Articles Posted in Outpatient Care

Bracescamarrest-238x300Federal authorities have busted up what they say is a $1.2 billion Medicare fraud that should give taxpayers and patients pause about long-distance medical consultations and the huge sums of cash washing around the medical device industry.

Two dozen people, some of them doctors, have been charged in a complex ploy to gull seniors into asking about back, shoulder, wrist, and knee braces that were promoted as free on TV and radio ads nationwide. When the older adults called to inquire about the devices, they were transferred to telemarketing centers in the Philippines and Latin America.

In the far-away boiler rooms, trained operators extracted important personal information from callers, then connected them for “telemedicine” consultations with cooperating doctors. The MDs asked cursory questions before then prescribing the devices, whether needed or not. The orders were filled by select companies, which then would send out the braces and charge them to Medicare.

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.

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.

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.

admitting-300x210Federal regulators have warned nursing homes nationwide to improve the quality and safety of their patient care or face consequences that operators may hasten to heed. That’s because new penalties and rewards will hit them in a place that counts — their pocketbooks.

Two-thirds of the nation’s nursing homes will see a year’s worth of their Medicare funding reduced, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service (KHN) reported, “based on how often their residents ended up back in hospitals within 30 days of leaving.”

KHN said that:

leapfrog-300x300A familiar health care advocacy group will expand its grading of 2,000 or so hospitals across the country to also provide new safety and quality information on 5,600 stand-alone surgical centers that perform millions of procedures annually.

It may seem like a small step, and the devil will be in the details of the new data that will be voluntarily reported, analyzed, and then made public by the Leapfrog Group, a national health care nonprofit that describes itself as being “driven by employers and other purchasers of health care.”

Surgical centers have burgeoned because they can be nimbler than the hospitals and academic medical centers they now outnumber. The centers can be set up without hospitals’ high overhead costs, including for staff and equipment that may be unnecessary for a specialty practice. The facilities also can be set up closer to patients, theoretically offering them greater access and convenience, including with easy navigation and parking.

Medicare-logo-650x250-300x115Critics may want to carve it up and make it tougher to join, while proponents would expand it and add more money to it. But what could the U.S. health system overall learn from real, rigorous research on Medicare, the major health coverage method for tens of millions of Americans age 65 and older?

Politico, the politics- and Beltway-focused news web site, has renewed attention on the work of Ph.D. economist Melinda B. Buntin, a professor who heads Vanderbilt University’s health policy department. She and her colleagues have spent years digging into the money flowing into Medicare, a program that in 2017 paid out $700 billion in benefits, compared with $425 billion in 2007.

As Politico reported, the research shows a surprise beneath the big, aggregate, and problematic Medicare cost: “One of the best-kept secrets in American health care might be that Medicare spending — in important ways — is going down.”

MRI-300x142The health policy wonks and those who purport to “reform” the U.S. health care system may be long on academic and other fancy credentials. But they also persist in demonstrating they can be short on old-fashioned common sense, especially about the way most of us lead our lives.

That’s a point emphasized in a recent column in the evidence-based “Upshot” feature of the New York Times, written by Austin Frakt. He directs the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System and is an associate professor with Boston University’s School of Public Health and an adjunct associate professor with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Frakt looked at some recent research to dissect a question that occupies many experts: Could Americans cut their health care costs by shopping around more for medical services? This is a fond notion held by a slice of health care “reformers,” whom Frankt proceeds to disabuse.

hjobs-300x174It’s unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited friends or loved ones at a nursing home that such facilities too often are woefully staffed.

But why have federal regulators allowed themselves to be gulled about nursing home personnel levels, and how will not just these care-giving sites but also others, notably hospitals, deal with the growing need for and imbalances in health care staff, including a tilt toward “astonishingly high” numbers of costly administrative staff folks who don’t provide direct patient care?

Jordan Rau, a reporter for Kaiser Health News Service, deserves credit for digging into daily payroll records that Medicare only recently has gathered and published from 14,000 nursing homes nationwide. Rau found that:

eldercare-300x168Uncle Sam soon will step up what may be a positive trend: getting hospitals and nursing homes to halt the unacceptable boomeranging of elderly patients between them. But will Trump officials be as quick with health care providers as they have been with poor, sick, and old patients to employ not just carrots but also sticks to get better outcomes?

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service deserves credit for looking ahead to this fall, when the administration aims to accelerate the end of perverse incentives that have hospitals and nursing homes shuttling the sick and elderly between them far too often. As Jordan Rau of the news service reported:

With hospitals pushing patients out the door earlier, nursing homes are deluged with increasingly frail patients. But many homes, with their sometimes-skeletal medical staffing, often fail to handle post-hospital complications — or create new problems by not heeding or receiving accurate hospital and physician instructions. Patients, caught in the middle, may suffer. One in 5 Medicare patients sent from the hospital to a nursing home boomerang back within 30 days, often for potentially preventable conditions such as dehydration, infections and medication errors, federal records show. Such re-hospitalizations occur 27 percent more frequently than for the Medicare population at large.

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