By year’s end, the Department of Health and Human Services will announce plans for making its Physician Compare website into a consumer-friendly source of information for Medicare patients about the quality of care provided by doctors and other health care providers. In doing so, Physician Compare will take its place alongside Hospital Compare and more than 250 other websites that offer information about the quality and cost of health care. More importantly, perhaps, it will send an important signal that transparency in health care is the new normal.
To look at these 250-plus online reports is to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of the public reporting aspect of the transparency movement. Some make it easy for people to make choices among physicians and hospitals, and just as notably, let providers see where they fall short and need to improve care. But others ask too much, forcing users to sort through rows and rows of eye-glazing data and jargon that requires a medical degree to fathom.
The Affordable Care Act calls for Physician Compare to offer information about the quality of care, including what physicians and their practices did and the outcome for patients, as well as care coordination; efficiency and resource use; patient experience and engagement; and safety, effectiveness, and timeliness. That’s a lot of information, and it demonstrates the tall order facing the federal government to make the reports meaningful and accessible, so that physicians and patients will both be more apt to use them.Continue reading…
Massachusetts has a long track record of making headlines in the area of health care reform, whether or not Mitt Romney likes to talk about it.
In 2008, Massachusetts released results of its initiative requiring virtually all of its citizens to acquire health insurance. In short order, nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts’ 600,000 formerly uninsured acquired health insurance, most of them private insurance that did not run up the tab for taxpayers. The use of hospitals and emergency rooms for primary care fell dramatically, translating into an annual savings of nearly $70 million.
But that’s pocket change in the scheme of things, so the other shoe had to drop — and now it has. Massachusetts made news recently, this time for passing legislation that aims to impose a cap on overall health care spending. That ambition implies, even if it doesn’t quite manage to say, a very provocative word: rationing.
Health care rationing is something everyone loves to hate. Images of sweet, little old ladies being shoved out the doors of ERs that have met some quota readily populate our macabre fantasies.
But laying aside such melodrama, here is the stark reality: Health care is, always was, and always will be rationed. However much people hate the idea, it’s a fact, not a choice. The only choice we have is to ration it rationally, or irrationally. At present, we ration it — and everything it affects — irrationally.
Let’s take a look at Mitt Romney’s Health Care plan using his own outline (“Mitt’s Plan”) on his website.
Romney’s approach to health care reform summarized:
- “Kill Obamacare” – There seems to be no chance Romney would try to fix the Affordable Care Act––he would repeal all of it.
- No new federal health insurance reform law – There is no indication from his policy outline that he would try to replace the health care reform law for those under age-65 (“Obamacare”) with a new federal law–his emphasis would be on making it easier for the states to tackle the issue as he did in Massachusetts.
- Small incremental steps – His approach for health insurance reform for those under age-65 relies on relatively small incremental market ideas when compared to the Democrats big Affordable Care Act–tort reform, association purchasing pools, insurance portability, more information technology, greater tax deductibility of insurance, purchasing insurance across state lines, more HSA flexibility.
- Getting the federal government out of the Medicaid program – He would fundamentally change Medicaid by putting the states entirely in control of it and capping the annual federal contribution–“block-granting.”
- Big changes for Medicare – Romney offers a fundamental reform for Medicare beginning for those who retire in ten years by creating a more robust private Medicare market and giving seniors a defined contribution premium support to pay for it.
Late last week, thanks to Liz Kowalczyk (@globeLizK) of the Boston Globe, I discovered the statewide report on quality of stroke care in Massachusetts. It’s a plain document, mostly in black and white, much of what you might expect from a state government report. Yet, this 4-page document is a reminder of how we have come to accept mediocrity as the standard in our healthcare delivery system.
The report is about 1,082 men and women in Massachusetts unfortunate enough to have a stroke but lucky (or vigilant) enough to get to one of the 69 Massachusetts hospitals designated as Primary Stroke Service (PSS) in a timely fashion. Indeed, all these patients arrived within 2 hours of onset of symptoms and none had a contradiction to IV-tPA, a powerful “clot busting” drug that has been known to dramatically improve outcomes in patients with ischemic stroke, a condition in which a blood clot is cutting off blood supply to the brain. For many patient-ts, t-PA is the difference between living a highly functional life versus being debilitated and spending the rest of their lives in a nursing home. There are very few things we do in medicine where minutes count – and tPA for stroke is one of them.
So what does this report tell us? That during 2009-2010, patients who showed up to the ER in time to get this life-altering drug received in 83.3% of the time. Most of us who study “quality of care” look at that number and think – well, that’s pretty good. It surely could have been worse.
Pretty good? Could have been worse? Take a step back for a moment: if your parent or spouse was having a stroke (horrible clot lodged in brain, killing brain cells by the minute) – you recognized it right away, called 911, and got your loved one to a Primary Stroke Service hospital in a fabulously short period of time, are you happy with a 1 in 5 chance that they won’t get the one life-altering drug we know works? Only 1 in 5 chance that they might spend their life in a nursing home instead of coming home? Is “pretty good” good enough for your loved one?
Governor Patrick signed a new healthcare law today aimed at cost containment, and the rhetoric soared assuring all that Massachusetts has “cracked the code on healthcare costs.” Unfortunately, with no debate on the underlying bill in the House of Representatives and only little debate in the State Senate, the 349-page statute, which was released just 14 hours before the legislative final vote, is little understood and brimming with unintended consequences.
Real cost-containment is only possible when we encourage patients to reward low-cost, high-quality providers with their business. We’ve said it over and over again throughout this process.
Instead, the law being signed today re-imagines and repackages so many failed top-down approaches from the past. The acronyms may have changed, but this bill looks a lot like past approaches that trusted government, not patients, to drive big, systematic changes in how we purchase healthcare. For some reason our state policymakers expect completely different results this time around.
Rather than provide financial incentives for individual patients to take charge of their own medical care, this legislation rearranges the system based on accountable care organizations (ACOs) and governmentally-imposed changes in payment methods. Real-life evidence that these approaches contain costs is mixed at best; as a result, the law misses the mark by a long shot and will not lead to long-term, sustainable containment of health care costs.
The fight is on — again. Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and Republicans across this country are doubling down against President Obama’s health care reform law. Now that the Supreme Court has said that most of the new law passes constitutional muster, the Republicans are running for office pledging to repeal every aspect of the health care reforms.
For millions of people this isn’t a political issue, it’s a personal one. Their health depends on it.
Massachusetts has led the country in health care reform. Most of us — 98 percent — have health care coverage, and our state leads the country in tackling head-on the ever-growing costs of health care. That is why President Obama used our law as a model for health care reform. But the national Affordable Care Act adds some important elements that improve care even here in Massachusetts.
For seniors, health care reform means expanding Medicare coverage to pick up the costs of prescription drugs. As the donut hole closes, the average Massachusetts senior has so far saved about $650. But Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and their fellow Republicans want to take that away.
For young people, health care reform means staying on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26. So far, more than 20,000 young people here in Massachusetts have taken advantage of this. But Romney, Brown, and their fellow Republicans want to take that away.
Since the Supreme Court upheld the ACA/Obamacare, there has been a renewed interest in the Massachusetts healthcare law. I have blogged many times before to caution readers and the media not to assume the two laws will lead to the same results, because they won’t, mostly as Massachusetts is not the same patient with the same ailments as New Mexico, or Michigan, or even Florida.
I know I am fighting against the conventional wisdom, but this issue warrants discussion as Congress passed a national program and modeled the behavior and cost estimates (incorrectly in my opinion) partially on our experience here in the Bay State.
As a result of the national interest, I assume we will see more local reports on Romneycare. On cue, WBUR’s CommonHealth Blog put up:
5 Quick Facts About Mass. Health Reform You Now Need To Know
One of the facts cited is the decrease in the number of Massachusetts residents paying the individual mandate penalty.
Americans believe in second chances. Mitt Romney will get his if the Supreme Court rules to throw out part, or all, of the president’s federal health insurance law. Should Romney propose replacing it with a federal version of the Massachusetts health law or a federal mega-bill that mandates a one-size-fits-all free-market solution?
The question is now central to the election — the high court has made that certain — and eclipsed in importance only by the debate over jobs and the economy.
President Obama may cite Romney’s Massachusetts reform as an inspiration for his own efforts, but there are profound differences between the laws — the size and reach, financing, the underlying philosophy. Romney sought an open marketplace for individuals to purchase benefit plans ranging from catastrophic to generous. Romney’s successor, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, has obscured those differences by taking a big-government approach to implementation, drastically limiting choices and mandating minimum coverage levels beyond private-market norms.
Even with weak implementation, the Massachusetts law has yielded some positive results, including broadening insurance coverage, especially for minorities, and decreasing premiums for individual purchasers of insurance.
New York Times reporter Abby Goodnough’s piece last week about the health insurance exchange in Massachusetts is instructive—especially since other states are trying to set up their own versions of these shopping bazaars where the uninsured can buy coverage if the health reform law eventually takes effect. For the last three years we have been suggesting there’s an untold story in the Bay State about how the law is working, so we were glad to see Goodnough’s reporting and offer a tip of the hat.
Goodnough gets into the subject with a success story: the tale of Peter Kim, who lost his employer-sponsored health insurance in 2005 when he opted for a career as an independent consultant. He found that shopping for insurance in the open market was a complicated affair, and that most plans were too expensive. He eventually chose coverage for catastrophic illness.
Then he discovered his state’s health insurance exchange, called the Connector. After just an hour of research, he found a plan with a monthly premium of only $1,086, a better deal than the coverage he previously had. And ideally, that’s how exchanges should work, Goodnough said.
The trouble, she reports, is that so far the Connector has not drawn enough full-paying customers like Peter Kim.
As Goodnough notes, the exchanges have drawn little journalistic scrutiny so far, despite their key place in health reform. (And, we note, despite the fact that they grew out of initiatives backed by former Massachusetts governor and current presidential candidate Mitt Romney.)
Mitt Romney’s entire career reflects a businesslike approach. On the one hand he has been willing to act boldly to solve problems. On the other hand he has been willing to keep what works and discard what doesn’t. The latest Romney pronouncements on health policy are consistent with that history.
As President Obama has said on many occasions, ObamaCare is based on a health reform Governor Romney spearheaded in Massachusetts. But blindly copying a health reform — while ignoring what’s really worth copying and what’s not — is hardly sensible presidential leadership.
Here is what is good about the Massachusetts health reform: (1) Governor Romney brought both parties together to achieve genuine bipartisan reform (something Barack Obama failed at miserably at the national level); (2) he cut the insurance rate in half by giving substantial tax relief to people who must purchase their own insurance, and (3) he did all this without raising taxes.