Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘malpractice reform’

All For Lowering Healthcare Costs (Until You’re Sick, That Is)

The onus for reducing healthcare costs has been placed squarely in the middle of the backs of physicians. At the same time, physicians are being graded on how well they “satisfy” their patients. Rock, meet Hard Place. Hard Place, Rock.

Two recently published studies referenced pretty much everywhere have shown that individual patients specifically do NOT want to take cost into consideration when it comes to making decisions about their own care. In addition they also do not want their physicians to give any consideration to cost concerns when diagnosing or treating their own illness. Indeed, when given the choice between two treatments of nearly equal efficacy, study subjects overwhelmingly chose the more expensive option for themselves even when the difference in efficacy was very small.

While the authors of the articles citing these studies were shocked at these findings, the only surprise in my mind is that anyone is the least bit surprised by any of this.Think about it. You will personally pay little to none of the difference in cost of the treatment out of your own pocket for a treatment or a test that someone has labeled “better” or “more effective”. You’re telling me you’re not gonna choose that one? Please.

The two great forces aligned against one another in the “Healthcare Reform” debate advocate respectively: market-based incentives in which a patient is given better information in return for shouldering more of the financial decision-making and the importance of the quality of the exerience, and top-down command and control strategies in which both carrots and sticks are applied to doctors in an attempt to get them to provide better care with a more friendly consumer experience while at the same time spending less money. Physicians must provide more and better for less, and must do so under the same zero-sum malpractice game of “GOTCHA” rules we have now.

All of the responsibility for lowered costs with better outcomes and a better quality experience for the patients is shouldered by docs in Obamacare. Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) are lauded for paying physicians a set salary rather than by work done. Unless, that is, you do less work, quality notwithstanding. Getting great outcomes, following best practices, and receiving high satisfaction marks get you a pay cut if you see fewer patients, generate lower test fees, or do less surgery. The Rock.

Play by the rules, see your prescribed load of patients, get great outcomes and practice to the letter of evidence-based medicine, but fail to get those high customer satisfaction marks? Ah…welcome to the Hard Place. Your pay depends on satisfying your patients. Meeting their expectations both for their experience as well as their care. You know, those same patients who only care about the cost of someone else’s healthcare, not theirs. Fail to order the test that rules out the 0.00001% chance of that rare tumor on Anderson Cooper Live last night? BZZZZZT. Bad doctor. 1 out of 10 on the patient satisfaction survey and a trip to the principal’s office to learn about your pay cut.

Man. It wasn’t enough to be in the crosshairs of every plaintiff’s lawyer under the sun (so Doctor, isn’t it possible that you might have saved this patients vision if you’d ordered that MRI to evaluate her headache?). Nope, now we are responsible for balancing the Federal budget while simultaneously giving every patient whatever care they’ve seen on Dr. Oz (“PET Scans–your doctor KNOWS you need one if you have a headache! You could go BLIND!!”). It’s a lot to ask of your doctor.

Unless, of course, it’s someone ELSE’S headache.


Updating An Immodest Healthcare Proposal

I have been pretty generous in sharing my thoughts about some of the ills of our American Healthcare system, especially with regard to the barriers erected between physicians and patients. I find the various proposals now before our legislative bodies in Washington to be rather curious, even offensive. Since when does the United States of America adopt wholesale an economic solution from another country? Especially another country that is in some way otherwise riding the considerable coattails of the U.S. economy?

The “baby with the bathwater” approach in the halls of our Capitol and the editorial offices of our leading media outlets (WSJ excepted) is about as wrong-headed as you can get.  What we need is an AMERICAN solution to the challenges that we presently face with the economics of healthcare in the U.S., using our present system as the foundation.

Not surprisingly, I have some thoughts!

1) Malpractice tort reform. See my thoughts in “Tort Reform = Healthcare Reform”. Effective reform will dramatically reduce the scourge of defensive medicine with its attendant costs and risks to patients. Defensive medicine represents 15-25% of all medical costs in the U.S. That’s 15-25% of $2.5 Trillion. Do the math. While we’re at it, how is it good for the country to allow the tort bar to advertise for cases? Rake the muck in the hopes of unearthing errors or imagined?

2) Tax Reform #1: Remove the tax deduction for employer-offered health insurance. Provide a 100% TAX CREDIT to the lowest 60% of wage earners for the purchase of health insurance. Provide a progressive TAX DEDUCTION for the upper 40% of wage earners.

Tax Reform #2: Remove the tax deduction for advertising as a business expense for Hospitals. If we are concerned about unnecessary increased utilization of medical resources why are we allowing advertising by hospitals? For that matter, remove the tax-exempt status of any hospital or  provider that advertises. How is it appropriate to allow a hospital system to advertise to increase revenue, deduct that advertising as an expense, and still be not-for-profit? If it looks like a for-profit business, acts like a for-profit business, and sounds like a for-profit business, tax it like a for-profit business.

3) Insurance Reform #1: Reverse all of the for-profit conversions of previously not-for-profit health insurance companies. Who was the genius who thought THIS was a good idea? I don’t remember insurance premium increase that were quite so massive when all of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans were not-for-profit, do you? And while there were $Million execs in the non-profits I don’t recall any $10, $20, or $100 Million execs. Removing the need to answer to the stock market will create companies that will compete quite nicely with the for-profit companies without the horror of a government run system. Let the equivalent of NGO’s compete with the United Healthcares of the world.

Insurance Reform #2: Remove state-level coverage mandates and create a minimum federal set of mandates for comprehensive insurance policies. A REAL minimum. REAL medically necessary items. No Viagra or artificial  insemination coverage. Allow cross-state competition for the business. Real competition always drives prices lower.

Insurance Reform #3: Allow insurance companies (Medicare and Medicaid included) to discriminate IN FAVOR OF people who make healthy lifestyle choices (eg. no nicotine, no DUI, etc.). We are all so afraid of the stick that we refuse to allow any use of the Carrot.

4) Freedom of Speech/Restraint of Trade Reform #1: Abolish, once again, direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. There was a quantum leap in the utilization of all sorts of medications immediately following the 1997 rulings that allowed DTC pharmaceutical marketing. If it is so obvious that our ever-increasing levels of spending on medical care is a threat to the very existence of our fair Union, then DTC drug marketing is a version of yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.

Freedom of Speech/Restraint of Trade Reform #2: Begin a return to the professionalism of yesterday by prohibiting all forms of advertising by, or for, physicians. The AMA gets a lot of criticism, most of it well-deserved in my opinion, but the court and FTC rulings that prohibited the AMA from censoring physicians who advertised was a seminal event in the de-professionalism of doctoring and medicine. Doctors and other medical advertising was, is, and always will be wrong. While we’re at it, do the same thing for the rest of the lawyers and the practice of law.

5) Public Health. Finally, and most importantly, go to the true root of whatever “Crisis” we may have here in the United States, be it a “Healthcare Crisis” or a “Healthcare Finance Crisis” or what have you. We as a people are not healthy; certainly not as healthy as we ought to be. We are not healthy because of some wrong-headed previous Public Health decisions (simple-carbohydrate based diets, abolition of school phys-ed programs, tort-fearing closures of playgrounds, etc.). We are not healthy because our ability to treat the diseases that result  from poor lifestyle choices (cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, preventable accidents, etc.) is SO GOOD that we are able to keep more and  more unhealthy people alive longer and longer, paying ever more to do so along the way.

This is where true leadership can make a difference. Remember JFK and the President’s Council on Fitness? I do. 8 pull-ups in the fifth grade for me. Polio, measles, smallpox and whooping cough were once the leading killers of children in the U.S. but are now historical footnotes due to Public Health initiatives. (A pox on all the cretins advocating against childhood immunization).

We lead the world in per capita alcohol related accidents and deaths, losing young lives by the thousands each year. We have ever more increasing numbers of truly obese citizens who go on to suffer the diseases caused by that obesity, and we pay ever more for their diabetes, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks. These lifestyle choices are root causes for our increased expenditures on Healthcare, much more so than all of the targets of Beltway demagoguery like insurance company expense ratios and pharmaceutical company profit margins. A solution to this issue, more than all of numbers 1 through 4 combined or any other proposal yet floated, is the true crux of the solution to any “Crisis” we may be facing. Everything else is only there to buy time. Time to get healthy.

Pick a number; choose an age. 40. 50. 60. Anyone under that age gets “Well-care” or “Get Healthy Care” starting right now. Over that age they can have “sick care” only if they wish, but under that age if you try to be healthy you get rewarded.

There are no votes to be had in making Americans healthier. Nothing but hard work on every side of the equation. Who will stand up and do the hard work? Who will lead?

Who will have the guts to not only say that the Emperor is naked,  but also drunk and fat and puffing away our economy.