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Are Primary Care Physicians Being Assimilated By The Borg?

If you live in a small town or rural area of the United States, you may have noticed that family doctors are becoming an endangered species. Private and public health insurance reimbursement rates are so low that survival as a solo practitioner (without the economies of scale of a large group practice or hospital system) is next to impossible. Some primary care physicians are staying afloat by refusing to accept insurance – this allows them the freedom to practice medicine that is in the patient’s best interest, rather than tied to reimbursement requirements.

I joined such a practice a few years ago. We make house calls, answer our own phones, solve at least a third of our patients’ problems via phone (we don’t have to make our patients come into the office so that we can bill their insurer for the work we do), and have low overhead because we don’t need to hire a coding and billing team to get our invoices paid. Our patients love the convenience of same day office visits, electronic prescription refills, and us coming to their house or place of business as needed.

Using health insurance to pay for primary care is like buying car insurance for your windshield wipers. The bureaucracy involved raises costs to a ridiculously unreasonable level. I wish that more Americans would decide to pay cash for primary care and buy a high deductible health plan to cover catastrophic events. But until they do, economic pressures will force primary care physicians into hospital systems and large group practices. My friend and fellow blogger Dr. Doug Farrago likens this process to being “assimilated by the Borg.”

Doug offered a challenge to his readers – to customize the definition of Star Trek’s Borg species to today’s healthcare players. I gave it my best shot. Do you have a better version?

Who are the Borg:

The Borg are a collection of alien species that have turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective or the hive. A pseudo-race, dwelling in the Star Trek universe, the Borg take other species by force into the collective and connect them to “the hive mind”; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of cybernetic implants. The Borg’s ultimate goal is “achieving perfection”.

My attempt to customize the definition:

Hospitalists are a collection of primary care physicians that have turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective or hive. Hive collective administrators (HCAs), in association with partnered alien species drawn from the insurance industry and government, take other primary care physicians by economic force and connect them to “the hive mind”; the act is called assimilation and entails crippling reimbursement cuts, massive increases in documentation requirements, oppressive professional liability insurance rates, punitive bureaucratic legislation, and threat of imprisonment for failure to adhere to laws that HCA- partnered species interpret however they wish. The HCAs’ ultimate goal is “achieving perfect dependency” first for the drones, then for their patients, so that HCAs and their alien partners will become all powerful – dictating how neighboring species live, breathe, and conduct their affairs. Resistance is futile.

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To learn more about my insurance-free medical practice, please click here. We can unplug you from the Borg ship!

Home Remedy Of The Week: You Can Find It At The Deli Counter

A friend of mine had a bad reaction to a heart medicine, dropping her blood pressure to as low as 76/49 as a result. She was feeling understandably dizzy but didn’t want to go to the ER so she asked me if there was anything she could do at home to help raise her blood pressure. I recommended that she drink a large volume of water and take some salt tablets. She had no salt in pill form, and didn’t want to take it straight out of the shaker so asked if there was any other way to get the salt in. I asked her to describe the contents of her refrigerator and pantry, and made a mental note of what I thought had the highest salt content.

My friend thought that potato chips might do the trick, and was surprised when I told her that she had something almost ten times saltier at her disposal. Four ounces of prosciutto contained almost 2g of sodium, an entire day’s worth of salt! So she dutifully consumed the sliced meat, washing it down with about a liter of water. Two hours later she was back up to 98/66 and six hours later her blood pressure had returned to a healthy 116/83.

This was a rare case where a “high salt diet” had its benefits. In the case of ham versus hypotension, ham won… and saved my friend a costly, and unnecessary ER visit. Let’s hear it for deli meat!

Large Hospital Systems Are Driving Up Healthcare Costs

The primary stakeholders in the healthcare system are patients and physicians. Without patients or physicians there would not be a healthcare system.

Patients should be the drivers of the healthcare system. They are not. The primary drivers are the government and the healthcare insurance companies.

Hospital systems play the next largest role in driving up the costs of the healthcare system. Large hospital systems are constantly playing a game of chicken with the government and the healthcare care insurance industry.

Somehow, large hospital systems have been able to stay under the radar.  They have been able to avoid the responsibility of the rising costs of healthcare.

Large hospital systems and large hospital chains know that insurers need them to service their network of patients.  The healthcare insurance companies know that the hospital systems can hold them hostage to increased reimbursement.

When a large hospital system demands an increase in reimbursement the healthcare insurance industry simply increases premiums.

An example is the Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Physician Salaries Comprise Less Than 5 Percent Of Healthcare Dollars Spent Annually

In reviewing Ezekiel Emanuel’s New York Times article I thought of an interesting question. In Dr. Emanuel’s view it is not worth having tort reform or healthcare care insurance reform. He claims these reforms are an insignificant burden to the cost of the healthcare system.

I have demonstrated that the evidence for tort reform and reform of the healthcare insurance industry proves him wrong.

The question then is where is the $2.5 trillion dollars the U.S. healthcare system spends going?

President Obama and Dr. Emanuel think it is going to physicians. President Obama’s idea to control healthcare costs is to reduce physician reimbursement.

Physicians have the weakest expression of its vested interests among all the stakeholders because of lack of effective leadership.

Simple arithmetic reveals that reducing physician reimbursement will yield an insignificant reduction in healthcare costs.

Never the less on January 1st Medicare is going to decrease physicians’ reimbursement by 27%. This decrease is the result of the application of the government’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).

The Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) is a complicated and defective formula intended to contain the overall growth of Medicare spending for physicians’ services.  The intent was to keep physicians’ reimbursement in line with the nation’s ability to pay for that medical care.  The SGR formula uses the gross domestic product per capita in a complicated and inaccurate way. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

What Is The Most Costly Healthcare Expenditure?

The National Institute for Healthcare Management Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on healthcare. The foundation just published an excellent report on the distribution of  healthcare costs in the population.

The results indicate that reducing healthcare cost is all about reducing and managing chronic diseases.

U.S. healthcare spending has sharply increased between 2005 and 2009 by 23 percent from $2 trillion to $2.5 trillion per year.

This is a result of a combination of factors. Chief among them is the increasing incidence of obesity.

Who spends the money? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

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