Category Archives: Access to care

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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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.

Fallout of the End of ACA Subsidies

Joe Paduda today gave a very succinct and clear-minded assessment of the fallout of the ending of the ACA subsidies, also known as Cost-Sharing Reimbursement (CSR) payments.

Here is Joe’s article.

It makes perfect sense that what the Orange man said yesterday will do more damage to health care than his false and misleading pronouncements of the past year that the ACA is failing and doing harm.

It is you, sir, who are doing harm. To the poor, to minorities like those in Puerto Rico despite your morning mea culpa, to African-Americans and Latinos,  to women, to international agreements and organizations,  and to our credibility with our allies and adversaries.

 

ACA Subsidies to End

Here is the New York Times article tonight which will appear in tomorrow’s paper.

The Orangutan is blowing up the health care law, and with it, the health care system.

Cutting off subsidies to cover low-income individuals and signing an Executive Order that will create chaos and uncertainty is dangerous, reckless, and despicable.

Not even Gru is that mean-spirited and inhumane.

The Roman Senator Cato the Elder ended his speeches by declaring that “Carthago delenda est”. which means Carthage must be destroyed.

We need a modern Senator to declare that “Trump sit remotus”, means Trump must be removed.

Trump and the Social Determinants of Health

Here’s a little light reading for your weekend, courtesy of Patricia Illingworth, writing today in Health Affairs blog about the Social Determinants of Health and the take on it by the current administration.

Ms. Illingworth rightly points out that those below the poverty level and without a college degree, both whites and minorities, suffer more serious illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, as well as smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs more than those with college degrees.

She also states that cuts to education, energy, the environment, housing and urban development, among other social sectors, impacts health, and that if these social determinants are underfunded, people will need more health care. And now that the health care reform debate is stalled, the current POTUS is still trying to destroy the ACA, and has threatened members of his own party, including the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.

Ms. Illingworth cites a study published by the Brookings Institution, that showed that “deaths of despair”—those associated with drugs, alcohol, and suicide—have risen significantly among middle-aged white non-Hispanic Americans without a college degree.

Living conditions, Ms. Illingworth reports, also affects rates of asthma, which are the leading cause of children’s visits to ER’s, hospitalizations, and absenteeism. And, it is more prevalent in poor and minority communities.

All of this is not surprising, since 1980, this nation has waged a relentless war against its poor and minority citizens. This war began the day Ronald Reagan took the oath of office and began dismantling not only the New Deal programs, but cutting back the programs created under the Great Society of the 1960’s.

With each successive Republican administration, as well as the rise of Republican power  in Congress since the ascension of Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House, and in many states, especially in the formerly solid Democratic South, poverty and illness among the poor and minority, as well as whites have increased. And the loss of manufacturing and other support services jobs associated with manufacturing have resulted in the current opioid crisis, which only yesterday was addressed as a national emergency by the POTUS.

But Democrats are not without fault here too. Failure to stand up to the Reaganite Counter-Revolution, the pursuit of a failed “free trade” policy that has outsourced jobs or allowed companies to offshore jobs, as well as paying deference to the will of Wall Street and Corporate America, has brought us the current occupant of the Oval Office.

In the recent health care debate in Washington, many placed their confidence in moderate Republican senators to defeat the repeal and replace measures, but as Andrew Sullivan wrote four years ago in his blog, The Dish, “What Moderate Republicans?”, Sullivan says the following:

“There is effectively no Republican party any more. There is a radical movement to destroy the modern American state and eviscerate its institutions in favor of restoring a mythical, elysian, majority-white, nineteenth-century past. This crisis is proving that more powerfully than even watching Fox. We need to see what is in front of our nose: a cold civil war has broken out between those properly called conservatives, defending the credit of the government, empirical reality, and adjustments to modern life and those properly called radical reactionaries declaring our current elected president and Senate as illegitimate actors, bent on the destruction of America, and therefore necessitating total political warfare, even to the point of threatening to destroy the global economy.”

The current architect of this destruction is not the man with the orange hair, but one Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart. Bannon’s radical agenda is to destroy the “deep state”, and to create what Sullivan so rightly predicted four years ago, as he said above.

Bannon has been identified as a racist, anti-Semite, and has no business in the White House. Another member of this cabal is Stephen Miller, who a few weeks ago, revealed his true colors by openly defending restricting legal immigration, something that brought his family, and mine, as well as millions of others, to this country.

I could go on, but this post is about health care.

The main point is, we need to stop playing games with people’s health and do what other Western and developed countries provide to their citizens, health care for all.

If you don’t believe me, then maybe the words of a billionaire will convince you. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in America, and an astute and very successful businessman, unlike a certain neophyte politician, has said the following with regard to single payer.

“…government-run health insurance “probably is the best system” because it would control escalating costs. We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it, … In almost every field of American business, it pays to bring down costs.”

It is time to give every American health care. Then we will see a vast improvement in the social determinants of health.

Another Scheme to Delay the Inevitable, part 2

Last week, I reported on an effort to create payer-provider partnerships, and said that it was another scheme to delay the inevitable move towards a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

Thanks again to Dr. Don McCanne for this week’s article from Modern Healthcare, on yet again another delaying tactic. This time it is from Congress, and while it purports to be “bipartisan”, it really isn’t, because they are very partisan in Congress today; partisan to the health care industry’s profit-making off of sick people.

Without further ado, here is the article in full:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170803/NEWS/170809957

IT IS HIGH TIME TO STOP WASTING TIME, WASTING ENERGY AND THE PATIENCE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH “SOLUTIONS” THAT ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE, NOT BETTER. IT IS TIME TO EXPAND MEDICARE TO EVERYONE, WITH NO BUY-IN, AND BE DONE WITH IT.