Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Platonic Medicine and the ACA with its IPAB


 A recent commentary by one of favorite bloggers,Dr. Robert Centor, spoke favorably about IPAB, one of many,many provisions of ACA.See here.I made a brief reply to his entry. I recalled this earlier blog entry and if Dr.Centror's comment stir up much furor  I want to add this earlier blog post to the kerfuffle.Originally published  6/22/11 and now submitted with little editing.

I had been sketching out some comments about what I was going to call "Platonic Medicine" referring to the "leaders with ideas" who will lead the way to transform medicine based on the underlying premise that "medicine is too complex and important to be left to the individual physician and the individual patient" and therefore it should be controlled and directed by the wise medical elite who will determine the collective utility of a given approach and its value.I have commented before about Don Berwick's advocacy of that view.

However, someone had written something in that regard better than I could.See here.

Hat tip to the Pacific Legal Foundation who filed a friend-of-the-court brief to challenge the constitutionality of IPAB on the grounds of violation of the non-delegation doctrine and for the above mentioned link which alerted  me to Jost's frightening comments.

It turns out that an outspoken advocate and supporter of Obamacare,law professor, Timothy Jost has already praised that legislative act in part because of what the IPAB will provide. He said:

A board of “Platonic Guardians” to govern the health care system or some aspects of it. The cost of health care is spinning dangerously out of control…. [O]ur traditional political institutions—Congress and the executive administrative agencies—are too driven by special interest politics and too limited in their expertise and vision to control costs. Enter the Platonic guardians…an impartial, independent board of experts who could make evidence-based policy determinations based purely on the basis of effectiveness and perhaps efficiency.

Incredibly Jost is asserting that this board will be immune to the influence of special interests and will make decisions rationally and in a proper evidence based manner.From what planet will these board member be chosen? Philosopher kings in charge,what could go wrong with that?

The PLF commentary pointed out that a Platonic government was definitely not what the founding fathers had in mind and Jefferson and associates were not big fans of Plato.

In the commentary that I was considering I thought perhaps calling the panel members Platonic Guardians would earn me the accusation of being overly dramatic and hyperbolic, but now we see an IPAB advocate using the same characterization and believing that to be a very good thing.

Dictating the coverage to control the cost for Medicare and Medicaid may not be enough for the medical Platonic elite as is illustrated by this quote from Dr. Robert Berenson:


"we ought to consider
setting all payer-rates for providers." He continues "but the country's antigovernment mood renders such a discussion unlikely,at least for now".

I wonder who the "we" is that Berenson references.

Finally, another chilling quote from Mr. Jost:

"In the long run, Congress may not be able to cap Medicare expenditures without addressing private expenditures as well. If the IPAB opens the door to rate setting for all payers,it may well be the most revolutionary innovation of the ACA".

Yeah, it just might be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why is there a shortage of certain drugs?

When faced with a shortage in some good or services a good first Linkguess as to what might be going on is to see if there are price controls at work?

Go here to read a detailed analysis by John Goodman of what factors are at work in the ongoing shortage of over 200 hundred medications. It turns out that at least a contributing factor to the shortage is price controls which are part of a 1992 Federal 340B drug rebate program to certain medical facilities.

Another, perhaps more important governmental factor is at work in the form of the the output controls put in place by the FDA which limits the production of product by drug companies and diminishes their ability to quickly react to market conditions with increased production.

No, price controls are not the entire explanation but government price controls and other regulatory actions impeding market process are playing a role. The situation is more complicated that the two factors mentioned above and some of the other contributing factors are discussed here. But,as the various shortages play out, I'll be it won't be long until we hear that the free market has failed again and more governmental controls are necessary to protect the public.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and smoking, now there is a real relative risk

While I thought there was little doubt remaining about the relationship between cigarette smoking and PAD, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (see here for abstract) provided more convincing data, this time in women. Yes, cigarettes are bad for women's peripheral arteries as well.

This study from the Women's Health Study generated some robust, relative risk numbers.I am not talking about the puny 1.2-1.4 relative risks (RRs) we often see in the typical data dredging articles and certainty not the ridiculous RR of 1.01 (not a typo) that was the alleged increased risk of death from vitamin E use.See here for that silliness.

Here are the age adjusted incidence numbers for symptomatic PAD

0.12 never smoked
0.34 former smoker
0.45 smoked less than 15 cigarettes per day
1.63 smoked greater than 15 cigarettes per day

1.63/0.12 =13.6

You are not likely to see RRs greater 10 from the typical data dredge and the WHS data also demonstrated a dose-response effect.

So, how large should a RR be before one worries about it or seriously believes we may have a causal relationship?

Sackett ,of McMaster EBM fame, asked one of the giants of epidemiology that question. Sir Richard Doll said that if the RR were 20 or greater that would be almost sufficient to indicate causality.Sackett was not quite that cautious and indicated that a RR of greater than 3 was "convincing".

Some courts use a RR greater than 2 to reach the threshold of "more likely than not".This is the current level of proof in most tort cases.

Michale Thun, who at the time was vice-president of epidemiology and Surveillance at the American Cancer Society, said:

With epidemiology you can tell a little thing from a big thing.What's very hard to do it to tell a little thing from nothing at all.

With cigarettes and PAD, we have big thing and we will not likely see battling statisticians debating the data. However, we did see that when Nissen's NEJM article claimed a RR of 1.43 for of Avandia and heart disease and we will likely get to see another again with the current breaking news of a RR around 1.4 with Actos and bladder cancer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)-what could go wrong with that?

The IPAB which was inserted into Obamacare at the last minute without anything approaching proper legislative review and contemplation establishes a 15 member panel appointed by the President which will beginning in 2014 have unprecedented power to control medical spending in the country with almost no significant or likely effective congressional oversight.

Now what could possibly be wrong with that?

James Madison had some thoughts about that.He was concerned about what he referred to as "factions' which today would be thought of as special interest groups.Special interest groups have developed a potent skill set to influence government bodies to focus benefits on themselves while the cost are diffused.

In general, the founding fathers of the country has some thoughts about what could be wrong with that sort of entity.They tried to design a government not so that wise leaders could do great good but rather one that would limit the damage done by fools,thugs and would be despots who might(most assuredly would) find their way to influential posts in government.

Their wisdom seemed brushed aside as the view of a benevolent and wise government assumed the default position as it was persistently promoted by a cadre of progressive minded academia intellectuals and high school civics texts which visualized a government that would wisely recognize problems,devise safe and effective solutions and then without special favors execute remedial plans marvelously bereft of significant unintended consequences.

Fortunately, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock resurrected Madisonian wisdom, enlarged upon it and explicated the theory of public choice which basically asserts that government officials and bureaucrats display the same characteristics as other humans, namely a proclivity to look after their own self interest. They definitely has some thoughts about what could possibly go wrong with something like the IPAB.

The economist, George Stigler,who did much to develop the concept of regulatory capture might have some to say about what could go wrong with the IPAB.Governmental agencies and organizations can be subject to the influence of the very groups that they are  nominally created to regulate and control .

Mafia dons and wise guys alike know the explanatory value of the "follow the money" and could explain simply what could go wrong with the IPAB.

Big Pharma had supported the passage of ACA but it is hard to believe that their support would have been forthcoming had they realized what IPAB would be.They certainty recognize the danger now.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) also supported Obamacare but now express opposition to the IPAB section "as written".Although (unfortunately in my view) they do not recommend repeal of IPAB but instead want certain changes that would make the entity acceptable.See here for ACP's position which objects to the exemption of hospitals and hospices from IPAB's edicts until 2019,the absence of primary care physicians on the panel,the lack of a mechanisms for significant congressional oversight and for preserving quality while decreasing costs.

So, much can go very,very wrong with IPAB but it gets even worse. Go here to read a recent commentary by George Will which discusses the chilling thought that the IPAB may not be stoppable. It may well be " entrenched".

Entrenchment refers to one legislative body passing a law that contains provisions that prohibit later legislature from repeal the law.

Can a legislative body really pass a law that contains a wording to prohibit further changes in that law?Is the IMAB really an immutable entity?

Eric Posner discusses it here and, as best I can translate it from the legal dialect academic lawyers speak into everyday English is that the Supreme Court has decided that they cannot allow that but as with anything that might be litigated there are at least as many sides to the issue as there are interests who can loose or gain from a decision.

It is hard to find a better summation that the one penned by Mr. Will in his above cited recent column:

"The essence of progressivism, and of the administrative state that is progressivism’s project, is this doctrine: Modern society is too complex for popular sovereignty, so government of, by and for supposedly disinterested experts must not perish from the earth. "

And the corollary for progressive medicine is that "medical care is too important and complex to be left to the individual physician and the individual patient."

minor editorial changes and typo correction changes made 8/17/14.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Harvard economist expresses concern over plans for IPAB

When a main-stream, Harvard economist expresses concern about a entity created by the enormous health care bill (ACA,Obamacare) known as the IPAB, it should evoke more wide spread concern about the wide reaching aspects of the legislation.

Professor Greg Mankiw has written with alarm about what a progressive think tank has proposed regarding the IPAB. See here for his commentary but I believe there is more to worry about than a proposal in regard to the IPAB. Mankiw references a proposal by the Liberal Center for American Progress to allow the IPAB to control the expenditures of private health insurance plans not just those expenditures regarding Medicare and Medicaid.

From what I understand the IPAB already has been given that power by Obamacare.

Dr.Richard Fogoros writing in his blog The Covert Rationing Blog explains how the IPAB was created and what it is authorized to do beginning in 2014. His reading of the statute indicates that this presidential appointed panel already has the legislative authority to limit expenditures by private health insurance companies. His analysis also describes how difficult it will be for Congress to over ride the panel's edicts. See here for his comments.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Remember the notion that "more [medical care] is less " and harmful as well -Guess what

Dr. Buz Cooper sticks a dagger in the heart of the non-sense that claims more medical care is harmful and less care is better. See here for his take on the latest study from the Dartmouth group which seems to contradict the mantra they have been selling to the gullible and to the progressive planners for years.

Dr. Cooper sums it up this way:

"Medicare beneficiaries who received more medical care had better outcomes, even when they are sicker. MORE was MORE."

Isn't this what common sense would suggest?

Link