Articles Posted in Health Care Reform

mlk-300x207With the nation taking a holiday to celebrate the remarkable life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his pioneering push for Americans’ civil rights, it may be worth remembering that his far-reaching visions of equality and social justice were deeply unpopular in their time, as was he.

King infuriated many, including in medicine and health care, observing, for example, that:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

CaseDeaton-300x169Even as economic inequity and inequality fuel a nationwide plague of “deaths of despair,” a runaway and inefficient health system hits Americans hard in their pocketbooks, in effect imposing an $8,000 annual tax on every household, a pair of leading economists say.

The crushing cost of the U.S. health system, exceeding $1 trillion a year, forces all Americans to pay this “tribute,” as if it were going to a foreign power, except this is a toll on themselves that we tolerate and allow, say Anne Case and Angus Deaton. The Princeton economists have reached this conclusion, as part of their research for their upcoming book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.”

Case told economists at a San Diego conference: “A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us.”

alexahhs-150x150cmsseemav-150x150Here’s a point to ponder: A quarter of Americans say they or someone they know has put off treatment for a serious medical condition due to cost. That’s the worst such response pollsters at Gallup have gotten on this matter in almost three decades.

Two people have a lot to say about Americans’ health care finances, including their insurance, drug prices, and protections if they are poor, old, young, or chronically ill, physically or mentally. But, gee, the duo of Alex and Seema just can’t get along. They’re not playing nice. It’s gotten so bad that their big bosses, Don and Mike, have called them both in for a tough chat about working together.

carecostdelaychart-300x215Now, if it were you and me, and the office politicking got so out of hand that it attracted enough national attention to potentially embarrass majordomos of the organization, wouldn’t there be a screen door banging with some suits also getting tossed to the curb?

ihs-300x197Although doctors, hospitals, and insurers may howl about the professional harms they claim to suffer due to medical malpractice lawsuits, research studies show that it’s just a tiny slice of MDs who  lose in court and must pay up for injuring patients. Further, the data show that the problem few doctors don’t rack up one, but two or three malpractice losses before they even start to see their work curtailed.

Common sense would suggest that if judges and juries find doctors’ conduct egregious enough to slap “frequent flyers” with multiple losing malpractice verdicts, these MDs might best be parted of the privilege of treating patients. Not only doesn’t that occur often enough, a Wall Street Journal investigation has shown the terrible consequences that can result for patients and taxpayers alike when it doesn’t.

The federal government, the newspaper reported, long has struggled to provide promised care through the Indian Health Service (IHS) to those who live on rugged, spare, and sprawling reservation lands. This obligation to provide such medical services is embedded in the Constitution and old treaties. But if it’s tough to get doctors to practice in rural America — where the hours may be extra long and the pay decidedly lower than cities — it had become a nightmare for the IHS to fill its many vacancies.

shooting-300x201When it comes to key health concerns of the American public, President Trump and his administration have offered evidence anew that whatever they say may not last to the next political moment, that inaction is its own powerful kind of action, and that what officials say they’re doing may be exactly the opposite.

This is not intended as partisan commentary. It reflects the turn of a few news cycles and how Trump and his officials have dealt with:

  • The outbreak of serious lung illnesses and deaths tied to vaping

axiosinsurancecost-300x170With the 2020 presidential campaign obsessing early about health insurance rather than costly health care overall, voters may wish to reframe their thinking about coverage and candidates’ views on making it affordable. Their chief query may need to be this: Just how much of the vig should the bagman take?

That may be a blunt a way to put it, but is the vernacular of the criminal “protection” racket all that out of place here? Michael Hiltzik, a financial columnist for the Los Angeles Times, makes pretty much the same argument, that the bagman’s share ought to be zero.  Why not get rid of health insurers, he asks in a bit of evidence-based hyperbole? He finds the companies don’t fulfill much of a public mission, save, as a former insurance executive describes it, to make themselves money and to persuade all of us that they are essential. Indeed, as Hiltzik sees it, insurers are not just a rip-off but a failure in their own terms:

“Let’s start by examining what the insurers say are their positive contributions to healthcare. They claim to promote ‘consumer choice,’ simplify ‘the health care experience for individuals and families,’ address ‘the burden of chronic disease,’ and harness ‘data and technology to drive quality, efficiency, and consumer satisfaction.’ (These claims all come from the website of the industry’s lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). They’ve achieved none of these goals. The increasingly prevalent mode of health coverage in the group and individual markets is the narrow network, which shrinks the roster of doctors and hospitals available to enrollees without heavy surcharges. The hoops that customers and providers often must jump through to get claims paid impose costly complexity on the system, not simplicity. Programs to manage chronic diseases remain rare, and the real threat to patients with those conditions was lack of access to insurance (until the Affordable Care Act made such exclusion illegal). Private insurers don’t do nearly as well as Medicare in holding down costs, in part because the more they pay hospitals and doctors, the more they can charge in premiums and the more money flows to their bottom lines. They haven’t shown notable skill in managing chronic diseases or bringing pro-consumer innovations to the table.”

kidneysnatlinstitute-241x300More than 37 million Americans who suffer from chronic kidney disease soon may see big changes in the way their disabling condition gets treated, potentially also reducing the $100 billion that the federal Medicare program pays for care of the body’s crucial blood cleaning organs.

President Trump issued an executive order calling on the federal government to use all means possible to attack kidney disease in three key ways:

  • Reduce the number of patients who suffer from kidney failure;

saslowstory-295x300Twenty Democrats who are campaigning for president  took to network television for four hours and two nights last week to put health care as a central issue of their campaigns.

The format of this initial candidate “debate,” including hand-raised answers to complex issues, failed to allow the presidential aspirants to delve much into the details of their proposals. But tons of news coverage followed on — and likely will keep doing so up until Americans enter the voting booth — about Medicare, the government health coverage for seniors, and how it might be expanded to benefit tens of millions more. Those interested may wish to check out this podcast primer on the issue.

These future-looking discussions also already have tended to eclipse a key part of the existing Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration initiative that remains a subject of hot dispute a decade after its passage: The expansion of Medicaid, the federal program to assist the poor and working poor with health coverage.

campaign2020-300x194Starting this week in Miami, 20 Democrats over the course of two nights will try to make the case that they deserve to be elected President. Now what will they and Republicans have to say about health care, which voters have declared a troubling issue that’s on the top of their minds?

In recent weeks, the current administration and members of the GOP could not have made clearer that Medicaid, Medicare, and, of course, the Affordable Care Act will be major matters to tussle over, still. Is health care a fundamental right or a privilege? Should the government assist the poor, working poor, and middle class with more affordable health care? Plenty of recent developments with federal social safety net programs will give politicians much to talk with voters about, including:

  • In Arkansas, a GOP-embraced notion — that the elderly, disabled, chronically ill, and children, as well as others who get health care help through the federal Medicaid program also should  work for their benefits or prove they cannot work — has flopped, as opponents warned it would. Instead, Harvard researchers found that Draconian measures requiring Medicaid recipients to repeatedly prove they could not work, were seeking employment, or had some kind of jobs “caused thousands of poor adults to lose coverage without any evidence the target population gained jobs,” the Kaiser Health News service reported. KHN’s article said, “the Harvard study is the first to provide evidence that the [Medicaid policy] change left [program participants] uninsured and did not promote employment. The results, based on a telephone survey of about 3,000 low-income adults in Arkansas, concluded that the law befuddled enrollees and that its mandatory reporting requirements led many to unnecessarily lose coverage.”

Praise be: Churches nationwide are leaping in with their congregations’ blessing and financial support, putting up small sums to buy up and wipe out one of the huge shames of the American health care system: patients’ medical debt.

The faithful work with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, N.Y., that provides the know-how to many kinds of donors to help eliminate bills that can crush patients and their loved ones for a lifetime, the Kaiser Health News service reported. Roxie Hammill wrote how this all works in modern medicine:

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