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Addressing Healthcare Spending: “Cowardice” Or Bravery?

In assessing the “best and worst” of the recommendations from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein accuses the Commission of “cowardice” in addressing healthcare spending:

“The plan’s healthcare savings largely consist of hoping the cost controls . . . and various demonstration projects in the new healthcare law work and expanding their power and reach. . . In the event that more savings are needed, they throw out a grab bag of liberal and conservative policies . . . but don’t really put their weight behind any. . .[their] decision to hide from the big questions here is quite disappointing . . . ”

Pretty harsh words, considering that in other respects Klein gives the Commission high marks. But I think there is a lot more to the Commission’s recommendations on healthcare spending than meet’s (Klein’s) eyes, even though I have my own doubts about the advisability and political acceptability of many of them. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Happy Birthday, Baby Boomers: One More Eligible For Medicare Every 8 Seconds

Today begins a lame duck session of Congress before it breaks for Thanksgiving. It’s the final chance to work out a temporary patch to Medicare reimbursement before a 23 percent cut takes effect Dec. 1. Doctors are going to stop taking new Medicare patients if the cuts happen. And, as one breast cancer surgeon explains, if Medicare stops paying, so to private insurers and even military health programs. Congress will meet in December, but the damage will be done.

This all is happening two weeks before the baby boomers become eligible for Medicare. That populous generation starts to turn 65 beginning on Jan. 1, which means they become eligible for Medicare on Dec. 1, which, as we mentioned, is the day the 23 percent Medicare pay cut kicks in. Boomers will continue to become eligible for Medicare, one person every eight seconds, until December 2029. (CNN, The Washington Post, USA Today)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Medical Malpractice Reform: Would Doctors Accept The Deal?

The bipartisan debt commission appointed by President Obama recently released its recommendations on how to pare the country’s debt.

Of interest to doctors is the suggestion to change the way doctors are paid. Physician lobbies have been advocating for removal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula — the flawed method by which Medicare, and subsequently private insurers, pays doctors. According to this method, physicians are due for a pay cut of more than 20 percent next month.

According to the commission:

The plan proposes eliminating the SGR in 2015 and replacing it with a “modest reduction” for physicians and other providers. The plan doesn’t elaborate on what constitutes a “modest reduction” in Medicare reimbursement.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should establish a new payment system — one that rewards doctors for quality, and includes accountable care organizations and bundling payments by episodes of care, the report said.

The commission also said in order to pay for the SGR reform, medical malpractice lawyers should be paid less, there should be a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, and that comprehensive tort reform should be adopted.

There’s little question that associating physician reimbursements with the number of tests and treatments ordered is a major driver of health costs. Removing that incentive, and better valuing the time doctors spend with patients, is a positive step in the right direction. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Swing To The Right: How Will The Election Affect Health Reform?

Like Tom Friedman, who lampooned some of this year’s unreasonable campaign rhetoric in a recent column, I, too, would be in favor of reality-based political campaigns, but that seemed to be too much to ask for this year. Instead of truth, we now have truthiness.

The joke news shows (and their joke political rallies) seemed to be more popular than the evening news. (I wish Jon Stewart and his 200,000 fans on the Washington Mall last weekend had stayed home, canvassing for their candidates of choice.) Fact-checkers told us that many political ads this season were in the “barely true” or “pants on fire” zones according to the Truth-O-Meter. But in the end, the buzzwords seem to have worked their magic, and many “insiders” are out, and “outsiders” are in.

The angry and the impatient on the campaign trail have, in some cases, adopted the line from the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” perhaps forgetting that while that line garnered the Howard Beale character strong ratings, network bosses arranged for his on-air assassination when his ratings fell.

The Utopia tune below, “Swing to the Right,” comes to you from the Ronald Reagan era, and perhaps we are seeing the generational swing of the pendulum back to the right. It does seem to happen every 30 years or so. But don’t blame me — I’m from Massachusetts (home to a Democratic sweep on the recent election night).

The last two years have seen a tremendous amount of change in Washington. The question of the moment, of course, is:  How will the election results affect implementation of healthcare reform? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Medicare Reimbursement: A 23 Percent Cut Soon To Come?


“It will never happen.”

“They know better than to do it.”

“They realize the disaster it would be if they let it pass.”

That’s what I hear. I hear that the upcoming SGR adjustment, the one that will cut Medicare reimbursement by 23 percent, won’t go through.

In case you missed it, the SGR is a formula coming from the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that does automatic cuts to Medicare reimbursement. This year we witnessed a legislative game of chicken in congress, with both sides agreeing that it was a bad idea to screw physicians in a time that they are trying to fix healthcare. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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