Filed under: Cost Control, Health Reform, Undocumented Aliens, Uninsured
Several commentators have already observed the absence of any discussion of undocumented aliens in the discussion about health care reform. And yet, the issue is huge, particularly for those ten or so states in which these individuals disproportionately live and work. The June 2009 issue of American Journal of Kidney Disease includes an article on a survey of nephrologists who report an increasing number of undocumented aliens with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). Unsurprisingly, access to care for these individuals is inadequate and shrinking, with about one third of physicians reporting undocumented patients to be wholly reliant on emergency dialysis, which carries with it higher cost and morbidity; 67%, however, reported availability of long-term dialysis care.
A significant minority of physicians reported advising their undocumented patients to move to another state or country to access care, even though accessing appropriate renal care is difficult due to scarcity in Mexico, the native country of the majority of undocumented aliens in the United States. On the other hand, undocumented aliens present much younger (40′s) with ESRD, which causes many nephrologists to argue that provision of kidney transplants would be a much less costly care approach, long-term. Federal law prohibits use of Medicaid funds for transplants for this population.
Many hospitals find themselves “stuck” with chronically ill patients who no longer require acute care, but require discharge to nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities because their debilitation is so severe. These include victims of car accidents and crimes, for example. These patients originally appear in hospital emergency rooms in acute distress, thereby requiring the hospital to treat and stabilize pursuant to their EMTALA obligations. Medicaid has in the past made some monies available to reimburse hospitals for this episode of care (although it was never enough, according to the hospitals, and while the most recent authorization law expired in 2008, funds remained for distribution into 2009). Further, hospitals are required by Medicare Conditions of Participation to prepare and implement an appropriate discharge plan. This becomes impossible to accomplish if there is no hope of reimbursement for the subsequent care facility.
Assuming there are Medicaid monies to be had for the emergency care of this population, courts have been split over the question of whether the Medicaid emergency services coverage provision covers the long-term and chronic aftermath of an acute situation. Specifically, the question is whether the reimbursement is limited to the treatment required to stabilize the patient with leukemia, ESRD, or brain injury, or whether it extends to the post-stabilization care required to prevent a future emergency condition. Greenery Rehabilitation Group v. New York City Human Resources Administration, 150 F.3d 226 (1998), concluded that if the patients’ post-emergency injuries were properly classified as chronic rather than acute, they do not qualify for Medicaid coverage. Scottsdale Healthcare Inc., v. Arizona Health Care Cost Containment Syst. Admin., 75 P.3d 91 (D.C. Ariz. 2003), rejected the Second Circuit’s focus on stabilization as too narrow, holding instead that the “focus must be on whether the patient’s current medical condition–whether it is the initial injury that led to admission, a condition directly resulting from that injury, or a wholly separate condition–is a non-chronic condition presently manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity that the absence of immediate medical treatment could result” in an emergency condition. Id. at 98. The issue has also been taken up in the last few years by the Connecticut and North Carolina Supreme Courts, in which both plaintiffs’ received emergency room diagnoses of leukemia and sought coverage of their subsequent chemotherapy treatments — these Courts also split on the issue.
These cases are merely a snapshot of a much larger issue. A health care reform bill that doesn’t address the health care of both legal and illegal aliens will be inadequate, and adversely and disproportionately affect the several states where large numbers of immigrants live, work, and school their children. The solution must address access to primary and emergency care as well as treatment for chronic conditions. Those states whose workers compensation systems are inadequate in their coverage of immigrants disabled in the course of their employment might also ameliorate the crisis presented by this population by reform in this area as well.
 Hurley & Kemp, et al., Care of Undocumented Individuals with ESRD: A National Survey of U.S. Nephrologists, 53 Am. J. Kidney Disease 940 (2009).
 Id. at 947.
 CMS Uniform Policy Manual § 3000.01
Filed under: Health Reform, Medical Malpractice, Obama Administration
“THE FIRST THING WE DO, LET’S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.”
–Wm. Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2
The familiar refrain of “medical malpractice reform” has once again begun to echo through the popular landscape. It is being proffered as a means of achieving health care reform. But recent studies seem to show, as Bloomberg reports, that we might be better served to look elsewhere:
Protecting doctors from lawsuits may do more to gain political cover for President Barack Obama‘s health-care overhaul than to rein in medical costs.
While Obama vowed to address physicians’ malpractice worries in a speech yesterday, annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, in a 2005 study. Insurer WellPoint Inc. said last month that liability wasn’t driving premiums….
“Medical malpractice dollars are a red herring,” Chandra said in a telephone interview. “No serious economist thinks that saving money in med mal is the way to improve productivity in the system. There’s so many other sources of inefficiency.”
The relative cost figures regarding the costs associated with malpractice are worth noting –as reported by Bloomberg:
About 10 percent of the cost of medical services is linked to malpractice lawsuits and more intensive diagnostic testing due to defensive medicine, according to a January 2006 report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for the insurers’ group America’s Health Insurance Plans.
2 Percent of Spending
The figures were taken from a March 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that estimated the direct cost of medical malpractice was 2 percent of the nation’s health-care spending and said defensive medical practices accounted for 5 percent to 9 percent of the overall expense.
A 2004 report by the Congressional Budget Office also pegged medical malpractice costs at 2 percent of U.S. health spending and “even significant reductions” would do little to reduce the growth of health-care expenses.
As is, I believe, readily apparent, defensive medicine comprises a great deal of that estimated expense associated with malpractice. It may benefit us to consider for a moment just what defensive medicine is. Seemingly, one would define “defensive medicine” as that which a doctor does, which he or she would not do, if solely exercising his or her discretion without the fear of being sued. Therefore, might I suggest that “defensive medicine” is only excessive if the doctor’s best estimation of the situation is correct.
Bloomberg reports that “The U.S. Institute of Medicine found a decade ago that medical errors kill 98,000 Americans a year” according to Les Weisbrod, president of the Washington-based trial lawyers’ group, the American Association of Justice.
According to Medical News Today, the medical error fatality figures above were supported by “Dr. Chunliu Zhan and Dr. Marlene R. Miller in a research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in October of 2003. The Zhan and Miller study supported the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 1999 report conclusion, which found that medical errors caused up to 98,000 deaths annually and should be considered a national epidemic.
A study by HealthGrades found more than twice that number in “potentially preventable deaths.”
In a post entitled Surgical Checklist Said to Save Lives & Money, we noted the following:
The use of a basic checklist was shown to be associated with a substantial decrease in surgical deaths and complications. In what the A.P. referred to as a “a large international study of how to avoid blatant operating room mistakes,” researchers found a 47 per cent decrease in death and a more than one third decrease in complications-from 11% to 7%- concomitant with the use of a 19 point checklist designed by the World Health Organization.
A.P reports that regarding the elements on the list (many of which concern matters such as verifying the patient’s identification, marking the area to be incised with a magic marker, discussing patient allergies and surgical team member responsibilities, and accounting for all needles, sponges and instruments after the surgery) U.S. hospitals have been required since 2004 to take some of these precautions. But the 19-item checklist used in the study was far more detailed than what is required or what many institutions do.
The researchers estimated that implementing the longer checklist in all U.S. operating rooms would save at least $15 billion a year. The study, which was conducted in both “wealthy” and “poor” nations in eight city hospitals across the world (including Seattle, Washington), was published in the New England Journal of Medicine; its results were said to have “startled the researchers.”
Finally, it should be noted that as someone with a J.D. after his name who has read more malpractice cases than I care to remember, I don’t claim to be unfettered by professional bias. And to make the case for fact-based reflection upon a subject is not to dismiss the underlying concerns of the subject as unwarranted– it is merely a call for appropriate perspective: given the number of yearly fatalities due to error (not to mention injuries due to the same), I am not prepared to categorize what doctors refer to as “defensive medicine” as a wholly unfounded expense.
As for the Shakespeare quote, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” I’ll leave that in the more than capable hands of Attorney Howard L. Nations:
Those who use this phrase pejoratively against lawyers are as miserably misguided about their Shakespeare as they are about the judicial system which they disdain so freely.
Even a cursory reading of the context in which the lawyer killing statement is made in King Henry VI, Part II, (Act IV), Scene 2, reveals that Shakespeare was paying great and deserved homage to our venerable profession as the front line defenders of democracy.
The accolade is spoken by Dick the Butcher, a follower of anarchist Jack Cade, whom Shakespeare depicts as “the head of an army of rabble and a demagogue pandering to the ignorant,” who sought to overthrow the government. Shakespeare’s acknowledgment that the first thing any potential tyrant must do to eliminate freedom is to “kill all the lawyers” is, indeed, a classic and well-deserved compliment to our distinguished profession.
[Ed. note: We are very pleased to welcome Valerie Gutmann, J.D. to the blog today. Valerie joined Seton Hall Law School in 2009 as a Faculty Researcher in the Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy. She came to Seton Hall from Kirkland & Ellis LLP after having graduated from Harvard Law School, where she served as an author and Editor-in-Chief of the Recent Developments Section of the Journal on Law, Medicine, and Ethics. Prior to law school, Valerie worked at the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the ABA Coordinating Group on Bioethics & the Law. In 2001 she graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and Public Policy at Princeton University, magna cum laude, where she was co-president of the Princeton Bioethics Forum.]
In a glaring example of the consequences of less-than full disclosure in research and publication, recent reports have shed light on Dr. Timothy R. Kuklo’s study of Infuse. Dr. Kuklo’s article on the bone-growth protein manufactured by Medtronic Inc. was published by the British Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery in August 2008, and was retracted in March 2009, after an army investigation found that Dr. Kuklo’s study had misleadingly promoted Infuse as “strikingly” better and more efficacious than conventional bone grafts in repairing severely shattered shin bones of Americans injured in Iraq. Kuklo has been accused of using “falsified information” that did not match with patient records and forging signatures of four doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who he falsely claimed to be co-authors. Dr. Kuklo also neglected to disclose his relationship with the company.
Dr. Kuklo, a former army surgeon at Walter Reed, is currently on leave from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he was associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, specializing in cervical spine, spinal deformity, spinal tumors, and spine trauma. From August 2006 through May 2009, Dr. Kuklo was a consultant to Medtronic, who recently announced that Dr. Kuklo’s consultancy contract was being suspended (some accounts controvert the alleged timeline, and Medtronic claims that it had no involvement in the study and did not depend on the study for government regulatory approval). While working for the army, Dr. Kuklo was also paid by Medtronic to speak on the company’s behalf at meetings and to train other doctors, and was a recipient of thousands of dollars worth of trips. Military officials have stated that there are no records that Dr. Kuklo had sought or received permission to accept money to consult for medical product companies.
Last year, Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) called for an investigation into Dr. Kuklo’s study. Senator Grassley requested information from Walter Reed, Washington University, Medtronic, and two medical journals. He has also publically released a list provided by Medtronic of consultants for the Infuse product, on which Dr. Kuklo had suspiciously not been included. Spokespeople for Medtronic noted that Dr. Kuklo was not on the list because he was a general consultant to the company, rather than specific to Infuse, although he has spoken on behalf of Infuse in the past.
The Kuklo case is further evidence of the implications of incomplete disclosure, which may lead physicians to make medical decisions without all the information that should be available to them. As we have noted in the past, the Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law & Policy has vigorously called for such reform in its 2009 whitepaper:
All those engaged in medical research and publication, including medical professionals and institutions, medical journals, and industry, should undertake reforms to ensure the integrity of the medical literature. Transparency in the relationship of industry and physicians would be a critical tool in this effort.
The Los Angeles Times and the Wall St. Journal Health Blog report that a new study by Harvard researchers shows that medical-related bankruptcies have increased. The researchers did a similar study for 2001 which found that medical bills, the loss of wages and cost of care attributed to illness contributed to 55% of bankruptcies. For 2007, the number is 62%.
Importantly, this rise in 2007 comes, as the study authors note, despite Congress having “tightened the bankruptcy laws” in 2005. In addition, the LA Times notes that “the latest study probably understates the current burden of medical expenses because it is based on bankruptcies filed before the recession hit.”
The WSJ Health Blog reports it thus:
Some 62% of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were due in part to medical expenses, according to a new study. Even more striking: 78% of those individuals had insurance.
Most people hit by such bankruptcies were considered middle-class, college-educated and owned homes, according to the study published online by the American Journal of Medicine. By the time they filed bankruptcy, those without insurance reported average medical bills of $26,971 and those with insurance, expenses of $17,749.
The LA Times reports that
Hospital bills were the largest expense for about half the families that filed health-related bankruptcies.
It would be interesting to know what percentage of those hospital bills were claimed by nonprofit hospitals to be a “community benefit” under 501(c)(3).
Filed under: Community Health Centers, Primary Physician Shortage
Retail health clinics have sprouted up across America as of late. They can be found in grocery stores and pharmacies, are open nights and weekends, often (wisely) utilize the services of nurse practitioners for minor ailments and feature a clearly listed schedule of fees.
Today I’ll clarify. The view espoused is largely based upon simple resource allocation theory: that one utilizes resources effectively by matching the need with the skill; that to underutilize is to engage in waste, and, given demand and a shortage of doctors, when a physician is attending to minor ailments, and charging physician rates to do so, society has experienced a net loss.
The trick of course is in a) making sure that there is a sufficient supply of well trained nurses (you may wish to take a look at this interesting RWJF blog from Susan Hasmiller, “projected shortage of 500,000 nurses by 2020,” despite the present difficulty of some nurses to find work ); and b) assuring that the need of the client is matched with the appropriate level of skill: that the service provider is capable.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “NPs are registered nurses (RNs) who are prepared, through advanced education and clinical training, to provide preventive and acute health-care services to individuals of all ages. Today, most NPs complete graduate-level education that leads to a master’s degree. They work independently and collaboratively on the health-care team.”
As to the capability of nurse practitioners, this quote (n. 14) from William M. Sage, Out of the Box: The Future of Retail Medical Clinics, Harvard Law And Policy Review Online (2009), is worth noting:
Debate over the relative merits of primary care from nurse practitioners and from physicians is purely rhetorical. A review of 11 trials and 23 observational studies in primary care settings concluded that “[q]uality of care was in some ways better for nurse practitioner consultations.” Sue Horrocks et al., Systematic Review of Whether Nurse Practitioners Working in Primary Care Can Provide Equivalent Care to Doctors, 324 BRIT. MED. J. 819, 819 (2002). See also Linda H. Aiken, Achieving an Interdisciplinary Workforce in Health Care, 348 NEW ENG. J. MED. 164 (2003) (editorial describing the quality of non-physician professionals); Mary O. Mundiger et al., Primary Care Outcomes in Patients Treated by Nurse Practitioners or Physicians: A Randomized Trial, 283 JAMA 59 (2000) (demonstrating equivalent outcomes).
Location. Location. Location. 13% of Much Heralded Retail Health Clinics are in Medically Underserved Neighborhoods
Filed under: Community Health Centers, Health Care Clinics
Retail health clinics have sprouted up across America as of late. They can be found in grocery stores and pharmacies, are open nights and weekends, often (wisely) utilize the services of nurse practitioners for minor ailments and feature a clearly listed schedule of fees. According to the Washington Times, “visits typically cost $40 to $75,” and “people pay cash or use insurance.”
CVS Caremark Corp. and Walgreens Co. are the leading purveyors of retail clinics. At present, there are said to be more than 1200 of these clinics spread out across the nation; at issue here is how they are spread.
A new study authored by Dr. Craig Pollack of the University of Pennsylvania which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that a little more than 13% (123) of the 930 retail clinics operating last year were found to be “in areas defined by the federal government as medically underserved.”
The Washington Times states:
The researchers mapped 930 retail clinics operating last year, then used U.S. census data to describe the income and racial makeup of the neighborhoods. In counties with at least one retail clinic, the researchers compared census tracts with and without retail clinics.
Only 123 clinics were in areas defined by the federal government as medically underserved. Tracts with clinics had lower percentages of black and Hispanic residents, lower rates of poverty, higher rates of homeownership and higher median incomes.
The Washington Times reported that Dr. Pollack said that “The study’s results suggest financial incentives may be needed to lure the clinics to low-income neighborhoods.”
There are, I think, a few points to be derived form this article. First things first: the Washington Times article headline to the Associated Press story, “Few retail clinics found serving poor,” is an inference not necessarily substantiated by the underlying research. The research goes to the location of the clinics, not the economic status of the clientele. Importantly, other news outlets which ran the story, such as the Seattle Times, the Times Leader, and the A.P itself, were careful to run the story under the title of “Study: Few retail clinics in poor neighborhoods.” It may well be that poor people do not frequent the retail clinics outside the neighborhoods in which they live, but the study does not purport to answer that question. It merely tells us where the centers are. The article states:
The poor and uninsured do make their way to retail clinics, said Margaret Laws, director of the California Healthcare Foundation’s Innovations for the Underserved program.
“People go out of their neighborhoods to work and shop,” she said. “I don’t think we should make the assumption that they won’t go out of neighborhoods to seek health care if it offers customer service, better hours and transparent prices.”
Ms. Laws makes a point worth noting, and although the Washington Times included this point in the article, it is unfortunate from a journalistic standpoint that the article’s title failed to reflect it.
In addition, it should be noted that another impetus for travel outside of one’s neighborhood is free health care. Which is exactly what Walgreens has offered to many this year. As we posted last month
Walgreens is offering free health care at its in-store Take Care clinics to patients (and their uninsured children and spouses) who have lost their jobs. This program, called the Take Care Clinic Take Care Recovery Plan, is designed to assist current and future patients who lose their jobs and health coverage on or after March 31, 2009.
Limited as the program self-admittedly is, it is free. It is also worth mentioning that as a for profit enterprise, Walgreens is under no obligation besides their sense of good will to offer it. But as a for profit enterprise, they (and other retail clinics) can hardly be faulted for placing the majority of their clinics in areas they deem will be profitable. At the risk of beating a dead horse (primarily because I am met constantly by those who insist the horse is not dead and that we will soon be riding it to health reform and universal coverage ) a reliance upon for profit corporate America to undertake the unprofitable without government regulation and/or sponsorship is a misguided one. The primary duty of a corporation is to its shareholders; the primary duty of the government is to its people.
“Many people have promoted retail clinics as a cure for access to care for the underserved,” said Dr. Ateev Mehrotra of the University of Pittsburgh, who studies retail clinics but wasn’t involved in the new research. “These findings show that’s unlikely to happen.”
Dr. Pollock and his co-author, Dr. Katrina Armstrong, suggest that to further expand the reach of retail clinics “municipalities should consider offering incentives to store operators to open clinics in underserved areas where they already operate retail outlets. Currently, nearly a third of all chain stores are located in medically underserved areas.”
“There may be a real opportunity to put up clinics in underserved areas where there’s already supermarkets and drug stores” Armstrong says.
Atul Gawande writes about “path-dependence” in his wonderfully thought out article on the evolution of health care systems. If you haven’t yet read it (it’s in the sidebar under “Best of Magazines” and here) I highly recommend you take the time to do so. As it stands, however, I will use his description not in the context within which it was written, but as a means to think about the implications of the rise of iPhone and Blackberry usage for medical applications. He writes:
Every industrialized nation in the world except the United States has a national system that guarantees affordable health care for all its citizens. Nearly all have been popular and successful. But each has taken a drastically different form, and the reason has rarely been ideology. Rather, each country has built on its own history, however imperfect, unusual, and untidy.
Social scientists have a name for this pattern of evolution based on past experience. They call it “path-dependence.” In the battles between Betamax and VHS video recorders, Mac and P.C. computers, the QWERTY typewriter keyboard and alternative designs, they found that small, early events played a far more critical role in the market outcome than did the question of which design was better. Paul Krugman received a Nobel Prize in Economics in part for showing that trade patterns and the geographic location of industrial production are also path-dependent. The first firms to get established in a given industry, he pointed out, attract suppliers, skilled labor, specialized financing, and physical infrastructure. This entrenches local advantages that lead other firms producing similar goods to set up business in the same area-even if prices, taxes, and competition are stiffer. “The long shadow cast by history over location is apparent at all scales, from the smallest to the largest-from the cluster of costume jewelry firms in Providence to the concentration of 60 million people in the Northeast Corridor,” Krugman wrote in 1991.
With path-dependent processes, the outcome is unpredictable at the start. Small, often random events early in the process are “remembered,” continuing to have influence later. And, as you go along, the range of future possibilities gets narrower. It becomes more and more unlikely that you can simply shift from one path to another, even if you are locked in on a path that has a lower payoff than an alternate one.
The political scientist Paul Pierson observed that this sounds a lot like politics, and not just economics. When a social policy entails major setup costs and large numbers of people who must devote time and resources to developing expertise, early choices become difficult to reverse. And if the choices involve what economists call “increasing returns”-where the benefits of a policy increase as more people organize their activities around it-those early decisions become self-reinforcing. America’s transportation system developed this way. The century-old decision to base it on gasoline-powered automobiles led to a gigantic manufacturing capacity, along with roads, repair facilities, and fuelling stations that now make it exceedingly difficult to do things differently.
Increasingly, the primary location for e-Med technology seems to be the pockets of doctors: in iPhones and Windows based Blackberries.
A Washington Post article, “New Tool in the MD’s Bag: A Smartphone,” states that “Nationally, about 64 percent of doctors are now using smartphones, according to a recent report by the market research company Manhattan Research.” Georgetown’s medical school has recently begun requiring them, and Ohio State’s is handing out the iPod Touch (sans phone) to its students. Mike McCarty, the chief network officer at John Hopkins Health Systems, “believes that smartphones will soon assume a permanent place in medicine.”
As such, designers have engineered applications to suit the needs of those doctors. And as a matter of path-dependence, presumably they will continue to do so. WaPo states that “the iTunes app store lists 674 applications related to medicine available.” There are iPhone and Blackberry apps to “pull up instructional diagrams and videos for patients, write electronic prescriptions and check basic information,” “look up drug-to-drug interactions, to view X-rays and MRI scans,” and even determine pill names derived from physical descriptions.
As we posted a while back,
In the words of Dr. Farzad Mostashari, an assistant commissioner in New York City’s health department and head of the much heralded Primary Care Information Project (which is functioning as a sort of I.T. Department for many of the City’s doctors using EMR), “There’s no way small practices can effectively implement electronic health records on their own. This is not the iPhone.”
Later, we noted that in their NEJM article, No Small Change for the Health Information Economy, Kenneth D. Mandl, M.D., M.P.H., and Isaac S. Kohane, M.D., Ph.D. suggest that it should be. That
As do Professors Sharona Hoffman and Andy Podgurski, the authors of “No Small Change…” stress the need for flexibility, interoperability, liquidity of information, and the ability to substitute technologies as the need arises. To do this they propose governmental encouragement of the use of a platform with interoperable applications (blog builders, think: “plug ins” and “widgets”)
similar to the iPhone.
We also noted in that post, “Electronic Medical Records: It’s Not too Late to Build the Tower on an Interoperable Platform,” that
Perhaps the good news here is that the relative scarcity of EMR implementation thus far means that we can yet still devise an interoperable system without rendering substantial but incompatible investments obsolete. Which is to say that we are not yet too far down nine different non-intersecting roads and that “a communicative Tower” can still be built, and sustained, on a Platform.
Now, it seems the path is beginning to emerge–and that interoperable system may actually be the iPhone and Blackberry platforms–which, it seems, are already sitting in doctors’ pockets.
Filed under: Health Policy Community, Health Reform, Medical Journals
As we posted back in January, “California Foundations Advocate for Health Care Reform,” the L.A. Times had reported that Paul Brest, “president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park and author of a book on philanthropic strategies” stated that: “What I’ve seen is foundations moving from thinking all we needed to do is support good research in the field and the rest will happen to realizing that unless we are going to support organizations to take the research and try to turn it into policy, then the research is going to sit in the bottom of a pile somewhere.” With a noted caveat (“Advocacy is risky for foundations, since most are categorized by the IRS as 501(c) nonprofits, which restricts them from direct lobbying or participation in partisan politics.”), one welcomes the foundations and their massive intellectual and financial capital further into the fray. They hold the talent and ability of some of the best and brightest among us.
Having said that, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has advanced the battle line one smart step forward. Whereas the lobbying spoken of above goes to delivery of the “message,” RWJF has undertaken to put the message in a more deliverable form.
There’s an interesting post on the subject over at the RWJF Health Reform Blog, The Users’ Guide to the Health Reform Galaxy. The post was written by Brian Quinn, Ph.D, a program officer in the RWJF Research and Evaluation Unit, and goes to the question of form regarding applied research, or “How to package the evidence for health reform.”
Mr. Quinn smartly points out that considering the abundance and complexity of journal articles and reports intent on health reform that each day brings, without some form of translation and synthesis geared to those who will actually make decisions about health reform, the “applied” portion of “applied research” may turn out to be nothing more than just an intent.
As a means of cultivating application, and assuring that worthwhile research doesn’t languish “at the bottom of the pile,” RWJF has initiated the Synthesis Project, “to produce user-friendly briefs and reports that synthesize research findings on perennial health policy questions.” The Project is timely and their work is well worth a look.
At the end of a post the other day, I noted some personal experience relating to the sensibility of providing cancer patients with “Navigators” to help them best understand and utilize the health care resources at hand. I finished the post by stating: “It is simply not reasonable to think that patients will do (or do well) that which they do not understand.” Substitute “policy makers” for “patients” and the statement still holds true.
Filed under: Medicare, Obama Administration, Private Insurance
Modern Healthcare reports that Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, has discussed the possibility of creating a national health insurance purchasing exchange directed towards Americans aged 50 to 64 years of age. This particular age group is said to struggle with the procurement of affordable health insurance; they are not yet eligible for Medicare but are often subject to increased medical expenditures which accompany aging. Private insurers can be reluctant to take on such risks, or may assign far greater premiums to people in this group in an attempt to make up for those greater risks.
Modern Healthcare states:
The meeting underscored the struggles of Americans ages 50-64 to get health insurance. “Half the calls we’ve received today” were from people of this age group who faced barriers to coverage either because they had a pre-existing condition, or couldn’t get coverage through their employer, David Certner, legislative counsel with AARP, informed reporters.
DeParle stated in a teleconference that the “Obama administration was working with Congress on a new plan to set up an insurance exchange, which would offer a range of private insurance options as well as a new public plan that would allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health coverage.” Deparle further commented that “the goal was to build upon the existing healthcare system.” Those satisfied with their current coverage “shouldn’t be affected at all, except you’ll see your costs get lower over time.”
Annals of Internal Medicine has also weighed in on the prospect of a health insurance marketing exchange and reports that such an exchange could be part of a greater restructuring of the health insurance marketplace.
The Annals states:
An effective insurance exchange (a new agency that would offer Americans a choice of health insurance plans while also regulating insurers) can lower the high administrative costs that are typical in the current individual and small group insurance markets (31). In addition, the Obama platform proposed more direct limits on insurance overhead.
The Annals article reports how programs similar to an insurance marketing exchange have worked internationally, and how the move to such would bring the U.S. closer to “the international standard.” The Annals states:
President Obama’s proposal for an insurance exchange also mirrors international experience with systems in which multiple organizations pay for medical care (often referred to as multipayer systems). Requiring common benefits; similar payment standards; and other simplifying rules, such as prohibiting medical underwriting, can reduce administrative expenses well below those of the United States, as demonstrated by Germany’s sickness funds (34). The Obama campaign’s planned prohibition of medical underwriting and its adoption of new insurance regulations would move U.S. insurance arrangements closer to the international standard (34).
Considering our recent post, “Surprise, Surprise: Older Americans are Sicker than their European Counterparts,” this might be something to look forward to.
Filed under: Community Health Centers, Medicaid, Medical Journals, Medicare, Private Insurance
On the heels of President Obama’s announcement designating $155 million to establish 126 new community health centers across the country, a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health found that these centers do not provide the same quality of care to all their patients. These centers, also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers or safety net providers, are intended to “enhance the provision of primary care services in underserved urban and rural communities.” Unfortunately, studies appear to indicate that even within the confines of the same community health centers, quality of care received by patients varies depending on insurance status — those with private insurance receiving the best quality of care and those without insurance at the opposite end of the spectrum.
In their article, Insurance Status and Quality of Diabetes Care in Community Health Centers, Zhang et al. found that uninsured patients were the least likely to satisfy specified diabetes quality of care measures and Medicaid patients’ quality of care closely resembled that of the uninsured. It might be tempting to explain away this phenomenon by pointing out that this study is limited only to diabetes care and may not be representative of quality of care overall. This assertion, however, may be at least somewhat quelled by a study published last year in Inquiry, where Bradley et al. found a similar pattern in breast cancer patients treated in a safety net setting. In that study, Differences in Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment: Experiences of Insured and Uninsured Women in a Safety-Net Setting, researchers found that within the same safety net setting, “insured women with breast cancer were diagnosed with smaller tumors and at earlier disease stages, and received surgery and initiated chemotherapy considerably faster than otherwise similar uninsured women.”
So, how could quality of care disparities exist in a safety-net setting whose very goal is to “enhance” care to the underserved? Read more
Hospital readmissions cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year, yet many can be prevented with better follow-up care, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
According to the study,
As many as a fifth all Medicare patients are readmitted within a month of being discharged . . . and a third are rehospitalized within 90 days.
We recently reported that a pilot program in Baton Rouge and 13 other cities seeks to reduce the number of chronically ill elderly that are readmitted to the hospital. That program, called the Care Transitions Project, provides patients with a “transition coach” who helps them recognize symptoms and create a plan for follow-up care.
The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has already identified hospital readmissions as a potential source of cost-cutting. Hospitals with high numbers of patients who are readmitted would receive lowered payments under the president’s budget, which calls for $26 billion in savings from reducing readmissions over 10 years.
Policy analysts say that insurers, including Medicare, must begin to reward doctors and hospitals that help patients get better and stay healthy. While some hospitals have already shown that they can reduce readmissions by taking simple steps, about one in four of the nation’s hospitals derive 25% of their admissions from returning patients.
Filed under: Elderly, preventive care, Quality Improvement
Health care spending in the United States has increased substantially over the past decades — making the United States the world’s biggest health care spending nation. Despite spending the most on health care — 2 to 3 times more than European countries per capita — older Americans across the wealth spectrum fare worse than their European counterparts.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Health Disadvantage in US Adults Aged 50 to 74 Years: A Comparison of the Health of Rich and Poor Americans With That of Europeans, Avendano et al. attempt to explain this phenomenon. Avendano et al. note,
In this international study, we found that US adults of all wealth levels reported worse health than did Europeans at comparable wealth levels. Poor Americans were at particularly worse health compared with their English or other European counterparts, but even well-off Americans reported health comparable to substantially poorer Europeans. Differences in behavioral risk factors accounted for only a fraction of these disparities.
As behavioral factors were insufficient to account for this disparity, Avendano et al. distinguish between national health care systems.
Features of the US health care system may contribute to the worse health of Americans compared with Europeans. In particular, most European countries have a stronger primary care orientation than does the United States. Previous evidence suggests that a strong primary care system is associated with better health outcomes, partly because it entails a stronger focus on primary prevention, a more equitable distribution of resources, and a higher efficacy of the health system.
Investing less at the primary care stage where prevention is key, necessarily means that there is a greater focus on disease maintenance or amelioration after its onset. Which is to say that Americans, for the most part, are not afforded significant medical attention until they are sick.
In addition to having a stronger focus on primary care than the United States, European countries have greater protections for their poor. European countries offer virtually universal health care coverage, so even the poor have relatively unfettered access to necessary care. The United States on the other hand, has an uninsured population totaling 41 million (or over 45 million by some estimates).
The fact that health disparities in England still persists despite access to care,
suggests that mechanisms outside the health care system may also be involved. Wealth enhances access to material resources such as housing, and is a source of immediate consumption in periods of economic strain. Wealth may also increase sense of control over life and other psychosocial resources that can enhance health.
This study gives further credence to the notion that America has at least something to learn from the European health care system. Universal health care is one component, but focusing more keenly on primary care and easing the social burdens of the poor are another. Racial health disparities is also an issue that has to be addressed in the United States, but this study restricted its study population to non-Hispanic Whites in order to determine what factors beyond those attributable to race are at issue in the United States’ lag behind its European peers. Given the fact that racial health disparities are prevalent in the United States, it would not strain reason to conclude that the gap between Americans and Europeans would be exacerbated if racial minorities were included. The correlation between economic status, residential segregation and well being may help explain why this is the case.
The United States health care system clearly demonstrates that dollars spent is no indication of the quality or efficacy of health care actually received. Moving into a more cost-effective health care paradigm that provides access to comprehensive care at a stage where it can impact long-term health is essential. The Avendano study offers proof of this.
Filed under: Medicaid, Medicare, Private Insurance
The Wall Street Journal reports that CMS estimates overall U.S. health care spending will reach $4.35 trillion in 2018, accounting for one-fifth of GDP. The findings by CMS were published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs. In 2009, U.S. health care spending is expected to reach $2.5 trillion, a 5.5% increase from 2008.
The CMS study expects government health care spending to increase by 7.4% to $1.19 trillion this year. However, the study forecasts that, by 2016, the government will pay for more than 50% of total health care spending. The increase in government health care spending is expected to come from baby boomers enrolling in Medicare and increased enrollment in Medicaid.
According to The Times, Dartmouth researchers found that:
The regional differences in the growth of Medicare spending suggest doctors are helping to drive up costs when they more frequently order tests or admit patients to the hospitals. In areas where there are plenty of hospital beds and sophisticated imaging equipment available, doctors generally spend more on their patients.
Dr. Elliott S. Fisher, the director of the Center of Health Policy Research at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and one of the work’s authors, told The Times that:
[A]ny attempt to rein in health care costs . . . needs to address how doctors and hospitals are paid, where they are rewarded on the basis of the volume of services they perform. Read more
The use of a basic checklist was shown to be associated with a substantial decrease in surgical deaths and complications. In what the A.P. referred to as a “a large international study of how to avoid blatant operating room mistakes,” researchers found a 47 per cent decrease in death and a more than one third decrease in complications-from 11% to 7%– concomitant with the use of a 19 point checklist designed by the World Health Organization.
A.P reports that regarding the elements on the list (many of which concern matters such as verifying the patient’s identification, marking the area to be incised with a magic marker, discussing patient allergies and surgical team member responsibilities, and accounting for all needles, sponges and instruments after the surgery)
U.S. hospitals have been required since 2004 to take some of these precautions. But the 19-item checklist used in the study was far more detailed than what is required or what many institutions do.
The researchers estimated that implementing the longer checklist in all U.S. operating rooms would save at least $15 billion a year.
The study, which was conducted in both “wealthy” and “poor” nations in eight city hospitals across the world (including Seattle, Washington), was published in the New England Journal of Medicine; its results were said to have “startled the researchers.”
Filed under: Education Costs, Physician Compensation, Primary Physician, Primary Physician Shortage
An article in the NY Times reports that The New England Journal of Medicine has said that “Almost one-quarter of U.S. medical students now graduate from medical school with $200,000 or more in debt, an expense that limits entry to the profession.”
A graph which tracks various educational costs and doctor compensation in relation to the CPI over the last 10 years accompanies the article.
Of particular note, Over the last 10 years:
The CPI has risen slightly more than 30%
The cost of:
Public 4-year undergraduate tuition has risen over 100%
Private 4-year undergraduate tuition has risen over 70%
Public “in state” med school tuition has risen over 100%
Public “out of state” med school tuition has risen 70%
Private “in state” med school tuition has risen 50%
Private “out of state” med school tuition has risen roughly 45%
The median compensation for:
All medical specialists has risen roughly 42.5%
Primary care physicians has risen roughly 30%
The median compensation for primary care physicians has risen slightly less than the CPI.