Category Archives: American Medical Association

The 3 Reasons the U.S. Health-Care System Is the Worst, the AMA and more on Medicare for All and an angry teenager scolding the United Nations!

healthcare158[788]The head of the Commonwealth Fund, which compares the health systems of developed nations, pinpoints why America’s is so expensive and inefficient.

Olga Khazan reviewed the three reasons that the U.S. Health Care system is the worst. A woman has her blood pressure taken at the Care Harbor four-day free clinic, which offers free medical, dental, and vision care to around 4,000 uninsured people in Los Angeles.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, which regularly ranks the health systems of a handful of developed countries, the best countries for health care are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia.

The lowest performer? The United States, even though it spends the most. “And this is consistent across 20 years,” said the Commonwealth Fund’s president, David Blumenthal, on Friday at the Spotlight Health Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Blumenthal laid out three reasons why the United States lags behind its peers so consistently. It all comes down to:

  1. A lack of insurance coverage. A common talking point on the right is that health care and health insurance are not equivalent—that getting more people insured will not necessarily improve health outcomes. But according to Blumenthal: “The literature on insurance demonstrates that having insurance lowers mortality. It is equivalent to a public-health intervention.” More than 27 million people in the United States were uninsured in 2016—nearly a tenth of the population—often because they can’t afford coverage, live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid or are undocumented. Those aren’t problems that people in places like the United Kingdom have to worry about.
  2. Administrative inefficiency.“We waste a lot of money on administration,” Blumenthal said. According to the Commonwealth Fund’s most recent report, in the United States, “doctors and patients [report] wasting time on billing and insurance claims. Other countries that rely on private health insurers, like the Netherlands, minimize some of these problems by standardizing basic benefit packages, which can both reduce the administrative burden for providers and ensure that patients face predictable copayments.” In other words, while insurance coverage, in general, is great, it’s not ideal that different insurance plans cover different treatments and procedures, forcing doctors to spend precious hours coordinating with insurance companies to provide care.
  3. Underperforming primary care.“We have a very disorganized, fragmented, inefficient and under-resourced primary care system,” Blumenthal added. As I wrote at the time, in 2014 the Commonwealth Fund found that “many primary-care physicians struggle to receive relevant clinical information from specialists and hospitals, complicating efforts to provide seamless, coordinated care.” On top of a lack of investment in primary care, “we don’t invest in social services, which are important determinants of health” Blumenthal said. Things like home visiting, better housing, and subsidized healthy food could extend the work of doctors and do a lot to improve chronic disease outcomes.

Together, these reasons help explain why U.S. life expectancy has, for the first time since the 1960s, recently gone down for two years in a row.

Two Experts Debunk Four Big Health Care Fallacies

Yuval Rosenbery of The Fiscal Times reported that in a The New York Times op-ed, Ezekiel Emanuel, a health policy expert, and a former adviser in the Obama administration, and Victor Fuchs, a Stanford health economist, look to clarify what they call “four fundamental health care fallacies”:

  1. Employers pay for workers’ health insurance.“Since 1999, health insurance premiums have increased 147 percent and employer profits have increased 148 percent,” they write. “But at that time, average wages have hardly moved, increasing just 7 percent. Clearly, workers’ wages, not corporate profits, have been paying for higher health insurance premiums.”
  2. Medicare for All is unaffordable. As I have mentioned in previous posts Medicare for All is too expensive. “True, Medicare for All would increase federal health care spending. But that is not the same as increasing total health care spending, which was over $3.5 trillion last year,” Emanuel and Fuchs said. “We have our doubts about Medicare for All. But unaffordability is nota reason to oppose it. … When you hear a health care price tag in the trillions, know that the existing system has already brought us there.”
  3. 3. Insurance company profits drive health care costs.“The fact is, we could eliminate those profits and it would hardly matter to the cost of health care. You would not notice it in your premiums. … True, $22.1 billion is a lot of money — but it is 0.6 percent of health spending. And last year alone health care costs increased over $130 billion — six times insurance company profits. Health care spending would not be significantly cheaper if all insurance companies’ profits were zero.”

4. Price transparency can bring down health care costs.“Over 80 percent of the cost of medical care is paid by private and public insurance. Patients have little incentive to seek out the cheapest provider. When pricing websites exist, few patients use them. … Furthermore, price considerations are useful for choosing only about 40 percent of procedures — routine services like colonoscopies, M.R.I. scans and laboratory tests. Most of the expensive services — think heart catheterizations, cancer chemotherapy, and organ transplants — are not the kind of thing you decide based on price.”

AMA President: It’s Still ‘No’ to Single Payer

Shannon Firth, Washington correspondent of the MedPage, noted that Dr. Barbara McAneny still doesn’t believe in the Single Payer system for health care but she and the AMA applauds a ban on pharmacy gag clause and APMs.A single-payer healthcare system in the U.S. would break her practice, said the president of the American Medical Association (AMA), who argued that Medicare and other government programs as currently structured simply don’t pay enough.

“We need a payment system that the country can afford,” said Barbara McAneny, MD, AMA president, and a practicing oncologist/hematologist in New Mexico.

McAneny pointed out that in the portion of her practice that serves the Navajo Nation, 70% of payments are from governmental payers, and “I have struggled for the last 10 years to keep that practice breaking even.”

Medicare payments are designed to cover about 80% of the cost of doing business, McAneny said. If all her commercial patients were to pay Medicare rates, there would be no other place from which to shift costs, she explained. “My doors would be closed. I would no longer be able to make payroll.”

Moving to a single-payer healthcare system won’t fix what’s broken, she said during a meeting with reporters Tuesday to discuss a variety of issues, including drug pricing, value-based payments, and turf battles.

While she said she strongly supported Medicaid expansion in New Mexico, McAneny expressed skepticism about the possibility of a Medicaid “buy-in,” which would allow people to purchase Medicaid-based public insurance plans.

She pointed out that only about a quarter of the population in New Mexico has commercial insurance, and “Medicaid and Medicare do not cover the expenses of providing care.” With fewer patients to cost-shift from, independent practices and small rural practices “would not be able to keep the lights on.”

AMA policy supports patients buying “individually selected health insurance,” subsidized with advanced or refundable tax credits that correspond inversely to income, McAneny said.

McAneny also discussed the Trump administration’s recent efforts to curb drug prices and the challenge of transitioning from fee-for-service to value-based care.

She called the latest bill banning pharmacy gag clauses”really important. When patients discover that they can pay less than the co-pay to buy the drug, they need to know that because patients are going broke out there, trying to buy their drugs.”

Gag clauses prevent pharmacists from telling customers whether paying for their prescription might be cheaper if they paid the cash price instead of using their insurance.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that drug makers would need to include the list price of any drug paid for by Medicare or Medicaid in their TV advertisements. In an AMA press release, McAneny stated that the HHS move seemed like “a step in the right direction,” although the AMA is opposed to direct-to-consumer advertising in general.

McAneny said greater transparency was a “first step” toward addressing such high drug costs.

“There’s so much the public doesn’t understand about the market, including the true costs of research and development and the role of middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers and insurance mark-ups, she said.

“Before we suggest any sort of treatment, we think it’ s a good idea to make the diagnosis, and that means really understanding that entire process, which means they’re going to have to pull back the curtain and let us, the healthcare community, really take a look at that and figure out what adds value and what doesn’t,” she said.

McAneny was less supportive of changing the way Part B drugs are bought and paid for. In May, HHS Secretary Alex Azar suggested moving some Part B drugs administered in a physician’s office into the Part D program, in an attempt to negotiate more competitive prices.

“People cannot afford a 20% co-insurance on a drug that costs $5,000 a month,” she said.

In terms of value-based payment, McAneny said she’s excited about the work the physician-focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee (PTAC) is doing. Doctors are well-positioned to help design alternative payment models, she noted.

“We see all the time places where healthcare dollars get wasted, and patients don’t get what they want,” she said, so allowing doctors to come up with new methods of care delivery, which incorporate things they’ve always wanted to do for their patients, has “tremendous potential.”

McAneny said she hopes Azar will test as many pilots projects as possible, and see what works, but not penalize groups who fail. “If you’re trying something innovative … sometimes you’re going to be wrong, and those people shouldn’t have to lose their practices… they should be allowed to fail quickly, and move on to something else,” she stated.

McAneny said she will present an alternative model to the PTAC in December.

Her proposed model integrates clinical data from a group of oncology practices with claims data “to set accurate and realistic targets that reflect what oncologists can actually control, rather than the total cost of care,” McAneny told MedPage Today in an email.

“We will measure quality by compliance with physician derived pathways that reflect the best care in the medical literature… [and] improve patient satisfaction by getting patients the care they need, when they need it, at a practice site that knows them and understands what they are going through.”

The model saves money by reducing hospitalizations and “aggressively managing or preventing” adverse effects.

Another challenge in healthcare is the scope of practice, with some physicians expressing concern that nurse practitioners and physicians assistants (PAs) are encroaching on their territory.

McAneny acknowledged that concern, noting that primary care physicians must be “incredible diagnosticians,” she said. “They need to know when a sore throat is a sore throat and when it’s really cancer.”

“In my own practice, where we have everyone working to the top of their license, I value my nurse practitioners and I value my PAs immensely, but I don’t expect them to be oncologists, and I don’t really expect them to be primary care doctors,” she added.

“Everybody has a place in healthcare,” McAneny stressed, “but I do not feel that a nurse practitioner who has gone to nursing school and done one extra year… and has not practiced in that post-doc process, has the same level of expertise to be that diagnostician.”

A new report from the AMA’s Council on Medical Service, “Covering the Uninsured Under the AMA Proposal for Reform,” also reaffirms that stance, calling for improvements in the Affordable Care Act — increasing subsidies, and expanding eligibility and the size of cost-sharing reductions — rather than “threatening the stability of coverage for those individuals who are generally satisfied with their coverage.”

There will be resolutions calling on the AMA to support federal laws that would not eliminate the private health insurance market and to collect data comparing Medicare reimbursement to the cost of delivering services.

ACTION ALERT: The A.M.A. must support Medicare for All!

But we find out that the President of the AMA may not reflect the total view of the national organization of physicians. On June 8, 2019, at 1:30 PM CST, students, physicians, nurses, allied health care workers, and activists from around the country will unite in Chicago to protest the annual meeting of the American Medical Association (A.M.A.).

Representatives of a rapidly growing coalition of Medicare for All supporters, including National Nurses United, Students for a National Health Program, Physicians for a National Health Program, People’s Action, Public Citizen, The Center for Popular Democracy, The Jane Addams Senior Caucus, various labor unions, teachers, activists, and more, will be taking a stand AGAINST corporate greed, misleading advertising, and the profit motive in health care.

And for a system that guarantees quality health care and choice of provider for all Americans, regardless of income.

The action recalls similar campaigns waged throughout the 1960s in which members of the African-American-led National Medical Association, the Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Poor People’s Campaign picketed the A.M.A.’s annual meetings because of its refusal to take a stand against segregated medical services and for allowing local medical societies to discriminate against physicians and patients of color.

When we join together, we can send a powerful message to the A.M.A. and corporate medicine that we won’t stop until every American is guaranteed quality medical care without going into debt or bankruptcy.

Everybody in, nobody out!

Also, I need to comment on that sixteen-year-old who was invited to a United Nation session where she berated the countries all about not taking up the environmental banner and cleaning up the world. She is a spoiled “child” who knows nothing about economics as well as politics and what it would take to move ahead with cleaning up the environment. Where are all the countries to get the trillions of dollars or Euros, etc. to make the changes that she demands?

Greta Thunberg excoriated world leaders for their “betrayal” of young people through their inertia over the climate crisis at a United Nations summit that failed to deliver ambitious new commitments to address dangerous global heating.

If world leaders choose to fail us, my generation will never forgive them

In a stinging speech on Monday, the teenage Swedish climate activist told governments that “you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”

But Thunberg predicted the summit would not deliver any new plans in line with the radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are needed to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” a visibly emotional Thunberg said.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line.”

Suggestion for Miss Thunberg, get an education! Go to the university and get the real facts. Get an education so you can understand the system and the only ways that we can truly deal with our environmental issues! Instead, you sail around the world! Must be nice instead of working or going to school!

And back to health care next week.

Firearm-Related Injury and Death in the United States: A Call to Action From the Nation’s Leading Physician and Public Health Professional Organizations; Politics and Solutions!

rifles364I have been so upset with the recent mass shootings and the lack of action to start the real discussion and solutions I thought that I would dedicate a few posts to this subject. The President and Congress had better get something done because the voters are pretty sick and tired of inaction and the GOP being afraid of the NRA. Get over it and do the right thing and come up solutions and more important, stop making it political!!!

Robert McLean, Patricia Harris, John Cullen, etc. of the AMA noted that shortly after the November publication of the American College of Physicians’ policy position paper on reducing firearm injury and death, the National Rifle Association tweeted:

Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.

Within hours, thousands of physicians responded, many using the hashtags #ThisIsOurLane and #ThisIsMyLane, and shared the many reasons why firearm injury and death is most certainly in our lane. Across the United States, physicians have daily, firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of firearm-related injury, disability, and death. We witness the impact of these events not only on our patients, but also on their families and communities. As physicians, we have a special responsibility and obligation to our patients to speak out on prevention of firearm-related injuries and deaths, just as we have spoken out on other critical public health issues. As a country, we must all work together to develop practical solutions to prevent injuries and save lives.

In 2015, several of our organizations joined the American Bar Association in a call to action to address firearm injury as a public health threat. This effort was subsequently endorsed by 52 organizations representing clinicians, consumers, families of firearm injury victims, researchers, public health professionals, and other health advocates. Four years later, firearm-related injury remains a problem of epidemic proportions in the United States, demanding immediate and sustained intervention. Since the 2015 call to action, there have been 18 firearm-related mass murders with 4 or more deaths in the United States, claiming a total of 288 lives and injuring 703 more.

With nearly 40 000 firearm-related deaths in 2017, the United States has reached a 20-year high according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We, the leadership of 6 of the nation’s largest physician professional societies, whose memberships include 731 000 U.S. physicians, reiterate our commitment to finding solutions and call for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths. The authors represent the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association. The American Public Health Association, which is committed to improving the health of the population, joins these 6 physician organizations to articulate the principles and recommendations summarized herein. These recommendations stem largely from the individual positions previously approved by our organizations and ongoing collaborative discussion among our leaders.

Background

In 2017, a total of 39 773 people died in the United States as a result of firearm-related injury—23 854 (59.98%) were suicides, 14 542 (36.56%) were homicides, 553 (1.39%) were the result of legal intervention, 486 (1.22%) were subsequent to unintentional discharge of a firearm, and 338 (0.85%) were of undetermined origin. The population-adjusted rates of these deaths are among the highest worldwide and are by far the highest among high-income countries. Firearm-related deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths in the United States. Further, estimates show that the number of nonfatal firearm injuries treated in emergency departments is almost double the number of deaths. Firearm-related injury and death also present substantial economic costs to our nation, with total societal cost estimated to be $229 billion in 2015.

While mass shootings account for a small proportion of the nearly 109 firearm-related deaths that occur daily in the United States, the escalating frequency of mass shootings and their toll on individuals, families, communities, and society make them a hot spot in this public health crisis. Mass shootings create a sense of vulnerability for everyone, that nowhere—no place of worship, no school, no store, no home, no public gathering place, no place of employment—is safe from becoming the venue of a mass shooting. Mass shootings have mental health consequences not only for victims, but for all in affected communities, including emergency responders. Studies also show that mass shootings are associated with increased fear and decreased perceptions of safety in indirectly exposed populations. Preventing the toll of mass firearm violence on the well-being of people in U.S. cities and towns demands the full resources of our health care community and our governments.

Our organizations support a multifaceted public health approach to prevention of firearm injury and death similar to approaches that have successfully reduced the ill effects of tobacco use, motor vehicle accidents, and unintentional poisoning. While we recognize the significant political and philosophical differences about firearm ownership and regulation in the United States, we are committed to reaching out to bridge these differences to improve the health and safety of our patients, their families, and communities, while respecting the U.S. Constitution.

A public health approach will enable the United States to address culture, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death should focus on identifying individuals at heightened risk for violent acts against themselves or others. All health professionals should be trained to assess and respond to those individuals who may be at heightened risk of harming themselves or others.

Screening, diagnosis, and access to treatment for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders is critical, along with efforts to reduce the stigma of seeking this mental health care. While most individuals with mental health disorders do not pose a risk for harm to themselves or others, improved identification and access to care for persons with mental health disorders may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

In February 2019, 44 major medical and injury prevention organizations and the American Bar Association participated in a Medical Summit on Firearm Injury Prevention. This meeting focused on building consensus on the public health approach to this issue, highlighting the need for research, and developing injury prevention initiatives that the medical community could implement. Here we highlight specific policy recommendations that our 7 organizations believe can reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States.

Background Checks for Firearm Purchases

Comprehensive criminal background checks for all firearm purchases, including sales by gun dealers, sales at gun shows, private sales, and transfers between individuals with limited exceptions should be required.

Current federal laws require background checks for purchases from retail firearm sellers (Federal Firearms License [FFL] holders); however, purchases from private sellers and transfer of firearms between private individuals do not require background checks. Approximately 40% of firearm transfers take place through means other than a licensed dealer; as a result, an estimated 6.6 million firearms are sold or transferred annually with no background checks. This loophole must be closed. In 2017, of the 25 million individuals who submitted to a background check to purchase or transfer possession of a firearm, 103 985 were prohibited purchasers and were blocked from making a purchase. While it is clear that background checks help to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals at risk of using them to harm themselves or others, the only way to ensure that all prohibited purchasers are prevented from legally acquiring firearms is to make background checks a universal requirement for all firearm purchases or transfers of ownership.

Need for Research on Firearm Injury and Death

Research to understand health-related conditions underpins the modern practice of medicine. In brief, medical research saves lives and improves health. Yet, despite bipartisan agreement that there are no prohibitions on the CDC’s ability to fund such research, research that would inform efforts to reduce firearm-related injury and death has atrophied over the last 2 decades. Consequently, we lack high-quality nationwide data on the incidence and severity of nonfatal firearm injuries. It is critical that the United States adequately fund research to help us understand the causes and effects of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injury and death in order to develop evidence-based interventions and make firearm ownership as safe as possible. Research should be nonpartisan and free of data restrictions to enable robust studies that identify robust solutions. Many of our organizations have affiliated with the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine (AFFIRM), a nonprofit organization of health care professionals and researchers working to provide private funding for research related to firearm injury and its prevention. Both private and public funding are key to building a powerful evidence base on this important issue. Research for firearm injury and its prevention should be federally funded at a level commensurate with its health burden without restriction. To move from atrophy to strength requires not just allowing research, but also naming, appropriating, and directing funding for it and for the establishment of comprehensive data collection platforms to document the epidemiology of this growing public health crisis.

Intimate Partner Violence

Currently, federal laws prohibiting domestic abusers from accessing firearms do not apply to dating partners, even though almost half of intimate partner cases involved current dating partners. Federal law restricts firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or have protective orders against them if they are a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a current or former cohabitant with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian; are similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim; or have a child with the victim. It does not apply to dating partners, stalkers, or individuals who commit violence against another family member. This loophole in the background check system must be closed.

Safe Storage of Firearms

Keeping a firearm locked, keeping it unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and storing it in a separate location have all been associated with a protective effect. A 2018 study found that an estimated 4.6 million U.S. children are living in homes with at least 1 loaded and unlocked firearm. A large number of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, with the greatest risk in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked. Therefore, our organizations support child access prevention laws that hold accountable firearm owners who negligently store firearms under circumstances where minors could or do gain access to them. These laws are associated with a reduction of suicides and unintentional firearm injuries and fatalities among children.

Mental Health

The great majority of those with a mental illness or substance use disorder are not violent. However, screening, access, and treatment for mental health disorders play a critical role in reducing risk for self-harm and interpersonal violence. This is particularly of concern for adolescents, who are at high risk for suicide as a consequence of their often impulsive behavior. Access to mental health care is critical for all individuals who have a mental health or substance use disorder. This must include early identification, intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, including appropriate follow-up. Those who receive adequate treatment from health professionals are less likely to commit acts of violence and individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Early identification, intervention, and access to treatment may reduce the risk for suicide and violence involving firearms for persons with tendencies toward those behaviors.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Several states have enacted ERPO or ERPO-style laws, and numerous other states are considering them. We support the enactment of these laws as they enable family members and law enforcement agencies to intervene when there are warning signs that an individual is experiencing a temporary crisis that poses an imminent risk to themselves or others while providing due process protections.

Physician Counseling of Patients and “Gag Laws”

Confidential conversations about firearm safety can occur during regular examinations when physicians have the opportunity to educate their patients and answer questions. Such conversations about mitigating health risks are a natural part of the patient–physician relationship. Because of this, our organizations oppose state and federal mandates that interfere with physicians’ right to free speech and the patient–physician relationship, including laws that forbid physicians from discussing a patient’s firearm ownership. Patient education using a public health approach will be required to lower the incidence of firearm injury in the United States. Our organizations are working on programs and strategies that engage firearm owners in devising scientifically sound and culturally competent patient counseling that clinicians can apply broadly.

In the privacy of an examination room, physicians can intervene with patients who are at risk of injuring themselves or others due to firearm access. They can also provide factual information about firearms relevant to their health and the health of their loved ones, answer questions, and advise them on the best course of action to promote health and safety. Providing anticipatory guidance on preventing injuries is something physicians do every day, and it is no different for firearms than for other injury prevention topics. To do so, physicians must be allowed to speak freely to their patients without fear of liability or penalty. They must also be able to document these conversations in the medical record just as they are able and often required to do with other discussions of behaviors that can affect health.

Firearms With Features Designed to Increase Their Rapid and Extended Killing Capacity

The need for reasonable laws and regulations compliant with the Second Amendment regarding high-capacity magazine–fed weapons that facilitate a rapid rate of fire is a point of active debate. Although handguns are the most common type of firearm implicated in firearm-related injury and death, the use of firearms with features designed to increase their rapid and extended killing capacity during mass violence is common. As such, these weapons systems should be the subject of special scrutiny and special regulation. There are various strategies to consider, and our organizations look forward to a greater engagement and partnership with responsible firearm owners to determine how best to achieve this goal.

Conclusion

Physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provide support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm. As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms.

Understanding gun violence and mass shootings

Columbia University studies showed that public mass shootings, once a rare event, now occur with shocking frequency in the United States. According to the Washington Post, four or more people are killed in this horrific manner every 47 days. The most recent mass shootings, in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, occurred less than a day apart and resulted in the loss of 31 lives.

With each fresh assault, politicians and the public have become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs about the root causes of mass shootings and about possible solutions, from more restrictive gun control laws to better mental health care.

Researchers across Columbia University’s campuses have put these theories to the test in an effort to identify effective strategies for preventing mass shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has long been suspected as a primary cause of gun violence and mass shootings in particular. But only 3% to 5% of violent events are attributable to mental illness, writes Paul Appelbaum, MD, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in an opinion article in JAMA Psychiatry. “Much of the increased risk [of violence] in people with mental disorders is attributable to other variables rather than to the disorders themselves. Substance abuse, for example, accounts for a large proportion of the incremental risk.”

Further, Appelbaum writes, “compilations of incidents of mass shootings suggest that people with severe mental disorders may be overrepresented among the perpetrators, but given the possibility of bias in the nonsystematic collection of such data, firm conclusions are impossible at this point.”

Video Games

With little funding to study gun violence, “we tend to fall back on conclusions unsupported by evidence,” says Sonali Rajan, EdD, assistant professor of health education at Columbia University Teachers College in an interview published on the school’s website.

In a study published in PLOS ONE, Rajan and colleagues from NYU Langone found no association between video games and other types of screen time and gun ownership among teens. The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System—which surveyed tens of thousands of teens about 55 different behaviors over a period of 10 years—to identify factors associated with carrying a firearm. “Among the 5% to 10% of American teens who report regularly carrying a firearm, there is a much stronger association with substance use, engagement in physical fighting, and exposure to sexual violence than with any poor mental health indicator,” explains Rajan.

Gun Laws

States with more permissive gun laws and greater ownership of firearms had higher rates of mass shootings than states with more restrictions on gun ownership, according to a recent study by Columbia researchers in the British Medical Journal. “Our analyses reveal that U.S. gun laws have become more permissive in past decades, and the divide between permissive states and those with more stringent laws seems to be widening in concert with the growing tragedy of mass shootings in the U.S.,” says senior author Charles Branas, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in an article on the school’s website.

“What happened in Las Vegas saddens me deeply,” Branas says in a previous interview for the Mailman School website. “But this is only the tip of a much larger gun-violence iceberg in the U.S. On the same day, hundreds more people across the U.S. were shot, adding up to somewhere around 100,000 shootings a year.

“We need to think beyond simply guns and people, and start thinking about the environment that is promoting these shootings in the first place,” writes Branas, whose research also has focused on transforming abandoned housing and other signs of urban and rural blight to improve community health and safety.

In other countries, the implementation of laws restricting the purchase of and access to guns in other countries has also been associated with reductions in gun-related deaths, according to a study from researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “While the research did not conclusively prove that restrictions, or relaxation of laws, reduce gun deaths, the results indicate that gun violence tended to decline after countries passed new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership,” says co-author Sandro Galea, Ph.D., in an interview for the school’s website.

Aftereffects

Recent suicides among survivors of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Parkland High School show that the effects of such violent events are long-lasting and entrenched.

“The public may be affected [by mass shootings] even if they were not in immediate proximity, because the media reifies the effects of a mass violent incident,” says Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a recent video interview for Medscape.

For survivors of violent events, “reminders such as anniversaries can prolong complicated grief or even reactive grief and trauma,” writes Kathleen Pike, Ph.D., director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University, in an article published on the center’s website. “Community supports matter not only in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events but also for individuals who continue to suffer over time.”

GOP Waits to See if Trump Will Protect It From the NRA Before Moving on Gun Laws

Sam Brodey, Asawin Suebsaeng and Jackie Kucinich reported that just over a week since mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Senate Republicans are waiting to see if President Trump walks away from the issue again or forces their hand before trying to do anything about potentially expanding background checks for gun purchases.

He’s walked away before. Following the Parkland school massacre last year, the president promised that he was “going to be very strong on background checks,” only to retreat after holding private meetings with National Rifle Association officials at the White House. The NRA, a key ally of Trump’s, has spent big money lobbying against background-checks expansion legislation, and last week reminded him of its staunch opposition.

After the latest shootings, Trump told reporters that there is great “appetite” on the Hill to finally get something done on background checks but his GOP allies in the Senate are holding off, unwilling to burn political capital with the gun lobby and conservative-base voters on the issue if Trump isn’t going to burn some of his.

However, the president’s prior inaction, and the media coverage he incurred for it, may force him to make at least a slightly harder run at background checks this time around, even if only in his messaging and bluster. Two people who’ve spoken to the president in recent days say that he has referenced, during conversations about how he could possibly bend the NRA to his will in this case, his annoyance at media coverage of his post-Parkland about-face that suggested he was all talk and no action on the issue, and easily controlled by the NRA. One of the sources noted that Trump’s aversion to being seen as “controlled” by anyone or any organization makes it much more likely that the president will dwell on the issue for longer than he did last year.

Trump’s influence could well make or break legislation, since Republicans are unlikely to support anything without his blessing but will be just as hesitant to immediately reject a bill he puts his full support behind.

“Many Hill Republicans are waiting to see what Trump will get behind,” said a Senate GOP aide. “He gives them political cover. I don’t think you’re going to see any one bill or one proposal get any momentum until the President publicly endorses it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Thursday that he and the president are actively discussing possible avenues for gun legislation. “He’s anxious to get an outcome and so am I,” said McConnell on a radio show in Kentucky.

The GOP leader stressed that the president was open to a discussion on gun legislation, from background checks to “red flag” bills: “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”

A spokesman for McConnell declined to elaborate on the Senate leader’s conversations with the president.

Democrats aren’t holding their breath, given that McConnell won’t call the Senate back from its recess for gun bills and that Trump has backtracked before on the issue after outcry from pro-gun factions of his base.

Democratic aides have been mindful of Sean Hannity’s reaction to the background checks push, since Trump’s position has been known to change based on the broadcasts or private counsel of Hannity and other top Fox personalities.

White House aides are similarly waiting on Trump, and talking up how he’s also been reaching out across the aisle to find a potential solution, even if nobody knows what that would look like yet. “The president has been actively talking to Republicans and Democrats on the matter of background checks, and just being able to have meaningful, measurable reforms that don’t confiscate law-abiding citizens’ firearms without due process, but at the same time keep those firearms out of people who have a propensity toward violence,” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said on this week’s Fox News Sunday.

One of those Democratic politicians, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said in a call with reporters on Wednesday he had spoken to the president twice since the shootings in Dayton and El Paso and that he was “committed to getting something done.”

While “everything is on the table,” Manchin said, Trump’s sign-off on any plan will be key to getting it through the Senate. The proposal introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Manchin in the months after the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary made modest adjustments to background check system by extending checks to gun shows and internet sales, but exempted gun transactions between friends and family members. It also provided additional funding to states to put critical information into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in order to prevent people who should not have guns from obtaining them, and created a commission to study the causes of gun violence.

It’s a bill that’s failed twice, once in 2013 and again after the mass shooting in a San Bernardino office park in 2015. Both times it drew very limited support from Republican senators.

Asked what had changed since the last time the bill failed on the Senate floor, Manchin said, “The political will wasn’t there.”

Manchin said he was told by some colleagues who opposed the bill that they really didn’t object to the substance of the bill but they weren’t convinced the “Obama administration wouldn’t go further [and try] taking more of their guns away from them.”

Manchin said he tried to explain that would be unconstitutional, but to no avail.

Some Trump allies say that this president, given his record and rhetoric, might have just enough credibility among Second Amendment enthusiasts to drag them along, if he so chooses.

“If only Nixon could go to China, then maybe only Trump can address the chasm between gun owners and those who want gun control,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. “He’s so strong on the Second Amendment he can truly do something to make a change when it comes to these mass shootings.”

Caputo, who in 2013 and 2014 advised Trump on pro-gun voters and the NRA when the celebrity businessman was weighing a run for New York governor, said that even years ago, “We talked about mass shootings and what that means to the United States, and the importance [to voters] of the Second Amendment, and I know the president has been thinking about this issue for a long time: How you balance gun rights versus gun atrocities.”

Trump’s former adviser added, “If the president pursues broader background checks… perhaps it’s because he knows that is something only he can do. He may lose the support of some of the most pro-gun members of his base, but the vast majority of us understand there are some reasonable measures to be taken.”

I do have more data comparing the gun violence in the U.S.A. to other countries, which I will save until next week. But the most important point of this post is that those who can make the difference, i.e. the President and Congress have to ignore the NRA and do the right things. I have included a number of options and most important is that we all can not wait for another media circus as they cover the next mass shooting or jus any shooting, especially where the offending weapon is an assault weapon.

Medicare for All, funding and ‘impossible promises’ deeply divide Democrats during 2020 debate; and How Many More Shootings of Innocent people Can Our Society Tolerate?

 

promise312What a horrible week it has been! The debates were an embarrassment for all, both Democrats as well as everyone else. Who among those twenty who were on stage, spouting impossible strategies, attacking each other and in general making fools of themselves.

But the worst was the mass shootings this past weekend. Why should anybody be allowed to own assault weapons? We all need to finally do something about this epidemic of mass shootings. How many more innocent people do we have to lose before the Republicans, as well as the Democrats and our President, work together to solve this problem.

As the President of the American Medical Association stated:

“The devastating gun violence tragedies in our nation this weekend are heartbreaking to physicians across America. We see the victims in our emergency departments and deliver trauma care to the injured, provide psychiatric care to the survivors, and console the families of the deceased. The frequency and scale of these mass shootings demand action.

“Everyone in America, including immigrants, aspires to the ideals of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Those shared values – not hatred or division – are the guiding light for efforts to achieve a more perfect union.

“Common-sense steps, broadly supported by the American public, must be advanced by policymakers to prevent avoidable deaths and injuries caused by gun violence. We must also address the pathology of hatred that has too often fueled these mass murders and casualties.”

Brittany De Lea when reviewing the Democrat presidential hopefuls noted that Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential election spent a sizable amount of time during the second round of debates detailing the divide over how the party plans to reform the U.S. health care system – while largely avoiding to address how they would pay for their individual proposals.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren dodged a point-blank question from moderators as to whether middle-class families would pay more in taxes in order to fund a transition to a Medicare for All system.

Instead, she said several times that “giant corporations” and “billionaires” would pay more. She noted that “total costs” for middle-class households would go down.

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said during the first round of Democratic debates in Miami that taxes on middle-class families would rise but added that those costs would be offset by lower overall health care costs. Warren seemed to refer to this plan of action also.

Sanders and Warren quickly became targets on the debate stage for his proposed plan, which she supports, to transition to a Medicare for All system where there is no role for private insurers.

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney (and even though I am not a big fan of Mr. Delaney, he is the only one that makes any sense with regard to health care) said Sanders’ plan would lead to an “underfunded system,” where wealthy people would be able to access care at the expense of everyone else. He also said hospitals would be forced to close.

Delaney asked why the party had to be “so extreme,” adding that the Democrats’ health care debate may not be so much about health care as it was an “anti-private sector strategy.” In his opening statement, he appeared to throw jabs at Sanders and Warren for “impossible promises” that would get Trump reelected.

Former Texas lawmaker Beto O’Rourke said taxes would not rise on middle-class taxpayers, but he also does not believe in taking away people’s choice for the private insurance they have.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said there needed to be a public option, as did former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg thought the availability of a public alternative would incentivize people to walk away from their workplace plans.

Earlier this week, California Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled her vision for a transition to a Medicare for All system over a 10-year phase-in period, which called for no tax increase on families earning less than $100,000. She instead said a Wall Street financial transaction tax would help fund the proposal.

Harris is scheduled to appear during Wednesday’s night debate in Detroit, alongside former Vice President Joe Biden whose campaign has already criticized her health care plan.

Health care comes in focus, this time as a risk for Democrats

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reported that the Democratic presidential candidates are split over eliminating employer-provided health insurance under “Medicare for All.”

The risk is that history has shown voters are wary of disruptions to job-based insurance, the mainstay of coverage for Americans over three generations.

Those divisions were on display in the two Democratic debates this week, with Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren calling for a complete switch to government-run health insurance for all. In rebuttal, former Vice President Joe Biden asserted, “Obamacare is working” and promised to add a public option. Sen. Kamala Harris was in the middle with a new Medicare for All concept that preserves private insurance plans employers could sponsor and phases in more gradually. Other candidates fall along that spectrum.

The debates had the feel of an old video clip for Jim McDermott, a former Democratic congressman from Washington state who spent most of his career trying to move a Sanders-style “single-payer” plan and now thinks Biden is onto something.

“There is a principle in society and in human beings that says the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know,” said McDermott, a psychiatrist before becoming a politician. “I was a single-payer advocate since medical school. But I hit every rock in the road trying to get it done. This idea that you are going to take out what is known and replace it with a new government program — that’s dead on arrival.”

Warren, D-Mass., was having none of that talk Monday night on the debate stage. “Democrats win when we figure out what is right, and we get out there and fight for it,” she asserted.

Confronting former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., a moderate, Warren said, “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. … I don’t get it.”

Here’s a look at options put forward by Democrats and the employer-based system that progressives would replace:

MEDICARE FOR ALL

The Medicare for All plan advocated by Sanders and Warren would replace America’s hybrid system of employer, government and individual coverage with a single government plan paid for by taxes. Benefits would be comprehensive, and everybody would be covered, but the potential cost could range from $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years. It would be unlawful for private insurers or employers to offer coverage for benefits provided under the government plan.

“If you want stability in the health care system, if you want a system which gives you freedom of choice with regard to doctor or hospital, which is a system which will not bankrupt you, the answer is to get rid of the profiteering of the drug companies and the insurance companies,” said Sanders, a Vermont senator.

BUILDING ON OBAMACARE

On the other end is the Biden plan, which would boost the Affordable Care Act and create a new public option enabling people to buy subsidized government coverage.

“The way to build this and get to it immediately is to build on Obamacare,” he said.

The plan wouldn’t cover everyone, but the Biden campaign says it would reach 97% of the population, up from about 90% currently. The campaign says it would cost $750 billion over 10 years. Biden would leave employer insurance largely untouched.

Other moderate candidates take similar approaches. For example, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s plan is built on a Medicare buy-in initially available in areas that have a shortage of insurers or high costs.

THE NEW ENTRANT

The Harris plan is the new entrant, a version of Medicare for All that preserves a role for private plans closely regulated by the government and allows employers to sponsor such plans. The campaign says it would cover everybody. The total cost is uncertain, but Harris says she would not raise taxes on households making less than $100,000.

“It’s time that we separate employers from the kind of health care people get. And under my plan, we do that,” Harris said.

Harris’ plan might well reduce employer coverage, while Sanders’ plan would replace it. Either would be a momentous change.

Job-based coverage took hold during the World War II years, when the government encouraged employers and unions to settle on health care benefits instead of wage increases that could feed inflation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, employers currently cover about 160 million people under age 65 — or about half the population.

A poll this week from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation underscored the popularity of employer coverage. Among people 18-64 with workplace plans, 86% rated their coverage as good or excellent.

Republicans already have felt the backlash from trying to tamper with employer coverage.

As the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, the Arizona Sen. John McCain proposed replacing the long-standing tax-free status of employer health care with a tax credit that came with some limits. McCain’s goal was to cut spending and expand access. But Democrats slammed it as a tax on health insurance, and it contributed to McCain’s defeat by Barack Obama.

“The potential to change employer-sponsored insurance in any way was viewed extremely negatively by the public,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as McCain’s policy director. “That is the Achilles’ heel of Medicare for All — no question about it.”

These Are the Health-Care Questions That Matter Most

Max Nisen then noted that Health care got headline billing at both of this week’s second round of Democratic presidential debates. Unfortunately for voters, neither was very illuminating.

The biggest culprit was the format. Jumping between 10 candidates every 30 seconds made any substantive debate and discussion impossible. The moderators also deserve blame; they asked myopic questions intended to provoke conflict instead of getting any new information. And the candidates didn’t exactly help; there was a lot of sniping and not a lot of clear explanation of what they wanted to do.

The next debates may well be an improvement, as a more stringent cutoff should help to narrow the field and give candidates added time to engage in thoughtful discourse. Regardless, here are the issues that matter, and should be at the heart of any discussion:

The issue of how candidates would propose paying for their various health-care plans has been framed in the debates by the question, “Will you raise middle-class taxes?” That’s a limited and unhelpful approach. Raising taxes shouldn’t be a yes or no question; it’s a trade-off. Americans already pay a lot for health care in the form of premiums, deductibles, co-payments, and doctor’s bills. Why is that regressive system, which rations care by income, different or better than a more progressive tax?  Insurer and drug maker profits, both of which got airtime at the debates, are only a part of the problem when it comes to America’s high health costs.  The disproportionately high prices Americans pay for care are a bigger issue. What we pay hospitals and doctors, and how we can bring those costs down, are crucial issues that the candidates have barely discussed. What’s their plan there? The first round of debates saw the moderators ask candidates to raise their hands if they would eliminate private health coverage. Round two did essentially the same thing without the roll call. The idea of wiping out private insurance seems to be a flashpoint, but there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in questioning the merits of the current, mostly employer-based system. It’s no utopia. Americans unwillingly lose or change employer coverage all the time, and our fragmented system does an awful job of keeping costs down. People who support eliminating or substantially reducing the role of private coverage deserve scrutiny, but so do those who want to retain it. What’s so great about the status quo?

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As the field narrows, voters need specifics. A chunk of the field has been remarkably vague. Answers to these questions could offer some clarity:

For Senator Elizabeth Warren: Are there any differences between your vision of “Medicare for All” and Senator Bernie Sanders’s? There’s wiggle room here; his plan is more expansive (and expensive) than single-payer systems in countries like Canada.  For Senator Kamala Harris: What will your plan cover and how much will it cost? The skeletal outline of Harris’s plan lacks details on premiums and what patients would have to pay for out of pocket. She didn’t clarify matters at the debate.  For former Vice President Joe Biden: Will people with access to employer insurance be eligible for subsidies in your public option plan? If the answer is no or restrictive, his public option could have a relatively limited impact. It the answer is yes, his $750 billion cost estimate should head to the dustbin.  For the morass of candidates who pay lip service to Medicare for All but want to keep private insurance but don’t have a specific plan: What exactly do you want?

Health care is the most important issue for Democrats, according to polling. We need to find a way to have a discussion that does it justice.

Democrats’ Health-Care Feud Eclipses Message That Won in 2018

So, what have we learned from these debates? John Tozl realizes that in the four evenings of Democratic presidential debates since June, one phrase appeared for the first time on Wednesday: “pre-existing conditions.”

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker uttered it in his remarks on health care, chiding fellow Democrats for their infighting as Republicans wage a legal battle to undo the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurers from charging people more for being sick.

“The person who is enjoying this debate the most tonight is Donald Trump,” he said. “There is a court case working through the system that’s going to gut the Affordable Care Act and actually gut protections on pre-existing conditions,” Booker said, citing litigation in which the Trump administration and Republican-controlled states seeking to strike down Obamacare.

Over two nights this week, the 20 candidates spent at least an hour fiercely arguing over health-care plans, most of which are significantly more expansive than what the party enacted a decade ago in the Affordable Care Act. It’s a sign of how important the issue will be in the bid to unseat Trump, and how the party’s position has shifted leftward.

In November, Democrats won control of the House on the strength of their message to protect people with pre-existing conditions. That provision, a fundamental change to America’s private insurance market, is central to the ACA, the party’s most significant domestic policy achievement in a generation.

Booker’s attempt to unify his fractious colleagues against their common opponent stood out, because most of the discussion of health care, which kicked off the debate as it did on Tuesday, but the party’s divisions into sharp focus.

Biden v. Harris

Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joe Biden tried to discredit each other’s proposals. Biden says he wants to build on the Affordable Care Act while expanding access to health insurance through a public insurance option.

Harris, in a plan, unveiled this week, likewise favors a public option but wants to sever the link between employment and health insurance, allowing people instead to buy into public or private versions of Medicare, the federal health-care program for seniors.

Harris took Biden to task over a plan that fails to insure everyone, saying his plan would leave 10 million people without insurance.

“For a Democrat to be running for president in America with a plan that does not cover everyone, I think is without excuse,” she said.

Biden accused Harris of having had “several plans so far” and called her proposal a budget-buster that would kick people off health plans they like.

“You can’t beat President Trump with double-talk on this plan,” he said.

Other candidates split along similar lines, with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet saying Harris’s proposal “bans employer-based insurance and taxes the middle class to the tune of $30 trillion.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio argued for a more sweeping approach, like the Medicare for All policies embraced by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“I don’t understand why Democrats on this stage are fear-mongering about universal health care,” he said. “Why are we not going to be the party that does something bold, that says we don’t need to depend on private insurance?”

How Bold?

The question any candidate will eventually have to answer is how bold a plan they believe voters in a general election want.

In 2018, Democrats running for Congress attacked Republicans for trying to repeal the ACA and then, when that failed, asking courts to find it unconstitutional. Scrapping the law would mean about 20 million people lose health insurance.

About two-thirds of the public, including half of Republicans, say preserving protections for people with pre-existing conditions is important, according to polls by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research group.

More than a quarter of adults under 65 have pre-existing conditions, Kaiser estimates.

But that message has been mostly absent from the primary debates, where health-care talk highlights the divisions between the party’s progressive left-wing and its more moderate center.

Warren and Sanders weren’t on stage Wednesday, but their presence was looming. They’re both leading candidates and have deeply embraced Medicare for All plans that replace private insurance with a government plan. Bernie is an idiot, especially in his come back that he knows about Medicare for All since he wrote the bill. He has no idea of the far-reaching effect of Medicare for all. Our practice just reviewed our payments from Medicare over the last few years as well as the continued discounts that are applied to our services and noted that if we had to count on Medicare as our only health care payer that we as well as many rural hospitals would go out of business.

I refer you all back to John Delaney’s responses to the Medicare for All discussion. In the middle of a vigorous argument over Medicare for All during the Democratic debate tonight, former Representative John Delaney pointed out the reason he doesn’t support moving all Americans onto Medicare: It generally pays doctors and hospitals less than private-insurance companies do.

Because of that, some have predicted that if private insurance ends, and Medicare for All becomes the law of the land, many hospitals will close, because they simply won’t be able to afford to stay open at Medicare’s rates. Fact-checkers have pointed out that while some hospitals would do worse under Medicare for All, some would do better. But Delaney insisted tonight that all the hospital administrators he’s spoken with have said they would close if they were paid at the Medicare rate for every bill.

Whichever candidate emerges from the primary will have to take their health plans not just to fervent Democrats, but to a general electorate as well.

More on Medicare

If you remember from last week I reviewed the inability of our federal designers to accurately estimate the cost of the Medicare program and the redesign expanding the Medicaid programs mandating the states expand their Medicaid programs to provide comprehensive coverage for all the medically needy by 1977.

The additional provision of the 1972 legislation was the establishment of the Professional Standards Review Organizations (PSROs), whose function it was to assume responsibility for monitoring the costs, degree of utilization, and quality of care of medical services offered under Medicare and Medicaid. It was hoped that these PSROs would compel hospitals to act more efficiently. In keeping with this set of goals, in 1974 a reimbursement cap was instituted that limited hospitals from charging more than 120 percent of the mean of routine costs in effect in similar facilities, a limit eventually reduced to 112 percent named as Section 223 limits. But despite these attempts at holding down costs, they continued to escalate inasmuch as hospitals were still reimbursed on the basis of their expenses and the caps that were instituted applied only to room and board and not to ancillary services, which remained unregulated.

Now think about the same happening on a bigger scale with the proposed Medicare for All. Those that are proposing this “Grand Plan” need to understand the complexities issues, which need to be considered before touting the superiority of such a plan. Otherwise, the plan will fail!! Stop your sputtering arrogance Bernie, Kamala, and Elizabeth, etc. Get real and do you research, your homework before you yell and scream!!!!!!

More to Come!

Rural healthcare a Top Issue Among Voters for 2020 and Such Bad Patients Here in the U.S. More Important-Happy Father’s Day!!

Annotation 2019-06-15 220837Voters want 2020 candidates to start talking about access to healthcare in rural America — in fact, most say it would swing their vote, according to a poll conducted by survey research firm Morning Consult and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The poll hit on a rare area of bipartisan agreement in the healthcare debate: 93 percent of Republicans and 92 percent of Democrats said making it easier to access healthcare in rural communities is important to them. The issue was also consistent across rural and nonrural voters: 91 percent of nonrural voters and 95 percent of rural voters said this was an important issue.

Three in 5 voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who includes expanding rural healthcare access as part of their platform.

Unsurprisingly, rural voters said they had less access to healthcare in all its forms: primary care physicians, hospitals, specialists, pharmacies and urgent care.

The poll is based on survey responses from 1,995 voters across the country, in addition to 200 rural voters from Iowa, 200 rural voters from North Carolina and 200 rural voters from Texas. It was conducted in May.

Who are the Worst Patients in the World?

Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending.

David H. Freedman noted that he was standing two feet away when his 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.

My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.

When he wasn’t in the hospital, my dad blew off checkups and ignored signs of sickness, only to reenter the health-care system via the emergency department. Once home again, he enthusiastically undermined whatever his doctors had tried to do for him, practically using the list of prohibited foods as a menu. He chain-smoked cigars (for good measure, he inhaled rather than puffed). He took his pills if and when he felt like it. By his late 60s, he’d been rewarded with an impressive rack of life-threatening ailments, including failing kidneys, emphysema, severe arrhythmia, and a series of chronic infections. Various high-tech feats by some of Boston’s best hospitals nevertheless kept him alive to the age of 76.

It was in his self-neglect, rather than his hostility, that my father found common cause with the tens of millions of American patients who collectively hobble our health-care system.

For years, the United States’ high health-care costs and poor outcomes have provoked hand-wringing, and rightly so: Every other high-income country in the world spends less than America does as a share of GDP, and surpasses us in most key health outcomes.

Recriminations tend to focus on how Americans pay for health care, and on our hospitals and physicians. Surely if we could just import Singapore’s or Switzerland’s health-care system to our nation, the logic goes, we’d get those countries’ lower costs and better results. Surely, some might add, a program like Medicare for All would help by discouraging high-cost, ineffective treatments.

But lost in these discussions is, well, us. We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to those other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?

One hint that patient behavior matters a lot is the tremendous variation in health outcomes among American states and even counties, despite the fact that they are all part of the same health-care system. A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that 74 percent of the variation in life expectancy across counties is explained by health-related lifestyle factors such as inactivity and smoking, and by conditions associated with them, such as obesity and diabetes—which is to say, by patients themselves. If this is true across counties, it should be true across countries too. And indeed, many experts estimate that what providers do accounts for only 10 to 25 percent of life-expectancy improvements in a given country. What patients do seems to matter much more.

Somava Saha, a Boston-area physician who for more than 15 years practiced primary-care medicine and is now a vice president at the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told me that several unhealthy behaviors common among Americans (for example, a sedentary lifestyle) are partly rooted in cultural norms. Having worked on health-care projects around the world, she has concluded that a key motivator for healthy behavior is feeling integrated into a community where that behavior is commonplace. And sure enough, healthy community norms are particularly evident in certain places with strong outcome-to-cost ratios, like Sweden. Americans, with our relatively weak sense of community, are harder to influence. “We tend to see health as something that policymaking or health-care systems ought to do for us,” she explained. To address the problem, Saha fostered health-boosting relationships within patient communities. She notes that patients in groups like these have been shown to have significantly better outcomes for an array of conditions, including diabetes and depression than similar patients not in groups.

The absence of healthy community norms goes a long way toward explaining poor health outcomes, but it doesn’t fully account for the extent of American spending. To understand that, we must consider Americans’ fairly unusual belief that, when it comes to medical care, money is no object. A recent survey of 10,000 patients found that only 31 percent consider cost very important when making a health-care decision—versus 85 percent who feel this way about a doctor’s “compassion.” That’s one big reason the push for “value-based care,” which rewards providers who keep costs down while achieving good outcomes, is not going well: Attempts to cut back on expensive treatments are met with patient indignation.

For example, one cost-reduction measure used around the world is to exclude an expensive treatment from health coverage if it hasn’t been solidly proved effective, or is only slightly more effective than cheaper alternatives. But when American insurance companies try this approach, they invariably run into a buzz saw of public outrage. “Any patient here would object to not getting the best possible treatment, even if the benefit is measured not in extra years of life but in months,” says Gilberto Lopes, the associate director for global oncology at the University of Miami’s cancer center. Lopes has also practiced in Singapore, where his very first patient shocked him by refusing the moderately expensive but effective treatment he prescribed for her cancer—a choice that turns out to be common among patients in Singapore, who like to pass the money in their government-mandated health-care savings accounts on to their children.

Most experts agree that American patients are frequently overtreated, especially with regard to expensive tests that aren’t strictly needed. The standard explanation for this is that doctors and hospitals promote these tests to keep their income high. This notion likely contains some truth. But another big factor is the patient preference. A study out of Johns Hopkins’s medical school found doctors’ two most common explanations for overtreatment to be patient demand and fear of malpractice suits—another particularly American concern.

In countless situations, such as blood tests that are mildly out of the normal range, the standard of care is “watchful waiting.” But compared with patients elsewhere, American patients are more likely to push their doctors to treat rather than watch and wait. A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine suggested that American men with low-risk prostate cancer—the sort that usually doesn’t cause much trouble if left alone—tend to push for treatments that may have serious side effects while failing to improve outcomes. In most other countries, leaving such cancers alone is not the exception but the rule.

American patients similarly don’t like to be told that unexplained symptoms aren’t ominous enough to merit tests. Robert Joseph, a longtime ob‑gyn at three Boston-area hospital systems who last year became a medical director at a firm that runs clinical trials, says some of his patients used to come in demanding laparoscopic surgery to investigate abdominal pain that would almost certainly have gone away on its own. “I told them about the risks of the surgery, but I couldn’t talk them out of it, and if I refused, my liability was huge,” he says. Hospitals might question non-indicated and expensive surgeries, he adds, but saying the patient insisted is sometimes enough to close the case. Joseph, like many American doctors, also worried about getting a bad review from a patient who didn’t want to hear “no.” Such frustrations were a big reason he stopped practicing, he says.

In most of the world, what the doctor says still goes. “Doctors are more deified in other countries; patients follow orders,” says Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, a consulting firm that researches international health care. He contrasts this with the attitude of his grown children in the U.S.: “They don’t trust doctors as far as they can throw them.” (For what it’s worth, patients in China may be even worse than American patients in this regard. According to one report, they spend an average of eight hours a week finding and sharing information online about their medical conditions and health-care experiences. Various observers have told me that Chinese patients wield that information like a club, bullying doctors into providing as many prescriptions as possible.)

American patients’ flagrant disregard for routine care is another problem. Take the failure to stick to prescribed drugs, one more bad behavior in which American patients lead the world. The estimated per capita cost of drug noncompliance is up to three times as high in the U.S. as in the European Union. And when Americans go to the doctor, they are more likely than people in other countries to head to expensive specialists. A British Medical Journal study found that U.S. patients end up with specialty referrals at more than twice the rate of U.K. patients. They also end up in the ER more often, at enormous cost. According to another study, this one of chronic migraine sufferers, 42 percent of U.S. respondents had visited an emergency department for their headaches, versus 14 percent of U.K. respondents.

Finally, the U.S. stands out as a place where death, even for the very aged, tends to be fought tooth and nail, and not cheaply. “In the U.K., Canada, and many other countries, death is seen as inevitable,” Somava Saha said. “In the U.S., death is seen as optional. When [people] become sick near the end of their lives, they have faith in what a heroic health-care system will accomplish for them.”

It makes sense that a wealthy nation with unhealthy lifestyles, little interest in preventive medicine, and expectations of limitless, top-notch specialist care would empower its health-care system to accommodate these preferences. It also makes sense that a health-care system that has thrived by throwing over-the-top care at patients has little incentive to push those same patients to embrace care that’s less flashy but may do more good. Medicare for All could provide that incentive by refusing to pay for unnecessarily expensive care, as Medicare does now—but can it prepare patients to start hearing “no” from their physicians?

Marveling at what other systems around the world do differently, without considering who they’re doing it for, is madness. The American health-care system has problems, yes, but those problems don’t merely harm Americans—they are caused by Americans. And more importantly, what do we do about it to contribute to improving our health care system?? Any suggestions??

More on the History of Medicare and Other Healthcare Reforms

Remember last week’s conversation as we realized that with the assignation of President Kennedy that Congressional support swelled. President Lyndon Johnson pushed for enactment of a host of reform measures, among them Medicare and in one of his earliest speeches to Congress referred to Medicare as “one of his top priorities”.

Back and forth it went between committees and candidates and then the November election proved decisive in the history of Medicare. President Johnson’s campaign underscored the importance of extending social security benefits to cover health care costs, but his challenger, Barry Goldwater was adamantly opposed to the plan.

Again, we had many congressional supported the measure, while at the same time organized medicine devoted great sums of money in their attempt to defeat Medicare’s chief defenders. This was an interesting election which proved to be a win for the Democrats, who gained thirty-eight seats in the House and the pro-Medicare majority increased by forty-four seats. Also, interesting was that of the fourteen physicians who ran for Congress in the election eleven lost, and of those three that won one was a Medicare supported.

It seemed obvious that the electoral outcome was due in a large part to the strong support given the pro-Medicare candidates by the older voters. The prominence given the prospective passage of a Medicare bill during the campaign led to its being given “pride-of-place in the 89thCongress. Next, the King-Anderson bill was the first bill introduced into each chamber (H.R. 1 and S.1) when Congress convened on January 4, 1965. President Johnson 3 days later, in a Special Message to Congress, urged the swift passage of the bill.

It was interesting that the bill was only a hospital insurance scheme only and did not cover physicians’ services. The AMA was faced with a choice of whether to support the bill or help design a modified bill to Organized medicine’s liking. The AMA then proposed an alternative called the “Eldercare” bill, that would have expanded the Medical Assistance (MAA) for the Aged program, which was established under the Kerr-Mills Act. Then two members of the Ways and Means Committee introduced legislation along the lines of Eldercare, which provided more sweeping coverage than the King-Anderson bill.

The AMA’s campaign seemed to strike a sympathetic chord among the electorate and a survey by the AMA found that 72% of the respondents agreed that any government health insurance plan should cover physicians’ services. The Congressional backers of a government health insurance plan were delighted with the poll, which signaled wide support for an extension of coverage offered by the King-Anderson bill.

Here we go again, the Republicans were worried of being deprived of not getting any credit for a health insurance plan and so a third bill was introduced in the Ways and Means Committee by its ranking Republican member, John Byrnes of Wisconsin. This plan was an extension of a private health insurance plan offered by the Aetna Life Insurance Company to federal employees. This plan called for the creation of a government-administered insurance plan for the elderly that covered both hospital expenses but also physicians’ services as well as the costs of drugs and permitted older Americans to either opt out of the plan or not, their choice.

It gets more complicated but Wilbur Mills the Committee Chairman thought that combining the most ambitious components of all three bills into a new proposal would be best.

More to come next week!

This Sunday being Father’s Day, I decided to write a blog post on the word “father.”

While that may seem like an obvious idea, there’s a deeper meaning to that word for me personally—since 2017, the word “father” has been my life word.

You see, for years—decades, really—I have prayed for and selected a word that would lead me to live intentionally throughout the calendar year. I’ve chosen words or phrases that would spur my thinking and my actions to be in alignment with the kind of life I want to live.

Some years the word was intensely personal, usually because I had a lot of growing to do in a specific area. Other years, the word was more about others and how I needed to add value to people in new ways.

But “father” is different.

I thought it would be a one-year word, a gentle reminder to see and connect with people with even greater care and wisdom. But one year turned into two, and I began to understand that some people don’t need care and wisdom—they need a dose of reality to get them moving!

Then, two years became three.

This is my third year with the word “father” as the central piece of my thinking and reflection, and I’ve become more convinced it may be my word for the rest of my life.

Part of that sense comes from the work I’m doing with my team. We’re experiencing a season of significance unlike anything I’ve ever seen—the culmination of their tireless work over the years and miles of this leadership journey. We are collectively seeing a harvest on seeds we’ve sown at times and in places when we weren’t sure there’d ever be a return.

The joy and fulfilment of reaping those rewards with the many wonderful people I’ve worked and coached alongside is deeper and richer than I could’ve dreamed. Fatherhood, in this instance, is fun.

But there’s also the flipside of being a “father” to many, and I’m reminded of it whenever I visit places where people are desperate for training in values and leadership. More and more, people are asking for help in transforming themselves and their communities, and more and more I find my heart and my passion drawn to help them.

I want to be a guide; be a friend; be a teacher; be a mentor.

But what I really want to be is a “father”.

“Father” is about adding value differently, which means I am constantly stretching myself in new ways. Just like when my kids were growing up, and I had to change tactics or reset my thinking, I’m finding that being a “father” to many means constantly adjusting how I approach life.

My thinking is deeper, bigger, more inclusive, more defined; as a result, my dreams are larger and more significant than I ever imagined because they are dreams for other people.

That’s what it means to be a “father”. That’s what my dad did for me—he dreamed big dreams on my behalf and then loaned me his belief to chase dreams of my own. I am blessed that he’s still with me; this will be our 72ndFather’s Day together, and every year reminds me of how wonderful it is to have my father’s love and investment.

It also reminds me to pay that kind of love forward.

In that way, the biggest gift of a “father” is to pour into others what is valuable and good and helpful and challenge them to repeat the process with others. The influence of a father can either build or destroy, and our world needs more of the former. We have more than enough of the latter.

My challenge to you this Father’s Day is to add value to someone else. Invest in them, encourage them, challenge them; loan them your belief in their potential, and then equip them to do something amazing with it.

I’ve seen firsthand how that kind of intentional investment changes families, as well as changes the world.

Happy Father’s Day to you, wherever you are. Whether you’re celebrating or being celebrated, make it a day to remember—make it a day that you choose to add value to others and make a difference to those around you.

Critical condition: The crisis of rural medical care, Guns and Knives and Medicare!

d day257[1467]I wanted to start with this article because our rural area of Maryland is going through the same scenario. We had 3 hospitals serving the mid and upper Delmarva Peninsula but 2 of the hospitals were barely making ends meet. In fact, one of the hospitals will be closed down replaced by an enlarged Urgent care type of facility. Another needs to be shut down and reconfigured as a stabilizing/urgent care center. This last hospital sometimes has an in-hospital census of 1 or 2 patients. You can’t pay the bills with that census and how do you pay your staff, keep the heat and air conditioning and electric running?

Tonopah, Nevada, is about as isolated a place as you can find – 200 miles south of Reno, 200 miles north of Las Vegas, with one road in or out. But to those who call it home, this scenic dot on the desert landscape once had everything they needed.

Emmy Merrow had no concerns about living in such a remote place: “It had a store and a gas station, and I was fine!” she laughed.

Merrow has lived here for four years. She has a two-and-a-half-year-old, Aleyna, and a newborn daughter, Kinzley.

They moved here when her husband got a great job offer from the sheriff’s department. But six weeks before she found out she was pregnant with Aleyna, she also found out Tonopah’s struggling hospital, its only hospital was shutting its doors for good.

“I’m frustrated, I’m mad, I cry, I’m upset about it because we would live less than a mile away from a hospital,” she said.

It was all the more worrisome when, shortly after she was born; Aleyna was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy. “She’s just like any other typical kid, and our day is just like any other day, except for when she has seizures,” Merrow said.

“And how many does she have a day?” asked correspondent Lee Cowan.

“She’s at about 400 now.”

“So, is there anybody within a reasonable distance that can help?

“No.”

When the seizures are bad enough, which is about every six weeks or so, Merrow has to make a mad, desolate dash to the closest hospital, which is across the border in California, some 114 miles away.

She’ll never forget the first time she had to do it: “It was in the middle of the night, so it was dark and I couldn’t see her, so I did stop quite often to just check and make sure she was still breathing.”

“That must have been terrifying,” Cowan said.

“Yeah, I was sobbing the whole way. It is the worst feeling in the world.”

Elaine Minges lives in Tonopah, too. She came here with her husband, Curt, for a high-paying job at the nearby solar plant, and thought they’d retire here one day. “We knew that there was a hospital here and there were a few physicians, and we felt comfortable at the time,” Minges said.

But after the hospital closed, everything changed. “They shut the doors and that was it,” she said.

“And they didn’t give you any warning?”

There were rumors, she said, but “we thought no, that won’t happen. That doesn’t happen. Look, we’re out in the middle of nowhere!”

Curt, who had diabetes, tried not to think about it until one night he suddenly fell very ill. Minges recalled, “He woke up and I thought he was having a heart attack. He was gasping for air. He tried to get up, but he was just too sick.”

He was suffering a serious complication from diabetes. It’s a condition normally survivable with prompt medical attention, but in this case, prompt meant getting a helicopter. “That particular night, the helicopter was 45 minutes out before they could get to the airport, and in that time, he went into cardiac arrest.”

Cowan asked, “Had the hospital here been open, would that have saved your husband?”

“I would like to think so, yeah.”

It’s a grim tale repeating itself all across the country.

Since 2010, 99 rural hospitals like the one in Tonopah have closed; that’s almost one a month.

“Basically about half of the rural hospitals are losing money every year,” said Mark Holmes, a professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina, who has been studying the decline for more than a decade.

Cowan asked, “Is there an end in sight?”

“Every time that I’ve said, ‘I think we’re through the worst of it,’ we’ve been surprised,” Holmes replied. “You always have to wonder, who’s next?”

A whole cross-section of America is now facing the very real risk of having no local hospital to turn to. The causes are varied; the population in some of those towns has dwindled to a size that can’t support a hospital anymore.

In others, the hospitals are either mismanaged or they end up as table scraps in mega-mergers. Medicaid expansion would have helped some stay open, Holmes says, but not all, and even so reimbursement rates are often too low for hospitals to break even. Whatever the cause, the impact on the community is almost always the same:

“The hospital closes, the emergency room dries up, all the other services that went with that – home health, pharmacy, hospice, EMS – they leave town as well, and now you’re left with a medical desert,” said Holmes.

That’s exactly the fate residents of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma was worried about. The town, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City, has only one hospital, but the previous management company had run it into bankruptcy.

The city brought in Frank Avignone to save it. When Cowan visited, Avignone was working the phones to find a generous donor to keep it open: “I’ve got 130 employees here that I’m going to have to tell they have no future,” he said.

“It’s literally day-by-day for this hospital,” Cowan asked.

“It’s minute-by-minute,” he replied.

“How much money do you have in the bank right now?”

“About $7,000.”

“Which gets you how far?”

“The next 15 minutes. I mean, it’s not enough to really make a difference.”

Townspeople rallied, especially those who had been treated here, like Susanne Blake. She and her husband pitched in half of their retirement savings – a gamble that to them, made some good-natured sense. “We got tickled about how much we should give, because he said, ‘Well, without a hospital, we don’t have to worry about as long a retirement!'” she laughed.

Employees were just as passionate. Linda Rutledge, who’s worked in the hospital’s cafeteria for nearly 20 years, baked over a thousand cookies – a bake sale with a lot riding on it.

Asked what will happen should the hospital close, Rutledge replied, “I’m going to cry. That’s just can’t happen.”

But it can happen. And last year, in response to the need for medical care, a massive free health clinic popped up at a fairground in Gray, Tennessee, set up by a non-profit called Remote Area Medical – originally founded to serve third-world countries.

But Chris Hall, the charity’s COO, says a rural hospital closure back in 1992 forced the organization to address the medical needs of the underserved here at home, too.

“Today alone, there’s seven states’ worth of patients that have come to this event,” Hall said. “People have gotten in their car and driven 200 miles to get here today just to be able to get a service that they couldn’t get in their local area, or [couldn’t] afford in their local area.”

Some who lined up overnight in the cold did, in fact, have a hospital; they just didn’t have the insurance to access it. But for others, like Leanna Steele, this is the closest thing they have to an emergency room. Her local hospital, which she used to go to when she got debilitating migraines, also closed.

Cowan asked, “So, what do you do now?”

“Mainly just sit and hope,” Steele said.

Usually, before a hospital closes entirely, administrators will try cutting back on non-emergency services, like maternity wards. That’s happened so often that more than half the rural communities in this country now no longer have labor and delivery units, leaving expectant mothers facing long drives at the worst of times.

  • But in Lakin, Kansas, population 2,200, they tried something different. The only hospital for miles decided to invest in obstetric care instead, the thinking being that babies can be a growth industry. They get patients in the door, and just as Kearny County Hospital’s young CEO Ben Anderson had hoped, they stay … and bring along the rest of the family, too.

“Moms came here and had a great experience, and they said, ‘You know, you’re gonna be my baby’s pediatrician, and you’re gonna be my women’s health physician, and you’re gonna take care of my husband as an internist. We’re all coming to you,'” said Anderson.

And that’s just what’s happened. Dr. Drew Miller has a bulletin board outside his office with pictures of the future patients he’s brought into this world – almost 500 in the last eight years, from all across the state.

“The most rewarding thing of what I get to do is to take care of families of multiple generations,” Dr. Miller said. “I could tell you stories of people I’ve delivered their babies, and taken care of their grandma or their great-grandma. That’s what I love about what I get to do here.”

And another thing: There are no high-priced specialists employed here, not even an OB-GYN. Instead, the hospital is staffed entirely by physicians trained in full-spectrum family medicine instead. “We determined we only have so many dollars to spend at a rural critical access hospital on medical care staff coverage, so it’s important that everybody is trained to do the same thing, and it’s important that everyone is willing to do it equally,” Anderson said.

A typical day for these rural doctors can include doing a colonoscopy in the OR in the morning and removing a skin lesion at a clinic in the afternoon. It’s a flexible, can-do approach to rural medicine that has kept these hospital doors open – at least for now.

“This last year we had the first profitable year in probably two or three decades,” said Anderson. “But we’re riding very, very close. We don’t have the margin for mistakes.”

It’s that razor’s edge that hospitals like the one back in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, had ridden for too long. Cowan was there when CEO Frank Avignone brought the staff together to share some news: “You can only live on borrowed time so long,” he said. The hospital was closing, immediately.

“I’m not sure people really understand what’s going on,” Avignone told Cowan. “The story’s gotta get out. People have to see the faces of the folks in this community and the employees and what they’ve been through. People die because this hospital won’t be open.”

Back in Tonopah, Nevada, Emmy Merrow understands those risks firsthand after one excruciatingly long drive to a hospital with Aleyna that had irreversible consequences. “She fell into a seizure that lasted three hours long; it lasted the whole entire trip,” she said. “So, she has brain damage from that. She wasn’t breathing correctly, she lost oxygen.”

“I think people watching this are going to wonder if it’s that bad, and you’re so far away from a hospital, and you need help basically all the time, why not move?” asked Cowan.

“It would be great if we had the money to be able to move,” she replied. “We make enough to live, but not really enough to save up to be able to make that move.”

As for Elaine Minges, with her husband now gone, the rural life they loved so much is gone, too, and like so many who live in small-town America, she’s at a loss for what to do next.

Cowan asked, “Will you stay here knowing there’s not a hospital?”

“My home is here,” she said. “I feel my husband here.”

“What do you think he’d want you to do? Would he want you to stay?”

“No,” she said.

Right now, we all in our community are considering alternatives and more and more of our patients are going “across the bridge” to University or “better” hospitals. I suspect that this is going to be more of a problem in the future with more talk of Medicare for All.

These next two discussions are in response to a local senseless stabbing/murder in our small town. We were lucky that the murderer wasn’t carrying a gun or the deceased could have numbered in a much higher amount.

Angry young white men charged in America’s latest mass shootings

Annalisa Merelli noted that there have been 25 mass shootings in the US this year. Seventeen of the incidents were deadly and 11 killed three to five victims each—for a total of 45 fatalities.

Last week alone, 17 people (not including the shooters) lost their lives in four mass shootings. Three of the attacks were said to be carried out by 21-year-old white men:

  • Zephen Xaver allegedly shot and killed five women in the lobby of a SunTrust bank branch in Sebring, Florida on Jan. 23.
  • Jordan Witmer killed three in State College, Pennsylvania on Jan. 24.
  • Dakota Theriot has been charged with killing five: his girlfriend, her brother, her father, and both of his own parents in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Jan. 25.

Investigators are still looking into motives yet it’s hard not to note some commonalities: All of these mass shooters were men, and they all targeted women. They had shown violent behavior and tendencies in the past or had been exposed to violence. None of this seemed to have stopped them from being able to acquire guns. It’s an all-too-familiar pattern in the US. The shooters’ identities are also consistent with the overall American trend: Mass shootings are nearly exclusively perpetrated by men, the vast majority of whom are white.

Xaver, ex-girlfriend Alex Gerlach told WSBT-TV, “for some reason always hated people and wanted everybody to die” and “got kicked out of school for having a dream that he killed everybody in his class, and he’s been threatening this for so long.” Gerlach said her warnings about Xaver were not taken seriously, even as he bought a gun it was not considered a warning sign. After the shooting, police chief Karl Hoglund described the targeting of five women a “random act.” Amongst Xaver’s interests were prominent right-wing figures such as Milo Yannopoulos and Alex Jones; when he was arrested, he was wearing a T-shirt with a print of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the New Testament figures of destruction.

Witmer, the Pennsylvania shooter, also took aim at a female victim. He was having drinks with Nicole Abrino, a woman identified a current or former girlfriend when the two argued. Dean Beachy, who was sitting across the bar, tried to break up the fight. Witmer shot him in the head, killing him, then fatally shot Beachy’s son. Witmer also shot Abrino, who survived. Witmer left the bar, later crashing his car and breaking into a home where he shot and killed a fourth person. He then killed himself. Witmer, who didn’t have a history of violent behavior, had recently returned from a three-year stint with the US Army. According to his family, he was planning to become a police officer.

Theriot, targeted his girlfriend of about two weeks, Summer Ernest, police said, and the murder in Louisiana seemed premeditated. The young man was living with Ernest and her family after he had been kicked out of his own home. He is said to have shot her dead, followed by her father and younger brother. Theriot then took the father’s truck, and drove to his parents’ home, police said, killing both of them. He was arrested as he tried to reach his grandmother, still carrying a gun. Theriot, his neighbors said, had a history of trouble with drugs and he had been arrested for minor drug possession. Though authorities say he didn’t have a history of violent behavior, some who knew him to seem to disagree. They say he had pulled a gun out on his mother, which was among the reasons he had been kicked out of the house.

ACCORDING TO THE FBI, KNIVES KILL FAR MORE PEOPLE THAN RIFLES IN AMERICA – IT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE

Columnist Benny Johnson noted that knives kill far more people in the United States than rifles do every year.

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Florida last week, the debate over guns in America has surged again to the forefront of the political conversation. Seventeen students were killed when a deranged gunman rampaged through the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. Many are calling now for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting, specifically targeting the AR-15 rifle and promoting the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

However, recent statistics from 2016 show that knives actually kill nearly five times as many people as rifles that year.

According to the FBI, 1,604 people were killed by “knives and cutting instruments” and 374 were killed by “rifles” in 2016.

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The statistics match the trends seen in previous years, which show knife murders far outnumbering rifle statistics. In 2013, knives were used to kill 1,490 and rifles were used to kill 285. Handguns far outnumber both knives and rifles in American murders. There were 7,105 murders by handgun in America in 2016.

Handguns were not included in the assault weapons ban.

Writing on the issue of handgun violence, The Federalist makes this interesting point:

“But what about handgun murders?” you might ask. “They’re responsible for the majority of gun murders, so why don’t we just ban them and stop worrying about rifles?”

Easy: because gun bans and strict gun control don’t really prevent gun violence. Take, for example, Illinois and California. In 2013, there were 5,782 murders by handgun in the U.S. According to FBI data, 20 percent of those — 1,157 of the 5,782 handgun murders — happened in Illinois and California, which have two of the toughest state gun control regimes in the entire country. And even though California and Illinois contain about 16 percent of the nation’s population, those two states are responsible for over 20 percent of the nation’s handgun murders.

One of the difficulties in the FBI’s statistics is the pinpointing of the exact type of firearm used in the overall number of gun murders. In over 3,000 cases, the firearm is not “stated.” This means it could be a rifle, handgun or shotgun used in the crime.

Certainly, this could potentially add to the number of rifle deaths each year. However, if the ratios of weapons used in the uncategorized 3,000 number reflected the overall sample size, the number of rifle deaths would only rise by a small fraction, not nearly enough to surpass the number of knife deaths.

So, what next? Do we outlaw guns as well as knives? What do we use as cutting utensils……plastic knives????

And More About the Medicare Story!

For Medicare, the best progress was made thanks to Presidential candidate John F Kennedy. Kennedy along with Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, introduced a measure similar to the previous Forand bill in the Senate the summer of 1960. The measure was defeated in favor of the Kerr-Mills bill, but the Democratic platform contained a provision supporting an extensive hospital insurance strategy for the aged. Kennedy made this proposal a subject of his speeches during his stumping for the presidency and even before his administration took office a White House Conference on Aging again brought the issue of a government health insurance. They seemed to get more and more support, especially since Eisenhower’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare was among several prominent Republicans who were in support of the enactment of a comprehensive measure.

Almost immediately following his inauguration, on February 9, 1961, President Kennedy sent a message to Congress calling for an extension of the social security benefits to cover hospital and nursing home costs. The bill would have covered 14 million recipients over the age of sixty-five was predicted to cost approximately a billion and a half dollars, but didn’t include the cost of medical or surgical treatment. It only covered for ninety days of hospital care, outpatient diagnostic services and a hundred and eighty days of nursing home care. Imagine the cost back then of adding on the medical and surgical treatment costs!

Because of Kennedy’s thin margin of victory in November, it was deemed expedient not to press for passage of the bill until the following year. But along comes the AMA creating the American Medical Political Action Committee, which was joined with the commercial health insurance carriers and Blue Cross-Blue Shield in opposing the bill and questioned the cost put forward by the administration. The opposition mounted a strong campaign against the King-Anderson using posters, pamphlets and radio, and TV extensively. The Association seemed to be angered by included fee schedule for hospitals, nursing homes, and nurses which could serve as a precedent should government insurance be expended to include.

There was a great deal of fighting as the Kennedy administration demonized the AMA, accusing the association of thwarting the public will with the interest of lining the pockets of its membership and of employing scare tactics against the government’s interest and only concern to extend to the aged and infirm needed medical benefits. The administration got support from organized labor and several new organizations which lobbied extensively in favor of the measure.

On and on went the supporters and the opposition until finally after Kennedy’s assassination when Congressional support for Kennedy’s legislation swelled, but that is for another day and next week.

And an impressive celebration of D-day. Thank you again Veterans who fought for us all!!

The Homeless, Illegal Immigrants and Disease: LAPD officers being treated for typhoid fever, typhus-like symptoms. More on Medicare History and the Replacement for the Shortage of Physicians.

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Anthony Rivas reported that at least one officer with the Los Angeles Police Department has contracted the bacteria that causes typhoid fever, Salmonella typhi, and another one is showing typhus-like symptoms, the police department announced on Thursday.

The officer who had contracted the illness is being treated, and the other officer has yet to be confirmed to be infected, according to the LAPD. Both officers work at the LAPD’s Central Division, according to a statement released by the department.

Salmonella Typhi is uncommon in the U.S. and other modern industrialized nations, affecting only about 350 Americans each year — most of whom recently returned from overseas travel. Worldwide, it affects an estimated 22 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The police department is working with the city to “disinfect any work areas that may have been exposed,” a process that is expected to be completed Thursday evening, the LAPD said in a statement.

Salmonella Typhi is commonly spread through food or water that has been contaminated by someone shedding the bacteria. The bacteria can be spread by both people who are actively ill as well as so-called “carriers” of the bacteria but not showing symptoms — one in 20 go on to become carriers. Salmonella typhi is responsible for causing typhoid fever, according to the CDC,.

It’s unclear what caused the officers’ illnesses.

Los Angeles has been dealing with a growing rat infestation and typhus outbreaks since at least October 2018, according to ABC Los Angeles station KABC.

Typhus is different from typhoid fever, which can come from a variety of sources. Murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi) is caused by bites from infected fleas, epidemic typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii) comes from infected body lice and scrub typhus (Orientia tsutsugamushi) comes from infected chiggers or larval mites.

“Unfortunately, our police officers often patrol in adverse environments and can be exposed to various dangerous elements,” the LAPD said in a statement on Thursday. “We have notified the Police Protective League as well as our employees working at Central Division, about the outbreak and we have further provided them with strategies to stay healthy while we mitigate this issue.”

Typhoid fever and typhus are often diagnosed through blood tests and treated with antibiotics. Symptoms associated with the two infections include fever and chills, body and muscle aches, nausea and vomiting.

The best way to prevent infection by Salmonella typhi is to wash your hands frequently, and for any form of typhus, to avoid contact with the animals that can pass on the infection.

I just read an article regarding the future of healthcare and the focus was on Artificial Intelligence, but this next piece is about what we are seeing right now due to the shortage of physicians. This is happening here in the US but also throughout Europe also.

As nurse practitioners fill the gap, patients say they’re more than satisfied with the care

Findings from a new research study led by Thomas Kippenbrock, a nursing professor at the University of Arkansas, suggest that patients are just as satisfied—or even happier—with care from nurse practitioners as compared with doctors.

Kippenbrock wrote an article titled “A National Survey of Nurse Practitioners’ Patient Satisfaction Outcomes” for Nursing Outlook, a bi-monthly journal that examines current issues and trends in nursing practice, education and research. The journal seeks to help solve challenges facing the profession.

Currently, nurse practitioners are helping to fill a gap in providing primary care across the country and especially in the rural communities, which is why it’s important to determine patients’ satisfaction rate.

Kippenbrock and fellow U of A School of Nursing colleagues, Jan Emory and Peggy Lee, gathered feedback from 53,885 patients through the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, asking them to identify and rate their perceptions of interactions with their health provider.

Using responses to the survey, which was developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to advance scientific understanding of the patient care experience, researchers found that patients are reporting equal or greater satisfaction rates with care from nurse practitioners when compared to their physician colleagues. The study notes that Medicaid patients rated nurse practitioners’ communication skills as high as other providers.

“The leap in this study was a large national scale investigation,” Kippenbrock said. “Previous findings were derived from small sample sizes isolated to local community clinics. Consequently, we believe patients are highly satisfied with a nurse practitioners’ primary care services.”

So, what about using barbers as our physicians?

Will Barbers Regain Their Role as Medical Practitioners?

Milton Packer highlighted the rediscovery of a 1,000-year-old cure for medical elitism and maybe physician shortage. For most of human history, people did not see the expertise of a physician in the hope of a cure. Physicians relied on patients’ natural healing processes for recovery. Doctors primarily provided comfort — by the compassionate communication of a diagnosis, often accompanied by the symbolic prescription of herbs and salves. The physician acted as a supportive guide to the unfolding of a natural course of events.

This approach is embodied in the many quotations attributed to Hippocrates. “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.” “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.”

But in the first millennium C.E., physicians were in short supply. The talented few lived an elitist existence, typically attached to wealthy or powerful royal families. Famed physicians, such as Galen and Avicenna, were able to formulate ideas and write books because they were supported by wealthy patrons.

Who provided medical care for the common man, especially the poor? With no access to physicians, the poor turned to the clergy, who spent much of their time practicing medicine. Building on existing relationships of trust, priests could attend to someone’s physical and spiritual needs simultaneously. However, the Church believed that spiritual men should not be focused on worldly cares. Thus, during the latter half of the 12th century, it insisted that priests were “expert physicians of souls rather than to cure bodies.” The practice of medicine was strictly forbidden, especially when it required cutting or burning.

So where would a “commoner” go if he/she required some procedural intervention? Barbers — with their expertise with knives and razors — stepped up to fill the need, by offering a wide range of surgical procedures to their customers. On a given day, they might provide a haircut, an amputation, a tooth extraction, or the application of leeches. All of these filled the barbershop with blood and bandages. When wrapped around a pole, they formed a spiral of red and white stripes and voilà! The modern barbershop pole was born. (Barbershop poles in the U.S. added a blue stripe — for patriotic reasons.)

From the 12th century onwards, the expertise and practices of physicians and barbers became distinct, leading to a troubled relationship between the two groups. Physicians who received university training believed they had privileged access to specialized knowledge and felt superior to the barbers, who had no specialized education and treated only commoners. To highlight the distinction, physicians insisted that they wear long robes, while barbers could wear only short robes. The practice of long white coats for physicians and short white jackets for barbers persisted into the late 20th century.

Surgeons eventually differentiated themselves from barbers in the 17th and 18th centuries, but physicians and surgeons remained distinct specialties for several hundred years. When surgeons eventually commingled with physicians at medical schools, they wore long white coats — to emphasize to the world that they were not barbers, but were now part of an elite profession.

The elitism of physicians and surgeons provided great satisfaction to those with a medical degree, but it provided little comfort to patients. From the 1940s through the 1970s, the relationship between doctors and patients was distinctly hierarchical. Physicians presented themselves as the authoritative source of medical knowledge and did not expect to have their recommendations questioned. That is not to say that physicians lacked compassion. Indeed, if a patient could find a knowledgeable and kind medical doctor, the bond between the two was therapeutically powerful. Under these ideal circumstances, physicians could provide both comfort and a cure, and in return, patients provided gratitude and trust. That trust was the centerpiece of the therapeutic relationship.

However, over the past 30 years, much of the trust that grounded the patient-physician relationship has been shattered. Today, physicians often seem determined to spend as little time with patients as possible. The history and physical exam are perfunctory, and questions are frequently swatted away. All too often, physicians seem more interested in generating revenues than listening to patients. In response, admiration for physicians has waned; and patients have become suspicious of physicians’ motives when prescribing medications or recommending procedures. Adherence to medications is abysmally low.

Adherence is particularly problematic when people need to take multiple medications on a daily basis for years for an asymptomatic condition, such as hypertension. Hypertension is an important and treatable cardiovascular risk factor, but it is poorly controlled in the community — particularly in socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, who are particularly susceptible to hypertension and its sequelae and are also often mistrustful of their interactions with the medical profession.

How can this problem be resolved? Dr. Ronald Victor, a hypertension specialist, came up with a brilliant idea. What if we could identify a trusted individual within the underserved community who could be trained to measure blood pressures and provide emotional support for treatment? People would interact with this trusted individual on a regular basis to obtain repeated measurements of blood pressure and reinforce the use of medications.

Ron Victor’s solution was the barbershop. The barbershop plays a central role in the social fabric of black men in underserved communities. Men visit barbershops on a regular basis, and each has a relationship of trust with his barber, established through repeated (and often personal) conversations that transpire during the haircuts. As a result, the barber was perfectly positioned to measure the blood pressure of every client at regular visits and then could immediately connect those with hypertension to specially-trained pharmacists who would prescribe generic medications on site.

Dr. Victor and his colleagues carried out a cluster randomized trial to prove that his idea would work. A total of 319 black male patrons with hypertension were recruited from 52 black-owned barbershops. In half of the barbershops, men were assigned to the barber-pharmacist intervention, and in the other half, barbers simply encouraged lifestyle modification and doctor appointments. After 6 months, a blood-pressure level of less than 130/80 mm Hg was achieved among 64% of the participants in the intervention group versus only 12% of the participants in the control group. A truly dramatic result!

Why did Ron Victor’s idea work? The men paid attention to their blood pressure and took their medications because the treatment was based on a relationship of trust and transpired in a place of trust. By contrast, their hypertension was not controlled if the men were simply reminded to see their physicians.

The historical parallels are striking. About 1,000 years ago, barbers stepped up to provide essential medical care to underserved communities who had no access to academically-trained physicians. Now, barbers are stepping up again as trusted members of the community to link people to essential treatments that they would be reluctant to take if prescribed by a physician.

In many ways, the divide between those who provide care and those who need it has not changed over the past 1,000 years. Ten centuries ago, academically-trained physicians were not interested in treating commoners. In the current era, underserved populations do not trust physicians to care for them, perhaps because they believe that physicians are driven by self-interest. The patterns of disconnect a millennium apart are eerily similar.

I was privileged to know and work with Ron Victor when we were both at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (2004-2009). He was an exceptionally talented and heroic physician-scientist, whose brilliance, innovation, compassion, and humility were beyond words.

Ron Victor died in September 2018 in Los Angeles. His contributions to medicine are numerous, but perhaps most importantly, his work reminded us of the clinical and social consequences of medical elitism, for which he provided a path towards rectification. He is sorely missed.

Families list health care as a top financial problem: poll

Tal Axelrod noted that Health care costs are the top financial issue facing most American families, according to a new Gallup poll released Thursday.

About 17 percent of Americans said health care was their most significant financial issue, followed by 11 percent citing lack of money or low wages, 8 percent saying college expenses, 8 percent saying the cost of owning or renting a home and 8 percent saying taxes.

Health care costs were also the most significant financial issue for Americans in 2017 and nearly tied with lack of money or low wages for the top spot in 2018, according to the poll.

Health care costs are most likely to be the top concerns for older Americans, with 25 percent of adults between the ages of 50 and 64, and 23 percent of those aged 65 and older listing them as their top financial problems. Health care costs are tied with lack of money, college expenses and housing costs as the greatest financial worries among adults younger than 50.

Health care also ranked as the top financial concern for Americans among all income levels.

Health care costs, energy costs or oil and gas prices and lack of money or low wages are the only three issues to ever top the “most important family financial problem” question in the 48 times Gallup has asked it since 2005.

However, mentions of energy costs have declined as gas prices have gone down over the last decade.

Reflecting a time of high economic confidence, 20 percent of Americans say they do not have a “most important financial problem,” one of the highest responses to the question in the Gallup poll’s 14 years. That figure was only surpassed in February 2005, when 21 percent of Americans said they do not have a top financial issue.

Despite strong economic numbers, Democrats are likely to highlight health care issues in the 2020 race after focusing on the issue to win back the majority in the House in 2018.

“Even in generally good economic times, Americans still face significant personal financial challenges. Foremost among these are healthcare costs, which have been a consistent concern over time but currently stand above all other concerns. As such, healthcare will likely continue to be a major focus in national elections, including the 2020 presidential election,” Gallup concluded.

Medicare and healthcare reform

So, when did we really make inroads in healthcare reform? Things started to get more positive in 1952 when the President’s Commission on Health Needs of the Nation later that year echoed the Social Security Administration’s annual report recommended enactment of health insurance for social security beneficiaries and the recommendation. However, General Eisenhower, who was to take office made clear that he would not support government health insurance.

Despite the opposition by the Eisenhower administration things began to happen that eventually led to some major changes. In 1956 Congress enacted a permanent program of health care coverage for the dependents of servicemen (what has been described as a military “medicare” program) and at the same time began on the Social Security Act cash benefits to totally and permanently disabled persons over the age of fifty. The AMA opposed the amendment and the battle began between those supporting and opposing this extension of the social security program, which was viewed as a test of strength between physicians and health reformers.

Then when the disability insurance measure passed a Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Aime J. Forand, introduced a medicare bill just prior to adjournment of the House in late 1957.

Next was the number of public hearings on the bill, which were held in June of 1958 before the House Ways and Means Committee, which proved inconclusive. The number of national groups started lining up on either side of the issue. The AFL-CIO, the National Farmers Union, the Group Health Association of America, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Welfare Association, and the National Association of Social Workers all supported the bill. On the other side, the opponents were the National Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, the American Farm Bureau Association, the Health Insurance Association of America, and of course the AMA.

The fear of government cutting into the sales of insurance contracts as had been the case with government life insurance for servicemen during the First and Second World Wars and also with the passage of social security and its extensions. At the Forand bill hearings, the spokesman estimated the cost of the measure would exceed $2 billion per year, which was a tremendous underestimate.

However, because of the President’s opposition and the controversial nature of the Forand bill, the measure died in committee.  More hearings were held in 1959 with the same result as well as in 1960 where the Forand bill was able to obtain a vote on the bill in Committee with the result of a defeat again.

Despite the defeat after defeat, momentum in support of the proposal seemed to be increasing.

The next and most important stage of this historic saga is the one that brings the most changes and I will continue the discussion starting with House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson who both spoke and lobbied in favor of the bill which increased more support. First to come will be medical assistance through the states proposed by Wilbur Mills but not until John F. Kennedy was real progress made.

More next week.

The Conversation We Refuse to Have About War and Our Veterans, Hospital Billing and More on the History of Medicare.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 11.34.05 PMMemorial Day and the latest redeployment of soldiers and a carrier group to the Middle East is a perfect time to realize that Veterans bear the burden of war long after they leave the battlefield. It’s time for America to acknowledge it.

I went to the market

Where all the families shop

I pulled out my Ka-bar

And started to chop

Your left right left right left right kill

Your left right left right you know I will

-Military cadence

“You can shoot her…” the First Sergeant tells me. “Technically.”

Benjamin Sledge wrote reflecting, we’re standing on a rooftop watching black smoke pillars rise from a section of the city where two of my teammates are taking machine gun fire. Below, the small cluster of homes we’ve taken over is taking sporadic fire as well. He hands me his rifle with a high powered scope and says, “See for yourself.”

It’s the six-year-old girl who gives me flowers.

We call her the Flower Girl. She hangs around our combat outpost because we give her candy and hugs. She gives us flowers in return. What everyone else at the outpost knew (except for me, until that day) was that she also carried weapons for insurgents. Sometimes, in the midst of a firefight, she would carry ammunition across the street to unknown assailants.

According to the rules of engagement, we could shoot her. No one ever did. Not even when the First Sergeant morbidly reassured them on a rooftop in the middle of Iraq.

Other soldiers didn’t end up as lucky.

Sometimes they would find themselves paired off against a woman or teenager intent on killing them. So they’d pull the trigger. One of the sniper teams I worked with recounted an evening where he laid up a pile of people trying to plant an IED. It was a “turkey shoot,” he told me laughing. But then he got quiet and said, “Eventually they sent out a woman and this dumb kid.” I didn’t need to ask what happened. His voice said it all.

I often wonder what would have happened if the Flower Girl pointed a rifle at me, but I’m afraid I already know. The thought didn’t matter anyway. There was enough baggage from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq that coming home was full of uncertainty, anger, and confusion — and not, as I had been led to believe, warmth and safety.

“People only want to hear the Band of Brothers stories. The ones with guts and gusto! Not the one where you jam a gun in an old woman’s face or shoot a kid.” I pause, then add, “Look around the room for a second…”

Andy surveys the restaurant we’re in for a moment while I lean in with a sardonic half-smile.

“How many people can even relate to what we’ve been through? What would they rather hear about? How Starbucks is giving away free lattes and puppies this week? Or how a soldier feels guilty because he pulled a trigger, lost a friend, or did morally questionable things in war? Hell, I want to hear about the latte giveaway… especially if it’s pumpkin spice.”

This eases the tension and he smiles.

Andy and I feel like we don’t fit in. We met a few years ago at the church where he works, and where I volunteer. Of the thousands of people in the congregation, we are a handful of veterans. The veterans I meet are few and far between, and we typically end up running in the same circles.

How do you talk about morally reprehensible things that have left a bruise on your soul?

Years ago, Andy fought in the siege of Fallujah. We never readjusted to normal life after deployment. Instead, we found ourselves angry, depressed, violent and drinking a lot. We couldn’t talk to people about war or its cost because, well, how do you talk about morally reprehensible things that leave a bruise on your soul?

The guilt and moral tension many veterans feel is not necessarily post-traumatic stress disorder, but a moral injury — the emotional shame and psychological damage soldiers incur when we have to do things that violate our sense of right and wrong. Shooting a woman or child. Killing another human. Watching a friend die. Laughing about situations that would normally disgust us.

Because so few in America have served, those who have can no longer relate to their peers, friends, and family. We fear being viewed as monsters or lauded as heroes when we feel the things we’ve done were morally ambiguous or wrong.

The U.S. is currently engaged in the longest running war in the history of the United States. We are entering our 15th year in Afghanistan, and we still station troops in some Iraqi outposts. In World War II, 11.5% of U.S. citizens served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.86% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. Yet, during World War II, 10 million men were drafted, and over 2 million men were conscripted during Vietnam. Despite the length of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, there has been no draft, whereas, in times past, shorter wars cost us millions of young men. Instead, less than 1% of the population has borne this burden, with repeated tours continually deteriorating our troops’ mental health.

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 8.13.38 PM

The gap between citizens and soldiers is growing ever wider. During WWII, the entire nation’s focus was on purchasing war bonds and defeating the Nazis. Movie previews and radio shows gave updates on the war effort. Today’s citizens, however, are quickly amused by the latest Kardashian scandal on TV, which gives no reminder of the men and women dying overseas. Because people are more concerned about enjoying their freedoms and going about their day to day lives, veterans can feel like outcasts. As though nothing we did matter to a country that asked us to go.

This is part of the problem with a soldier’s alienation. People quickly point out that we weren’t forced to join the military and fight in a war. We could have stayed home. The counterpoint is that, because the U.S. has now transitioned to an all-volunteer force, those opposed to war should be thanking their lucky stars that volunteers bear the burden of combat.

Additionally, regardless of whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Communist, Liberal, Conservative, Conscientious Objector, or Pacifist, we all sent the soldier overseas. Because we live in a democracy, we vote to put men and women in charge of governing our affairs, and those elected representatives send troops overseas. We may have voted for someone else, but it does not change the fact that we’ve put ourselves under the governance of the United States. When you live in a country, you submit yourself to their governing body and laws — even if you don’t vote.

The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place.

By shirking responsibility, civilians only alienate our soldiers more. The moral quagmire we face on the battlefield continues to dump shame and guilt onto our shoulders while they enjoy the benefits of passing the buck and asking, “Whose fault is it, really?”

On March 3, 1986, 11 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Metallica released their critically acclaimed album Master of Puppets. On the album, a song entitled “Disposable Heroes” tells the story of a young man used as cannon fodder in the midst of war and the terror that enveloped him on the battlefield. Three years later, Metallica released “One,” a song about a soldier who lost all his limbs and waits helplessly for death. The song won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

In an odd twist, both songs are amazingly popular among members of the United States military. During my time at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, we had an entire platoon that could practically sing every last lyric to “One.” In Afghanistan and Iraq, these songs were on playlists made to get soldiers amped before missions. We sang songs about dying on behalf of the people or coming home a vegetable. As crazy as that sounds, we sang those songs because they felt true. And they felt true because of the conversation we refuse to have as a country.

As Amy Amidon, a Navy psychologist stated in an interview regarding moral injury:

Civilians are lucky that we still have a sense of naiveté about what the world is like. The average American means well, but what they need to know is that these [military] men and women are seeing incredible evil, and coming home with that weighing on them and not knowing how to fit back into society.

Most of the time, like the conversation Andy and I had, people only want to hear the heroics. They don’t want to know what the war is costing our sons and daughters in regard to mental health, and this only makes the gap wider. In order for our soldiers to heal, society needs to own up to its part in sending us to war. The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place. Citing a 2004 study, David Wood explains that the “grief over losing a combat buddy was comparable, more than 30 years later, to that of a bereaved spouse whose partner had died in the previous six months.” The soul wounds we experience are much greater. Society needs to come alongside us rather than pointing us to the VA.

Historically, many cultures performed purification rites for soldiers returning home from war. These rites purified a broad spectrum of warriors, from the Roman Centurion to the Navajo to the Medieval Knight. Perhaps most fascinating is that soldiers returning home from the Crusades were instructed to observe a period of purification that involved the Christian church and their community. Though the church had sanctioned the Crusades, they viewed taking another life as morally wrong and damaging to their knights’ souls.

No one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier.

Today, churches typically put veterans on stage to praise our heroics or speak of a great battle we’ve overcome while drawing spiritual parallels for their congregation. What they don’t do is talk about the moral weight we bear on their behalf.

Dr. Jonathan Shay, the clinical psychologist who coined the term moral injury, argues that in order for the soldier and society to find healing, we must come together and bear the moral responsibility of what soldiers have done in our name.

Whether you agree or disagree with the war, you must remember that these are our fellow brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, flesh and blood. As veterans, we are desperate to reconnect with a world we feel no longer understands us. As a country, we must try and find common ground. We’re not asking you to agree with our actions, but to help us bear the burden of carrying them on behalf of the country you live in. A staggering 22 veterans take their lives every day, and I can guarantee part of that is because of the citizen/soldier divide.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could help our men and women in uniform bear the weight of this burden we carry? We should rethink exactly what war costs us and what we’ve asked of those who’ve fought on our behalf. In the end, no one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier. As General Douglas MacArthur eloquently put it:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

And what do we offer our Veterans for their healthcare when they come home? A truly horrid attempt at a government-run healthcare system, which now is pushing to get our Vets to private healthcare programs!!

Surprise! House, Senate Tackle Hospital Billing

Senate bill also addresses provider directories, drug maker competition

Our friend Joyce Frieden wrote that responses are generally positive so far regarding draft bipartisan legislation on surprise billing and high drug prices released Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“We commend this bipartisan effort to address several of the key factors associated with rising health care costs,” Richard Kovacs, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology, said in a statement.

“We agree with and support many of the principles outlined by the HELP Committee,” Matt Eyles, president, and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurers, said in a statement. “We agree patients should be protected from surprise medical bills, and that policy solutions to this problem should ensure premiums and out-of-pocket costs do not go up for patients and consumers.”

The HELP Committee draft bill, known as the Lower Health Care Costs Act, would:

  •  Require that patients pay only in-network charges when they receive emergency treatment at out-of-network facilities, and when they are treated at an in-network facility by an out-of-network provider that they did not have a say in choosing/
  • Ban pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from “spread pricing” — charging employers, health insurance plans, and patients more for a drug than the PBM paid to acquire the drug.
  • Require insurance companies to keep provider directories up to date so patients can easily know if a provider is in-network.
  • Require healthcare facilities to provide a summary of services when a patient is discharged from a hospital to make it easier to track bills, and require hospitals to send all bills within 30 business days, to prevent unexpected bills many months aftercare.
  • Ensure that makers of branded drugs, including insulin products, are not gaming the system to prevent generics or biosimilars from coming to market
  • Eliminate a loophole that allows the first company to submit a generic drug in a particular class to enjoy a monopoly
  • Give patients full electronic access to their own health claims information.

Although the patient will only need to pay in-network charges when receiving service from an out-of-network provider, that in-network amount won’t pay for the entire out-of-network bill, so lawmakers still must decide how to deal with the rest of the out-of-network charge. The committee says it’s considering several options, including having insurance companies pay the out-of-network providers the median contracted rate for the same services provided in that geographic area, and, for bills over $750, allowing the insurer or the provider to initiate an independent dispute resolution process. The insurer and provider would each submit a best final offer and the arbiter would make a final, binding decision on the price to be paid.

The bill’s provisions “are common-sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket,” committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “We hope to move it through the health committee in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law.” The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the HELP Committee’s ranking member.

Over on the House side, legislators also released a bipartisan bill Thursday on surprise billing. This bill, known as the Protect People From Surprise Medical Bills Act, mirrors the Senate bill in prohibiting balance billing to patients receiving emergency care out of network or anticipated care at in-network facilities that use out-of-network providers without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

The patient would pay in-network rates in those situations, and then the health plan would have 30 days to pay the provider at a “commercially reasonable rate.” If either party is dissatisfied with that rate, the plan and doctor would settle on a payment amount; if that didn’t work, the parties could go to arbitration.

This legislation “will ban these bills and keep families out of the middle by using a fair, evidence-based, independent, and neutral arbitration system to resolve payment disputes between insurers and providers,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-Calif.), the bill’s main sponsor, said in a statement. “As an emergency doctor, patients come first and must be protected.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include representatives Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), Van Taylor (R-Texas), Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.), Larry Bucshon, MD (R-Ind.), and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). The group expects to introduce the final legislation in the next few weeks.

The American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA) praised the House bill. “The approach to addressing the problem of surprise medical bills outlined by Congressmen Ruiz and Roe is a fair proposal that puts patients first by holding them harmless from unanticipated bills,” ASA president Linda Mason, MD, said in a statement. “The proposal doesn’t pick winners or losers but instead places the dispute where it should be — between the health care provider and the insurance company.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) also liked the bill. “The outline released today represents a common-sense approach that protects patients from out-of-network bills that their insurance companies won’t pay while providing for a fair process to resolve disputes between physicians and hospitals and insurers,” AMA president Patrice Harris, MD, said in a statement.

Now, back to Medicare and the history of healthcare reform. Next, there was a convening of a National Health Conference, which had earlier approved a report of its Technical Committee on Medical Care, urging a huge extension of federal control over health matters. Sound familiar? Here we are in 2019 urging more control of the federal government over health care again in the form of a government-run health care system as either Obamacare or Medicare for All. The conference in 1938 opened with a statement by President Roosevelt describing the ultimate responsibility of the government for the health of its citizens.

The “technical committee” advised the Conference recommended that the federal government enact legislation in several areas:

  1. An expansion of the public health and maternal and child health programs including the original Social Security Act.
  2. A system of grants to the various states for direct medical care programs.
  3. Federal grants for hospital construction.
  4. A disability insurance program that would insure against loss of wages during illness.
  5. Grants to the states for the purpose of financing compulsory statewide health insurance programs.

The total costs of the program were about $850 million tax-funded and now compare this to the cost of Medicare for All at about $34 trillion. We should have adopted Medicare for All then. We would have saved a boatload of money.

It was interesting to learn that in order to placate the majority of medical practitioners the Committee urged the adoption of these programs on the state level. The reason why physicians opposed a program on the national level was the fear of becoming government salaried employees with not much to say in the administration of the program.

As predicted in 1943 when Senator Robert Wagner of New York, together with Senator James Murray of Montana and Representative John Dingle of Michigan, introduced a bill, which called for compulsory national health insurance/ mandatory health insurance as well as a federal system of unemployment insurance, broader coverage and extended benefits for old-age insurance, temporary and permanent disability payments underwritten by the federal government, unemployment benefits for veterans attempting to reenter civilian life, a federal employment service, and a restructuring of grants-in-aid to the states for public assistance.

Roosevelt wasn’t against the bill but he wasn’t prepared to endorse a bill quite so sweeping and so the bill dies in committee. But interestingly Roosevelt wanted to save the issue of national health care for the next presidential campaign in 1944. During the campaign he then called for an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which would include “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” and in his budget message of January 1945 he announced his intention of extending social security to include medical care.

However, Roosevelt died in April 1945 and then Harry Truman took over the presidency committed to most of the same domestic policies as Roosevelt. But then came politics and party and the attempts to enact a health insurance bill during the Truman era came to a definite end with the election of 1950 where a number of the proponents of the mandatory national health insurance were defeated as well as a vigorous and costly campaign by the American Medical Association which was against compulsory health insurance associating the plan in the mind of the public with notions of socialism. Sound familiar?

More next week!

Let us all thank our veterans, our heroes, our real Avengers for all that they have done to assure us all of living in such a great free country. Happy Memorial Day!!

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