Category Archives: Health care budget

Suicide Rate Up 33% in Less than 20 years, Yet Funding Lags Behind Other Top Killers!

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First let us all take a minute to remember Past President 41, George H.W. Bush, probably one of the most respected past presidents. is experience, knowledge, and experience was amazing and so welcomed and useful to run a country. This former president has inspired us all with his toughness mixed with judiciousness and kindness. We could all learn much from 41! Now a moment of silence…………………..

Suicide rates are up 33% in the U.S., yet funding lags behind that of all other top causes of death — leaving suicide research in its “infancy.”

More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, contributing to an overall decline in U.S. life expectancy. Since 1999, the suicide rate has climbed 33 percent.

Americans are more than twice as likely to die by their own hands, of their own will, than by someone else’s. But while homicides spark vigils and protests, entering into headlines, presidential speeches, and police budgets, suicides don’t. Still shrouded in stigma, many suicides go unacknowledged save for the celebrities – Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain – punctuating the unrelenting rise in suicide deaths with a brief public outcry.

And research suggests our ways of living may be partly to blame, in ways that don’t bode well for the future.

Alcohol and substance abuse are risk factors, and both are increasing. Isolationraises the risk, and nearly half of Americans say they sometimes or always feel alone. Increasing smartphone use has been linked to suicidal thoughts in teens. Even climate change has been found to have roughly the same effect on increasing suicides as an economic recession.

The leading causes of death have declined since 1999

The Suicide rate has increased more the 33%

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 10.16.49 PM“We’re trying to reduce suicide death rates in the face of a culture that’s ever more fascinated with violence, that has a bunch of opiates around left and right, where family structure isn’t getting more cohesive and neither is community structure,” said Thomas Joiner, a leading suicide researcher. “That’s a lot to fight against.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and is often called a public health emergency.

But money to research and combat suicide continues to lag behind other leading killers and even non-fatal conditions. The National Institutes of Health, the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, spent $68 million on suicide last year. It spent nearly five times that studying sleep and 10 times more on breast cancer, which killed fewer people in 2016.

“What I’m just painfully aware of is that all of the areas where the top 10 causes of death in the United States have gone down have received significantly more attention,” said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “There’s been so much more put into every one of those causes of death than suicide. … If you didn’t do anything for heart disease and you didn’t do anything for cancer, then you’d see those rates rise, too.”

NIH officials say they do not expressly budget by disease, and research funding in other categories could affect suicide without being suicide-specific. The NIH spent $2.7 billion on mental health, for example.

“A large portion of the research is not disease-oriented but based on human biology. For instance, if we’re studying brain function, it might be pertinent to suicide, but we might not necessarily categorize it as suicide,” said Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research. “Same with depression, which obviously is linked to suicide.”

Still, many in the field wish for dedicated spending. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, advocates for $150 million a year for suicide research, still far less than the $592 million the NIH allocated to fight kidney disease, the nation’s No. 9 killer.

“We are happy that other health conditions are getting the money. … It’s not an either/or,” Harkavy-Friedman said. But “the cost of suicide is enormous, and people don’t realize it.”

The cost — in dollars, in suffering, in science

Suicides and suicide attempts cost $93.5 billion a year, most of it in lost productivity, a 2016 study estimated. And that’s nothing compared with the cost in human lives and suffering.

Joiner recognized the human toll 30 years ago – even before his own father died by suicide.

As a graduate student in psychology in 1990, Joiner had begun focusing on depression. That summer, his father, a former Marine sergeant turned software pioneer, took his own life.

“He was a successful, visionary, ambitious, intelligent man,” Joiner said. “And he had an illness that ended up being fatal. That’s how I see him.”

Joiner, now a psychology professor and clinician at Florida State University, said his father’s death helped persuade him to make studying suicide his life’s work.

“I’d already inclined toward that decision, and this only made it starker. I already knew this was a problem,” he said. “It was a misery for the bereaved, and that’s not to mention the even more acute suffering suicidal people go through in the hours, days, months before their death – just a lot of suffering all around. And it wasn’t being studied then.”

It’s studied now, but given the size of the problem, we still know surprisingly little about it.

“I think that we’ve told the public that we know more about suicide than we know,” said April Foreman, a clinician on the American Association of Suicidology board of directors.

When someone dies by suicide, people and the media trot out a series of “maybes,” she said: Maybe it was mental illness. Maybe it was losing a job or getting divorced.

“Maybe it was not getting a phone call at just the right moment. Maybe. But maybe something was happening in their brains that in 20 years we’ll understand,” she said. “We tell stories about bullying or sadness like it’s a fairy tale. There’s probably real science there, and we just haven’t decided to treat it like that. … We’re telling stories about why people kill themselves that isn’t scientifically based, that are very inaccurate, and are just the easier stories to tell because it’s much harder to say we don’t know.”

Joiner compares suicide research today to “cancer research about 100 years ago.”

“People were so scared of the topic they wouldn’t even say the word,” but cancer research has since made great strides, he said. “I think the same thing will happen with suicide research, but that’s decades in the future. Right now we’re in our infancy.”

Suicide studies reflect the broad sweep of the current science. Some focus on genetic factors involved in maintaining brain circuits and neurotransmitters, biomarkers of at-risk populations, brain PET imaging and medications; others focus on psychotherapies, preventing substance abuse and school nurse interventions.

The effectiveness of prevention efforts has been difficult to determine as suicide rates increase, said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The challenge is there are various suicide prevention programs, and we’re still learning a lot about what works and doesn’t work,” Sperling said. “There’s not a lot of evidence we’ve been very effective at it.”

Scientific knowledge is limited. Public knowledge is wrong.

Even key discoveries that enjoy broad support among researchers have yet to percolate into the public consciousness. 

Public health experts say: Suicide is preventable.

People think: Suicide is inevitable.

Consciously or unconsciously, many Americans write off those who seriously consider killing themselves as hopeless causes, unreachable. A study in 2017 showed that people are skeptical of a suicidal person’s ability to recover – the idea that even if we stop the person today, we won’t tomorrow.

“If you think once someone’s suicidal that they’re just going to die, then it doesn’t make sense to invest money in that,” Joiner said of a common point of “ignorance.”

Science tells us that isn’t true. So does common sense. Survivors of suicide attempts themselves are walking proof.

In 2016, nearly 45,000 died by suicide, but the number who attempted is almost 29 times that — meaning more than one and a quarter-million survived. Though a previous suicide attempt makes the risk of dying by suicide higher, it is just one of many risk factors. Nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt will not go on to die by suicide later, according to studies that have tracked survivors over decades.

Cliff Bauman, a National Guardsman who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted suicide once, but when he faced a crisis again he was able to get through it by using learned coping skills, including being aware of his triggers and having people he can trust.

“I made the conscious decision (after my attempt) to go back into counseling,” he said. “(I) was opening up about why I did what I did and how it got to that point, and I felt suddenly … the darkness doesn’t seem so dark.”

Another misconception is that suicidal ideation is rare. But one in 33 American adults seriously thought about suicide in 2016, the commonness of the thoughts belied by how rarely they’re discussed.

“Suicide is reflective of other issues that we don’t want to talk about,” said Adam Swanson, a senior prevention specialist at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. “We don’t want to talk about the fact that people can’t afford to pay electric bills. … We don’t want to talk about the … pain people carry.”

Survivors are often the first to distinguish that it’s not a desire to die that drove their attempt but a desire to escape the pain. It’s something Shelby Rowe, a PTSD and suicide attempt survivor who works in suicide prevention knows firsthand.

“If I could go back to talk to myself that night when all I could hear in my head was ‘You can’t live like this anymore, you can’t live like this anymore’ … I would have said: ‘It’s OK, you’re right. It is really awful right now, and you can’t live like this anymore, but please live, because there is another way. There is another beautiful life waiting for you.'”

Mental and emotional pain is less acknowledged – both by doctors and the public – than physical pain, Foreman noted.

“It is OK for someone to suffer from wanting to kill themselves and to suffer from trying to kill themselves or even die that way, but it’s not OK to feel sick with the flu for a few days,” she said.

Stymied by stigma

The lack of compassion people feel for those who die by suicide is reflected in the lack of funding. Stigma goes beyond misconceptions.

“Stigma is about fear, and suicide is associated with our most primal fears – fear of death … fears of traumatic loss and our fears of mental illness,” Draper said.

Fear and discomfort also can be expressed as anger.

Retired California Highway Patrol officer Kevin Briggs said he has heard drivers shout “Go ahead and jump!” to people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The taunts reflect a disdain some people feel toward those who attempt suicide, whom they see as “weak” or “crazy,” a 2017 study found. Though mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is mentally ill has suicidal thoughts, and not everyone who attempts suicide is mentally ill.

But even statistics on the relationship between mental illness and suicide are incomplete “because we’re not funding it,” Harkavy-Friedman said.

“Every year we go to (Capitol) Hill and we advocate at the state level for fully funding the National Violent Death Reporting System,” she said.

The tracking system, now in place in just 40 states, helps health experts and law enforcement officials identify common circumstances associated with specific types of death, including suicide. Suicide can be especially hard to track without a strong system in place because family members may try to cover it up or pressure officials not to enter “suicide” into records.

In the past, even in clear cases of suicide, families were “not telling anybody for years because they thought they would be blamed or stigmatized,” Harkavy-Friedman said.

Stigma is not only an obstacle to accurate reporting, but it also has made politicians shy away. It’s part of why suicide wasn’t seriously studied or even discussed until the past few decades.

“Twenty years ago when I worked on (Capitol) Hill, you wouldn’t find suicide prevention on federal documents. It wasn’t talked about in the Department of Defense or in the general public. There were no researchers. There was no national strategy for suicide prevention,” said Jerry Reed, a doctor on the executive committee for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

That changed in 1998 when Congress declared suicide a national problem, Reed said.

“Since then, the country has caught up to the significance of this issue, but it still has a long way to go.”

Congressional support is key because it affects the overall NIH budget. Congress also can pass special provisions regarding certain issues, as it has for Alzheimer’s and opioid abuse.

“Congress has made that a clear priority,” Lauer said.

Where’s the hope? A little bit in a lot of places

Despite challenges, experts agree our understanding of suicide is light-years ahead of where it was just a generation ago. And suicide prevention is at “unprecedented” levels, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.

Therapy

Through interventions, including medication and therapy, Joiner says he sees suicidal patients at his clinic go from “pretty desperate, pretty intent to die” to “turn(ing) a corner – and usually it’s shockingly quick.”

Joiner theorizes that suicide results from a combination of factors: feeling like a burden, isolation, and having lethal means and a lack of normal fear of death.

Short-circuit one of that – isolation, for instance – and you might stop someone from hurting himself.

“It stands to reason if you reconnect a little bit then risk should abate, so we just arrange within the context of people’s day-to-day lives small increased doses of social connection,” Joiner said. “It’s a very simple behavioral idea, but it seems to work if people do it.”

Asking a friend to lunch would be a great example, Joiner said, but some patients don’t have a friend. They might start simply with “show up to this community event and stay for 10 minutes.”

Of course, some people are chronically suicidal, but Joiner and others note that they can also feel relief through targeted therapy.

Shear Avory, a transgender person who sees a therapist (not associated with Joiner), has lived with daily suicidal ideation and continues to hold on to hope.

“For so long I’ve been stuck in just wanting everything to disappear, from wanting the trauma to go away,” said Avory, whose traumatic childhood included foster homes and conversion therapy. “I’m still alive. I’m still here. That feels like an accomplishment. … Healing is not a linear experience.”

Low-cost changes to health care

With unlimited funding, Joiner said he’d put resources toward practical things proven to work, such as “means safety” – which can include everything from putting pedestrian barriers on bridges to locking up guns and medicine cabinets – and training doctors to identify at-risk patients.

Training primary care doctors and other medical staff is the foundation of the Zero Suicide program.

Zero Suicide founder Mike Hogan said that though suicide is incredibly complex, determining who is at risk can actually be very simple: Once patients are in a health care setting, ask them. Studies have shown that asking people if they’re thinking about suicide does not plant the idea in their heads.

“If people are asked, they often really want to get it off their chest, and they want some help, and it opens the door to help,” Hogan said. “A little bit does a lot: asking, safety planning, reducing lethal means and reaching out … turns out to be quite powerful.”

A 2014 study found that 83% of those who die by suicide saw a health care provider in the year before their death. That’s particularly true for older white men, who account for most suicides.

“We can’t predict when they’ll die, just like we can’t predict when someone might die of a heart attack,” Hogan said. “But we can predict who needs a little help just like someone might need help because their lipid levels are high.”

Hogan said two nonprofit organizations that offer mental health treatments – Centerstone, which spans multiple states, and the Institute for Family Health in upstate New York – saw roughly 60 percent reductions in suicides after adopting Zero Suicide.

Becky Stoll, vice president for crisis and disaster management at Centerstone, said one of the biggest improvements has been the methodical approach to plugging holes in care. For instance, coordination between the suicide prevention committee and their IT department resulted in a program that changed the font color of high-risk patients if they missed appointments, which would then alert them to start calling the patient. If the patient didn’t answer, they’d start calling their friends and family. It was a simple change and it saved lives. In one case, a man’s wife called him after she had received calls from Centerstone. He had been standing on a bridge at the time.

“I’ve been in the field since the late ’80s, and I’ve not seen the enthusiasm the results that we’re seeing now,” Stoll said. “We don’t win every time, but we win a lot. When we know better, we have to do better. And embedding these frameworks into systems of care … it really does seem like we can have an impact. It seems like that’s catching wildfire across the U.S. … (We need to) make people feel they have lives worth living.”

Colorado has embraced Zero Suicide as one tool in its fight. But advocates are more closely watching the newly formed Colorado-National Collaborative, a partnership aimed at reducing suicides thereby 20percent by 2024.

Through a combination of funding from state and federal sources and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention went from an annual budget of $536,000 about 18 months ago to $2.6 million as of Sept. 30. If the partnership between scientists and public health professionals proves effective in the state with the eighth-worst suicide rate in the country, it could be adopted nationwide.

Removing the means

Colorado and other states also have joined the Gun Shop Project, in which gun store owners and firing range instructors distribute suicide prevention materials as part of an effort to reach people who might be looking for a tool to commit suicide.

Guns were used in 23,000 of the 45,000 suicide deaths in 2016.

These interventions focus on the “means,” or how suicides are completed.

“We may not understand suicidality very well … (but) we know people don’t die of feeling suicidal – they die from a gunshot wound, they die from a medication overdose. Just like you don’t die by (a driver) having poor depth perception, you die from them striking the car and your head hitting the windshield,” Foreman said.

‘On the cusp’?

Many in the suicide research and prevention field describe it as being on a precipice – the science is not where it needs to be, but it shows promise; the funding is not where it needs to be, but it has increased. On the other side, they hope, are the results: a nation in which fewer lives are lost to suicide or tormented by suicidal thoughts.

“With suicide, I hope that we’re on a cusp of a movement,” Foreman said. “Where the people who have survived suicide attempts, the people who live with chronic suicidality, the families, the loved ones, the people who are left, that they get up and say: This suffering is the same as someone who has died by HIV … or cancer. It deserves the same quality science.”

Suicide, at a 50-year peak, pushes down US life expectancy

Mike Stobbe wrote that Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

The increase partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But it’s deaths in younger age groups—particularly middle-aged people—that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said.

“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said in a statement.

The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little under 45,000 the year before.

A GENERAL DECLINE

For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. Now it’s trending the other way: It fell in 2015, stayed level in 2016, and declined again last year, the CDC said.

The nation is in the longest period of a generally declining life expectancy since the late 1910s, when World War I and the worst flu pandemic in modern history combined to kill nearly 1 million Americans. Life expectancy in 1918 was 39.

Aside from that, “we’ve never really seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.

In the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer death rate fell in 2017. Meanwhile, there were increases in seven others—suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and unintentional injuries.

An underlying factor is that the death rate for heart disease—the nation’s No. 1 killer—has stopped falling. In years past, declines in heart disease deaths were enough to offset increases in some other kinds of death, but no longer, Anderson said.

(The CDC’s numbers do sometimes change. This week, CDC officials said they had revised their life expectancy estimate for 2016 after some additional data came in.)

WHAT’S DRIVING IT?

CDC officials did not speculate about what’s behind declining life expectancy, but Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness.

Financial struggles, a widening income gap, and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested. “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.

VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the electorate conducted by The Associated Press, found voters expressing pessimistic views about the future: About half of voters nationwide said they expect life in America for the next generation to be worse than it is today. Nearly a quarter said life would be better and about as many said it would be the same. VoteCast surveyed more than 115,000 voters nationwide as Americans cast ballots in this year’s midterm elections.

Drug overdose deaths also continued to climb, surpassing 70,000 last year, in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. The death rate rose 10 percent from the previous year, smaller than the 21 percent jump seen between 2016 and 2017.

That’s not quite cause for celebration, said Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University.

“Maybe it’s starting to slow down, but it hasn’t turned around yet,” Rowe said. “I think it will take several years.”

Accidental drug overdoses account for more than a third of the unintentional injury deaths, and intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a CDC injury researcher.

OTHER FINDINGS

The CDC figures are based mainly on a review of 2017 death certificates. The life expectancy figure is based on current death trends and other factors.

The agency also said:

—A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average. An American born in 2015 or 2016 was expected to live about a month longer, and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.

—The suicide rate was 14 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s the highest since at least 1975.

—Montana had the highest suicide rate, and New York the lowest. Suicide rates were nearly twice as high in rural counties than in urban ones.

—The percentage of suicides due to drug overdose has been inching downward.

—Deaths from flu and pneumonia rose by about 6 percent. The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, and some of the deaths from early in that season appeared in the new death dates.

—West Virginia was once again the state with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths. The CDC did not release state rates for suicides.

—Death rates for heroin, methadone, and prescription opioid painkillers were flat. But deaths from the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins continued to soar in 2017.

—Gun deaths rose for the third year in a row, to nearly 40,000. That’s about 1,000 more than in 2016. They had been hovering around 33,500 deaths until a few years ago.

Like in other years, most gun deaths were suicides. Earlier CDC reports have noted increasing rates of suicide by gun. In 2017, it about 60 percent of them were by gun.

More next week as I discuss the discussion that we need to have and those who are left behind and suffer the most.

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

 

 

 

What the New Democratic House majority might actually pass on health care; and It Looks Like VA Healthcare Maybe Improving!

 

 

18670832_1206383419491315_6469395384583311089_nI had prepared two posts for tonight and wanted to hold off on the recent shootings until next week as we digest what the effect really is in our country and the future strategies. Now let’s discuss the effect of the election and in looking at the House Democrats, who have a lot to figure out on their signature issue.

Healthcare carried House Democrats to victory on Election Day. But what now?

Remember my past post reminding the Republicans the importance of healthcare in the midterm elections? We, it looks like it was an important factor in the outcomes of the “wave”. Dylan Scott spent some time looking at his prediction of what the new majority will bring to our health care system. In interviews this fall with half a dozen senior House Democratic aides, health care lobbyists, and progressive wonks, it became clear the party is only in the nascent stages of figuring out its next steps on health care.

The new House Democratic majority knows what it opposes. They want to stop any further efforts by Republicans or the Trump administration to roll back and undermine the Affordable Care Act or overhaul Medicaid and Medicare.

But Democrats are less certain about an affirmative health care agenda. Most Democrats campaigned on protecting preexisting conditions, but the ACA has already done that. Medicare-for-all is energizing the party’s left wing, but nobody expects a single-payer bill to start moving through the House. Drug prices offer the rare opportunity for bipartisan work with Senate Republicans and the Trump White House, but it is also a difficult problem with few easy policy solutions — certainly not any silver bullet that Democrats could pull out of the box and pass on day one, or even month one, of the next Congress.

Winning a House majority to ensure Obamacare’s safety is an important turning point after so many years in which health care hurt Democrats much more than it helped.

But the path forward for the party on their signature issue is surprisingly undefined.

The likely first item on the Democratic agenda: Obamacare stabilization

Democrats do have some ideas, of course. Democratic aides emphasized the various investigations they could launch into Trump’s health department, not only looking into any efforts by the White House to sabotage Obamacare but also focusing on more obscure issues like Medicare payment rates.

But wonky oversight inquiries probably aren’t the big-ticket item that new Democratic members and their voters are looking for, especially heading into the 2020 presidential election.

After campaigning in defense of Obamacare, warning about Republicans rolling back preexisting conditions protections and the Trump administration’s sabotage of the health care law, a bill to stabilize the Obamacare insurance markets would be the obvious first item for the new Democratic majority’s agenda.

Several sources pointed to a bill by Democratic Reps. Richard Neal (MA), Frank Pallone (NJ), and Bobby Scott (VA) — who have been serving as the top Democrats on leading health care-related committees — as the likely starting point. The plan is designed to build off Obamacare’s infrastructure to expand federal assistance while reversing the recent Republican efforts to undermine the law.

That bill would expand Obamacare’s premium subsidies, both by extending federal assistance to more people in lifting the current eligibility cutoff and by increasing the size of the tax credits people receive. It would also bolster the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that people with lower incomes receive to reduce their out-of-pocket costs while extending eligibility for those subsidies to people with higher incomes.

The Pallone-Neal-Scott bill would reverse the Trump administration’s recent regulations intended to funnel more people to insurance plans that are not required to meet all of Obamacare’s rules for preexisting conditions. It would also pump more money back into enrollment outreach, cut by the Trump administration, and establish a new program to compensate insurers for high-cost patients, with the hope of keeping premiums down.

Two things stick out about this bill: It would be the most robust expansion of Obamacare since the law first passed, and it is just narrow enough that, with a few sweeteners for Senate Republicans, it could conceivably have a chance to pass. Democrats are waiting to see how the GOP majority in the upper chamber reacts to losing the House.

“Undoing sabotage and bringing stabilization to the ACA markets, that’s something we should really be thinking about,” one House Democratic aide told me. “It depends on what kind of mood the Republicans are in. Maybe they’ll say that actually now that the tables are turned, we should probably sit down.”

Senate Republicans and Democrats did come very close to a narrow, bipartisan deal — it wasn’t even as robust as the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill — to stabilize Obamacare in 2017. It fell apart, ostensibly after a tiff over abortion-related provisions, but that near miss would be the reason for any optimism about a bipartisan deal on the divisive health care law.

Then again Senate Republicans might have no interest in an Obamacare compromise after gaining some seats. Democrats would still likely work on stabilization to send a message to voters on health care ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Shoring up Obamacare is a good start, but what next?

In the case, the Pallone-Neal-Scott bill might be a nice starting point — no Democrat really disagrees about whether they should help the law work better in the short term — but it still lacks any truly ambitious provisions. It is just about as narrowly tailored as an Obamacare stabilization bill offered by Democrats could be, a fact that aides and activists will privately concede.

Missing are any of the bolder policy proposals animating the left. Not even a hint of Medicare-for-all single-payer health care, which is or isn’t a surprise, depending on how you look at it.

Medicare-for-all is quickly becoming orthodoxy among many in the party’s progressive grassroots, and a single-payer bill proposed this Congress in the House (similar to the one offered by Bernie Sanders over in the Senate) has 123 sponsors.

But House Democratic leaders probably don’t want to take up such a potentially explosive issue too soon after finally clawing back a modicum of power in Trump’s Washington.

Still, the current stabilization bill doesn’t even include a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in, the rebranded public option that never made it into Obamacare but would allow Americans to voluntarily join one of the major government insurance programs. It is an idea that even the more moderate Democratic members tend to support, and polls have found three-fourths of Americans think a Medicare buy-in is a good idea.

The plain truth is House Democrats haven’t reached a consensus yet about what they want to do to cover more Americans. They agree Obamacare was an important first step, and they agree the status quo is unacceptable. But the exact mechanism for achieving those goals — single-payer, a robust public option, or simply a buffed-up version of Obamacare — is still very much up for debate.

“People will want to do something, but any further action is going to be a consensus-building process,” a senior House Democratic aide told me. “Democrats have lots of different ideas on how to continue working to reduce the uninsured.”

That is all well and good, but few issues are exciting the Democratic grassroots right now like Medicare-for-all. During the midterm campaigns, Democratic candidates and even grassroots leaders were happy to let those words mean whatever voters wanted them to mean. For some people, it meant single-payer; for others; it might mean a Medicare buy-in or something more limited.

The unreservedly progressive members who were just elected to Congress will only wait so long before they start pressing Democratic leaders to take more aggressive steps to pick up one of their top campaign issues. That pressure will only intensify as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up and Democrats debate what kind of platform they should run on as they seek to take back the White House.

For now, Democrats have tried to put off a difficult debate and focus on what unites them. But the debate is still coming.

The riddle of high drug prices still needs to be solved too

Even with Obamacare and preexisting conditions mobilizing Democratic voters this year, prescription drug prices remain a top concern for many Americans. That’s another area where Democrats know they want to act but don’t know yet exactly what they can or should do.

The issue could be an opening for serious dealmaking: Trump himself has attacked big pharma since his presidential campaign. His administration has actually launched some interesting initiatives to rein in drug costs — approving a record number of generic drugs, trying to even the playing field between America and foreign countries — that have some policy wonks intrigued, even if the impact is still to be determined.

Democrats have mostly stuck to slamming Trump for feigning to act on drug prices while cozying up to the drug industry. But it’s a top priority for both parties, and there could be some room for compromise. One progressive policy wonk thought a drug prices bill might actually be the first Democratic priority. It helps that drug prices are a populist issue that the new House majority might really be able to pass a bill on.

But first, Democrats have to figure out what exactly they are for — and what would actually make a difference.

The rallying cry for Democrats on drug prices has been letting Medicare directly negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, a proposal that Trump also embraced as a candidate, though he has since softened as president. The problem is the Congressional Budget Office doesn’t think Medicare negotiations would save any money unless the government is willing to deny seniors coverage for certain medications. But adding such a provision would surely invite attacks that Democrats are depriving people’s grandparents of the medications they need.

There are a lot of levers to pull to try to reduce drug prices: the patent protections that pharma companies receive for new drugs, the mandated discounts when the government buys drugs for Medicare and Medicaid, existing hurdles to getting generic drugs approved, the tax treatment of drug research and development. Lawmakers and the public view pharmacy benefits managers, the mysterious middlemen between health insurers and drugmakers, skeptically.

But none of those are silver bullets to lower prices, and they will certainly invite pushback from the politically potent pharmaceutical lobby, focused on the concerns about how much cracking down on drug companies to discourage them from developing new drugs. Democrats also don’t know yet what specific policies could win support from Senate Republicans or the Trump White House.

“How do you take this gargantuan Chinese menu of things and figure out how things fit together in a way that stem some of the abuses?” is how one Democratic aide summarized the dilemma.

It is a problem bedeviling Democrats on more than just drug prices. Health care was a winner on election night this year, and it has always been a priority for Democrats. Now they just need to figure out what to do.

Because tomorrow is Veterans Day I thought that I would include this article.             After A Year Of Turmoil, New VA Secretary Says ‘Waters Are Calmer’ 

Quil Lawrence in his Twitter post reported on a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said his department is on the mend after a tumultuous 2018.”I do think it is better because the turmoil of the first half of this year is behind us, the waters are calmer. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re heading in that direction,” he said.

Early in Donald Trump’s presidency, the VA was considered an island of stability in an unpredictable administration.

Secretary David Shulkin was a hold-over from the Obama administration, already familiar with the VA’s massive bureaucracy. Bipartisan reforms moved through Congress with relative speed, and Trump could point to a list of legislative accomplishments.

But the president fired Shulkin last March after weeks of intrigue during which VA political appointees plotted openly to oust him. Trump’s first nominee to replace Shulkin, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, sank under accusations of misconduct (which are still being investigated by the Pentagon).

Numerous high-ranking officials left the department, and records showed that friends of the president outside of government – who weren’t even veterans – had been lobbying Trump at Mar-a-Lago on how to run the VA.

After a stint as acting VA secretary, Robert Wilkie was confirmed by the Senate last July. Since then, Wilkie says he’s been “walking the post,” visiting as many VA facilities as he can. And he’s reached the same conclusion as many of his predecessors.

“I have been incredibly impressed by the caliber of VA employee I’ve encountered everywhere, from Alaska to Massachusetts to Florida,” Wilkie told NPR’s, Steve Inskeep.

“I have no quarrel with the quality of medical care our veterans receive. My biggest problem is actually getting them into the system so that they can receive that care, which means the problems are primarily administrative and bureaucratic,” said Wilkie, himself a veteran of the Navy and a current Air Force reservist, who counts generations of veterans in his family.

“I am the son of a Vietnam soldier. I know what happened when those men and women came home,” Wilkie said. “So that is incredibly important to me.”

Wilkie is navigating an important moment for the VA – while Congress has already passed major reforms, he’s the one who has to implement them. And plenty of political controversy hides in the details.

The VA Mission Act of 2018 was signed into law in June. It’s intended to consolidate about a half-dozen programs The VA uses to buy veterans private healthcare at a cost of billions of dollars, into one streamlined system.

Critics fear that leaning too much on private care will bleed the VA’s own medical centers, and lead to a drop in quality there – and amounts to a starve-the-beast strategy of privatization.

Wilkie says that won’t happen and is not President Trump’s goal, but he has yet to present a budget for expanded private care to the White House and to Congress.

“You’re not going to privatize this institution. I certainly have never talked about that with anyone in this administration,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie also maintains that he has had little contact with the group of outside advisers who meet with the president at Mar-a-Lago, including CEO of Marvel Comics Ike Perlmutter and Florida doctor Bruce Moscowitz. Records show they had extensive communication with the previous VA secretary, sometimes influencing policy decisions.

“I met with them when I was visiting the West Palm Beach VA – my first week as acting (secretary), and have not had any meetings with them ever since that day,” Wilkie said. “I’ll be clear. I make the decisions here at the department, in support of the vision of the president.”

Despite rumors that Wilkie would clear out many of the Trump political appointees who clashed with former secretary Shulkin, he said he didn’t expect more staffing changes.

The one notable departure is Peter O’Rourke, who was acting secretary for two months while Wilkie went through the confirmation process. O’Rourke clashed repeatedly with Congress and the VA’s inspector general. Wilkie himself cited a Wall Street Journal reports that O’Rourke is poised to go and said he’s “on leave.”

“I think there will be an announcement soon about a move to another department in the federal government – I know that he’s looking for something new,” said Wilkie, “He’s on leave.”

Another major new plan that Wilkie must implement is a $10 billion, 10-year plan to make the VA’s medical records compatible with the Pentagon’s.

He once again mentioned his father’s experience as a wounded combat vet.

“He had an 800-page record, and it was the only copy, that he had to carry with him for the rest of his life. He passed away last year,” said Wilkie.

“One of the first decisions I made as the acting secretary was to begin the process of creating a complete electronic healthcare record that begins when that young American enters the military entrance processing station to the time that that soldier, sailor, airman, Marine walks into the VA.”

But that process has actually been underway for a decade – with little to show and about a billion dollars already spent on the effort. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office says it’s in part because neither the Pentagon nor the VA was put in charge of the effort — which is still the case. Wilkie says he has signed an agreement with the Pentagon to jointly run it with clear lines of authority.

“I think we’ll have more announcements later in the year when it comes to one belly-button to push for that office,” he said.

As for staff shortages, another perennial complaint at the VA, Wilkie acknowledged there are 35- to 40,000 vacancies at the agency.

“We suffer from the same shortages that the private sector and other public health services suffer from, particularly in the area of mental health,” he said.

New legislation passed this year gives Wilkie the authority to offer higher pay to medical professionals.

“I’m using it to attract as many people as we can into the system,” said Wilkie

But Wilkie also added that he was shocked, upon taking the post, that it’s not clear how many additional people are needed – because it’s not even clear how many people are working at VA.

“I had two briefings on the same day and two different numbers as to how many people this agency employs.”

Wilkie says he’s in the process of finding out the answer to that question, and many others, as he starts his second 100 days in office.

And to end this post I must include this note. I was raised in the Bronx, New York and are truly embarrassed to acknowledge that the new Congresswoman Cortes-Ortes who was elected, and not sure how when you look at her qualifications and knowledge. But more, she is a socialist and expects everything to be given to all and the government will foot the bill and now listen to this.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, new youngest Congresswoman, says she can’t afford D.C. apartment

Ashley May, a reporter for the USA TODAY noted that the upset primary win in New York by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a huge moment for the Democratic Party because it shows the left-wing base is energized heading into the midterms, according to AP National Politics Reporter Steve Peoples. (June 27) AP

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman elected to Congress in the midterm elections, is struggling to pay rent, according to a recent interview.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, told The New York Times she’s not sure how she will be able to afford an apartment in Washington, D.C., without a salary for three months in an interview published online Wednesday.

She told the Times she has some savings from her job earlier this year as a bartender at a Union Square restaurant, and she’s hoping that will hold her over. Living without a paycheck is something she said her and her partner tried to plan for, but it’s a hardship that’s still “very real.”

“We’re kind of just dealing with the logistics of it day by day, but I’ve really been just kind of squirreling away and then hoping that gets me to January,” she told the Times.

Ocasio-Cortez is a New York activist and Democrat who will represent the 14th Congressional district, which covers the Bronx and Queens.

Thursday, she pointed to her lack of income as a reason why some people are not able to work in politics.

“There are many little ways in which our electoral system isn’t even designed (nor prepared) for working-class people to lead,” she said.

She said she hopes she can change that.

Yes, and now if she plays her cards right she has a job, paying better than any job that she is really qualified for life.

Buck it up Ocasio-Cortez, live outside of DC and take public transportation like most people do!

How did you fund your campaign? I don’t want to hear your sob story and yes I am ashamed that the borough of the Bronx has you for their representative. What a joke! You said that when you got to DC you were going to sign a whole lot of bills and laws to make things better. Do you even know anything about the process and have you ever taken a Civics course. You are in for some big surprises… called reality!

On a better note-Happy Veterans Day and thank you all who have served in our military and those who are still out there helping to make this world a better place to live and protecting our freedoms.

 

The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers including the Health Care System

44430232_1751281151668203_4321873792935657472_n-2I thought with the impending influx of the huge group of immigrants moving toward to the U.S. border, that we should look at the real impact. This is a fairly long post but one that “needs to be told”. Matt O’Brien and Spencer Raley reported on the continually growing population of illegal aliens, along with the federal government’s ineffective efforts to secure our borders, present significant national security and public safety threats to the United States. They also have a severely negative impact on the nation’s taxpayers at the local, state, and national levels. Illegal immigration costs Americans billions of dollars each year. Illegal aliens are net consumers of taxpayer-funded services and the limited taxes paid by some segments of the illegal alien population are, in no way, significant enough to offset the growing financial burdens imposed on U.S. taxpayers by massive numbers of uninvited guests. This study examines the fiscal impact of illegal aliens as reflected in both federal and state budgets.

The Number of Illegal Immigrants in the US

Estimating the fiscal burden of illegal immigration on the U.S. taxpayer depends on the size and characteristics of the illegal alien population. FAIR defines “illegal alien” as anyone who entered the United States without authorization and anyone who unlawfully remains once his/her authorization has expired. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has no central database containing information on the citizenship status of everyone lawfully present in the United States. The overall problem of estimating the illegal alien population is further complicated by the fact that the majority of available sources on immigration status rely on self-reported data. Given that illegal aliens have a motive to lie about their immigration status, in order to avoid discovery, the accuracy of these statistics is dubious, at best. All of the foregoing issues make it very difficult to assess the current illegal alien population of the United States.

However, FAIR now estimates that there are approximately 12.5 million illegal alien residents. This number uses FAIR’s previous estimates but adjusts for suspected changes in levels of unlawful migration, based on information available from the Department of Homeland Security, data available from other federal and state government agencies, and other research studies completed by reliable think tanks, universities, and other research organizations.

The Cost of Illegal Immigration to the United States

At the federal, state, and local levels, taxpayers shell out approximately $134.9 billion to cover the costs incurred by the presence of more than 12.5 million illegal aliens and about 4.2 million citizen children of illegal aliens. That amounts to a tax burden of approximately $8,075 per illegal alien family member and a total of $115,894,597,664. The total cost of illegal immigration to U.S. taxpayers is both staggering and crippling. In 2013, FAIR estimated the total cost to be approximately $113 billion. So, in less than four years, the cost has risen nearly $3 billion. This is a disturbing and unsustainable trend. The sections below will break down and further explain these numbers at the federal, state, and local levels.

Total Governmental Expenditures on Illegal Aliens

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Total Tax Contributions by Illegal Aliens

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Total Economic Impact of Illegal Immigration 

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The Federal government spends a net amount of $45.8 billion on illegal aliens and their U.S.-born children. This amount includes expenditures for public education, medical care, justice enforcement initiatives, welfare programs, and other miscellaneous costs. It also factors in the meager amount illegal aliens pay to the federal government in income, social security, Medicare and excise taxes.

FEDERAL SPENDING

The approximately $46 billion in federal expenditures attributable to illegal aliens is staggering. Assuming an illegal alien population of approximately 12.5 million illegal aliens and 4.2 million U.S.-born children of illegal aliens, that amounts to roughly $2,746 per illegal alien, per year. For the sake of comparison, the average American college student receives only $4,800 in federal student loans each year.

FAIR maintains that every concerned American citizen should be asking our government why, in a time of increasing costs and shrinking resources, is it spending such large amounts of money on individuals who have no right, nor authorization, to be in the United States? This is an especially important question in view of the fact that the illegal alien beneficiaries of American taxpayer largess offset very little of the enormous costs of their presence by the payment of taxes. Meanwhile, average Americans pay approximately 30% of their income in taxes.

Map: Illegal immigration costs California most, $23B, all states $89B

Now a break down of costs by state. Paul Bedford noted that the illegal immigration costs taxpayers in all 50 states a total of $89 billion, and California, where an illegal on Thursday was cleared of murdering Kate Steinle despite admitting to the shooting, pays the most at $23 billion, according to a new map of the costs.

The website HowMuch.net, working with figures from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, found that Californians pay more than twice as much for illegal immigrants than the next closest state, Texas, where the price tag is $11 billion.

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The costs cover added expenditures for education, welfare, law enforcement, and medical care.

When federal costs are included, the price tag nationally soars to $135 billion a year.

FAIR’s data also includes the offset of taxes paid by illegal immigrants, though the numbers are much lower. In the state and local column, they are $3.5 billion. Nationally they are $15 billion.

Overall, the costs associated with illegal immigrants is much higher for state and local governments than the federal government. States pay $89 billion, Uncle Sam, $46 billion.

The states paying the most to care for illegals:

  1. California – $23,038,125,353
  2. Texas – $10,994,614,550
  3. New York – $7,489,141,357
  4. Florida – $6,290,429,108
  5. New Jersey – $4,466,838,574
  6. Illinois – $3,220,767,517
  7. Georgia – $2,487,719,503
  8. North Carolina – $2,437,965,113
  9. Maryland – $2,378,996,947
  10. Arizona – $2,314,131,964

Focusing on Healthcare Costs of Illegal Immigrants Draws Attention Away from the Real Problem

Too many illegal immigrants are overwhelming the health care system and driving up health insurance costs. That’s the latest sound bite in the war of words over immigration reform. In a recent poll, a majority of the respondents thought that illegal immigrants were responsible for 50 percent or more of the uninsured treated in Southern California hospitals. But is that really the case?

While it is true that providing treatment to undocumented immigrants creates a drain on hospital resources, the question is: How much of the problem can reasonably be attributed to the undocumented? And if we solved the problem of illegal immigration tomorrow — which we won’t — would health care costs return to “reasonable” levels?

Illegal immigrants are responsible for roughly 20 percent of the $2 billion in unreimbursed care that Southern California hospitals deliver each year. Even if you consider that factor, you have to conclude that it’s the larger problem of just simply having so many uninsured patients that is a key driver of rising hospital costs.

In order to receive federal Medicare and Medicaid payments, a hospital must agree to treat and stabilize everybody who shows up to a hospital ER regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status. That means undocumented immigrants who show up at the emergency room will receive treatment regardless of their immigration status or whether they’re insured. But so will legal immigrants, naturalized citizens and native-born Americans.

It is a matter of law that these people receive treatment. Indeed, we may have an ethical responsibility to do so as well. The problem is that most hospitals in California end up being paid for only about 5 percent of the medical care given to uninsured patients. And that leads to the question: So, who’s going to pick up the tab?

In the absence of strong political leadership on the question of insuring the uninsured, the answer, inevitably, is that hospitals and those patients with insurance, as well as those uninsured who do pay, will end up paying for those who seek care without insurance — regardless of whether they are here legally or not.

An ironic healthcare twist for undocumented immigrants

The University of Michigan Medical School study noted that the undocumented immigrants are in the country illegally. Or maybe they had protected status before but lost it due to policy changes by the current presidential administration.

Or they’re waiting for word from Congress or the courts on whether they’ll get to stay.

Whatever their situation under the law, the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States still need, and sometimes get, health care.

Even if they don’t have health insurance, federal law requires hospitals to care for them in emergencies. They can turn to safety-net clinics for basic needs.

Now, a new analysis highlights an ironic development in the intertwined issues of immigration and health care – two areas where the current and previous administrations differ greatly.

Undocumented people in certain states may get more medical help while they are here, it finds, thanks to the current administration’s effort to give states more flexibility with their health care spending. And in a reversal of the previous administration’s stance, states may find it easier to get that permission.

In a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine, two members of the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation unpack recent events, political philosophies and medical evidence about caring for the undocumented.

They conclude that more states may want to apply for permission to use state and federal dollars to pay safety-net hospitals that care for everyone – whether or not they are here legally.

Waivers already in action

Such permission, which requires the government to approve an application called a waiver, has already gone into effect in Florida and Texas.

As two of the states with the highest numbers of undocumented immigrants living in their borders, they’ve seen the amount of money they can award to safety-net hospitals rise by 50 percent to 70 percent.

“Ironically, the same administration that is targeting undocumented immigrants with one set of policies may be helping them get care by preserving hospitals’ abilities to serve them with other policies,” says A. Taylor Kelley, M.D., M.P.H., who led the analysis.

Kelley says their example may bode well for other states that, like Florida and Texas, didn’t choose to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

“The United States has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the world among developed countries, and the Affordable Care Act was designed to increase health insurance options for men, women, and children across the country. But undocumented immigrants were excluded,” so they can’t enroll in Medicare or Medicaid, or buy a plan on the ACA marketplace, explains Kelley, who is a clinical lecturer in general internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and a National Clinician Scholar at IHPI.

“Undocumented immigrants rely on safety-net institutions that deliver care for people, with insurance or without insurance,” he explains. “Safety net hospitals are also major employers and economic drivers in their communities. And so to keep their doors open, states can seek federal permission to increase the funding they get. And generally, the current administration has been very receptive.”

States didn’t get a warm welcome from the Obama administration for such waivers, because that administration’s priority was encouraging states to expand Medicaid coverage to all low-income adults – or at least those who had legal status. In fact, the previous administration said it would take away existing funding for safety-net hospitals in states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Florida actually decided to redirect some of its own funds to help its hospitals, rather than expand Medicaid, when its waiver was ended by the Obama administration.

A door closes, a door opens 

But with the change in administrations, Kelley and co-author Renuka Tipirneni, M.D., M.Sc., write, the states that didn’t expand Medicaid and have high numbers of undocumented residents may find it easier.

States along the Mexican border, for instance, may want to seek a waiver – or apply to take part in a program that incentivizes new care delivery models for poor patients.

As for the states that did expand Medicaid, only time will tell if the government will also approve waivers to further ease the financial burden on safety net hospitals and clinics there.

A recent IHPI report about Michigan’s Medicaid expansion finds that while hospitals saw their uncompensated care drop by an average of 50 percent in the first year after expansion, the level has stayed flat since that time.

So hospitals are still absorbing the cost of caring for many people who can’t pay their medical bills, whether it’s because they have no insurance or they can’t afford the part of their bill that their insurance expects them to pay. Around half of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. lack insurance of any kind, according to estimates.

“The major question when talking about state flexibility is, where are the limits? And how much are we going to honor states’ rights?” says Kelley. “Both Medicaid expansion and support for the safety net are programs where states are now being given the autonomy to act as they feel best for the people within their borders. Will these approaches be honored by the administration as a state right?”

Spending up front, or later 

At the same time, Kelley notes, the inpatient hospitals that have historically received the waiver funds are more and more likely to be part of new network-based models of care, such as accountable care organizations, which makes it easier for them to offer integrated care for those who come through the doors of their emergency rooms.

That may mean it’s easier to care for undocumented immigrants in a preventive or early-stage way, rather than waiting for an emergency.

In addition, Congress recently extended funding for federally qualified health centers that provide care to underserved patients outside of the hospital.

Such care can actually save money, according to research cited in the new piece. For instance, one study showed that states can save money by covering dialysis care for undocumented immigrants whose kidneys are failing, rather than waiting to provide the legally required emergency dialysis when they are in crisis. Illinois has even gone so far as to cover kidney transplants for undocumented people, because of the potential long-term cost savings.

Other research shows that expansion of individual insurance coverage provides better outcomes and use of resources than insurance for some and no insurance for others who must turn to safety net care, says Kelley. But the political philosophies and policy stances of current leadership don’t make expanded coverage likely right now.

“We’ve come out of eight years of one way of thinking, now we’re in a new way of thinking,” says Kelley. “And it’s a new shift for states if they’re going to cover the people they need to cover and help institutions out, then they have to shift their focus and their thinking.”

“Some might ask, what does care for the undocumented have to do with me as an American citizen. And the reality is that, because we provide care to anyone who stands in need of a health emergency, we all pay for everyone’s healthcare sooner or later,” he says. “When we provide access to care for undocumented immigrants, it’s not necessarily going to be a cost burden every time. In some ways, it may be beneficial to us in both indirect ways and even in direct ways.”

The impact of undocumented workers on health care costs

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently outlined the quietly building demand that undocumented workers will place on the health care system as they age.

Dan Cook of Benefitspro.Com reviewed a 2014 report which found that undocumented immigrants who needed kidney dialysis cost Texas taxpayers $10 million—much of which could have been avoided, had the immigrants been able to treat their disorders upstream. Talk about a one-two punch to the U.S. healthcare system’s gut. First, there are the widely publicized 40 million new clients that will enter Medicare’s ranks by 2050 as Baby Boomers age into the system. Then, there’s the much less publicized, but still ominous, aging undocumented worker wave about to hit the system.

This group, representing millions of illegal immigrants, is for the most part uninsured. To date, its members have made few demands on a system they don’t trust and can’t afford. But as they age and their health breaks down, they will find the system, and in all likelihood, enter through its most expensive doors: the ER or hospital admissions. Unable to pay for the care they receive, their cost will be shifted to the same health systems and insurers already panicking about how to care for those with coverage.

The Pew Charitable Trusts outlined this quietly building demand in its Stateline publication. An article entitled Aging, Undocumented and Uninsured Immigrants Challenge Cities and States reviewed research on the healthcare needs these estimated 11 million undocumented residents will have as they grow older in America. Because most don’t even qualify for Medicaid, they will be forced to go to hospitals and emergency rooms for treatment as conditions that have gone untreated worsen with age. And, the article concluded, the current health care model in the U.S. makes no provision for covering the cost of their care beyond shifting it to those with coverage.

“… Senior citizens without documentation don’t have access to care for chronic issues such as kidney disease and high blood pressure. What’s more, experts predict that many will forgo primary preventive care even when it is available, likely making their chronic health problems worse — and more expensive to treat,” the article said.

Author Teresa Wiltz noted that there are pockets across the U.S. where local communities have addressed this coming crisis with local dollars. Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco have developed funding streams for programs that make regular health check-ups and treatment available and affordable to immigrants regardless of their status.

But throughout most of the U.S., the health of undocumented workers remains invisible. That is until somebody puts a number on it.

The Pew article cites statistics from Texas, an especially difficult state for undocumented workers to receive regular or preventive health care. There, a 2014 report found, undocumented immigrants who needed kidney dialysis and couldn’t pay for it cost state taxpayers $10 million—much of which could have been avoided had the immigrants been able to treat their disorders upstream.

What’s the solution? Conservatives tend to default to the “go back to from where you came” strategy. “The policy solution for illegals is to enforce the law and encourage them to return home, thereby avoiding the problem,” Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that favors limiting immigration, told Stateline.

For others of a more liberal bent, the answers aren’t so off-the-shelf. Community health centers could be expanded and encourage more illegal immigrants to get regular care. Federal policies could be loosened to open up Medicaid or other options. Becoming a citizen should be made easier, especially for seniors, say others.

Meantime, hospitals and insurers play the cost-shifting game and hope for help from the nation’s capital—where the political wrangling over individual health care access seems unaffected by the looming crisis brought on by aging Americans.

The Affect on Texas

Rohit Kuruvilla and Rajeev Raghaven, doctors at Baylor College of Medicine researched the impact on Texas and found the providing health care to the 1.6 million undocumented immigrants in Texas is an existing challenge. Despite the continued growth of this vulnerable population, legislation between 1986 and 2013 has made it more difficult for states to provide adequate and cost-effective care. As this population ages and develops chronic illnesses, Texas physicians, health care administrators, and legislators will be facing a major challenge. The new legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform, does not address or attempt to solve the issue of providing health care to this population. One example of the inadequate care and poor resource allocation is the experience of undocumented immigrants with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). In Texas, these immigrants depend on safety net hospital systems for dialysis treatments. Often, treatments are provided only when their conditions become an emergency, typically at a higher cost, with worse outcomes. This article reviews the legislation regarding health care for undocumented immigrants, particularly those with chronic illnesses such as ESRD, and details specific challenges facing Texas physicians in the future.

Introduction- The undocumented immigrant population in Texas has been increasing since 2008 with a current estimate approaching 1.6 million persons.1 Although this may be attributed primarily to proximity to the US-Mexico border, the favorable growth of the Texas economy and the creation of low-wage jobs predicts a continued increase along this path over the next decade.  Addressing the health care needs of undocumented immigrants and their families constitutes an existing problem that is solved currently by a patchwork of clinics, safety net hospital systems, and uncompensated charity care. We expect this problem to increase as this population ages and develops costly chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Unfortunately, forthcoming national health care and immigration reform legislation do not adequately address the issue of health care for this population.

Undocumented immigrants with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) represent a patient population at the center of this problem. These patients require dialysis treatments several times a week for survival. The lack of a uniform national policy to cover the cost of dialysis for noncitizens forces local health care systems into the ethical dilemma and financial challenge of providing adequate, cost-effective care for these patients. Not surprisingly, the type and frequency of dialysis treatments that an undocumented immigrant receives vary between El Paso and Houston, and even within a particular city, such as Houston.

This article reviews the past, present, and future legislation regarding health care for undocumented immigrants while describing the challenge of managing these patients with a chronic illness, such as ESRD.

Delivering Health Care to Undocumented Immigrants- The Pew Research Center estimates that 11.2 million undocumented immigrants reside in the United States. Approximately 14% of these persons live in Texas, and this number is expected to increase.1 Primary care is delivered to this population at 1 of the 69 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Texas or via safety net hospital systems. Both locations care for uninsured and indigent patients, regardless of citizenship. The FQHCs receive money from the federal government and are equipped to provide both primary and preventative care. Safety net hospital systems (also called “county” or “public” hospitals) tend to be located in larger cities (e.g., Houston or San Antonio) and are funded by their specific county. Although they offer a multitude of services, including specialist care and elective surgeries, a longer wait time is usually involved. One unfortunate consequence of the current system is that patients often present to the emergency room with a more advanced disease due to lack of early diagnosis or treatment. The resulting health care costs more and is often either uncompensated or inadequately compensated.

Besides the relative lack of access to specialists, undocumented immigrants face cultural and social barriers in obtaining care. One major cultural barrier is language; more than 75% of undocumented immigrants come from Spanish-speaking countries, and most are not fluent in English. Two social barriers often encountered are difficulty keeping medical appointments because of an irregular work schedule and fear of deportation or exposure to the law.

Legislation- Between 1986 and 2013, many legislative documents have addressed the issues of health care and immigration. The various tables summarize the four most comprehensive acts, which are detailed below.

1986: Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA)- Signed in 1986, EMTALA stipulates that any person, regardless of his or her legal status, insurance status, or ability to pay, who presents to an emergency room must be medically stabilized before discharge or transfer. This law was designed to prevent hospitals from transferring uninsured or Medicaid patients to public hospitals without, at a minimum, providing a medical screening examination to ensure they were stable for transfer. According to the law, an emergency medical condition is defined as “a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the person’s health [or the health of an unborn child] in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs.”

1996: Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) – The “Permanent Residents Under Color of Law” (PRUCOL) status applies to persons whom the United States acknowledges are here illegally but for whom the country is not actively pursuing deportation. Under this status, these undocumented immigrants were granted access to many public benefits. However, in 1996, PRWORA eliminated classifying undocumented immigrants as PRUCOL status, effectively terminating their access to certain benefits (eg, welfare programs and Medicaid). Some states appealed this and continue to grant PRUCOL status to undocumented immigrants.  In California and Massachusetts, the PRUCOL status given to the undocumented immigrants allows them to receive certain health care benefits, such as scheduled dialysis. However, in Texas, undocumented immigrants are not given PRUCOL status and, hence, do not receive any public or health care benefits.

2013: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S 744)- Passed by the Senate in June 2013 by a vote of 68-32, this bill was awaiting approval by the House of Representatives as of May 2014. Its three primary goals are the following: to enhance border security, to renovate the immigration system by integrating the current undocumented immigrant population, and to streamline the citizenship process for highly skilled and educated persons.1 Ultimately, this bill will reduce the number of undocumented immigrants as a result of strengthened border security (adding 40,000 new agents to border patrol) and enforced hiring codes, while encouraging persons with broader educational achievement and economic potential to come into the United States through an extended visa program.

Undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since 2011 will be addressed as registered provisional immigrants (RPIs). After paying an initial $500 fee and any back taxes a person may owe, these immigrants may receive the RPI status if they have no criminal history. The RPI status must be extended after a 6-year probationary period. After 10 years, an RPI can apply for permanent residence, and at 13 years for citizenship. While the 13-year path to citizenship is an extended process, it affords current undocumented residents legal rights and provides them with a stable environment, relieving fears of deportation.

This act does not address health care for persons of RPI status. Hence, if this bill is signed into law, the challenge of providing care to undocumented immigrants will continue and may even increase as these persons will “come out of the shadows” and be more likely to seek primary, preventative health care and, eventually, specialist care.

2014: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also named Obamacare, has been under intense scrutiny and debate since its inception. Regarding health care for undocumented immigrants, RPIs, and persons on a visa, much debate has produced no conclusive answers. Obamacare was passed in 2010; it envisions complete national coverage by 2019 via a series of mandates, subsidies, and insurance exchanges. The act requires all legal residents to purchase insurance and penalizes those who do not. While Section 246 of the bill claims that “there shall be no federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States,” argument has ensued on where this places RPIs and how this will affect undocumented immigrants.

Until they receive full citizenship, neither undocumented immigrants nor RPIs will gain access to health care under the ACA as it is written today. They will be exempt from the mandatory fee imposed on uninsured citizens, and they will be unable to purchase health care insurance.

Texas and the Medicaid Expansion- The ACA can be expected to have several direct and indirect effects in Texas. Although Texas has declined Medicaid expansion, ramifications from the bill will still be present as federal insurance subsidies and the insurance trading market will be available to Texas residents. The ACA also calls for decreased reimbursements to disproportionate share hospitals (DSHs) under the assumption that most persons will be insured. In theory, this would reduce money available to care for undocumented immigrants and possibly place DSH (safety net hospitals) at jeopardy for hospital shutdown or withdrawal of certain services. Texas, with its large undocumented immigrant population and nonrecognition of PRUCOL status, is likely to feel these changes more than other states.

Undocumented Immigrants and Emergent Dialysis- All patients with ESRD require dialysis treatments to cleanse the blood of toxins and remove excess salt and water. Dialysis is either done every day by the patient at home (peritoneal dialysis) or in a center 3 times a week (hemodialysis). All dialysis patients, particularly those who are younger and healthier, are encouraged to be listed for a kidney transplant. In 1973, Congress enacted a historic legislation guaranteeing federal or state funding for all US citizens diagnosed with ESRD to defray the high cost of this treatment. The cost of hemodialysis today is estimated at $87,000 per person annually.

Undocumented immigrants with ESRD represent a population at the crux of immigration reform, health care reform, and the rising cost of chronic illnesses. EMTALA specified that an undocumented immigrant with ESRD who is medically unstable and presents to a hospital emergency room in need of emergent dialysis must be stabilized. Interpretation of EMTALA has led many hospitals, including safety net hospitals, to practice “emergent dialysis.” In emergent dialysis, the patient is first evaluated in the emergency room and then only receives treatment if a life-threatening indication is present. Typical indications include shortness of breath (pulmonary edema), feeling poorly (uremia), or a high potassium level (hyperkalemia). This is in contrast to scheduled dialysis, which happens regularly.

Emergent dialysis is 3.7 times more expensive per patient due to the associated costs of emergency room care (laboratory draws, studies, and physician fees) and more frequent patient hospitalizations as a result of poor health.9 Despite this high cost, this practice has been the standard of care because of the perceived notion that offering scheduled dialysis to undocumented immigrants could trigger an influx of immigrants with ESRD to the state. In the past decade, individual counties or cities have devised unique solutions to this problem.  For example, all patients in San Antonio receive scheduled dialysis, paid for by the county hospital system via contract to local for-profit dialysis centers; in Dallas, patients only receive emergent dialysis. In Houston, all patients begin with emergent dialysis, but one county-funded and county-operated dialysis center accepts emergent dialysis patients when space becomes available. The figures show this variability in care across these three cities in Texas. This same variability in dialysis options exists across the United States for this population.

More than 400,000 US citizens receive dialysis. Through extrapolation of published incident rates, experts estimate that 6000 undocumented immigrants in the United States require dialysis.10 From personal communication, we estimate that more than 1000 undocumented residents in Texas require dialysis. Given the high cost of dialysis and the even higher cost of emergent dialysis, Texas taxpayers are likely paying more than $10 million to manage these patients.

Emergent dialysis is not just more costly but also forces physicians into making difficult ethical decisions, such as deciding “which patient should receive treatment.” It is also associated with worse patient outcomes; the patient suffers physically from infrequent dialysis and financially from lost wages secondary to an inability to work around an irregular dialysis schedule.

Conclusion-Texas has a large, growing population of undocumented immigrants. Providing comprehensive health care to this population is a challenge, and these patients rely on safety net hospital systems. Legislation from 1986 to 2013 has made it increasingly difficult for these persons with chronic illnesses to receive cost-effective, adequate care. Undocumented immigrants with ESRD receive dialysis in Texas primarily when it becomes an emergent condition. While future RPI status may grant undocumented immigrants legality, the ACA specifies that this does not grant access to health care. With a growing undocumented immigrant population in Texas, our state legislators must be aware of and address this problem before it evolves into a health care crisis.

So, we have to learn from the European experience that if we as a country decide that we are responsible for all the undocumented illegal immigrants we need to find a way to pay for the increasing expense of allowing the immigrants to enter our country illegally.

HHS chief dismisses ‘Medicare for all’ as ‘too good to be true’ and the Black Hole that Our Politicians are Creating!

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Apologies to all those that read my posts for not posting Sunday evening. My home computer finally crashed. So, here is the weekly post for your review.

These last two weeks have convinced me that both the Republicans and Democrats are flawed and no longer deserve our support. More on that later!

But back to Medicare for All and the confirmation that it may not be the best offer for our health care system.  Nathaniel Weixel wrote that the Trump administration’s top health official on Thursday dismissed “Medicare for all” as a promise that’s too good to be true.

“When you drill down into the details, it’s clear that Medicare for all is a misnomer. What’s really being proposed is a single government system for every American that won’t resemble Medicare at all,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a wide-ranging speech in Nashville, Tenn.

Azar said embracing Medicare for all would mean ignoring the mistakes of ObamaCare, which he called a failure.

“The main thrust of Medicare for all is giving you a new government plan and taking away your other choices,” Azar said.

This was not the first time a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services has tried to discredit the idea of Medicare for all. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma in July called it socialized medicine that would put seniors at risk.

Medicare for all has become increasingly popular among Democrats and is now favored by many of the party’s potential 2020 presidential candidates.

However, many congressional Democrats have yet to completely embrace the idea, and while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has sponsored a “Medicare for all” bill, there’s no real push for it in Congress.

Republicans have been pointing to Democratic calls for single-payer as a key rebuttal in this year’s midterm campaign, part of an effort to push back against Democratic attacks on GOP bills to repeal ObamaCare.

Aside from attacking Medicare for all, Azar in his speech praised President Trump as a better steward of ObamaCare than former President Obama ever was.

“The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act has proven better at managing it than the president who wrote the law,” Azar said.

He said premiums have been decreasing and there are more plans available for consumers to choose from on state exchanges.

According to Azar, premiums for the typical ObamaCare plan will decrease in 2019 by an average of 2 percent nationwide.

But insurance experts say the main reason premiums are either stable or decreasing this year is because they were so high in 2018. Insurers overpriced their plans this year, driven by the uncertainty over how the Trump administration would handle ObamaCare.

In addition, studies have shown premiums would also be decreasing much more if not for Trump administration policies like the elimination of the individual mandate penalty and expansion of short-term plan.

And now some good, positive news on the healthcare front!

Congress Passes Healthcare Appropriations Bill

Includes funding increase for NIH, $$ for opioid disorder treatment and research

  • Our friend Joyce Frieden of MedPage wrote that Congress has passed a major appropriations bill that increases funding for medical research and opioid disorder treatment and research.

The bill, which includes a $2-billion increase in the National Institutes of Health budget, passed the House Wednesday evening; the Senate passed it last Tuesday. The $674 billion measure, which also includes funding for the departments of Labor and Defense, now heads to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it before Oct. 1, in time to avoid a government shutdown.

Medical groups praised the bill’s passage. “We applaud congressional approval of the FY19 Labor-HHS/Defense spending bill which ensures increased funding for innovative research and public health initiatives to address deadly and disabling diseases,” Mary Woolley, CEO of Research!America, a trade group for medical research organizations, said in a statement. “Passage of the measure before the end of the current fiscal year is also noteworthy and congressional leaders should be commended for their commitment to advancing the bill in a timely fashion. The $2-billion increase for the National Institutes of Health builds on the momentum to accelerate research into precision medicine, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other health threats.”

In addition, she noted, “The measure will also enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to step up efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, and the opioid epidemic through research, treatment, and prevention.”

The appropriations bill also includes $317 million for various rural health initiatives, including $20 million for the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Grant Program for quality improvement and adoption of health information technology, and up to $1 million for telehealth services, “including pilots and demonstrations on the use of electronic health records to coordinate rural veterans’ care between rural providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health record system,” according to the conference report on the bill that was worked out between the House and Senate.

Other health-related provisions of the bill include:

  • $1.5 billion for State Opioid Response Grants
  • $765 million to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for fighting fraud
  • $338 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which had been targeted for closure by the Trump administration
  • $120 million for the Rural Communities Opioids Response Program

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) also applauded the bill’s passage. In addition to the NIH funding bump, “funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s workforce and pipeline programs will help create a strong and culturally competent health care workforce to provide those cures and treatments to vulnerable patients and those living in underserved communities,” AAMC president and CEO Darrell Kirch, MD, said in a statement.

In her statement about the bill’s passage, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) singled out the healthcare provisions in particular. “I am particularly pleased that [Health and Human Services] programs received such robust funding in this Conference agreement,” she said. “The bill increases funding for three of my top legislative priorities: fighting underage drinking, supporting newborn screening, and reducing maternal mortality.”

In addition, “at a time when this country is experiencing the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in history, this bill restores both the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and all Title X Family Planning dollars that help our teens gain critical access to reproductive health care and education.”

But not everyone was happy with the bill. “We’re pleased policymakers have likely avoided a shutdown and actually appropriated most of this year’s discretionary budget on time,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, in a statement. “But let’s not forgot that Congress did so without a budget and had to grease the wheels with $153 billion to pass these bills. That isn’t function; it’s a fiscal free-for-all.

“Policymakers should not be budgeting by borrowing more; they should put in place a full budget with a plan to bring our borrowing down, not up,” she continued. “Let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit in an orderly manner. Let’s instead work together to stabilize the nation’s finances.”

 ‘Indelible in the Hippocampus’: Christine Blasey Ford Explains Science Behind Her Trauma

The teaching psychologist Dr. Ford explained the uneven memories of sexual assault survivors to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Anna Almendria wrote that while recounting her allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford said the judge had covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming during an assault while the two were teenagers in high school. In follow-up questions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Blasey how she could be so sure that it was Kavanaugh who did it.

Blasey, who is a psychology professor at Palo Alto University, offered a lesson in neuroscience in reply.  “The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now, just basic memory functions,” Blasey told Feinstein in response. “And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of, as you know, encodes ― that neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus, and so the trauma-related experience then is kind of locked there whereas other details kind of drift.”

Norepinephrine and epinephrine are two hormones released when the body experiences stress. When a person is experiencing a threat like a sexual assault, these stress neurotransmitters flood the brain and help encode details like the environment and the people who you’re with on the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s responsible for creating and retrieving memories.

Later on in the hearing, she again referred to the hippocampus when responding to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) question about her most vivid memory of the alleged assault, which Blasey said took place in the early 1980s.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two,” she said, referring to Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, the other person Blasey alleges was in the room when the assault took place. “And their having fun at my expense.”

In pairing the retelling of her traumatic experience with explanations of the way assault affects the brain, Blasey is educating the public about how survivors process and store violent memories and can recall them years later.

Sabrina Segal, a psychology professor at Cal State University, Channel Islands, says that Blasey was making a distinction between everyday memories that the brain records during calm, relaxed moments and traumatic memories that the brain encodes during periods of high stress and fear for one’s life.

“The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that we know basically converts short-term memory traces into long-term memory traces,” Segal said, a term that psychologists use to describe the physical change that takes place in the brain when it stores a memory. “We know this because of studies where this part of the brain was removed, and it altered a person’s ability to do that.”

This bit of biology explains why Blasey would be certain of some details like Kavanaugh’s face, or the environment of the room and less so of other details that occurred before the alleged assault, such as the owner of the home where the incident took place. In moments where she feared for her life and was in “fight or flight” mode, she would have details “seared” into her memory, Segal said.

The full mechanics of this response also involve the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the brain, which perceives and responds to danger.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that your body releases adrenaline, which is a stress hormone, and almost simultaneously your brain will release [norepinephrine] in the amygdala,” Segal said. “It’s a potency maker in terms of being able to strengthen the memory.”

Research shows that it is common for survivors of sexual trauma to strongly remember the details of the event itself but not have many memories of other details around the event.

“When something is incredibly traumatic and emotional, that [norepinephrine] is going to make specific details etched in, and you will never forget them,” Segal said. “The fact that she’s had these memories for 20 years is not shocking to me in any way.”

Negar Fani, an assistant professor at Emory University who specializes in the neurobiology of post-traumatic stress disorder, says that this traumatic memory-storing process has a strong evolutionary purpose.

“It’s so that you can avoid things that could potentially harm you in the future,” Fani said. “When you encounter and encode these contextual aspects of the memory, you’ll avoid things that even remotely relate to that trauma memory.”

Fani said this could explain why Blasey requested that Kavanaugh not be present in the room during her testimony. “This person who assaulted her produces that same fight or flight reaction,” Fani said. “Because he’s a critical part of the threat context, it’s going to arouse her fight or flight system, and it’s hard to think clearly when that fight or flight system is engaged.”

But there is a lesson for Dr. Ford, and these experts, who has accused the supreme court nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, of sexual harassment saying that the norepinephrine and epinephrine levels in her hipocampus basically cements that memory 100% in her hippocampus. Interesting!! If that were true how come that she doesn’t remember where it took place, when it took place and how she got home.

Well, the last article the “professionals” tries to explain these differences. Alas, this “expert”, along with those others, who are not medical doctors with no training in neurology or medicine don’t understand the effect of alcohol has on the levels of norepinephrine in the hippocampus or chose not to mention these facts. Study up Doc/PhD, before you try to sound so sure of yourself.

Now also remember the Prosecutor that the Republicans brought in to question Ford and Kavanaugh. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor who questioned Christine Blasey Ford on behalf of Republican senators last week during an emotional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a memo late Sunday detailing why no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Brett Kavanaugh given the “evidence” that exists against him.

“A ‘he said, she said’ case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that,” Mitchell said, explaining the case’s “bottom line.”

Ironically, Mitchell’s language mirrors the vernacular of former FBI Director James Comey, who similarly argued in July 2016 that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.

The career Arizona prosecutor, who specializes in sex-related crimes, goes on to outline eight reasons why no “reasonable prosecutor would bring this case,” explaining the evidence fails to “satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard.”

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of when the alleged assault happened

Mitchell explained that initially Ford said the assault occurred in the “mid-1980s,” but later changed the date to the “early 80s.” But when she met with the polygraph administrator, Ford crossed out the word “early” for unknown reasons.

Ford has also described the incident occurring in the “summer of 1982” and her “late teens” — despite claiming it happened when she was 15.

“While it is common for victims to be uncertain about dates, Dr. Ford failed to explain how she was suddenly able to narrow the time frame to a particular season and particular year,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has struggled to identify Judge Kavanaugh as the assailant by name

Mitchell explained Ford neither identified Kavanaugh by name during marriage counseling in 2012 or individual counseling in 2013. Ford’s husband claims she identified Kavanaugh in 2012, but Mitchell noted that Kavanaugh’s name was widely circulated as a potential Supreme Court pick should then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have won the presidency.

“In any event, it took Dr. Ford over thirty years to name her assailant,” Mitchell wrote. “Delayed disclosure of abuse is common so this is not dispositive.”

  1. When speaking with her husband, Ford changed her description of the incident to become less specific

According to Mitchell, Ford told her husband before they married that she had been the victim of a “sexual assault,” but told the Washington Post that she told her husband she was a victim of “physical abuse.”

“She testified that, both times, she was referring to the same incident,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford has no memory of key details of the night in question — details that could help corroborate her account

Mitchell explained:

  • Ford does not remember who invited her to the “party, how she heard about it, or how she got there”
  • Ford does not remember whose house the assault occurred or where the house is located with any specificity
  • Ford remembers very specific details about that night that are unrelated to the assault, such as how many beers she consumed and whether or not she was on medication

Perhaps the most significant hole in Ford’s memory, Mitchell said, is the fact that Ford does not remember how she returned home from the party.

Factually speaking, the location of the party that Ford identified to the Washington Post is a 20-minute drive from her childhood home. And it was only during her testimony last week that she agreed for the first time that someone had driven her somewhere that night. Ford remembers locking herself in a bathroom after the alleged assault, but cannot identify who drove her home.

Significantly, no one has come forward to identify themselves as the driver.

“Given that this all took place before cellphones, arranging a ride home would not have been easy. Indeed, she stated that she ran out of the house after coming downstairs and did not state that she made a phone call from the house before she did, or that she called anyone else thereafter,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s account of the alleged assault has not been corroborated by anyone she identified as having attended — including her lifelong friend

As widely reported, Mitchell explained that each individual Ford identified as having been at the party has submitted sworn statements — under penalty of felony — that they do not remember the party and cannot recall or corroborate any detail that Ford alleges.

  1. Ford has not offered a consistent account of the alleged assault

Ford claimed in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that she heard Kavanaugh and Mark Judge talking downstairs while hiding in a bathroom after the assault. But she testified that she could not hear anyone, and only “assumed” people were talking.

Meanwhile, Ford’s therapist’s notes show that she said there were four boys in the bedroom when she was assaulted. However, she told the Washington Post it was only two, and blamed the error on her therapist. Also, in Ford’s letter to Feinstein she said there were “me and 4 others” at the party. However, in her testimony, she said there were “four boys” at the party in addition to herself and Leland Keyser, her female friend.

Additionally, “Dr. Ford listed Patrick ‘PJ’ Smyth as a ‘bystander’ in her statement to the polygrapher and in her July 6 text to the Washington Post, although she testified that it was inaccurate to call him a bystander. She did not list Leland Keyser even though they are good friends. Leland Keyser’s presence should have been more memorable than PJ Smyth’s,” Mitchell said.

     7. Ford has struggled to recall important recent events relating to her allegations, and her testimony regarding recent events raises further questions about her memory

Mitchell explained that Ford is unable to accurately remember her interactions with the Washington Post, such as what she told reporters or whether or not she provided them with a copy of her therapist’s notes.

Also of significance is Ford’s claim that she wished to remain confidential since she submitted her assault allegations to a person operating the Washington Post’s tip line. She testified that she did this due to a “sense of urgency,” claiming she did not know how to contact the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, she was unable to explain how she knew to contact the offices of Feinstein and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Also, Ford cannot recall if she was recorded, via audio or video, during the administration of her polygraph, nor can she remember if the polygraph was administered on the same day as her grandmother’s funeral or the day after.

“It would also have been inappropriate to administer a polygraph to someone who was grieving,” Mitchell said.

  1. Ford’s description of the psychological impact of the event raises questions

Ford testified that she suffers from anxiety, PTSD, and claustrophobia, which explains her fear of flying. However, she testified that she has flown many times in the last year, and flies on a regular basis for her hobbies and work.

Meanwhile, Ford testified that the assault affected her academically in college. However, she never claimed it affected her in high school after the assault allegedly occurred.

“It is significant that she used the word ‘contributed’ when she described the psychological impact of the incident to the Washington Post. Use of the word ‘contributed’ rather than ’caused’ suggests that other life events may have contributed to her symptoms. And when questioned on that point, said that she could think of ‘nothing as striking as’ the alleged assault,” Mitchell explained.

Finally, Mitchell said the “activities of congressional Democrats and Dr. Ford’s attorneys likely affected Dr. Ford’s account.”

And now we are going to have the FBI do an additional investigation after they have already vetted this candidate 6 times. That’s right, 6 times for his other judicial positions!

Besides this expert and witness to the horrible things that the judge has done, the behavior of most of the Democrats especially, but also some of the Republicans really sickens me. It represents childish, uncivil and I think truly unethical behavior, which has no place in this confirmation hearing. Do you all remember all that you did in high school and or college? I doubt it and some of these allegations can be interpreted in various ways. But trust me I am no fan of sexual aggressive behavior on anyone’s part but some of these allegations have to be taken in context and timing and in lieu of the behaviors of the time and grouping behaviors. Really??

I remember college gals exposing themselves when drunk or even after only one or two drinks as well as “men and women” away from home in college who were so drunk that they fell on each other, etc.

But that being what it is I am still angrier with our Senators and Representatives who by their behavior and lack of respect for Judge Kavanaugh and their anger for President Trump have created a circus. All this horrible behavior, the anger, hatred and the vitriol has convinced me to vote for independents and not anyone from each of our popular parties, unless it only leaves me the Republican as my only choice.

I was even going to vote for a Democrat in our Senate race because of the lack of any positive input or suggestions for health care decisions from the two term physician who has filled that spot. But now it will be the independent gentleman who gets my vote. I hope that many of you out there when you get to vote in November carefully make your choices. We the voters are the only people that can turn this black era in our society’s history around. The Democrats are pitting Democrats against Republicans, whites against Afro-Americans, “straights against gays/LGTBXXX and finally men against women. For what?  They want control of our government and to get on with their agenda. Horrifying!!

And now here is another insult by our politicians. I had an interesting experience on Friday afternoon while waiting for our train to New York City. Our Acela train was delayed by 1 ½ hours so that Senator Coons could give interviews in D.C. regarding the Kavanaugh hearing. Yes, they held up the train in D.C. Union Station, so that the senator could complete his interviews and claim the Business Car for him and his troop. Unbelievable!!

Next, more discussion on single payer health care choices and if there are other alternatives to consider.

 

Survey Shows that Worries about Healthcare​ Will Follow Voters into the Voting Booth, Waiting for Healthcare in Canada and Some Progress Finally!!

41715310_1709429559186696_758100051737182208_nIf anyone doubts the significance of our discussion regarding how important health care discussion is in the voters’ minds. Look at this survey! Oh, those greedy angry politicians and the mid-term elections!! The question is what are our politicians interested in?

I had an interesting conversation with a strategist for the Democratic party and she agreed with me that even if the Republicans in the House and the Senate came up with a solution to health care and or immigration that fulfilled their wants and needs, they wouldn’t approve or vote in favor of any bills until after the mid-term election to which they expected to declare their majority position.

Jenny Dean reviewed a survey, which showed that of the 37 percent of voters nationwide who planned to vote for President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, more than a third of Republicans and 37 percent of Independents said in a survey conducted by the Texas Medical Center that they would change their mind if his policies led to an increase in the uninsured. When the majority of voters across the country head to the voting booth in November and again in 2020, the politics of health care will not be far from their thoughts.

That’s the finding of the fourth annual Texas Medical Center’s national consumer survey, released Wednesday, which gauges attitudes on health issues, ranging from support of President Donald Trump’s policies to whether foods laden with fat and sugar should cost more.

“The Nation’s Pulse,” the survey questioned 5,038 people across 50 states, including 1,018 people in Texas. Respondents were both Democrats and Republicans but also included those who identified as Independent. Nearly two-thirds, or 61 percent, said they would be likely to only vote for candidates who promise to make fixing health care a priority. Additionally, the majority of voters said it was important that candidates share their views on such hot-button issues as the expansion of Medicaid. Those views held both in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and in the 17 states, including Texas that did not.

Survey responses at a glance

Likelihood to only vote for a candidate who wants health care fixed:

Democrats: 68 percent

Republicans: 60 percent

Independent: 53 percent

Plan to vote for Donald Trump in 2020:

U.S (all parties).: 37 percent

Texas (all parties): 38 percent

2020 Trump voters who would change their mind if the uninsured rate rises:

Republicans: 35 percent

Independents: 37 percent

Democrats: 60 percent

Texans who support Medicaid expansion:

60 percent

Texans who support Medicare for all:

55 percent

Support lowering legal blood alcohol limit while driving to 0.0 percent:

U.S.: 46 percent

Texas: 48 percent

Think foods that lead to obesity should cost more:

U.S. 51 percent

Texas: 56 percent

Source: Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute

Across all political parties, 60 percent of Texans favored a Medicaid expansion, according to the survey. This comes despite years of steadfast opposition from state leaders. It also closely mirrors a similar survey in June by Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 64 percent of Texans wanted a Medicaid expansion.

But perhaps most striking was that “Medicare for All” health coverage — once politically unthinkable in Texas —found surprising favorability with 55 percent in the state saying they would support it. That compares with 59 percent nationwide, the survey found.

“With health care so expensive and increasingly unaffordable, the respondents told us that it is important to try to fix it,” said Dr. Arthur “Tim” Garson, director of the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute, which led the study.

While the bitter health care debate of a year ago has slipped mostly out of the headlines, it apparently has not slipped from people’s minds, political operatives from both parties said Tuesday.

Neither Glenn Smith, an Austin-based progressive consultant nor Jamie Bennett, vice president at Potomac Strategy Group, a right-leaning political consulting firm, were especially surprised when told of the survey results.

“I think (health care) is the most critical domestic issue that we face today,” said Smith, adding that worries about affordability and access are “ever-present” in people’s lives.

“Health care is a very important issue for our elected leaders to solve,” agreed Bennett in an email, “It makes up the majority of the federal budget and affects every American at some point in their lifetime. I think health care will continue to be a central issue in the mid-terms and 2020 presidential election — especially given the inaction from the federal level.”

Looking ahead to 2020, the survey zeroed in on Trump supporters. Of the 37 percent of voters nationwide who planned to vote for the president, more than a third of Republicans and 37 percent of Independents said they would change their mind if his policies led to an increase in the uninsured.

Such potential defection did not surprise Smith. “That is one of the things that could knock significant numbers from his base,” he said. Garson cautioned, though, the presidential race is still two years away. “You don’t know until Election Day what people will do,” he said,

There were differences, however, in how party affiliation affected priorities. While reducing costs was considered the highest priority across the board, Democrats listed universal coverage as next, while Republicans and Independents said affordability was the second highest priority.

In other issues, the survey found nearly half of Americans, including those in Texas, supported lowering the legal blood alcohol limit while driving to 0.0. It is currently .08 in Texas. Also, an overwhelming majority in all states wanted the age of buying tobacco products raised to 21, and more than half said that foods that lead to obesity should cost more.

The policymakers and politicians continue to point to the Canadian health care system as one that we should use as the model for our system here in the U.S.A. ’Canadians are one in a million — while waiting for medical treatment

Sally Pipes points out that Canada’s single-payer healthcare system forced over 1 million patients to wait for necessary medical treatments last year. That’s an all-time record.

Those long wait times were more than just a nuisance; they cost patients $1.9 billion in lost wages, according to a new report by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based think-tank.

Lengthy treatment delays are the norm in Canada and other single-payer nations, which ration care to keep costs down. Yet more and more Democratic leaders are pushing for a single-payer system — and more and more voters are clamoring for one.

Indeed, three in four Americans now support a national health plan — and a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that health care is the most important issue for voters in the coming election.

The leading proponent of transitioning the United States to a single-payer system is Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s firebrand independent. If Sanders and his allies succeed, Americans will face the same delays and low-quality care as their neighbors to the north.

By his own admission, Sen. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill is modeled on Canada’s healthcare system. On a fact-finding trip to Canada last fall, Sanders praised the country for “guaranteeing health care to all people,” noting that “there is so much to be learned” from the Canadian system.

The only thing Canadian patients are “guaranteed” is a spot on a waitlist. As the Fraser report notes, in 2017, more than 173,000 patients waited for an ophthalmology procedure. Another 91,000 lined up for some form of general surgery, while more than 40,000 waited for a urology procedure.

All told, nearly 3 percent of Canada’s population was waiting for some kind of medical care at the end of last year.

Those delays were excruciatingly long. After receiving a referral from a general practitioner, the typical patient waited more than 21 weeks to receive treatment from a specialist. That was the longest average waiting period on record — and more than double the median wait in 1993.

Rural patients faced even longer delays. For instance, the average Canadian in need of orthopedic surgery waited almost 24 weeks for treatment — but the typical patient in rural Nova Scotia waited nearly 39 weeks for the same procedure.

One Ontario woman, Judy Congdon, learned that she needed a hip replacement in 2016, according to the Toronto Sun. Doctors initially scheduled the procedure for September 2017 — almost a year later. The surgery never happened on schedule. The hospital ran over budget, forcing physicians to postpone the operation for another year.

In the United States, suffering for a year or more before receiving a joint replacement is unheard of. In Canada, it’s normal.

Canadians lose a lot of money waiting for their “free” socialized medicine. On average, patients forfeit over $1,800 in lost wages. And that’s only counting the working hours they miss due to pain and immobility.

The Fraser Institute researchers also calculated the value of all the waking hours that patients lost because they couldn’t fully function. The toll was staggering — almost $5,600 per patient, totaling $5.8 billion nationally. And those calculations ignore the value of uncompensated care provided by family members, who often take time off work or quit their jobs to help ill loved ones.

Canada isn’t an anomaly. Every nation that offers government-funded, universal coverage features long wait times. When the government makes health care “free,” consumers’ demand for medical services surges. Patients have no incentive to limit their doctor visits or choose more cost-efficient providers.

To prevent expenses from ballooning, the government sets strict budget caps that only enable hospitals to hire a limited number of staff and purchase a meager amount of equipment. Demand inevitably outstrips supply. Shortages result.

Just look at the United Kingdom’s government enterprise, the National Health Service, which turns 70 this July. Today, British hospitals are so overcrowded that doctors regularly treat patients in hallways. The agency recently canceled tens of thousands of surgeries, including urgent cancer procedures, because of severe resource shortages. And this winter, nearly 17,000 patients waited in the backs of their ambulances — many for an hour or more — before hospital staff could clear space for them in the emergency room.

Most Americans would look at these conditions in horror. Yet Sen. Sanders and his fellow travelers continue to treat the healthcare systems in Canada and the UK as paragons to which America should aspire.

Sen. Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal would effectively ban private insurance and force all Americans into a single, government-funded healthcare plan. According to Sen. Sanders, this new insurance scheme would cover everything from regular check-ups to prescription drugs and specialty care, no referral needed — all at no charge to patients.

Americans shouldn’t fall for these rosy promises. As Canadians know all too well, when the government foots the bill for health care, patients are the ones who pay the biggest price.

Sanders was asked to respond to comments Schultz made about the plan in another interview.

Schultz recently announced that he would be leaving Starbucks and said he was considering “public service.” He said on CNBC he was concerned about the way “so many voices within the Democratic Party are going so far to the left.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders said Medicare-for-all is a “cost-effective” program.

“And I ask myself, how are we going to pay for all these things? In terms of things like single-payer or people espousing the fact that the government is going to give everyone a job, I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said.

CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Sanders about the possibility of Schultz running as “the Left’s Trump” who may go up against the current president in 2020.

Sanders said he didn’t know Schultz but his comment was “dead wrong.”

“You have a guy who thinks that the United States apparently should remain the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders said. “The truth of the matter is that I think study after study has indicated that Medicare for All is a much more cost-effective approach toward health care than our current, dysfunctional health care system, which is far and away the most expensive system per capita than any system on Earth.”

But there was progress made as evidenced in that the Senate finally Passes Historic Health Spending Bill and the Package includes funding for cancer, opioids, and maternal mortality

Shannon Firth a Washington Correspondent, for the MedPage, wrote that a spending bill that boosts funding for medical research while also taking aim at the opioid epidemic and maternal mortality passed the Senate on Thursday in a vote of 85-7.

The $857-billion “minibus” package bundled funding for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as for the Defense, Labor, and Education departments.

Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and James Risch (R-Idaho) voted against the bill.

Attention now turns to the House of Representatives, which has not yet acted on a bill to fund HHS. Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to enact a funding package to avoid a shutdown of the affected departments.

What’s in It?

The legislation provides $2 billion in additional funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $425 million for Alzheimer’s research and $190 million for cancer research. It also maintains current levels of CDC spending for cancer screening and early detection programs, as well as for the agency’s Office of Smoking and Health.

Also woven into the package: $3.7 billion for behavioral and mental health programs targeting opioid addiction — an increase of $145 million over the FY2018 budget — including $1.5 billion in State Opioid Response Grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; $200 million to increase prevention and treatment services in Community Health Centers; and $120 million to address the epidemic’s impact in rural areas through support for rural health centers. The bill also dedicates $50 million to programs aimed at tackling maternal mortality.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) lauded the investment in ending maternal mortality in a press statement.

“It is completely inexcusable that mothers are more likely to die in childbirth in our country than any other country in the developed world, and long past time we treated this issue like the crisis it is,” she said.

New Push for Research

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, blasted the short shrift given to NIH from 2003 to 2015.

Should this bill become law, the agency will see a nearly 30% increase in its reserves — from $30 billion to $39 billion, he added.

Already, heightened funding since 2015 has driven efforts to develop new vaccines, rebuild a human heart using a patient’s own cells, and identify new nonaddictive painkillers — “the holy grail of dealing with the opioid crisis” — said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, during a committee hearing on Thursday.

In addition, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, Ph.D., said at the hearing that the new monies will let the agency award 1,100 new grants to first-time investigators through the Next Generation Researchers Initiative — the largest number to date.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) stressed the importance of NIH funding to curb the costs of health care, especially of Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we do not find the cure for Alzheimer’s by the time we reach the year 2050, the budget at Medicare and Medicaid for taking care of Alzheimer’s patients will be equal to the defense budget of our country,” he said.

“Obviously, that is non-sustainable,” Markey noted.

U.S. taxpayers currently spend $277 billion on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that figure is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion, Blunt noted.

Also Wrapped In… 

The minibus package also included the following:

  • $1 million for HHS to develop regulations stipulating that drug companies include the price of the drug in any direct-to-consumer advertisements — an idea supported by HHS Secretary Alex Azar
  • Full funding for the Childhood Cancer STAR Act which involves collecting medical specimens and other data from children with the hardest to treat cancers, and supports research on the challenges pediatric cancer survivors encounter within “minority or medically underserved populations”
  • The requirement that the HHS Secretary provide an update on rulemaking related to information-blocking, as mandated in the 21st Century Cures Act
  • Funds “Trevor’s Law,” which seeks to enhance collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies and the public in investigating possible cancer clusters
  • Mandates that CDC report on the Coal Workers Health Surveillance Program, which targets black lung disease among coal miners

An amendment from Paul aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood failed in a vote of 45-48.

Docs, Wonks Weigh In

Stakeholders in medicine applauded the Senate’s work.

“[T]his bill will enable the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals, which perform over half of NIH-funded extramural research, to continue to expand our knowledge, discover new cures and treatments, and deliver on the promise of hope for patients nationwide,” said Darrell Kirch, MD, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in a press statement.

These new NIH monies will also help support “well-paying jobs across the country, strengthen the economy … and make America more competitive in science and technology,” Kirch said; he urged the House to pass a similar measure as quickly as possible.

The American Heart Association also applauded the Senate’s bipartisan achievement.

“Sustained funding for the NIH is critical to ensuring the nation’s standing as a global leader in research. Even more importantly, it opens an abundance of possibilities in pioneering research that could help us conquer cardiovascular disease, the no. 1 killer in America and around the world,” said Ivor Benjamin, MD, president of the AHA.

Members of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, however, were disappointed.

“The bill fails to make any program reforms or policy recommendations to address Obamacare. Congress still needs to provide relief to the millions suffering under Obamacare’s reduced choices and higher costs,” said a Heritage report issued Wednesday.

The departments to be funded by the minibus package account for more than 60% of discretionary federal spending for 2019, so there was some positive movement on the health care system despite our political dysfunction. Where do we go next?