“Change, before you have to…” Jack Welch
We live in a society that loathes uncertainty – particularly the unintended consequences that sometimes result from a catastrophic event or in the case of PPACA, landmark legislation. Wall Street and the private sector crave predictability and find it difficult in uncertain times to coax capital off the sidelines when the overhang of legislation or geopolitical unrest creates the potential for greater risk. Despite our best energies around forecasting and planning, some consequences, particularly unintended ones – only reveal themselves in time.
In the last decade, employers have endured an inflationary period of rising healthcare costs brought on by a host of social, political, economic and organizational failures. There was and remains great anticipation and trepidation as Congress continues to contour the new rules of the road for this next generation’s healthcare system. Optimists believe that reform is both a way forward and a way out of a mounting public debt crisis and a bypass for an economy whose arteries are clogged by the high cost of medical waste, fraud and abuse. Cynics argue reform is merely a Trojan Horse measure that offers an open invitation for employers to drop coverage and for commercial insurers to “hang themselves with their own rope” as costs continue to spiral out of control — leading to an inevitable government takeover of healthcare.
Meanwhile, leading economic indicators are flashing crimson warning signs as recent stop-gap stimulus wears off and long overdue private/public sector deleveraging results in reduced corporate hiring, lower consumer confidence and increased rates of savings. The symptoms of a prolonged economic malaise can be felt in unemployment stubbornly lingering around 9.2% and a stagnating US economy that is struggling to come to grips with the rising cost of entitlement programs. Across the Atlantic, the Euro-Zone is teetering as Italy and Spain (which represent more credit exposure than Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined) stumble toward default. Despite these substantial head winds, US healthcare reform is forging ahead – – right into the teeth of the storm.
There are lots of losers in President Obama’s effort to remake the U.S. health care system, and chief among them are the doctors. But there are also winners, especially nurses and physician assistants (PAs). Indeed, nurses and PAs win big in part because doctors lose badly.
Surveys repeatedly show doctors are fed up with low reimbursement rates from Medicare and even lower from Medicaid, which have increasingly led doctors to no longer see new patients in those government-run plans. For example, a recent Texas Medical Association survey found that “34 percent of Texas doctors either limit the number of Medicare patients they accept or don’t accept any new Medicare patients.” Even more do not accept patients with Medicaid.
Then there’s the heavy-handed regulations and requirements from both government and private health insurers. Complying with all those requirements and paperwork creates expensive and time-consuming administrative burdens. And to top it off, there’s the looming shadow of a high-cost lawsuit if things don’t turn out well.
And that’s all before ObamaCare kicks in, which will exacerbate every one of those problems. So it’s little wonder that there are physician shortages, especially in lower-paying primary care, and those shortages are only going to get worse if ObamaCare succeeds in getting an estimated 32 million more Americans insured.
The increased demand for medical care and lower reimbursements—which is one of the primary ways ObamaCare will try to hold down costs—is a recipe for a mass exodus of doctors willing to practice medicine. As “Physicians Practice” reported in August from its physician survey: “Nineteen percent say they plan to move to another position in the same field. An equal amount says they plan to leave medicine—not to retire, but to pursue something new.”
Not to be overly dramatic, but for me the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was a matter of life and death. Because the law was largely upheld, I will be able to continue receiving treatment for breast cancer.
I was one of the early beneficiaries of the law. When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer late last year, I had no health insurance, which meant my options were extremely limited. No insurer would pick up someone in my circumstances. But luckily, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan had already kicked in, and it made it possible for me to purchase insurance under a government program.
I was uninsured not because I’m a lazy, freeloading deadbeat but because my husband and I are self-employed. We had been purchasing health insurance on the individual market along with 6% of the rest of the population. But after exhausting all of our resources trying to keep up with premiums of $1,500 a month, we had no choice but to cancel it.
Today I am going to write about how the US could save up to 10% on its healthcare bill.
The US spends more on health care than any other nation, $8,500 per person per year. Multiply that by 300 million people and try to grasp the vast sum of $2,5 trillion.
A lot of changes are taking place with the intent to save healthcare dollars. So far, many of those changes have involved creating new layers of middlemen, whose paychecks will come out of the same healthcare budget as MRI’s, prescription medicines and physician salaries.
Every so often physician salaries come into focus as a place where money might be saved. Some people even picture physician pay as a major driver of healthcare costs.
Now, I am just a country doctor, and I don’t have an MBA or any financial background. But I used to be pretty good at math, and I’d like to think I still am.
If the 2.5 trillion dollars this country spends on healthcare is paid to or prescribed by our 850,000 physicians, then each doctor controls 3 million dollars from our nation’s healthcare budget.
Of course, physicians aren’t the only providers or prescribers. I don’t have a figure for how much money is controlled by our 100,000 Nurse Practitioners and 70, 000 Physician Assistants. I also don’t know what portion of our 50,000 chiropractors’ work falls inside the traditional healthcare budget, but let me assume each physician on average controls only 2-2.5 million dollars worth of products or services…
Then, if every physician took a $200,000 pay cut, we could reduce our healthcare spending by up to 10%!
In a recent column, Clarence Page ridiculed Republicans who claim that they want healthcare reform but oppose programs that dramatically reduce the number of uninsured. Republicans counter that the PPACA is not true reform because it fails to contain costs. It seems that our political commentators have finally joined a long standing debate among health policy experts. More precisely, they have joined two-thirds of that debate.
The healthcare system is often described as a three-legged stool, supported by access, cost, and quality. Policy makers have usually paid attention to the most “rickety” leg, sometimes to the detriment of the others. During the 1960s and 1970s, access was the biggest problem, and government gave us Medicare, Medicaid, and the community health center movement. These programs triggered a surge in healthcare spending, and by the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, the emphasis shifted to cost containment. When government price controls and planning laws failed, the private sector stepped in with a “competitive” solution based on HMOs and selective contracting.
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.
I’ve been saying it for years now, it’s the theme of Healthcare Beyond Reform: Doing It Right For Half The Cost — and now it’s even hit the editorial pages of the NY Times: A June 2 editorial, “Treating You Better For Less,” trumpets the “good news” about a “grass-roots movement” using “already proven techniques” that “could transform the entire system in ways that will benefit all Americans.”
“It is a measure of how dysfunctional the system has become,” says the editorial, “that these successful experiments — based on medical sense, sound research and efficiencies — seem so revolutionary.” It goes on to describe several of the kinds of new ventures in efficiency and effectiveness that make up the core of Healthcare Beyond Reform, in different healthcare systems and health insurers across the country.
The news here is not that these things are happening, or that they are so widespread that they can be called a “grass-roots movement.” The real news here is that the movement has gained such momentum that big, mainstream media organizations outside of healthcare, well beyond the policy wonk orbit, have begun to surface what may turn out to be the biggest story of our times: The largest sector of our economy turning inside out, like some movie transformer, on the way toward providing all of us with far better care for far less than we could possibly imagine. Better healthcare for half the cost.
Ezekiel Emanuel says he has been betting on how the Supreme Court will decide the case challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network in Philadelphia not long ago, Emanuel, who served as Special Advisor on Health Policy to the Obama administration when the bill was being drafted, confided that he has placed five wagers expressing his optimism that “the mandate will survive” along with the rest of the legislation.
“I think the vote will be 6:3 in favor with Kennedy and Roberts voting for.” There is “No doubt it is constitutional,” he declared. “Legally, this is an open and shut case.”
Emanuel, now chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Vice Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, also revealed that he recently had dinner with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Emanuel says Scalia will not vote for the reform bill. (No surprise there.)
For reasons I have explained in earlier posts here and here, I tend to share Emanuel’s optimism. Nevertheless, I could easily be wrong.
I’ve had a couple of meetings recently with leading figures in UK health policy – one of them a senior figure at a doctors’ organisation, the other at a private health company – who both talked excitedly about the lessons Britain could learn from the US.
That’s rarer than you might think. Our National Health Service may be cautiously embracing market-led reforms, but there’s still plenty of scepticism about the US’s full-on competitive system, and people here tend to be nervous about citing it as an inspiration.
Still, the two figures I am referring to, both leading players in the British Government’s NHS reform programme, were talking not about US healthcare as a whole, but about one particular organisation with something of a cult following on this side of the Atlantic.
I am referring to Kaiser Permanente, and its ideas are about to become very big over here.
Kaiser is one of those iconic organisations that aren’t just known for what they do, but whose names come to define their particular way of doing things – in Kaiser’s case, managed care.
It is the classic managed care organisation, running all the disparate parts of the local health system as a fully integrated whole, and deftly incentivising doctors to make sure patients receive their care in the part of the health system where it can be delivered most efficiently.
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.