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How The Affordable Care Act Will Affect Doctors


Just over two years ago, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law purported to increase access to health care and to “bend down” the health care cost curve. A great debate over the implications of that law, especially in the areas of coverage, affordability, and quality of care, has arisen. Furthermore, a series of political and legal challenges have generated uncertainty about the law’s prospects within the health industry and at the state level. Despite this, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already issued over 12,000 pages of regulations elaborating on the original 2,700-page law, leading to more uncertainty regarding how appointed and career federal officials will determine the exact shape of the law’s final requirements. All of this uncertainty raises real concerns about how the new law will impact the most crucial actors in any health care reform effort: doctors.

Doctors are demonstrably nervous about the new law and how it will affect their incomes, their access to technologies, and their professional autonomy. According to a survey by the Doctors Company, 60 percent of physicians are concerned that the new law will negatively impact patient care. Only 22 percent are optimistic about the law’s impact on patient care. Fifty-one percent feel that the law will negatively impact their relationships with patients. These statistics raise questions about how and whether doctors will participate in the new system.

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How TEDMED ‘Groupinspire’ Could Change the World


Last week I found my usually-diverse Twitter feed had coalesced into a single hashtag, the trolley buses chugging through the streets of Washington, D.C. were sporting bold logos on their sides, and all around the city people were wearing giant nametags bearing their name, face, and three things they liked to talk about. There was no mistaking it: TEDMED was in town.

For the world of health care, TEDMED was the only party at which to see and be seen. The thousand or so delegates had been specifically “curated” to encapsulate the epitome of health care innovation. For 3.5 days they basked in cutting-edge, quirky talks by people “shaping and creating the future of health and medicine,” punctuated by lavish dinners and parties, TEDMED-themed M&Ms, and morning runs, as sanctioned by the Cookie Monster (one of the celebrity speakers at this extravaganza). Meanwhile, the rest of the medical world followed the #TEDMED hashtag on Twitter or soaked up the inspiration in real time at one of TEDMED’s mostly academic simulcast venues around the U.S.

And as for me? I threw myself into getting invited to the cool kids’ party. Or to be more accurate, the cool, privileged kids’ party. Because as well as being accepted on merit, attending TEDMED in person costs an eye-watering $4,950. A wealth of sponsors paid for 200 people to attend on scholarships (and for the Simulcasts), but by the time I’d realized this and persuaded them of my innovative brilliance, they’d already allocated their funds and I was consigned to their priority waiting list. But at the last minute, delightfully, my persistence and anticipation were rewarded with a pass for the Thursday night party and the final Friday morning session.

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The Long Road From March to November

In politics, a month is a lifetime, and 7 months is an eternity. It’s four months from now to late June when the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the health law, and it’s several months until the election.

No one knows what will happen between now and the election. But whatever occurs, it will be a psychological and political time.

Democrats will put on a brave face. They will say it’s not over until it’s over, that the individual mandate was originally a Republican and Romney idea, that the justices will come to their senses, that this is a moral not a constitutional issue.

Republicans will say that the health law is a train wreck, that it was rooted in ego and arrogance of an overly ambitious president, that Democrats poisoned the whole politics process by completely ignoring the other party and the American public, and that the whole idea of individual and Medicaid mandates is toast.

If they are smart, and there is no guarantee of that, the GOP will issue a detailed alternative plan resting on incremental market reforms with proper government oversight.

Inaction “ on Massive Scale

Over the next seven months, we are likely to have “inaction,” if I may borrow a term from the hearings, on a massive scale.

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It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid!

With the US economy dragging itself to its feet, the housing and stock markets crawling back, and the Republican presidential candidates (and their nationally syndicated Falstaff) doing everything imaginable to alienate most American women, President Obama has been having quite a run of good luck.  But there is one piece of good news clearly not welcome around the White House: new data showing that health care costs are stabilizing.

I know, I know – this is health care, costs are always out of control, and the sky is always falling.  What could I possibly be talking about?

I’m talking about the actual numbers.  The accompanying graphs reveal that health spending has actually been stabilizing for several years, and the system we all love to hate is finally re-entering the economy’s normal orbit after three decades of skyrocketing growth.

This of course is hardly a cause for celebration around the Obama Administration, for obvious political reasons.  Why else would economists from the same department tasked with implementing health reform choose to tell us that this long-awaited good news is actually – well – bad news.

Huh?  In both graphs below, newly released data through 2010 show that health spending over the past several years has been normalizing to the rate of overall inflation rather than outpacing it – or grossly outpacing it – as has been the case, nearly without interruption, since the 1970s.

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PCORI Paddles the Potomac

Cynics say Washington is the city where good ideas go to die. A promising strategy for holding down health care costs in the Obama administration’s reform bill – providing patients and doctors with authoritative information on what works best in health care – should provide a classic test of that proposition, assuming the law survives the next election.

Experts estimate anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the health care that Americans receive is wasted. It is either ineffective or does more harm than good. To put that in perspective, waste costs anywhere from $250 billion and $750 billion a year, or as much as three-fourths of the annual federal deficit.

Yet every effort to curb wasteful spending (health care fraud, though pervasive, is estimated at less than a quarter of the total) has come up short. Neither Medicare and Medicaid’s efforts at government price controls nor the insurance industry’s efforts at managing care has succeeded in stopping health care spending from rising at twice the rate of the overall economy. Only the recent deep recession curbed costs, and that was because people lost their insurance when they lost their jobs and stopped going to the doctor. The bill for that postponed maintenance isn’t in yet.

For over a decade, the health policy world has held out comparative effectiveness research – comparing competing approaches to treating disease – as one possible solution to eliminating waste in the health care delivery system. If only doctors and patients knew what worked best, knew what worked less well than advertised, and knew what didn’t work at all, they would, through better-informed choices, gradually eliminate much of the waste in the system.

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No Free Lunch. No Free Contraception.

The otherworldy Obama Administration solution to the contraception firestorm might work politically but it makes no sense in the real world.

The President, hoping to quell a growing political firestorm, today announced a new policy that no longer requires religiously affiliated organizations to provide employees with contraception coverage in health-insurance plans.

Under the new policy, insurance companies will be required to offer free contraception for their employees and dependents. The administration’s idea is to shift the onus for the coverage from the employer to the insurer. Catholic leaders, and lots of other people, had objected to the requirement, which exempted churches but not hospitals, charities and universities with religious affiliations.

So, let’s just play a game here. The religious organization just pretends that it has nothing to do with it but the insurance company pays for it anyway. Hey, the insurance companies are rich.

Of course there is a cost. Today, contraception is almost universally covered in health insurance policies. The argument that forcing insurers to pay for it, without deductibles and copays, saves money because it avoids pregnancy costs is just plain silly.

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The Audacity of Dupe

Let me get this straight. Catholic institutions won’t have to pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance? Instead, their health insurers will provide it for free? Did I hear that right?

The President seems to have found the long elusive free lunch. If he has, hand him his Nobel Prize in Economics now; no economist will ever top that. (That would make him just the fifth person to win two Nobel Prizes. Such greatness inspires.) I am afraid that the Nobel Prize committee will have more work to do, as the free lunch will remain as scarce as the unicorn. Just bear in mind that health insurers charge different prices for all of their clients. How is anyone to know whether they are providing contraception to some Catholic institution for free? Will we have a federal agency auditing whether an insurer’s 6.743 percent price increase should have been 6.682 percent? And is this new rule even Constitutional? Since when can the government force private businesses to give away their products? I guess a government that believes it can mandate that consumers purchase contraception coverage regardless of the price also believes that it can mandate insurers set the price for contraception coverage to zero.

And suppose insurers really do provide contraception for free to Catholic institutions, but not for any others. This gives the Catholic institutions a competitive advantage in labor markets. Mr. President, may I suggest that as long as you are giving away stuff to employees at Catholic institutions, why not force Apple to give away iPads to Northwestern University employees? (Most of them voted for you and surely deserve it!) Apparently all it takes is an executive order. What did Mel Brooks say about this? Oh yeah, “It’s good to be the king.”

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Secret Shoppers: Needing A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

Every now and then, a well-intentioned administration does something relatively harmless but so hare-brained and openly foolish that it takes our breath away. The Obama Administration’s primary care “secret shopper” plan fit this bill, and has already been shelved due to the withering criticism. My inbox a couple days ago was filled with rants by physicians of all political persuasions marveling at the lameness of the idea.

Here’s a short description from Robert Pear’s article in Sunday’s New York Times.

The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.

http://careandcost.wordpress.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gifThat primary care access has been squeezed is hardly in question. Undervalue a critically important resource, make it a financially undesirable choice for young professionalsand – Voila! – capacity drops. Having too few primary care physicians is the result of 20 years of systematic effort by the specialist-dominated American Medical Association, with the seeming oblivious complicity of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Ironically, a new study answering a question related to the Administration’s project’s question was released last week. Writing in New England Journal of Medicine, Bisgaier and Rhodes had research assistants pose as mothers trying to make pediatric specialty care appointments, with type of insurance as the only variable. Two-thirds (66%) of those who mentioned Medicaid/CHIP were denied appointments, compared with 11% of those who mentioned private insurance. In 89 clinics that accepted both kinds of patients, the waiting time for callers who said they had Medicaid was 22.1 days longer, on average, than for those who said they had private insurance.

 

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Near Chicago next week? Meet Todd Park!

If you’re near or in Chicago next Weds (April 27) and you care about health data, applications or innovation, we highly recommend that you get to a Community Forum on the Health Data Initiative. The formal invite & details follow–Matthew Holt

James M. Galloway, MD, Acting HHS Regional Director and Regional Health Administrator, Region V invites you to a community dialogue hosted in Chicago on the Health Data Initiative with Todd Park, HHS Chief Technology Officer.  Todd Park joined HHS as Chief Technology Officer in August 2009. In this role, he is responsible for helping HHS leadership harness the power of data, technology, and innovation to improve the health and welfare of the nation.

One of his priority projects, on behalf of Secretary Sebelius, is the Community Health Data Initiative.  The Community Health Data Initiative is a public-private collaboration among federal, state, local and private organizations, that aims to make indicators of health available to a broad array of users.  Health indicators represent data from populations or groups of individuals that can be used to reflect health trends or differences in health status, cost, quality, and health system performance.

This is an opportunity for public health officials, businesses, academic institutions, providers, hospitals, health plans, and advocates to learn more about the Community Health Data Initiative, in particular, on the use of health and health care data to improve performance.  More information on the initiative can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/open/datasets/communityhealthdata.html.

We hope that you can join us in a community dialogue with Todd Park!

When: Wednesday, April 27th from 2 – 4 p.m.

Where: The MidAmerica Club (inside the Aon Building)
200 E. Randolph, 80th Floor
Chicago, IL 60601

Why: You can help improve the health of our nation and the reach of this program in our community.

RSVP: Space is limited. Please RSVP for this free event by Friday, April 22nd to Ms. April Dublin at april.dublin@hhs.gov or 312-353-1385

The Accidental Socialists

Over the next few years, the U.S. healthcare system will be in the hands of academics from Cambridge, Massachusetts. New CMS Czar Donald Berwick was a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. Joe Newhouse, who has been the senior adviser to Medicare for as long as I can remember, holds appointments in three different schools at Harvard. David Cutler, Dean of Harvard’s Undergraduate College, seems a good bet to lead the Independent Medicare Advisory Board. Countless of their colleagues and former students have taken key policy making positions in Washington.

I know most of these scholars. They are brilliant as a rule and are acting in the truest sense of public service. None of them are socialists in the usual sense of the word; they do not believe that the government is an efficient provider of most goods and services. I don’t think they want the government to provide health care either. They have never called for government ownership of hospitals or suggested that physicians join the civil service. But whether they realize it or not, they are the vanguard of a movement bringing socialized medicine to America.Continue reading…

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