Category Archives: Surgery

One Implant, Two Prices. It Depends On Who’s Paying. | Kaiser Health News

Here is another example of our broken health care system and the way in which health care has become a cash cow for hospitals, physicians, medical device manufacturers, which includes implant manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies.

The following article from Kaiser Health News is eerily familiar to a piece I wrote a while back about a man who needed a hip replacement, and went to Belgium to get it, and discovered that the hip they gave him was made near his home in the US, but was considerably cheaper in Belgium than in the US, even though it was the same hip he would have gotten if he had the surgery locally.

That the same implant should come with two different costs, either because it is implanted in the US, or in a foreign country, or in the case below, because of the type of surgeries performed, is illogical and a symptom of a dysfunctional, profit-driven health care system that is out of control.

Here is the article link:

Breast implants — used for both cancer and cosmetic surgeries — give a glimpse into how hospitals mark up prices of medical devices to increase their bottom lines.

Source: One Implant, Two Prices. It Depends On Who’s Paying. | Kaiser Health News

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The Road to Recovery: Post-Acute Care in Workers Compensation

The following is directed towards all those engaged in medical travel and have been following my blog for some time. Sorry I haven’t been writing in a while. I either did not see anything to write about, or just wasn’t in the mood.

But the article below should be of extreme interest to all of you who deal with post-acute care and after care, even though you are not involved as of yet in workers’ comp.

As the original focus of the blog was transforming workers’ comp, this should be read by those of you who have followed my ideas on the subject. Let me know what you think.

NCCI, for those of you not familiar with them, is the organization responsible for collecting and distributing data about the American workers’ comp industry, what is driving the costs of comp, and of claims, and other financial data relevant to the industry’s function.

Here is the link to their article:

Source: The Road to Recovery: Post-Acute Care in Workers Compensation

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.

 

Major Surgery Wait Times for Workers’ Comp: Can Medical Travel Assist?

Last week, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) released their FlashReport — Time from Injury to Medical Treatment: How States Compare, and I requested a copy.

While the report is rather lengthy, covering slightly more than fifty pages, I decided to focus on one aspect of the report that related to the length of time from injury to medical treatment with major surgery.

The report examined the time from injury to treatment in 18 states, and each of the services studied were ranked by median number of days from injury to medical service for each service. The report looked at claims from 2015/2016 with more than seven days lost time.

I wanted to make the medical travel industry aware that major surgery under workers’ compensation was not something that happened immediately after an on-the-job injury, and to alert the industry to figure out how they can improve the wait times for such surgeries.

Here is the summary of key findings from the report:

  • Considerable variation across states in the time from injury to first treatment for physical medicine and “specialty” services such as major radiology and pain management injections across injury types.
  • Patterns in time to first medical treatment were fairly consistent for some states; that is, some states tended to show shorter or longer time to first treatment across injuries and services.
  • Little variation in time to first medical treatment for “entry” services (such as emergency, office visits, and minor radiology) for most injury types.
  • Initial medical treatment was slightly faster for objective injuries (like fractures) than for subjective injuries (like sprains and strains).
  • Timing of medical services varies by type of injury, likely a reflection of different treatment patterns.

Based on the analytical approach WCRI used for other services, they identified Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin as having a shorter median number of days to the first major surgery.

California, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas had the longest median number of days to first major surgery and was based on the number of days average in rank order. Arkansas and Louisiana were excluded due to small cell size.

Major surgery was ranked third by type of non-entry service by maximum number of days from injury to first medical service: 118 days. Major surgery was ranked sixth by percentage of claims receiving medical services by maximum number of days at: 36.5%. Indiana had that distinction.

Major surgery was defined by WCRI as including invasive surgical procedures, as opposed to surgical treatments and pain management injections. The most frequent surgeries in this service group include, but are not limited to, arthroscopic surgeries of the shoulder or knee, laminectomies, laminotomies, discectomies, carpel tunnel surgeries, neuroplasty, and hernia repair.

Five types of injuries had the maximum medium number of days from injury to first major surgery: Neurologic spine pain, Inflammations, Upper extremity neurologic, Other sprains and strains, and Knee derangements.

The table below illustrates the maximum for each injury with the corresponding minimum, in order of maximum number of days.

Type of Injury

Maximum

Minimum

State

Neurologic spine pain

187

105

CA

Inflammations

173

96

CA

Upper extremity neurologic

169

85

CA

Other sprains and strains

140

69

CA

Knee derangements

133

52

CA

What does this mean?

This report is by no means conclusive as it relates to length of time for major surgery in the other states that were not analyzed. Yet, it is instructive to both the workers’ comp industry and the medical travel industry that given predicted shortages of both physicians and nurses, it would be prudent to explore other avenues so that the maximum wait times can be lowered, which would enable the injured employee to return to work faster.

Not doing so will be more expensive in the long run and will be detrimental to the well-being of the patient.

To purchase a copy of the report, click here.

Cross-Border Medical Travel in Tucson

Happy Holidays to all!

Hope you all had a good holiday.

Here is an article from Fierce Healthcare.com that describes what actions the city of Tucson, Arizona is taking to become a medical travel destination.

Readers of this blog will recall a few past posts that discussed cross-border medical travel, albeit due to an on-the-job injury. The article, NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View, discussed a Workers’ Comp claim in Arizona when a Mexican truck driver was thrown from his cab, received medical care first in Mexico, then in Arizona, as the state had changed their laws, and he was able to file a second claim.

A follow-up article, NAFTA, Work Comp and Cross-Border Medical Care: A Legal View: Update, reported the continued status of the driver’s claim.

Several other posts discussed cross-border medical travel into California, and into Mexico.

Here is the article in its entirety:

 

Tucson aims to become medical tourism mecca
by Ilene MacDonald | Apr 10, 2017 11:36pm
Tucson, Arizona, is on a mission to become a healthcare and wellness destination for international visitors, particularly Mexican families with enough disposable income to pay for medical care in the United States.

The Tucson Health Association—which includes Banner Health, the Carondelet Health Network, Northwest Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center—hopes to entice tourists to come to the city for elective, nonemergency services, such as total knee replacements, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

Although some Mexican insurers will pay for certain procedures in the U.S., Felipe Garcia, executive vice president of Visit Tucson, which is also a member of the association, expects most visitors will likely pay out-of-pocket for the procedures.

“If your patient needs a certain procedure we have in the U.S., we’ll take care of it in Tucson, do the surgery and then we’ll send the patient back to Mexico where the provider there can take the next step with recovery,” Garcia said.

Tucson hospitals are hoping their efforts will be as successful as Texas Medical Center in Houston, a group of nonprofit health providers that includes MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Texas Children’s Hospital. Those provider attract 15,000 medical tourists a year, according to the article.

Medical tourism has become a lucrative business, for both healthcare providers and the local community, as visitors usually have extended stays in hotels and leased apartments, according to the article. Josef Woodman, CEO of the North Carolina-based Patients Beyond Borders, told the publication that approximately 250,000 medical tourists come to the U.S. for treatment each year and spend as much as $40,000 per patient.

To attract Mexican patients, Visit Tucson intends to develop a website in Spanish and hire a concierge to help patients connect with medical care in Tucson and navigate the healthcare system. It plans to market heavily to those who live in the Northern Mexico area due to geographical proximity. Eventually the association plans to market medical services to Canadian citizens.

 

Here is the link: https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/healthcare/tucson-aims-to-become-medical-tourism-mecca-for-mexican-patients

Number 400

Richard’s Note: The following post was taken from an article posted by Michelle Chaffee a few days ago on LinkedIn. I am re-posting it here so that you can chew on it while you are having your holiday dinner. While you are eating and having a good time with family and friends, look around the table and imagine if one of them was in the same situation Michelle was in. How would you answer the question she poses? And think about this carefully, now that the GOP tax bill has passed and 13 million Americans will lose their healthcare, and millions of children will lose theirs. Then tell me that health care is an entitlement.

Is Healthcare a Right or an Entitlement?

Published on December 12, 2017

Michelle Chaffee

Some of you who have followed my posts over the past few years know that I am a cancer survivor. It’s been almost two years since I was very unexpectedly diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have shared some of what it’s been like to suddenly find myself in the position of being a patient after spending a career caring for people who are sick, believing I wouldn’t find myself on the other side of this equation. I still struggle with the reality that I have had cancer and that I will have to monitor for it rearing it’s ugly head, for the rest of my life. What I haven’t shared is how the costs of healthcare contributed to my situation, delayed diagnosis and increased my chance for a recurrence. I am sharing it now because as I continue on this journey, I am starting to think the current system is discriminatory and I know it needs to change.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I hadn’t been to my doctor for my yearly recommended examination for about 20 months. When I called to make my yearly appointment, I was told I had an outstanding bill I had been unaware of because I had moved and they didn’t have my new address. The bill was a result of “coinsurance” that was from a necessary and fairly routine procedure, still it was substantial enough that I had to set up payments over time because I couldn’t afford to pay it in full. I was told I could not see my doctor until there was a zero balance. I felt fine and had no concerns of any illness so I skipped my routine exam that year. Fast forward almost 2 years later when an unusually potent migraine resulted in a suggestion by my neurologist that I get my hormone levels checked. I contacted a new gynecology group because I couldn’t be seen by my regular ob/gyn because of the balance that still remained. On this routine exam, a very large mass was found on my ovary. So large that even though I was assured it was benign, it needed to be removed. During the surgery, the mass ruptured but the doctor told me not to worry because “It’s not cancer.” She told me the rupture was because it was so large that it made it difficult to remove. She called me about a week later to tell me it was in fact, cancer and the rupture, unfortunately complicated the staging and made recurrence more likely. The fact is, if I had gone to my regular appointment, it would have been discovered when it was much smaller and may not have ruptured. I am not blaming the doctor or the organization where I received care but, it wasn’t discovered because I owed the clinic money and they wouldn’t see me until the bill was paid. I don’t let myself think about that too much, but it’s the truth and it’s the way healthcare works in our current system.

The cost of just the surgery to remove the cancer was over $250,000. This included just one night in the hospital and no chemotherapy or radiation treatment. I had a good insurance plan but even with that, my responsibility was over $30,000. I can safely say most Americans would find it a challenge to add that expense to their yearly budget. The ongoing costs of testing for a possible recurrence are approximately $20,000 every year. That is on top of the nearly $10,000 I pay in premiums each year because I am self employed. I can’t afford this so I stretch out the time between scans and labs further than my doctor recommends.

In the back of my mind I know this could mean I don’t detect something as soon as I should again and that it can literally mean the difference between life or death.

I also know that if I owe a balance again at the hospital where I get my testing, they can refuse to treat me and I have been down that road before.

So as I write this, I find myself waiting again to find out if something discovered on a diagnostic test done almost 9 months after the doctor ordered it, is something that could take my life. Not only that, I brace myself for the cost of repeated imaging, biopsies and what may follow and I am angry, frustrated and of course, afraid. I know I am not alone and for many, it has been worse. I have worked in healthcare long enough to remember when people were denied insurance coverage because they had an illness like cancer or diabetes or a heart defect. I heard the desperation of new mothers who were grateful their precious newborn had received life saving heart surgery but had already reached their life time insurance maximum and had no idea how they would pay for the ongoing care their child needed to stay alive. The Affordable Care Act changed some of that, at least we aren’t denied coverage but it costs too much and patients can still be denied care if they owe a system money. So we constantly pray we don’t get sick again and try to find the right balance between what we can afford and what will keep us alive.

For those of you out there who say “Healthcare isn’t a right,” I tell you to save your breath unless you have faced a condition that could take your life or the life of someone you love.

To those of you who say patients should forego a smartphone or daily “fancy” coffee drink in order to pay for healthcare I say, what fantasy world do you live in where eliminating those things would make even a miniscule dent in the healthcare costs millions face?

You can also put aside the delusion that someone is sick because they did something wrong. I hate to break it to you but just because you exercise, eat healthy or have no family history of disease doesn’t mean you are magically immune to a life changing diagnosis. It can happen to anyone and I am walking proof of that reality. I ate right, exercised, never smoked, have no family history of cancer and like millions of others in this country I got sick anyway.
I find it especially ironic as I travel to other nations and collaborate with healthcare leaders to improve delivery of care to their citizens that I, a struggle to access the care I need in the United States of America. So I pose the following to ponder:

Should we get the same rights as prisoners?

Shouldn’t we at least get the same rights that criminals in this country get? The supreme court has held that those under government control must have “ Adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care as a component of the protections accorded by the Eighth Amendment and that “Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the ‘unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,’… proscribed by the Eighth amendment,” equating this pain with cruel and unusual punishment. Does “Cruel and unusual punishment” only apply to prisoners? It seems pretty cruel to make law abiding citizens suffer because they can’t afford medicine or treatment or to force them to choose between food or medical care.

Are we discriminated against if we are sick?

It used to be that healthcare provided through programs like Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP seemed sufficient to mitigate an accusation that there was discrimination based on a citizen’s ability to pay for adequate healthcare. Unfortunately, over time there has been an increasing group of Americans that don’t meet the criteria to receive these supplementary services but also can’t afford the cost of the healthcare available to them. I don’t consider myself poor but I can’t afford $30,000 a year or more for basic healthcare. Do I have the same rights to life and general welfare as anyone else? If treatment to save my life is available, should I be denied it because I don’t have the ability to pay? Did the founders of our country mean to make good health only available to the wealthy? It isn’t just what used to be considered the poor or elderly who can’t afford basic healthcare or medication anymore. Hard working people who have made contributions to their communities and are necessary to our countries security and growth can’t afford necessary care. This is a problem for all of us.

Where do we draw the line?

For those of you who continually argue that the government doesn’t pay for our car insurance or life insurance I will explain the difference. Driving a car isn’t necessary for survival, neither is providing an inheritance for your heirs. These things aren’t the same as access to professional healthcare services that prevent you from dying. Suggesting these things as examples of why healthcare isn’t a right, is a faulty argument and insulting to anyone who is sick. Our founding fathers and leaders were concerned for the health and welfare of our citizens. Franklin D. Roosevelt even tried to enact a “Second bill of rights” that included access to adequate medical care and the opportunity to enjoy good health. They couldn’t have imagined how costly healthcare would become as the model ushered in with the advent of health insurance, has progressed and costs have skyrocketed. I am not even insisting the government cover the cost. Even making it affordable, meaning something I can pay for that doesn’t consume my entire grocery budget for a year is a good place to start. At the very least, insuring people with truly life threatening disease have an opportunity to take advantage of the treatment we can provide seems reasonable to me and maybe it’s time to make it an undeniable right of every American.

Workers’ Comp Medical Benefits Represent More Than Half of Employer Costs

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) recently issued its 20th annual report on Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Coverage, and Costs. The study provides estimates of workers’ compensation payments—cash and medical—for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and federal programs providing workers’ compensation.

Much of the study, as reported today by Workers Comp Insider.com, deals with the decrease in benefits as a percentage of payroll, an issue outside the purview of this blog.

But I was intrigued by the graphic at the bottom, which stated that thirty-three states spent more than half their workers’ compensation benefits on medical costs for injured workers.

And the share of total costs of workers’ comp benefits that are medical costs rose from 1980 to 2015, from 29% to 50%.

WC Benefits

While the study does not provide any insight into what that 50% represents, it is conceivable to assume that a good part of it involves surgery to repair the injury the worker suffered.

So, if this study is right, then the only way to begin to bring down the medical costs in workers’ comp is to look at alternatives that as of yet have not been tried because of lack of will, or a belief that alternatives are not realistic, or because we still cling to the notion that our healthcare system is the best in the world. and no one else comes close.

As Puck said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”