Foreign Patients Get Liver Transplants in US Hospitals First

ProPublica, those lovely folks who published several articles some time back on workers’ comp, are at it again.

This time, they are focusing their ire on how foreign patients are getting liver transplants at some US hospitals ahead of Americans waiting for such transplants.

The story, published yesterday, was co-published with a local Fox station in New Orleans.

From 2013 to 2016, New York-Presbyterian Hospital gave 20 livers to foreign nationals who came to the US solely for a transplant, essentially exporting the organs and removing them from the pool of available livers to New Yorkers.

Dr. Herbert Pardes (I was familiar with his name from living in NY), wrote that, “Patients in equal need of a liver transplant should not have to wait and suffer differently because of the U.S. state where they reside.”

Dr, Pardes was the former chief executive, and is now the executive vice president of the board at New York-Presbyterian.

Yet, according to the story, Dr. Pardes left out NY-P’s contribution to the shortage, as stated above from 2013 to 2016.

These 20 livers represent 5.2 percent of the hospital’s liver transplants during that time, which was one of the highest ratios in the country.

ProPublica reported that unknown to the public, or to sick patients and their families, organs donated domestically are sometimes given to patients flying in from other countries, who often pay a premium. Some hospitals even seek them out.

A company from Saudi Arabia said it signed an agreement with Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans in 2015.

The practice is legal, according to the story, and foreign nationals must wait their turn in the same way as domestic patients. The transplant centers justify this on medical and humanitarian grounds, but at a time when we have an Administration touting “America First”, this may run counter to the national mood.

The  director of the transplant institute at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Sander Florman, said he struggles with “in essence, selling the organs we do have to foreign nationals with bushels of money.”

Between 2013 and 2016, 252 foreigners came to the US purely to receive livers at American hospitals. In 2016, the most recent year for which there is data, the majority of foreign recipients were from countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and the UAE. Another 100 foreigners staying in the US as non-residents also received livers.

At the same time, more than 14,000 people, nearly all Americans, are waiting for livers, a figure that has remained very high for decades, they report. By comparison, fewer than 8,000 liver transplants were performed last year in the US, an all-time high. National median wait time is more than 14 months, and in NY, the time is longer.

In 2016. more than 2.600 patients were removed from waiting lists nationally, either because they died or were too sick to receive a liver transplant.

All this is happening at a time when the party in power is seeking to take health care away from those who recently received care for the first time in a long time from the ACA, and at a time when the medical travel industry is focused not on transplant surgeries, but on boutique treatments and surgeries for wealthy or upper middle class Americans to go abroad for bariatric, plastic or reconstructive surgery, knee surgery, dental care, etc.

And yet, when the very idea of medical travel is broached in the medical community, it is disparaged and discouraged by physicians and others as unsafe, impractical, and not worth the effort, Obviously, it is well worth the effort on the part of foreign patients to come here and take organs meant for Americans, so why not allow Americans to take their organs?

Is it because the hospitals that supply these organs to foreign patients are making huge sums of money, and the poor schnook American with liver disease (or kidney disease, as in the case of yours truly) must die so that an American hospital can improve its bottom line?

It is high time to cut the crap and promote medical travel the right way and for the right reasons, not only for those who can afford it, but those who need transplants and can’t get them here.

That is the true nature of the globalization of healthcare…a two-way street.

 

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Time For Medical Tourism Industry to Clean Up Its Act

An article in Arizona Central (see link below) highlights the problem with weight-loss surgery in Mexico.

https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/health/2017/11/16/mexico-gastric-sleeve-weight-loss-surgery-deaths-arizona-medical-tourism-risks/576309001/

This isn’t the first article on this subject, and won’t be the last, but the industry must clean up its act, stop patting yourselves on the back at all these fancy conferences around the world, come together to lay down guidelines and industry-driven protocols and standards of care and legal protections, and lastly, get rid of the crooks (you know who they and you are), charlatans, con men, and carnival barkers who promote medical travel, and give it a black eye.

Naturally, there are risks to any surgery, no matter where it occurs, but if medical travel is to be marketed as less costly, with better outcomes, the quacks and thieves must be removed from the industry.

Stop dissing each other, start cooperating with each other, and cut back on the conferences. Nobody of any real importance to the growth of the industry attends; only those who talk a great deal or are promoting their own businesses.

Here is a video that goes along with the article.

https://uw-media.azcentral.com/video/embed/106607688?placement=embed

 

 

Illogical!

Picking up where I left off last week with my post, Regulation Strangulation, regarding too much regulation, a series of articles from earlier this week, published in various health care journals and magazines, discussed a new scheme the good folks at CMS have cooked up to make our health care “system” better. (Or worse, depending on whether you have drunk the kool-aid yet)

You may recall my post from late last year, Models, Models, Have We Got Models!, that reported that CMS was launching three new policies to continue the push toward value-based care, rewarding hospitals that work with physicians and other providers to avoid complications, prevent readmissions and speed recovery.

In that article, I mentioned the various models CMS was implementing. My view then, as it remains today, is that these models have not worked, and have only made matters worse, not better.

So when CMS unveiled their latest scheme recently when Administrator Seema Verma spoke at the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (LAN) Fall Summit, this is what she said:

The LAN offers a unique and important opportunity for payors, providers, and other stakeholders to work with CMS , in partnership, to develop innovative approaches to improving our health care system. Since 2015, the LAN has focused on working to shift away from a fee-for-service system that rewards volume instead of quality…We all agree that quality measures are a critical component of paying for value. But we also understand that there is a financial cost as well as an opportunity cost to reporting measures…That’s why we’re revising current quality measures across all programs to ensure that measure sets are streamlined, outcomes-based, and meaningful to doctors and patients…And, we’re announcing today our new comprehensive initiative, “Meaningful Measures.”

Let’s dissect her comments so we can understand just how complicated this so-called system has become.

  1. Develop innovative approaches? How’s that working for you?
  2. Improving our health care system? Really? What planet are you living on?
  3. Financial cost? Yeah, for those who can afford it.
  4. Revising current quality measures? Haven’t you done that already after all these years?
  5. “Meaningful Measures”. Now there’s a catchy phrase if I ever heard one. You mean they weren’t meaningful before?

You have to wonder what they are doing in Washington if this is the level of insanity and inanity coming out of the bureaucracy on top of our health care system.

In an article in Health Data Management, Jeff Smith, vice president of public policy for the American Medical Informatics Association stated the following regarding the new CMS initiative.

According to Smith, “the goals are laudable, but the talking points have been with us for several years’ now…measurement depends on agreed-upon definitions of quality, and in an electronic environment, it requires access to and use of computable data. If CMS is going to turn these talking points into reality, it will need to put forth far more resources and commit additional experts to a complete overhaul of electronic quality measures for value-based payments.”

Mr. Smith’s comments are at least an indication that not everyone goes along with CMS every time they unveil some new initiative, model, or program, but again we see the words associated with the consuming of health care being used in discussing the current state of affairs. Terms like “value-based payments”, and “quality measures”, and “financial/opportunity cost”, etc., only obscure the real problem with our health care system. It is a profit-driven system and not a patient-driven system.

Let’s push on.

A report mentioned Monday in Markets Insider showed that 29% of total US health care payments were tied to alternative payment models (APMs) in 2016, compared to 23% in 2015, an increase of six percentage points. These APMs were discussed previously in Models, Models, Have We Got Models!,

The report was issued by the LAN, and is the second year of the LAN APM Measurement Effort (try saying that three times fast). They captured actual health care spending in 2016 from four data sources, the LAN, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), and CMS across all segments, and categorized them to four categories of the original LAN APM Framework. (Boy, you must be tired trying to remember all these acronyms and titles!)

Here are their results:

  • 43% of health care dollars in Category 1 (traditional FFS or other legacy payments)
  • 28 % of health care dollars in Category 2 (pay-for-performance or care coordination fees)
  • 29% of health care dollars in a composite of Categories 3 and 4 (shared savings, shared risk, bundled payments, or population-based)

Speaking of shared savings, an article in Modern Healthcare reported that CMS’ Medicare shared savings program paid out more in bonuses to ACO’s than the savings those participants generated.

As per the report, about 56% of the 432 Medicare ACOs generated a total of $652 million in savings in 2016. CMS paid $691 million in bonuses to ACOs, resulting in a loss of $39 million from the program.

Chief Research Officer at Leavitt Partners, David Muhlestein said, “Medicare isn’t saving money.”

This is attributed to the fact that 95% of the Medicare ACOs (410) participated in Track 1 of the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Only 22% participated in tracks 2 and 3.

Two more articles go on to discuss a Medicare bundled-pay initiative and the Medicare Merit-based Payment System (MIPS) .

What does this all mean?

It has been long apparent to this observer that the American health care system is a failure through and through. Sure, there are great strides being made daily in new technology and therapies. A member of my family just benefited from one such innovation in cardiac care. But luckily, they have insurance from Medicare and a secondary payor.

But many do not, and not many can afford the second level of insurance. From my studies and my writing, I have seen a system that is totally out of whack due to the commercialization and commodification of health care services.

And knowing a little of other Western nations’ health care systems, I find it hard to believe that they are like this as well. We must change this and change this now.

If Medicare is losing money now, with the limited pool of beneficiaries, perhaps a larger pool, with little or no over-regulation and so many initiatives, models, and programs, can do a better job. Because what has been tried before isn’t working, and is getting worse.

The logical thing to do is to make a clean break with the past. Medicare for All, or something like it.

 

 

CMS Proposes to Allow States to Define Health Benefits

A connection of mine today posted a link to a CMS Fact Sheet in which they propose to allow states to define essential health benefits beginning January 1, 2019.

According to the fact sheet, this rule is intended to increase flexibility in the individual market, improve program integrity, and reduce regulatory burdens associated with the PPACA in the individual and small group markets. (See my post, “Regulation Strangulation“)

The rule also includes proposals that would provide states with more options in how the essential health benefits (EHBs) are defined for their state, it would also enhance the role of states related to qualified health plan (QHP) certification, and to provide states with additional flexibility in the operation and establishment of Exchanges, particularly the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges.

Finally, they propose to permit states to reduce the magnitude of risk adjustment transfers in the small group market to minimize unnecessary burden, and proposes other changes that would streamline the Exchange consumer experience and the individual and small group markets.

What does this really mean?

Anytime the federal government attempts to allow the individual states to determine or define certain social benefits, we end up with a hodgepodge of rules, regulations, costs of impairment, etc.

We know that in certain states, the loss of a body part in one state has an impairment value different from the same body part in another state, according to the ProPublica report .

So when I see that CMS wants to allow states to define what essential health benefits are,  we have to ask ourselves, what do they mean by essential, and is one state’s essential health benefits, another state’s burden?

I understand that certain states, particularly so-called “Red” states with conservative governors and legislatures, will be free to decide that certain treatments and procedures are just too expensive for them to cover, or that they violate the ethical or moral sentiments of the community in the state, i.e., abortion, birth control, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Allowing states to define and decide what is essential and what is not, may be harmful to the health of many of their citizens, even if it saves the state money.

And I am rather leery of CMS’s desire to “strengthen” the individual or small group markets, because who decides what constitutes strengthening, and who makes those decisions and under what circumstances.

Rather than allowing legislators and governors to decide what medical care their citizens can receive in their state, rather than trying to shore up a market, whether it is the individual market or the group market, we should move to provide all Americans with the same health care and the same medical benefits, coast to coast, under a Medicare for All plan.

Anything less would be worse than what we have now, and would be more costly and more complex and confusing. This rule should be scraped.

Five Years

Yesterday marked my five year anniversary as your humble blogger. But all through the month, many of my LinkedIn connections have congratulated me prematurely, only to have me set them straight as to the actual date. LinkedIn does not do a very good job of capturing exact dates on your profile.

But be that as it may, it has been a great five years. Let me recap.

To begin with, I began the blog three days after returning from the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in Hollywood, Florida where I met many people from around the world engaged in the Medical Travel industry.

After attending two more conferences in 2014, one in Miami Beach, and the other in Reynosa, Mexico, where I presented my paper on Medical Travel and Workers’ Comp, my blog was viewed by increasing numbers of people in multiple countries around the world.

To date, my blog is viewed in every continent except Antarctica, and places like Greenland, several countries in Africa, Iran and two of the countries in Central Asia, and North Korea (but who cares?). Even China, with it’s limited access to the internet has viewed my blog.

So it has been a productive five years, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. I know not all of my posts are prize winners, but then again, not every writer wins a Pulitzer every day. You may have noticed that my focus has shifted and my tone has gotten more pointed. I make no apologies for the tone, there are too many bad things happening in this country for me to be silent. And as for the focus changing, my medical condition has personalized the fight for health care for all, and not just for those who can afford it.

Let me know what you think, after all, after five years, you must have some thoughts. Also, if you can help me personally with extra work, I would appreciate it.

Thank you, and here’s to another year, and another five years.

 

Regulation Strangulation

The American Hospital Association (AHA) released a report that stated that there is too much regulation that is impacting patient care.

The report, Regulatory Overload Assessing the Regulatory Burden on Health Systems, Hospitals, and Post-acute Care Providers, concludes with the following assessment:

Health systems, hospitals and PAC providers are besieged by federal regulatory requirements promulgated by CMS, OIG, OCR and ONC, many of which are duplicative and cumbersome and do not improve patient care. In addition to the regulatory burden put forth by those agencies, health systems, hospitals and PAC providers are subject to regulation by additional federal agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and by state licensing and regulatory agencies. They also operate under stringent contract requirements imposed by payers, such as Medicare Advantage, Medicaid Managed Care plans and commercial payers, which also require reporting data in different ways through different systems. States and payers contribute to burden through, for example, documentation, quality reporting and billing procedures layered on top of the federal requirements.
Regulatory reform aimed at reducing administrative burden must not approach the regulatory environment in a vacuum — evaluating the impact of a single regulation or requirements of a single program — but instead must look at the larger picture of the regulatory framework and identify where requirements can be streamlined or eliminated to release resources to be allocated to patient care.
In a previous post, Models, Models, Have We Got Models!, I said that from the beginning of my foray into the health administration world, I noticed that there were too many models, programs, and schemes dedicated to lowering costs and improving quality of care, that only raised the cost of health care and did not improve quality of care.
This is what I said then about all the models, programs, and rules promulgated by CMS over decades that have not made things better:
The answer was simple. Too many models, programs, rules, and so on that only gum up the works and make real reform not only impossible, but even more remote a possibility as more of these inane models are added to what is already a broken system.
So it seems that I was right even then, and now the AHA has proved it so. Why not scrap these models, programs, and rules and institute real reform…Medicare for All and be done with it?

CVS to Buy Aetna

This should wake you up before your morning coffee.

Reuters is reporting that pharmacy operator, CVS Health Corp. is making a bid for Aetna Insurance.

Bid is more than $66 Billion.

Here is the article from Reuters.

Do we really think a pharmacy should own an insurer? What ever happened to the idea of competition is good?

One day, we will live in a world like that of the movie, Rollerball (the one with James Caan), where corporations run the world, and your wife can be taken anytime by a corporate executive.