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Tag: OP-ED

Zen and the Art of Not Thinking Magically

Don’t assume anything.

Assumptions can kill.  

Assuming something regarding your own health care can cost you money, cause you pain, and yes, even kill you.  Here’s my list of potentially harmful assumptions:

1.  No news is good news

If you have a test done and don’t hear anything about the result, do not assume it is fine.  This assumption kills people.  I have too many patients with too much information flying at me every day for me to catch every important detail.  Sometimes things are missed, but sometimes the results don’t come to our office.   We have trained our patients to expect an email or letter with their results within a certain amount of time, so they sometimes call when the test results don’t come in.  I tell them to do so in the clinical summary sheet I hand out at the end of each visit, but the assumption remains.

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The Political Economy of DSM-5

The American Psychiatric Association just reported a surprisingly large yearly deficit of $350,000. This was caused by reduced publishing profits, poor attendance at its annual meeting, rapidly declining membership, and wasteful spending on DSM-5. APA reserves are now below ” the recommended amount for a non-profit (reserves equal to a year’s operating expenses).”

APA has already spent an astounding $25 million on DSM-5. I can’t imagine where all that money went. As I recall it, DSM-IV cost about $5 million and more than half of this came from outside research grants. Even if the DSM-5 product were made of gold instead of lead, $25 million would be wildly out of proportion. The rampant disorganization of DSM-5 must have caused colossal waste. One obvious example is the $3 million spent on the useless DSM-5 field trial—with its irrelevant question, poorly conceived design, and embarrassing results.

Because APA is left holding these huge IOU’s, it will be doubly desperate to begin recouping on its misguided investment. The bad financial report will ratchet up the pressure to publish DSM-5 in its current sorry state as scheduled next May—despite the fact that it has badly flunked its own field test and now still requires extensive editing and retesting before being anywhere near fit for use.

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Is There a Republican Alternative to ObamaCare?

GOP to the Uninsured: (Feel Free to) Drop Dead.” So reads the title Michael Millenson post at the Health Care Blog yesterday. It gets worse:

[N]o Republican presidential candidate has ever presented a serious plan to cover all the uninsured … The difference between Democrats and this generation of Republicans — unfortunately including even the GOP Doctors Caucus — is not at its core a disagreement on what government can legitimately do to help create universal access to health care for the 50 million Americans without it, but whether the goal itself is worth pursuing.

Was Millenson completely asleep (like Rip Van Winkle) during the last election? Does he not read my Wall Street Journal editorials? Does he never visit my blog? Or was this meant to be an April fool’s column?

John McCain’s health plan was more radical and even more progressive than Obama Care. I’ve never seen any serious health policy wonk deny that.  Maybe Millenson doesn’t live in a battle ground state. If he did, he would know that the Obama campaign spent more money attacking the McCain health plan during the election than has ever been spent for or against a public policy idea in the history of the republic. In fact, it is probably no exaggeration to say that Obama successfully turned the election into a referendum on the McCain health plan!

The McCain health plan is discussed at this blog here, here, here, here and here.

And although Millenson singles out Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn as an especially egregious example of the Republican failure on health policy, the McCain vision actually was based on a bill, sponsored by Sen. Coburn and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), along with Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Devin Nunes (R-CA), [hereinafter called the Coburn bill]. That bill, in turn, was based on an idea which Mark Pauly and I proposed in a Health Affairs article more than a decade ago. (Does Millenson not read Health Affairs?)

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What If We End Up with a Health Care System Like the One they Have In New Jersey?

What would individual health insurance cost if the court strikes the mandate down and still requires insurers to cover everyone?

With the Supreme Court justices sounding like they might strike the mandate down, this is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately.

I have pointed to New Jersey as a real life example of what can happen when insurance reforms take place but there is no incentive for consumers to buy it until the day they need it.

In 1992, New Jersey passed health insurance reform that required insurance carriers to either offer individual health insurance on a guaranteed issue basis or pay an assessment to carriers that did. Other elements of the legislation were:

  • Guaranteed coverage and renewability for all eligible people regardless of their health status. A pre-existing condition exclusion does allow insurers to limit coverage during the first 12 months (a limitation which is not contained in the Affordable Care Act).
  • Guaranteed renewal of policies, provided (1) the insured does not become eligible for coverage under a group plan; (2) premiums are paid in a timely fashion; and (3) no fraud is committed by the insured.
  • Community rating of the premiums, with variation allowed only for family status (single, adult plus child, husband and wife, and family). (The Affordable Care Act allows rate variations of up to three times from young to old.)
  • Standardized insurance plans, referred to as Plans A, B, C, and D (indemnity options) and a single HMO plan.

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The HMO in Your Future

I have not been able to determine how you pronounce the acronym for Accountable Care Organization (ACO). Is it ā´ ko? Or ā´ so? Or ăh so´, as in Charlie Chan movies? What about ĕ´ ko, as in a canyon? Or simply ick, with a silent o?

Anyway, this is not a trivial matter because you are likely to be in an ACO at some point in the future and it’s probably going to happen sooner than you think.

In Massachusetts, stakeholders are already meeting to develop a plan to push everyone with commercial insurance into an ACO. [Can you guess who doesn’t count as a “stakeholder?” If you live in Massachusetts and you weren’t invited to the meeting, that’s a clue.] Nationwide, Medicare will start paying fees to ACOs, beginning next year. Eventually, the Obama administration would like to see everyone in an ACO.

But if no one had any previous interest in forming ACOs, let alone joining them, what is going to cause us all to change our minds? Money. Insurers won’t be able to get premium increases unless they adopt ACO plans. Doctors and hospitals will be paid less if they don’t join. Eventually doctors will find they are ineligible to treat Medicare patients or patients insured in the newly-created health insurance exchanges if they are not practicing in ACOs. As for the patients, there won’t be any plans to join other than ACO plans.Continue reading…

ACOs and the Looming Antitrust Crisis

Dranove The Federal Trade Commission recently held a day-long workshop focusing on Accountable Care Organizations. ACOs will vertically integrate hospitals and doctors and, in the process, achieve what previous incarnations of vertical integration could not. Let’s forget about whether ACOs will actually fulfill the dream of efficient healthcare delivery and focus on the FTC angle – will the creation of ACOs require the creation of provider market power and should he FTC therefore look the other way?

Many health economists have documented the perils of provider market power. Some of my own research has been instrumental in turning the tide against providers, whose monopolizing tendencies used to get a free pass from the courts. But as policy makers move ACOs to the fore, providers are hoping to sweep antitrust under the rug.

The latest salvo comes from the AHA, which last week released a study challenging two recent studies of hospital market power and then strains to connect their findings to ACOs. The AHA report goes a bit overboard in its criticism of these studies. One study consists of little more than anecdotes and should not be criticized for being anything else. The other study is more complex and the criticism is equally complex, mostly along the lines of “if you had measured things slightly differently, your results would have been slightly different.” The AHA report would have readers believe that these two studies represent the entire body of knowledge about hospital mergers. Having summarily dismissed them, the argument against FTC enforcement would seem complete.

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Pitfalls of PPACA – Accountable Care Organizations

In addition to Medicare Advantage payment cuts and potential reductions in fee-for-service payment updates, PPACA includes various provisions intended to facilitate ongoing Medicare cost containment, notably creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. In addition to CMI’s broad scope, PPACA requires specific pilot projects, including (in Section 3022) demonstration of accountable care organizations (ACOs).

What does PPACA mean by an ACO? Dr. Elliott Fisher of Dartmouth Medical School, a primary originator of the concept, defined it as “a provider-led organization whose mission is to manage the full continuum of care and be accountable for the overall costs and quality of care for a defined population” and listed several provider groupings that could form ACOs. PPACA provides additional criteria, including having a formal legal structure and administrative systems, meeting CMS requirements for quality assurance and reporting, and serving at least 5000 Medicare beneficiaries. PPACA also specifies a deadline for the ACO pilot: “Not later than January 1, 2012, the Secretary shall establish…a program…”

The goal of an ACO is to reduce costs and improve quality of care through cooperation and coordination among providers, similar to that achieved by integrated delivery systems like Geisinger, HealthPartners, and Intermountain Health Care, but within what may be essentially a virtual organization superimposed on a loose network of providers and covering only a subset of patients.

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Our Misplaced Faith in High-Tech Medicine

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The following essay appeared on the website of the Hastings Center, which is running a colloquium on the values behind health care reform.

“One could make a good case that improvements in education and job creation could be a better use of limited funds than better medical care.” – Daniel Callahan, “Medical Progress: Unintended Consequences”

The president emeritus of the Hastings Center opens his insightful essay with the observation that the American people’s faith in medical progress is boundless. In this short comment, I want to expand on his thoughts by reexamining the cardinal tenets of that faith, since they embody a set of values that distract us from building a society that promotes good health, an infinitely more difficult task than building a better sick care system.

What are the core values driving our belief in high-tech medicine?

At their root, they are the values of good old-fashioned American individualism. This is the land of opportunity, where everyone has the God-given right to thrive and prosper. It’s also the land of the second chance, a place for the self-made and remade man – like President Ronald Reagan or Don Draper of the award-winning new drama “Mad Men.”

Death in this value system is not the end of a journey, but a rotten break. It’s the end of our chance to make a mark in the world, thus a fate to be avoided at all cost. Ray Kurzweil, the nonpareil Baby Boomer inventor, is the faith’s high priest, gobbling dozens of pills and supplements daily in his quest to remain on his “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever,” to use the title of his 2005 book.

These values have been written into the laws that govern the delivery of health care, especially Medicare. That universal, single-payer system was designed to provide health care for our oldest and therefore most vulnerable citizens. But in setting up that system, Congress said the government (i.e., all of us) would pay for any medical intervention deemed “reasonable and necessary” to return a person to health, and it could never consider cost when making those determinations. How deeply ingrained are those values? So deeply ingrained that it was child’s play this past summer for right wing demagogues to stir up passionate outrage over nonexistent efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”

The public religiously believes there will be a technological fix for the hundreds of diseases that may hit us as our bodies degenerate, and tithes accordingly. Any effort to limit prices for what must be paid for new technologies is met with cries from industry that it will stifle innovation. The taxpayers provide the seed corn for new technology by investing nearly $30 billion a year in basic research through the National Institutes of Health and other government health-related programs (this year supplemented with $10 billion in stimulus act funds).

But that’s just the start of the process. Those researchers are encouraged to patent their findings and start companies to bring their inventions to market, a reflection of another core American value – entrepreneurialism. The government refuses to limit prices so these companies will have “incentives” to leap the regulatory barriers to entry. And even when it invests in comparative effectiveness research to determine if these new inventions are any better than older interventions, the government will insist that those findings cannot be used to determine payment policy.

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Health Panels are a NICE Way of Improving Care and Controlling Costs

By ADRIAN BAKER

One of the proposals for health care reform is to have a panel of medical experts oversee Medicare, in order to improve quality and reduce cost. Butfalse accusations permeating the debate have scared people into thinking that would mean a government bureaucrat deciding what treatments you should or shouldn’t have, and would ultimately deny your grandma her vital drugs. Like any debate involving the future, fear of the unknown is going to be used by those who want to maintain the status quo for their own self interest. But health panels are not unknown. They have been used in Britain for ten years, and have proven to work.

Health panels are a simple enough idea: experts look at the evidence out there and make sure it’s the best that is available. They then make recommendations based on analysing hundreds of studies and consulting numerous stakeholders. The recommendations suggest the best form of treatment and care for a particular condition, or advise on areas your doctor may be unsure about.Continue reading…

It’s Not Just Doctors in Short Supply

Policy-makers involved in healthcare reform are making a mistake in disproportionately emphasizing ourWartman current doctor shortage while neglecting serious shortages of care providers in other fields of health.  Rather than continuing a failed, piecemeal approach, the nation needs to establish a multi-professional, multi-disciplinary, national planning body charged with carrying out a comprehensive and coordinated national health workforce policy.  National healthcare reform cannot be realized without effective national health workforce reform.

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