Monthly Archives: November 2017

No Paradox

Sometimes, the solution to a problem is staring you right in the face, but you refuse to see it because you are blinded by your perceptions, your beliefs, or the distortions others have placed in your mind by lies and falsehoods spread about the real benefits of the solution, or the downsides.

Case in point, the question of single-payer health care in the US. The health insurance industry and their lobbyists and defenders in Congress have done a great job poisoning the minds of many Americans against the idea of single-payer, whether on ideological or economic grounds.

Yet, many of these same Americans are getting some form of government-sponsored health care, either Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or health care through the Veterans Administration. So, it was striking that before the enactment of the ACA, many Tea Party protesters shouted or carried signs that read, “Keep your hands off of MY Medicare!”

What they did not know or realize, was that it wasn’t THEIR Medicare, but the government’s Medicare. They were ones receiving the benefits.

So, it struck me this morning when I read an article by Tom Lynch of the Lynch Ryan blog, Workers’ Comp Insider.com.

The article, The American Health Care Paradox: A Lot Of Money For Poor Results, compares the US health care system with the health care systems of the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

The OECD has 35 members, of which the US is one, and was formed in Paris in 1961. They promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It also performs annual comparative analyses of issues affecting its members.

Health care is one such issue, as is life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, and death rates from cancer, among other health care-related topics.

But regarding health care, as Tom reports, on a per capita basis, we spend 41% more on health care than our wealthy nation peers in the OECD, and 81% more than the entire OECD average.

The following graph indicates amount of public versus private funding of health care among the OECD nations, as well as the OECD average. The light blue bars indicate private funding; the dark blue bars indicate public funding.

OECD Health Care Funding — 2015

According to Tom, while our public funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is comparable to many of the other countries in the OECD, private funding in the US is more than 100% greater tham Switzerland, and 300% greater than the OECD average.

Life expectancy:            US: 78.8 years (76.3 men, 81.2 women)
UK: 81 years (79.2 men; 82.8 women)
Japan: 83.9 years (80.8 men; 87.1 women)

Infant mortality:          US: 6.1% (per 1000 live births) 45% higher than UK at 4.2%, and 265%                                                higher than Japan’s at 2.3%.

Obesity and overweight rate is exceeded only by New Zealand. Finally, the rate of death from cancer per 100,000 people is 188, Mexico’s is 115, Japan’s is 177. But we lead the world in smoking cessation (whoopee!). So, I guess we can all breathe easier now than the rest of the world, especially the third world where so many start smoking at a very young age.

Into this discussion, Tom throws the current Republican tax plan, which he rightly says will throw 13 million people off of health care, and see $25 billion cut from Medicare.

Tom says that fixing health care will take time and a lot more money, and he is skeptical that the GOP tax scam will do that.

Duh! Of course it won’t. That’s the whole point of the tax scam and the umpteenth attempts to scuttle the ACA. They don’t believe in health care as a right for all Americans. It is in their DNA as Libertarian Conservatives. They are not Republicans, at least not like the two Republican presidents who tried to get health care passed, Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.

No, they want the money for their fat cat donors. They even said so publicly and bragged about it. And if all those votes to repeal and replace ACA didn’t convince you that they are fundamentally opposed to any government-sponsored health care, except their own, then you are blind.

The solution is staring you in the face on the above chart, Every other OECD member nation spends more publicly for health care than we do privately, and we are getting bad outcomes. Why is that? It is because health care is not like other consumer goods, and therefore should not be funded or marketed by private companies.

It is long past the time we should follow suit and do what every other OECD country has done, create a single-payer, improved Medicare for All system and stop fooling ourselves that the private market works. It does not, and the proof is in the metrics on cost, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and cancer deaths, etc.

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Ashley Furniture and Medical Travel, part 2

As promised last month, here is the Spotlight article from Medical Travel Today.com about Ashley Furniture’s foray into Medical Travel for their employees.

In case you missed it, here is the link to part 1 of the article.

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.

 

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.