It seems everyone working in the health insurance and health care industries feels entitled to large profits. And they will do or not do just about anything to get their share of the multi-trillion dollar a year health care "market." Doctors thumb their noses at "low" Medicare and Medicaid payments, limiting the number of patients in these programs that they will treat. Health insurers balk at insuring the very sick without government subsidies to reduce their financial risk. Pharmaceutical companies threaten to curb drug innovation unless they are allowed to impose astronomical markups on existing products and enjoy long patent periods. And hospitals do whatever the heck they want to make a buck--different prices for the same care with no transparency or explanation. And these are only four of the big players in the health care market; there are many others elbowing for their share.
Under these conditions, American health care reform that tries to lower costs is dead on arrival. The powerful groups benefitting from our overpriced health care system aren't going to accept a pay cut. Some may suggest incentives to get doctors to accept lower reimbursements, like subsidizing their student debt or even reducing the requirements and the number of years it takes to become a doctor. Others may suggest performance bonuses, like the ACA tried.
There are a lot of good sounding suggestions for lowering health care costs, including drug re-importation, universal use of electronic health records, value-based health care pricing, hospital consolidation, competitive bidding for supplies, focus on tertiary care, etc. You name a health care cost cutting idea, and great minds have already penned it.
One health care cost cutting idea receiving more attention is allowing future American doctors to enroll directly into medical school instead of first getting a 4-year undergraduate degree. Medical students and the country would save a lot of money, and their student loan excuse to demand high salaries falls away. Many countries with similar or better health care outcomes require 5-6 years of schooling to become a doctor versus 8 in the U.S. But American doctors won't easily give up the prestige of being a doctor and, therefore, will continue to demand higher salaries. Continue Reading...
I recently heard a story of a diabetic Medicaid patient that developed gangrene on her foot and leg. Gangrene occurs when tissue decays or dies due to a loss of its blood supply or because of a bacterial infection. It's a concern for many people with diabetes because of how diabetes affects the body--including possible damage to the nerves and weakening of the immune system. Treatments for gangrene include surgical removal of the decaying or dead skin, amputation of the affected body part or antibiotics.
The first surgeon that examined the diabetic Medicaid patient's foot and leg concluded that amputation of the affected area was the appropriate course of care given the severity of the gangrene. He immediately scheduled surgery for later that day. Fortunately a second surgeon disagreed—concluding that the gangrene could be treated with surgical removal of the dead and dying skin. The surgery to remove the dead skin was performed by the second surgeon and the patient still has all of her limbs and is being monitored.
I won’t speculate why the first surgeon prescribed amputation to treat the gangrene, but I did wonder if the patient’s insurance coverage had anything to do with his rush to cut. And there is evidence to back up my worries. There is lots of evidence that diabetic amputees are more like to be poor and minority. Or course, this is not entirely the fault of doctors. Many poor minorities don’t seek regular or preventive care to treat their diabetes, making some amputations necessary. But not all of them…
And there’s more… A disease management program designed to help minority diabetes patients revealed the difference in blood testing rates between whites and ethnic minorities. Blacks and Hispanics had lower testing (to determine how well their diabetes is being controlled) rates than whites. A study of this vendor-based disease management pilot program for Medicare patients concluded that it did “not appear to improve diabetes care or mitigate racial/ethnic disparities among these patients…” The program failed.
But what’s a problem without a solution? Fortunately, health care reform is already addressing the diabetes crisis. A pilot diabetes prevention program run by the YMCA received praise and dollars from a grant program established by the Affordable Care Act program. According to an article on npr.org,
It's the first prevention program to meet requirements under the Affordable Care Act to gain Medicare coverage, HHS says, including undergoing an independent audit to confirm that it's effective and saves money. The Obama administration is recommending that Medicare cover the program for at-risk Medicare beneficiaries. Continue Reading...