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Does The U.S. Have Plans To Pay For Long-Term Care?

The Obama administration has dealt a mighty blow to one part of the health reform law by effectively killing off the CLASS Act, which was to be a baby step in the development of a national program to pay for long-term care.   The CLASS Act, short for Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act, was supposed to be a voluntary and federally backed insurance program for people to use to cover potential long-term care needs.  The idea was for Americans to pay premiums into the fund during their working years.  If they later became disabled and needed assistance, they would be entitled to a daily cash benefit of, say, $50 to buy services of a personal care attendant or make home improvements that would allow them to stay in their homes—the preference of most seniors.  Advocates of the CLASS Act even envisioned that some of the benefit could be used for nursing home care.

The program, though, was never popular with insurance companies and politicians who listened to them, and the Act barely made it into the final bill.  It ran into trouble from the beginning.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, was tasked with Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Do Patient Surveys Measure True Medical Quality?

There was an extremely popular game show where several times each episode the emcee would shout out, “Survey Said!”. Of course, this was just a game, not real life.  Now, several times each week I am asked to respond to surveys.  They pop up uninvited on the internet and are often veiled advertisements for products and services. They are on the back of receipts from coffee houses and doughnut shops.  Is it worth 10 minutes of my time clicking through the doughnut survey for either a free chocolate frosted doughnut or the chance to be entered into the grand prize drawing months later?  Hotels I stay at routinely follow-up with e-mail surveys for my feedback.  I suspect most folks delete these instantly, which skews the customer base to those who do respond. (Remember, disatisfied folks are often more motivated to give feedback than the rest of us are.) How often do we call a restaurant, a retail store, a bank or even a doctor’s office to offer hosannas about great service?

Medicare recently released fascinating patient-survey data that raises interesting issues. In over 120 hospitals, patients rated the hospitals very highly, despite high death rates for heart disease and pneumonia. So, who do we believe here, the patients or the death rates?  I wonder if the patients’ survey results were more optimistic since only the live ones were available to complete them.

Surveys are now serious bu$ine$$. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson On Tom Daschle’s Withdrawal

Many Americans have been surprised and disappointed by Senator Tom Daschle’s withdrawal as HSS Secretary nominee. I asked Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin and the 7th U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, what he made of this. You may listen to our full conversation by clicking on the podcast arrow, or read a shortened summary below. Enjoy.

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Dr. Val: Tom Daschle’s withdrawal as HHS Secretary nominee has been a real shock for most people. Some are saying that without Daschle’s influence, healthcare reform will take a back seat to other economic priorities this year. What do you think?

Thompson: I don’t think that will happen because we’re in such dire need of reform that even without Tom Daschle there’s going to be a tremendous transformation of the healthcare system this year. Two healthcare bills are already undergoing the legislative process, and one is ready to be signed into law – the expansion of SCHIP, the insurance plan to cover poor children. The second bill involves the expansion of COBRA, which allows unemployed individuals to buy in to their previous employer’s health insurance plan.

But beyond this, the new stimulus package has 20 billion dollars set aside for health IT infrastructure – to create an electronic medical record for all Americans and beef up broadband access. There will also be a lot of money set aside for preventive health initiatives – to help Americans become healthier so they won’t need as many medical services.

Of course, Senator Kennedy is pushing for a “play or pay” plan modeled after Massachusetts’ law. There will be a lot of pressure to get this done quickly due to his ailing health. So you can bet your bottom dollar that the healthcare system that we know today is going to be changed so considerably that I doubt if you’ll recognize it a year from now.

Dr. Val: Do you have any idea who might replace Tom Daschle as HHS Secretary nominee?

Thompson:  I’ve been hearing a lot of names. Governor Kathleen Sebelius from Kansas is very much in the running. Howard Dean’s name has also come up. Overall I do think it will be a governor or former governor who gets the position.

Dr. Val: What sort of person would have the skills for the job?

Thompson:  I think a governor is the ideal person for the job because they already have experience running both state and federal programs – both initiating and managing them.

Dr. Val: Do you think that being a physician could be an advantage as well?

:  There are so many physicians in the department that I don’t believe that being a physician adds or detracts from the position. Being the Secretary of HHS is an administrative position and although doctors have many skills, I’m not sure that running a large agency of over 67,000 employees with a budget of over 600 billion dollars is something that most doctors have the experience to do well.

Dr. Val: Do you think Daschle made the right choice to withdraw?

: Tom Daschle is a friend of mine. I think he’s an honorable person and I think he would have made an outstanding Secretary of HHS. I’m sorry he’s withdrawn, but the debate about his taxes was splashy enough to be affecting the stimulus bill and diverting attention from it. So I think overall it was probably the right thing to do.

Dr. Val: What’s the most important thing for the American people to know about the Daschle case?

Thompson: They should know that there is no double standard between people in power and those not in power. All of us are equal in the eyes of the law, and we’re a country of laws, not of men. We’re all responsible for our own personal decisions, and that includes paying our taxes.


See KevinMD’s excellent round up of further thoughts about Tom Daschle.

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