Category Archives: United Kingdom

Mirror, Mirror

Don McCanne brings us this post from the London Review of Books that describes in detail how the British NHS is being denationalized and privatized, in a mirror image of the push some Democrats are making about enacting Medicare for All.

Here in full is the article by John Furse. It is a cautionary tale for all those who support Medicare for All, and for those who want to keep the status quo, for-profit system here in the US. Remember that the NHS was endorsed by no less than Winston Churchill, by no means a flaming Socialist, and has been popular with the British people for seventy years. Can we say the same thing about our system?

London Review of Books

November 7, 2019
The NHS Dismantled
By John Furse

The Americanisation of the NHS is not something waiting for us in a post-Brexit future. It is already in full swing. Since 2017 Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) have been taking over the purchasing as well as the provision of NHS services in England, deciding who gets which services, which are free and which – as with the dentist and prescriptions – we have to pay for. Known in the US as Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs), ICSs are partnerships between hospitals, clinicians and private sector providers designed – and incentivised – to limit and reduce public healthcare costs, and in particular to lessen the demand on hospitals. Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs), the forerunners of ACOs, were pioneered by the US health insurance provider Kaiser Permanente in 1953. President Nixon’s adviser John Ehrlichman explained to his boss the basic concept before the passage of the 1973 HMO Act: ‘The less care they give them the more money they make.’ In May 2016 Jeremy Hunt, then health minister, admitted at a Commons Health Committee hearing that Kaiser was a model for his planned NHS reforms. When a trial of ACOs was announced in the UK in 2017, it caused an outcry from campaigners and NHS England quickly rebranded them ICSs. But the Kaiser model isn’t new to healthcare policy in the UK: it has been the inspiration for the long and discreet process of the dismantling and reformation of the NHS since the 1980s.

In his report to the Conservative Party’s Economic Reconstruction Group in 1977, Nicholas Ridley wrote that “denationalisation should not be attempted by frontal attack but by preparation for return to the private sector by stealth. We should first pass legislation to destroy the public sector monopolies. We might also need to take power to sell assets. Secondly, we should fragment the industries as far as possible and set up the units as separate profit centres.”

After coming to power two years later, Thatcher was able openly to denationalise many industries, but the NHS, with its huge number of staff and institutions, its largely effective and equitable provision of healthcare and its great popularity, was a far more difficult proposition. In 1986 hospital cleaning services were privatised. In 1988 Oliver Letwin and John Redwood published Britain’s Biggest Enterprise: Ideas for Radical Reform of the NHS, which proposed turning the NHS into an independent trust and advocated joint ventures with the private sector and the introduction of fees.

The first major legislative step was the creation of the internal market. Kenneth Clarke’s 1990 NHS and Community Care Act split the NHS into ‘service purchasers’ and ‘service providers’: hospitals and GPs would compete for custom and the successful parties would be rewarded with greater funding. The influence of the HMO model and of the Kaiser consultant Alain Enthoven was acknowledged in Parliament by the then Tory MP Quentin Davies. ‘The fund-holding practice concept owes something to the system of HMOs in the United States … Elements of the Bill reflect some of the thinking of Professor Enthoven in his famous report and reflect his concept of an internal market.’ Enthoven was seen as an expert on ‘unsustainable growth’ in health expenditure and in 1985 his report ‘Reflections on the Management of the National Health Service’ had advised the Thatcher administration that ‘in competition doctors impose on themselves controls they would never dream of accepting if the government tried to impose them.’ ‘The system needed to be reconfigured,’ he later explained, ‘in such a way as to give incentives to motivate the self-interest.’

Letwin and Redwood’s ideas also had traction in Tony Blair’s 1997 National Health Service Act. Together, the 1990 and 1997 Acts turned NHS hospitals into trusts able to operate as commercial businesses. Many formed Private Finance Initiative partnerships to build and maintain hospitals – these deals, originally worth £11.4 billion, have lumbered the NHS with more than £80 billion of debt. Under New Labour a number of hospital trusts commissioned Kaiser and United Health, the largest US private health insurer, to run pilot programmes. ‘Consumer choice’ had been the mantra of the Thatcher era; under New Labour NHS patients became consumers and the goal ‘patient choice’.

These changes were minor compared to those introduced by the 2012 Health and Social Care Act (Letwin was by then a senior figure in Tory policy-making), which enabled hospital trusts to raise 49 per cent of their budgets from private patients and other sources, and to use NHS ‘brand loyalty’ to attract patients to their private services. In 2017 Swindon’s Great Western NHS Hospital advertised its private service saying: ‘Our patients benefit from a premium environment while having immediate access to specialist services often only available in large NHS hospitals.’

The Act gave more than 60 per cent of the NHS budget to local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), comprised of GPs and other clinicians, to be used to commission services from the private sector as well as from the NHS. Writing anonymously, one GP described the change as ‘how to get turkeys not only voting for Christmas but also plucking, basting and putting themselves in the oven’. Given their lack of business expertise, CCGs were provided with Commissioning Support Units run by private companies including KPMG, Price Waterhouse Cooper, McKinsey and Optum, the UK subsidiary of United Health. In practice, these companies now run the franchising of NHS services.

A key part of the 2012 Act, to which McKinsey was a significant contributor, was the abolition of the health minister’s responsibility for national healthcare provision. This was left to NHS England under its new director, Simon Stevens, a former health policy adviser to the Blair government appointed by David Cameron because ‘he knows more about NHS problems and market solutions than any man alive.’ In his previous role as a CEO of United Health, Stevens had led corporate opposition to the introduction of Obamacare. His ‘Five-Year Forward View’, launched in 2015, became the basis for NHS England’s Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), drawn up with Optum and McKinsey. The STPs were supposed to create savings of almost £5 billion a year by 2020. As in the Kaiser model, costs are cut by reducing access to care. (Meanwhile, the revolving door continued to turn: senior government and NHS England figures who took prominent positions at Optum include Cameron’s health adviser Nick Seddon, NHS England’s commissioner David Sharp and its mental health director Martin McShane.)

The STPs divided England into 44 CCG-run ‘footprint’ areas, all of which were put under pressure to amalgamate hospitals and shrink specialist units. Hospital beds have been progressively cut: the UK’s bed-to-patient ratio is now one of the lowest in any developed country. Accident and emergency departments, which not only require expensive equipment and high numbers of staff but also take the brunt of social care failings, are in the process of being cut from 144 to about fifty. GP care is increasingly provided by ‘physician associates’, nurse practitioners and pharmacists, while patients are exhorted to use privately owned, profit-making online and app consultancies such as Doctaly, GP at Hand and myGP. Opening up new markets for US tech giants is a key factor in the reconfiguration of the NHS.

Enforced centralisation has resulted in ‘hub’ hospitals and fewer, larger GP practices: at least a thousand have closed since 2014 and the number with more than twenty thousand patients has tripled. With funding incentives from NHS England, GPs are merging their practices into competing, largescale organisations with names like Primary Care Networks and Super-Practices, or becoming partners in commercially driven Multi-Speciality Community Provider centres. These reduced and restructured services are open to takeovers by private companies. NHS hospitals now lease space on their own premises to private companies. Guy’s Hospital, in the absence of the funding it needed to develop adequate cancer facilities, rented space to the Hospital Corporation of America for private cancer suites that were given access to the hospital’s facilities. The merging of public and private provision in the same space usefully blurs the distinction between them. And the rationing of non-urgent operations such as hip replacements and restrictions on follow-up therapies – as well as increased waiting times – encourage patients to seek private treatment.

A recent report by the Strategy Unit, an NHS consultancy, acknowledges that ICSs are designed to ‘moderate’ demand and reduce spending, while their partners keep the savings they make if they run below budget. It cautions that, as with ACOs, there is ‘only limited assurance that providers will not game the system and that quality will not suffer … large financial rewards may flow out of the NHS.’ At the 2012 World Economic Forum, Stevens (then working for United Health) led proposals to replace public healthcare systems around the world with accountable care systems. His collaborators included Medtronic, the world’s largest producer of medical devices (a US company based in Ireland for tax purposes), Qualcomm Life, which designs medical technology, and Kaiser. Since his arrival at NHS England, the influence of such companies has grown: IBM is now a lead supplier of IT; Optum runs GP referrals services and is in a partnership with the second largest GP federation, Modality. The UK’s largest GP network, the Practice Group, is owned by the American company Centene. Similar companies, such as the Priory Group, are major players in mental healthcare provision and are involved in mental health ICSs.

Private companies, with their increased overheads, higher rates of borrowing and shareholder dividends, are inherently more costly to the public than state-funded services. Less obvious are the high costs of management and administration involved in franchising and marketing services. In the US these are estimated to account for more than 30 per cent of the $3.6 trillion spent on healthcare. A 2010 report commissioned by the Department of Health estimated management and administration costs at 14 per cent of total NHS spending, more than twice the figure in 1990. Commercial confidentiality laws and opaque NHS accounting make the costs of privatisation hard to quantify but privatisation is probably adding at least £9 billion a year to the NHS budget.

Stevens was recently praised by politicians and the media when he called for the repeal of Section 75 of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which requires competitive market tendering for the provision of services – ostensibly a move away from privatisation. But the real reason lies in the small print. Section 75 subjects private contractors to the Competition and Markets Authority. Its repeal will deregulate the sector and make ICSs more attractive to companies. Andrew Taylor, the founding director of the Co-operation and Competition Panel for NHS Funded Services, told a Commons committee hearing in May: ‘I don’t think anyone’s realistically talking about removing the private sector from the NHS. What the proposals do in effect is deregulate NHS markets. They don’t actually remove markets from the NHS.’

The Ridley Report’s proposals for denationalisation are being hurried to fulfilment. NHS property and land assets worth £10 billion are being sold to private developers. The fragmentation of a once fully integrated service into competing and commercially-driven units is well advanced and has been accomplished without proper public scrutiny, knowledge, consent or appropriate Parliamentary legislation. Successive governments have been assisted by the failure of the media to recognise the overall shape of the project and sufficiently analyse the disparate changes. ICSs will be fully up and running throughout England within 18 months.

No Socialists Here

Dear Insurance company execs, pharmaceutical company execs, employee benefits consultants and executives, Wall Street investors, and all other stakeholders in the current dysfunctional, broken, complex, complicated, and bloated mess called the US health care system.

You have heard many politicians, and journalists, not to mention your own peers, or even you yourselves label the push for Medicare for All as “Socialism.”

We even have the Administrator of CMS, Seema Verma, calling it, and the public option plan,  “radical and dangerous for the country” recently when she spoke to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.

Her solution, and probably yours as well, is to keep selling Medicare Advantage plans, which only makes the current system worse.

So, to help you get over your fear and loathing of Socialism, and to prove to you that the only reason why the US is the only Western, industrial nation to not provide its citizens with universal health care is because you are making money off of other people’s health, or lack thereof.

You are doing so, because you are greedy. There I said it. Now I hope you will pay attention to the following graphic:

Do you see any socialist countries? Do you see any radical and dangerous regimes that are hostile to the interests of the US? Well, maybe Slovenia. After all, they did send us Melania and her illegal family.

But back to the case at hand. I defy any of you hotshots in the health care space to prove to me that all of these Capitalist, free-market countries are flaming Reds, or even a bit Pinko.

You can’t, because it is not true. You and those who call Medicare for All, Single Payer, or even the so-called “public option” radical, just don’t want the government to interfere with your looting the pockets of the American people for your financial gain.

And that is why we are the only country with an “X”, instead of a check mark below our name.

Florida lawmakers pass bill for Canadian drug importation – Sun Sentinel

From the Overnight News Desk:

Richard’s Note: My late mother worked for a local company that imported drugs for seniors from Canada, the UK, and Israel. The seniors would bring the prescription from the doctor to their office, the employees would fax the prescription and any other documents to the pharmacies in those countries, who would then ship the medications directly to the seniors, without the drugs ever going to the company’s office.

As the two articles cited below state, this would be a departure from Republican orthodoxy on prescription drugs, and could be a model for other states to pursue to bring down the cost of drugs, at least as far as senior citizens are concerned.

I post these articles to honor my mother for her work to help fellow seniors to get less expensive versions of their medications.

Here are the two articles:

Floridians could eventually gain access to cheaper Canadian prescription drugs under legislation the state House has sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Source: Florida lawmakers pass bill for Canadian drug importation – Sun Sentinel

Source: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defies GOP orthodoxy with drug importation plan

Universal Health Care Start Dates

The graphic below shows those countries that adopted universal health care and the dates they did so. It also shows the dates those countries ended universal health care. Notice a pattern? They never did. But we are the only country to not offer universal health care, and are resisting doing so because of a medical-industrial complex that is greedy, profit-driven, wedded to an outdated ideological philosophy of the role of government and social services, including health care, all so that Wall Street, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers, large hospital systems, and consultants and service providers to the industry can get their cut of the pie. And notice that none of them are Socialist.

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.

Hospital Mergers Improve Health? Evidence Shows the Opposite – The New York Times

Yesterday’s post, Hospital lobby ramps up ‘Medicare for all’ opposition | Healthcare Dive, suggested that moving towards an improved and expanded Medicare for All system would force hospitals to close, so the article below in today’s New York Times would seem to argue that the urge to merge does not improve health.

So on the one hand, if we adopt a democratic socialist approach to health care, hospitals may close; yet, if we allow them to follow capitalist economic laws regarding economies of scale, they don’t offer better care.

Perhaps, then it is better to try the democratic socialist approach, because the economies of scale approach has not worked, and let’s see if hospitals do close, or they see an increase in patients due to more people being covered.

Gauze: A Film by Suzanne Garber

Nearly a year ago, while channel surfing, I came across a short film being shown on my local South Florida Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station.

As I missed most of it, I was able to learn the name of the filmmaker from the credits, and saw that she had interviewed some of the leading names in the medical travel space.

One individual I saw listed in the credits was Keith Pollard, with whom I was connected with on LinkedIn, and had communicated over the years since I began blogging about medical travel. I reached out to Keith to ask him to put me in touch with the filmmaker, Suzanne Garber.

I later learned from Keith that before she gave Keith her permission to forward her email address to me, she wanted to know if I was legitimate. Keith vouched for me without hesitation, and I reached out to Suzanne.

Unfortunately, due to ownership of the rights to the film by PBS, it has taken nearly a year for me to get to see it. What follows is my review of her film, “Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare”.

The film is a personal account of Suzanne’s exploration into the difference between US healthcare, with its bureaucracy and lack of transparency regarding cost to patients; plus its affordability, accessibility, and quality — the three characteristics of healthcare, according to Suzanne.

Suzanne had gone through some personal medical issues, and the film begins with her discussing statements she received that were very expensive. At one point, she describes how she was forced to sign a form at a hospital in order to get service that said she was responsible for the full amount if her insurance company refused to pay.

She asked the woman at the desk who gave her the form if she knew what it would cost her, and the woman replied that she did not know, so Suzanne said that she was signing away her right to know how much it could cost her.

Then Suzanne asked some of her friends the following question: where is the best healthcare?

Having been an executive credentialing hospitals for a company she was working for, Suzanne had vast experience visiting hospitals, and had personal experience of being admitted to a hospital in Spain as a child. She decided to go and visit some of the hospitals that cater to medical travel patients.

From 2014- 2015, she visited 24 countries, 174 hospitals, and interviewed over five dozen international healthcare experts. She wanted to know the answer to the following questions: Where to go, and where not to go?

But it was when she had a medical diagnosis of cancer that she traveled thousands of miles, flying from Philadelphia to Chicago, to Tokyo, and then to Bangkok, where she went to Bumrungrad Hospital. By that time, her position had been eliminated, she was unemployed and uninsured, so she took the chance and went.

She traveled to Singapore to get a second opinion with an orthopedist. A doctor there wanted to perform a bone density scan, and even though she brought along all of her MRIs, CAT scans, etc., the doctor had her go downstairs, wait forty-five minutes, and then go back upstairs to see the doctor after the results were entered into the computer.

In all, it cost Suzanne $29 dollars, not the amount she was quoted back in the US. And all this took one day.

As part of her journey, she visited the UK, India, and visited several hospitals in France. And what she found was that there is no one way to improve our healthcare, but it is possible. We need to ask questions, we need to contact our elected representatives, and we need to take responsibility for our healthcare.

A personal note: This film when shown on PBS last year, had a long list of names Suzanne interviewed. In addition to Keith Pollard, one other person, Rajesh Rao of IndUSHealth, was someone I met in 2014 at the ProMed conference in Miami Beach. Some other names in that list were familiar to me, but as of this screening, does not appear. One more comment, I was able to view the film online, but am not able to provide readers with a copy of it in this post.

This is a very important and timely film that should be viewed by both the health care industry and those in the workers’ compensation industry who have panned the idea of medical travel. The mere fact that Suzanne paid only $29 for a bone density scan, when she was told it would be $7,300 in the US, is not only criminal, it is insane to keep insisting that medical travel for workers’ comp is a stupid and ridiculous idea, and a non-starter, as one so-called expert has written.

When are you people in work comp going to wake up? You and your insurance carriers are being ripped off by an expensive medical-industrial complex. But you just go on doing the same things over and over again, and expect different results, or you boast that frequency is going down, yet medical costs are still too high. The choice is yours, but don’t keep making the same mistake.

I want to thank Suzanne for her patience in bearing with my periodic emails regarding my viewing the film, and for being courageous enough to put her personal struggles with health and health care front and center, and comparing it to our so-called health care system. I hope that Gauze Unraveling Global Healthcare will be seen by all those interested in better health care for all Americans, workers or not.

 

ACO’s Across the Pond: What Some Believe the US and England Can Learn From Each Other

It is amazing how experts in the field of health care are so wedded to ideas that are, with greater scrutiny, the real cause of the dysfunction and failures of providing health care to the citizens of a nation.

Such is the case with an article I found from the Commonwealth Fund, a well-respected organization in health care research, yet doubles down on the root causes of the crisis faced by the health care system in the US.

Late last month, Briggs, Alderwick, Shortell, and Fisher published the article entitled, “What Can the U.S. and England Learn from Each Other’s Health Care Reforms?

The focus of the article was on the idea of Affordable Care Organizations (ACO’s), which in the US were established in 2010 under the ACA. According to the authors, both countries are currently working toward better integrating health services, improving population health, and managing health care costs. They also said that both countries are developing their own versions of ACO’s to achieve these aims.

However, the authors point out, by way of listing previous links to articles they wrote, that results so far have been mixed, patient experience (you mean like having a great time at Disney World, that sort of experience?) and some quality measures have improved.

Yet, financial savings, they report, have been modest and data on outcomes is limited.

On the other hand, across the pond, the English NHS recently created 44 Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) [Isn’t that what one puts in a motor car to make it run better?]

These STPs cover the entire country and are “place-based” partnerships of all NHS organizations and local government departments that purchase and provide health and long-term care services for a geographically defined population. They believe that organizations in STPs will work together to improve care and manage local budgets. Some payers are even considering American-style ACO contracting models.

Wait, if we are not having success with ACOs, what makes the Brits think they will do better? Interestingly enough, Himmelstein and Woolhandler, in “Health Care Under the Knife”, chapter 4, page 61, said the following when they were involved with drafting an new proposal for the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP):

“Recently, the emergence of huge integrated health systems incorporating multiple hospitals and thousands of physicians (so-called Accountable Care Organizations or ACOs), which dominate the care of entire regions, is causing us to again to talk about NHS models.”

So let me get this straight. We are not having much success with ACOs, yet, the Brits are moving in that direction. And the physician-led advocacy group in this country, the PNHP, that is pushing for single-payer, has been forced to consider models employed by the British NHS.

If that isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the move towards ACOs in this country is due to the ACA and to the resurgence of 19th century economic liberalism, also known as neoliberalism, and its impact over the past thirty years on the American health care system. But in the UK, the move away from Labour Party socialism to the Conservative Party’s neoliberalism, is the reason why Britain is exploring the ACO model.

Maybe one day, both Anglo-oriented nations will wake up and stop believing in the fairy tale that the free market works for health care. It does for cars and other consumer goods, but health care is not a consumer good. It is a necessity of life.

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.

 

The “Curse” of For-Profit Health Care

Recently, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a Medicare for All bill into the U.S. Senate, and many Democratic Senators signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Earlier yesterday morning, on his way to a photo-op in Naples, Florida to see the damage from Hurricane Irma (why didn’t he go to the Keys), the Orangeman tweeted that Senator Sanders’ bill would visit a curse on the U.S.

This from a man who said that he preferred the Canadian system, and told the Australian Prime Minister to his face, and the cameras, that they had a better health care system than the US.

What are we to make of someone who likes other countries health care systems as long as it is not our system? What do we do when the elected leaders of this country are dead set against providing the best health care system to their constituents, and in fact, are determined to take away what little health care they already have?

I find it rather odd, and callous that the Orangutan calls Sen. Sanders’ plan a curse, when millions of Americans are cursed everyday with not having any health care, or minimal care at best.

No, what is a curse are families going broke paying for medical care, individuals forgoing needed care because it costs too much, doctors and nurses burned out because they are overworked, underpaid (in some cases), and trying to work in a broken, bureaucratic, sclerotic, and byzantine system.

The American “health care” system is the curse. The cure, or rather the silver bullet for this vampiric monster, is single-payer. Maybe Sen. Sanders’ bill won’t pass this time, with this Congress and this President, but it or something like it should in the future.

Our curse as a nation is in our slavish devotion to making everything conform to the will and whim of the free market. We have seen that the free market is great for the production and selling of goods and services, but health care is not a consumer good. It is a right of every man, woman, and child.

The Canadians, the Australians, the British, and many other nations are not so slavishly devoted to the free market as we are when it comes to providing health care to all their citizens, and they cannot be called “Socialist” or “Communist” in any way, shape, or form.

Only because of the greed of a few insurance companies, Wall Street players and their investor clients, as well as very wealthy Libertarian brothers from the energy sector do we continue to be cursed with the worse system for providing health care.

Finally, the ultimate curse this nation has is the individual who said single-payer would be a curse. And like Dracula, only the light of day will stop him.