Articles Posted in Health Care Reform

AmProgressBIRcosts-300x245When patients battle with the desperate extremes of a disease like a fast-spreading cancer, it isn’t just the radiation and chemo therapies that sap their spirits, there’s a  demoralizing runner-up concern: The constant battling with doctors, hospitals, and insurers over medical bills.

Medical billing and insurance-related costs are so over the top that they pile up a half-trillion-dollars a year in burdensome administrative costs — half of which is excessive and wasteful, according to new research from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

The center reviewed past studies of administrative costs in U.S. health care, seeking to address criticisms of their methods and conclusions. Still, the new findings raise points that may stagger patients, policy makers, and politicians, say Emily Gee, a health economist for the group, and Topher Spiro, its vice president for Health Policy and a senior economic fellow.

donquixote-300x259When it comes to something as crucial as health care, let’s keep it simple: Americans deserve better than this …

  • Can President Trump keep up his barrage of counter-factual assertions and political reverses on federal help for those needing health insurance, a key part of the Affordable Care Act? After resurrecting in federal courts the decade-long debacle of Republican efforts to kill Obamacare—including its protections for preexisting conditions—Trump flipped yet again. He heard an earful from party leaders that they have no way to cover tens of millions who would lose their health insurance if the ACA gets tossed out by courts, and he apparently awoke to the reality that the GOP can’t eliminate the law when Democrats control the House. So, the president then insisted that the GOP, after failing to do so for years, would present a better alternative and enact it, repealing Obamacare, too—at some time after the 2020 elections. If Republicans win back the House, keep control of the Senate, and he is reelected.
  • Even as the president asserted the GOP’s superiority in health care policy, the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquire reported that a key element of Trumpcare is bringing back consumer nightmares. Patients initially might like the short-term health insurance plans the administration has pushed as an ACA alternative. Officials have relaxed rules on them so they can last longer than the few months permitted under Obamacare. The plans may carry lower monthly premiums. But they come with skimpy benefits. Which consumers are rediscovering. They’re getting sick and hoping to rely on short-term policies, only to find they owe doctors and hospitals thousands of dollars—but their insurance won’t help them with a penny.

care-300x180Americans have real reason to fear a health care catastrophe: If loved ones suffer major injury or illness, who will feed, bathe, and care for them 24/7 after they get out of the hospital and recuperate at home? Who will take time off from work to set up and take them to unending and long medical appointments? Who will wait for and get all the pills and devices they need?

The nation has been locked in a decade-long battle over health insurance that helps cover medical costs, but caregiving, a crucial part of the social safety net, gets short shrift, writes Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and health research and policy expert at Indiana University School of Medicine. As Carroll noted in a timely and personal column for the New York Times “Upshot” feature:

Americans spend so much time debating so many aspects of health care, including insurance and access. Almost none of that covers the actual impossibility and hardship faced by the many millions of friends and family members who are caregivers. It’s hugely disrupting and expensive. There’s no system for it. It’s a gaping hole.

EHRsKHN-300x230Tempting though it may be to dismiss doctors’ howls about electronic health records—maybe they’re Luddites or they’re just another group of high-paid workers beefing about their job tools—the persistent and significant nightmare of the complicated computer systems has been this: Do they harm patient care?

The answer now may be: Yes, billions of taxpayer and private dollars spent on EHRs may be reducing patient safety.

That’s the finding of the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service, based on its extensive investigation in partnership with Fortune Magazine. The two media operations reported that:

devito-300x169As tens of millions of Americans struggle with workplace medical insurance that provides them with little benefit when they most need it, consumers may wonder just how naïve their employers may be in overlooking industry SPIFFs, SPIVs, and other little-discussed payments that jack up costs and may reduce benefits.

Before any confusion arises, don’t think about health insurance in high-minded terms, and, instead, as just another business transaction — maybe what occurs at the cheesy used car dealership in the neighborhood (ala actor Danny DeVito in “Matilda,” as shown above). There, customers have gotten savvy about bonuses (Sales Promotion Incentive Funds or Sales Promotion Incentives) ladled on salesmen to get them to move vehicles out of showrooms, asap.

Pro Publica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, deserves credit for digging in to the medical insurance business to show how similar incentive programs proliferate in brokerages that purportedly help companies of all sizes figure how to cover their employees’ health needs.

commonwealth-underinsured-300x216Republicans got their heads handed to them in the midterms because they bungled a decade of efforts to eliminate public options on health insurance, the House minority leader has conceded. But he and other lawmakers, as well as corporate bosses, may face greater political fallout for failing to deal with a bigger health coverage nightmare for  Americans: workplace insurance plans.

More than half of Americans 65 or younger — 150 million-plus — get employer health insurance, while just a quarter of us buy plans on individual markets or get covered by Medicaid, reported the nonpartisan, respected Commonwealth Fund.

Republicans, in control of the House and Senate and now the White House, have ripped at the Affordable Care Act since its passage — although Obamacare has expanded and improved options for those uncovered on the job, including protections for preexisting conditions. Lawmakers in the meantime largely have left alone employer plans.

conditionslowdowns-300x215Take heart, Americans. Taking care of ourselves makes a difference, making us healthier — and saving us money.  New research supports policies for spending on the wellness of the elderly, improving heart care, and how smart interventions can reduce rising overall health costs.

This evidence-based approach to figuring the government’s optimal role in individuals’ health also may provide a rebuke of sorts to the way that partisans are imposing draconian new rules to curtail medical assistance for the working poor, poor, aged, and chronically ill Americans.

The rare good news about the nation’s health care costs traces to investigators’ efforts to determine why, in contrast to expectations that spending would leap, Americans’ $3.5 trillion annual medical expenditures increased only slightly. They drilled down, focusing on an area where the “sharpest slowdown” occurred in their research period, 1999-2012: Medicare, a federal program that now enrolls roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population, with beneficiaries 65 and older.

hospitalprices-300x162Patients and reformers attacking skyrocketing health care costs may want to focus less on doctors and more on big, shiny hospitals, where in just five years prices soared by 42 percent for inpatient care versus the still sizable 18 percent price hikes that MDs scored.

Those findings are part of a new study that examined medical costs based on actual payments, focusing on common procedures like deliveries of babies (vaginal and cesarean), colonoscopies, and knee replacements.  “Hospital prices grew much faster than physician prices for inpatient and outpatient hospital-based care in the period 2007–14 … The same pattern was present for all four of our procedures,” wrote the researchers from Yale, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon. They found that hospital costs also spiked for outpatient care, increasing 25 percent, versus 6 percent for doctors.

This meant that for a knee replacement costing $30,000 or so, the doctors’ mean price was almost $4,900, while the hospital price was almost $25,000. For a $13,000 C-section, the doctor’s mean price was $4,600, while the figure for hospitals was $8,300. These numbers were derived from analyzing hundreds of thousands of procedures.

The Trump Administration has put out its latest prescription to try to slash out-of-control prescription drug prices: Officials want to call medication “rebates” what they say they’ve really become — “kickbacks” — and crack down on the crazy rise of profit-reaping middlemen in the drug business.

Alex Azar, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, announced that Uncle Sam, via the giant Medicare and Medicaid plans, hopes to fix big flaws in the drug industry by barring prescription medication discounting to PBMs (prescription benefit managers). The discounts still would be available to patient-consumers. But eliminating them for PBMs could be a major step in cutting drug costs, not the least because this step could give parties in this medical “supply chain” more transparency on what products cost.

cracktv-300x169When reformers look for ways to slash the ever-higher costs of American medical care, one line item should leap from television screens, print pages, and radio broadcasts: How does the nation benefit from medical enterprises spending $30 billion annually in a growing avalanche of marketing and advertising — and why can’t this be stopped or subjected to tougher regulation?

Two physician-scientists at The Center for Medicine in the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice have published on the JAMA Network their new research, showing that:

[M]edical marketing expanded substantially [between 1997 and 2016], and spending increased from $17.7 to $29.9 billion, with direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs and health services accounting for the most rapid growth, and pharmaceutical marketing to health professionals accounting for most promotional spending.

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