Thursday, April 28, 2011

The semi-secret RUC is getting less and less secret

The RUC (more formerly known as the AMA/Specialty Relative Value Update Committee) up until recently has been an obscure creature of the AMA about which little was known and even less was written about. Thanks to a number of physicians,including Dr. Roy Poses, more and more information of the composition of that group is being revealed. See here for Dr. Poses's latest revelations about the current members of the RUC and and some of their relationships which might represent conflicts of interest.

Not only are we treated to looking behind the curtains but there is an organized effort to opt out of the RUC influence. See here for information about the "Replace the RUC" effort.

Dr Poses raises several of the unanswered questions regarding the RUC. The one that interested me for some time is this. Why was there and is there so little outcry about the central governmental management of physician's fees, i.e. price controls.? (If there is anything Keynesians and non-Keynesians agree on it is that price controls lead to shortages and decreased quality) Could part of it be that the AMA whose brainchild we are talking about kept the whole process obscure and largely behind the scenes?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How bad is the Supreme's denial for expedited review of Obamacare?

According to David Catron the news is really bad for those of us who still hold out some hope that Obbamacare will be stopped by the Supreme Court. Here is his commentary in the American Spectator. While the issue(s) crawl though the courts, the "leaders with ideas" are cranking out rules and regulations for the statute's implementation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Meta-analysis fails to show all-cause mortality benefits to statins in primary prevention

A 2010 meta-analysis by Dr. KK Ray et al ( see here for full text) in the Archives of Internal Medicine stirred a bit of interest and commentary as it failed to show an all-cause mortality benefit from statin use in the setting of primary prevention in patients with elevated risk factors for coronary artery disease.

A few context setting comments are in order. First, it is well established that statins are clearly beneficial in secondary prevention of coronary disease. In patients with proven coronary artery disease few would disagree with statin use.Its efficacy and safety have been demonstrated in several of the well known so-called landmark statin trials.

Second, the argument is strong for the conclusion that statin use in primary prevention results in a decrease in cardiovascular (CV) deaths. The authors of the Archives article make their position clear in that regard when they say in their comments sections "the benefits of statins in CV deaths are unequivocal based on primary prevention data from the CTT meta-analysis." The Cholesterol Treatment Trialist Collaboration or CTT was published in Lancet in 2005 ( see here ) .

So, the issue that Ray and his fellow authors addressed was not do statins reduce CV mortality in primary prevention but do statins reduce all cause mortality and their data analysis lead to the conclusion it does not.

Ray analyzed data from 11 randomized clinical trials of patients with what they considered to be high risk for coronary artery disease ( 244,000 patient years). Big numbers for patient years tends to give credence to findings but the key thing here is that in these trials the follow-up period was only 4-5 years as is typical of clinical trials. In patients with increased CV risk -as opposed to patients with proven CAD-the ratio of CV deaths to total deaths is relatively low particularly in a 4-5 year time frame. So that it is not surprising that all cause mortality may not be decreased, which is what Ray demonstrated.

Both the editorialist in the Archives and a subsequent commentator in a Update section in the April 5, 2011
Annals of Internal Medicine seem to conflate failure to show decrease in all cause mortality in a short observation period with overall lack of benefit. Ray and co-authors do not deny benefits in terms of decrease in C-V mortality.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Major cuts in Medicare Advantage postponed until after election

Remember how we were told that if ACA ( Obamacare) were not passed the country would "go broke". Obamacare would reduce the deficit. One of the cost saving mechanisms contained in the bill was a major reduction in Medicare costs including significant reductions in Medicare Advantage (MA).This was supposed to bolster the long term solvency of the entire Medicare program. Now the Obama administration has decided to postpone saving the country from going broke until after the election and actually spend a little more money of the MA program.Why? To avoid a voter push back from looming cuts in Medicare Advantage seems the obvious answer . AARP can't be happy with that. See here for more on AARP.

See more about the Medicare Advantage ploy from Black Ribbon Project blog here. Also I commented on this egregious political play before.
Another alleged cost saving proposal included in Obamacare was the Community Living Assistance and Support Act (CLASS).

Early on, opponents of the health care bill insisted that its provisions were not fiscally sound and were placed in the bill to give the illusion that Obamacare would cost less than the magic one trillion dollar price tag. The plan was to front load the plan with premiums without any benefit payments for a number of years. It was advertised as a mechanism to decrease the federal deficit by 86 billion over a ten year period. Now even with the deck as rigged as it was it will not work . The Secretary of HHS has admitted that.

More and more elements of the Obamacare monster bill seem to be either unraveling completely or postponed until after the 2012 election.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Still more data on adverse and beneficial effects of statins

Here is a recent article in the BMJ detailing the absence of numerous adverse effects of the statin class of drugs and the occurrence on a few beneficial effects. The article mentions cataract as a complication of statin therpay , an adverse effect that was of concern in very early animal work by Merck but about which I had stopped worrying until the BMJ article. In fact, there was this study from 2010 which claimed the opposite, i.e . a decrease in the risk of cataracts from statin use and this 2003 fairly large case-control article that found no effect in regard to cataract.

For a while those who read or skimmed medical literature were treated to an array of articles that claimed numerous effects of the statins that were not just further evidence of the pleotrophic effects of statins but were really just short of miraculous. I wrote about some of those claims here. Most of those claims did not pan out. Another claim,that of the statins causing an epidemic of heart failure made by Dr. Peter Langsjoen ( see here),does not appear verified by the BMJ article.Link

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Federal Judge" Entitlements" are mandatory-people are trapped [in Medicare]

Regulations put into place during the administration of Bill Clinton prohibited folks from opting out of Medicare part A unless they agreed to forgo their social security payments ( and pay back whatever SS funds they had received).

It seemed to take a long time for someone to challenge this rule but someone finally did and the federal judge presiding over the case has now rejected the case with an appeal pending. Here is a link to the decision by the US District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer.

Her convoluted and self-contradictory reasoning (see here) concluded that this entitlement ( to Part A) is mandatory .To some the notion of a "mandatory entitlement" may seem Orwellian but at least the judge did offer some interesting comments in her written opinion that suggests lawyers even when they become judges might retain a sense of irony.

For example Judge Collyer said in her conclusion:

Plaintiffs are trapped in a government program intended for their benefit. They
disagree and wish to escape. The Court can find no loophole...

In her introduction she stated:

Medicare costs are skyrocketing and may bankrupt us all; nonetheless, participation in Medicare Part A (for hospital insurance) is statutorily mandated for retirees who are 65 years old or older and are receiving Social Security Retirement (so-called ‘old age’) benefits. Whether Congress intended this result in 1965 or whether it is good fiscal and public policy in 2011 cannot gainsay the language of the statute and the regulations

It seems to me she might have well said, the program is ridiculous but that is the law -get over it.

DrRich takes up this case (see here) in his blog and considers this case in the broader context of his lingering (or growing) concern about the possibility that down the road seniors and others may face a health care system which prohibits the patient from purchasing any health care not approved by the central authorities. See here for his earlier commentaries on the efforts to limit individual prerogatives in obtaining medical care. I share his concern.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Follow the money rule suggests reason for AARP support of Obmacare

The venerable follow the money rule continues to have explanatory power. This time, apply it to AARP's support for the health care overhaul-reconfiguration bill and presto we have a plausible explanation for AARP support for the bill . Simply put, AARP makes a hefty brokerage fee for selling Medicare supplemental policies and Obamacare dealt a blow to the Medicare Advantage programs so that it is likely many senors will migrate from MA plans to traditional Medicare and will likely purchase a supplemental policy the sale of which is a major income stream for AARP.

See here for details about how much money AARP might make as a result of changes brought about by the health care bill that they vigorously supported.

Meanwhile surveys suggest that most seniors believe Obamacare will diminish access to care for them (that they are the Peters robbed to pay Paul) and more entities are receiving waivers from some of the provisions of Obamacare. Things just get better and better.