Category Archives: physicians

By What Right?

In the annals of Western history, two courageous men stood up and challenged the establishment of their nations to act to change history or to right a grievous wrong done to an innocent man.

The first individual was Patrick Henry when he gave his “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech, and the second was Émile Zola, who wrote “J’Accuse…!,” which he wrote in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, imprisoned falsely on Devil’s Island for treason.

These, of course were not the only instances where men of good intention, rallied people to a just and rightful cause; but it was the two instances that came to mind after reading another health care expert poo-poo Medicare for All on social media.

The individual commented on an article in Healthcare Dive.com that I had discussed some days ago. The article was about how kidney care in the US was being revamped, and the individual claimed that Medicare for All would damage the care dialysis patients are currently receiving.

What this person is doing is trying to scare people with propaganda that is akin to saying Medicare for All is “Socialism.” We know that none of the countries that have such a system are Socialist. They are Capitalist. The scare tactic being used here is rationing of care. It so happens that my clinic company is a European company, and I don’t believe people in their home country are rationed dialysis care. And they have a single payer system.

In the past few days, I have seen several comments made by men and women in occupations related to, or in the health care industry. These comments generally have attacked the very idea of Medicare for All for a variety of reasons. Many of these individuals are either a part of the medical-industrial complex, or they are lawyers, employee benefits consultants, or other types of consultants to specific areas of health care. They are defending a turf.

These individuals believe they can supersede the right of all Americans to have decent, affordable health care that does not force them into bankruptcy, or to go without because they cannot afford treatment for serious illnesses or diseases, or expensive medications.

Those of you who have been reading my blog of late, know that I have been very passionate about enacting Medicare for All, either because a fellow blogger has written so eloquently about it, or for personal reasons.

So, I have decided, like M. Zola did, to declare openly: By What Right?

By what right do you have to deny millions of Americans health care? By what right do you have to even suggest that Medicare for All is too expensive, would do more harm than good, or any of the other remarks made on social media to attack the very notion of health care for all?

By what right do you have to consign others to a broken, complex, complicated, bloated, and out of control health care system, whose true aim is to line the pockets of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, hospitals, Wall Street investors, or the shareholders of these and other companies?

I don’t mind constructive criticism of this plan or that plan put forth by any number of Congressmen or Senators, but to outright state that it won’t work, or should not work, is to deny the rest of the nation the same kind of health care that the members of Congress receive.

By what right do you have to tell the millions of uninsured and under-insured, “sorry, we don’t believe in Medicare for All, so you will just have to suffer, so that we can keep our jobs, and collect our fat paychecks.”

I have yet to hear a logical answer to why the US should be the only Western nation to not provide its citizens with universal health care. Some say it is too expensive. Do you mean, it is more expensive than spending taxpayer money on weapons of war? Or on a wall on our Southern border? Or a space force?

Do you mean that it would raise taxes, first on the wealthy and corporations, and later everyone else? Well, maybe the rich and the corporations should pay more in taxes. Polls seem to indicate that as much lately.

Another line of attack says that providers would be hurt. Do you mean that certain very wealthy physicians, surgeons and specialists, would see their incomes cut in half? Do you mean that hospitals could not buy each other up and become larger conglomerations that raises health care costs, instead of lowering them?

I thought medicine was a calling, not a get-rich quick scheme.

Oh, and what about the pharmaceutical industry that uses Americans as a cash cow while the same drugs, manufactured overseas, by the same companies, cost a fraction of what they do here, and have made men like current Federal pen occupant, Martin Shkreli, a wealthy man. Why not allow Americans to import those very same drugs from Canada, the UK, Israel, Mexico, etc. so that they can have their insulin and other life-saving medications without having to cut the dosages in half or go without altogether.

By what right do you have to defend the status quo? To make huge and obscene profits? As I wrote in Health Care Is Not a Market:

“…they are deciding that they have the right to tell the rest of us that we must continue to experience this broken, complex and complicated system just so that they can make money. And that they have a right to prevent us from getting lower cost health care that provides better outcomes and does not leave millions under-insured or uninsured.”

“…not all these individuals are doing this because of their jobs. Some are doing so because they are wedded to an economic and political ideology based on the free market as the answer to every social issue, including health care. They argue that if we only had a true free market, competitive health care system, the costs would come down.”

“…the free market companies have jacked up the prices simply because they can, and because lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry have forced Congress to pass a law forbidding the government from negotiating prices, as other nation’s governments do.”

Instead of trying to tear down Medicare for All, why not offer your expertise and knowledge to improving the Medicare for All bills introduced to Congress, as well as other plans, especially the proposal by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)?

Those of you who are not familiar with the legislative process, something that at times has been compared to the production of sausages, it isn’t pretty. There is a lot of negotiating and horse-trading that occurs before a bill is passed and signed into law. Unfortunately, given a Republican President, and his lapdog, Republican Senate, none of the introduced pieces of legislation will pass the Senate, even if the House passes it.

So, consider this, by what right do you have to step in the way of progress for all Americans to get health care? By what right do you have to put your economic interests ahead of the health needs of others? By what right do you have to be cruel and inhumane, to let people die, get sick, and suffer needlessly, just so that you can sleep at night?

I hope that once you do consider this, you won’t sleep at night, because it would mean that you are not just greedy little cogs in the medical-industrial complex, but rather, kind and compassionate human beings who are motivated more out of love, than out of what’s in it for you if things don’t change.

By what right do you have to tear down something that has not even been passed and implemented? Why don’t we enact Medicare for All, and see if all the criticisms you have will come true or not? Could it be because you know deep in your heart it will, but are afraid to say so for fear of what your colleagues would say?

And finally, by what right do you have to play God with other people’s lives? You have already predicted that Medicare for All will fail, so why even bother? You are basing your opinions on what you have been told by free market ideologues, academics, business leaders, Conservative media, and politicians.

So, who cares if the poor die, if the elderly die, if children born with crippling illnesses and diseases die, if young people stricken down in the prime of life die, etc., as long as someone can make a hefty profit off of adverse selection, and the outrageous cost of desperately needed medications that they cannot afford?

I know what you are going to say to yourselves, and to me. That I don’t know what I am talking about, that I am wrong on so many levels, that I don’t have the experience in health care that you do. Well, I really don’t care what you will say. Do you have compassion and concern for your fellow citizens, or are you minions of a heartless, soulless Capitalist system that grinds people down for profits and wealth?

Patrick Henry stirred a people to revolution against a tyrant, Émile Zola rallied a nation to free a man unjustly accused and sentenced to hard labor in the most horrible prison ever constructed by Western man.

You can do what is right. You can defend Medicare for All, and even improve on what has already been proposed, but don’t attack it. Doing so will only cause more pain and suffering to millions of Americans, and will make investors, stockholders and providers and industry leaders wealthier, and the rest of us, poorer. Both spiritually and materially.

You are better than this.

Health Care Is Not a Market

For the next twenty-one months, there will be a national debate carried on during the presidential campaign regarding the direction this country will take about providing health care to all Americans.

However, to anyone who reads the articles, posts and comments on the social media site, LinkedIn, that debate is already occurring, and most of it is one-sided against Medicare for All/Single Payer. The individuals conducting this debate are for the most part in the health care field, as either physicians, pharmaceutical industry employees, hospital systems executives, insurance company executives, and so on.

We also find employee benefits specialists and other consultants to the health care industry, plus many academics in the health care space, and many general business people commenting, parroting the talking points from right-wing media.

That is why I re-posted articles from my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda last week and yesterday,  who is infinitely more knowledgeable than I am on the subject, and has far more experience in the health care field, that not only predicts Medicare for All (or what he would like to see, Medicaid for All), but has vigorously defended it and explained it to those who have misconceptions.

For that, I am grateful, and will continue to acknowledge his work on my blog. But what has caused me to write this article is the fact that most of the criticism of Medicare for All/Single Payer is because those individuals who are posting or commenting, are defending their turf.

I get that. They get paid to do that, or they depend on the current system to pay their salaries, so naturally they are against anything that would harm that relationship.

But what really gets me is that they are deciding that they have the right to tell the rest of us that we must continue to experience this broken, complex and complicated system just so that they can make money. And that they have a right to prevent us from getting lower cost health care that provides better outcomes and does not leave millions under-insured or uninsured.

However, not all these individuals are doing this because of their jobs. Some are doing so because they are wedded to an economic and political ideology based on the free market as the answer to every social issue, including health care. They argue that if we only had a true free market, competitive health care system, the costs would come down.

But as we have seen with the rise in prices for many medications such as insulin and other life-saving drugs, the free market companies have jacked up the prices simply because they can, and because lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry have forced Congress to pass a law forbidding the government from negotiating prices, as other nation’s governments do.

Yet, no other Western country has such a system, nor are they copying ours as it exists today. On the contrary, they have universal health care for their citizens, and by all measures, their systems are cheaper to run, and have better outcomes.

None of these countries can be considered “Socialist” countries, and even the most anti-Socialist, anti-Communist British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill said the following, “Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”

Notice that Sir Winston did not say, free market competition. He knew that competition is fine for selling automobiles, clothing, food, and other goods and services. But not health care.

He also said that you can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else. We’ve tried the free market in health care, and drug prices and other medical prices are through the roof.

However, another thing they have not done, and I believe none of the other OECD countries have done about health care, is to divide the “market” into silos such as the elderly with Medicare, the poor with Medicaid, children with CHIP, veterans with the VA, and their families with Tricare, etc.

No, they pay for all their citizens from a global budget, and do not distinguish between age level, income level, or service in the armed forces.

And their systems do not restrict what medical care their people receive, so that no only do they have medical care, but dental care, vision care, and hearing care. It is comprehensive. And if they have the money to pay for it, they can purchase private health insurance for everything else.

In the run-up to the debate and vote in the UK on Brexit, the point was raised that while Britain was a member of the EU, their retirees who went to Spain to retire, never had to buy insurance because the Spanish providers would bill the NHS.

However, once Britain leaves the EU, they will have to buy insurance privately, because the NHS won’t pay for it. But not all retirees can afford private insurance, so many British citizens will have a problem.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I was diagnosed with ESRD, and am paying $400 every three months for Medicare Part B. I was doing so while spending down money I received after my mother passed away in 2017. My brother and I sold her assets and used that money to purchase property so that she could go on Medicaid, and eventually into a nursing home when the time came for her to be cared for around the clock.

Since my diagnosis, and prior, I was not working, so spending $400 every three months, and paying for many of my meds, has been difficult. I am getting help with some of the meds, and one is free because my local supermarket chain, Publix gives it for free (Amlodipine).

I hope to be on Medicaid soon, but would much rather see me and my fellow Americans get Medicare for All, and not have to pay so much for it. (a side note: we have seen that Medicaid expansion has been haphazard, or reversed, even when the government is paying 90% of it)

So why are we not doing what everyone else does? For one thing, greed. Drug companies led by individuals like Martin Shkreli, who is now enjoying the hospitality of the federal government, and others are not evil, they are following the dictates of the free market that many are advocating we need. No thanks.

For another, Wall Street has sold the health care sector as another profit center that creates a huge return on investment by investors and shareholders in these companies and hospital systems. Consolidation in health care is no different than if two non-health care companies merge, or one company buys another for a strategic advantage in the marketplace.

There’s that word again: market. We already have a free market health care system, that is why is it broken. What we need is finance health care by the government and leave the providing of health care private. That’s what most other countries do.

So those of you standing in the way of Medicare for All/Single Payer, be advised. We are not going to let you deny us what is a right and not a privilege. We will not let you deny us what every other major Western country gives its people: universal, single payer health care.

Your time is nearly up.

Beware Billionaires Against Medicare for All

This week, the former CEO of everyone’s favorite coffee house and time waster, Starbucks, declared that he was considering a run for president next year as an independent.

This announcement brought immediate response from both wings of the Democratic Party, as they said it would result in the re-election of the current occupant of the White House.

Even former NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire, said that he should not run.

However, as this is a blog about medical care, and not politics, I will leave the discussion as to the efficacy of an independent run for president by another billionaire for others.

What I do want to focus on is this overpaid former barista’s belief that the US cannot afford a Medicare for All, single-payer health care system.

Incidentally, this is also Bloomberg’s view as well.

But I do not think their opposition is based solely on the belief that Medicare for All, single-payer is too expensive. Rather, I believe they are afraid that after the results of last November’s midterm elections, the Democratic Party is poised to win back the White House and possibly the Senate, and that Medicare for All, in whatever form it takes, will be enacted.

I have written about the health care industry’s efforts to derail Medicare for All in previous posts. (See the following: https://wp.me/p2QJfz-QIyhttps://wp.me/p2QJfz-Jki, and https://wp.me/p2QJfz-WI5)

While I cannot accuse Schultz and Bloomberg of being in the pocket of the healthcare industry, it does look suspicious that now that the Democrats control the House, they are coming out against a health care plan that many Americans voted for when they voted for Democrats.

But billionaires should not be the ones deciding whether or not we enact Medicare for All. That should be up to the voters (patients and non-patients), their elected representatives, and most importantly, those in the medical profession who believe the time has come for Medicare for All, single-payer.

One such group are physicians themselves, as reported back in August in the magazine of the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which I was informed of this morning by a high school alumnus who posted the article on another alum’s Facebook post.

The article was originally posted in Jacobinmag.com.

Here is the link to the article by Meagan Day.

One caveat to progressives: Don’t assume that every American voter who is undecided, declared themselves as an independent, or are unhappy with their choice in the last presidential election, and his behavior and actions, will vote for your chosen candidate. That is why Schultz is contemplating running. And he can do a lot of damage to your plans for 2020.

 

 

Those Damn Models Again – Health Care As An Experiment in Bait & Switch

Another shout out to Dr. McCanne, who posted today about a study sponsored by the AMA and conducted by RAND that basically said that alternative payment models (APM) are affecting physicians, their practices and hospitals.

Here is the RAND Summary with key findings:

RAND
October 24, 2018
Effects of Health Care Payment Models on Physician Practice in the United States
By Mark W. Friedberg, et al
This report, sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA), describes how alternative payment models (APMs) affect physicians, physicians’ practices, and hospital systems in the United States and also provides updated data to the original 2014 study. Payment models discussed are core payment (fee for service, capitation, episode-based and bundled), supplementary payment (shared savings, pay for performance, retainer-based), and combined payment (medical homes and accountable care organizations). The effects of changes since 2014 in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and of new alternative payment models (APMs), such as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) Quality Payment Program (QPP), are also examined.
Key Findings
Payment models are changing at an accelerating pace
Physician practices, health systems, and consultants find it difficult to keep up with the proliferation of new models, with some calling for a “time out” to allow them to better adapt to current APMs.
Payment models are increasing in complexity
Alternative payment models have become increasingly complex since 2014. Practices that have invested in understanding complex APMs have found opportunities to earn financial awards for their preexisting quality — without materially changing patient care.
Risk aversion is more prominent among physician practices
Risk aversion among physician practices was more prominent. Risk-averse practices sought to avoid downside risk or to off-load downside risk to partners (e.g., hospitals and device manufacturers) when possible.
RAND press release

https://www.rand.org/news/press/2018/10/24.html

Here is the comment by Don McCanne:

There is much more here than a casual glance might imply. The search for value-based payment in health care, as opposed to paying for volume, has led to various payment models such as shared savings, accountable care organizations, bundled payments, pay for performance (P4P), medical homes, and other alternative payment models. How well is that working?
To date, most studies have been quite disappointing. Claims of cost savings are belied when considering the additional provider costs of information technology and human manpower devoted to these models, not to mention the high emotional cost of burnout. This RAND study shows that these models are increasing in complexity, making it difficult for the health delivery system to keep up. Even worse, they are inducing risk aversion. The health care providers are trying to avoid those who most need health care – the opposite of what our health care system should be delivering.
Much of the experimentation in delivery models has been centered around reward or punishment. But, as Alfie Kohn writes, “intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something for its own sake)… is the best predictor of high-quality achievement,” whereas “extrinsic motivation (for example, doing something in order to snag a goody)” can actually undermine intrinsic motivation. It has been observed by others that the personal satisfaction of achievement of patient health care goals is tremendously rewarding, whereas the token rewards based on meager quality measurements are often insulting because of the implication that somehow token payments are a greater motivator than fulfilling Hippocratic traditions. Even more insulting are the token penalties for falling on the wrong side of the bell curve simply as a result of making efforts to care for patients with greater medical or sociological difficulties.
Quoting Alfie Kohn again, “carrots or sticks… can never create a lasting commitment to an action or a value, and often they have exactly the opposite effect … contrary to hypothesis.” The RAND report suggests slowing down and working with these models some more while increasing investment in data management and analysis with the goal of increasing success with alternative payment models. No. These models are making things worse. It’s time to abandon them and get back with taking care of our patients. The payment model we need is an improved version of Medicare that takes care of everyone. Throw out the sticks and carrots.

 

But however we see it, from the point of view of carrots and sticks as not able to change behavior, or by introducing ever newer models of alternative payments, the end result is the same.

Health care suffers because of the wasteful, bureaucratic, and arbitrary imposition of models that only serve to make life for physicians and hospitals harder, and makes health care more expensive and complex.

As Dr. McCanne says above, throw out the carrots and the sticks. Get rid of the models that don’t work and go to a single payer system that is streamlined and less bureaucratic and arbitrary.

GSK is paying docs again — and patients are the worse off

A shout out to Maria Todd for bringing this to my attention.

This would not be happening if we did what every other Western nation does, and give our citizens universal health care that does not line the pockets of multinational corporations, drug companies, medical device manufacturers, and Wall Street investors.

Health care should not be subject to the pursuit of profit.

One of the world’s largest drug makers, GSK promised it would no longer pay doctors to promote its medicines. Now it says doing so put it at a disadvantage.

Source: GSK is paying docs again — and patients are the worse off

Botched Beauty: The Dark Side of Medical Travel

Richard’s Note: The episode of The Doctors TV show mentioned below is not a complete episode. There are multiple videos on the website of the show. It will take some patience to watch them all. Sorry for the confusion.

While channel surfing, I came across the Fox program, The Doctors. They were investigating botched surgeries performed as part of a medical travel experience. One woman died as a result of an uncertified physician and facility; the other woman cannot have plastic surgery on her posterior again after a botched Brazilian butt lift.

The woman who died was the aunt of one of the audience members.

Here is the video of the episode that aired today. I suggest the industry leaders watch this.

https://www.thedoctorstv.com/episodes/doctors-investigate-botched-beauty-across-border-can-you-buy-better-body-another-country

All parties responsible for medical travel must do a better job of policing and cleaning up the industry. This cannot keep happening without anyone doing anything about it. That is why it is not seeing an increase in patients going overseas. It’s your fault, so take responsibility. CLEAN UP YOUR ACT.

Growing General Surgeon Shortage

On the heels of my recent post, Free Medical School Tuition Could Solve Physician Shortage, comes a new article about the shortage of general surgeons.

Friday, Reuters Health reported about a new study in the US that projected that the shortage of general surgeons in the US will get worse as the number of doctors entering the workforce fails to keep pace with population growth.

The study’s researchers predicted shortages based on their estimates of population growth by 2050, and by the number of medical schools and hospital-sponsored general surgery trainee positions.

  • By 2050, there will be a deficit of 7,047 general surgeons nationwide
  • That is higher than the shortage of 6,000 they predicted a decade ago based on the pace of population growth and new surgeons entering the job market at that time.

The lead study author, Dr. E. Christopher Ellison of Ohio State University, was quoted as saying, “Leaders in surgery have predicted a pending shortage in the general surgery workforce for more than 10 years.”

Dr. Ellison also said that, “the impact of the general surgeon shortages on patients is measured in the timeliness of care and the consequences of delays in care.”

The study was published in the journal Surgery, and the researchers noted that there should be about 7.5 general surgeons for every 100,000 people, to maintain acceptable access to surgical care.

According to the study, the number of general surgery resident positions and the number of residents completing their training has been rising in the US, but these increases have been insufficient to maintain the ideal number of surgeons for the population.

The authors stated, that if anything, the projected shortage is an underestimate.

Dr. Ellison: “We have not considered the impact of the aging population on the surgeon’s workload…Patients 65 years and older are more likely to need general surgery services, and as that segment of the population increases, there will be a corresponding increase in the demands for general surgeons.”

Ellison also added, that because most general surgeons practice in metropolitan areas, the impact of the shortage will be more keenly felt by rural communities.

The researchers assumed, in calculating the projected shortage, that some young trainees would choose subspecialties like vascular or transplant surgery, instead of general surgery. They assumed, also, that general surgeons would work for 30 years before retiring.

Two possibilities can be reached from the findings of the study: one, it is possible that the researchers have over- or under-estimated how many general surgeons will enter the profession each year and how many years they will remain on the job; and two, it is also possible that population growth estimates might change again, altering the shortage projections.

Dr. Anupam Jena, a Harvard Medical School researcher and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital said the following: “Because there are fixed high costs to developing a general surgical practice in a more remotely populated area, we observe fewer practices in these areas. I wouldn’t call this a shortage per se, but I do think it’s a problem that as a society we need to figure out solutions to.”

Dr. Jena was not part of the study. Two solutions offered by Dr. Jena, however, were identifying ways for rural patients who need surgical care to be promptly evaluated and treated at medical centers several hours away, or it might involve encouraging graduates of both American and foreign medical training programs to work in remote parts of the country.

I’ve discussed the projected shortage of physicians in the past, but this is the first time, a specific specialty of physicians has been studied for a projected shortage specifically. And as in the past, I have suggested that medical travel could alleviate the shortage, especially in workers’ compensation.

Either we follow the suggestions of Dr. Jena and others, or we consider looking abroad for the solution to a growing problem — a shortage of general surgeons.