Media coverage of the government’s new investment in comparative effectiveness research leans heavily toward the effects of such research on new drugs and technologies: Will such evaluations lead to restricted access to the latest innovations? Will insurance no longer cover a drug that might give my aunt another year to live? Will such research hinder the development of a drug that could cure my nephew of type I diabetes?
The focus on how results from comparative effectiveness research might affect new approaches obscures for the public and for policymakers the vital role of such research in evaluating current approaches to diagnosis and treatment that may not only be ineffective but in fact harmful to us.
I am now slogging through chemotherapy for stomach cancer almost certainly caused by receiving high doses of radiation for Hodgkin lymphoma, which was the standard treatment until long-term side effects (heart problems, additional cancers) emerged in the late 1980s. So I am especially attuned to the need for registries and trials to track the short- and long-term effectiveness of treatments.
So choosing a surgeon in September to remove my tumor shone a bright light for me on the importance of research to evaluate current practices. Two of the three surgeons I consulted wanted to follow “standard treatment procedures” and leave a six-centimeter cancer-free margin around my tumor. This meant taking my whole stomach out, because of the anatomy of my stomach and its arterial supply.
In the spring of 2005, the sinus infection returned. I awoke severely congested with a pounding forehead and pain around my eyes that grew worse when I bent to tie my shoes. The feeling was familiar. Two years earlier, I had similar symptoms, but was uninsured and endured a miserable week with nothing but over-the-counter medication. Now they were back.
Fortunately, when I started graduate school, my father insisted that I have health insurance. As a healthy 24 year old, I didn’t see the need, but he agreed to foot the bill for a high-deductible insurance policy to cover me in the event of catastrophic illness. Except for four physician office visits subject only to a $35 co-payment, my policy offered no benefits until I spent $3,000 out of my own pocket. With my sinuses throbbing, I knew I needed to use one of those visits. Overwhelmed by the list of “in-network” providers on the insurer’s website, I picked an internist based on convenience—his practice was located in a medical complex near my home.
Arriving for my appointment, I checked in and presented my insurance card to the receptionist. “Your visit today will be $35,” said the woman behind the desk. I was relieved to hear that my coverage was working as promised. A nurse ushered me to an exam room, where the physician promptly entered, half-heartedly listened to my complaint, and confidently asserted that I did not have a sinus infection because I had no fever. I wanted to say “Really? Mind handing me a tissue so that I can show you what’s been coming out of my head?” but resisted the urge. Instead, I clarified that fever or no, I didn’t feel well, and believed my sinuses were the culprit. At this, the internist lost patience. He ordered some lab work and a sinus CT scan to rule out infection, and said that I could have everything done downstairs.Continue reading…
The latest analysis of health care reform – out this week from bean counters at Medicare – shows reform will raise health care spending slightly over the next 10 years, not reduce it as promised by President Obama. That won’t make selling it on the stump any easier. Yet there’s a glimmer of hope in the out years of the 10-year projection that the plan will begin to “bend the cost curve.”
Here’s the real bad news for reform supporters. The private insurance market will absorb most of the increase, and most of that will fall on individuals. Employer contributions for their workers’ private insurance will actually fall $120 billion in 2019 from previous projections because of reform.
Individuals will get hit two ways. First, the actuaries at CMS are projecting a huge 9 percent increase in out-of-pocket expenses in 2018 and 2019, after the so-called “Cadillac tax” goes into effect. This is a steep excise tax on high-cost insurance plans. To avoid tax penalties, experts expect employers with such plans – which may only be high-cost because they are filled with sicker and older beneficiaries – will reduce coverage by increasing co-pays and deductibles.
A second factor driving out-of-pocket expenses higher for individuals under reform will be the insurance mandate, which will drive many people to seek coverage through the new state exchanges. CMS predicts over 30 million people will be getting insurance through the exchanges in 2019, substantially more than the 24 million projected by the Congressional Budget Office last March, when reform passed.
Everyone was expecting the new meaningful use rules to include some important, but relatively basic advances for the consumer—and it did. However few of us expected meaningful use would include a real consumer gift: the requirement that EMRs help doctors deliver information prescriptions to each patient. That addition is a game changer for advancing the patient’s role in a patient-centered health care system.
Page 225 of the rules includes this Stage I Measure for demonstrating the “meaningful use” needed to qualify for the federal subsidy for EMR investments:
More than 10% of all unique patients seen by the provider are provided patient-specific education resources.
That simple requirement represents a sea-change in use of the EMR as a tool to advance the role of the patient. It will bring into mainstream American medicine a recognition that medical care is of high quality only if it includes relevant information to help the patient do appropriate self-care and better participate in treatment decisions.
The requirement gives mainstream life to the decade-old concept called “information therapy” or Ix for short. Ix promotes the need to prescribe the right information to the right patient at the right time as part of the process of care. The new rule promotes the exact same thing.