Category Archives: Health Policy

Cayman Islands Hospital Delivers Lower Cost Care

This morning’s post by fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, contained a small paragraph that linked to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about a hospital in the Cayman Islands that is delivering excellent care at a fraction of the cost.

Joe’s blog generally focuses on health care and workers’ comp issues, and has never crossed over into my territory. Not that I mind that.

In fact, this post is a shoutout to Joe for understanding what many in health care and workers’ comp have failed to realize — the US health care system, which includes workers’ comp medical care, has failed and failed miserably to keep costs down and to provide excellent care at lower cost.

That the medical-industrial complex and their political lackeys refuse to see this is a crime against the rights of Americans to get the best care possible at the lowest cost.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, the average medical cost for lost-time claims in workers’ comp has been rising for more than twenty years, even if from year to year there has been a modest decrease, the trend line has always been on the upward slope, as seen in this chart from this year’s NCCI State of the Line Report.

The authors of the HBR article asked this question: What if you could provide excellent care at ultra-low prices at a location close to the US?

Narayana Health (NH) did exactly that in 2014 when they opened a hospital in the Cayman Islands — Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). It was close to the US, but outside its regulatory ambit.

The founder of Narayana Health, Dr. Devi Shetty, wanted to disrupt the US health care system with this venture, and established a partnership with the largest American not-for-profit hospital network, Ascension.

According to Dr. Shetty, “For the world to change, American has to change…So it is important that American policy makers and American think-tanks can look at a model that costs a fraction of what they pay and see that it has similarly good outcomes.”

Narayana Health imported innovative practices they honed in India to offer first-rate care for 25-40% of US prices. Prices in India, the authors state, were 2-5% of US prices, but are still 60-75% cheaper than US prices, and at those prices can be extremely profitable as patient volume picked up.

In 2017, HCCI had seen about 30,000 outpatients and over 3,500 inpatients. They performed almost 2,000 procedures, including 759 cath-lab procedures.

HCCI’s outcomes were excellent with a mortality rate of zero — true value-based care. [Emphasis mine]

HCCI is accredited by the JCI, Joint Commission International.

Patient testimonials were glowing, especially from a vascular surgeon from Massachusetts vacationing in the Caymans who underwent open-heart surgery at HCCI following a heart attack. “I see plenty of patients post cardiac surgery. My care and recovery (at HCCI) is as good or better than what I have seen. The model here is what the US health-care system is striving to get to.

A ringing endorsement from a practicing US physician about a medical travel facility and the level of care they provide.

HCCI achieved these ultra-low prices by adopting many of the frugal practices from India:

  • Hospital was built at a cost of $700,00 per bed, versus $2 million per bed in the US. Building has large windows to take advantage of natural light, cutting down on air-conditioning costs. Has open-bay intensive care unit to optimize physical space and required fewer nurses on duty.
  • NH leverage relations with its suppliers in India to get similar discounts at HCCI. All FDA approved medicines were purchased at one-tenth the cost for the same medicines in the US. They bought equipment for one-third or half as much it would cost in the US.
  • They outsourced back-office operations to low-cost but high skilled employees in India.
  • High-performing physicians were transferred from India to HCCI. They were full-time employees on fixed salary with no perverse incentives to perform unnecessary tests or procedures. Physicians at HCCI received about 70% of US salary levels.
  • HCCI saved on costs through intelligent make-versus-buy decisions. Ex., making their own medical oxygen rather than importing it from the US. HCCI saved 40% on energy by building its own 1.2 megawatt solar farm.

And here is the key takeaway:

The HCCI model is potentially very disruptive to US health care. Even with zero copays and deductibles and free travel for the patient and a chaperone for 1-2 weeks, insurers would save a lot of money. [Emphasis mine]

US insurers have watched HCCI with interest, but so far has not offered it as an option to their patients. A team of US doctors came away with this warning: “The Cayman Health City might be one of the disruptors that finally pushes the overly expensive US system to innovate.”

The authors conclude by stating that US health care providers can afford to ignore experiments like HCCI at their own peril.

The attitude towards medical travel among Americans can be summed up by the following from Robert Pearl, CEO of Permanante Medical Group and a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford: “Ask most Americans about obtaining their health care outside the United States, and they respond with disdain and negativity. In their mind, the quality and medical expertise available elsewhere is second-rate, Of course, that’s exactly what Yellow Cab thought about Uber. Kodak thought about digital photography, General Motors thought about Toyota, and Borders thought about Amazon.”

Until this attitude changes, and Americans drop their jingoistic American Exceptionalism, they will continue to pay higher costs for less excellent care in US hospitals. More facilities like HCCI in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and elsewhere in the region need to step up like HCCI and Narayana Health have. Then the medical-industrial complex will have to change.

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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.

 

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?

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.

 

Americans Are Skipping Health Insurance

Bloomberg on Monday published an article by John Tozzi that reported that some Americans are taking a risk and skipping health insurance because of the cost.

In the article, “Why Some Americans Are Risking It and Skipping Health Insurance”, Bloomberg interviews three families; the Buchanans of Marion, North Carolina, the Owenses of Harahan, Louisiana, and the Bobbies in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Buchanans decided that paying $1,800 a month was too much for health insurance and decided to go without it for the first time in their lives.

Doubling insurance premiums convinced the Owenses to do so as well, and Mimi Owens said that, “We’re not poor people but we can’t afford health insurance.”

Saving money to pay for their nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who was born with five heart defects, forced the Bobbies to go uninsured for themselves and their son Joey.

These three families are but a small part of the dozen other families Bloomberg is following to understand the trade-offs when a dollar spent on health insurance cannot be spent on something else. Some are comfortable financially, others are just scrapping by.

According to Tozzi, the share of Americans without insurance is near historic lows, the current administration is rolling back parts of the ACA. At the same time, Tozzi reports, the cost for many people to buy a plan is higher than ever.

In the case of the Buchanans, wife Dianna, 51, survived a bout with cancer 15 years ago, her husband, Keith has high blood pressure and takes testosterone. Both make more than $127,000 a year from an IT business and her job as a physical therapy assistant. They have additional income from properties they own.

However, their premium last year was $1,691, triple their mortgage payment, and was going up to $1,813 this year. A deductible of $5,000 per-person meant that having and using coverage would cost more than $30,000.

What made the Buchanans take this step was when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and the major hospital system in Asheville, could not reach an agreement, putting the hospital out of network. Keith Buchanan said, “It was just two greed monsters fighting over money.” He also said, “They’re both doing well, and the patients are the ones that come up short.”

The Buchanans are now members of a local doctors’ practice, for which they pay $198 a month. They also signed up for a Christian group that pools members’ money to help pay for medical costs. For this membership, it costs the Buchanans $450 a month, and includes a $150 surcharge based on their blood pressure and weight.

After dropping their coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Keith injured his knee, went to an urgent care center and was charged $511 for the visit and an X-ray. “If we can control our health-care costs for a couple of years, the difference that makes on our household income is phenomenal,” Keith said.

There is evidence, Tozzi writes, that having insurance is a good thing. People with insurance spend less out of pocket, are less likely to go bankrupt, see the doctor more often, get more preventive care, are less depressed and have told researchers they feel healthier.

Yet, some 27.5 million Americans under age 65 were uninsured in 2016 (myself included), about 10 percent of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most common reason cited by KFF was that the cost was too high. A Gallup poll suggested that despite declining for years, the percentage of adults without coverage has increased slightly since the end of 2016.

However, other data, Tozzi writes, showed no significant change.

The following chart outlines the household income and health insurance status of people under 65 who qualify for government help with having insurance.

For the Bobbie family, the current administration’s proposal to make it easier for Americans to buy cheaper health plans could open options for the rest of the Bobbie family, but with over $1 million in medical costs for Sophia, these less-expensive choices would lack some of the protection created by the ACA that allowed her to get coverage.

The tax scam that became law in December will lift the ACA’s requirement that every American have coverage or pay a fine.

Some states are trying out the new rules, offering plans that don’t adhere to ACA requirements. This is the case in Idaho where the state’s Blue Cross insurer attempted to offer a so-called “Freedom Plan” that had annual limits on care and questionnaires that would allow them to charge higher premiums to sick people or those likely to become sick.

The current administration judged reluctantly that this plan violated ACA rules.

The Owenses decided to do something like what the Buchanans did. They tried a Christian health-sharing ministry for a few months, but joined a direct-primary care group, which Mimi Owens called, “the best care we’ve ever had.”

The three American families are by no means not alone in having to decide whether to have insurance or to take the risk and forgo paying huge premiums to save money or to use it for another family member with more pressing medical issues.

Two of these families are not low-income, as they both earn over $100,000 a year and could afford to buy health coverage if it was affordable. But the reality is that premiums have risen and will continue to rise and will price them out of the market.

Except for the Bobbies, no one in the other two families have serious medical issues that are exceedingly expensive, and they have found lower cost alternatives, but for many other families in the U.S., that may not be an option.

The only real solution is universal health care. Then the Buchanans, Owenses, and Bobbies of America will not have to worry about how they are going to pay for medical bills if some serious medical condition arises. We can and should be better than this.

GOP Tax Reform: Say Goodbye to the Middle Class

As a student of American Social history, I am acutely aware that for much of the 241 years of the Republic, the majority of the American people were not what we today would call “Middle Class.”

In fact, they were cash poor, dirt farmers, tradesmen, owning very little except what they could carry on a horse, mule, or in a wagon as they migrated west in search of better opportunities.

Until the New Deal, the Middle Class as we know it did not exist in such great numbers. True, there was a middle class in the cities and towns of the East Coast and Midwest, but most of them were descendants of immigrants from the 17th and 18th centuries, and rose steadily into the middle class as the nation’s economy shifted from a mercantile to an industrial economy in the first half of the 19th century.

Consider the following quotes from three US presidents regarding the power of money and corporations. You will notice that none of them are wild-eyed radicals in the least.

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

Thomas Jefferson

“Mischief springs from the power which the moneyed interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control, from the multitude of corporations with exclusive privileges… which are employed altogether for their benefit.”

Andrew Jackson

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong it’s reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Abraham Lincoln

So it is no surprise that the Republican Party is ramming down the throats of the American middle class, a tax reform bill that will effectively wipe out the remaining members of the middle class, and redistribute the wealth to those making over $75,000 and those at the very top, the oft-mentioned 1%.

My fellow blogger, and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for County Legislator in upstate New York, Joe Paduda, wrote a very potent analysis of the GOP tax scam legislation. Yes, I did call it a scam, but that is not my word. Others have used it in the past few days in an effort to derail and stop it from passing.

Besides destroying the middle class, it will as Joe points out, bankrupt the health care system. Then we will have to go all the way to a single-payer system just to get the whole thing working again.

Here is Joe’s piece in its entirety:

The tax bill’s impact on healthcare or; If you like your cancer care, you can’t keep it.

        

The GOP “tax reform” bill will directly and significantly affect healthcare. Here’s how.

It removes the individual mandate, but still requires insurers to cover anyone who applies for insurance. So, millions will drop coverage knowing they can sign up if they get sick.

How does that make any sense?

Here’s the high-level impact of the “tax bill that is really a healthcare bill”:

The net – healthcare providers are going to get hammered, and they’re going to look to insured patients to cover their costs.

The real net – The folks most hurt by this are those in deep-red areas where there is little choice in healthcare plans, lots of struggling rural hospitals, and no other safety net.  Alaskans, Nebraskans, Iowans, Wyoming residents are among those who are going to lose access to healthcare – and lose health care providers.

Here are the details.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, “repeal would save the federal government $338 billion between 2018 and 2027, resulting from lower federal costs for premium tax credits and Medicaid. By 2027, 13 million fewer people will have health insurance, either because they decide against buying coverage or can no longer afford it.”

Most of those who drop coverage will be healthier than average, forcing insurers in the individual market to raise prices to cover care for a sicker population. This is how “death spirals” start, an event we’ve seen dozens of times in state markets, and one that is inevitable without a mandate and subsidies.

For example, older Americans would see higher increases than younger folks. Here’s how much your premiums would increase if you are in the individual marketplace.

So, what’s the impact on you?

Those 13 million who drop insurance, which include older, poorer, sicker people, will need coverage – and they’ll get it from at most expensive and least effective place – your local ER. Which you will pay for in part due to cost-shifting.

ACA provided a huge increase in funding for emergency care services – folks who didn’t have coverage before were able to get insurance from Medicaid or private insurers, insurance that paid for their emergency care.

From The Hill:

[after ACA passage] there were 41 percent fewer uninsured drug overdoses, 25 percent fewer uninsured heart attacks, and over 32 percent fewer uninsured appendectomies in 2015 compared to 2013. The total percent reduction in inpatient uninsured hospitalizations across all conditions was 28 percent lower in 2015 than in 2013. Between 2013 and 2015, Arizona saw a 25 percent reduction in state uninsured hospitalizations, Nevada a 75 percent reduction, Tennessee a 17 percent drop, and West Virginia an 86 percent decline.

If the GOP “tax bill” passes, hospital and health system charges to insureds (yes, you work comp payer) are going to increase – and/or those hospitals and health systems will go bankrupt.

What does this mean?

It means we of the middle class had a very good run, but the ruling class has spoken, and they want us to disappear, or at least shrink to the point that we become unimportant to their pursuit of greater wealth. Why else would the donor class of the Republican Party, the Koch Brothers, the Mercer family, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of their donors threaten members of Congress with no more funds for their re-election if they fail to pass this bill?

There is a word for that, it’s called Extortion. And we are the sacrificial lambs.