Category Archives: physicians

Health Care, Immigration, and the Supreme Court

This week America underwent a shock of such magnitude that many believe that this is the end of the experiment begun in 1776, and the United States lost its standing as the “Shining City on a Hill.”

We have witnessed the cruelty of the Trump regime towards innocent children snatched from the arms of their parents, simply because their parents want to escape the violence and oppression of the drug gangs rampant in their home countries.

These parents want not only to secure for their children a life free from being recruited into these gangs, they also want to provide their children with a better life.

And most of them did so according to US immigration law. They presented themselves at legitimate border crossings, and were summarily arrested, had their children separated from them, the children, some as young as a few months old, put in cages, or transferred across the country, and placed in facilities where no press or Congressional observers are allowed to see for themselves, except on special guided tours where they cannot speak to the children.
Recently, a judge in California ordered the regime to re-unite the children with their parents and effectively ended the zero-tolerance policy.

Tomorrow, at 11 am, I, and many others around the nation will take part in a march to protest this cruel and un-American action. The march I will be attending will be held in West Palm Beach and will cross the Intracoastal Waterway by way of a bridge connecting the mainland with Palm Beach island. The march will terminate at Mar-a-Lago, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, and that is now owned by the Orangutan.

Why am I writing this, and what does it have to do with health care? And what does the Supreme Court have to do with these other issues?

That is what this post will attempt to address.

To begin with, the immigration issue will have a profound effect on the health care system, as the older Americans get, the more home health and nurses’ aides they are going to need.

Preventing these unfortunate men, women and children, fleeing violence and drug gangs, and civil war and corruption at home, will mean that in the future there will be fewer workers to take these and many other jobs in health care and other industries.

In addition, the so-called “travel ban”, is really a cynical attempt to impose a Muslim ban without calling it one. The Supreme Court weighed in on this move this week, ignoring the racist comments made by the Orangutan, and gave him wide latitude to ban anyone he does not like.

This will have the chilling effect of preventing both medical students and physicians from coming to the US, not only from the countries on the list, but all other Muslim nations. The medical travel industry, also may feel some effect, as providers and facilitators from Gulf states, and other nations in the region, may be prevented from attending conferences and speaking engagements, and Americans who go to the UAE may be given greater scrutiny upon return to the US.

As a grandson of immigrants, this un-constitutional, un-American, and inhumane action by this regime is very disturbing and sickened me when I heard the cries of those children. But, according to recent polling on the issue, 58% of Republicans approved of the separation of children from their parents, while 92% of Democrats disapproved. The CNN poll results are here:

On top of the immigration debacle, and the “travel ban”, there was a third and more devastating blow to American democracy and to the Republic this week. The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on many issues brought before the Court, portends that the Court will be radically altered once a replacement is chosen and confirmed by the Senate.

But unlike the Merritt Garland nomination, Mitch McConnell is vowing to confirm whatever nominee the Orangutan appoints, and the regime promises to appoint a strict Conservative justice. Several commentators have indicated that abortion, LGBTQ rights, and maybe even health care, could be overturned if one more current justice, most probably Ruth Bader Ginsberg, retires or like Scalia, dies in the next two years. She is 85.

Overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal once again, will force women to seek back alley abortions, and will severely impact their health and lives. Also, it is possible that birth control and access to it, may be denied to women, and that will have serious impacts on health care in the future. Some believe that Roe is settled law, but don’t count on them being right. The Religious Right is waiting for the day that women are forced to carry to term pregnancies they don’t want, and then have any neo-natal or post-natal care taken away, so that they and their babies suffer needlessly.

A strict Conservative on the bench also threatens gay marriage and LGBTQ rights, as it was Justice Kennedy who broke with the Conservatives and said that gay people had a constitutional right to marry. It may mean that more cases like the recent Colorado case may be decided in the plaintiff’s favor, albeit without the bias the state Commission showed to religion.

Lastly, health care could face enormous challenges ahead if the makeup of the Court swings radically to the right. The current Court ruled that the ACA was Constitutional, but since the coup of 2016, the GOP has steadily destroyed the law and a radical Supreme Court just might put the last nail in the coffin and deny millions of Americans health care. There is also a health care bill in Congress that will remove many diseases and pre-existing conditions from coverage.

This is especially disturbing to yours truly, as I have one of those pre-existing conditions: ESRD. Right now, I have Medicare only, but who knows what a radical Court may do to that and the other health care programs such as Medicaid, CHIP, etc.

In college, I was taught that the Court generally swings from liberal to conservative, but in my lifetime, it has gone from liberal to conservative, to radically conservative, so that now we may be headed for a judicial, corporate dictatorship where the people have little or no rights, and Corporate and religious interests have all the rights.

The following quote sums up our predicament:

“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
Sinclair Lewis

So, what do we do?

Well, the march tomorrow morning is a start. I have been critical of those groups opposed to this regime sitting on their kiesters and doing nothing except marching once a year in January for two straight years in the Women’s Marches. This crisis is bigger than just one demographic group. This fight is for the soul of the nation and for the Republic as a democratic republic. A journalist heard this morning on MSNBC said she went to Minnesota recently when the Orangutan was there, and she said that the cab driver told her that he is a Republican, is against the Orangutan, and cannot speak to friends about him because they believe him 100% and think he is a god.

Great! Now we have a Caucasian version of Kim Jong Un.

We have to work together, because in the words of Pastor Niemoeller:

First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The Founding Fathers knew something like this would happen, but never thought that the Electoral College, created to prevent this, would actually make it a reality. We are living in scary times.

Have a good weekend everyone, and if I don’t write before Wednesday, have a safe and happy Fourth…it may be our last.

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Physician practices seek help in transition to value-based care | Healthcare Dive

Follow-up to the last post and yesterday’s regarding CMS’ initiative for quality reporting.

See the link:

The report also found physicians are moving more toward independent and physician-led group practices after a six-year trend of doctors moving to hospitals.

Source: Physician practices seek help in transition to value-based care | Healthcare Dive

More doctors become hospital employees, facing noncompetes | Healthcare Dive

The proletarianization of physicians marches on. As you recall from my reviews of “Health Care under the Knife”, there has been a steady movement towards making physicians into employees of hospitals, or rather their proletarianization. Now it seems they are up against noncompetes, as the article below reports.

Here is the link to the article:

Legal experts say noncompete agreements are common practice for hospitals, and are usually enforceable. But physicians, and in some cases the courts, are pushing back.

Source: More doctors become hospital employees, facing noncompetes | Healthcare Dive

With shortage looming, primary care doctors’ salaries rise | Healthcare Dive

Physician shortage issue has resurfaced, this time with regard to primary care physicians’ salaries, as per the Healthcare Dive article below.

Compensation for non-physician providers grew 8% over the past five years, reflecting their increased role amid an aging population.

Source: With shortage looming, primary care doctors’ salaries rise | Healthcare Dive

Number of Foreign Doctors Coming to US Dropping

As reported this morning in the weblog, Working Immigrants, the number of foreign born doctors wanting to come to the US is dropping, which may have a significant impact on the availability of doctors in certain parts of the country and in many hospitals and clinics, especially those that serve underserved and lower-income communities.

According to Working Immigrants, there are more than 247,000 doctors with medical degrees from foreign countries practicing in the US.

They make up slightly more than one-quarter of all doctors, and most are not US citizens, and are foreign-born as well.

One of the channels of immigration of foreign-born and foreign trained doctors is through graduate medical study. This year, just over 7,000 international medical graduates applied to study in the US, representing a downturn of 217 from last year, and nearly 400 from 2016.

Nearly 25% of residents across all medical fields were born outside the US in 2015, and in subspecialty residency programs, foreign medical graduates accounted for more than one-third of residents.

As I indicated above, foreign-trained doctors are more likely to practice in lower-income and disadvantaged communities than their American counterparts,

Where more than 30% of the population lives below the poverty rate, nearly one-third of the doctors are foreign-trained. And where per-capita income is below $15,000 per year, 42.5% of all doctors are foreign-trained. Finally, where 75% or more of the population is non-white, 36.2% of the doctors are foreign-trained.

This trend will most likely impact the predicted physician shortage that has been previously reported in this blog. In addition, it will add to the burden hospitals are facing in providing care as many of these immigrants work in hospitals to augment the staff shortages they already have.

If this trend continues thanks to current administration policy and xenophobia, the problem will only get worse. The reader should be aware that to even get into the US to practice medicine is a long and difficult process and many physicians do not get in to the country.

Instead of turning away good doctors from foreign countries, we should welcome them and keep them working in the areas of the country where they are practicing and providing care to those who otherwise would not have a doctor to go to.

The Disruptors are Coming: The New Health Economy and the Medical-Industrial Complex

A big shout out to Dr. Don MCanne for his Quote of the Day post Friday for today’s topic, and a belated shout out to him for his post last Tuesday about the gains from the ACA being reversed. See my post, ACA Gains Reversing.

This time, Don alerts us to the impact the new health economy disruptors will have and what it might mean for the push towards single payer health care.

Last month, the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) released a report analyzing the new health economy landscape as more and more companies pursue acquisitions of companies in the insurance, pharmacy benefit management, health care services and retail spaces.
In the last six months, the report states, there has been an explosion of unusual deals between companies such as CVS Health buying Aetna, Cigna buying Express Scripts, UnitedHealth’s Optum buying DaVita Medical Group (Kidney disease and dialysis), Albertsons agreeing to merge with Rite Aid, as well as the much highly publicized partnership between Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway.

Naturally, these aren’t the only deals that have occurred. Last year, 67 deals occurred in the US health services market, including payers and providers, the report adds.

The value of these deals increased 146% over those in 2016. The US health care industry, the report states, is undergoing seismic changes generated by a collision of forces: the shift from volume to value, rising consumerism, and the decentralization of care.
The HRI identified four new archetypes of companies engaged in this new health care economy:

• Vertical integrators — CVS & Aetna, Optum & DaVita, Cigna & Express Scripts
• Employer activists — February 2016, 20 US companies form Health Transformation Alliance (HTA) and developed tools to help its members cut employee healthcare costs. In January, Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway partnered to lower costs and improve employee satisfaction
• Technology invaders — Amazon selling over-the-counter medical products, offering discounted access to Prime service, Apple’s newest operating system allows users to access parts of their EHRs on their phones
• Health retailers — CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Albertsons and others using their network of store locations, consumer insights, national and global supply chains, and national (and sometimes global) branding to attract consumers looking for affordable, convenient care and goods

The HRI report recommends that all healthcare companies should make the following moves:

• Invest in customer experience
• Plan for a broader workforce
• Focus on price

This is how Don McCanne commented on this report. He wrote that Arnold Relman, like Dwight Eisenhower did about the military-industrial complex, warned us about the medical-industrial complex, but did not realize how intense the disruption would be in health care that the HRI report discusses.

According to Don, we are about to see a takeover by the disruptors who “have a leg up on many established health players in understanding consumers and tailoring experiences for them.”
The disruptors are “positioned to address price through greater scale, ownership of middlemen and a wider grip on the US health system value chain.”

If you don’t believe Don, then read what Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan said, “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked). This effort is just beginning.”

This is exactly what the Waitzkin et al. book describes when explaining the methods used by the medical-industrial complex to control and direct the American health care system for power and profit of the members of the complex.

Dr. McCanne observes that it is almost as if the physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and the hospitals and clinics in which they provide their services have become a peripheral, albeit necessary, appendage to their wellness-industrial complex that is displacing our traditional health care delivery system and its more recent iteration of the medical-industrial complex.

In other words, the physicians and nurses and other professionals have become proletarianized, and the hospitals and clinics merely the places where the medical-industrial complex derives its power and profit from.

Dr. McCanne posits the following questions as to what the health care system would look like once the transformation is well along:

• Once the silos of the health care system are flattened, how will health care be financed?
• Will there still be networks?
• Cost sharing barriers such as high deductibles?
• Will it be possible to fund this expansive model of the wellness-industrial complex through anything remotely resembling an insurance product, especially when the insurers are being amalgamated into what was formerly the health care delivery system?
• And now that the plutocracy is in control, how could we ever remove the passive investors that extract humongous rents through the wellness-industrial complex?
• And what about the patients? Did we forget about them?

It is obvious from his comments that this new health economy is going to be more problematic for providing universal health care to all Americans and will only make things worse. His Rx is to begin now to move to a single payer, Medicare for All program, and not worry about what has passed.

Smart diagnosis and prescription.

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

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*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.