Health Care Reform- the Path Forward

We are moving towards a new equilibrium in Health Care- it won’t be perfect, but it will, hopefully, be an improvement over our present system.

There will be many adjustments required- some painful- on our way to this new equilibrium as all parties try to protect “the devil they know”.

In short, we are moving away from a system  a) with many uninsured, b) where employers provide insurance for some, c) where providers make hundreds of billions annually while delivering questionable quality, and d) where states must balance health costs against other priorities, such as infrastructure and education.

We are, hopefully, moving towards a system a) with far fewer uninsured, b) where employers provide insurance for most if not all employees, c) where providers incomes are more aligned with results, and d) where the balancing act faced by the states becomes somewhat easier to manage.

Now for the bumps in the road- some examples:

  1. Some states are avoiding or preventing an expansion of Medicaid and reducing benefits and eligibility as they try to protect state budgets.

  2. Providers are consolidating to increase their market power and negotiating leverage.  This is a powerful force designed to increase costs (which are provider’s revenues).

  3. Employers, as they try to protect profit margins, are reducing the hours of employees under a threshold so they will not be required to provide insurance for them.

  4. Young, healthy males are not signing up, largely because their costs, alone among all demographic groups, are expected to skyrocket.

My hope is that we, as a country will stay the course and see this through.  Early indications are that the individual market will see dramatic price reductions (notably New York and California).

Some states are taking a second look at the role of Medicaid- keep your eye on Arizona.

Medicare is looking at the “gaming” of provider reimbursement, where hospitals acquire physician practices for the sole purpose of billing for the same procedures under a new number (the hospital’s billing number), and getting paid more without doing anything  differently.  This bears watching as well.

But we need to do more- we need to provide products with a range of benefit options aimed specifically at the employees whose hours have been cut.  It does little to offer a “bronze” plan which only transfers risk to the insured (by covering 60% of costs)- why not offer a product where the insured can decline some coverage types- why should a childless person be forced to buy pediatric coverage?

We also need to offer products aimed at healthy young males.  It will be tough to get someone to accept a near doubling  of rates simply because it is good for everyone else.

As health care reform rolls out and gains traction, my hope is that “profiteering” behaviors will be limited and that products will be allowed to emerge that will address, in a market driven manner, the present shortcomings in the system-  specifically, we need an expansion of Medicaid, we need to stop the provider consolidations done solely to increase reimbursement, and we need insurance products aimed at part-time employees and healthy young males- not products that lock in a major subsidy for other demographic groups.

Maybe Doctors Can Learn From Lawyers

On May 2, an article was published in the New York Times, titled “Top Judge Makes Free Legal Work Mandatory for Joining State Bar”.  The article describes how more and more people need urgent legal services but cannot afford them.  It goes on to describe the pros and cons of requiring lawyers to provide some free services (pro bono) as a condition for joining the New York State Bar.

We have a similar problem in health care- a large number of people who cannot afford health care services.  And I am not talking about insurance.  I am talking about the doctor and hospital visit.

In health care, we have doctors refusing to see patients because Medicare or Medicaid do not pay enough.  And these patients have nowhere else to turn.  The doctors use the threat of refusal as a key part of their strategy when negotiating for higher reimbursement.

How can we allow this?

In a previous post on this blog, I have proposed that doctors be required to accept Medicare as a condition for receiving or renewing their DEA license (federal level- the DEA license is what allows them to prescribe), and to accept Medicaid as a condition for receiving or renewing their Medical license (State level).

We place physicians on a professional and social pedestal, and their incomes are higher than that of any other profession.  In return, we should require something of them- not grant the right to walk away from persons in need.  Doctors, take a lesson from the lawyers, or lose your protected, lucrative turf!

 

The Trend Towards Adult Day Care

A recent article in the New York Times describes a trend where elderly patients can be treated through a home based managed care model, rather than in a nursing home.  This model is generally referred to as “adult day care”.

It’s about time!  Why should patients be required to spend their entire existence in a nursing home, at much higher cost, when they can live in their own homes and receive visits from medical professionals and other caregivers?  Moreover, it has long been known that people much prefer to be cared for in their own homes, including during their final days- yes, people prefer to die at home than in an impersonal institution.

The luxury of being treated (and dying) at home has long been reserved for the well-off, who can afford private nurses and all of the related home-based equipment.  The thinking has long been that if the government is paying (Medicaid), then you need to be in an institution.

Too bad that it has taken a financial crisis- state budgets under pressure, led by Medicaid costs- to get state programs to relent and allow people to be cared for in an environment that is less expensive, more comfortable and inherently safer- the home.

Fourteen Zeroes!

Part 1- the problem.

If you look at our present level of health care spending ($2.6 Trillion), and project it forward, growing at 6% annually for the next 20 years, the total exceeds $100 Trillion.

That’s 14 Zeroes:

  • Just for health care
  • Just in America
  • Just for the next 20 years (if we look at 30 years, the number is over $200 Trillion).

That number is incomprehensible.  Not only is it not sustainable, it is not even possible to finance this number.  Yet, that is the path that we are on.

The present discussion aims to “bend the cost curve” and to somehow shift the burden:

  • Blame the insurers
  • Blame the pharmaceutical companies
  • Reduce provider reimbursement
  • Limit what Medicare pays on behalf of seniors.

Whomever we choose to blame, we are clearly headed for a scenario where we all  work our entire lives just to pay for health care, and when we get old, all of our assets, if there are any left, get paid over to our huge, for-profit health system.

We must fundamentally restructure our health care system, and our expectations of living and of dying, or life will become one long health-care payment treadmill.

Part 2- the discussion.  Please answer the following questions. One answer per question:

What is the responsibility of consumers (the system calls us "patients")?

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What is the responsibility of insurers?

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What is the responsibility of the government?

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What is the responsibility of providers (doctors and hospitals)?

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What is the responsibility of suppliers (pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers)?

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Now, please consider all of the answers you provided.

What do your answers, taken together, mean for the 14 zeroes in our future?  Something to think about…

Should physicians have the right to refuse Medicare and Medicaid patients because they are not paid as much as they feel they should be? What options does society have?

This is a tough one…

On the one hand, physicians have to run their practices, which costs money.  They want to live well, as we all do, and that costs money.

On the other hand, they provide a vital service which not just anyone is allowed to provide- so in a way, they are on “protected turf”- protected through licensing and long years of training.

But when physicians refuse to see Medicare or Medicaid patients, those patients have nowhere else to turn.  In fact, the threat of physicians refusing Medicare is often used as a reason not to cut Medicare rates.

This sets up a sort of “health care hostage situation”, where we, as a society, can no longer afford the costs of care, but seem to be powerless to do much about it.

So here is the question.  Actually 2 this time.  What do you think?

In return for the right to practice medicine, should physicians be required to accept at least some Medicare and Medicaid patients?

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As a society, what should we do when physicians refuse to see Medicare and Medicaid patients because the pay isn't high enough, and we have nowhere else to turn? Select up to 3 answers.

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It’s Time to Really Look at Costs

As we all know, the federal government and nearly every state is facing huge budget gaps.  Health care is a large part of every crisis:

  • Medicare is a large part of the federal budget crisis
  • Medicaid is a large part of every state budget crisis

Health insurers are not to blame this time:

  • The Medicare discussion is about Medicare, not Blue Cross, Aetna, Cigna, United or Humana.
  • The Medicaid discussion is about Medicaid, not Blue Cross, Aetna, etc.

The health care reform bill that we recently passed was really health insurance reform- yes, we needed to reform the insurance system.

Since Medicare and Medicaid are not traditional insurers, but still seem to be drowning in costs, the question is, “Where should we focus our reform efforts going forward?”  What do you think?

Since the Medicare and Medicaid discussion is not about the insurers, where should we focus our reform efforts going forward? Select all that apply.

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