Articles Posted in Hospitals

cashrain-300x225Politicians almost by reflex decry the skyrocketing cost of U.S. health care by blaming much of it on waste, fraud, abuse. They, alas, really may be on to something, newly published research shows.

Health care experts, including a medical leader of health insurer Humana, “combed through 54 studies and reports published since 2012 that estimated the waste or savings from changes in practice and policy,” leading them to some jaw-dropping calculations about how well spent is the $3.5 trillion or so that Americans drop on health care, the New York Times reported.

Answer: Really badly. The researchers, in their published work, estimated that 20%-25% of American health care spending is wasteful. That turns into giant sums, fast, as the newspaper reported, including:

There seems to be a never-ending outbreak of a certain kind of pathology in the United States. Big Pharma has it and spreads it around, a lot. So, too, do public health figures. Let’s call this scourge what it is — unmitigated gall.

The problem with this nasty condition is that it afflicts the rest of us. Just consider how stomach-churning these shenanigans can be:

Penalties for bogus prescribing of ‘little red pills’ on elderly dementia patients

bernie-225x300Critics have attacked Sen. Bernie Sanders for his proposal to wipe out $81 billion in medical debt, including by changing rules around debt collection and bankruptcy. He also called for “replacing the giant credit reporting agencies with a ‘public credit registry’ that would ignore medical debt when calculating credit scores,” reported the New York Times.

Well, there he goes again, with interesting but hard to execute ideas, critics replied to Sanders’ medical debt idea, dissecting it to pieces.

But dig into some of the news articles and important realities flare up. Even his critics concede that medical debt has become a nightmare for too many Americans, contributing in unacceptable fashion to family stress and anxiety and, more importantly, adding to the nightmare of medical bankruptcy.

totshot-300x200The weather may be sunny and temperate, the seasonal foliage a slowly changing delight to behold. But the savvy are prepping for sterner days ahead. It’s that time of year when doctors and public health officials urge us all to get that annual flu shot.

It’s never easy to forecast the severity with which influenza will sweep the country. But early indications — including a child’s death already attributed to the illness — suggest this may be a bad year for the bug.

Don’t downplay the harms of this all-too-common sickness: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there were as many as 43 million flu illnesses in this nation in the 2018-19 season, with more than 20 million cases serious enough to cause patients to seek medical care. The CDC says there were as many as 647,000 hospitalizations and up to 61,200 flu-related deaths. That toll included more than 100 children killed by flu.

uvahealthlogo-300x108Is a public pillorying the only way to stop big hospitals from pursuing patients for medical debt with the zeal of demons from the underworld?

The University of Virginia Health System — an enterprise that racked up an $87 million operating profit on revenue of $1.7 billion in the fiscal year ending in June and that holds stocks, bonds and other investments worth about $1 billion — has become the latest institution to get a journalistic blaming and shaming for extreme debt collection practices that would make proud Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.

The independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service and the Washington Post deserve credit for their investigation into UVA avariciousness. As KHN reported of the state operation:

billssurprisefearof-300x228It may be bad for the blood pressure. But to understand a key reason why Americans seethe when talking about medical bills and medical costs, just start perusing a timely new magazine report on hospitals and debt collection.

The Atlantic article — “What Happens When You Don’t Pay a Hospital Bill” — details the horrors and frustrations experienced by Joclyn Krevat, an occupational therapist in New York. She sought medical care for what she thought was a nasty case of flu. She, instead, suffered from a severe heart inflammation — and ended up undergoing a costly and physically draining heart transplant.

Weak, sick, and on the brink, Krevat still was hounded by out-of-control debt collectors — cruel men and women who not only lack hearts of their own but who engage in relentless, often ridiculous tactics (like trying to connect on social media, just to harp on patients there about their bills) to wring pennies out of those with illness and injury, reported writer Olga Khazan.

All drugs carry costs, risks, and harms as well as benefits. Illegal ones too. Americans can’t escape the toll of harm as they use and abuse recreational and illicit substances, recent news reports show.

With the long Labor Day weekend upcoming — the traditional summer’s end, with gatherings of friends and families for outdoor barbecues, relaxing, fun, and potentially drinking and use of marijuana or more — it may be worth taking note of some indicators of the serious problems associated with substance abuse:

  • The nonprofit, independent RAND Corp. reported that its studies suggest that American drug users spent an estimated $150 billion on cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine in 2016 alone. The marijuana market is now roughly the size of the cocaine and methamphetamine markets combined, and the size of the retail heroin market is now closer to the size of the marijuana market than it is to the other drugs. Further, after plunging from 2006 to 2010, cocaine consumption’s decline slowed by 2015. Results suggest there were 2.4 million individuals who used cocaine on four or more days in the past month in 2015 and 2016. Results also suggest that consumption grew in 2016 among a stable number of users as price per pure gram declined. And heroin consumption increased 10% per year between 2010 and 2016. The introduction of fentanyl into heroin markets has increased the risk of using heroin. From 2010 to 2016, the number of individuals who used marijuana in the past month increased nearly 30%, from 25 million to 32 million. RAND experts estimate a 24% increase in marijuana spending over the same period, from $42 billion to $52 billion.

beaumonthospital-300x115When doctors become medical outliers, shouldn’t hospitals, colleagues, insurers, and the rest of us ask how and why an individual practitioner diverges so much from the way others provide care?

Olga Khazan details for the Atlantic magazine the disturbing charges involving Yasser Awaad, a pediatric neurologist at a hospital in Dearborn, Mich. As she describes him, for a decade he racked up hundreds of cases in which he is accused by patients of “intentionally misreading their EEGs and misdiagnosing them with epilepsy in childhood, all to increase his pay.” Khazan says his case “shines a light on the grim world of health-care fraud—specifically, the growing number of doctors who are accused of performing unnecessary procedures, sometimes for their own personal gain.”

In the malpractice cases that are unfolding against him, Awaad’s pay has become a central issue, with evidence showing his hospital contract rewarded him for boosting the number of screenings he ordered and diagnoses he made. Jurors have been told that Awaad, whose salary increased from 1997 to 2007 from $185,000 annually to $300,000, “turned that EEG machine into an ATM.” He earned bonuses exceeding $200,000, if he hit billing targets.

zolegensma-300x225Big Pharma is testing crucial boundaries in the way that the nation determines the safety and effectiveness of prescription medications. And regulators, for patients’ sake, need to shove back — hard.

The concerning incidents involve “pay to play” clinical trials and “manipulated” data submitted to the federal Food and Drug Administration by maker Novartis as part of the approval process for a gene therapy drug with a sky-high price.

Neither instance, officials insist, had immediate effects in endangering patients. But both show extreme practices and conduct that regulators should slam to a halt.

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.”

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