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Consumer-Driven Healthcare: Why It Will Fail

With the creation of consumer-driven health plans and health insurance policies with high deductibles linked to a savings option, more financial responsibility shouldered by patients and employees and less by employers was completely inevitable. The American public likes to have everything, whether consumer electronics or other services, as cheap as possible. With escalating healthcare expenses rising far more rapidly than wages or inflation, it’s not surprising employers needed a way to manage this increasingly-costly business expense.

In the past, companies faced a similar dilemma. It wasn’t about medical costs, but managing increasingly expensive retirement and pension plan obligations. Years ago, companies moved from these defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. After all, much like healthcare, the reasoning by many was that employees were best able to manage retirement planning because they would have far more financial incentive, responsibility, and self-motivation to make the right choices to ensure a successful outcome.   

How did that assumption turn out anyway? Disastrous, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Retiring Boomers Find 401(k) Plans Fall Short.” An excerpt:

The median household headed by a person aged 60 to 62 with a 401(k) account has less than one-quarter of what is needed in that account to maintain its standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal. Even counting Social Security and any pensions or other savings, most 401(k) participants appear to have insufficient savings. Data from other sources also show big gaps between savings and what people need, and the financial crisis has made things worse.

In others words, a lot of people don’t have enough money to retire. The options they have are simply “postponing retirement, moving to cheaper housing, buying less-expensive food, cutting back on travel, taking bigger risks with their investments, and making other sacrifices they never imagined…In general, people facing problems today got too little advice, or bad advice.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

The Cost Of Treating Kidney Disease

Medical spending to treat kidney disease totaled on average $25.3 billion annually from 2003 to 2007 (in 2007 dollars). Almost half of the expenditures ($12.7 billion) were spent on ambulatory visits.

On average, 3.7 million adults (1.7 percent of the population) annually reported getting treatment for kidney disease, reports a statistical brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. During 2003-2007, for those ages 18 to 64, more than half of the total kidney disease expenditures were from ambulatory visits (53.1 percent) compared with about one third (30.3 percent) from inpatient visits. Among those age 65 and older, ambulatory visits accounted for 46 percent of the total kidney disease expenditures and hospital stays were 43 percent.

Similar amounts were spent on prescription medicines ($1.4 billion) and emergency room visits ($1.5 billion). Hospital stays amounted to $9.1 billion. Medicare paid 40 percent of the total expenditures to treat kidney disease.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

The Worst Healthcare System In The World

The worst healthcare system in the world is the United States, of course. Oh no, wait — it’s Canada. Actually, it could be Germany. Geez, now I think it might be the UK.

You could go on and on like this, but you know what? No matter how good or bad your healthcare system is, there are certain universal truths. Here are four of them that might make you look at global healthcare a little differently:

First, healthcare is getting more expensive, all over the world. A new study by the global consultant, Towers Watson (disclosure: Towers Watson is a Best Doctors client) found that the average medical cost trend around the world will be 10.5 percent in 2011. In the advanced economies costs will rise by an average of 9.3 percent. While Americans tend to think of rising medical costs as a uniquely American problem (they’ll rise by 9.9 percent here), it’s just not true. Canadian costs will rise by 13.3 percent. In the UK and Switzerland, they will increase by 9.5 percent, and in France by 8.4 percent.

Why is it happening? As ever, the main drivers are the increasing availability of new medical therapies — and inappropriate use of care. We see the same phenomenon at Best Doctors in our global experience. Across the world, our data for 2010 showed that just over 20 percent of patients had an incorrect diagnosis, and about half were pursuing inappropriate treatment plans. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Healthcare Repeal: How Would It Affect Coverage And Cost?

[Soon] the new GOP-controlled House of Representatives will be voting on and is expected to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – lock, stock, and barrel. There is virtually no chance the repeal bill will get through the Senate, though, which maintains a narrow Democratic majority, and President Obama would veto it if it did.

But let’s say that the seemingly impossible happened, and the ACA was repealed. What would the impact be on healthcare coverage, costs, and the federal deficit?

In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its preliminary estimates of the impact of repeal on the deficit, uninsured, and costs of care, and found that it would make the deficit worse, result in more uninsured persons, and higher premiums for many:

– Deficit: repeal of the ACA would increase the deficit by $145 billion from 2012-2019, by another $80 to $90 billion over the 2020-21 period, and by an amount “that is in the broad range of one-half percent of the GDP” in the decade after 2019* — or about a trillion dollars. Read more »

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

Emergency Rooms Overused For Routine Care

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (our government’s name for healthcare reform) may make our already crowded emergency rooms swarm with more patients.

A new study from Health Affairs shows that more than a quarter of patients who currently visit emergency departments in the U.S. are there for routine care and not an emergency. New complaints like stomach pain, skin rashes, fever, chest pain, cough or for a flare up of a chronic condition should not be treated in emergency rooms. They are best worked up and treated by an internist or family physician, preferably one who knows the patient. So why are these patients waiting for hours and spending up to 10 times as much money for emergency department care? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

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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