Thursday, April 29, 2010

One group who loses from PPACA-those folks on Medicare Advantage

Patients enrolled in the Medicare Advantage ( MA) program will loose under PPACA.

The Chief actuary of CMS in his Jan 10, 2010 letter ( see here) estimated that enrollment in the MA program would decrease from the current 13.7 million to 9.2 million by 2015, a decrease of 4.5 million due to changes in the MA program as outlined in section 3201 of PPACA. Other estimates are significantly higher -up to 7 million.

The displaced MA patients can go to regular Medicare but they will need to buy Medicare supplement policy to approximate the coverage they received in their MA plan. I don't see the AARP, who supported the health care bill, complaining about that as they will be available to act as broker for those deals and they supported passage of PPACA. Many of the current MA patients signed with MA because they decided they could not afford the medicare supplement policies.These folks will have more out of pocket payments now if they still cannot afford the extra insurance.

So, for some of the MA patients there will be either the increased cost of a Medicare supplement or paying the 20% typically not paid for by Medicare out of pocket or simply forgoing some medical care.

If one accept accept a utilitarian perspective, then throwing some under the bus to get more to ride inside is might be considered acceptable figuring that more folks are helped than those who are injured. Leaders and spokespersons for AMA and ACP have expressed pride in their roles in supporting a bill that they characterize as furthering "social justice". Millions of seniors will be forced out of Medicare Advantage with the associated financial loss and many more Medicare seniors will have decreased access to primary care physicians as the insurance exchange,newly insured compete for a shrinking population of primary care physicians for which PPACA offers no substantive solution. A insurance card is not equivalent to medical care. If the thought leaders in AMA and ACP think past stage one and consider the longer term effects of the health care bill, will their claim of furthering social justice be validated? I would enjoy hearing what they would say.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The canary in the Mass.coal mine health care is looking bad

See here for comments from Dr. Wes regarding the events as they unfold in the preview to PPACA that health care in Massachusetts is turning out to be. At least, it is possible for physicians to vote with their feet something that will be harder when the entire country becomes Massachusettsasized.

Here is the wording of the proposed law:

Every health care provider licensed in the commonwealth which provides covered services to a person covered under “Affordable Health Plans” must provide such service to any such person, as a condition of their licensure, and must accept payment at the lowest of the statutory reimbursement rate, an amount equal to the actuarial equivalent of the statutory reimbursement rate, or the applicable contract rate with the carrier for the carriers product offering with the lowest level benefit plan available to the general public within the Connector, other than the young adult plan, and may not balance bill such person for any amount in excess of the amount paid by the carrier pursuant to this section, other than applicable co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles.

Does this really mean that a physician accepting a patient in their "Affordable Health Plan" must accept the payment offered as a condition of holding a medical license in Massachusetts? Does that preclude a retainer practice in that state? Maybe the bill will not pass, but the cost overrun problem there begs for legislative action.

A Rand Corporation analysis projected that the cost of medical care was increasing at 8 % faster than the state GDP. Mass. has the highest medical insurance premiums in the country and wait times to see physicians are rising in the state that is said to have more docs per capita than any other state, a situation that might be changed if that bill is signed into law.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Medical blogger worried about erosion of physician's duty to the individual patient

I should have noticed Dr. Doug Perednia's blog, Road to Hellth, sooner. See here. I was aware of the "competition "between Dr Richard Fogoros's blog, Covert Rationing Blog and the ACP advocate blog authored by a senior vice president of the ACP for a blog of the year award.

The following is a quote from Dr. Perednia advocating votes for DrRich. Unfortunately, the ACP blog won out.

Dr. Rich's blog has been nominated for an award for the Best Health Policy/Ethics Blog on the Internet. His chief competitor is the blog of the massive and politically powerful ACP - the American College of Physicians. The most important difference between these two competitors is their attitude toward the physician-patient relationship. The ACP has decided to endorse a "new set of ethics" in which "social justice" considerations (whatever the hell they are), should be taken into account along with the personal welfare of the patient when making medical decisions and dispensing medical advice. Specifically, physicians should engage in "parsimonious care", that is designed to minimize the use of medical resources and "ensure that resources are equitably available".

To put it bluntly, the ACP is saying that when you're lying there with a potentially fatal or crippling condition, your doctor has an obligation to think not only about what's best for you, but also about what's best for "society" in terms of what tests to perform, what medications to prescribe and what procedures to undertake. They don't actually say who actually gets to dictate the needs of "society", but it's a reasonable guess that your insurance company, government regulators, Medicare, the AMA or ACP, or some other "official" entity will be making the call. "Normally Mr. Jones, I'd recommend that you get a CT or MRI test to make sure that you aren't having a stroke or a tumor that we would treat immediately, but a 'panel of experts' has decided that it's best for society that we order these tests parsimoniously. So I'm going to have to think about this one for a while. I'm sure you understand. Tell me if you develop any further weakness and we'll reconsider at some point in the future."

I would strongly encourage you to read Dr. Rich's discussions of these differences in perspective and their implications here, here, here and here. I would point you to the ACP's responses to Dr. Rich's arguments, but they've declined to publish any on their own websites.

The issue of the primacy of the physician-patient relationship, the fiduciary duty of the former to the latter and its erosion by the "new" medical ethics has been something talked about much on this blog (see here for a recent comment). I am heartened to see another voice in fray.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CMS actuary's report validates criticism of PPACA-increase costs plus risk of decreased care for seniors

Richard S. Foster, chief actuary for Medicare, issued a report that says in part that PPACA will result in :

Cuts to hospitals that will jeopardize access for seniors.
Costs that will increase from 2010 -2019 but after that may be savings later.

See here for the entire NPR coverage of the report which in part says:

in addition to flagging the cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and other providers as potentially unsustainable, it projected that reductions in payments to private Medicare Advantage plans would trigger an exodus from the popular program. Enrollment would plummet by about 50 percent, as the plans reduce extra benefits that they currently offer. Seniors leaving the private plans would still have health insurance under traditional Medicare, but many might face higher out-of-pocket costs.

In another flashing yellow light, the report warned that a new voluntary long-term care insurance program created under the law faces "a very serious risk" of insolvency."

... The report projected that Medicare cuts could drive about 15 percent of hospitals and other institutional providers into the red, "possibly jeopardizing access" to care for seniors.

Not mentioned in this report is another factor that will impact senior's health care-decrease access to primary care physicians (PCPs) as the many newly-insured patients complete for an already short supply of PCPs.

The Chief Actuary for CMS stated that under PPACA the uninsured would decrease from the current 57 million to 23 million by 2019. Of the 34 million newly insured, 18 million will be covered by Medicaid ( eligibility will now be for incomes equal to less than 133 % of the Federal Poverty Level) and 21 million through exchanges, most of whom will receive subsidies, while about 4 million would loose their employer sponsored health plans. Note- that does not quite add up, but the numbers are from the CMS actuary's letter and , I suppose, are close enough for government work.

The 21 million exchange insured patients will be competing with the Medicare patients for what already is a shortage of primary care physicians (PCP). Further, reimbursements are generally about 30% lower for Medicare than private insurance. Follow the money and you will see more and more PCPs opting not to see Medicare patients. Diminished access to care for Medicare patients is a very likely outcome of PPACA and in my opinion will more than offsets the $ 250 made to those Medicare folks who hit the doughnut hole in 2010,future mitigation of the doughnut hole effect and the no co-pay and deductible for Medicare preventive services. Those factors were highlighted in a recent attempt by the ACP to claim that PPACA actually helps seniors. See here for the full comments of Robert Doherty,APC's VP for Governmental Affairs and Public Policy.

Many enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program will loose under PPACA.

The Chief actuary of CMS in his Jan 10, 2010 letter ( see here) estimated that enrollment in the MA program would decrease from the current 13.7 million to 9.2 million by 2015, a decrease of 4.5 million due to changes in the MA program as outlined in section 3201 of PPACA. (Other estimates including the recent report cited by NPR are significanlty higher.)

Medicare Advantage patients losing their plans may revert to regular Medicare, Part B but they will need to buy Medicare supplement policy to approximate the coverage they received in their MA plan. I don't see the AARP-who supported PAACA- complaining about that as they will be available to act as broker for those deals. Many of the current MA advantage patients signed with MA because they felt they could not afford the medicare supplement policies.These folks will have more out of pocket payments now if they still cannot afford the extra insurance.

Social justice to some is achieving the greatest good for the greatest number. ( I realize there are other ways to frame the social justice concept). If you accept a utilitarian approach, then throwing some under the bus to get more to ride inside is probably acceptable. Both AMA and ACP have taken pride in their roles in supporting a bill that they describe as furthering social justice yet millions of seniors will be forced out of Medicare Advantage with the associated financial loss and many more Medicare seniors will have decreased access to primary care physicians raising the question- how just is that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Social Justice and the Framing of the Healthcare Debate about fairness and individual freedom

Two years ago, I published a blog commentary about what I now call the"social justice revolution" in medicine. I wrote about about what-not too long ago-was a simple two person transaction between physician and patient and some aspects of the path taken to the current situation where a number of major physician organizations ( e.g. AMA,ACP) and medical education bodies ( e.g. ACGME) swear allegiance to the concept of social justice. inculcate trainees with its mantra and charge the physician with a greater task, that of working towards social justice . With the passage of the health care deconstruction-reconstruction bill we see those organizations taking public pride in the role in moving towards the goal of social justice in the area of health care.

Here is what I said then, slightly edited and brought up to date:

In the not too distant past, but well before the current generation of medical students and house officers went to college, a person in the United states might go to a physician with some medical problem and be charged for the medical services and then pay for the service either out of pocket or pay and then file with an insurer to get or all some of that reimbursed. It was a private transaction between two persons in a country in which private transaction between individuals was so normal as to not attract any attention. The ethics or justice of such a transaction was simply not a topic for discourse.

In this not too distant past, the ethics of the medical profession was generally well defined and could be expressed in a few simple sentences and seemed to be firmly imprinted in the physician's mind as part of the transition process from a lay person to a physician.

It was about respect for autonomy, beneficence, and non-maleficence. It was all about the physician and the patient-do no harm, act in the patient's best interest and respect the patient's views and wishes . It was a two party deal, with the physician fulfilling a fiduciary duty to the patient.

The AMA 's 2001 published version of the ethical principles is a bit more detailed but contained little to be contentious about and does not contain the word "justice". More on that latter.

Later, a fourth major principle was grafted on the the ethical framework. Justice was the new kid on the block. In the beginning, there was more than a little ambiguity in this term as there are more than one definition of justice. It became quite clear what was mean by justice with the publication of the Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium.A Physician Charter.( Annals of Internal Medicine 5 Feb. 2002, vol 136 pg 243-246.)

The justice to which physicians were admonished to strive was social justice. Thomas Sowell makes the distinction between the traditional American society's version of justice and social justice in this way. On the one hand, we have justice as basically applying the same rules and standards to everyone -equality of opportunity or equality under the law. On the other hand, we have the redressing of those inequalities that proponents characterize as the fault of society-equality of outcome. In the latter, whatever characteristics at issue are thought to be unequally "distributed" between various groups (income,medical care,access to swimming pools) should be "redistributed". Whatever may have been distributed by acts of God, accidents of history, an uncaring society , or whatever, to achieve social justice someone or something needs to correct the maldistribution. When redistribution is needed, someone or something has to make it happen and force or the threat of it is required.I am aware of no third way.

Making everything right would appear to be quite a task to assign to busy, practicing physicians so there was little surprise by the results of a survey,that I talk about here, that indicated that concern for social justice did not take up a large amount of a physician's times or enter heavily into his daily clinical decisions and activities.

Not only it is quite a task, proponents of new professionalism tell us in August 2007 JAMA article that after "further reading" of the tenets of the new professionalism they realized that physicians alone could not do it by themselves. So who should do it? We are told it should be a medical societal alliance. My translation is that again we told medicine is far too important to be left to the individual patient and the individual physician and we need more powerful players, probably the government,possibly big insurance and well connected medical academic intellectuals such as those who write such articles to mobilize things and makes the inequities right.

Thomas Sowell writes about a "moralistic approach to public policy" in the concluding section of his book, "Knowledge and Decisions". I characterize the authors of the New Medical Professionalism with their insistence of physician's allegiance to social justice - in a society where there is no dominant secular view of justice at all-as medical moralists.

In Sowell's section entitled "Embattled Freedom" we read ...The desire for freedom and its opposite,power, are as universal as any human attributes....The moralistic approach to public policy is not merely a political advantage for those seeking concentration of power. Moralism in itself implies a concentration of power...The reach of national political power into every nook and cranny has proceed in step with campaigns for greater "social justice".

The recent, at-times heated,discussions (see here for some links) about the ethics of retainer practices illustrate how the concept of social justice as an alleged medical ethical imperative as promulgated by the medical moralists has framed the discussion and attempts to control the dialog.

With the passage of the health care bill and the massive uncertainty about the bill's meaning some fear for the future not only of retainer practices but more broadly of the individual's prerogative to seek out and pay for her own care.

In a world in which talk about equality of outcome and fairness seemed to have achieved a rhetorical prominence and a position allegedly above further discussion, can better or more medical care for those who can afford it be allowed? See here for the beginning of a commentary about that and here for a discussion about the likely origins of the bill.

If and when the option of individual prerogative is excluded it will not be the result of a vigorous national debate but its components will quietly be chipped away by sundry bureaucratic entities that have emerged almost unseen from the seemingly endless,mild numbing and intentionally indeterminate verbiage of the health care bill. To the extent that any debate at all occurs I doubt that those of us who hang on the notion of individual freedom and the right to pay for one's own medical care will find support from the major medical professional organizations who supported the bill

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Health care bill not long enough ? we need more pages ? And are insurers now utilities or not?

Remember, we were told that we must pass health care reform or America will" go bankrupt" and the bill will bend the health care cost curve downwards.The seemingly inexorable increase in health care premiums which proponents used to help pass the bill may not be stopped by the current bill.We were told that the premiums we pay for insurance would go down.But now we are told that the bill really cannot make that happen nor can it keep premiums from going higher.

At least that is the case put forth by a noted Democratic Senator who tells us that we need more legislation to close that "loophole" and control health insurance premium increases. See here.Apparently 2,000 pages was not enough to get it right. After reading the relatively few relevant Google references to this loophole I could not learn what exactly this loophole is.

This is puzzling because I thought Obamacare turned health care insurance companies into utilities (see here) and that they would have their rates set by a federal office of health rate authority acting in conjunction of the state rate setting agencies.

It gets more complicated.See here for an interesting opinion by Richard Epstein, a law professor at University of Chicago.Epstein says that the legislation turns health insurance companies into public utilities. However, while state rate regulators have been instructed through case law by the Supreme Count that the regulation has be done in such a way as to allow market rates of return to the utility and those safeguards appear lacking in the new law.The court has required is that a firm in a regulated market be allowed to recover a risk-adjusted competitive rate of return on its capital investment. This came down in a unanimous 1988 decision ( Duquesne Light Co. v. Barasch). Epstein says that the law bumps up against this decision.

To summarize:

Is there a loophole in the new health care bill that does not allow the government control over health insurance premiums that the public was promised?

Does the bill in effect turn health care insurers into public utilities? Is that section of the bill unconstitutional?

Do the insurers really want to be utilities? (see here for the argument that they do, and here for the argument that insurers helped to get the bill passed)

Does anyone know what was made into law, including those who voted for the bill and those physician organizations that supported it?

Only the last question has an obvious answer.

On a related note, we are told that insurance companies are already gaming the system set up by the mammoth health care reconstruction bill.See here. Who would have thought?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Thinking beyond stage one in the health care bill.

I wonder if the leadership of the AMA and the ACP have thought much past stage one in the recently passed health care bill. Stage one is in several parts; for starters let us look at individual mandates and subsidies for those who cannot afford it.

While representatives of both organizations publicly take pride in their tireless efforts promoting legislation that provides insurance for many million people (actually that will not happen for 4 years) what about the unintended consequences? Think for a moment about the "mandate" .

John Goodman offers this commentary about the mandate:

The Ever-More-Costly Mandate
. President Obama did not create the underlying problem. Health costs per capita have been rising at twice the rate of per capita income for the past 40 years. Nor is this a uniquely American problem. On the average, the same trend is in place for the entire developed world. But here is the bottom line: If you have to buy something whose cost is rising at twice the rate of growth of your income, that mandated purchase will consume more and more of your disposable income with each passing year.

To make matters worse, the normal consumer reactions to rising premiums are going to be disallowed. For example, most people would react by choosing a more limited package of benefits, or going to catastrophic coverage only or relying more on Health Savings Accounts. But these and other responses are limited or barred altogether under the new law.

Everyone (almost everyone, a few such as those with religious objections) will be forced to buy health insurance , a product whose cost so far increases at a rate greater than the rise in incomes.So you will pay a higher percentage of your income every year. So less disposable income for millions including folks who were promised taxes would not be raised.OK Its not really a tax but you still have less money to spend on things of your choosing.

See here for the entire blog entry.

Read further about the subsidies set up by the bill. According to Dr. Goodman's analysis, lower pay employees will want an employer who does not offer insurance while a higher salaried worker would want an employer to offer insurance.Subsidies for the lower group over time must lead to higher taxes. Thinking past stage two will be necessary to sort out what effect(s) that will have on labor markets and productivity and l leave speculation about that to those more adept at economic reasoning than I am.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

CFC asthma inhalers not long for the world

Environmentalists can breath more easily with the CFC inhalers banished while some asthmatic and patients with COPD may have trouble adjusted to the new devices. See here for the latest in what inhalers are gone and which one are on the danger list.

Dr. Mintz has some helpful information about various of the products.See here.

I had written before about this issue.See here for some information of the problems that some patients have had changing over from the old HFA units to the newer ones and some links to comments questioning just how much of a problem the HFA units posed to the environment.

I believe this is the first time that the FDA has banned a medication or group of medications not because they are thought or proven to be harmful to those who use them but because they are thought to possibly harm folks who do not use it. ( Admittedly, the purported skin carcinogenic effect of increased sun rays from the purported decrease in ozone layer thickness from what must be a fairly small amount of CFCs would affect everyone- even asthmatics.) Since the task of determining harm to medication users has proven much harder that the FDA or anyone ever thought, it is admirable that the FDA will take on an even more difficult task, maybe they will do better than.We can hope.

Well, all that concern about the wisdom of eliminating the HFA propelled inhalers will just float away into the environment since it now is a done deal.The dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

So how might section 10320 (of health care bill) be implemented

Section 10320 of the PPACA deals with the control of private health care costs and tasks some federal structure ( probably the Secretary of HHS) to takes action to decrease the growth of private health care cost.See here if you have not heard about 10320.

To control costs you might want data on costs, here is one mechanism by which the federal government could have access to that information. See here a discussion about a bill proposed in the Colorado legislature.It proposes mandatory data reporting and "harmonization" with federal data bases.

In the above link Linda Gorman says this:

"The Commonwealth Fund, AcademyHealth, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are funneling money to efforts to convince state governments to pass laws requiring that all health care providers provide data to state run databases on every health care transaction. The goal is the creation of electronic records that can be used to track the type of medical care provided to each patient and the health behaviors of those judged to need oversight. These state efforts will be the building blocks for the ObamaCare electronic medical records system."

The bill talks about "all payer health claims", so I am assuming that this does not include the reporting by a private physician when she is paid by a patient outside of any insurance program. I hope that is correct. The bill is here for those who might want to figure out what exactly it is proposing.

Update on section 10320: As of 4/13/2010 a Google search for " section 10320" showed only my blog entries , those of DrRich of the Covert Rationing Blog,see here and this commentary.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Section 10320 of PPACA,let me be perfectly clear

Section 10320 of PPACA says the following with my bolding:

An 18-member “Independent Payment Advisory Board” [Sec. 10320(b)] is given the duty, on January 15, 2015 and every two years thereafter, with regard to private health care, to make “recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures . . . that the Secretary [of Health and Human Services] or other Federal agencies can implement administratively” [Section 10320(a)(5)(o)(1)(A)]. In turn, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is empowered to impose “quality” AND “efficiency” measures [Section 10304] on health care providers (including hospices, ambulatory surgical centers, rehabilitation facilities, home health agencies, physicians and hospitals) [Section 3014(a) adding Social Security Act Section 1890(b)(7)(B)(I)] which must report on their compliance.

Note the words, "impose" and "must report",how advisory is that?

If that paragraph would not encourage an older physician to plan retirement for 2014, I don't know what would.

Note who is covered-everyone.There may be a loophole for some things but this essentially puts all practitioners, hospitals and all in between at the mercy of whatever the IPAB says and the Secretary of HHS wants to do, imposition wise.

The IPAB is what the IMAB morphs into in 2015. Remember we were reassured that the IPAB will give advice and not control the practice of medicine. What it changes into will have incredible power of what physicians have to do and what they can't do.

The next time you hear a proponent of the health care bill dismiss the charge that is a take-over of medical care, refer them to that section.

Ironic example of the unintended consequences of the health care bill

Could the Congress in their rush to pass something they could call health care reform backfire in a small way? Maybe so. See this from the NYT. The bill may disallow the current members of Congress from their current health care coverage and more likely will not allow new members ( those not elected yet) from enjoying the coverage their plan offers.

Then again surely Congress could fix this by more legislation or some other procedural slight of hand.Interestingly, the section of the bill that is at issue seems to be worded in such a muddled up way as to make it unclear how to enforce it if at all.

The Congressional Research Office (see here for who they are) seem to exist in part to help congress figure out actually what they pass really means was unable to do so in this instance so badly constructed was this section of the bill. If they could not get the section of the bill that directly affected them right........

The CRO said this in a 8,100 word memo.

“This omission, [ how to resolve ambiguities in the statute] whether intentional or inadvertent, raises questions regarding interpretation and implementation that cannot be definitively resolved by the Congressional Research Service,” the report says. “The statute does not appear to be self-executing, but rather seems to require an administrating or implementing authority that is not specifically provided for by the statutory text.”

I guess the CRO will have lots to do if and when they attempt to see what sense the rest of the 2100 page bill makes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Transactional politics,the public good,social justice and the health care bill

A recent commentary by Bob Doherty,lobbyist for the American College of Physicians (ACP), included remarks critical of what some consider a growing trend in world of national politics and legislation,a phenomenon described as "transactional politics". These remarks appear as part of a reply to and a defense against some comments that he has received on his blog from internists who have expressed dissatisfaction with the ACP position of support for the recently passed health care bill.

Transactional politics ( "TP" for short) essentially means the horse trading that goes on with one group promising to do this for someone if someone does that for them. We are talking about getting votes to favor one group or another by promising something, such promise usually to involve voting .Basically vote for me and I will do this (give you health care,give you clean air, whatever).

Some have contrasted TP with another concept with the same initials , "transformational politics" which means the situation in which one acts to further the general good even if they may have to make some sacrifices themselves. In general, progressives typically believe, or claim at least,that they act in the public good so they are frequently transforming or trying to at least.

Doherty defends the ACP and their role in the health care debate by saying while the bill doesn't contain everything that physicians (including the ACP leadership) want but after all they are not a labor union and their motives include not only the interests of the physicians but of the patient and the common good. In short, they are acting in the public good. So while we didn't get everything we wanted we acted in the public interest and for the common good, with the implied contrast with other groups who lobby for their own focused self interest.

He quotes from the ACP's mission statement:

the principal goal is "To advocate responsible positions on individual health and on public policy relating to health care for the benefit of the public, our patients, the medical profession, and our members."

The message seems to be that the ACP is not engaging in transaction politics but they are working for the benefit of the public. I wonder what qualifies the ACP to make that claim while some other lobbyists are just doing venal transactional politics?

When is the last time a politician or a lobbyist favored a bill that he did not characterize as being in the public good or public interest.The words "public good" have largely replaced the words "God's Will" in the discourse surrounding advocacy for or against one thing or another. Preachers on both sides of the Civil War assured their congregations that God was on their side. Now policy advocates and opponents both seem to implicitly claim that they are blessed with some unique insight analogous to the divine knowledge that allowed the clergy to reassure their flock of the righteousness of the their cause. The thing about a gratuitous assertion is that it can be contradicted with a gratuitous denial with equal lack of need for evidence.

Whether a given policy position is for the public good is in the eyes of the claimants.

Mr. Doherty then quoted the Charter on Professionalism ,a statement by the ACP ( and other groups as well) on what modern medical ethics should be:

The Charter states that "the medical profession must promote justice in the health care system, including the fair distribution of health care resources" and "A commitment to equity entails the promotion of public health and preventive medicine, as well as public advocacy on the part of each physician, without concern for the self-interest of the physician or the profession."
( my bolding ,his use of italics)

Justice in the sense of the above quote would seem to mean social justice or distributive justice, a viewpoint that looks to equality of outcome not necessarily solely to the equality of opportunity. A number of medical bloggers, including me, have written about social justice in the context that the claim of advocacy for social justice is a necessary arrow in the quill of the ethical physician. See here. I reject the assertion that social justice is the justice that ethical physicians must adhere to. More than that, my assertion is that a mixed fidelity to the patient and to some general societal good or welfare may destroy the very essence of the traditional physician-patient relationship,the fiduciary responsibility to the patient.

Several years ago, I asked "Can the traditional medical ethical prime directive of placing the individual patient's interest first survive in a financial environment in which physician autonomy is greatly diminished and income for most physicians is controlled by third party payers?"

Before that , Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino, whose credentials in the field of medical ethics are not likely to be questioned, asked in 1995 (JAMA,May 24/31,1995,Vol 273,no 20,) " Is medical ethics a social, historical, or economic artifact?Or are there some universal , enduring principles?

I maintain that the Charter on Professionalism answered that question in the negative.

The ACP, ABIM and the European Federation of Internal Medicine joined forces to formulate what was called the New Professionalism in which physicians were told that they had an ethical obligation to strive for Social Justice. This joint effort of re-doing medical ethics by several medical organizations was said to be necessary as the "old ethic" needed to be revised to align itself with the new economic environment in which physicians now lived and "medicine's commitment to the patient was being challenged by external forces of change within our society...

So, the ACP and others declared that the old ethic had to be revised. Yet, in a recent exchange between Dr. Richard Fogoros and Dr. Virginia Hood who represented ACP , Dr Hood seemed to maintain that really there was no conflict at all between the individual patient's well fare and the good of the herd and all the new professionalism did was to tell docs to just practice good medicine. At least, that was Dr. Fogoros's take on the non-debate, a view with which I agree. See here for details of that exchange, The issue is the conflict between the individual and society and that ACP leaders may have chosen not to fight that battle again having declared victory.

So the defense which the ACP's advocate choose to construct to justify their support of the health care bill consisted of:

1.We supported it because the bill did contain several items consistent with ACP mission and goals (e.g. providing health insurance for millions of previously uninsured citizens)
2.ACP will continue to fight for other things important to physicians ( e.g., repeal of the SGR compensation cuts)
3.ACP's lobbying effort is not your typical lobby effort but rather their proposals are also in the public interest.
4.Physicians have an ethical duty to promote social justice which many believe this bill accomplishes.

Arguments 1 and 2 hold water.More folks will be insured and the ACP has advocated greater access for years. I have no doubt they will continue to advocate a more reasonable compensation system for CMS and for malpractice tort reform.

However, Argument 3 is no more that a gratuitous assertion and argument 4 relies on the assumption that social justice is the only concept of justice appropriate to the modern day physician and that the concept of social justice actually has substantive meaning.

I have no reason to believe other than that the leadership of the ACP is populated by conscientious, well intended physicians who are dedicated to their profession and have given the matter of their advocacy for medical policies much thoughtful consideration and believe they are doing the right thing.

Acceptance of the social justice concept and the imperative to work for that end is likely part of the world vision of at least some ( most?) of the ACP leadership. To the extent that health care bill presents a victory for proponents of social justice, the actions of the ACP are consistent with their expressed core beliefs.

Physicians whose views can be characterized as progressive may be pleased with the bill, warts and all, while for libertarians and conservatives, not so much.The reaction of many physicians in opposition to the health care bill provides some evidence that the progressive view is not shared by all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Which is more frightening , Section 10320 of the PPACA or Section 2713?

Actually two other sections are candidates as well; they are Sections 4105 and 4106.

To review- 10320 is the section that gives the Secretary of HHS the authority and power and mandate to issue rules and regulations to limit the growth of private medical spending. See here for my concern about that.

The other three sections outline the broad reach of recommendations that will be made by the USPSTF . It is worse that it sounds because it will also encompasses previous recommendations the group made (except for the recent mammogram recommendation because folks got upset about that before the health care bill was passed and the HHS Secretary did some quick damage control)

DrRich discussed the power that the USPHSTF will have over our ( "our" referring those of us having any kind of health insurance) health care insurance coverage. See here.

Section 2713 establishes that the recommendations made by the USPSTF regarding preventive services will determine what will be covered by private insurance. Section 4105 does the same for Medicare and 4106 for Medicaid.

Remember the outcry when the USPHSTF issued guidelines regarding breast cancer screening that were widely perceived as being counter to what advice had been pounded into women's heads for the last quite a few years. Government officials,including the Secretary of HHS, quickly reassured the country that this panels was not issuing official government mandates just offering advice and that women should confer with their physician and see what they both agree is best for them. Well, with the passage of the health care bill that all changes because the government will have the power to determine what insurance policies have to cover and I fear what they cannot.

Yet another government entity emerges from the health care bill

H/T to Dr RW (see here) for alerting me to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) which joins the list of mechanisms by which more control of medical practice is given to certain federal entities .

Here is the legislative language of the amendment that sets up of the power of the CMMI.I do not know to what extent, if any, the final bill altered the amendment's wording.

This- much like my favorite Section 10320- seems to not be getting that much attention . See here. A Google search (4/11/2010) kept bringing up this reference which in turn quotes the CG Weekly, whose content seems largely gated.

Again, only time will tell what this organization will bring about but from what I can read preservation of fee for service and independent practices is not what they will strive to preserve.

The basic, pervasive indeterminacy of the health care bill ( i.e. we do not know exactly what forms the power given to federal agencies will take and the devil really will be in the details) is one of the most important reasons for opposition to the bill .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Massashusetts government has to order health insurers to offer policies

Let us look one more time at how Obama care in miniature is working out in Massachusetts. See here for details as the latest series of events plays out three years after a health care plan was instituted in Massachusetts.

Non-profit insurers in that state had lost money in 2009 and requested a rate hike which was denied by the authorities in Massachusetts and at the old rates refused to offer policies. No problem- the state simply ordered them to offer policies.At this writing ( 4/10/2010)the matter is in court.

Actually, we will probably get more looks as the Mass mess really derails.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Health care bill- No one knows what it will do but don't worry

Here are two interesting quotes regarding the health care bill.

The first from Nancy Pelosi , see here.

"But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it".

The second is from the Senior VP of Governmental Affairs and Public Policy for the American College of Physicians, Robert Doherty He writes a blog called "The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty".

He began a recent blog commentary with the following sentence:

Well you don't. Neither do I, and for that matter, nor does anyone else.

The reader soon realizes that this attention-getting lead sentence is in reference to what the effect(s) of the recently passed health care bill ( now known as PPACA) will be.

While Ms. Pelosi's statement seems at first analysis just to make no sense at all but maybe it makes more sense that it seems at first. On the other hand, Mr Doherty' offers are a candid,thoughtful assessment that concluded that the bill is so complex,and I would add currently in many regards indeterminate, that no one can known for sure what the consequences will be.

I agree. Further there are many sections of the bill that delegate much authority to political appointees ( e.g. the Secretary of HHS) to make rules and regulations that will have extreme broad effects on peoples lives . We cannot comment on what the outcomes of these decisions because we will know what they are until they are made.

Doherty continues:

Yet the honest, truthful answer is that neither side can really have all that much confidence in their assessments of the law's impact. If they were honest with themselves, and with us, they would acknowledge that there is a tremendous degree of uncertainty about how the PPACA will work in practice. Some elements of the law, like how it will provide access to health insurance coverage, can be assessed with greater confidence than, say, the long-term impact on health care costs and the federal budget deficit.

Again, I agree. Neither side can know the law's impact. In my opinion, one can rationally oppose a bill solely on the grounds that its effects and impact are not known. Can you say Pig in a poke"? On the other hand, I am puzzled how one can advocate for a bill given the knowledge that its effects are unknown. I am puzzled by the argument that support for it is based on a belief that the legislation is in the public interest if the face of admitted ignorance of the bill's effect. Of course the bill will provide health insurance coverage for millions of the previously uninsured but is that provision so important that it trumps all possible negatives. Apparently so it the eyes of at least some of its supporters.

Maybe Speaker Pelosi was right after all. We have to pass the bill AND wait and see what the bureaucrats do with the incredible powers delegated to them to really see what it is the bill.

This video seems an appropriate closing.

So how does the Obama health care bill "provide" health care for almost everyobody?

Ignoring for a moment the millions of U.S. citizens who are not covered by the Obama health care bill, how will those who are now ( well, in a few years) eligible for health care actually get their care ? The answer- two ways, 1) through the current (though modified) private health insurance industry by the simple ( actually the details are anything but simple) expedient of making those who can afford insurance it to buy and subsidies for those who cannot and 2)making more folks eligible for Medicaid.

This is the same (OK, currently modified, so new and improved) private insurance industry that was so vilified in the run up to the bill's passage but we are led to believe that through wise regulation these powerful and evil snakes in the grass will be defanged, such defangation accomplished by not allowing different rate premiums for different risks and by disallowing rescission ( aka, an insurance company dropping the patient when they get sick).

The second mechanism is increased in enrollment in a plan that virtually no one says is a good way to get health care.Good luck finding a physician who accepts Medicaid patients as millions are made eligible.

Well, maybe these are not the absolutely best ways to go about it but we told we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good but at least we can feel good about the fact that this bill will save us money and we have been told by the president that without it the country will go bankrupt.

There are few instances where anything like controlled experiments occur in the world of economics but we can look at how things have worked out so far in Massachusetts where a very similar plan has been in place for the last three years. Here is an assessment of that from a new publication not known for its anti-government bias.

The bottom line is it that the Mass plan costs multiples of what the purported projections were ( as did the projections for Medicare) and waiting times to see physicians is the highest in the country, that in a state with many more per capita docs than most.

So with Massachusetts as a model ( or canary in the coal mine) how could anyone expect the Obama bill to save money and save the country from bankruptcy. One way was the hokey- pokey accounting shenanigans that prevailed in congress. By that I mean the CBO had to count the saving from a 21% cut in Medicare payments to doctors while legislators played a wink wink nudge nudge game promising to some of the more easily fooled medical organizations to eliminate those cuts in a separate bill. Bait and switch written very large.

With a plan as sound as the above would suggest, it is no wonder that the president has launched a campaign to educate the populace about the virtues of the plan .Currently the tactic appears to be to talk so much that ultimately everyone will just give in so that he will stop talking about it. Even the Washington Post seems to taken back a bit by his verbal excess. See here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

More "well thought out" parts of the massive health care bill deserve worry

The many parts of the health care bill are a marvel to contemplate and as the 2000 plus pages are deciphered there will be much to be considered.

Here is one that has received a bit more commentary than my current favorite worry,section 10320. See here for my fears about 10320.

Jason Shafin, Phd in economics, discussed the CLASS act in the above hyperlink. Class stands for Community Living Assistance Services and Support Act . This is a Long Term Care (LTC) program whose benefits seem grossly inadequate to pay for a nursing home but admittedly might help a bit.Funding for it precedes the years when payouts occur, part of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge accounting that achieved the veneer and illusion of "cost saving" of this landmark bill.

This is a voluntary program that may be offered by employers and applicants cannot be denied coverage. There are some interesting tricks in the program that Dr. Shafin warns us about. The default position regarding employees is that they are signed up unless they opt out.I suppose this the so-called libertarian paternalism at work. But, if you drop out after you figure out you are in it, you then have a penalty to pay if you decide you really want it after you get older and realize you might need it and sign up for the plan again. Not sure how paternalistic that is, maybe some type of tough love.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Section 10320 of health care bill-reason to be afraid

Section 10320 of the health care bill changes the focus and greatly enhance the influence of the IMAB.Again h/t to DrRick. The phrase "greatly enhanced" does not begin to capture the enormity of what that change could be.

The IMAB ( Independent Medicare Advisory Board) has been characterized as a rather benign entity merely existed to make suggestions regarding how to improve Medicare and benefit everyone over 65. But things seem to get really interesting in 2014. The initials changes to IPAB or the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The title of section 10320 is illuminating ;“Expansion Of The Scope Of, And Additional Improvements To, The Independent Medicare Advisory Board.”

"Improvements" are in the eye of the beholder but in what way is the scope expanded? The board is directed to periodically (every 2 years) to submit recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures for private (non-Federal) health care programs.,such recommendations to be implemented administratively by the HHS Secretary and/or other such Federal agency heads.

Is it even possible for a federal agency to control private health care expenditures? Does this mean that the HHS secretary, a political appointee, could deny what would otherwise be a lawful contractual relationship between a person and an insurance company? For example HHS could write regulations forbidding an insurance company from paying for a brain MRI in a patient over 65. Having control of insurance coverage is a powerful tool that has now been taken over by the federal government.

Would the power of HHS extend to control private ( non insurance related) activities between a patient and a physician? It is easy to imagine how that could happen. Simply issue a regulation (aka edict) that disallows a physician who receives CMS funds from taking part in any private financial arrangements with a patient.

Does the creation of the IPAB make it possible for a government appointed administrator basically determine if health care in this country will go the way of Great Britain or Canada, with "allowed"private care in the former and not in the latter.

Here is more detail on 10320 and how it activities morph further as times goes by, e.g taking GNP into its calculus to control national (public and private) health care costs.

This topic deserves far more discussion and recognition by the public and by the medical profession. It deserved much more discussion before it was passed.When you Google "section 10320" and my earlier blog entry shows up on the first page of hits (as of 4.4.2010), you know that this needs more widespread discussion.

Here is a letter sent from dozens of health related organizations opposing the creation of the IPAB.

Interestedly, absent from the list are the AMA and ACP.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Could the Independent Medicare Advisory Board pave the way to an exclusive single payer?

I have written before that perhaps the worst part of the Obama health care redo is the incredible delegation of wide- almost unlimited- powers to a political appointee ( the secretary of HHS).

Scrutiny of the behemoth legislation by Dr. Fogoros (AKA DrRick of the Covert Rationing Blog) Rationing) has brought to light that fact that in 2015 the Independent Medicare Advisory Board morphs into an entity named the Independent Payment Advisory Board. See here for details as provided by Dr.Rick.

This is much more than a change in initials from IMAB to IPAB. It give the HHAS secretary authority to somehow issue administrative rules that will somehow limit private medical expenditure.

From DrRick:

Section 10320 changes the name of the Immutables from the Independent Medicare Advisory Board to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. It directs the Immutables (and now readers will understand why DrRich has resorted to this more descriptive name), at least every two years, to “submit to Congress and the President recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures” for private (non-Federal) healthcare programs. Furthermore, it allows that these “recommendations” may be implemented by the Secretary of HHS or other Federal agencies administratively.

Does this administrative power pave the way to limit what an individual might pay on his own for health care?

It need not but it could. The HHS czar could decree according to Section 10320 that no insurance plan could include coverage for something or other ( perhaps screening colonoscopy for folks over 65) and leave it at that. OR HHS could decree that no practitioner would receives Medicare/Medicare funds or payments for an insurance policy obtained from an exchange could enter into any financial relationship with a patient outside of that which is expressly provided by the plan. In other words more like Great Britain or more like Canada. I wonder how many House members who were herded into voting for the bill realized that much of the future of health care for millions of folks would be determined by a political appointee?

If you agree with many folks that the passage of the health care bill was an abuse of power (see Here),wait until we see what 2015 and the Department of HHS have to offer.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Health care "reform:,wouldn't it be nice to think so?

A recent commentary by Sheldon Richman has so many insights into what the health care bill offers,will offer and as to what it means that it must be read in its entirety. See here. All I can add is "amen".

Here are some of the major issues he raises.

Richman tell us that what "everyone" is provided with is not insurance at all

OPR [ stands for the Obama-Pelosi-Reid bill ] will directly subvert what is left of the insurance market and indirectly subvert what is left of the medical market. Insurance is about pooling risk in the face of an uncertain future. But OPR requires that insurance companies cover people without taking risk or even certainty (preexisting conditions) into consideration. There are no grounds for calling this insurance. Rather, it is welfare mixed with prepayment for future services. (Not that the insurers are complaining; it’s a price they’ll gladly pay for the captive customers that the mandate will deliver.)

Remember "fast,good and cheap" , pick any two. There is something similar with OPR, but I think you can pick only any one.

Adding insult to injury, OPR falsely promises that we can have government-subsidized consumption of medical services, lower prices, and freedom of choice at the same time. In fact, those three things cannot coexist. Subsidies will boost consumption, which will raise prices. If government is serious about lowering prices, it will have to curtail consumption, that is, limit freedom of choice, explicitly through rationing or implicitly through price controls and standards of practice.

And perhaps most important is that fact that no one really knows what is in the bill because much that will come out of the legislation is undefined and is to be determined by the Secretary of HHS and other panel and bureau heads.

Finally, OPR puts another nail in the coffin of government transparency. Regardless of how much or little government (if any) people want, they should at least be able to see and understand what it is up to and how much it costs them personally. In every way OPR flouts this principle. The law’s 2,700 pages of impenetrable “English” was read in its entirety by few if anyone. But that only begins to describe the offense. The law leaves much to be defined in the future by government departments, boards, and commissions. Hundreds of rules and regulations have yet to be written – and who do you think will be right there offering counsel as the new insurance rules are formulated? The same insurance companies whom last week were said to be the devil incarnate. (And Organized Medicine and Big Pharma too.) That’s how the Washington game is played. And we’re the losers.

I agree,organized medicine (at least the AMA and ACP) were on hand to "offer council" but while Pharma may have made out OK ( I say" may" because all of the fall out has not begun to fall ) organized medicine,IMHO, didn't get much to show for their lobbying efforts.The small dollops to physicians are more illusory than real and a very small price to approve giving massive power to the Secretary of HHS.