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Commentology

Futurist Jeff Goldsmith’s analysis of issues that could cause problems for any health reform effort that eventually emerges from the foodfight in Washington this summer provoked a wide range of reader replies.   (“No Country For Old Men“)  Goldsmith wrote in response:

“The fun part of this blog is how much you learn about an issue when you post something.  Several learning points: 1) How big a deal this is.  $1.6 trillion sounds like a lot of money, but over ten years, it’s less than 1% of the cumulative GDP over those ten years (which I grew to $16.8 trillion from its present $14t in 2019).  In other words, it’s peanuts.   Cumulative health spending over this time looks like over $40 trillion, so  even $600 billion in Medicare cuts looks like peanuts.   These are small numbers made to look big because of the ten years.  Plus ten year numbers are BS anyway because you never get a linear increase over that type of time span.  $1.6 trillion actually sounds like  Dr. Evil’s ransom demands in Austin Powers. . .”

THCB Reader Margalit offered this response to Dr. Rick Weinhaus’s open letter to former Harvard professor Dr. David Blumenthal, the man charged with masterminding the Obama administration’s ambitious health IT push (“An Open Letter to Dr. David Blumenthal“), urging the administration to rethink support for the current EMR certification process …

“Maybe Dr. Blumenthal should come up with two separate “certification” suggestions similar to the auto industry.

1) A minimal set of standard security and safety items. Nothing too fancy and complicated. Something like car emissions and inspection that products have to pass every year in order to “stay on the road”.  Once the criteria are set, the inspection and certification body should be distributed, just like the inspection centers for cars, and multiple private bodies should be able to apply for the status of “Certification Center”.

2) This should be in the form of funding a Consumer Reports like entity, that is completely and totally unbiased, for evaluating EMRs and other health care applications. The Healthcare Consumer Reports should have very strict regulations regarding who it can receive funding from. Maybe the folks at the real Consumer Reports would like to take this one on. I would be inclined to trust them more than anything else that comes to my mind right now.”

Reader Candida also chimed in on the thread on usability prompted by Weinhaus’s proposed EMR design (“The EHR TimeBar: A New Visual Interface Design“), but posed a slightly more provocative question.

“The HIT and CPOE devices out there are an ergonomic failures and that alone renders them unsafe and not efficacious. But that is not the only defect harbored in these CCHIT “cerified” devices that causes injury and death to patients. There are many that are worse and they are covered up. The magnitude of patient injury and endagerment is hidden. The fact is that these are medical devices and as such, none have been assessed for safety and efficacy. CCHIT leadership, when asked about what it does if they get a report that a “cerified” device malfunctions in the after market and results in death, stated that they do not consider after market surveillance in their domain. One can take this a step further. How is it that medical devices are being sold without FDA approval?”

Dr. Evan Dossia wrote in to challenge critics who blame rising malpractice rates on physician attitudes and – in some cases – their ties to the insurance industry, in the thread on Dr. Rahul Parikh’s post looking at how the American American Medical Association is viewed one hundred and fifty years after the organization’s founding. (“How Relevant is the American Medical Association?“),

“Physicians began to be abandoned by big name insurance companies in the mid-1970’s so instead of “going bare” we started our own companies. As we continued to have ups and downs in the malpractice insurance market, more physician oriented companies appeared. Doctors now prefer companies started by other doctors and run by other doctors because these companies fight for their share holders rather than settle with plantiffs attorneys in order to avoid court room battles.”

Fellow reader Tcoyote agreed with industry analyst Robert Laszewki’s criticism of the rumored exemption that the Obama administration may give to labor unions, exempting them from any tax on health benefits for a period of five years. (“Unions May Get a Pass on Health Benefits Tax.”)

“Of course, this is politics, and the Democrats must throw the unions, whom they are stiffing on the “Employee Free Choice Act”, some kind of bone to get health reform financed. True enough, unionized workers’ after tax income isn’t protected by collective bargaining, but if unions knew it could fall by 5-7% because of a benefits tax, they would have asked for more in wages to cover the cost. I completely agree with the Chrysler/GM analogy. Those gold plated benefits are a major reason why our manufacturing sector is in trouble …”

Sarah Greene of the Group Health Center for Health Studies had this to say in response to Weinhaus’s take on a new and more usable electronic medical record design …

“It’s curious to me that human-computer interaction does not seem to have much traction in the EHR world, and yet in the consumer-centered Personal Health Record community, it is a guiding principle. While some might wonder if this suggests that doctors are super-human compared with patients (grin), it strikes me that the EHR developers of the world could take their cues from patient-focused efforts such as Project Health Design (www.projecthealthdesign.org)”

Preventing Extortion

Roosevelt signs the Tennessee Valley Authority Act The debate about a public health insurance option mirrors the debate
about public power in the 1920’s and 30’s. The arguments then were very
similar to the arguments we hear today.

The principal issue then was whether the federal government should
enter the public power business by investing taxpayers’ money to build
the Tennessee Valley Authority and to harness the Columbia and other
rivers for electrical energy, or whether the sites should be transferred to the
private sector. A second issue was who should build transmission lines
and set wholesale prices when the Federal government built dams.

The answer to the second question was first enunciated on the Senate
floor in the fight over the Wilson Dam in 1920 by Senator John Sharp
Williams of Tennessee. He said, “The government should have somewhere a
producer of these things that should furnish a productive element to
stop and check private profiteering.” Thus was born the yardstick
federal policy which later found its way into TVA legislation through
the efforts of Nebraska’s Senator George Norris. In a 1932 campaign
speech in Portland, Oregon, Franklin Roosevelt referred to his TVA and
other regional proposals as “yardsticks to prevent extortion against
the public.”

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How Relevant is the American Medical Association?

Like most doctors, I was busy seeing a full schedule of patients when President Obama addressed members of the American Medical Association at their annual meeting in Chicago.  The speech was billed as a crucial confrontation over health reform, and anticipation had been building for quite some time.   So I was too busy to learn anything about his remarks and the response until I got home.

Then again, I’m not a member of the AMA.  I never have been.  Neither are very many of my  physician friends and colleagues.  In fact, the odds are that your doctor isn’t a member of the AMA, because at best, only between 25-30% of the approximately 800,000 doctors in country belong to it.  And a good percentage (up to half of members according to one report) of those include residents and medical students, who get big discounts on membership and a free subscription to a journal when they join.Continue reading…

Obama vs Hillary at the AMA

Sixteen years and two days after then-First Lady and Health Care Czar Hillary Clinton went before the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates to sell her vision of national reform, President Barack Obama is treading the same path. I’m not sure how much greater eventual success Obama will have with the AMA, but having covered the Clinton speech as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I have three lingering memories.

The first was the invocation given before Clinton arrived. Its gist was, “Oh, Lord, you have taught us it is impolite to boo our guests, particularly in front of hordes of reporters.” The second memory was that Clinton finished her speech to a standing ovation. And the third is that she spoke fluently and passionately for 50 minutes without a prepared text, much to the chagrin of a national press corps accustomed to being spoon-fed a follow-along text before filing their stories. Fortunately, being a mere “regional reporter” (as the White House called us), I had taken notes.

Obama’s visit promises at least a few contrasts. He runs virtually no risk of being booed. He’s not only the President of the United States, and a very popular one, he’s also a president who has eschewed the perceived doctor-bashing engaged in at times by President and Mrs. Clinton. Obama most assuredly will not be speaking from notes, being as attached to the teleprompter as Ronald Reagan was to his 3×5 cards, but in the Internet Age anyone who cares to will be able to hear him live, anyway. A standing ovation? We’ll have to see.

To the amazement of her audience in 1993, Hillary went out of her way to hit all their hot buttons. For example, she praised the doctor-patient relationship and lashed out at the “excessive oversight” of insurance company reviewers and government bureaucrats who second-guess medical decisions. She talked sympathetically of the need for reforming malpractice laws and amending antitrust laws to allow medical professional societies to discipline poor-quality doctors on their own. (Here, I’m relying on a copy of my story I grabbed from an electronic archive.)

Obama, by contrast, prides himself on seasoning the obligatory political pandering with a soupcon or two of hard, cold reality. While reducing red tape and the need for defensive medicine are sure to be high on his list of promises, I don’t think he’ll hesitate to invoke the harsh global economic challenges that make health care reform so urgent. Look for Obama to remind the doctors how many more uninsured patients they’re seeing today and how much more involved Medicare has become in setting doctor pay scales.

One more contrast: in 1993, the AMA shoved forward Nancy Dickey, the one woman on their nine-person executive committee, to be its public face during the Hillary visit. Today, the organization’s elected president is Nancy Nielsen, the second woman to head the group (Dickey went on to the top job) and, though not publicized, the first who came to the post after holding a senior position in one of those dread health plans.

Op-Ed: How I’ve Missed the AMA….

6a00d8341c909d53ef0105371fd47b970b-320wi Over at Dr Val’s Get Better Health site Evan Falchuk from Best Doctors is very grumpy about Steve Pearlstein’s column in the WaPo. Pearlstein rewrites Gawande’s rewrite of Shannon Brownlee’s Overtreated. Not much surprise here—everyone is doing it and despite my cynicism Gawande’s piece in The New Yorker has hit a nerve, not least because Obama told everyone to read it—showing that he’s way more influential than Orszag in the White House despite what we wonks all think. Orszag by the way has been hammering on about the Dartmouth stuff for years and even dragged me into his office at CBO back in 2007 to suggest THCB kept plugging away about practice variation. But obviously no one in the White House was heeding his back reading of THCB, until the boss came and told them all to read Gawande.

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