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How Will Today’s Elections Affect Healthcare Reform?

All eyes are on today’s mid-term elections and how they’ll play out across the country. The results are likely to affect the recently enacted healthcare reform legislation, Politico reports. Although repealing the legislation would be difficult, Republicans may be able to challenge its implementation if they gain control of the House. Attempts to modify the law could require a delicate balance since, as noted by the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein, some of its provisions, such as coverage for dependents age 26 and younger, are individually popular.

Reuters has published a Q&A on what the election results could mean for the healthcare reform law. The Wall Street Journal is asking readers to weigh in on whether the legislation is affecting their votes. (Politico, Washington Post, Reuters, Wall Street Journal)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

The New Healthcare Law: So Sad It’s Funny

Thanks to Scott Hensley over at Shots, NPR’s Health Blog, for highlighting this sad but funny video on where we’re going with healthcare. Scary what happens when theory meets reality:

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Is “Plan” A Four-Letter Word When It Comes To Healthcare Reform

On Saturday, Breitbart.com posted an article about President Obama’s most recent town hall meetings and closed with the following paragraph: Obama is yet to reveal a detailed plan, but promises to expand coverage, control spiraling healthcare costs, rein in insurance companies and prioritize preventative care.”

I’ve been looking for an actual plan since Health Care Reform was seriously proposed. In July, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, was quoted in the Washington Post, stating that the Administration had decided against having an actual plan for Reform since it would expose the administration to criticism. Yet, I remained optimistic about Reform, and relished the chance to debate the facts as our Nation turned its focus upon a topic I have long been passionate about.

Unfortunately, my optimism waned as an honest and forthright debate about how to implement Reform has become ever-elusive. Disappointed in the turns this debate has taken on its journey through our national consciousness, I am leery of the simplistic viewpoint portrayed so often… “You are with Obama or against him” …. “You’re a Republican or a Democrat” … “You are for Reform or against it …”

Determined to find Obama’s plan, I began my search by reading his speech to the AMA, surfing the White House website, watching his ABC infomercial all the way through Nightline, and observing a number of town hall meetings. I went on to plaster the walls of my home office, to the amusement of my wife, with everything the President had said, color-coded on poster boards.

By July, as I looked around my office I realized that I was surrounded, not by a plan, but by a group of wishes, beliefs, hopes and ideals. I love the way it sounds when I say “prioritize preventative care” and I long for a day when the $100 million salaries of insurance company CEOs has been “reined in.” However, I am not naïve enough to expect this to happen without a coherent plan.

I used to believe the White House would propose a bona-fide plan. Instead they are implementing a strategy that combines the president’s rhetoric with the defensive tactic of refuting critics of Congressional plans or the President’s zeal.

Even after the House passed their Reform bill (the first actual HC plan to come out of Washington), I can’t make myself take down all of those poster boards leaving me surrounded by inspiring and hypnotizing ideals. Yet I fail to see how the House bill will transform these beautiful ideals into reality as it creates multiple new government agencies and burdens doctors’ offices with more clerical responsibilities — new for the busy doctors of tomorrow: the physician quality reporting initiative, cultural and linguistic competence training, financial disclosure reports between providers and suppliers, and national priorities for performance improvement.

John Mackey, CEO of the Fortune 500 company Whole Foods, wrote an op-ed piece about HC reform for the August 11 Wall Street Journal. His editorial includes understandable plans, worthy of intelligent debate while being based in large part on the health care benefits Whole Foods currently has in place for 36,000 of its employees, and includes the following recommendations:

1. Promote high-deductible health insurance plans and HSAs by removing legal obstacles.

2. Equalize the tax laws so those buying individual insurance can enjoy the exact same tax break employer related insurance customers receive.

3. Encourage competition by allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines.

4. Enact tort reform since insurance costs, frequently over $100,000 per doctor, are passed back to all of us in the form of higher prices for health care.

5. Make costs transparent so we can all understand what health care treatments cost.

6. Enact Medicare Reform.

7. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible.

Three days later, instead of arguing the merits or demerits of Mackey’s plan, an ABC News story focused on the controversy his editorial had stirred up after briefly touching on some of his ideas. Spcifically, the ABC story focused on the boycott by many of his customers with one expressing the following belief, “I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients.” Another described Mr. Mackey’s position as a slap in the face to millions of progressive-minded consumers. The author quoted four customers pledging to not buy their food at Whole Foods anymore and added them to the implied masses gathering on Twitter and Facebook.

Fortunately, one customer, Frank Federer, was quoted as saying, “At a time when most folks are more inclined toward rancor than discussion of facts, I applaud John Mackey.”

So do I.

A realistic map showing us how to get from point A to point B is missing in the Health Care Reform debate. Facts are one thing in short supply to plot a course on this map. While the main ingredient in the fertilizer used to grow Whole Foods produce is in abundance, there’s just not enough for some of Mr. Mackey’s customers.

A Primary Care Provider’s Dilemma: The Decision to Opt Out of Medicare

We often are asked in our practice, “Why don’t you accept Medicare?”  The immediate answer is simple: we cannot afford to. We opted out of Medicare because the service won’t pay for phone consultations, won’t pay for email consultations, barely pays for an office visit, and does not pay nearly enough to cover a house call.

All of these services are critical to our medical practice. Medicare would require us to hire too many staff, as well as require us to do too much paper work and administration. I cannot afford to invest in either and still manage to operate in the black. Medicare has too many regulations and rules; we can’t understand a lot of them, and frankly, Medicare doesn’t seem to understand them most of the time either.  If I would accepte Medicare, then they have the right to audit our notes and then fine us for non-compliance for infractions that are not readily clear. Their external auditors get paid for every infraction they find which means the temptations for fining doctors are irresistible.

Yet the truest answer as to why we do not accept Medicare is that the service does not focus on what we feel is paramount: practicing effective and efficient medicine in order to ultimately achieve and maintain the good health of our patients. The service’s paltry reimbursement structure coupled with its impossible to-adhere-to regulations doesn’t allow us to offer a complete service to our patients. This complete service includes wellness care as well as the ability to take the time to understand each patient’s unique medical needs and circumstances.

The crux of the issue is that Medicare worries about the forest, in other words, the internal process, money management, reimbursement and policing agreements, data mining, and organizing dozens of internal bureaucracies. These agendas and policing policies help the Medicare service to manage the forest, however these are often in direct conflict with what we feel is key to effective healthcare: taking care of the individual, or each tree.

I do want to make clear that being afraid of audits, punitive actions and the vagaries of no one understanding all the rules is never a reason to leave Medicare — after all, patient care is filled with risk. However, it became clear to me that I, a single doctor voice, dealing with the collective frustration almost all doctors feel when dealing with Medicare (and most insurance companies) had three divergent paths to choose from:

  1. Do nothing. Ignore the conflicts of interest and the lack of patient-centered care and swallow frustration for a paycheck. Just do your best or what Medicare tells you to do.
  2. Work towards reforming Medicare from within through involvement in the process and by working with your professional associations.
  3. Ignore the payers altogether. Work outside the system, returning to the roots of primary care, reforming the business of primary care one person at a time.

Personally, I had to reject Option 1. I was witnessing too many wrongs among my colleagues and for patients. Primary care, a profession I am passionate about and believe in fully, would never have a future under this model. Hoping that things would work out if we just worked harder and harder while blindly submitting to Medicare’s interests and demands meant surrendering my patients’ trust, primary health care’s future, and my soul for a salary. There had to be a better way of making a living.

Working towards Option 2, trying to create reform from within the Medicare system, was nothing but futility on immediate analysis. The ability for me personally to influence the debate for what needs to be done in Medicare for primary care would be a David v. Goliath story without the biblical ending.

In the end I am just one family doctor, that’s what I know, that’s what I’ve spent my life doing and studying. Option 3 chose me. Opting out is financially the riskiest since it requires patients to do something that they have been socialized against for three generations, which is to pay directly for medical services (as they do with nearly everything else in our capitalistic economy). Doctors are well aware that 95% of patients will fire any doctor who refuses to accept Medicare.

This decision meant I might lose my shirt and put my home and small life savings at risk, something thousands of Americans in other professions do everyday. If they could take the risk, then my risk is nothing less than a trivial American story.

The United States was built on this: a country of immigrants fleeing an “old establishment” to build something new. It’s a group of people declaring: “You can’t tax us without representation!” It’s a government that permits us to challenge established norms, challenge power without being jailed or shot. The question today in health care for all of us as patients is will we stampede towards the utopian ideal of  “free care” while ignoring the predictable consequences that nothing is free.

The question put to primary care doctors by Medicare is clear at the moment: Will you let us at Medicare regulate care, dictate “best” treatments and control individual health and choices since we know what’s best. Can you, doctor, be our “yes man?”

Eight years ago I cast my vote and opted out of Medicare. Predictably my journey has not been easy but I have never regretted the decision.

Until next week, I remain yours in primary care,

Alan Dappen, MD

Grand Rounds Edition 5:18, January 20th – Call For Submissions

Dr. Val is hosting the historic inauguration day Grand Rounds at MedPageToday. Please send your submissions to this email address: valjonesmd AT gmail dot com. Put “Grand Rounds Submission” in your email title and please use this format for the body of your email:

  1. Post title
  2. Post url
  3. Short description of the post
  4. Blog title
  5. Blog url

Although I have never done a themed Grand Rounds before, it would be terribly remiss of me not to acknowledge healthcare reform on the very inauguration day of our new President, Barack Obama. So please send me your best posts about the change you’d like to see in healthcare. If we do a really great job of this, maybe Tom Daschle will take a looksie? Don’t laugh, but DC is a small world – I share a hair stylist with Tom’s wife, Linda!

Please send me your submissions by midnight, ET, Sunday January 18th. I will include all submissions, but will give more weight to those that are about healthcare reform.

For those of you who are reading this and wondering what on earth I’m talking about – please read about Grand Rounds here. It’s the weekly summary of the best blog posts from the medical blogosphere.

My inaugural Grand Rounds will be published at MedPageToday at 8am, Tuesday, January 20th. (This link will work from that time on). I hope that we’ll reach an unprecedented number of readers on this platform.

I look forward to receiving your submissions!

Warmest Regards,

Val

P.S. Please enjoy Barbara Kivowitz’s Grand Rounds this week – it has a Sci Fi theme! The January 27th edition of Grand Rounds will be hosted by: Chronic Babe.

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