Tag: Commentology


Jeff Goldsmith writes:

As you may know if you’ve read my postings, I’m an outspoken advocate of tightening Medicare fraud and abuse laws. There will be a post on this in a day or two. It’s actually the stuff that’s legal that is the problem: doctors self-referring patients for radiological scans, surgery, hospitals admissions to facilities they have an ownership interest in. I think there is just as much “fraud” of this type- rampant self dealing- on the private insurance side.

The scandal is: what’s legal. And I stand by my earlier statement that the big money is in running up the tab on the privately insured, not in Medicare. On private insurers’ margins, I’ve never subscribed to the populist garbage about obscene profits. Uwe Reinhardt had an excellent analysis of the Wellpoint 10K the other day in the New York Times. Health insurance is actually not a very good business. Many of these firms would be a lot more profitable if they were better managed, and eliminated a lot of the paper and clerical overburden, and if they were more aggressive in bargaining with providers. Since the same companies process Medicare claims, I don’t see us escaping them. Management in both our private and public systems is mediocre and not improving. (Medicare has been without an Administrator for two years, spanning two administrations).

It’s really a waste of my time to participate in a philosophical BS argument about government=bad, private sector= good. That sort of ended after college for me. We have a mixed system. I’ve worked in both private and public sectors. If we want to cover the 55 plus population, my best case scenario is for Medicare to assume the insurance risk, and contract with well managed HMO type health plans to actually co-ordinate the care. We’ve both spend decades working in this field, Nate- 34 years in my case; I’ve spent most of my time in provider space, and have a much clearer idea than you do about where the waste is. Don’t get me started- if all you’re looking at is claims data, and in essentially one market, believe me, my friend, you don’t know what you don’t know . . .”

Commentology: Obama and End-of-Life Care

THCB reader Molly Holmes wrote us to say:

As a member of a hospital geriatric emergency team, I’m on the front lines of a major health care issue that need immediate attention. The costs of keeping a person barely alive during their last few weeks of life easily run into the millions. The procedures undertaken at such times are painful and poorly thought out, and do not at all increase the quality of one’s life. The unfortunate senior who falls into the end-of-life emergency medical cycle can expect his or her final days to be miserable and lonely, with family relegated to the sidelines, while medical people rush around administering “care.” Such a person is robbed of dignity, and robbed of the right to die with loved ones nearby.

The reason why medical teams are pressured to perform endless procedures on our most ill seniors is because the legal and ethical issues at stake are in limbo. That’s because the questions raised are not just for individuals to answer, but for society as well. They are questions for a nation.

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Commentology: Government vs. Corporate Bureaucrats

Bob Bourque of Los Alamos writes:

Do I want government bureaucrats deciding on my health care?  You bet I do!  Because the other choice is to have corporate
bureaucrats deciding on my health care.  I have some control over the
government bureaucrats:  I can vote out their bosses who tell them what
to do.  I have no control over the corporate bureaucrats.  They can do
what they please, and pay off politicians to stay out of the way.

Government bureaucrats will charge a few percent for the administrative
work they would do, which is like what they do for Social Security and
Medicare.  Corporate bureaucrats now charge 30% to pay their CEOs
hundreds of millions of dollars and billions to their investors.

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Commentology: Improving Cost-Containment

Stephen J. Motew writes:

Surgical specialists practice under a slightly more regimented reimbursement model predominantly due to the global period payment for surgical procedures. The total care of the surgical patient for any procedure, including pre-op evaluation, the procedure itself, and all related care post-operatively including most complications is covered under a 90 day global pay period. This system has worked relatively well by containing costs to a specific 'disease' (or procedure) state. In addition, many surgical sub-specialties such as vascular surgery and oncologic surgery for example invest a large amount of time in overall disease-state management that may not even include a procedure. I believe this has allowed many surgeons to understand the concept of cost-containment and efficiency, disease management as well as outcomes-based practices.

A recent experience with a referral patient however, highlights the incredible gaps in cost-containment and disease management that can occur prior to surgical intervention. I have annotated each step in the process to demonstrate points where potential intervention may have occurred. I will leave it to the comments to discuss the reasons and realities of such a case!

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Commentology: Healthcare in the UK


Rod Unger writes:

I am, if you like, Joe the Plumber living here in the UK just to the North of London. I have no particular political mandate in terms of the NHS (more of this later). I don’t work for the NHS or have any other such vested interest. Nor do I have any knowledge or contact etc with any of the Pharmaceutical companies. Hence I am Joe the plumber. I am just an ordinary man in the street. Before going any further there is one other thing I would like to state as a prequalification. You have to understand the British mentality (as a generalisation). Many, many years ago we thought it proper and decent to be modest. This then slightly altered to us becoming a nation of moaners and pessimists! Unlike Americans who have (as a generalisation) a wonderful “can do” mentality and optimism.

The NHS is one of the most wonderful things about an excellent lifestyle we have here in the UK. Our weather is better than often reported. (Check out the stats if you don’t believe me) We are full of invention, fun and excel at many world wide industries and sports. But the NHS is one of the best things about the U.K. It is not run by the Pharmaceutical companies who only want to maximise profits. It is not run by lobbyists for their own benefit. It is run for the nation. It is not perfect and you will here the moaners going on about the small percentage of problems (big in number small in percentage). No government ever since the NHS as introduced has ever even considered doing away with the NHS. This is not a political issue in the UK. The NHS is supported by all parties and by everyone. Quite a few people do have private insurance as they can afford to pay for non essential matters or to jump queues. But even they in an emergency will be taken straight to an NHS hospital and receive an excellent service. There will be no queues and no questions asked!

I personally know many people who live in Spain, Portugal etc etc and they all come back to the UK for the NHS. Indeed my own parents lived in Portugal for 12 years when the retired and moved back to the UK at the age of 76!! just for the NHS. Since being back they have used the NHS on a regular basis (they are now 88) and we all have nothing but praise for all parts of this massive organisation. All their care, medications etc etc is free.

About 4 years ago my son was diagnosed with a serious ling term mental disorder. We use the NHS every day. He takes medication every day and will have to for the rest of his life. All this is free and the staff are fantastic

We do live in different societies. It is not for us to advise you as to what is best for your country but do not denigrate or criticise the NHS it is fabulous on a world wide scale. Yes there are problems not least of all trying to move this huge organisation in to the modern technological age plus coping with a huge influx of people from foreign countries many of whom cannot speak English. This has put a massive strain on the resources available, but still the staff provide a fabulous service.

Don’t believe the propaganda from those wishing to feather their own nests. It is too important

Best Wishes

Rod Unger

Commentology: Thoughts on the Death of Primary Care


Vance Harris MD writes:

We are our own worst enemies, as we have allowed insurance companies and Medicare to set the value of our services. Clearly those values they impose have nothing to do with our contribution to the health of our patients or the cost savings we bring about.

Case in point:

How many dozens of chest pain patients have I seen in the last month who I didn’t order an EKG, get a consult, set up nuclear imaging or send for a cath? Only I have the advantage of knowing just how anxious most of these patients are and that they have had the same symptoms time and again over the last 20 years. After a pointed history and exam, I am more than willing to make the call that 27 hours of chest pain is most likely not angina in nature. When I take the responsibility on my shoulders I am saving the system tens of thousands of dollars. Most of these patients present to my office directly and are worked into a busy day pushing me even deeper into that mire of tardiness for which I will be chastised by at least 6 patients before the end of the day. Most of those who scold me are retired and have more free time in a day than I get in a month. My reward for working these people in and making a call that puts me at some risk is at most $75 if I count the less than $25 I get paid for being able to read an EKG without sending it off to be interpreted by a cardiologist. My incentive pay for saving thousands of dollars on each patient for 1-2 days in the hospital, stress treadmill and cardiologist referral is $75. Now there is motivation on a busy day to not send someone to the ER.

How many times has an anxious patient come in, almost demanding an endoscopy, who I examined, after taking a good history, and then decided to treat for 3-4 weeks before making the referral? Few of these patients are happy with me after the visit, no matter how many times I explain that it is reasonable to treat their reflux symptoms for several weeks before considering endoscopy. This delay in referral has lead to many a tense moment in the last 20 years. Cost savings to the system is again thousands of dollars each and every time I do this. I am willing to make the call and go with the treatment first before getting the scope. My reward is about $55 from Medicare and the Big Blues.

How many low back pain patients have come to the office in agony knowing that there has to be something serious to cause this kind of pain? Again a good history and a directed exam allows me to reassure the patient that there is nothing we need to operate on and that the risk of missing anything in this setting is low. This takes a lot of time to explain as I teach them why they don’t need, and better yet, why they don’t want to get an MRI at this point. If someone else ordered the MRI guess who gets to explain the significance of bulging disks and narrowed foramen to an alarmed patient? Setting realistic expectations on recovery and avoiding needless imaging that rarely helps, in the acute setting of a normal exam, saves the system thousands of dollars again. My reward is another $55 if I am lucky.

How many times does a good shoulder exam allow me not to order an MRI giving the patient time to heal and recover before imaging racks up another couple of thousand dollars followed by orthopedic referral for a shoulder that doesn’t need surgery? Another $55 will shower down on me at the end of the day when I send off the bill for that exam.

How many basal cell and squamous cell cancers have I discovered while examining some ones shoulder or abdomen or even a sore throat? How many of those was I stupid enough to remove the same day, only to find out that I would be paid for only one procedure and it would always be the least expensive of the two? How many appeals have been successful to Medicare when I performed the service and was denied payment?

How many diabetics do I struggle with, trying to get them to take better care of themselves? How many hours have I spent with teenage diabetics who will not check their blood sugars and forget half of their insulin doses? I have spent hundreds of hours dealing with them and their families trying to effect changes that will someday allow them to get their disease under control. I do this because the only Endocrinologist in the county will not see pediatric diabetics. I can’t say that I blame him as the time spent seems like a total waste. That is, until one day they open their eyes and want to take care of themselves. My reward for years of struggle and years of 30 minute visits trying to get them to take responsibility for their health is a few hundred dollars at best. The savings to society for my hard work and never give up attitude is in the tens of thousands of dollars.

I continue on in my 22nd year giving advice and services to 30 plus patients each and every day. Having me in the system has resulted in savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year. My financial incentive to hang in there and work hard is the following. Twenty years ago I made about twice as much as I do now. This year I will make less as it seems even more of the claims are being reviewed while payment sits in someone else’s account drawing interest.

I have always served my fellowman out of a sense of love and compassion and for those reasons I went into medicine. I have been richly rewarded by my patients over the decades as they appreciate my judgment and skills. Isn’t it a shame that after all this time and with skills honed by decades of experience, I can barely afford to work as a physician? Taxes will be collected, no pass for the working physician, not like the Goldman Sacks guys and their buddies with the 9 billion in bonuses given last year after the 58 billion in funds we gave them.

My parting words next year will be good luck having PA’s provide the safety net with their 2 years of training. Good luck getting newly trained physicians to take over once they see my salary. Good luck having internists in your community with only 1% of medical students going into Internal Medicine. Good luck recruiting the primary care specialists when you are short 70,000 now and 1/3 plan on retirement within 3 years.

If there is any irony in this at all, it is that I will find myself in the same boat as I struggle to find a doctor to take care of me. Now that is ironic. Anyone know who is taking new patients in California?

Vance Harris, MD


Anonymous Reader Murry Ferris writes in:

I am a 65 year old retired ad exec and also an insulin-dependent
diabetic.  I have other medical complications, but taking care of the
diabetes is the big one.

Every day I test my blood glucose
levels as many as ten times.  A box of test strips retails for between
$40-$60 and lasts less than a week…. you do the math.  In case you
were not aware, your glucose levels are in a state of constant flux
depending on your intake of food and exercise.   Bottom line, keep your
levels, "level" and you'll lead a more normal life.

Now with all the
talk about raising taxes to pay for the rising cost of health care I
hear absolutely no discussion about reining in the unjustified
increases of medical supplies and equipment.   Just ten years ago I
could buy test strips for $10.   Now they come in slick PVC canisters,
wrapped in four-color labels and packed in plush slick cardboard boxes
stuffed with layers of "instructions" and phony code strips.   Remember
all you need do is stick your finger an put a drop of blood on the end
of the strip.   How hard is that?

So, for $2,600 a year I get to
stick my finger ten times daily, throw a pile of unread and expensive
packaging in the trash, and pay increasingly higher health care



I'm retired now, but as a former lawyer, I simply must speak out in opposition to the various health care proposals that are being bandied about. It used to be said that what was good for GM was good for America. I submit that the more appropriate slogan in this day and age is that what's good for lawyers is good for America.

Right now the American system of health care proudly denies service to 40 to 50 million people, depending on your source. The great majority of them don't need health care anyway. Our system has always worked on the free market ideal that if you have what it takes, you'll achieve your goals. If you don't, then you can fall by the wayside. This philosophy has made this country great for over two centuries. Why change it now?

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THCB reader JB wrote us to say: Commentology

"I guess you guys are probably aware of the huge backlash that is going
on with various medical societies  around the US, due to the AMA and
other physician groups endorsement of HR 3200, and the subsequent
"meltdown" of this bill??

State medical societies and
associations are "seceding" from the AMA, and threatening to further
distance themselves from AMA because their memberships massively
disagree with the purpose and positions of this proposed "healthcare
reform bill." 

State Medical Associations, specialty groups
(American College of Surgeons, American College of Physicians, American
Academcy of Pediatrics, etc.) are all in full back-pedal spin mode to
try and fend of their furious doctor constituent-members, who generally
were ambushed by their professional societies full-fledged endorsement
of HR 3200. 

This has created multiple rifts, and further
undermined support of this measure, even though Obama and Pelosi want
the public to believe this abomination of a bill is fully endorsed by
organized medicine as well as physicians in general.  NOTHING could be
further from the truth."


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 (”


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