1. It was a good speech. Reaction around the blogosphere and elsewhere seems to be dependent on how you felt about reform plans going in. If you were in favor, you thought it was terrific (warning strong language at the link); if you were against, you thought it was disingenuous.
2. The interesting question is how people who weren’t sure will react. By this I mean people who are anxious that reform will affect their health care in ways they don’t like. There is still the mixed message that created this anxiety in the first place. On the one hand, the President repeated “Nothing in this plan will require you to change what you have. “ Sounds like no big deal. On the other hand, he quoted Ted Kennedy as saying the plan “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” Sounds like a very big deal. Which is it?
3. The boorish Congressman who screamed “you lie!” at Obama during the address must have been confused and thought he was at a town hall meeting. But I’ve always thought it would be cool if we had a “Question Time” like they do in the UK. Presidents would have to face much more interesting and uncomfortable questions than they otherwise get, and it would make for a terrific spectacle. Obviously this wasn’t the time or place for that sort of thing. And if we ever do get an American Question Time, representatives will have to come up with better questions than “you lie,” too.
4. The President talked about “30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.” This is different from the 46 million “uninsured” he usually talks about. The Associated Press thinks the other 16 million are people who could buy or otherwise get coverage but choose not to, as compared to those who want coverage but can’t afford it.
5. I was surprised to hear the President give more than just a nod to the Facebook health care status update meme. I mean he quoted it directly: “in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick.” This must be the first time a President has ever quoted something from Facebook in an address to Congress – it’s some kind of a milestone for social media. Thoughts on that meme are here.
6. The President talked about the uncompetitive insurance market, noting that “in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies.” It sounds like he’s not just talking about the “public option” when he talks about creating competition in these markets. His idea of insurance exchanges and a federal health insurance regulator seem to be direct challenges to the state-by-state system of insurance regulation. It will be interesting to see the reaction of state insurance regulators to this speech.
7. I was right: the President didn’t talk about the three things I said he wouldn’t talk about. In fact, he said almost nothing about the delivery of care- it was all about how to pay for it.
8. The President got some laughs with his comment that he thinks “there remain some significant details to be ironed out.” He’s right, and there’s the rub. Whether and how that ironing out happens was the question before the President’s speech, and it’s still the question today.
Waxman’s committee resumed work Thursday, with the goal of finishing Friday, after a week-and-a-half delay caused by objections from fiscally conservative Democrats. That rebellion was quelled with an agreement Wednesday that would protect more small businesses from a requirement to provide insurance to their employees, and restructure a new public insurance plan so it could pay higher rates to doctors and other providers, among other changes.
What did the the other Democrats have to say about that?
“This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards,” 53 Progressive Caucus members said in a letter to House leaders Thursday. “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates — not negotiated rates — is unacceptable.“
Let me get this straight. In a world where Medicare and Medicaid pays less than cost, these Democrats want an option where doctors have the opportunity to lose money for every patient they take care of? If negotiated rates are unacceptable, exactly how is the Medicare rate acceptable. There is a reason why many Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries cannot find a doctor to take care of them. Because the non negotiated rates are unacceptable.
Perhaps our Congressmen and women would like the 300 million Americans to take a yearly vote on the value of their service to this country. No negotiation. Majority salary wins. You just may not like what your constituents are offering you. And you just might quit. How’s that for unacceptable.
I love the Internet. It has a way of bringing people closer together. I saw Governor Howard Dean at a town hall meeting in Washington D.C earlier this month. He’s a dynamic speaker. I wanted to ask him some questions, but the place was packed, so I couldn’t get close to him. Not to be deterred, I emailed Governor Dean in hopes of getting a response to a couple of my questions. He not only responded to my email, he agreed to an interview for my blog. See, the Internet really can bring people closer together. I want to thank Governor Dean for stopping by Nurse Ratched’s Place to talk about healthcare reform.
Question: What is your take on the state of our healthcare system? What do you envision for our system, and how do we get there from here? Can America really afford a public option plan?
Answer: Our system is in disarray. We need a system in which the American consumer has real choices, including allowing people under 65 to sign up for Medicare, which is what the public option will look like. That way people can get affordable insurance which can never be taken away, which can’t be denied, and which will follow them through every job, every loss of job, and every move. We can’t afford NOT to have a public option.
Question: How flexible is the public option: will a person be able to move between the public option and private options as their needs and circumstances change?
Answer: People will be able to move back and forth between the public option and private insurance plans as they see fit, up to once a year.
Question: Given your unique perspective as a physician, can you tell us one aspect of the public option that you like and one aspect that you might not be happy with?
Answer: As a physician I would sign up for the public option at once if it is cheaper than what I have now. I would definitely sign my twenty something kids up; it would give them insurance for life at a reasonable cost no matter what they were doing and where they were living.
Question: One of my nursing coworkers wanted me to ask you this question. How will healthcare reform impact nursing workforce issues? Will we see mandated caps on salaries, and how will healthcare reform impact nurse to patient ratios?
Answer: Workforce issues are not addressed in any of the health care options being discussed in Congress. Most Democrats I know favor nurse/patient staff ratios to protect quality of care.
Question: Preventative healthcare is a key component in the healthcare reform debate. What are your thoughts on a proposal that would make the Chief Nurse Officer of the United States Public Health Service the National Nurse? In your opinion, would establishing the Office of the National Nurse have any impact on health promotion or on healthcare reform?
Answer: As a lot of people know, I am a huge supporter of the Office of National Nurse, and since Congress has been slow to act, I am hoping some changes can be made directly by HHS while we await more complete action by Congress.
This event is a landmark in how we get discussion and debate going in the 21st century. We are communicating with the grass roots, with medical bloggers here in this room and across the country.
Let me tell you this: I don’t want government interfering in the relationship between doctors and patients…and I don’t want insurance companies interfering either! I want a vibrant health care market that lets patients choose the health care options that are right for them and their loved ones. I want a free market democracy that puts patients first. We can have this, and I’ll say something more about that in a minute.
Right now Congress is rushing through a health care overhaul that goes in the opposite direction. It’s important to analyze the relative financial costs and benefits of these proposals, but our greater challenge is not the dollars and cents. It goes to the issue of continuing the tradition of excellent health care that medical practitioners now provide. It’s about the equal dignity of each human person…and the future of America as a free society. The American character, and the principles of freedom & democracy which protect & preserve it, may be lost beyond recovery if Congress chooses the wrong path on health care reform—the path down which I believe the Obama Administration seems determined to lead our country.
Public health has always been a government priority. Our Constitution’s Framers saw every individual as having a “right of personal security” which includes being protected against acts that may harm personal health. This right is part of the natural right to life, and it is government’s very purpose to secure our natural rights to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness.
Now here is where believers in big government make their big mistake. The right of each person to protection of health does not imply that government must provide health care. The right to have food in order to live doesn’t require government to own the farms and raise the crops. Government’s obligation is normally met by establishing the conditions for free markets to thrive. Societies with economic freedom almost always have a growing abundance of goods and services at affordable costs for the largest number. When free markets seem to be failing to meet this test – and I’d argue today’s health care delivery is an example – government should not supply the need itself. It should correct its own interventions and liberate choice and competition.
We know from survey after survey that a vast majority of Americans are personally satisfied with the quality of their own health care. The problem is really with health care delivery, which is growing too costly and leaving many people without coverage. The proponents of government-run health care claim there are only two alternatives: either enact their plan or do nothing. This is false. Government bureaucracy is not the answer to insurance company bureaucracy.
An authentic solution to the problem of affordability should be guided by the principles of moral and political freedom… respect doctor and patient privacy…restrain spending…and channel the energy of our free market system, not dry it up. There is no lack of sensible alternative solutions proposed by Republicans to put patients first. Senators Coburn and Burr, and Congressman Nunes and I have offered one, called “The Patients’ Choice Act.” It’s an example of how to eliminate government-driven market distortions that exclude many from affordable health care delivery. More uninsured Americans can be covered by spending current dollars more wisely and efficiently than by throwing trillions more at the problem. Our health care delivery alternatives are based on timeless American moral and political truths.
In essence, we believe that the dollars and decisions should flow through the individual patient, not from the government. I want to see a market where providers truly compete against each other for our business as consumers and patients – not a bureaucratized system where health care providers vie for government favor as patients wait in line. Read more »
My Interview With President Obama On Health Care Reform
I met President Obama yesterday. I interviewed him at the White House about his proposals for health care reform. But naturally, as we greeted each other, I asked about his throwing out the first ball at the All Star Game the night before.
“Were you nervous about bouncing the ball?” I asked. He grinned. “I will say it’s actually nerve-wracking,” he said. “When they hand you the ball, there are just a lot of things that can go wrong.” I found that to be a perfect metaphor for his assuming the Presidency of the United States and attempting to overhaul the health care system.
The biggest news from yesterday’s interview: President Obama has changed his position from the campaign trail and now believes that health care insurance should be mandated for all Americans, with a hardship exemption.
Dr. LaPook: Ultimately, philosophically, do you believe that each individual American should be required to have health insurance?
President Obama: I have come to that conclusion. During the campaign, I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don’t have health insurance is not because they don’t want it, but because they can’t afford it. And if you make it affordable, then they will come. I’ve been persuaded that there are enough young uninsured people who are cheap to cover, but are opting out. To make sure that those folks are part of the overall pool is the best way to make sure that all of our premiums go down. I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate as long as there’s a hardship exemption. If somebody truly just can’t afford health insurance even with the subsidies that the government is now providing, we don’t want to double penalize them. We want to phase this in, in a way that we have time to make sure that coverage is actually affordable before we’re saying to people “go out and get it.”
The interview went very smoothly and fairly predictably until we reached the following exchange:
Dr. LaPook: You’ve said that if doctors have the information, they’ll do the right thing. And generally, I like to — I’m a physician and practicing — I think that’s true. But actually, there are a lot of times when that’s not the case. For example, angioplasties — elective angioplasties, where you open up a clogged artery in the heart. It turns out that about 30 percent of them are unnecessary, that they’re done and you try to open up an artery of the heart, but really it’s no better than medication, and doctors know this, but they still order them.
President Obama: Why are they still ordering them, do you think?
I will admit that he took me by surprise by turning the question on me. Suddenly I was not in a one-way interview, I was in a conversation. Politics aside, it was clear to me that he was listening and he was curious.
Dr. LaPook: I think that because they believe — there’s this thing about — if an artery’s closed. It’s got to be better if it’s open, and it turns out that’s not true. So they have on the one side their intuition as a physician, in their bellies, and then there’s the evidence-based medicine that we talk about, and they clash a lot at times, so how do you make that doctor do the right thing or give him the right incentives?
President Obama: I have enormous faith in doctors. I think they always want to do the right thing for patients. But I also think, if we’re honest, doctors, right now, have disincentives to making the better choices in the situations you talked about. If you are getting paid more for the angioplasty, then that subconsciously even might make you think the angioplasty is the better route to take. And so if we’re reimbursing the physician not on the basis of how many procedures you’re performing but rather how are you caring for the patient overall – what are the outcomes – then I think you start seeing some different choices. And at the very least, you’re not taking money out of physicians’ pockets for making the better choice. So it’s a combination of better information and then, I think, a different system of reimbursement that says, “let’s look at the overall quality of the care of the patient.”
My conversation with President Obama illustrates a crucial focus of the current healthcare debate: figuring out if the American people are getting their bang for the buck when doctors order tests, perform procedures, and prescribe medications. The current buzzwords among doctors and politicians are “evidence-based medicine” (is there proof that something works?) and “comparative effectiveness” (if there’s more than one way to do something, what works best?). An Institute of Medicine workshop about evidence-based medicine began today in Washington, with the following listed as “issues prompting the discussion”:
. “Health costs in the United States this year will be about $2.5 trillion—nearly 17% of the economy.
. The United States spends far more on health care than any other nation, 50% more than the 2nd highest spender and about twice as high as the average for other developed countries.
. Overall health outcomes in the United States lag behind those achieved in other countries.
. Consistent with the per capita figures, many researchers studying the nature of U.S. health expenditures feel that 20% of our expenditures do not contribute to better health.”
Expert groups are currently trying to establish guidelines for reimbursing health expenses based on clear results from well-designed clinical studies. The problem is that for many medical issues, there is no definitive, evidence-based approach. Clinical medicine is often based on inexact, immeasurable tools such as intuition and experience. As doctors, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the twenty-year study to be completed. We have to treat the patient now, as best we can, without perfect information.
In the absence of definitive data, we will need to account for clinical judgment in an overhauled health care system. What will happen when the doctor suggests something the insurance company says is not indicated? Opponents of a public option for insurance warn about the danger of having a bureaucrat in between the patient and the physician. But that threat already exists in the current system every time an insurance company decides whether to approve a claim. Wendell Potter, former head of Public Relations for Cigna, recently told
Bill Moyers about Cigna’s decision to deny a liver transplant to a 17-year-old girl, Nataline Sarkisyan, even though her doctors at UCLA had recommended the procedure.
A public-relations uproar forced Cigna to reverse its decision; the company subsequently explained its reversal as an exception, saying the surgery was approved “despite the lack of medical evidence regarding the effectiveness of such treatment.”
Ms. Sarkisyan died hours after Cigna’s decision, without having received the transplant.
A critical flaw in the current system – and one that must be addressed in any overhaul – is that the same people who refuse to pay for a recommended course of action are the ones who consider the appeal of that decision. And, lo and behold, they usually end up agreeing with themselves! In more than two decades of medical practice, I have spent countless hours trying to get various services covered by payors. One encounter – when I tried unsuccessfully to get a stomach-acid lowering pill approved for a patient who needed it -ended up as an example of twentieth-century frustration in
Letters of the Century.
Yes, our current health care system is not sustainable and we do need an overhaul. But there is no “exactly how” and we cannot afford to wait for one. There are so many nuances to the moving target of health care and so many unknowns that it is impossible to create a perfect solution on paper. I’ll settle for an imperfect solution that addresses the most important problems first and represents the best efforts of our most thoughtful experts. But it should not be set in stone. It must include provisions to mature gracefully into versions 2.0 and beyond.
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