A New Edition of Health Wonk Review—Does Barack Obama Remind You of Richard Nixon? . . . Will Most States Expand Medicaid? Do All Non-Profit Hospitals Deserve a Tax Exemption? Why Didn’t Anyone From J&J Go to Jail?

Brad Wright has hosted the most recent edition of Health Wonk Review http://www.healthpolicyanalysis.com/2013/11/07/if-you-like-the-health-wonk-review-you-currently-have-you-can-keep-it/, a round-up of some of the best recent healthcare posts in the blogosphere. It’s an excellent read.

Wright begins with a post by John Goodman, published at the NCPOA Health Policy Blog, and titled “The Selling of Obamacare.” There, Goodman acknowledges, “As for the president himself, he is a complete enigma to me. I’ve never felt that I understood him.’  Goodman goes on to prove his point by comparing Barack Obama to Richard Nixon.

According to Goodman, when “the President suggested that most people will be completely unaffected by the new health law . . . he was lying.” After all millions who buy their own insurance in the individual market place are now getting cancellation notices. The President “looked directly into the TV camera and said something that was blatantly untrue . . . over and over and over and over again. You have to go all the way back to Richard Nixon to find something comparable.”

That’s one way of looking at things,” Wright observes, “but it’s certainly not the only way. Over at the Colorado Health Insurance Insider,/ Louise Norris counters with these words:

“Much has been said recently about how the ACA is causing a tidal wave of policy cancellations, and resulting in people losing coverage that they would prefer to keep.  The frustrating part about this – as has generally been the case with every big uproar about the ACA – is that we’re not really getting a complete picture of what’s going on, and it’s hard to see the reality through all the hype and hysteria.

I agree.

Here is the larger picture: in fact, most Americans will not be affected by Obamacare. The vast majority are insured by their employers. Medicare, Medicaid or the military. Of the 311 million people who now live in the U.S., just 15 million purchase their own insurance. They represent 5% of the population. And only some of the 5% who buy their own coverage are getting those cancellation letters,

We are talking about less than 3% of the population –far from “most people.” 

The folks I worry about most are those who should qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but live in states that have refused to expand the program. (Often they are not eligible for Medicaid simply because they don’t have children, no matter how poor they are.)

Wright offers hope by spotlighting Joe Paduda’s post on Managed Care Matters. There, he asks: “What’s happening with Medicaid Coverage?”

 
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Health Wonk Review: Oncologists Tell the Truth about Cancer Drugs; Will There Be Enough Plans to Choose From in the Exchanges? What Does Oregon’s Research on Medicaid Tell Us? And More . . .

The newest edition of Health Wonk Review  is up on Managed Care Matters.

There, host Joe Paduda calls attention to an eye-opening post by The Health Business Group’s David E. Williams. 

Williams reports on what oncologists say about cancer drugs in “The Price of Drugs for Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML); A Reflection of the Unsustainable Prices of Cancer Drug.” The article, which was published in the journal, blood, includes candid comments from more than 100 experts  They tell us  that:.

  • Many costly treatments aren’t worth the money
  • New treatments with tiny orno benefits often cost a multiple of existing therapies
  • Despite their reputation for penny-pinching, health plans are often not aggressive in negotiating price
  • Patients are already suffering mightily from high costs –and it impacts quality of life and survival as well as financial health
  • Society as a whole cannot afford to pay the high prices charged for so many of the new therapies

 (I’m reminded of “A Very Open Letter from an Oncologist published on HealthBeat in 2009.)  It’s encouraging to see more oncologist stepping forward to telll the truth about cancer drugs..)

.As Williams observes these insights “come from people who know what they’re talking about and who have traditionally been sympathetic to drug makers and unperturbed about costs.”  

But now, the companies that make these drugs have taken greed too far.

 Paduda also highlights Health Affairs just-released research indicating that the decline in inflation could result in a reduction of $770 billion (yup, that’s “billion” with a B) in public program health care costs over ten years. “

But is the trend sustainable? John Holahan and Stacy McMorrow of the Urban Institute are “cautiously optimistic.” Paduda agrees: “there’s no question there are fundamental changes occurring that are affecting care delivery, pricing, and reimbursement.”

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Doctors Sue Hospitals to Protect Patients; A University Buys Insurance that Doesn’t Protect Students; What Gay Marriage Laws Mean for Gay Coverage . . . . and More

The newest Health Wonk Review has been posted. This time around, Colorado Health Insurance Insider’s Louise Norris is the host, and it’s an excellent read.

A few highlights:

                                 Doctors Sue Hospitals, Protect Patients

Over at Healthcare Renewal, Roy Poses digs into how doctors are pushing back against hopsitals who put profits above everything else. His article describes two recent lawsuits filed by physician groups alleging that the hospital systems they worked for were sacrificing patient welfare in the name of profit. 

As Louise observes, “the details are sickening to read:  One hospital group encouraged its docs to exaggerate the severity of patient conditions and needlessly admit patients from the ER to hospital beds in order to bill more for their treatment.  Another hospital group that owns three hospitals and also partially owns an ambulance company was making patient transfers (using their own ambulance company despite slower response times) a top priority – to the extent that a doctor’s transfer rate was a factor in bonuses and performance reviews.  An admin email stated that “the performance we are looking for are transfers.”  Wow.  Transfers just for the sake of racking up revenue – patient welfare had nothing to do with it, and was likely compromised when the slower ambulance company was used in cases where the transfer was actually warranted.”

I’m just skimming the surface of the corruption Roy exposes. You really should read his entire post.

Often doctors are afraid to stand up to greedy hospital administrators.  But by banding together, physician groups can stand up for patients.

I would add that, in the past  two doctors— working at separate non-profit hospitals—have told me about hospital administrators pressuring physicians to admit ER patients, even when they did not need to be hospitalized. This is how some hospitals “put heads on beds.” 

                 When Universities Buy Inadequate Insurance for Their Students

On his blog, Duncan Cross tells the story of the Arizona State graduate student who died because his Aetna plan (a student plan purchased through the university) capped how much the insurer would pay out over the course of a lifetime at $300,000. It also didn’t cover prescription drugs.  One might be tempted to blame the insurance company,
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Health Wonk Review –Waste, Warnings and the Future

 

Last week I hosted Health Wonk Review for HIO.  This round-up of some of the health care posts published over the past two weeks includes:

–  A piece by Managed Care Matter’s Joe Paduda that takes a hard look at “Flu season and Tamiflu,” and asks “Which one’s more hyped?”

 – A investigative post on Health Care Renewal that reviews “The Tragic Case of Aaron Swartz,”  the young computer activist who faced criminal charges for downloading thousands of scientific scholarly articles from the site JSTOR. After being pursued by a “tough as nails, relentless federal prosecutor,” Swartz committed suicide. Yet blogger Roy Poses notes, this same U.S. Attorney has been “soft as a marshmallow when dealing with top executives of health care corporations.”

– A post by The Hospitalist Leader’s Brad Flansbaum questioning the ACA’s assumption that a high rate of hospital readmissions signals waste. Just how many were preventable?

 –  In  a provocative post on Health Business Blog, David E. Williams asks why Cincinnati hospitals are furious because some employers have signed up for an insurance plan that would pay all hospitals just 40% more than Medicare pays for the same service.  The Hospitals claim  that isn’t enough. Moreover, each hospital would like to set its own prices—quietly. (This allows brand-name hospitals to charge far more than some of their competitors, for exactly the same services. )

 – On Wright on Health, Brad Wright describes a new rule, proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services that could prove “disastrous” for patients on Medicaid: “HHS is now attempting to woo states into participating in the Medicaid expansion by allowing them to increase cost-sharing in Medicaid” for all but the poorest of the poor. (More bloggers and reporters might want to write about this. The proposed rule will be open for comment until Feb. 13.)

 

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The Post-Election Edition of Health Wonk Review

This most recent edition of HWR, a compendium of some of the best health care posts of the past two weeks, came out ten days ago. I apologize that I’ve been tardy in commenting— but, not to worry, it’s an “evergreen.” The problems Health-Wonkers raise haven’t been solved in the past week, and the issues discussed remain just as “hot”– as they were.

Managed Care Matters” Joe Paduda does an outstanding job of hosting the round-up in a post titled: “Elections Have Consequences.”

He begins with “Health Policy and MarketPlace Review’s”  Bob Laszewski, who  notes in the wake of the election, we can be certain of one thing: Obamacare will be implemented. To be sure, there will be lawsuits challenging reform legislation, but Laszewski says, “I wouldn’t waste a lot of time worrying about those. Anyone in the market will do better spending their time getting ready for all of the change coming.” He’s far more worried about whether the government will be able to set up the Exchanges in time to meet the deadline—and how legislators are going to solve the “fiscal cliff” problem.

Writing on “Health Affairs” Timothy Jost agrees that “there is a great deal of work needs to be done before reform becomes a reality.”  He focuses on the many rules that the administration will need to issue to provide guidance to the states, to employers and to insurers:  “The exchanges must begin open enrollment on October 1, 2013,” he observes. “By that date, the exchanges must have certified qualified health plans.  But before health plans can be certified, they must have their rates and forms approved by the states.  And before that can happen, insurers must determine what plans they will offer and what premiums they will charge.  Yet insurers cannot establish their plans and set their rates until they know a lot more than they do now about the rules they are going to have to play by.” In other words, the administration had better “roll up its sleeves and get to work.”

Meanwhile, President Obama still must contend with ornery governors, and rebellious states. “In an ominous sign,” Jost notes, “Missouri passed a ballot initiative prohibiting state officials from cooperating with the federal exchange in its state,  and authorizing private lawsuits against any official who cooperates.”   (Thanks, Missouri–just what we need, lawsuits against officials trying to do their jobs..)  “Whether this is constitutional remains to be seen,” says Jost, who is a constitutional expert.

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