Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Iraqi Healthcare

According to data analyzed by various think tanks the United States of America, i.e. taxpayers like you and me, spent (or wasted) almost ONE TRILLION DOLLAR in Iraq!! Among the many "gifts" we provided was our financial and logistical support for an Iraqi constitution.
It's of interest to note that Article 31 of the Iraqi Constitution, drafted by the U.S. administration in 2005 and ratified by the Iraqi people, includes state-guaranteed (single payer) healthcare for life for every Iraqi citizen!! Article 31 reads: "First: Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions. Second: Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics,or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law."
There are other health care guarantees, including special provisions for children, the elderly, and the handicapped elsewhere in the 43-page document.
So let me make it clear: Our taxpayer money was used to draft a constitution which contains state-guaranteed healthcare for life for every citizens BUT the same rights are being denied for the very same U.S. citizen who paid for this constitution??!!
Naturally, all of our legislators enjoy guaranteed state-funded healthcare, state-guaranteed pensions, state guaranteed salaries etc. BUT the same legislators want us to believe that all state-funded activities are evil and must be cut or eliminated! Naturally, excluding those benefits they enjoy!!
Churchill once said that " The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery." Maybe this is now a virtue of our democracy and our legislators want us to share the misery and allocate the benefits of freedom to those they choose.
Its up to us to let them do that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Child Abuse Prevention in Florida

The Miami Herald reports in today's edition that Florida lawmakers have rejected more than $50 million in federal child abuse prevention money because its is being offered through the Affordable Health Care Act which lawmakers oppose for  "philosophical", i.e. ideological,  reasons. The money would have paid, among other things, for a visiting nurse program run by Healthy Families Florida, one of the most successful child-abuse prevention efforts in the nation. And because the federal Race to the Top educational-reform effort is tied to the child-abuse prevention program that Healthy Families administers, the state may also lose a four-year block grant worth an additional $100 million in federal dollars!!
Its of interest to follow the "reasoning" of a key lawmaker, State Senator Joe Negron, opposed to Healthy Families Florida. State Sen. Joe Negron, who chairs his chamber’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, said he long has been philosophically opposed to Healthy Families, which he views as an intrusion into the private lives of parents.“I believe in providing basic information to parents at hospitals and medical settings,” said Negron, a Palm City Republican. “I am not persuaded that it is a good idea to show up at a family’s home year after year giving advice and guidance. I do not think that is a core, essential function of government.”
According to his "logic" its OK for government to censure  doctors free speech and to figure out by themselves, and under the threat of punishment,  what  basic information to parents at hospitals and medical settings is relevant to prevent child abuse.
Its also of interest to note that nobody wants to take responsibility for the rejection of federal funds.
On Wednesday, leaders of the state House and Senate and the governor’s office all insisted they had nothing to do with rejecting the money.“The grant was included in [the state Department of Health’s] legislative budget request, but beyond that, the executive branch never advocated for it and a budget amendment was not submitted,” said Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park. Brian Burgess, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, said Scott did ask for the money. Burgess produced a budget request that has the proposal. “If there is to be finger-pointing,” he said, “it should be directed elsewhere.”
In contrast to previous posturing the Governor and Republican lawmakers seem to be odds at whom to blame (or to cheer) for rejecting the grant money.
Meanwhile, more children will suffer and some may even loose their lives.
As physicians we are obligated to speak up!!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

United Health Care Profits Rose 13%

Today's New York Times article entitled " Profit Up 13%, United Health Raises Outlook" reports that The United Health Group one of the nation’s largest health insurers, reported its second-quarter results on Tuesday, and the good news for the industry appeared likely to continue. UnitedHealth announced a double-digit increase in profits and raised its estimates for 2011 earnings. Its net income rose 13 percent, to $1.27 billion, or $1.16 a share, compared with $1.12 billion, or 99 cents a share, one year ago. And revenue increased 8 percent, to $25.23 billion. UnitedHealth was the first of the big insurers to report this quarter, and once again, the high profits appear to be partly the result of more budget-consciousness by their customers, even as the insurers ask for higher premiums. As they have for many months now, Americans seem to be putting off or forgoing medical care because of the weak economy and the increasing amount they are required to pay in medical bills as their deductibles and co-payments climb. In late spring, many health insurers said it was too soon to tell whether utilization would eventually rebound to the same levels as before the downturn. They argued that they could not count on the demand for medical care staying at relatively low levels.So the company continued to benefit from consumers making fewer doctor visits as they try to save money in the tough economy.
Following the logic of a free market economy, they should lower their premiums to entice consumers to "buy" healthcare services. But these rules DO NOT apply to the so-called "healthcare market" which is controlled by a few monopolies, in which only one seller faces many buyers who have no choice but to buy the product regardless of price.
Unfortunately, these monopolies also are acting as monopsonies, in which only one buyer faces many sellers. In this cases providers of health care services (doctors, hospitals etc) have no choice but to sell their services to a large insurance company because its buying power dwarfs the remaining market.
Ironically, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will inadvertently exacerbate this situation because for-profit insurance companies play an essential role in the provision of services.
Who will suffer? The consumer who is forced to buy these expensive insurance products and the doctors whose negotiating power has been curtailed by regulations.
In this context a single-payer system, or a model based on not-for-profit insurance companies (i.e. Germany), may serve as a solution.
Unfortunately, we are doomed because we swallowed the "free market" ideology bait with hook, line and sinker and in the end have no choice but to stick with the worst solution anyone can offer.



Friday, July 15, 2011

Graduate Medical Education

Federal Budget Cuts Threaten Graduate Medical Education:

In their efforts to reduce the federal deficit the partisan negotiators seem to agree on one issue only: drastic cuts of the Medicare subsidy for postgraduate medical education and funding reduction for advanced equipment that teaching hospital require to train young doctors.

The recommendations made by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, currently under consideration, would cut about $5.8 billion in graduate medical education funding from the nation’s teaching hospitals. This represents a 53% cut compared to the current $10.9 billion in payments!! The Simpson Bowles Commission, which advised President Obama on debt and deficit reduction called in December 2010 for reducing “excess” payments to hospitals for medical education. The commission said the payments could be brought in line with the costs of medical education by limiting the direct subsidy to 120 % of the national average salary paid to residents. A second, indirect subsidy, which pays for intensive services and advanced equipment should also be reduced.

The proposed draconian cuts will jeopardize the sorely needed expansion of graduate medical education in the U.S . and exacerbate the looming physicians shortage. Who will care for the baby boomers seeking medical services? Who will provide primary care physicians once millions of Americans gain access to healthcare coverage in 2014?

The proposed measures are based on penny wise and pound foolish approaches to cover our federal deficit and ignore the long-term investments needed to protect our crumbling healthcare service infrastructure in the U.S. The suggestions were developed by politicians with a limited political life cycle instead by healthcare planners who are being tasked to develop policy and not politics.

I suggest to review thoughtful proposals such as the Nineteenth Report by the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME) entitled “ Enhancing Flexibility in Graduate Medical Education” before throwing out the baby with the bath water.

The future of our healthcare is at stake and politicians must step aside to let experts take charge.



Sunday, July 03, 2011

When Ideology Trumps Compassion

When Ideology Trumps Common Sense and Compassion:

In the past week, Florida lawmakers turned down a $2.1 million federal grant that would pave the way for the state to receive $35 million in federal funding that would move elderly and disabled patients from nursing homes to their own homes during the next five years. With the help of this federal funding elderly people could be moved out of nursing homes to independent-living facilities or to support care at home with their families resulting in less money to be spend on nursing-home care. Republican legislators defended their refusal of the latest federal grant, known as the Money Follows the Person funding. "Not only would accepting the Money Follows the Person grant go against our policy of implementing federal health-care reform, but it would be redundant to the multiple efforts that Florida has already made to improve the delivery of long-term care," said Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, chairwoman of the state's House Appropriations Committee.
Grimsley said the federal grant came with "significantly higher administrative costs that have been unnecessary" because Florida already has been successful at moving people from nursing homes. Nan Rich, Leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus, disagrees. In a letter to the editor published in todays Miami Herald she argues that “ the funding would have garnered Florida $35,7 million in federal funds over the next five years.” She is correct stating that “ Florida's share of the federal funds will go to another state whose leaders aren't willing to shortchange their elderly and disabled for the sake of ideology.” The remainder of her letter speaks for itself and is worthwhile reading in its entirety:
“It just doesn’t make any sense for Florida to refuse the “Money Follows the Person” funds. The grant covered 100 percent of the staffing and administrative costs. The federal Medicaid match for this program would have increased from about 56 percent to almost 78 percent for the first year, and we would have been under no obligation to continue the program after that. Even if we did, however, we’d still save money by moving more eligible people out of nursing homes. Our state’s seniors, disabled people and taxpayers deserve better than the short-sighted political posturing that we saw last week.”
Is there any hope that rational thought will prevail in Tallahassee?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients

Drug Test Law May Face Costly Legal Challenges:

Attached a link,0,5410762.story to an article published in today's Orlando Sentinel pointing out that a new state law requiring welfare applicants to be drug-tested goes into effect today.

The law stipulates that parents with minor children who request temporary cash assistance must undergo a drug test. The average benefit check per family is $240 a month with a lifetime limit of 48 months.

About 4,000 Floridians each month may be affected by the new law. The 93,000 state residents already receiving such benefits would not be affected unless they reapply. In addition all parents who test positive for drugs — including legal drugs not prescribed for the parent — will be reported automatically to the state's abuse hotline. Applicants will have to pay for the drug tests themselves, though those who test negative will be reimbursed in the first benefit check they receive. Those who test positive also would have the chance to get a second, more-sophisticated screening — at their own expense of up to $100 — and have an official medical review of the testing (MRO) . It is still unclear whether those expenses would be reimbursed if the applicant is ultimately cleared. The law may violate the constitutional standard requiring that the government must have reason to believe an individual is using drugs before demanding a test. Michigan, the only other state to pass a similar law, had it struck down in court. Therefore, it most probably will face a costly legal challenge on taxpayers expense!! Furthermore, by implementing this policy the state government should have provided drug treatment options for those welfare recipients with children who test positive for drugs. The new law falls shot of this option, too.

In my opinion this new law is a bad idea which will face a long and costly court battle and will further divert scarce state resources from more important issues such as drug use prevention and treatment programs.

Happy 4th of July,