I usually spend some time throughout the year visiting with accounts, physicians, hospitals, and brokers (among others), just to hear what’s up and what’s going on. Earlier this week, I was out visiting the leadership at a community hospital in Massachusetts, and asked them if they appreciated the MA Department of Public Health’s (DPH) decision to require academic medical centers to prove they weren’t duplicating existing clinical services in the community when they opened new operations in the suburbs around Boston.
For the uninitiated, this issue has been percolating in Massachusetts for the past couple of years, as a number of well known teaching hospitals have broken ground on some pretty big outpatient facilities in the suburbs around Boston. The service suite in these places varies, but it’s basically day surgery, cancer treatment, cardiac care, high-end radiology, and assorted other high-margin outpatient services that many community hospitals in Massachusetts argue they were already doing, and may now lose to these new facilities.
The National Governors Association (NGA) met in Philadelphia this week, where my City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love is witnessing some sobering discussions about health care.
On the one hand, Bill Clinton called in his opening keynote speech for the states to be laboratories of democracy.
But how much health-democracy can each governor afford when balancing their budget in the face of declining revenues? According to the NGA’s 2008 Fiscal Survey of the States, not a whole lot.
Let’s say you ran a lobbying organization that may (or may not) be staring into a political storm. And say that you’d just lost a battle with opponents within the health care industry that you thought you’d won in 2003.
Now, say you “believe” that the 47 million people — who are uninsured in part (but to be fair, only in part) due to your members’ greed, political choices and incompetence over the years — represent a market for your members.
Say your organization had some members who could possibly adapt to a new world, where tightly regulated organizations were contracted under strict terms to provide care to the whole population in a social insurance scheme — with appropriate risk-adjustment and other mechanisms in place to promote the care management you say your members do so well.
And say then it had other members, who are mere sharks and who would go out of business the minute they were banned from cherry-picking only the best customers and selling them quasi-fraudulent products.
Those who wait, ever hopefully, for real health reform might want to take a deep breath and take stock of a few realities.First, think about the fact that when the Democrats retook Congress, they tweaked but did not fundamentally change the lobbying rules that trade money for influence over policy. In fact, most contributors have now adjusted their contributions to favor the current, rather than the past, majority party. As it turns out, Democrats, like Republicans, are only too eager to allow special interests to trump the common interest, so long as the transactions fetch a good price.
Veteran THCB readers shouldn’t need too much reminding about this, so I’ll spare you the blow by blow documented here over the years. Here’s the bottom line. Any time you do a trans-national study on health care, you find that the U.S. spends way too much and gets way too little in terms of quality and outcomes.
In doing these studies the Commonwealth Fund has become the bete noir of the political right.
Why? Well it starts with data first and then draws conclusions, rather than the opposite approach followed by most on the right. And whatever way you look at the data they’ve produced over the years, it’s clear that things aren’t going well.
At a health care forum held last year in Las Vegas, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declared that she was intent on “taking money away from people who make out really well right now” in order to fund health care reform. When asked exactly which fat cats she was referring to, Clinton responded, “Well, let’s start with the insurance companies.”
Clinton’s sentiment — that private insurers are making out like bandits while our health care system crumbles — is part of the received wisdom these days, especially among progressives who believe that for-profit health insurance doesn’t add much value to our health care system. But the reality is that in recent years, private insurers haven’t been doing so well financially.
Consider United Health Care (UHC), the nation’s biggest private insurer. Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters reports that UHC will be cutting 4,000 jobs as part of a restructuring plan that includes eliminating Uniprise, one of its major brands. Since last fall, UHC stock has plummeted from $53 to $22 a share. WellPoint, another huge private insurer, has watched its stock drop from $82 a share in 2007 to $49 a share in June.
I’m up at Spot-On explaining the Ted Kennedy Medicare miracle to the masses and suggesting that there are some real long-term problems that won’t be so easy for the Dems to solve later. As ever come back here to comment.
Well, lookee there: Congressional Democrats actually won one. That’s right. After 14 years of ignoring core liberal principles – including the last 18 months when they actually had a majority – they took on the Republicans and won.
How did this happen? Well, it’s an election year, and by forcing an issue that Congress has been putting off for years — automatic cuts in Medicare physician payments — Democrats seized the chance to score a few points.
Essentially, the Democrats decided that, instead of agreeing to another fudged compromise to put off the decision to cut payments, they’d set the insurers against the doctors. So they found the money to put off those automatic cuts by taking some away from private Medicare insurers. Now, it was a bit of a surprise that so many House Republicans joined them and drop-kicked the insurers with whom they’ve been aligned for so long, although of course they’re all up for re-election. But once there was a veto-proof majority in the House, the Senate Democrats realized that they could force the issue and score a political win.
Read the rest.
Barack Obama’s health reform proposal includes creating a center for comparative effectiveness research.
John McCain also has expressed support for this research.
And the American College of Physicians would like patients and doctors to use comparative effectiveness information when making health decisions.
What the heck are they talking about?
Policymakers, pundits and journalists have begun throwing around the term “comparative effectiveness” as if people know what it means.
I haven’t seen a formal survey, but I’m confident that the general public does not understand the concept behind this jargon nor the reasons why a national center might be needed to compare different medical treatments and procedures to find out what is most effective for different patients.
The first step to helping people understand these issues is to stop using the term comparative effectiveness. Using insider terms like this will ensure the public never engages in the issue and never buys into it. And public buy-in is important — crucial actually — says Gail Wilensky, the term’s mother of sorts.
Kensington, Minn. is barely a dot on the map. This small grid of concrete, where fewer than 300 people live, is a brief interruption amid the sprawling acres of green corn, soybean and wheat fields that cover Minnesota’s western plains.
Similar tiny villages exist every seven or so miles along the Soo Railroad route. These once busy agricultural hubs are now skeletons of commerce with rapidly aging populations.
About one-fifth of Americans live in rural areas, and providing health care to them is a challenge financially and logistically. Only 10 percent of the nation’s doctors practice in rural areas, and rural residents tend to be poorer and less likely to have employer-based insurance than urban dwellers. The list of challenges is long.
Crazy as it sounds an Associated Press story from Thursday reported that the California Department of Managed Care "didn’t even try to enforce a million-dollar fine against health insurer Anthem Blue Cross because they feared they would be outgunned in court."
Last year, the department announced that it would fine the insurer for improperly rescinding individual heath insurance policies in the midst of the California rescission controversy. Since then, most insurers have announced policy changes in the way they rescind coverage.