Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The medical progressive's fear-that someone,somewhere is deciding with his physician's input what his health care should be

H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as that haunting fear that someone,somewhere may be happy.

The Medical Progressive Elite's haunting fear is that someone,somewhere is making their own medical decision with input from their private physician.This fear is shared by the third party payers. In recent years,there appears to be considerable progress in alleviating their fear.

The last thing that the third party payers and the medical progressive elite want is that medical decisions be made  a physician- patient "dyad".This situation is ripe for a classic Baptists and Bootleggers scenario,the medical elite sincerely believing that medicine is too complex and expensive to be left to the judgment of patients with advise from their physicians and the third party payers striving to decrease the cost of doing business and increasing profits share holder value.

This medicine-is-too important-to-be left-patients-and-their- physicians view  is made crystal clear in the following quote from the book,"New Rules"  written by Drs. Don Berwick and Troyen Brennan:

"Today, this isolated relationship[ they are speaking of the physician patient relationship] is no longer tenable or possible… Traditional medical ethics, based on the doctor-patient dyad must be reformulated to fit the new mold of the delivery of health care...Regulation must evolve. Regulating for improved medical care involves designing appropriate rules with authority...Health care is being rationalized through critical pathways and guidelines. The primary function of regulation in health care, especially as it affects the quality of medical care, is to constrain decentralized individualized decision making."


Dr.Berwick went on the be the  head of CMS for a while and Dr. Brennan went on to be the chief medical office of Aetna insurance company and then CVS Caremark.

Destroying the physician patient dyad or relationship  has been a strategic goal of the progressive elite for years and a major initiative to that end was the 2002 publication "Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium:A physician charter".That was a joint effort by the ACP Foundation,the ABIM Foundation and the European Federation of Internal Medicine. The project chair was Troy Brennan and, in my opinion, importantly in terms of future funding and  promotion of the "charter" a member of the project was  Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.The RWJF has been a major source of funds for the ad campaign for the Professionalism project.  She has been the CEO and President of the RWJF since 2002. Dr. Harry Kimball ,president of ABIM from 1991 to 2003 was also a project participant.

The Professionalism 's theme is to downplay the fiduciary role of the physician to the patient and insert a nebulous co-duty of  the physician to be a steward of society's limited medical resources and to work for social justice. A particular political agenda was inserted into medical ethics. For physicians who wondered how that role was to be played out, later the ABIMF clarified  things by explaining that one could be a steward of the [collectively owned] medical resources  and social justice would be achieved by providing efficient health care.In one document the authors changed the nature of traditional medical ethics and  also rewrote the meaning of social justice which was now efficient care as opposed to the widely accepted meaning of social justice as redistribution.  In a bait and switch move they have redefined social justice as efficient health care attempting to aggregate the values that individuals might place on a treatment with some collective metric allegedly representing the greatest good to the greatest number.They then further simplified things for the practicing internists (actually all physicians) by gratuitously asserting that following guidelines would be the road to social justice.

Disappointingly, the AMA went along with this flim flam sophistry of the physicians as stewards of society's collectively owned medical resources.See here.

In the ACP-ABIM world no longer would the patient and the physician  be the primary determiners of a test or treatment value but value would be designated as high or low  primarily on a cost effectiveness calculus.Rather than treating each patient as an independent moral agent an aggregate utilitarian metric would be imposed  in which "high value care" is not in the eye of the patient but rather defined by a third party and expressed in  quality adjusted life years per dollar spent The only or at least determinate value is economic efficiency.

Of course, the medical professional elite is a subset of the larger progressive community whose operational credo is that most things are too complex and complicated  to be left to average people and if they will not listen to the delivered wisdom they should be compelled  while the progressive's polar star and major talking point is  to fight against inequality. The poster child for the stick approach has be the comments of Dr. Robert Benson Jr.,the emeritus president of ABIMF,writing on the blog of the ABIMF:

" CMS, which has the ultimate negotiating position in the form of reimbursement for Medicare services, could only accept negotiated bundled charges. It could also refuse payment for non-compliance with the Choosing Wisely recommendations."...ABIM could require candidates to achieve a perfect score on questions related to costs and redundant care as a requirement for admission to secure exams for initial certification or MOC."

 If you want to know what the ABIM and its foundation are about, just read  the ABIMF blog.

The combination of mega hubris and libido domini spells trouble in health care as it does pretty much everywhere.










Thursday, March 12, 2015

Newsweek article echos practicing internists concerns about the ABIM and the ABIMF

 Rising criticism about the American Board of Internal Medicine and its twin, the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation is getting wider coverage.

The leadership at the ABIM-ABIMF cannot be happy with this recent article in Newsweek by Pulitzer :Prize winning investigator journalist, Kurt Eichenwald.

Most of the article highlighted the activities of the ABIM but he did say the following about the ABIM Foundation:


"And there is another organization called the ABIM Foundation that does...well, it’s not quite clear what it does. Its website reads like a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The Foundation conducts surveys on how “organizational leaders have advanced professionalism among practicing physicians.” And it is very proud of its “Choosing Wisely” program, an initiative “to help providers and patients engage in conversations to reduce overuse of tests and procedures,” with pamphlets, videos and other means."


As to the growing opposition to the actions of the ABIM and questions about what the ABIMF is all about , I wonder if Dr Benson,emeritus CEO of ABIMF  might wish the following comments had not been published on the AMIF's blog: I have added the bolding.


" CMS, which has the ultimate negotiating position in the form of reimbursement for Medicare services, could only accept negotiated bundled charges. It could also refuse payment for non-compliance with the Choosing Wisely recommendations."...ABIM could require candidates to achieve a perfect score on questions related to costs and redundant care as a requirement for admission to secure exams for initial certification or MOC."

Apparently , in Dr. Benson's eyes the Choosing Wisely pronouncements are ( or should be) more that a few talking points that physicians and patients can focus on as they discuss what might be "the right treatment for the right patient at the right time" .There should be requirements for Medicare payments and demonstration that a ABIM exam candidate has mastered them before they would even be "allowed" to take their "secure examination".  Comments such as these suggest more is going on at ABIMF than harmless mumbo-jumbo. It is worthy of that  other medical policy wonks are sending up trial balloons for proposals  giving Choosing Wisely regulatory teeth. See here.

The more light shined on the folks and activities at ABIM-ABIMF the less likely they will be able to preserve their phoney-baloney,self appointed positions. 


H/T Dr Wes

Addendum Walter Bond on his blog asks will the ABIM board members, present and the recent past,defend what they did or argue that they fought against all the bad stuff and blame as much as possible on Dr. Christine Cassel.See here


Monday, February 16, 2015

Defensive backs at greatest risk for serious head and neck injuries from football.

This article from AANS regarding traumatic brain injury (TBI) data from 2012 discusses sports related concussions and the more serious brain injuries and injuries to the cervical spine.

Defensive backs in American football are at the greatest risk for both fatal head injury and serous cervical spine injury. Quoting the report:

"The majority of catastrophic injuries occur while playing defensive football. In 2012, two players were on defense and one was in a weight lifting session. Since 1977, 228 players with permanent cervical cord injuries were on the defensive side of the ball and 55 were on the offensive side with 44 unknown. Defensive backs were involved with 34.6 percent of the permanent cervical cord injuries followed by member of the kick-off team at 9.2 percent and linebackers at 9.5 percent."

Spending even a small amount of time watching high school,college and professional football on TV makes it clear that the vast majority of high impact collisions occur in the defensive zone involving defensive backs and either runners or receivers and on kickoffs.Quarterbacks receive many hits with the helmets impacting the ground and have a significant risk of concussion but apparently have  lower risk of fatal injury or injury leading to permanent disability.Offensive linemen may receive more sub-concussive head blows over a game or a season and whatever the long term consequences of that may be but seem less likely to regularly  be involved in high impact collisions and therefore less at risk for serious brain or cervical spine injury

Don't let your babies grow up to be defensive backs

Friday, January 30, 2015

As the destroy fee for service movement ramps up just remember there is no perfect compensation mechanism

 The Obama administration is ramping  up the campaign against medical  fee for service and claiming they want to pay for quality not quantity of care. See. Dr.Paul Hsieh (of the blog We Stand Firm)  remarks about that issue here. It is really about cost control.

Quoting the economist, Arnold Kling:

"Keep in mind that there is no perfect system for compensating doctors. For example, if you pay them a fixed amount of money per patient, then their incentive is to see a lot of healthy patients and avoid the sick ones. If you pay them a fixed salary, their incentive is to work short hours. If you pay them for “quality care,” that means that a central bureaucracy, comparable to IPAB, has to define the meaning of quality."   

Of course it is all about incentives.

And remember Goodhart's Law- when a measure become a target it looses its value as a measure.Further many of the so-called quality targets do little to enhance patient care and some can be harmful,remembering the four hour pneumonia rule.

The various rent-seeking special interest groups  and certain members of the progressive medical elite have considerable control of the current narrative and we will hear more about the horrors of fee for service and nothing about the incentives physicians face in a capitated system or as employees of large vertically integrated health care conglomerate..





Monday, January 26, 2015

Are patients pawns on the chess board of population medicine?

They would seem to  be at least so it appears to be in the presentation of the "population medicine approach" of by Dr. Harold Sox,former editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine, former president of the American College of Physicians (ACP) and former chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, offered in the November 13 ,2014 issue of  the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Here is my thumbnail summary of what Dr. Sox wrote in describing how the population medicine approach would work.The major important diseases would be identified as would methods for their prevention. With that knowledge in hand , then funds could be transferred across patients and disease processes so that the maximal overall health benefit could be achieved.In this process it might well be that sometimes funds would be diverted away from the testing and treatment of some so that the preventive measures could be funded and then  " in a few generations" the benefit would be fully realized.He is explicit regarding the fact that in the short run some people would be harmed although he does not seem to explain why it would be only the short run as would not new preventative measures always be formulated and have funds diverted to their execution.The population medicine advocates claim the approaching of each patient strictly as a individual is "obsolete" and  are promoting a statistical medicine that claims to be capable of provided the greatest health benefit to the greatest number.Practicing physicians know how difficult it can be to recommend what might be best for the individual patient,the "populationists" glibly claim to know what is best for everyone.

In chess, pawns or for that matter any piece, might be sacrificed in executing a strategy of placing the opponent 's king in checkmate. Is it the case that individuals might be sacrificed in executing a strategy of maximizing the health of the specified population as measured by some metric such as quality adjusted life years  (QALY) per dollar spent ? After careful study and  multiple re-reads of Dr. Sox's article my answer to the question posed in this commentary's title is yes.The patients are the pawns on the chess board of population medicine.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Maybe the health care supply curve slopes upwards and more ACA bait and switch

See here for a review of a recent NEJM article that supplied data indicating that the temporary increase in Medicaid fees which was part of ACA  may have increased access to medical care.So as Medicaid professional fees increase more services are supplied.

From Nov 2012 to July 2014,

" [t]he availability of primary care appointments in the Medicaid group increased by 7.7 percentage points, from 58.7% to 66.4%, between the two time periods. The states with the largest increases in availability tended to be those with the largest increases in reimbursements, with an estimated increase of 1.25 percentage points in availability per 10% increase in Medicaid reimbursements (P = 0.03). No such association was observed in the private-insurance group. During the same periods, waiting times to a scheduled new-patient appointment remained stable over time in the two study groups."

So now that the Medicaid fee increase has elapsed and fees will be cut should we not see a decrease in availability? The specter of more folks on Medicaid and fewer docs likely to see Medicaid patients is part of why this article talks about the great bait and switch of ACA.We see more of a distorted version of social justice emerging from Obamacare.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is Maintenance of Certification (MOC) part of ACA and who put it there?

The short answer is :

Yes, MOC  has been implanted into the legislative structure of ACA and for many (most?) practicing physicians this is really breaking news and for those of us who oppose the ABIM's MOC program, may mean  bad news.

 Dr. Wes explicates how the Maintenance of Certification has been made part of Obamacare in his recent blog entry in which he questions the viability of an alternative "Board" to challenge and hopefully replace the ABIM's widely criticized MOC program.Does the letter of the law with its establishment of MOC in some aspects of Medicare preclude the replacement of ABIM's MOC with some less onerous process by a rival organization?  


"The Affordable Care Act (ACA) modified Sections 1848(k) and 1848(m) of the Social Security Act which defines how CMS pays physicians for their services.  Section (k) is the section that defines how a "Quality Reporting System" is to be set up (with subsection (4) requiring the "Use of Registry-based Reporting") and Section (m) defining physician incentive payments physicians might receive if quality reporting occurs properly. (Sadly, those CMS incentive payments do not cover the cost of participating in MOC for most of us.)

Section (k) was modified by the ACA to include the ABMS MOC program as a "physician registry."  The registry was "defined" as requiring all four parts of the MOC program created by the ABMS, including the much-maligned "practice improvement modules" that have been described by the physician community as overly time-consuming, irrelevant ...."


After re-reading of the relevant sections, it is not clear to me exactly what penalty a physician would incur by forgoing MOC. I welcome any input regarding that.

ABMS's MOC program is part of the law and what ever alternative organization set up to do some version of less onerous MOC is not part of the law and IMO the political clout of the rank and file real physicians is likely not up to the task of changing the law.


Dr. Wes, see here, raises interesting questions about possible collusion between principals in certain organizations  and CMS, those certain organizations being some of the ones which would  benefit financially  from the statutory establishment of MOC in ACA.

 Medical certification boards would obviously profit from the MOC process being quasi mandatory  or tied in in real ways to a physician's compensation.  Dr. Wes focuses on two physicians with ties to ABIM and ABIMF and CMS and the National Quality Forum which incidentally receives significant funding from CMS.

[An interesting aside is that a member of NQF's Board is Liz Fowler, currently a VP at Johnson and Johnson and someone who  played a major role in the drafting of ACA. See my earlier commentary entitled  "Who Wrote Obamacare and where is she now?") Ms. Fowler has been described , accurately in my opinion, as the poster girl for the revolving door in regard to government and major health care players.It seems that some of the prominent medical elite know how to open the doors as well.}

Quoting Dr. Wes:

"Troubling concerns of collusion of ABIM board members with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the National Quality Forum (which receives the bulk of its revenues from grants supplied by CMS) exist. Christine Cassel, MD, who is the current President and CEO of the National Quality Forum, was President and CEO of the ABIM from 2003 to 2013 and ultimately responsible for the $2.3 million dollar luxury condominium purchase by the ABIM Foundation in December, 2007....."

Dr. Wes then chronicles the job history of the current ABIM CEO, Dr. Richard Baron who was associated with ABIM and then left to be a full time employee of CMS from 2011 -2013 and came home to his current ABIM's six figure salary.

Again quoting Dr. Wes:

"Which leads to the question: how much influence did the ABIM leadership have in establishing a continuous money stream for itself and its Foundation during the writing and mark-up of the Affordable Care Act? (see pages 247 and 844-845 of this large pdf). Clearly, there should be public record available to this effect and physicians should inspect this record before creating an alternate MOC pathway"

The fact that the term "professionalism" is found in ACA may be significant.. ABIMF has been promoting their particular version of professionalism for several years such promotion being the major stated goal of that organization. Unlike traditional medical  ethics the ABIMF professionalism embeds the obligation of social justice and an obligation for physicians  to act not only for the individual patient but for some collective,which operationally could be a given ACO or HMO. Has or will ACA make the ABIMF's sea change professionalism "the law of the land"?

Statutory language does not appear by a random process.Public choice theory tells us to look at who might profit from a given law or regulation and often you will find who was responsible for it.  Cui bono.