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Why Is There So Much Less Paperwork In Canadian Health Care?

If you ask internists and their patients what makes them bonkers about the U.S. health care system, paperwork will top the list. Many will point to the federal government as the culprit, citing the many forms, RAC audits, pre-and post-payment reviews, documentation and coding guidelines, HIPAA privacy rules, quality measurement and reporting, Part D drug formularies, and HIT meaningful use requirements imposed by Medicare and other federal programs. (Some put more of the blame on private insurers and pharmacy benefit managers.)

But if paperwork is associated with the degree of government involvement in health care, then Canada–a single payer system–should have more of it than the United States, right? Think again.

A new Health Affairs survey of U.S. physicians and practice administrators found that U.S. physicians spend Read more »

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

Medicaid: Will The Cost Of Expanding Eligibility Be Overwhelming?

Medicaid has been front and center this week as President Obama addressed the National Governors Association, and several governors testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Obama told the governors that he supports the Wyden-Brown bill, which would accelerate the availability of waivers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so that states would not have to first create health insurance exchanges under the law, and then have the right to dismantle them and replace them with other mechanisms to achieve coverage goals of the law without additional cost to the federales. (See Wyden-Brown fact sheet.) The sponsors’ home states, Oregon and Massachusetts would otherwise have to dismantle parts of their own health reform efforts in order to align with the federal mandates. (Wyden has been a longer-term proponent of experimentation and innovation in health reform.) 

The mini-med waivers granted to states (in addition to those granted to corporations and unions) are just one example of interim steps needed to harmonize federal and state health reform. When in 2014 mini-med plans will no longer be permitted at all under the federal health reform law, there will either need to be a significant dislocation of the underinsured “Young Invincibles” in Massachusetts and underinsured employees in capped health plans elsewhere in the country, or a change in the law.

Similar difficulties await state Medicaid programs, which will be faced with expanded eligibility, and other state agencies, which will need to set up exchanges per the ACA. The cost associated with eligibility expansion will be overwhelming — or maybe it won’t. There are, of course, expert opinions across the board on the financial impact of health reform on state budgets. As the saying goes, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Some reports inflate state expenses by not accounting for the fact that the federal share of Medicaid expansion covers 92 percent of the total. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Why Dr. Rich Is Encouraged By Alternative Medicine

It is quite popular among certain medical bloggers, who count themselves as scientifically sophisticated, to disparage so-called “alternative medicine.”

Indeed, there are entire websites devoted to demonstrating (in homage to Penn and Teller) that various forms of alternative medicine – such as homeopathy, therapeutic touch, the medical application of crystals, Reiki, naturopathy, water therapy, bio-photons, mindfulness training, energy healing and a host of others – are completely devoid of any scientific merit whatsoever; are pablum for the uneducated masses; are, in short, irreducibly and unredeemably woo.

These same medical authors are scandalized into virtual apoplexy by the fact that the NIH has funded an entire section to “study” alternative medicine, and worse, that most respected university medical centers in the land now seem to have embraced alternative medicine, and have established well-funded and heavily-marketed “Centers for Integrative Medicine” (or other similarly-named op-centers for pushing medically suspect alternative “services”).*

Until quite recently, DrRich counted himself among the stalwarts of scientific strict constructionism. He was truly dismayed that the NIH and some of our most well-regarded academic centers (under the guise of wanting to conduct objective “studies” of alternative medicine) have lent an aura of respectability and legitimacy to numerous bizarre ideas and fraudulent claims masquerading as legitimate medical practices. To DrRich, such developments were yet another clear and unmistakable sign of the End Times.

Furthermore, DrRich (a well-known paranoid when it comes to covert rationing) saw a more sinister advantage to the official and well-publicized support that government-funded institutions were giving to the alternative medicine movement. Namely, fostering a widespread impression among the unwashed rabble that alternative medicine is at least somewhat legitimate (and plenty respectable) will further the cause of covert rationing. That is, the more people who can be enticed to seek their diagnoses and their cures from the alternative medicine universe, where they are often spending their own money, the less money these people will soak up from the real healthcare system. With luck, real diagnoses can be delayed and real therapy put off until it’s far too late to achieve a useful outcome by more traditional (and far more expensive) medical means.

So, for several years alternative medicine was seen by DrRich pretty much as it is seen by all of the anti-woo crowd – as an unvarnished evil.

But in recent days the scales have fallen from DrRich’s eyes. He now realizes he was sadly mistaken. Rather than a term of opprobrium, “alternative medicine” may actually be our most direct road to salvation. Indeed, DrRich thinks that far from damning alternative medicine, we should be blessing it, nurturing it, worrying over it, in the precise manner that a mountaineer trapped in a deadly blizzard would worry over the last embers of his dying campfire.

What turned the tide for DrRich was a recent report, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimating that in 2007, Americans spent a whopping $34 billion on alternative medicine. Even more remarkably, a goodly chunk of this money was paid by Americans themselves, out of their own pockets.

The implications of this report should be highly encouraging to those of us who lament the impending creation of a monolithic government-controlled healthcare system, and who have been struggling to imagine ways of circumventing the legions of stone-witted, soul-eating bureaucrats now being prepared (Sauron-like) to descend upon us all, doctor and patient alike.

This is why DrRich has urged primary care physicians to break the bonds of servitude while they still can, strike out on their own, and set up practices in which they are paid directly by their patients. Such arrangements are the only practical means by which individual doctors and patients can immediately restore the broken doctor-patient relationship, and place themselves within a protective enclosure impervious to the slavering soul-eaters.

One reason so few primary care doctors have taken this route (choosing instead to retire, to change careers and become deep-sea fishermen, or simply to give up and become abject minions of the forces of evil) is that they do not believe patients will actually pay them out of their own pockets.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this new report from the CDCP demonstrates once and for all that Americans will, indeed, pay billions of dollars from their own pockets for their own healthcare – even the varieties of healthcare whose only possible benefits are mediated by the placebo effect.  DrRich believes that many of the people buying homeopathic remedies are doing so less because they believe homeopathy works, and more because they feel abandoned by the healthcare system and by their own doctors, and realize they have to do SOMETHING. The CDCP report, in DrRich’s estimation, reflects the magnitude of the American public’s pent-up demand for doctors whose chief concern is for them, and not for the demands of third party payers.

Perhaps more importantly, this new report implies that it will be somewhat more difficult than DrRich previously believed for the government to outlaw private-sector healthcare activities. Creating a monolithic government-controlled healthcare system would naturally require the authorities to make it illegal for Americans to spend their own money on their own healthcare, thus rendering direct-pay medical practices illegal, and putting the final stake into the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. But the rousing success of the alternative medicine universe will make such laws difficult to enact.

To see why, consider just how encouraging this new CDCP report must be to the third-party payers. Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the government (and the academy) to legitimize alternative medicine, Americans are spending $34 billion a year on woo. This amount indicates tremendous savings for the traditional healthcare system. The actual amount saved, of course, is impossible to measure, but has to be far greater than just $34 billion. Some substantial proportion of patients spending money on alternative medicine, had they chosen traditional medical care instead, might have consumed expensive diagnostic tests, surgery, expensive prescription drugs, and other legitimate medical services. Furthermore, those legitimate medical services (as legitimate medical services are wont to do) often would have generated even more expenditures – by extending the survival of patients with chronic diseases, by identifying the need for even more diagnostic and therapeutic services, and by causing side effects requiring expensive remedies. (While alternative medicine is famous for being useless, it is also most often pretty harmless, and tends to produce relatively few serious side effects – except, of course, for causing a delay in making actual diagnoses and administering useful therapy, but that’s a good thing if you’re a payer.) So the amount of money the payers actually save thanks to alternative medicine must be some multiplier of the amount spent on the alternative medicine itself.

What this means is payers (which under a government system means the government) will be loathe to do anything that might discourage the success and growth of alternative medicine, and this fact alone may stop them from making it illegal for Americans to pay for their own healthcare.

Still, we musn’t be too sanguine about these prospects. Under a government-controlled system, the imperative to control every aspect of healthcare (in the name of fairness) will be very, very strong. It is easy to envision the feds declaring several varieties of alternative medicine to be covered services, so people wouldn’t have to buy alternative medicine themselves.

But alternative medicine (bless it) will be impervious to government control. Practitioners of alternative medicine aren’t doing what they are doing in order to be subject to federal regulation and bureaucratic meddling. If the feds declare, say, homeopathy and therapeutic touch to be legitimate, covered services under the universal health plan, why, the alternative medicine gurus will simply come up with entirely new forms of alternative medicine specifically to remain outside the universal plan. (New varieties of alternative medicine already appear with dizzying speed, and can be invented at will. No bureaucracy could ever hope to keep up.)

Therefore, as long as the central authorities depend on alternative medicine as a robust avenue for covertly rationing healthcare, the purveyors of woo will always be able to flourish outside the real healthcare system. And this, DrRich believes, represents the ultimate value of woo, and establishes why we should all be encouraging and nurturing woo instead of disparaging it.

DrRich has speculated before on various black market approaches to healthcare which could be attempted by American doctors (and investors) should restrictive, government-controlled healthcare become a reality.  Some of these were: medical speakeasies; floating off-shore medical centers on old aircraft carriers; medical centers just south of the border (the establishment of which, at last, would stimulate the feds to seal the borders against illegal passage once and for all); and combination medical center/casinos on the sovereign land of Native American reservations.

But now, thanks to the success of alternative medicine, there is a direct and straightforward path for American primary care physicians to practice a form of now-long-gone “traditional” American medicine, replete with a robust doctor-patient relationship, right out in the open. Simply declare this kind of practice to be a new variety of alternative medicine. Likely, you will need to come up with a new name for it (such as “Therapeutic Allopathy,” or “Reciprocal Duty Therapeutics”), and perhaps invent some new terminology to describe what you’re doing. But what you’re actually doing will be so fundamentally different from what PCPs will be doing under government-controlled healthcare as to be unrecognizable, and nobody will be able to argue it’s not alternative medicine. In fact, it will seem nearly as wierd as Reiki.

Alternative medicine, in other words, will provide American doctors who want to practice the kind of medicine they should be and want to be practicing with the cover they need to do so. And this is why we must support medical woo, and celebrate its continued growth and success.

* A list of these academic medical institutions now sporting Centers of Woo is maintained by Orac, and can be found here. The length of Orac’s cavalcade of woo, and the famous names appearing on it, is truly stunning. The sinking feeling one gets from looking at Orac’s list can only be surpassed by actually clicking on a few of the links he provides, and sampling some of the actual woo-sites offered by these prestigious academic centers, which read like excerpts of some of the more unguarded moments from Oprah, or even the Huffington post.

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Counter Point: A Nurse Who Wants A Single-Payer System

My apologies to James Carville. I plagiarized his tagline because the insurance industry has forgotten about sick people during our national healthcare debate.
I remember when nurses and insurance companies use to get along with each other. Back in the 1960s, these nurses even took time out of their busy schedules to pose for one of their ads. We took care of patients at the bedside, and the insurance companies paid the hospital bill. It was as simple as that, but then things started to change. It began with three little letters—HMO.

Insurance companies are spending a lot of time and money trying to scare people into opposing President Barack Obama’s ideas on health care reform. They are especially working hard to torpedo the public option plan. That plan would allow you to keep your own private health insurance policy or buy affordable health insurance through a public plan. Insurers are going all out to make you hate this idea by making claims that aren’t true. They are saying that the government is going to ration health care by dictating which doctor you can see, and by making you wait weeks to see a specialist. Ironic isn’t it? The insurance industry is already doing these things to patients everyday via their HMOs. We wouldn’t even be having this debate if they were playing fair in the first place.

Insurance companies make their money a couple of different ways. They rack in the bucks by not insuring people who are sick, a practice known as cherry picking, and by not paying out claims. They also make money by cutting out competition. This is the real reason why insurers are trying to muscle Uncle Sam out of the insurance business. Medicare administrative costs are equal to about 2 percent of what it pays out to providers. For private insurers the ratio over expenses to payments is typically over 15 percent. Why the big difference? Insurance companies have high overhead. Their CEOs take home mega-million dollar paychecks, they have to take care of their shareholders, and they have to pay for fancy ads that convince consumers that they will have health coverage when they really need it. They need those fancy ads. Insurance companies are always looking for ways to deny our claims, but I digress. Competition between private companies and a public plan would hit insurance companies right where it hurts—in their wallets. Fewer customers in private plans means less profits, and less profits, up to 20 to 30 percent by some estimates, means fewer martini lunches for those at the top of the corporate food chain. To make matters worse, those greedy folks who make money by NOT paying for care would have to lower their profit margin on the customers they do keep in order to compete with the government.

I’ll never forget the day that I learned about HMOs. I came into work and found red dots on the side of a few patient charts. My head nurse told me that the dots were put there to prompt doctors to discharge patients as soon as possible so that the hospital and the insurance company could make more money. That was twenty-five years ago and the system has been in freefall ever since. Year after year, nurses are voted as the most trusted profession in America in Gallup’s annual survey of professions for their honesty and ethical standards. We are patient advocates, and we never put anything above what’s best for our patients. That’s why I’m putting my seal of approval on President Obama’s public health insurance plan, and so are the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the SEIU. The insurance companies want your money. Nurses want to take care of their patients. We want all Americans to have affordable, high-quality healthcare.

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

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