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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*

Making Employee Health A Fundamental Part Of Company Culture

Dick Quinn of Quinn’s Commentary has a pithy post about why it’s hard for the government to control healthcare costs. He says:

Nobody complains about the cost of healthcare, rather they complain about their insurance premiums or their payroll deductions for health benefits.

He’s right about what politicians react to. The healthcare reform law is loaded with things that are meant to contain the price of coverage. But I would add two words to his post:

“Nobody who votes complains about the cost of healthcare.”

It’s true: The large employers who pay for much of healthcare in America complain about the cost a lot. But they are doing something about it.

In my work, I have the opportunity to present at events with some of our Fortune 500 clients. (I have one this week with The Home Depot, hosted by the National Business Group on Health. The event information here – you have to be a member of the NBGH to participate). Listening to these customers, you get a good sense of how employers are attacking this problem.

Here are the top three trends I see benefits professionals talking about:

1.  Engagement and Prevention

Doing things to help employees be enthusiastic believers in their company is high on the list of many companies’ strategic objectives. Employee benefits are an important part of that.

A senior benefits leader at a Fortune 100 employer I presented with earlier this year said his company surveyed its employees to see what they wanted in their benefits package. Number 1? That the company’s  benefits show it really cares about their well-being. Benefits professionals see health benefits as an opportunity to engage employees in their jobs. Read more »

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

Is The ER Really The Best Place to Get Primary Care Quicker?

In 1986, when Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), hospitals and ambulance services were mandated by law to stabilize anyone needing emergency healthcare services regardless of citizenship, legal status, and/or insurance status.

This was instituted at the time to prevent the prevalent practice of “dumping” — refusing to treat patients because of insufficient insurance or transferring or discharging patients on the basis of anticipating high diagnosis and treatment costs. While the implications of this law are indeed very noble in providing undifferentiated care to all patients based solely on healthcare needs and not financial status, it has unfortunately led to many patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) for primary care issues.

The misconception is that the care in the ED is similar if not better (because of increased access to consult services and imaging) and quicker than waiting to see your primary care physician (PCP). A 2010 study published in Health Affairs found that 14 percent to 27 percent of visits to hospital EDs are nonemergent, such as minor infections, strains, fractures, and lacerations. The study found that all of these cases could have been appropriately triaged in urgent care centers or retails clinics.

England has a model that may be a potential solution. The healthcare goal of the National Health Services (NHS) is to “treat the right patients in the right place at the right time.” The NHS employs nurses and paramedics to handle 999 (their equivalent of our 911) triage calls with more appropriate triaging of patients based on acuity. Read more »

Accountable Care Act Unconstitutional? The Fate Of Americans’ Health

A Florida’s judge’s ruling that the Accountable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional doesn’t resolve the underlying constitutional issue (which will ultimately have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court) but it has introduced new uncertainty for the $2.3 trillion health care industry, and emboldened the law’s critics to push even harder for repeal (not that they weren’t trying already).

The Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) health blog reports that “states and companies that are supposed to be implementing the law trying to figure out what to do next. The WSJ reports that the 26 states that are parties to the suit are considering whether to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case now, before it has fully wended its way through the legal system. The New York Times (NYT) quotes the governor of Florida as saying that until the fate of the law is clear, “we’re not going to spend a lot of time and money” to implement it. Other states, even if part of the suit, will move ahead,” the NYT says. The WSJ also reports that most health care companies plan to “stay the course” and continue to plan for the law’s implementation. Meanwhile, the Obama administration says that the judge’s ruling will have no effect on the implementation of the law or the requirement that states (including those who brought the suit) comply with its mandates and claims that most constitutional experts agree with the administration.

Now, I am not a lawyer, so I don’t have any expertise on the legal arguments over the ACA’s constitutionality. For those of you who want to hear more about the constitutional questions from people who might actually know what they are talking about, I recommend this Health Care Blog post from attorney Mark Hall, a critic of the Florida judge’s ruling. He notes that “at least half of the relevant part of the opinion is devoted to discussing what Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson and other Founding Fathers would have thought about the individual mandate” (Judge Vinson concluded that they would not have approved of it) but “the same Founders wrote a Constitution that allowed the federal government to take property from unwilling sellers and passive owners, when needed to construct highways, bridges and canals.” The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein — a supporter of the Affordable Care Act — has posted an excellent overview of what legal experts are saying about the ruling, pro and con, including a link to a posting that argues Judge Vinson ruled correctly. Read more »

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

The Physician Exodus: When Doctors Leave Hospitals Behind

My partners and I have long struggled with the lack of specialty back-up at our hospital. Semi-rural hospitals, out of the way facilities, just can’t always attract specialists. So, we’re happy to have cardiologists every night, but understand that we only have an ENT every third night. We’re thankful to have neurologists, even if they don’t admit anyone. We’re glad to have radiologists, even if they don’t read plain films after 5PM on weekdays.

Still, I continue to scratch my head about why only three of seven community pediatricians take call, such that family physicians have to admit their patients. I was bumfuzzled that our neurologists were previously going to require us to use telemedicine for stroke evaluation when their offices were close by the hospital. (In the same year they were called in roughly three times per neurologist for urgent stroke evaluation.) That problem was resolved, thank goodness.

Now, I find that the problem has returned and grown. We will, very soon, have no ophthalmologist on call, despite the fact that we have three in the community and that they are contacted with remarkable rarity to deal with on-call emergencies. Soon, we will have no neurologist on the weekend. And the pediatric problem remains.

Of course, I’m using my local experience to highlight something that isn’t a local problem at all. It’s a national problem. All over America, specialists are relinquishing their hospital priveleges and staying in the office. Proceduralists are opening surgery centers that are free from the burdens of indigent care. Primary care physicians are allowing hospitalists to do all of their admissions.

In the process, not only are patients losing out, but referral centers are being absolutely overwhelmed. The cities and counties that lie around teaching hospitals are sending steady streams of patients, since they have fewer and fewer specialists. Those referral and teaching centers want patients, but they can’t take all of the non-paying patients, all of the complicated, or even all of the mundane patients with no local coverage. Those facilities, for all their shiny billboards and “center of excellence” marketing, will collapse. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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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