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Average Americans Are Very Confused About Healthcare Reform

Doubled over in pain, you stagger into the emergency room and are diagnosed with acute appendicitis. A surgeon leans over your stretcher:

Surgeon: You need an appendectomy.

You: What are my options?

Surgeon: Either I take out your appendix or you die.

Now that’s a conversation people can understand. But what if, instead of whisking you up to the operating room, the surgeon kept talking and invited a few other people into the discussion?

Surgeon: Do you think I should take it out by an open operation or laparoscopically?

You: Huh?

Laparoscopy equipment salesman: You know, cutting you open the old-fashioned way and leaving a big scar or having a tiny incision. Laparoscopy is much better than the open procedure.

Guy who sells scar-removal cream: Wait a minute. Better for whom? Laparoscopy takes fourteen minutes longer.

Hospital administrator: But hospital stay is reduced by 0.7 days on average, patients have less pain, and you can return to work sooner.

Surgeon: Laparoscopy costs more than an open operation while you’re hospitalized but less once you’re home. What’s your co-pay?

You: Doc, my belly’s hurting a lot more now.

Guy who owns shares in a drug company: What if we just treat him with antibiotics?

Surgeon: Don’t be silly. His appendix could burst.

Funeral director: What about doing nothing?

Very smart people are zoning out of the health care reform debate because they think it’s just too complicated.
The latest poll out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente, says only 27 percent of the public has been following the health reform debate closely. Despite this, more than half (56 percent) of Americans think health reform is more important than ever.

Simply put, there are four main goals of the legislation:

  • Coverage expansion and subsidies. This is where most of the estimated trillion dollar price tag over ten years would go – to expanding Medicaid for uninsured and lower income people and to help people who can’t afford it pay on a sliding scale for insurance through new health insurance exchanges.
  • Insurance market reforms. This is about fair play in the insurance industry. Advocates want to eliminate practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions and jacking up premiums if they’re sick. The most controversial proposal is the establishment of a “public option” – a government insurance plan that would compete against private ones.
  • Delivery and payment reforms. This is about delivering more effective care at a lower cost.
    About 20 percent of the 2.5 trillion dollar annual health care price tag does not contribute to better health.
  • Prevention. This has been long overlooked in America. Spend a few dollars on foot care for a diabetic and you may prevent a foot amputation and thousands of dollars in expenses.Defining the goals is relatively easy to understand. Implementing them is tough and that’s where people are made to feel stupid – partly by special interest groups who intentionally or unintentionally confuse the debate. Drew Altman, Ph. D., the President and CEO of Kaiser Family Foundation, told me there’s “all kinds of spin, mis-statement of fact and plain old mis-truths being bandied about and the debate is getting nastier and nastier.” He added that people are becoming confused and “it’s beginning to make the public more anxious and antsier.”

    Half-truths feed on fear. People are afraid of losing or compromising what coverage they already have. They’re afraid of higher taxes and lower quality of care. Who has the time or patience to read the 1,000-page bill proposed by the House of Representatives? So we rely on summaries and are susceptible to all sorts of misrepresentation. And nobody wants a plan with major faults rammed down their throat in the name of political expediency.

    Today’s Kaiser Family Foundation report suggests that the tactics of special interest groups are working. Sixty percent of adults surveyed support a public option. But “(w)hen those who initially support the public plan are told that this could give the government an unfair advantage over private companies, overall support drops to 35 percent. Conversely, when opponents are told that public plans would give people more choice or help drive down costs through competition, overall support jumps to roughly seven in ten.”

    It’s in the interest of those who oppose health care reform to make us feel that it’s just too hard to understand. I have certainly felt that way at times over the past year. But the stakes are too high for Americans to bale out on the discussion. Our common sense and sense of fair play are crucial to the national conversation. We should hear out the special interest groups; they often have legitimate concerns and thoughtful analysis. But we need to remember where they are coming from. And we must seek out information from sources that try to be nonpartisan, such as the
    Kaiser Family Foundation.

    No, you’re not stupid if you’re confused about health care reform. But you may be psyched out. You probably know a lot more than you think – but you may need to do some homework in order to participate in this extraordinarily important national debate. The national debate needs you.

    For this week’s CBS Doc Dot Com, I moderate a debate about the public option between Wendell Potter, former head of public relations for Cigna and Rob Schlossberg, Executive Sales Director for BenefitMall. Mr. Schlossberg opposes it and Mr. Potter favors it.

    To view the debate on a public option,
    click here.

    To view a brief discussion of for-profit vs. not-for-profit health insurance organizations,
    click here.

    For Janet Adamy’s excellent summary, “Ten Questions on the Health-Care Overhaul,” in the July 21st issue of the The Wall Street Journal,
    click here.


    Watch CBS Videos Online

    Extra Video

    The Economics Of Health Care

    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5181458n&tag=contentMain;contentBody


    Watch CBS Videos Online

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Can Be Devastating, But Highly Treatable

    “It’s my OCD.” I hear that on and off from friends and patients who half-jokingly use the term to describe overly careful behavior (such as double-checking to make sure the stove is off) but don’t actually have obsessive-compulsive disorder. True OCD can be a devastating disease. Patients have intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts and severe anxiety centered around the need to perform repetitive rituals. They can be physical such as hand washing or mental such as counting. The behavior significantly interferes with normal daily activities and persists despite most patients being painfully aware that the obsessions or compulsions are not reasonable.

    OCD affects 2-3 percent of the world’s population. We’ve seen characters with the disorder portrayed in television (e.g., Tony Shalhoub’s Adrian Monk) and in film (e.g., Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall in “As Good As It Gets.”) Yet it’s still associated with stigma, shame, and an alarming level of ignorance by many health professionals. On average, people look for help for more than nine years and visit three to four doctors before receiving the proper diagnosis. In an excellent review article on the subject, Dr. Michael A. Jenike, offers three helpful screening questions: “Do you have repetitive thoughts that make you anxious and that you cannot get rid of regardless of how hard you try?” “Do you keep things extremely clean or wash your hands frequently?” And “Do you check things to excess?” He suggests that answering “yes” to any of these questions should prompt an evaluation for possible OCD. Of course, these are just screening questions and keeping a spotless kitchen doesn’t mean you have a disorder.

    For this week’s CBS Doc Dot Com, I interviewed Jeff Bell, KCBS radio broadcaster and author of Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and When In Doubt, Make Belief: Life Lessons from OCD. He poignantly told me about the mental anguish associated with his illness, how it threatened to sabotage his career and personal life. His OCD focused on a fear of unintentionally harming others. He found himself unable to drive a car because every time he hit a bump he was afraid he had run somebody over; each time, he needed to get out and check. Even walking to work presented a challenge. He explained that a twig on the sidewalk could stop him in his tracks and fill him with what he knew were irrational thoughts but was powerless to control. Maybe somebody would be harmed by the twig if he didn’t move it. But if he did move it then maybe somebody would be harmed who wouldn’t have if he had just left it alone.

    Jeff Bell sought treatment and turned his life around. His message is that others can do the same. Highly successful approaches including cognitive-behavioral therapies and medication can help the majority of patients. But only those who ask for help.

    Resources for OCD include: The Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and The New England Journal of Medicine.


    Watch CBS Videos Online

    Physicians And The H1N1 Flu

    Yesterday I visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and was taken inside the command center, where almost 100 staffers have been working around the clock to monitor and stem the current outbreak of flu.

    I first spoke to Toby Crafton, the manager of the command center, who oversees the day-to-day operations. He and his team have been preparing for a possible pandemic of flu or another infectious illness for years. I also spoke to Michael Shaw, PhD, who heads up the virology labs that are studying the H1N1 virus causing the current outbreak. He’s spent a career learning the laboratory techniques that are so urgently needed right now. The third person I spoke to was Dr. Richard Besser, Acting Director of the CDC, who has been working at the agency for 13 years and is an extensively published expert in infectious diseases.

    I mentioned that last week I had received an email notification from the New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) about how I should be managing my patients with flu-like symptoms. The advice was actually not intuitively obvious to me. For example, the Department of Health said that for patients with mild illness, treatment with anti-viral meds like Tamiflu and Relenza was only recommended for patients who also had underlying conditions that increased their risk for complications due to influenza. Dr. Besser pointed out that it was especially important right now for physicians to stay up to date with the recommendations being made by public health officials. Doctors can contact their local department of health and sign up for the same type of email notification that I received.

    This brings us to the main point of today’s blog post. Many of us – patients and physicians alike – have been thinking about the influenza virus for about a week. Public health officials like the teams at the CDC and the NYCDOH have been thinking about it for years. Physicians, me included, are used to practicing medicine based on “clinical judgment.” We understand that medicine is an art and not a science, that there are many different ways to approach a problem, that there’s often no clear “right” or “wrong.” We are also used to doing things “our way”, whatever that way is. But this is not a time for doing things “our way” if it’s at significant odds with strong recommendations being made by public health officials. There are recommendations that may seem logical – like prescribing medication for somebody with mild flu symptoms “just in case” that nevertheless go against the judgment of people who have trained for years to think about how to deal with an epidemic.

    What if you’re a physician who strongly disagrees with a suggestion of public officials? Then challenge that recommendation publicly. Bring the discussion to light; maybe you’re right. While this is no time to go rogue, doctors have an obligation to think carefully and independently and to challenge recommendations that seem illogical. But don’t silently do things your own way.


    Watch CBS Videos Online

    CBS Evening News with Katie Couric: First Live Webcast On Swine Flu Tonight, 7pm

    Due to popular demand, and the need for better public education about the swine flu outbreak, Dr. Jon LaPook will be offering the first ever live webcast at CBS tonight.

    Check it out here (click on the link if video below doesn’t work at 7pm):

    Sex In The City: Interviews In Central Park

    An assumption of my new web show, CBSDOC.COM, is that people are aching for mature discussions about health.  This week I went to Central Park in New York City to talk to passersby about their sexuality, hoping to strike the right tone.  I brought along two female gynecologists – Dr. Lori Warren and Dr. Rebecca Booth – experts who flew all the way from Louisville, Kentucky to help me out.  Dr. Booth has written a book called “The Venus Week: Discover the Powerful Secret of Your Cycle At Any Age” that explains how hormones affect women from adolescence to menopause.  Each has an active clinical practice and extensive experience talking to their patients about everything from memory loss following pregnancy (“my memory went out with the placenta”) to plummeting libido.  And as luck would have it, total strangers we met at Columbus Circle talked to us quite openly about those very problems, eager to hear some practical advice.  I hope we accomplished our goal of talking about a sensitive subject in a grown-up manner.

    **Better Health readers: please let us know what you think of this new video series with Dr. LaPook. Leave a comment below. Thanks!**

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