladwell discusses so thoughtfully on his Revisionist History podcast–i.e., when you deliberately act morally in one context, you may be more likely to act less morally in another context, having already demonstrated to yourself your moral bona fides.

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Here’s a Question to Ask Romney or Ryan

Last week, I noted the significant differences between Paul Ryan’s proposals, from his 2012 budget to Ryan-Wyden to his 2013 budget. I also noted that while it would be tempting to campaign against the 2012 budget, which massively shifted costs onto seniors, his later proposals did that to a far lesser extent.

Or did they?

Governor Romney has endorsed Paul Ryan’s latest plan, which is specific in that it will reduce future Medicare spending by unleashing the power of the free market through competitive bidding. But what if that doesn’t happen? Well, just like the ACA, his law backstops the growth of Medicare spending at GDP + 0.5%.

The ACA is explicit about what will happens if growth goes above that amount. The IPAB will make recommendations on how to cut it. Congress will have to override those recommendations to stop them, and have their own ideas that save just as much. It’s likely those recommendations would involve reducing provider payments. But it’s the hope of those who support the ACA that other provider-based changes, like ACO’s and the excise tax, will keep the IPAB from having to act.

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Why States Won’t Opt Out of Medicaid Expansion

I’m reading a lot of articles, and seeing lots of tweets, that detail a running total of governors threatening to opt out of the Medicaid expansion. First of all, those are threats. They are very different than actual action. It’s also in the best interests of states to take this position as a negotiating tactic. In the end, though, I think it will be very hard for states to opt out. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. This is a pretty good deal for states. They’re getting most of the tab picked up by the feds.
  2. It’s one thing to turn down high speed rail. It’s another to tell your constituents that they can’t have insurance entirely paid for by the federal government in 2014.
  3. As more and more states take the money, those that don’t will be more easily marginalized.
  4. History. States threatened not to join Medicaid the first time as well. All did, eventually. Now the program is so American that threatening to remove it is “coercive”.
  5. There will be enormous pressure from doctors, hospitals,pharma, etc. who potentially will lose a lot of money in uncompensated care. They have pretty good lobbying groups.

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Why Are Primary Docs Thinking About Leaving Medicine?

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time with physicians. As a group, they sure do like to complain. Yet, medical school applications are strong, and residency spots are still competitive. So I take cries of “they’re all going to quit” with a grain of salt.

That said, I also like data. So it’s worth checking in every once in a while to see what physicians, as a group, are thinking. There’s a study in the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health that does just that:

The status of the primary care workforce is a major health policy concern. It is affected not only by the specialty choices of young physicians but also by decisions of physicians to leave their practices. This study examines factors that may contribute to such decisions. We analyzed data from a 2009 Commonwealth Fund mail survey of American physicians in internal medicine, family or general practice, or pediatrics to examine characteristics associated with their plans to retire or leave their practice for other reasons in the next 5 years.

What did they find? More than half of physicians age 50 and over had plans to leave their practice in the next 5 years, or weren’t sure about staying in practice. No physicians age 35-49 had plans to retire, but 20% weren’t sure they’d stay in practice. I take such numbers with a grain of salt, though. That’s partly because, as I said above, doctors like to complain. That’s also because saying what you are going to do in the future is not the same as what you will actually do. In case people hadn’t noticed, the job market isn’t too awesome out there. I think many physicians are delusional if they think they can just quit practicing medicine and find another lucrative job.

But I think that the reasons that primary care docs say they might quit are illuminating. Those reasons are likely the things that make them unhappy about practicing, and we can definitely learn from that.

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So Much For “Everyone Can Get Care In An Emergency Room”

We’ve long argued this meme isn’t true. But now it’s explicitly false:

Last year, about 80,000 emergency-room patients at hospitals owned by HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, left without treatment after being told they would have to first pay $150 because they did not have a true emergency.

Led by the Nashville-based HCA, a growing number of hospitals have implemented the pay-first policy in an effort to divert patients with routine illnesses from the ER after they undergo a federally required screening. At least half of all hospitals nationwide now charge upfront ER fees, said Rick Gundling, vice president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, which represents health-care finance executives.

So sure you can get non-emergent care in an ED – if you pay for it out of pocket. Please understand I’m not saying that all care should be free. I’m saying that the emergency department is no different than a physician’s office. If you have insurance, or can pay for care yourself, you get it. Otherwise, you don’t. No matter where you are.

Why is this happening?
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What Does Failure Mean?

I’ve seen a number of responses to the news that the Medicare demonstration projects were not successful. Some have claimed that they were only demonstration projects, and the fact that some succeeded means we should look into those further. Others asserted that this once again proves that the government is incapable of making the health care system better.

As to the first point, it’s hard to get excited about this. By chance alone, a couple of programs were likely to save money. Four out of 34 reducing hospitalizations (when the best of them might have had inadequate data)? Hardly something to get excited about. Remember that two out of the 34 actually saw increased hospitalizations, too. I think it’s totally reasonable to think hard before just assuming there was something special about those four programs, and throwing more money at them.

But I think the latter point, made by Peter Suderman, is a bit of an over-reach as well. It’s important to remember that these were attempts by private hospitals and private physicians to change the way they care for patients. Granted, government was paying the insurance bills through Medicare, but this would have looked awfully similar if a private company had footed the bill. And, yes, private insurance companies have tried to use care coordination and disease management to reduce costs as well.

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