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There Are Only Four Ways To Reduce Healthcare Spending

Everyone agrees that national spending on healthcare is on a trajectory to bankrupt America during the lifetimes of even Old Farts like DrRich. And therefore, most folks* agree that we ought to do something to reduce our national spending on healthcare.

*The reason it’s only “most folks” who agree is that, apparently, some folks are still partial to the Cloward-Piven strategy, and continuing to spend on healthcare as we are doing today is the quickest and surest way to get there.

Unfortunately, our national “discussion” on how to achieve this reduction in healthcare spending has devolved into a spectacle of accusations and counter-accusations, vituperation, abuse, and scurrility. Accordingly, not much useful has so far been achieved. Worse, the back-and-forth contumelies lobbed by the various interest groups in this national discussion have created a general sense among the public that the problem is so confused and chaotic, so rifled by conflicts of interest, and so very complex, as to be fundamentally unsolvable.

This general sense of despair is entirely unnecessary. DrRich is here to assure his readers that the problem of healthcare spending is not only solvable, but that it is destined to be solved – and within the lifetimes of many of us.

Furthermore, there are four ways (and only four ways) in which this inevitable reduction in healthcare spending can be achieved. By knowing these four methods of solving the problem, it is entirely possible – as we listen to all the debating, fighting, and reciprocal castigations, aspersions, distortions and lies being cast by and amongst the various interest groups – to understand which method is actually being espoused by which parties. If you happen to be partial to one method over another, this kind of knowledge can help you determine to whom you should offer your support.

And so, in the way of providing yet another remarkable service to his readers, DrRich is pleased to describe the four ways to reduce healthcare spending.

Method One: Make all healthcare spending the responsibility of the individual.

This is the method by which most of mankind has paid for healthcare for all but a few decades of the millions of years we have graced (or plagued) the planet: If you want or need healthcare (and if it exists), simply pay for it yourself. Proponents of this method offer two general arguments to support their position – an ethical one, and a practical one.

It is fundamentally unethical to insist that an individual’s healthcare services must be provided by others – claiming that healthcare is somehow intrinsically different from any other product or service which the individual may wish to acquire (such as food, clothing, housing, and iPADs) – because insisting on such a thing will place an unjustifiable burden on one’s fellows. Much of a person’s health (and therefore, of a person’s healthcare needs) is determined by lifestyle choices, so it is only right and proper for the individual to bear responsibility for those choices. Demanding that one’s fellow citizens take that responsibility for such personal choices is fundamentally unethical – and requiring them to do so will inevitably lead to tyranny by some Central Authority.

Method One also holds that, by returning the purchase of healthcare back into the realm of actual market forces, the laws of supply and demand will determine which services are actually needed, and what the rightful price for those services ought to be. So from a practical standpoint, Method One will at last recruit the efficiencies of the marketplace into the healthcare system, and bring the cost of healthcare services down to a level which individuals can actually afford. (And if people can’t or don’t want to pay for healthcare services, they are more likely to begin making lifestyle choices that will lower their odds of having to do so.) But whether or not individuals can afford medical services, at least the spending on those services will no longer be the burden of society – and the fiscal doom we now face will be cured.

Opponents of Method One point out that, inevitably, there will be individuals – and likely many, many individuals – who simply will not be able to afford to pay for healthcare services which are needed, and which are readily available for a price, and will therefore suffer preventable pain, disability, and death. Without some kind of public support for healthcare, heart-rending tragedies will abound, our civilization will become coarsened, anger will build, and insurrection will become a constant threat.

Method Two: Make all healthcare spending the responsibility of a Central Authority.

Method Two holds that, for straightforward ethical reasons, healthcare is a fundamental right; that whether one receives a healthcare service – a service that can relieve pain or prevent disability or death – ought not to depend on one’s ability to pay, but that healthcare services ought to be equally available to everyone. The only way to achieve this goal is to collectivize and centralize healthcare decisions and healthcare spending.

For proponents of Method Two, healthcare services are indeed fundamentally different from all other human needs – food, clothing, etc. – since the kind and the amount of healthcare services one needs are much less a matter of individual choice, but are foisted upon one by fate. Burdening individuals with the need to pay for such arbitrary and uncontrollable costs is not only unethical, but destabilizing.

Requiring individuals to pay for their own healthcare is destabilizing because, if a person’s lifetime of work and saving can be wiped out in an instant by an unexpected illness, people will be much less willing to work hard, take risks, and otherwise engage in the economic activities that drive our society. “Healthcare security,” which can only be provided by collective efforts, is thus necessary to a robust and sustainable civilization.

The methods by which healthcare costs can be controlled under a centralized system are straightforward. Obamacare, for instance, does so by explicitly empowering a (nearly) all-powerful Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) with all macro-level healthcare spending decisions. Furthermore, “guidelines” promulgated by various other expert panels will control spending at a more granular level, by determining which specific services doctors will be permitted to offer to which patients, and under what circumstances. Doctors will be strictly held, under the threat of criminal prosecution, to these guidelines. Finally, recognizing implicitly that many healthcare needs are indeed determined by individual lifestyle choices rather than purely by chance, public health experts will advance enforceable policies that will determine what and how much we eat, when and how long we sleep, what products we acquire and how we use them, and what activities we are permitted to perform where. (The public health experts are off to a very good start in this effort!) If everyone within the healthcare system (and in our society) will simply follow the multitudinous directives laid out by the legions of sanctified experts, costs will at last be contained, and all will be well.

Regular readers will understand that there is no need for DrRich to reiterate in any detail here the arguments that have been raised by opponents of Method Two. These arguments can be summarized simply as follows: Method Two inevitably leads to tyranny.

Method Three: Provide strictly limited public support for basic healthcare services, with individuals responsible for the remainder.

Method Three attempts to combine the benefits of Methods One and Two, while avoiding their major disadvantages. Method Three recognizes that paying for all of one’s own healthcare is beyond the means of many individuals, and that therefore a modern, civil society ought to provide at least some healthcare to at least some of its citizens. At the same time, Method Three recognizes that the public funding of all healthcare is beyond the means of society, will inevitably lead to ruin, and that (both for these practical reasons and for ethical reasons) individuals ought to be responsible for paying for at least some of their own healthcare.

Numerous configurations are possible under Method Three. The key to controlling costs is that the dollars which society will spend on healthcare for individuals must be strictly defined and strictly limited, and cannot be open-ended. Method Three ought to assure that individuals will have ready access to, and the means to pay for, basic healthcare services, and that the chances of being financially ruined by a catastrophic illness are very low, but at the same time that most individuals should not and cannot rely entirely on public funding for their healthcare.

Examples of “Method Three” configurations include the detailed three-tiered solution that DrRich proposed in his book; the Ryan plan, which would limit Medicare expenditures by providing seniors with a fixed amount of money – on a means-tested sliding scale – with which to purchase their health insurance of choice; and, at least arguably, the original conception of Medicare, in which it was at least legal, if not expected, for seniors to pay for additional, non-covered medical services with their own funds (an option which is now very difficult, and often illegal).

How is the battle shaping up?

As DrRich sees it, Method One is simply a non-starter. For all practical purposes, and for good or bad, we moved irreversibly beyond a purely self-pay healthcare system over 60 years ago. So the real battle is between Method Two and Method Three. The feud between these two methods is going to be a bloody one.

The key difference between these two methods – both practically and philosophically – is whether individuals will be permitted to pay for at least some of their own healthcare with their own money. For reasons DrRich has laid out previously, it is imperative under Method Two that all healthcare decisions and all healthcare spending be centralized. There can be no compromise on this.  The moment a compromise is made, we will inevitably wind up under a Method Three healthcare system.

Proponents of Method Two do not like DrRich (and have said so many times), because he has concluded (and often repeats) that, viewed objectively, the only logical reason these people fight so hard to keep individuals from being required (or even permitted) to assume at least some financial responsibility for their own healthcare, is that their actual prime objective must be something other than to fix the healthcare system and control healthcare expenditures. Rather, their actual prime objective must be, and can only be, to centralize the control of our society. The healthcare fiscal crisis is merely the most expedient vehicle to achieve this prime objective. (Progressives mean well, as DrRich has said many times, but their plan for a perfect society is always based on the need for all of us in the great unwashed masses to subsume our individual prerogatives in favor of the dictates of the enlightened leadership. Unfortunately, history teaches us that this plan never works out well.)

If this battle is ever resolved, therefore, it will hinge on whether individual Americans retain the legal right to purchase healthcare services with their own money. DrRich admits that this conclusion, regarding the essence of our ongoing healthcare debate, is not one which has been remarked by many other commentators on healthcare policy. It is, nonetheless, the case. An objective observer who pays close attention to the machinations of the nameless bureaucrats who are currently writing the rules and regulations under which Obamacare will finally be prosecuted will see that it is so.

What about Method Four?

There is little reason to spend much time discussing the fourth and final method for controlling healthcare expenditures. Nobody is a proponent of this method, so nobody discusses it. However, Method Four, at this moment, seems to be the most likely outcome. Indeed, at this moment it is our default method of choice.

Method Four is formulated as follows: Our skyrocketing healthcare expenditures are the chief driver of our national debt. Our national debt burden, unless we get control of it by controlling healthcare expenditures, will inevitably destroy our civil society. At the same time, our modern, sophisticated and very expensive healthcare system utterly requires a complex, modern, organized, high-tech society in which to function.

Therefore, our skyrocketing healthcare expenditures ultimately provides its own cure. Once society collapses, “healthcare services” will revert back to the roots-and-poultices methodologies that served mankind so well for millions of years. And healthcare, as well as other modern geegaws like cable TV and the Internet, will no longer be a fundamental human right, but will become a mere afterthought (if a thought at all) in a more primitive kind of society where life is nasty, brutish and short.

So, not to worry.

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

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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.


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