Category Archives: Access to care

ACA Gains Reversing

The Commonwealth Fund reported today that the marked gains in health insurance coverage made since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 are beginning to reverse.

This is according to new findings from the latest Commonwealth Fund ACA Tracking Survey.

According to the survey, the coverage declines are likely the result of two major factors:

1) lack of federal legislative actions to improve specific weaknesses in the ACA and

2) actions by the current administration that have exacerbated those weaknesses. These include the administration’s deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period, and other actions that collectively may have left people with a general sense of confusion about the status of the law.

Here are the key findings:

*  About 4 million working-age people have lost insurance coverage since 2016
*  The uninsured rates among lower-income adults rose from 20.9 percent in 2016 to 25.7 percent in March 2018
*  The uninsured rate among working-age adults increased to 15.5 percent
*  The uninsured rate among adults in states that did not expand Medicaid rose to 21.9 percent
*  The uninsured rate increased among adults age 35 and older
*  The uninsured rate among adults who identify as Republicans is higher compared to 2016
*  The uninsured rate remains highest in southern states
*  Five percent of insured adults plan to drop insurance because of the individual mandate repeal
What are the policy implications of this reversal?
The absence of bipartisan support for federal action has seen legislative activity shifted to the states.
Broadly, the leaving of policy innovation to states will lead to a patchwork quilt of coverage and access to health care across the country. It will fuel inequity in overall health, productivity, and well-being.
Folks, as I wrote about in What’s Really Wrong With Health Care? and Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform, until we see a change in the consciousness of both the American people, their representatives in Congress, and in Corporate America, especially within the financial industry to radically alter the direction health care is heading, the situation will only get worse.
We need to get the money and the greed and the corporations out of health care altogether. We need a single payer system that does not proletarianize physicians, does not turn health care into a commodity, does not financialize it, commercialize it, and compromise it for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment to the many.
As this is May Day, the international workers’ day, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start moving in that direction, as so many other nations have already done?
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Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform

In my recent review of the Introduction to Health Care under the Knife, the term “neoliberalism” was discussed as one of the themes the authors explored in diagnosing the root causes of the failure of the American health care system.

For review, the term neoliberalism refers to a modern politico-economic theory favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services, etc. (Source: Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014)

As defined in Wikipedia, and as I wrote in my review, neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Those ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.

This recrudescence or resurgence gained momentum with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, and with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm election, which made Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House, and implemented the Contract with America. (I’ve called it the Contract on America, for obvious reasons)

Yet, the full impact of neoliberalism was not felt until the rise of the TEA Party in the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and that led to the Freedom Caucus in the House that has tried unsuccessfully multiple times to repeal and replace Obamacare with basically nothing.

Economist Said E. Dawlabani, in his book, MEMEnomics, describes the period from 1932 to 1980, which includes the post-war Keynesian consensus, as the second MEMEnomic cycle, or “Patriotic Prosperity” MEME. The current period, from 1980 to the present, represents the third MEMEnomic cycle, or the “Only Money Matters” MEME.

It is in this period that the American health care system underwent a radical transformation from what some used to call a “calling profession” to a full-fledged capitalist enterprise no different from any other industry. This recrudescence of 19th century economic policies did not spring forth in 1980 fully formed, but rather had existed sub-rosa in the consciousness of many American conservatives.

In the early 1970’s, Richard Nixon’s administration came up with the concept of the Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, as the first real attempt to apply neoliberalism to health care. As we shall see, this would not be the first time that neoliberal ideas would be implemented into health care reform.

In Chapter Seven, of their book, Health Care under the Knife, authors Howard Waitzkin and Ida Hellander, discuss the origins of Obamacare and the beginnings of neoliberal health care reform. They point to the year 1994 as a significant one for reform worldwide, as Colombia enacted a national program of “managed competition” that was mandated and partially funded by the World Bank. This reform replaced their prior health system and was based mostly on public hospitals and clinics.

1994 was also the year when then First Lady, Hillary Clinton spearheaded a proposal like the one Colombia enacted that was designed by the insurance industry. I am sure you all remember the Harry and Sally commercials that ran on television that sank her proposal before it ever saw the light of day?

What ultimately became Obamacare was the plan implemented in 2006 in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, but that was later disavowed when he ran for President in 2012. Waitzkin and Hellander write that even though these programs were framed to improve access for the poor and underserved, these initiatives facilitated the efforts of for-profit insurance companies providing “managed care.”

Insurance companies, they also said, profited by denying or delaying necessary care through strategies such as utilization review and preauthorization requirements; cost-sharing such as co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance, and pharmacy tiers; limiting access to only certain physicians; and frequent redesign of benefits.

These proposals, the authors state, fostered neoliberalism. They promoted competing for-profit private insurance corporations, programs and institutions based in the public sector were cut back, and possibly privatized. Government budgets for public-sector health care were cut, private corporations gained access to public trust funds, and public hospitals and clinics entered competition with private institutions, with budgets determined by demand rather than supply. Finally, prior global budgets for safety-net institutions were not guaranteed, and insurance executives made operational decisions about services, superseding the authority of physicians and other clinicians.

The roots of neoliberal health reform emerged from the Cold War military policy, and the authors cite economist Alain Enthoven providing much of the intellectual framework for those efforts. Enthoven was the Assistant Secretary of Defense under Robert S. McNamara during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. While he was at the Pentagon, between 1961 and 1969, he led a group of analysts who developed the “planning-programming-budgeting-system” (PPBS) and cost-benefit analysis, that intended to promote more cost-effective spending decisions for military expenditures. Enthoven became the principal architect, the authors indicate, of “managed competition”, which became the prevailing model for the Clinton, Romney, and Obama health care reforms, as well as the neoliberal reforms around the world.

The following table highlights the complementary themes in the military PPBS and managed competition in health care.

_____________________________________

Sources: See note 11, page 273.

Enthoven continued to campaign for his idea throughout the 1970s and 1980s and collaborated with managed care and insurance executives to refine the proposal after being rejected by the Carter administration. The group that met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which included Enthoven and Paul Ellwood, was funded by the five largest insurance corporations, as well as the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, and wife Hillary’s Health Security Act.

The authors state that Barack Obama, while a state legislator in Illinois, favored a single payer approach, but changed his position as a presidential candidate. In 2008, he received the largest financial contributions in history from the insurance industry, that was three times more the contributions of his rival, John McCain.

The neoliberal health agenda, the authors write, including Obamacare, emerged as one component of a worldwide agenda developed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international financial institutions. The agenda to promote market-driven health care, facilitated access to public-sector health and social security trust funds by multinational corporations, according to Waitzkin and Hellander. The various attempts in the US by the Republican Party to privatize Social Security is an example of this agenda.

An underlying ideology claimed that corporate executives could achieve superior quality and efficiency by “managing” medical services in the marketplace, but without any evidence to support it, the authors contend. Health reform proposals from different countries have resembled one another closely and conform to a cookie-cutter template. Table 2 describes the six features of nearly all neoliberal reform initiatives.

_______________________________

† Sources: patients, employers, public sector trust (“solidarity”) funds (the latter being “contributory” for employed workers, and “subsidized” for low income and unemployed).
‡ Sources: patients, public sector trust funds – Medicaid, Medicare.

The six features of neoliberal health reform are as follows:

  1. Organizations of providers – large, privately controlled organizations of health care providers, operate under direct control or strong influence of private insurance corporations, in collaboration with hospitals and health systems, may employ health care providers directly, or may contract with providers in a preferred network. In Obamacare, they are called Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), supported only in Medicare, but Obamacare accelerated organizational consolidation in anticipation of broader implementation.

In this model, for-profit managed care organizations (MCOs) offer health plans competitively. In reality, competition is restrained by the small number of organizations large enough to meet the new laws’ financial and infrastructure requirements, as well as by the consolidation in the private insurance industry. They contract with or employ large numbers of health practitioners. Instead, physicians and hospitals are absorbed into MCOs.

  1. Organizations of purchasers – large organizations purchasing or facilitating the purchase of private health insurance, usually through MCOs. Under Obamacare, the federal and state health insurance “exchanges”—later renamed “marketplaces” to reflect reality of private, government-subsidized corporations—fulfill a similar role.
  2. Constriction of public hospitals and safety net providers – public hospitals at the state, county, or municipal levels compete for patients covered under public programs like Medicaid or Medicare with private, for-profit hospitals participating as subsidiaries or contractors of insurance companies or MCOs. With less public-sector funding, public hospitals reduce services and programs, and many eventually close. Under Obamacare, multiple public hospitals have closed or have remained on the brink of closure. Note: This is a subject I have written about in prior posts about Medicaid expansion.
  3. Tiered benefits packages – defined in hierarchical terms, minimum package of benefits viewed as essential, individuals and employers can buy additional coverage, poor and near poor in Medicaid eligible for benefits that used to be free of cost-sharing, but since Obamacare passed, states have imposed premiums and co-payments. Under Obamacare, various metal names—bronze, silver, gold, platinum, identify tiers of coverage, where bronze represents the lowest tier and platinum the highest.
  4. Complex multi-payer and multi-payment financing – financial flows under neoliberal health policies are complex (see Chart 7.1). There are four sources of these various financial flows.
    1. Outflow of payments – each insured person considered a “head” for whom a “capitation” must be paid to an insurance company or MCO.
    2. Inflow of funds – funds for capitation payments come from several sources. Premiums paid by workers and their families, contributions from employers is a second source. Public-sector trust funds are a third source, co-payments and deductibles constitute a fourth source, and taxes are a fifth source.
  5. Changes in the tax code – neoliberal reforms usually lead to higher taxes because they increase administrative costs and profits, Obamacare reduces tax deductions and imposes a tax for so-called Cadillac insurance plans. In addition, it calls for penalties for those who do not purchase mandatory coverage, administered by the IRS. I was unable to get on the ACA because I had not filed a return in several years due to long-term unemployment because of the financial collapse of 2007/2008, and the subsequent jobless recovery.

Chart 7.1 Financial Flows under Neoliberal Health Reform

_______________________________

*Purchase of insurance policies for employers and patients mediated by large organizations of health care purchasers.

What is the outlook for single payer in the US, the authors ask?

They cite national polls that show that about two-thirds of people in the US favor single payer. See Joe Paduda’s post here.

If the US were to adopt single payer, the PNHP proposal would provide coverage for all needed services universally, including medications and long-term care, no out-of-pocket premiums, co-payments, or deductibles; costs would be controlled by “monopsony” financing from a single, public source, would not permit competing private insurance and would eliminate multiple tiers of care for different income groups; practitioners and clinics would be paid predetermined fees for services without and need for costly billing procedures; hospitals would negotiate an annual global budget for all operating costs, for-profit, investor-owned facilities would be prohibited from participating; most nonprofit hospitals would remain privately owned, capital purchases and expansion would be budgeted separately, based on regional health-planning goals.

Funding sources would include, they add, would include current federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid, a payroll tax on private businesses less than what businesses currently pay for coverage, an income tax on households, with a surtax on high incomes and capital gains, a small tax of stock transactions, while state and local taxes for health care would be eliminated.

From the viewpoint of corporations, the insurance and financial sectors would lose a major source of capital accumulation, other large and small businesses would experience a stabilization or reduction in health care costs. Years ago, when I first considered single payer, I realized that if employers no longer had to pay for health care for their employees, they could use those funds to employ more workers and thus limit the impact of recessions and jobless recoveries.

So how do we move to single payer and beyond?

According to the authors, and to this reporter, the coming failure of Obamacare will become a moment of transition in the US, where neoliberalism has come home to roost. This transition is not just limited to health care. The theory of Spiral Dynamics, of which I have written about in the past, predicts that at the final stage of the first tier, or Existence tier, the US currently occupies, there will be a leap to the next stage or tier, that being the Being tier, where all the previous value systems have been transcended and included into the value systems of the Being tier.

We will need to address, the authors contend, with the shifting social class position of health professionals and to the increasingly oligopolistic and financialized character of the health insurance industry. The transition beyond Obamacare, they point out, will need to address also the consolidation of large health systems. Obamacare has increased the flow of capitated public and private funds into the insurance industry and extended the overall financialization of the global economy.

The authors conclude the chapter by declaring that as neoliberalism draws to a close, and as Obamacare fails, a much more fundamental transformation needs to reshape not just health care, but also the capitalist state and society.

To sum it all up, all the attempts cure the ills of health care by treating the symptoms and not the cause of the disease will not only fail, but is only making the disease worse, and the patient getting sicker. We need radical intervention before the patient succumbs to the greed and avarice of Wall Street, big business, and those whose stake in the status quo is to blame for the condition the patient is in in the first place.

Therefore, Obamacare is the last stage of neoliberal health care reform.

What’s Really Wrong With Health Care?

Book Review

Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health

by Howard Waitzkin and the Working Group on Health Beyond Capitalism

Monthly Review Press
e-book: $18.00
Paperback: $27.00
Hard cover: $45.00

Americans commemorated the assassination of Martin Luther King fifty years ago on Wednesday. Two years earlier, Dr. King, in March 1966, said the following during a press conference in Chicago at the second convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR):

“…Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

The part of the quote up to the word ‘inhuman’ begins the Introduction of a new book I just began reading called, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health by Howard Waitzkin and the Working Group on Health Beyond Capitalism, published by Monthly Review Press, the publishing arm of the Monthly Review, an Independent Socialist magazine.

Those of you who know me, and those of you who have read many of my previous posts, know that my educational background is in the Social Sciences, as my B.A, is in Political Science and History, with Sociology and African-American Studies thrown in, along with some Humanities coursework. My M.A. is in History, with emphasis on American Social History, especially post-Civil War until the mid to late 20th century. In addition, I also have a Master’s degree in Health Administration (MHA).

But what you may not know is that my leanings have been to the far left, and I am still proudly and defiantly so, even if I have tempered my views with age and new insights. I think that is called wisdom.

So, as I set out to read this book, much of the material presented in it will not be new to me, but will be perhaps new to many of you, especially those of you who got their education in business schools, and were fed bourgeois nonsense about marketing, branding, and other capitalist terms that are more apropos for selling automobiles and appliances and such, but not for health care, as this book will prove.

In this book, there will be terms that many of you will either find annoying, depending on your own personal political leanings, or that you are unfamiliar with. Words such as alienation of labor, commodification, imperialism, neoliberalism, and proletarianization may make some of you see red. So be it. Change will not occur until many of you are shaken out of your lethargy and develop your class consciousness.

“Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.” Karl Marx

While the publisher of the book is an independent socialist foundation, it is no means a Marxist or Communist organization. And from my perusal of the names of the contributors to the chapters of the book, I have found that they are all health care professionals or academics, as well as activists.

Two of the contributors of one chapter, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, are familiar to many in the health care industry, as they have co-authored many peer reviewed articles in health care journals that I have cited in my previous blog posts.

Be warned. This book may piss you off. Too bad. The future of health care is at stake, as is the health of every man, woman, and child in the U.S. and around the world.

This will probably be true no matter what part of the health care industry you work in. Physicians, insurance company personnel, pharmaceutical company executives, Wall Street investors and money managers, service providers, vendors, consultants and many others will discover inconvenient truths about the businesses that provide their livelihood. As stakeholders in the status quo, you will be resistant to the prescriptions the writers offer for correcting the mistakes of the past, and the recommendations they suggest for the future of health care.

This book will not only be relevant to the health care industry, but also to the workers’ compensation and medical travel industries, as each is a subset of health care.

And if you do get upset or angry at me for what I have to say about health care, then you are part of the problem as to why health care in the U.S. is broken. Those of you around the world will also learn that your own countries are moving in a direction that sooner or later will result in your health care system mirroring our own, as the authors will point out.

This is a book that will shake you to your core. So, sit back, relax, and keep an open mind. It’s about to be blown.

The book is divided into five parts, with each part containing at most five chapters, as in Part Five, or two chapters, as in Part Two. Parts Three and Four, each contain four chapters. Part One deals with Social Class and Medical Work, and focuses on doctors as workers, the deprofessionalization and emerging social class position of health professionals, the degradation of medical labor and the meaning of quality in health care, and finally, the political economy of health reform.

Throughout the book, they ask questions relating to the topics covered in each chapter, and in Part One, the following questions are asked:

  • How have the social-class positions of health workers, both professional and non-professional, changed along with changes in the capitalist global economy?
  • How has the process of health work transformed as control over the means of production and conditions of the workplace has shifted from professionals to corporations?

These questions are relevant since medicine has become more corporatized, privatized, and financialized. The author of the second chapter, Matt Anderson, analyzes the “sorry state of U.S. primary care” and critically examines such recently misleading innovations such as the “patient-centered medical home”, “pay for performance”, the electronic medical record, quantified metrics to measure quality including patient satisfaction (“we strive for five”), and conflicts of interest as professional associations and medical schools receive increasing financial support from for-profit corporations.

Part One is concludes with Himmelstein and Woolhandler responding to a series of questions put to them by Howard Waitzkin about the changing nature of medical work and how that relates to the struggle for a non-capitalist model of a national health program. Himmelstein and Woolhandler comment on the commodification of health care, the transformation that has occurred during the current stage of capitalism, the changing class position of health professionals, and the impact of computerization and electronic medical records.

Part Two focuses on the medical-industrial complex in the age of financialization. Previous posts of mine this year and last, reference the medical-industrial complex, so my readers will be familiar with its usage here. In this section, the authors tackle the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of the current “medical industrial complex,” and how have these changed under financialization and deepening monopolization?

Two corollary questions are raised as follows:

  • Are such traditional categories as the private insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry separable from the financial sector?
  • How do the current operations of those industries reflect increasing financialization and investment practices?

Once again, Matt Anderson authors the first chapter in Part Two, this time with Robb Burlage, a political economist and activist. Anderson and Burlage analyze the growing similarities and overlaps between the for-profit and so-called not-for-profit sectors in health care, considering especially the conversion of previously not-for-profit corporations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield to for-profit.

The second chapter in Part Two is authored by Joel Lexchin, an emergency care physician and health policy researcher in Canada and analyzes monopoly capital and the pharmaceutical industry from an international perspective.

Part Three looks at the relationships between neoliberalism, health care and health. Before I go any further, let me provide the reader with a definition of neoliberalism in case the authors assume that those who read this book understand what it is.

According to Wikipedia, Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Those ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.

These neoliberal policies have been associated in the U.S. with the Republican Party and the Conservative movement since the election of Ronald Reagan. In the UK, the rise of Thatcherism ended the long dominance of the Labor Party’s left-wing until Tony Blair’s New Labor took over. Bill Clinton’s election in the U.S. in 1992, diminished some of these policies, and implemented others such as welfare reform, a goal Republicans had wanted to achieve for decades.

Returning to Part Three, the questions asked here are:

  • What is the impact of neoliberalism on health reforms, in the United States and in other countries?
  • What are the ideological assumptions of health reform proposals and how are they transmitted?
  • What are the effects of economic austerity policies on health reform and what are the eventual impacts on health outcomes?

In the next chapter, Howard Waitzkin and Ida Hellander, a leading health policy researcher and activist, trace the history of the Affordable Care Act initially developed by economists in the military during the Vietnam War. International financial institutions, the authors say, especially the World Bank, promoted a boilerplate for neoliberal health care reforms, which focused mainly on privatization of services previously based in the public sector and on shifting trust funds to private for-profit insurance companies.

Colombia’s health reform of 1994, Hillary Clinton’s in that year as well, Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts in 2006, which led to the ACA, are examples cited by the authors. The chapter also clarifies the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal model and shows that the model has failed to improve access and control costs, according to the authors.

Economic austerity is closely linked to neoliberalism and have led to drastic cutbacks in health services and public health infrastructure in many countries. As I have recently written in my post, Three Strategies for Improving Social Determinants of Health, economic austerity policies have also affected health outcomes through increased unemployment, food insecurity, unreliable water supplies (Flint, MI), and reduced educational opportunities. Recent teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and other states are examples of this.

In the second chapter in Part Three, Adam Gaffney and Carles Muntaner, focus on social epidemiology, especially the impacts of economic policies on health and mental health outcomes. They also document the devastating effects of austerity in Europe, focusing on Greece, Spain and England. The authors analyze four dimensions of austerity:

1) constriction of the public-sector health system, 2) retreat from universalism, 3) increased cost sharing, and 4) health system privatization.

This trend would seem to have a negative effect on medical travel from Europe and to Europe, as Europe’s health care systems, long touted as a less expensive alternative to medical care in the U.S., begins to suffer.

Part Four examines the connections between health and imperialism historically and as part of the current crises. The question in this part is:

  • What are the connections among health care, public health, and imperialism, and how have these connections changed as resistance to imperialism has grow in the Global South?

The authors are referring to those countries in the Southern hemisphere from Africa, Asia, and Latin America as the Global South. The Global North refers to Europe and North America, and some other industrialized and advanced countries in the Northern hemisphere.

The authors in Part Four focus on the forces and institutions that have imposed a top-down reform of health care in the Global South. Such organizations as the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Gates foundations, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, trade agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP, TiSA, and health organizations as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are all termed “philanthrocapitalism” by the authors, and have implemented policies that have weakened public health standards and favored private corporations.

The final part, Part Five focuses on the road ahead, i.e., the contours of change the authors foresee and the concrete actions that can contribute to a progressive transformation of capitalist health care and society.

The authors address these questions:

  • What examples provide inspiration about resistance to neoliberalism and construction of positive alternative models in the Global South?
  • Because improvements in health do not necessarily follow from improvements in health care, how do we achieve change in the social and environmental determinants of health?
  • How does progressive health and mental health reform address the ambiguous role of the state?
  • What is to be done as Obamacare and its successor or lack of successor under Trump fail in the United States?

Howard Waitzkin and Rebeca Jasso-Aguilar analyze a series of popular struggles that focused on the privatization of health services in El Salvador, water in Bolivia, as well as the ongoing struggle to expand public health services in Mexico. These struggles are activities David and Rebeca participated in during the past decade.

These scenarios demonstrate an image of diminishing tolerance among the world’s people for the imperial public health policies of the Global North and a demand for public health systems grounded in solidarity rather than profit.

In the U.S., the road ahead will involve intensified organizing to achieve the single-payer model of a national health program, one that will provide universal access and control costs by eliminating or reducing administrative waste, profiteering, and corporate control.

Gaffney, Himmelstein, and Woolhandler present the most recent revision of the single-payer proposal developed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). They analyze the three main ways that the interests of capital have encroached on U.S. health care since the original proposal:

1) the rise of for-profit managed care organizations (MCOs); 2) the emergence of high-deductible (“consumer-directed”) health insurance, and 3) the entrenchment of corporate ownership.

The authors offer a critique of Obamacare, explain and demystify innovations as Accountable Care Organizations, the consolidation and integration of health systems, something yours truly has discussed in earlier posts as they relate to workers’ comp, and the increasing share of costs for patients.

The next two chapters concern overcoming pathological normalcy and confronting the social and environmental determinants of health, respectively. Carl Ratner argues, that mental health under capitalism entails “pathological normalcy.” Day-to-day economic insecurities, violence, and lack of social solidarity generates a kind of false consciousness in which disoriented mental processes become a necessary facet of survival, and emotional health becomes a deviant and marginalized condition.

Such conditions of life as a polluted natural environment, a corrupt political system, an unequal hierarchy of social stratification, an unjust criminal justice system, violent living conditions due to access of guns, dangerous working conditions, and so forth, Ratner dissects as the well-known crises of our age in terms of the pathologies that have become seen as normal conditions of life.

Next, Muntaner and evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace show how social and environmental conditions have become more important determinants of health than access to care. They emphasize struggles that confront social determinants through changes in broad societal polices, analyze some key environmental determinants of health including unsafe water (Flint again), capitalist agribusiness practices, and deforestation in addition to climate change. And they refer to the impact these have on emergent and re-emergent infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika and yellow fever.

Lastly, Waitzkin and Gaffney try to tackle the question of “what is to be done.” They outline four main priorities for action in the U.S. and other countries affected by the neoliberal, corporatized, and commodified model of health care during the age of Trump:

  • a sustained, broad-based movement for a single-payer national health program that assures universal access to care and drastically reduces the role of corporations and private profit, 2) an activated labor movement that this time includes a well-organized sub-movement of health professionals such as physicians, whose deteriorated social-class position and proletarianized conditions of medical practice have made them ripe for activism and change, 3) more emphasis on local and regional organizing at the level of communal organizations…and attempted in multiple countries as a central component in the revolutionary process of moving “beyond capital”, and 4) carefully confronting the role of political parties while recognizing the importance of labor or otherwise leftist parties in every country that has constructed a national health program, and understanding that the importance of party building goes far beyond electoral campaigns to more fundamental social transformation.

In their book, the authors try to answer key and previously unresolved questions and to offer some guidance on strategy and political action in the years ahead. They aim to inform future struggles for the transformation of capitalist societies, as well as the progressive reconstruction of health services and public health systems in the post-capitalist world.

Throughout this review, I have attempted to highlight the strengths of the book by touching upon some of the key points in each chapter.

If there is a weakness to the book, it is that despite the impressive credentials of the authors, they like many other authors of left-of-center books, cling to an economic determinism as part of their analysis, which is based on theories that are more than one hundred years old.

As I stated in the beginning of this review, my views have been tempered by examining and incorporating other theories into my consciousness. One theory that is missing here is Spiral Dynamics.

Spiral Dynamics is a bio-psycho-social model of human and social development. It was developed by bringing together the field of developmental psychology with evolutionary psychology and combines them with biology and sociology.

In Spiral Dynamics, biology is concerned with the development of the pathways of the brain as the adult human moves from lower order thinking to higher order thinking. The social aspect is concerned with the organizational structure formed at each stage along the spiral. For example, when an individual or a society is at the Beige vMeme, or Archaic level, their organization structure is survival bands, as seen in the figure below.

At the Purple vMeme, or Mythic level, the organizational structure is tribal, and so on. There is, among the authors of the book, an evolutionary biologist, but it is not clear if he is familiar with this theory and what it can bring into the discussion at hand.

It would not only benefit the authors, but also the readers to acquaint themselves of this valuable theory which would present an even more cogent argument for better health care. As the book concludes with a look at the future of health care after capitalism, knowing the vMemes or levels beyond current levels will enhance the struggle.

As I continue reading the book, I hope to gain greater insight into the problems with privatized, corporatized, free-market capitalist health care. My writings to date in my blog has given me some understanding of the issues, but I hope that the authors will further my understanding.

I believe that anyone who truly wants to see the U.S. follow other Western nations who have created a national health program, whether they are politicians like Bernie Sanders, his supporters, progressives, liberals, and yes, even some conservatives who in light of the numerous attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, have recognized that the only option left is single-payer. Even some business leaders have come out and said so.

I recommend this book to all health care professionals, business persons, labor leaders, politicians, and voters interested in moving beyond capital and realizing truly universal health care and lower costs.

 

Three Strategies for Improving Social Determinants of Health

A shoutout to Irving Stackpole for bringing this to our attention today on LinkedIn. This is an important topic that can address the serious issue of poverty in our inner cities.

The topic of food deserts first gained national attention thanks to the efforts of former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who not only created a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, but championed the creation of other gardens in inner city elementary schools.

One in particular was created at a Washington, DC school, and Mrs. Obama invited Chef Robert Irvine of Restaurant: Impossible to cook for inner city school children at Horton’s Kids, a local community center that provides after-school meals for kids.

So an article last week in Managed Care magazine, discussed the three strategies health care systems and payer organizations are trying to address patients’ social needs.

The first strategy, Tackle a neighborhood, focuses on the work ProMedica, a 13-hospital not-for-profit system in Toledo, Ohio is undertaking.

In the UpTown neighborhood of Toledo, the average median household income is less than $21,000 a year, and more than a quarter of all adults have not completed high school. Few residents have homes or vehicles, and healthy food options are hard to come by.

One way they are dealing with the food deficit in the neighborhood is by opening a grocery store called Market on the Green, and is a joint project of ProMedica and the Ebeid Institute.

They also initiated a job-training program, a financial opportunity center, and personal-finance advice and programs.

Last year, ProMedica doubled down and announced a 10-year plan to invest $50 million to create a national model for neighborhood revitalization. In March, they announced a partnership with a New York City-based nonprofit to invest additional capital to spur further economic growth.

Lastly, they expanded their screened 4,000 Medicaid patients who use the food clinic, and found that emergency department utilization decreased by 3%, and 30-day readmission by 53%, with a modest increase in utilization of primary care.

They also expanded screening  to include housing, transportation, and other social needs.

The second strategy is Tackle the top problems.

Here, Humana has been working on its Bold Goal, a population health strategy to improve the health of the communities it serves by 20%.

Humana wants to increase the number of “healthy days” in seven markets: Louisville, KY; Knoxville, TN; San Antonio, TX; Broward County, Fl; Baton Rouge, La; New Orleans; and Tampa Bay.

In the first year, the San Antonio market showed a 9% increase in healthy days, which was attributed to several initiatives, namely a telepsychiatry pilot to increase access to behavioral health services, food insecurity screening at primary are offices, and a collaboration with other organizations to improve diabetes management,

Finally, the third strategy is Develop a social determinants workforce.

Trinity Heatlh, a 93-hospital health care system in Michigan, and one of the largest Catholic systems in the country, has been addressing their patients’ social needs through a series of small experiments.

Trinity’s strategy is to develop a cadre of community health workers who will use pathways, regimented, evidence-based multistep protocols to help individuals address their specific needs.

Trinity found that by focusing on patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or both, and assisted by community health workers, they reduced their emergency department and hospital utilization considerably.

Trinity also hired AmeriCorps workers to serve as community health workers in nine markets. They focused on the social determinants of health of a narrow group of patients: high-utilizing eligibles in an ACO or other at-risk contract.

The strategies these organizations are undertaking are bold initiatives that show some promise of success, but time will tell just how successful they will be.

Yet, in an era of huge tax cuts going to the wealthy, and budget cuts  eliminating many government programs or severely limiting them, these companies are taking decisive action to reverse decades of neglect and despair in our inner cities.

But they won’t be effective unless there is greater cooperation from the communities they wish to serve, and from the rest of the health care community, and those in other institutions.

There is an accompanying story here: Social Determinants of Health: Stretching Health Care’s Job Description.

Rural Hospitals to Fail If Medicaid Expansion Ends

In April of 2015, I wrote the following post, Hospital Closures Due to Failure to Expand Medicaid.

This morning, Health Affairs posted a brief, Ending Medicaid Expansion Would Cause Rural Hospitals to Go Under.

As the current regime in Washington, and its allies in Congress slowly dismantle the ACA, rolling back Medicaid expansion will lead to rural hospitals closing, and rural patients being forced to travel long distances to get to a hospital, or to forgo medical at all.

What impact this will have on the entire health care sector is too early to tell, and what this may mean for workers’ comp, is also speculative, but it can’t be good if hospitals in the heartland go out of business.

Some way to make America great again. On the backs of, and on the health of, rural Americans who voted for this clown.

Number 400

Richard’s Note: The following post was taken from an article posted by Michelle Chaffee a few days ago on LinkedIn. I am re-posting it here so that you can chew on it while you are having your holiday dinner. While you are eating and having a good time with family and friends, look around the table and imagine if one of them was in the same situation Michelle was in. How would you answer the question she poses? And think about this carefully, now that the GOP tax bill has passed and 13 million Americans will lose their healthcare, and millions of children will lose theirs. Then tell me that health care is an entitlement.

Is Healthcare a Right or an Entitlement?

Published on December 12, 2017

Michelle Chaffee

Some of you who have followed my posts over the past few years know that I am a cancer survivor. It’s been almost two years since I was very unexpectedly diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have shared some of what it’s been like to suddenly find myself in the position of being a patient after spending a career caring for people who are sick, believing I wouldn’t find myself on the other side of this equation. I still struggle with the reality that I have had cancer and that I will have to monitor for it rearing it’s ugly head, for the rest of my life. What I haven’t shared is how the costs of healthcare contributed to my situation, delayed diagnosis and increased my chance for a recurrence. I am sharing it now because as I continue on this journey, I am starting to think the current system is discriminatory and I know it needs to change.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I hadn’t been to my doctor for my yearly recommended examination for about 20 months. When I called to make my yearly appointment, I was told I had an outstanding bill I had been unaware of because I had moved and they didn’t have my new address. The bill was a result of “coinsurance” that was from a necessary and fairly routine procedure, still it was substantial enough that I had to set up payments over time because I couldn’t afford to pay it in full. I was told I could not see my doctor until there was a zero balance. I felt fine and had no concerns of any illness so I skipped my routine exam that year. Fast forward almost 2 years later when an unusually potent migraine resulted in a suggestion by my neurologist that I get my hormone levels checked. I contacted a new gynecology group because I couldn’t be seen by my regular ob/gyn because of the balance that still remained. On this routine exam, a very large mass was found on my ovary. So large that even though I was assured it was benign, it needed to be removed. During the surgery, the mass ruptured but the doctor told me not to worry because “It’s not cancer.” She told me the rupture was because it was so large that it made it difficult to remove. She called me about a week later to tell me it was in fact, cancer and the rupture, unfortunately complicated the staging and made recurrence more likely. The fact is, if I had gone to my regular appointment, it would have been discovered when it was much smaller and may not have ruptured. I am not blaming the doctor or the organization where I received care but, it wasn’t discovered because I owed the clinic money and they wouldn’t see me until the bill was paid. I don’t let myself think about that too much, but it’s the truth and it’s the way healthcare works in our current system.

The cost of just the surgery to remove the cancer was over $250,000. This included just one night in the hospital and no chemotherapy or radiation treatment. I had a good insurance plan but even with that, my responsibility was over $30,000. I can safely say most Americans would find it a challenge to add that expense to their yearly budget. The ongoing costs of testing for a possible recurrence are approximately $20,000 every year. That is on top of the nearly $10,000 I pay in premiums each year because I am self employed. I can’t afford this so I stretch out the time between scans and labs further than my doctor recommends.

In the back of my mind I know this could mean I don’t detect something as soon as I should again and that it can literally mean the difference between life or death.

I also know that if I owe a balance again at the hospital where I get my testing, they can refuse to treat me and I have been down that road before.

So as I write this, I find myself waiting again to find out if something discovered on a diagnostic test done almost 9 months after the doctor ordered it, is something that could take my life. Not only that, I brace myself for the cost of repeated imaging, biopsies and what may follow and I am angry, frustrated and of course, afraid. I know I am not alone and for many, it has been worse. I have worked in healthcare long enough to remember when people were denied insurance coverage because they had an illness like cancer or diabetes or a heart defect. I heard the desperation of new mothers who were grateful their precious newborn had received life saving heart surgery but had already reached their life time insurance maximum and had no idea how they would pay for the ongoing care their child needed to stay alive. The Affordable Care Act changed some of that, at least we aren’t denied coverage but it costs too much and patients can still be denied care if they owe a system money. So we constantly pray we don’t get sick again and try to find the right balance between what we can afford and what will keep us alive.

For those of you out there who say “Healthcare isn’t a right,” I tell you to save your breath unless you have faced a condition that could take your life or the life of someone you love.

To those of you who say patients should forego a smartphone or daily “fancy” coffee drink in order to pay for healthcare I say, what fantasy world do you live in where eliminating those things would make even a miniscule dent in the healthcare costs millions face?

You can also put aside the delusion that someone is sick because they did something wrong. I hate to break it to you but just because you exercise, eat healthy or have no family history of disease doesn’t mean you are magically immune to a life changing diagnosis. It can happen to anyone and I am walking proof of that reality. I ate right, exercised, never smoked, have no family history of cancer and like millions of others in this country I got sick anyway.
I find it especially ironic as I travel to other nations and collaborate with healthcare leaders to improve delivery of care to their citizens that I, a struggle to access the care I need in the United States of America. So I pose the following to ponder:

Should we get the same rights as prisoners?

Shouldn’t we at least get the same rights that criminals in this country get? The supreme court has held that those under government control must have “ Adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care as a component of the protections accorded by the Eighth Amendment and that “Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,’… proscribed by the Eighth amendment,” equating this pain with cruel and unusual punishment. Does “Cruel and unusual punishment” only apply to prisoners? It seems pretty cruel to make law abiding citizens suffer because they can’t afford medicine or treatment or to force them to choose between food or medical care.

Are we discriminated against if we are sick?

It used to be that healthcare provided through programs like Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP seemed sufficient to mitigate an accusation that there was discrimination based on a citizen’s ability to pay for adequate healthcare. Unfortunately, over time there has been an increasing group of Americans that don’t meet the criteria to receive these supplementary services but also can’t afford the cost of the healthcare available to them. I don’t consider myself poor but I can’t afford $30,000 a year or more for basic healthcare. Do I have the same rights to life and general welfare as anyone else? If treatment to save my life is available, should I be denied it because I don’t have the ability to pay? Did the founders of our country mean to make good health only available to the wealthy? It isn’t just what used to be considered the poor or elderly who can’t afford basic healthcare or medication anymore. Hard working people who have made contributions to their communities and are necessary to our countries security and growth can’t afford necessary care. This is a problem for all of us.

Where do we draw the line?

For those of you who continually argue that the government doesn’t pay for our car insurance or life insurance I will explain the difference. Driving a car isn’t necessary for survival, neither is providing an inheritance for your heirs. These things aren’t the same as access to professional healthcare services that prevent you from dying. Suggesting these things as examples of why healthcare isn’t a right, is a faulty argument and insulting to anyone who is sick. Our founding fathers and leaders were concerned for the health and welfare of our citizens. Franklin D. Roosevelt even tried to enact a “Second bill of rights” that included access to adequate medical care and the opportunity to enjoy good health. They couldn’t have imagined how costly healthcare would become as the model ushered in with the advent of health insurance, has progressed and costs have skyrocketed. I am not even insisting the government cover the cost. Even making it affordable, meaning something I can pay for that doesn’t consume my entire grocery budget for a year is a good place to start. At the very least, insuring people with truly life threatening disease have an opportunity to take advantage of the treatment we can provide seems reasonable to me and maybe it’s time to make it an undeniable right of every American.

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.