Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Physician Offers Potential Explanations For The Sustainable Growth Rate “Hole”

This article and its graph (from the NEJM), and its interesting, informative but probably useless graph, was referenced today on twitter, via the Washington Post’s Wonkblog,

Recently, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services announced a scheduled cut in Medicare physician fees of 27.4% for 2012. This cut stems from the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula used by the physician-payment system. …
To illustrate the level of inequity in this system, we broke down the national spending for Medicare physician services by state and by specialty and determined which states and specialties have contributed most to the SGR deficit between 2002, when the program was last balanced, and 2009. Although SGR spending targets are set on a national level, we computed state targets by applying the SGR’s national target growth rate to each state’s per capita expenditure, using 2002 as the base year. Our analysis is an approximation, because, unlike the SGR, we do not adjust for differential fee changes. …

We compared the state targets for the years 2003 to 2009 to actual state expenditures and added the annual difference between these figures to get a cumulative difference between the state’s spending and the SGR target. This cumulative difference was Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Physician Salaries Comprise Less Than 5 Percent Of Healthcare Dollars Spent Annually

In reviewing Ezekiel Emanuel’s New York Times article I thought of an interesting question. In Dr. Emanuel’s view it is not worth having tort reform or healthcare care insurance reform. He claims these reforms are an insignificant burden to the cost of the healthcare system.

I have demonstrated that the evidence for tort reform and reform of the healthcare insurance industry proves him wrong.

The question then is where is the $2.5 trillion dollars the U.S. healthcare system spends going?

President Obama and Dr. Emanuel think it is going to physicians. President Obama’s idea to control healthcare costs is to reduce physician reimbursement.

Physicians have the weakest expression of its vested interests among all the stakeholders because of lack of effective leadership.

Simple arithmetic reveals that reducing physician reimbursement will yield an insignificant reduction in healthcare costs.

Never the less on January 1st Medicare is going to decrease physicians’ reimbursement by 27%. This decrease is the result of the application of the government’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).

The Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) is a complicated and defective formula intended to contain the overall growth of Medicare spending for physicians’ services.  The intent was to keep physicians’ reimbursement in line with the nation’s ability to pay for that medical care.  The SGR formula uses the gross domestic product per capita in a complicated and inaccurate way. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Why Doctors Should Participate In The Debt Ceiling Debate

Joe Scarborough reminds us that the divisions in American government are hardly new, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “When you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble . . . all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?” (This comes from a September 17, 1787 speech by Mr. Franklin to urge ratification of the U.S. Constitution, read on his behalf because he was too ill to deliver it in person. The Constitution was ratified the same day.)

I suppose we should be encouraged that Congress’s prejudices, passions, errors of opinion, local interests and selfish views are as American as apple pie, and the Republic has somehow survived nonetheless. Still, I find it deeply troubling that today’s politicians can’t find their way to agree on the debt ceiling.

No one should expect a “perfect production” to come out of this Congress and this administration, given how far apart they are on the need for tax increases and entitlement reforms. But they need to agree to something, and they need to do it soon.

I will leave it to others, who know a lot more about global economics than me, to explain what likely will happen to the economy if the debt ceiling isn’t increased by August 2. Let’s talk about the impact on health care, something I know quite a bit about—and why physicians especially should be concerned: Read more »

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

Obama Is Not Reforming Healthcare The Right Way

Last year’s “Doctor Fix” was passed the last week congress was in session in 2010. This was after the medical profession was held in suspense for 9 months.

The “Doctor Fix” was supposedly the result of President Obama making a deal with the AMA for the AMA’s support. He was going to pass a real “Doctor Fix” in 2011 by repairing the defective sustainable growth rate formula (SGR). Nothing has been done about this by President Obama in 2011. The cumulative physician reimbursement reduction of 25% was suspended until January 2012.

Physicians face a 29.5% Medicare Pay Cut in January 2012. Four and one half percent was added to last year’s cumulative physicians reimbursement reduction. The reduction was calculated into the CBO’s cost score for President Obama’s Healthcare Reform Act.

Last week an official with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unveiled the 29.5% rate reduction for 2012 in a recent letter to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. This will become another distraction for physicians and the media as President Obama stalls for time. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Primary Care Doctors And The Medicare Boycott

I saw this interesting article linked to from a blog about angry doctors dropping out of Medicare in Texas. As one who shares the universal annoyance at congress’ failure to fix the SGR for more than 30 days at a time, I was kind of cheered by this. That’s what it will take to get the system fixed – a grassroots, full-scale rejection of the system! Good for them. And the opening lines of the article were encouraging:

Texas doctors are opting out of Medicare at alarming rates, frustrated by reimbursement cuts they say make participation in government-funded care of seniors unaffordable.

An “alarming” rate. Wow. Cool. So how many is that, anyway?

More than 300 doctors have dropped the program in the last two years, including 50 in the first three months of 2010, according to data compiled by the Houston Chronicle. Texas Medical Association officials, who conducted the 2008 survey, said the numbers far exceeded their assumptions.

That’s 300, right? Hmm, not too shabby. Not exactly going to topple the state with that, but it’s a start.

Hey, I wonder how many doctors there are in Texas, anyway? I hear it’s a pretty big state, though I seem to recall it consists mostly of scrubland and swamp. Maybe there are only like 500 doctors in the state to start with. Something is tickling my head about Texas, though, I vaguely remember that they had some nice tort reform law a few years ago that I was pretty envious of. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »