Category Archives: Globalization

Universal Health Care in Reach? Not So Fast

The magazine, The Economist, published a ten-page special report in their April 28th edition on universal health care worldwide.

The report, which one social media commenter said was a perfect example of title and context differentiation, and gave no data or reason why health care was closer to being universal, is an example of a neoliberal publication going out on a limb with an issue vital to all human beings, and giving it short-shrift.

Throughout the report, The Economist mentions the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the Gates Foundation as international organizations involved with public health in developing countries. The report contains statistics on the percentage of people in certain countries who do not have insurance, and other statistics to paint a bleak picture of health care in developing countries.

What the report fails to do is mention that it is exactly the World Bank, the IMF, international financial organizations, philanthropies like the Gates and other foundations, and the WHO, that have been responsible for preventing these countries from improving their health care systems.

Chapter Nine of the Waitzkin, et al., book previously reviewed in this blog, discusses in detail how these institutions influenced health care around the world for the benefit of multinational corporations in the developed world, and to the detriment of the health care in the Global South.

In particular, the WHO, which began in 1948 as a sub-organization of the United Nations, lost considerable funding due to ideological opposition to several programs operated by sub-organizations of the UN, and because the Reagan administration withheld annual dues. The UN began experiencing increasing budgetary shortfalls, which was passed onto organizations like the WHO.

But to the rescue, came the World Bank, and with this influx of private funds, the agenda of WHO changed to match that of the World Bank, international financial institutions and trade agreements. It was in the interest of these entities that health care be carried out in a vertical, top-down approach that left out key parts of the health care services needed in developing countries, namely surgery and concentrated on addressing infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

But there is another reason why public health in developing countries is in such a dismal state, and it has to do with the debt crisis these nations and others were subjected to by the nations of the Global North and the World Bank, IMF and international financial institutions.

According to the blog, One.org, “Developing countries spent years repaying billions of dollars in loans, many of which had been accumulated during the Cold War under corrupt regimes. Years later, these debts became a serious barrier to poverty reduction and economic development in many poor countries. Governments began taking on new loans to repay old ones and many countries ended up spending more each year to service debt payments than they did on health and education combined.

After many years of activism on the part of advocates for the poor and other activists, the nations of the Global North, through such organizations as the G8, the IMF and World Bank, decide to abolish debts worth billions of dollars owed by developing countries. Yet, despite this action, data in the World Bank’s global development finance 2012 report shows total external debt stocks owed by developing countries increased by $437 billion over 12 months to stand at $4 trillion at the end of 2010, the latest period of available data, according to the Guardian.

Third world debt was a serious issue when I was in college studying international relations and foreign policy, and I was aware of the efforts to reduce or eliminate this debt, so when I read in The Economist that the World Bank and WHO are engaged in public health issues around the world, I have to ask myself how is it possible that the very institutions responsible for the state of affairs experienced in developing countries as pertains to health care, are the very same institutions undoing the wreckage they created. Or at least not in ways that are advantageous to the citizens of those countries.

Instead of the vertical, top-down orientation these institutions are engaged in, a broad, horizontal orientation needs to be implemented that will radically alter the health care systems of these countries and provide all of their people with truly universal health care.

Lastly, The Economist looks at the US, and rightly points to our stubborn adherence to individualism and even quotes Republican congressman, Jason Chaffetz, who said, “Americans have choices.And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”

Many Republicans, like Rep. Chaffetz, says The Economist, believe health care is not a right but something people choose to buy (or not) in a marketplace.  I can tell you, dear readers, I did not choose to have End-Stage Renal Disease, nor did I choose to be long-term unemployed (that is due to neoliberal economic policies and to the financial meltdown caused by the very institutions that have a negative impact on universal health care), so Rep. Chaffetz and his Republican colleagues are wrong. And besides, you can’t buy health, as we all get sick and we all die. What you buy is a policy, but policies are not the same as care.

One other reason The Economist cites for the US being an outlier in providing universal care is resistance to reform by powerful interest groups.

I don’t believe this report did anything to move the debate forward towards universal health care, either here in the US, or around the world. It really did not cover any new ground, and its prediction for health care universally achieved is either wishful thinking or a delusion. Either way, until the economic order changes, nothing in health care will.

 

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US Hospitals Seek Expansion in China

In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had the following article last week about American hospitals looking to expand oversees to China.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/overseas-markets-beckon-u-s-hospital-firms-hungry-to-expand-1524394800

 

 

Foreign-born, US-trained Physicians in Medical Travel vs US-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US and Foreign-born, Foreign-trained Physicians Practicing in the US

Those of you in the Workers’ Comp space have probably read my earlier posts extolling the benefits of medical travel, and promoting its implementation into workers’ comp.

Yet, in all those posts, hard evidence of the quality of care provided by physicians in these destinations was not presented.

However,  there is evidence that foreign trained, US  born doctors practicing in the US, provide as good as or better care than that provided by graduates of US medical schools, according to a recent study mentioned over the weekend in a post by Peter Rousmaniere, in his blog, Working Immigrants.

From this data, it may be possible to suggest that foreign-born doctors, trained in US schools provide the same good or better care than their American-born classmates, when they return to their home countries and work in medical travel facilities.

Before beginning to write this post, I tried to research some data on this, but was unable to find any recent information. However, it is well known that there are considerable numbers of foreign-born, US trained and Western trained physicians in medical travel facilities, which is one key factor in choosing to go abroad for medical care.

As Peter reported, among the 12.4 million workers in the health care field in 2015, 2.1 million, or 17% were foreign born. Of these, the foreign born accounted for 28% of the 910,000 physicians and surgeons practicing in the US. 24% of that number are in nursing, psychiatric and home health care.

How many of the foreign-born physicians trained in the US return home is not certain, but given the fact that many foreign born, foreign trained physicians have a hard time gaining access to practice in the US, it is not difficult to ascertain that those who do not enter the US end up working in their home country. In order to practice in the US, they must pass tests by a special commission and enter a residency program, even if they have done them before.

How many foreign trained, US born physicians practice in the US? According to Peter, about 25% of practicing physicians graduated from foreign medical schools. About a third of them are Americans. They are more likely, Peter says, to practice in rural and poorer communities, and are overrepresented in primary care. Given the physician shortage that I and others have commented on, there will be a need for more foreign-born doctors, and perhaps, more US trained, foreign-born doctors to work in medical travel facilities.

The Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) gave roughly 10,000 certifications in 2015. 30.9% were issued to US citizens, 18.9% were issued to citizens of India and Pakistan, and 7.9% from Canada.

The states with the highest percentage of practicing physicians who graduated from foreign medical schools are New Jersey (40%), New York (38%), and Florida (35%).

Most of the New Jersey physicians no doubt practice in the Metropolitan New York Area, given the state’s proximity to NYC. And Florida has a large percentage given the demographics of that state.

So, if foreign-born, US trained physicians are ok for treating injured workers here, why can’t their fellow countrymen do the same back home if an injured worker, or his employer choose that as an option to expensive surgery at an American hospital?

Don’t tell me there is a difference, because there isn’t. It is only ignorance and prejudice that prevents foreign-born, US trained physicians from treating injured workers in medical travel facilities. That is another problem our health care and workers’ comp systems need to deal with.

Words and Phrases: Global Healthcare or Whatever You Want to Call It

This past Saturday, while waiting for power to be restored in my area due to a pesky lizard’s venture where lizards don’t belong, I was able to use my cell phone to read some posts on LinkedIn.

I came across a discussion by three of the top medical travel personnel answering the question, “Is the term “Medical Tourism” obsolete?”

This discussion thread was begun by Stella Tsartsara, and followed by Ilan Geva and Elizabeth Ziemba, including yours truly, who put his two cents into the conversation.

Since Stella has given me her approval to use her comments, and I suspect that Ilan and Elizabeth would not mind, I am going to quote them verbatim here for the reader to digest. There will be some names that I will leave out, because one, I have not contacted them, and two, they were mentioned in passing by the individual who I am quoting.

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I see Elizabeth Ziemba talking about carrying capacity of HC systems. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me half of the international projects I do have nothing to do with Medical Tourism, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me we are dealing with “International Healthcare” anymore, we are passed the term “Medical Tourism ” probably instigated by people traveling to another destination for (cheaper) surgery not covered by their insurance where the “patient” had time to do some sightseeing. But once the demand came to more serious interventions like heart surgery then the only organization needed was a reliable MTF and good research from the patient to guarantee results. Here the “tourism” is at the 4-5th place after doctor, hospital reputation, waiting list time, safety, post- surgery follow up, price and cost reimbursement from insurance.

Now with the Cross Border Healthcare and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) Wikileaks revelation on the globalization of healthcare officially by the states, things take a completely new turn and the fact that we are talking about Medical Tourism is raising some eyebrows. Or at least it should be split from Healthcare delivery.”

https://data.awp.is/international/2015/02/04/22.html

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I have no possibility for edit, I rephrase here that XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX told me some time ago that her projects deal with international healthcare mostly which is a healthy sign of evolution in the industry although XXXXXXXXXXX says this word does not exist either, to which of course I agree.

Terms are the beginning of taking the trend seriously by the demand. It’s about shaping policy in the end.”

Ilan Geva:

“Stella, I think that the term Medical Tourism was pushed upon us by an association. The fact is no one, except our circle of Professionals, is using it or cares about it. In the effort to differentiate and stand out, many started to use Medical Travel, Global Healthcare…whatever. Patients don’t really care what you call it, they have a need or a want that requires a solution. Many of them are not looking for the “Tourism “aspect of a medical issue. Have you noticed that even the MTA is not using their name as much as they used to? They are now pushing the GHA brand.

Is that an indicator that medical tourism is dead? Who knows, and frankly, who cares? Globally, there are enough tremors in the healthcare sector, enough to guarantee continued movement of patients from one region to another. Maybe we should start calling it “Medical Voyages”?”

Elizabeth Ziemba:

“Thanks for starting a very interesting conversation, Stella. The term “medical tourism” isn’t dead yet because it is still the top search term in the sector and is heavily used by the media. But the sector itself has outgrown the term. I will be giving a presentation at the IMTJ/World Health Care Congress about this very topic. The sector is changing but it is hard to get away from “medical tourism” when SEO rules. I must admit that the name of my company, Medical Tourism Training, was selected because of its SEO and familiarity to people. Even now, people react to it favorably even though I hate it. Time to look past the label to the substance.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“Ilan Geva “medical tourism” is not dead and maybe never dead as there are interventions where tourism plays an important part and here individual consultants have a bigger profit margin. But definitely movement of patients for elective treatment is not and cannot be called this way.

In EU we call it “Cross Border Healthcare” because we established the Institutional parameters for its organization and delivery.

This is what is lacking from an international perspective for the term to have a meaning. By the way trained eyes in institutional development like XXXXXXXXXXX will see immediately that the TiSA is exactly the same (with 2 additions on insurance and compulsory post-surgery monitoring & liability) with the EU Directive 24/11/EC on the Cross Border Healthcare in EU.”

Me:

“I have used “Medical Travel” in my posts, but for the purpose of selecting a category to place them in, or to tag them when I write, I use both “Medical Tourism” and “Medical Travel”.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“Elizabeth Ziemba & Richard Krasner, MA, MHA I tend to agree more with Ilan Geva on the matter. However as I said there will always be room for the “tourism” side for hundreds of treatments where tourism plays a very significant part like Medical SPA, cosmetic surgery, diagnostics, dental etc, although still I do believe that it’s not a priority. What Ilan said it’s a revelation for the “association”. Who else would give international care such a limited meaning maybe pushed by its operators back then.

But what is coming ahead e.g. Institutional and Regulative development of international healthcare (among public hospitals as well) has absolutely nothing to do with “tourism”. We have to set things straight if we want to be taken seriously by those who will be in our path in the consultation activities for its future development. Those who were (are still) building the TiSA are not going to look or refer to “medical tourism”.”

Stella I. Tsartsara:

“I also have the impression that something is moving in layers that are not yet visible to us, on the management of this new trend. I believe that actors are organizing themselves differently and as there is not yet a market (it’s still a taboo internationally exactly because it involves also public HC, we in EU have solved this but it’s not the case at global level) and the demand is still hybrid, there is no business development and marketing yet of this new consulting set of skills and delivery. But very soon we are going to see a new type of developers in this perspective catering for the state development of international HC. I have proposed years ago through this group the organization of such Groups combining inevitably many specializations and some do exist already run by big Hospital Groups.”

It would seem there is not clear consensus on what term is appropriate for the activity of leaving one’s home country and travelling to a second country for medical care, no matter what the reason for travel may be.

If, as Stella said, it was for heart surgery, doubtless the patient would not be doing much sightseeing post-operation. Yet, on the other hand, if it was for less invasive, and less stressful surgeries and procedures, and if the patient was cleared by the physician and physically able, then the tourism part would apply.

The revelations by Wikileaks of the negotiations on the TisA is no doubt a concern to the entire industry, whether one calls it medical tourism, medical travel, health tourism, health travel, etc. The result is the same. Knowledge of the existence of such an agreement may forestall that agreement being finalized, if not totally scrapped altogether if the right individuals lead a campaign against it in member countries.

Such was the case with Brexit, and such was the case with the 2016 U.S. elections that Wikileaks had a hand in derailing.

The solution, therefore is a stronger effort on the part of all stakeholders to develop strategies, plans, and standards to regulate the industry and to promote it effectively. Relying on an association we know is unreliable is not going to work. Before TiSA is tossed aside like the TPP, or the Paris Climate Treaty by nationalistic dunderheads, the industry must do more.

P.S. The rest of the thread can be seen here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4304089/4304089-6368077962927050755

Health Care Top US Employer and What It Means for Medical Travel

Back to the real world of health care, et. al.

Last week, The Atlantic magazine reported that the US health care industry has supplanted manufacturing and retail to become the largest source of jobs in the US.

The article, by Derek Thompson, reports that for the first time in history, in the last quarter, there are now more jobs in health care than in the two industries that were the leading job engines of the 20th century.

According to Thompson, in 2000, there were 7 million more workers in manufacturing than in health care, and at the beginning of the Great Recession, there were 2.4 million more workers in retail than in health care.

Thompson says that there are three main drivers of the boom in health care jobs.

  • First, Americans as a group are getting older. By 2025, one-quarter of the workforce will be older than 55 (your humble blogger). This will have doubled in just 30 years. It will have a profound economic and political impact, such as declining productivity and electoral showdowns between a young, diverse workforce and an older, whiter retirement bloc. [True in the last election.] The most obvious effect of an aging population will be that it needs more care, and more workers to care for them.
  • Second, health care is publicly subsidized. The US spends hundreds of billions of dollars on Medicare, Medicaid, and benefits for government employees and veterans. [The recent tax bill passed will make substantial cuts to many of these programs, or outright privatize them.] The US also subsidizes private insurance through tax breaks for employers who sponsor health care.
  • Third, two of the most destabilizing forces for labor in the last generation have been globalization and automation. They have hurt manufacturing and retail by offshoring factories, replacing human arms with robotic limbs, and dooming fusty department stores. Health care is resistant to both. While globalization has revolutionized supply chains and created a global market for manufacturing labor, most health care is local. A Connecticut dentist isn’t selling her services to Portugal, and a physician’s receptionist in Lisbon isn’t directing her patient to Stamford. [I take exception here, as many of you will too. It seems Mr. Thompson has not heard of Medical Travel, both inbound and outbound, and therein lies your problem.]

Finally, the growth in health care employment is more located in administrative jobs than in physician jobs. The number of non-physicians has exploded in the last two decades. Most of these jobs are administrative such as receptionists and office clerks. It is not clear that these workers improve outcomes for patients.

Robert Kocher, a senior fellow at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC said the following, “Despite all this additional labor, the most meaningful difference in quality over the past 10 years is the recent reduction in 30-day hospital readmissions from an average of 19 percent to 17.8 percent.”

One other point Thompson notes, is that categories like retail and health care are imperfect approximations, and that some categories are too restrictive, and some are too broad. He points out that there are more jobs in leisure and hospitality than in health care. [Which would explain why some in Medical Travel are more like travel agents, than medical professionals.]

So, while there is good news about the position of health care employment in the US, the downside is, at least as far as Medical Travel is concerned, that globalization may not have as much of an impact on health care as I, and others have thought, and that portends bad news for the industry.

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.