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Tag: Health Care Reform

The Eisenhower Principle

By KIM BELLARD

I’ve finally come to understand why the U.S. healthcare system continues to be such a mess, and I have President Dwight Eisenhower to thank.

I’ve been paying close attention to our healthcare system for, I hate to admit, over forty years now. It has been a source of constant frustration and amazement that – year after year, crisis after crisis – our healthcare system doesn’t get “fixed.” Yes, we make some improvements, like ACA, but mostly it continues to muddle along.

Then I learned about President Eisenhower’s approach to problems:

That’s it!  All these smart people, all these years; they didn’t know how to solve the problem that is our healthcare system, so they all took the Eisenhower approach: enlarge the problem.  Let our healthcare system get so bad that not addressing it no longer is possible.

If, indeed, there is such a point.

The actual Eisenhower quote is more nuanced than the above version. It was:

Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger. I can never solve it by trying to make it smaller, but if I make it big enough, I can begin to see the outlines of a solution.

I guess we’re not yet at the point when the outlines of a solution are clear (Bernie Sanders notwithstanding). 

Instead, we’ve been chipping away at the problem, trying to make it smaller. For example:

  • Employer-sponsored health insurance tax preference (WWII)
  • Hill-Burton Act (1946)
  • Medicare/Medicaid (1965)
  • Federal HMO Act (1973)
  • Stark Physician Self-Referral Law (1989)
  • DGRs (1983) & RBRVS (1992)
  • CHIP (1997)
  • Medicare Modernization Act (2003)
  • Affordable Care Act (2010)
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The need for H.O.P.E: victims of human trafficking need better care from health professionals

BY SARAH BETH

I remember the first time I told a doctor that I was being trafficked. That experience was also the last time I told a healthcare professional. My psychiatrist in an acute inpatient psychiatric hospital heard my story and told me that trafficking only happens in third-world countries and in movies. While this professional was the most ill-informed I ever encountered, they were not the only healthcare workers that did not have the training they needed to identify me. 

I remember tucking my hospital gown between my legs to hide the bruising on my thighs. I remember explaining away cuts and burns. I remember being encouraged by doctors and nurses to report sexual assaults. I remember a psychiatrist telling me I would never get better, so I should stop seeking help. I remember the look in a nurse’s eyes when she knew something was off but did not know how to intervene.

It was that nurse, the one whose instinct told her that something was wrong, that gave me hope. She saw me. When you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you never forget the first person to really see you. She gave me hope that someone could help me, that someone saw me as a person. She gave me hope that someday my life would be different.

For 20 years I was trafficked for sex by a member of my family, and for 20 years I was discharged into the hands of my trafficker, a seemingly good man who was charismatic and kind to everyone in the office. All the while, I remembered the nurse who saw me, and I held onto hope that there were others like her. 

I have heard story after story that mirrors my own: men, women, and children being trafficked, desperately hoping a healthcare worker would spot the signs but being placed back into the hands of their traffickers. The statistics back our experiences. 

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You Want to 3D Print What

By KIM BELLARD

You know we’re living in the 21st century when people are 3D printing chicken and cooking it with lasers.  They had me at “3D printing chicken.”  

An article in NPJ Science of Food explains how scientists combined additive manufacturing (a.k.a, 3D printing) of food with “precision laser cooking,” which achieves a “higher degree of spatial and temporal control for food processing than conventional cooking methods.”  And, oh, by the way, the color of the laser matters (e.g., red is best for browning).   

Very nice, but wake me when they get to replicators…which they will.  Meanwhile, other people are 3D printing not just individual houses but entire communities.   It reminds me that we’ve still not quite realized how revolutionary 3D printing can and will be, including for healthcare. 

The New York Times profiled the creation of a village in Mexico using “an 11-foot-tall three-dimensional printer.”  The project, being built by New Story, a nonprofit organization focused on providing affordable housing solutions, Échale, a Mexican social housing production company, and Icon, a construction technology company, is building 500 homes.  Each home takes about 24 hours to build; 200 have already been built.

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Health Care, Meet Gall’s Law

By KIM BELLARD

I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without knowing about Gall’s Law (thanks to @niquola for tweeting it!).  For those of you similarly unaware, John Gall was a pediatrician who, seemingly in his spare time, wrote Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail in 1975.  His “law,” contained therein, is:

Have you ever heard of anything that applied so perfectly to our healthcare system? 

As anyone who has been reading my prior articles may know, I’m a big believer in simple.  I’ve advocated that healthcare’s billing and paperwork should be much simpler, that “less is more” when it comes to design,  that healthcare should first do simple better but, above all,  that healthcare should stop doing stupid things.  I’ve equated the ever-increasing intricacies of our healthcare system to the epicycles that kept getting added to the Ptolemaic theory in a desperate attempt to justify it. 

Few would disagree that the U.S. healthcare system is complex.  Healthcare systems in general have evolved towards more complex, but the U.S. system takes complexity to extremes, with its thousands of payors, its powerful pharma/medical device industry, and its highly concentrated hospital markets (including ownership of physician practices), among other things. 

Simple isn’t always better, of course.  Life is complicated and so is our health, but, come on: how many people can explain why PBMs exist, what their heath insurance plan actually covers, how their health care bill was arrived at, or why we spend so much time in the healthcare system just waiting?  Literally no one understands our healthcare system.

It shouldn’t be that way.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  But it is.

Some pundits argue we don’t even have “a system” but, rather, thousand or even millions of smaller health-related markets that co-exist but don’t really work together.  For anyone who doubts that, try to explain the presence of workers compensation healthcare or why dental is at best a separate form of coverage (last I looked, the mouth was part of the body).  Try to explain why child care is most definitely not part of healthcare but home care is – depending, of course, on whether it is “custodial” or not.   Silos abound.

It could be argued that healthcare started with a simple system that “worked.”  Some are nostalgic for the days when people saw their family doctor, paid their doctor, and that was it.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Of course, those doctors couldn’t really do all that much for their patients and didn’t really get paid all that much, so to say that it “worked” for either party is debatable. 

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Health Care Needs A Hero

By MIKE MAGEE

Health care needs its heroes.

I came to that conclusion this week through a roundabout route.

First I read Maureen Dowd’s interview entitled “Dara Khosrowshahi, Dad of Silicon Valley”, in which she, with some affection, gives the reader a look behind the scenes at the personal life of the current Uber CEO. At one point, Dowd shares her conversation with Dara’s 20-year-old daughter, Chloe, a Brown student, who wants us to know her father was a seriously good dad. In support of this belief, she reports that “When she was little, her father – a fan of Joseph Campbell…would concoct children’s stories set in faraway kingdoms…”

This, of course, forced me to acknowledge that I didn’t know who Joseph Campbell was. Bill Moyers came to the rescue. His June 21, 1988 interview titled “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — ‘The Hero’s Adventure’”, begins with a clip from Star Wars where Darth Vader says to Luke, “Join me, and I will complete your training.” And Luke replies, “I’ll never join you!” Darth Vader then laments, “If you only knew the power of the dark side.” Moyers asked Campbell to comment.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: He (Darth Vader) isn’t thinking, or living in terms of humanity, he’s living in terms of a system. And this is the threat to our lives; we all face it, we all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now, is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes.

BILL MOYERS: So perhaps the hero lurks in each one of us, when we don’t know it.

By then, I was aware that Joseph Campbell, who died in 1987 at the age 83, was a professor of literature and comparative mythology at Sarah Lawrence College. His famous 1949 book,  “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” made the case that, despite varying cultures and religions, the hero’s story of departure, initiation, and return, is remarkably consistent and defines “the hero’s quest.” His knowledge of this quest gained him a large following that included George Lucas who was a close friend and has said that Star Wars was largely influenced by Campbell’s scholarship.

Whether health care or technology, unfettered capitalism is more than adept at breeding predatory systems that beg for redemption.  Author Emily Chang spoke to this predilection in her 2018 book, “Brotopia”, describing Silicon Valley types as “secretive, orgiastic, and dark.” Dara Kharowshaki’s  CEO predecessor at Uber, Travis Kalanick, was labeled one of the worst. When Dara took over, New York Times technology expert, Mike Issac asked in 2019, “Can this rational, charming chief without the edge, ego, or cult following of wacky founders succeed in today’s insane economy?”

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THCB Gang, Episode 11

Episode 11 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, May 27th and you can see it again below

Joining me were three regulars, patient safety expert Michael Millenson (MLMillenson), writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), health futurist Ian Morrison (@seccurve), and two new guests: digital health investment banker Steven Wardell (@StevenWardell) and MD turned physician leadership coach Maggi Cary (@MargaretCaryMD)! The conversation was heavy on telemedicine and value based care, and their impact on the stock-market, the economy and the health care system–all in a week when we went over 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.

If you’d rather listen, the “audio only” version is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Matthew Holt

Everyone Is Having the Wrong Healthcare Debate

By STEVEN MERAHN, MD

In 1807, in an effort to spite the British and French for shipping interference (and forced recruitment of American citizens into military service), the United States Congress passed an Embargo Act, effectively shutting down trade with these two countries. Britain and France quickly found other trading partners; the US, then limited in our capacity to sell products outside our borders, was left with a devastated economy and a gaping hole in our face. It took only weeks before Congress passed a loophole; they repealed the act within 15 months of its passing. It was a great lesson in unintended consequences.

Today, ignoring history, both Republicans and Democrats seem to spar continuously around healthcare: whether the message is about tearing down the Affordable Care Act or about some version of Medicare (For-All, For Whoever Wants It, For America, or For Better or Worse), both parties are terribly wrong.

Assuming the social imperative for healthcare is to eliminate preventable morbidity and disability (and associated costs) and improve (or sustain) quality of health of all our citizens (in order to help as many of them as possible remain productive, contributing members of society), another approach to ‘universal care” would be to flip the figure/ground relationship for our current efforts: instead of developing better payment systems, let’s develop and commit to a universal clinical operating framework that ensures that every member of society has the same opportunity to optimize their health status.

“Centralizing” the methodology around a universal model for how we plan for care, and allocate resources to ensure care plan goal achievement, would be far more valuable to society than centralizing the sources of funds to pay for care, because then we’d know what we’re paying for.

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How a Value Focus Could Change Health Care

By BRIAN KLEPPER, PhD

How will the drive to health care value affect health care’s structure? We tend to assume that the health care structure we’re become accustomed to is the one we’ll always have, but that’s probably far from the truth. If we pull levers that incentivize the right care at the right time, it’s likely that many of the problems we think we’re stuck with, like overtreatment and a lack of accountability, will disappear.

A large part of getting the right results is making sure that health care vendors have the right incentives. All forms of reimbursement carry incentives, so it’s important to align them, to choose payment structures that work for patients and purchasers as well as providers. Fee-for-service sends exactly the wrong message, because it encourages unnecessary utilization, paying for each component service independent of whether its necessary and independent of the outcomes. Compare US treatment patterns to those in other industrialized nations and you’ll find ours are generally bloated with procedures that have become part of practice not because they’re clinically necessary but simply because they’re billable.

By contrast, value-based arrangements are really about purchasers demanding that health care vendors deliver better health outcomes and/or lower cost than what they’ve experienced under fee-for-service reimbursement, and the payment structure often asks the vendor to put his money where his mouth is, at least where performance claims are concerned. In a market that’s still overwhelmingly dominated by fee-for-service arrangements, one way for a vendor to get noticed is to financially guarantee performance. Integrated Musculoskeletal Care, a musculoskeletal management firm based in Florida, guarantees a 25% reduction in musculoskeletal spend on the patients they touch. This typically translates to a 4%-5% reduction in total health plan spend, just by contracting with this vendor, a compelling offer in an environment that makes it hard for upstarts to get market traction.

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A Real (Living, Breathing) Health Care Reform Plan: Drop MACRA

Dear Washington,

Congratulations! You have listened to the AMA and practicing physicians and made it a little easier to comply (at first) with the Medicare Quality Payment Program, part of the massive MACRA “pay for value” law. 

But CMS’ announcements in The Federal Register and “fact sheet” are incomprehensible gobbledygook that will be understood by neither doctors, patients, nor the rest of society. The language personifies the complexity, unwieldiness and confused thinking in this huge national policy. 

MACRA is a $15 billion boondoggle that the best research shows will neither improve quality nor control costs. Paying doctors for quality (e.g., doing a blood pressure exam) or efficiency may make sense theoretically, but it doesn’t work. Rather than making a dent in the continuing upward spiral of healthcare costs in America, it can even result in some doctors avoiding sicker patients because it affects their quality scores and income.

Early, poorly designed research suggested that paying for health or cost savings was effective, but these research designs did not account for already occurring improvements in medical practice that the policymakers took credit for. Decades of stronger, well-controlled research debunked these early findings and conclusively showed no effects of these economic policies.

So why does the Congress and administration continue to press ahead with this same tired and impotent policy?

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Halbig corpus interruptus

In more stunning proof that America’s 18th century style governing process just doesn’t work, a subset of a regional Federal court ruled against part of Obamacare. The Halbig ruling is certain to be overturned by the full DC court and then probably will stay that way after it makes it’s way through the Supremes–at least Jonathan Cohn thinks so.

But think about what the Halbig ruling is about. Its proponents say that when Congress (well, just the Senate actually as it was their version of the bill that passed) designed the ACA, they wanted states only to run exchanges and only people buying via states to get subsidies. But that they also wanted a Federal exchange for those states that couldn’t or (as it turned out) wouldn’t create their own. But apparently they meant that subsidies wouldn’t be available on the Federal exchange. That would just sail through Logic 101 at any high school. Well only if the teacher was asleep, as apparently most Senators were.

Now two judges interpret what was written down to imply that subsidies should only be available on state exchanges–even though logic, basic common sense and fairness would dictate that if we’re going to subsidize health insurance we should do it for everyone regardless of geography.

Don’t forget that in the House version of the bill there was only a Federal exchange. Continue reading…

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