Category Archives: Rural Hospitals

The Real Costs of the U.S. Health-Care Mess, South Africa’s cost of Health Care and Rural Health Care and Gun Violence

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How health insurance works now, and how the candidates want it to work in the future is confusing and yes, very costly.

Matt Bruenig reviewed that with more than 20 people vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, it can be difficult to get a handle on the policy terrain. This is especially true in health care, where at least eight different plans are floating around, including from candidates whom few support, such as Michael Bennet, who wants to offer a public health plan in the small individual-insurance market.

Among the candidates polling in the double digits, three have offered actual health-care proposals (as opposed to vague statements): Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders, whose Medicare for All plan is also supported by Elizabeth Warren. These plans are similar in the most general sense, in that they expand coverage and affordability, but they are dramatically different in their particulars and in what they tell voters about the respective candidates. To understand any of that, however, you have to understand how insurance works right now.

Americans get insurance from four main sources.

The first source is Medicare, which covers nearly all elderly people and some disabled people. The “core” program consists of Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital treatment, and Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits. Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs but is administered only by private insurance providers. Private Medigap plans provide supplemental insurance for some of the cost-sharing required by Parts A and B, while private Medicare Advantage plans essentially bundle all of the above into a single offering.

The second source is Medicaid, which covers low-income people and provides long-term care for disabled people. Medicaid is administered by states and jointly funded by state and federal governments. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility up to the income ladder a bit, but some states did not go along with the expansion.

The third source is employer-sponsored insurance, which covers about 159 million workers, spouses, and children. Employer insurance is very costly, with the average family premium running just under $19,000 a year. For average wage workers living in a family of four, this premium is equal to 26.4 percent of their total labor compensation. If you count this premium as taxes for international comparison purposes, the average wage worker in the United States has the second-highest tax rate in the developed world, behind the Netherlands. As with Medicaid, employer insurance is very unstable, with people losing their insurance plan every time they separate from their job (66 million workers every year) or when their employer decides to change insurance carriers (15 percent of employers every year).

The final source is individual insurance purchased directly from a private insurer. Most of the people who buy this kind of insurance do so through the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. The exchanges provide income-based subsidies to individuals with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the poverty line, but have mostly been a policy train wreck: Enrollments were 50 percent lower than predicted, insurers have quit the exchanges in droves, and the income cutoffs have caused disgruntlement among low-income participants who would rather have Medicaid and high-income participants who get no subsidy at all.

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, America still has about 30 million uninsured people, a number that is predicted to increase to 35 million by 2029. Conservative estimates suggest that there is one unnecessary death annually for every 830 uninsured people, meaning that America’s level of uninsurance leads to more than 35,000 unnecessary deaths every year.

Biden has centered his candidacy on his association with Barack Obama. Given this strategy, it’s no surprise that he has put out a health plan that is meant to be as similar to Obamacare as possible.

The plan keeps the current insurance regime intact while tweaking some of the rules to fix a few of the pain points identified above. He closes the hole created by some states not expanding Medicaid by enrolling everyone stuck in that hole into a new public health plan for free. He soothes the disgruntlement of high-income people who buy unsubsidized individual insurance by extending subsidies beyond 400 percent of the poverty line. And he slightly increases the subsidy amount for those buying subsidized individual insurance on the exchanges.

In addition to these rule tweaks, Biden also says that the new public option for everyone in the Medicaid hole will also be available in the individual and employer insurance markets, meaning that people in those markets can buy into that public option rather than rely on private insurance.

Biden is probably correct to say that his plan is the most similar to Obamacare. And just like Obamacare, Biden’s plan will leave a lot of Americans uninsured. Specifically, his own materials say that 3 percent of Americans will still be uninsured after his reforms, which means that about 10 million Americans will continue to lack insurance and about 12,000 will die each year due to uninsurance.

Sanders is running as a progressive democratic socialist who wants America to offer the kinds of benefits available in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, or in even less left-wing countries such as Canada. Unlike Biden, he has no need or desire to wrap himself in the policies of the Obama era and has instead come out in favor of a single-payer Medicare for All system.

Under the Sanders plan, the federal government will provide comprehensive health insurance that covers nearly everything people associate with medical care, including prescription drugs, hearing, dental, and vision. Over the course of four years, every American will be transitioned to the new public health plan. Going forward, rather than getting money to providers through a mess of leaky insurance channels, all money will flow through the single Medicare channel, which will cover everyone.

So far, Sanders has not adopted a specific set of “pay-fors” for his Medicare for All program but has instead offered up lists of funding options. Although he has remained open on the specifics of funding Medicare for All, the overall Sanders vision is pretty clear: cut overall health spending while also redistributing health spending up the ladder so that the majority of families pay less for health care than they do now.

And this plan is plausible: The right-wing Mercatus Center found in 2018 that the Sanders plan reduces overall health spending by $2 trillion in the first 10 years. The nonpartisan Rand Corporation has constructed a similar single-payer plan, with pay-fors, for New York State that would result in health-care savings for all family income-groups below 1,000 percent of the poverty line ($276,100 for a family of four).

While Sanders’s support for Medicare for All helps promote his image as a supporter of universal social programs, Warren’s support for it helps boost her brand as a smart technocrat who understands good policy design. As Paul Krugman noted in 2007, a single-payer Medicare for All system is “simpler, easier to administer, and more efficient” than the “complicated, indirect” health-care system we have now. In general, single-payer systems are beloved by the wonk set because they are the most direct and cost-effective way to provide universal health insurance to a population.

If Biden’s plan is Obamacare 2.0 and the Sanders/Warren plan is wonky universalism, then Harris’s plan is a bizarre and confusing muddle that also has come to typify her campaign. Harris is the candidate who went hard after Biden for his views on busing many decades ago and then clarified the next day that her views are the same as Biden’s. She’s the candidate who said she wanted to get rid of private insurers and raised her hand when asked if she would be willing to swap out private insurance for Medicare for All, only to walk back both statements the very next day.

Harris’s health-care proposal, which is basically Medicare Advantage for All, is similar to the Sanders plan, except it takes 10 years to phase in instead of four and allows people to opt out of the public plan in favor of a private plan with identical coverage (similar to how Medicare Advantage works today). This weird hybrid allows Harris to insist that she is for Medicare for All while also saying that she is not getting rid of private insurance.

As readers can probably guess, I favor the Sanders plan on the merits. But what matters for voters may not be the particulars, which most voters will probably never be aware of, but rather what the plans say about the candidates. Voters who want Obama 2.0 will see in Biden’s health-care plan a reassuring fidelity to his predecessor. Voters interested in universal social programs or technocratic wonkiness will have another reason to like Sanders or Warren based on their Medicare for All plan. And voters who like Harris’s style and do not care about consistency can use Harris’s triangulated health-care policy to see what they want in her.

South Africa puts initial universal healthcare cost at $17 billion

I thought that it would be a great idea to see how much other countries are paying for their health care plans. Onke Ngcuka noted that South Africa published its draft National Health Insurance (NHI) bill on Thursday, with one senior official estimating universal healthcare for millions of poorer citizens would cost about 256 billion rands ($16.89 billion) to implement by 2022.

The bill creating an NHI Fund paves the way for a comprehensive overhaul of South Africa’s health system that would be one of the biggest policy changes since the ruling African National Congress ended white minority rule in 1994.

The existing health system in Africa’s most industrialized economy reflects broader racial and social inequalities that persist more than two decades after apartheid ended.

Less than 20 percent of South Africa’s population of 58 million can afford private healthcare, while a majority of poor blacks queue at understaffed state hospitals short of equipment.

Anban Pillay, deputy director-general at the health department, told reporters an initial Treasury estimate of 206 billion rand costs by 2022 was more likely to be 256 billion rands by the time final numbers had been reviewed.

The bill proposes that the NHI Fund, with a board and chief executive officer, also be funded from additional taxes.

“The day we have all been waiting for has arrived: today the National Health Insurance Bill is being introduced in parliament,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize at the briefing, adding that the pooling of existing public funds should help reduce costs.

The Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA), an industry body which represents private hospital groups including Netcare, Mediclinic and Life Healthcare, welcomed the release of the bill.

“We are committed to, and supportive of, the core purpose of the legislation, which is to ensure access to quality healthcare for all South Africans,” said HASA chairman Biren Valodia in a statement.

“TAX BURDEN”

The new bill is still to be debated in parliament with public input. It is unclear how long the legislative process will take, with the main opposition party Democratic Alliance suggesting the NHI, which has been in the works for around a decade, would strain the nation’s coffers.

“The DA is convinced that instead of being a vehicle to provide quality healthcare for all, this Bill will nationalize healthcare … and be an additional tax burden to already financially-stretched South Africans,” said Siviwe Gwarube, the DA’s shadow health minister, in a statement.

Successful implementation of NHI would be a boon for President Cyril Ramaphosa following May’s election the ANC won, but its cost comes at a tricky time in a struggling economy.

South Africa’s rand fell to touch an 11-month low on Wednesday, rocked by deepening concerns about the outlook for domestic growth with unemployment at its highest in over a decade and the economy skirting recession.

New taxation options for the Fund include evaluating a surcharge on income tax and small payroll-based taxes.

“There is no doubt that taxpayers will find the additional tax burden a bitter pill to swallow,” said Aneria Bouwer, a partner and tax specialist at Bowmans law firm.

The NHI is due to be implemented in phases before full operation by 2026. The government is looking to eventually shift into the new Fund approximately 150 billion rands a year from money earmarked for the provincial government sphere.

Rural hospitals take the spotlight in the coverage expansion debate

Susannah Luthi points out a fact of these health care plans which everyone refuses to believe. Opponents of the public option have funded an analysis that warns more rural hospitals may close if Americans leave commercial plans for Medicare.

With the focus on rural hospitals, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future brings a sensitive issue for politicians into its fight against a Medicare buy-in. The policy has gone mainstream among Democratic presidential candidates and many Democratic lawmakers.

Rural hospitals could lose between 2.3% and 14% of their revenue if the U.S. opens up Medicare to people under 65, the consulting firm Navigant projected in its estimate. The analysis assumed just 22% of the remaining 30 million uninsured Americans would choose a Medicare plan. The study based its projections of financial losses primarily on people leaving the commercial market where payment rates are significantly higher than Medicare.

The estimate assumed Medicaid wouldn’t lose anyone to Medicare and plotted out various scenarios where up to half of the commercial market would shift to Medicare.

The analysis was commissioned by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, a coalition of hospitals, insurers and pharmaceutical companies fighting public option and single-payer proposals.

In their most drastic scenario of commercial insurance losses, co-authors Jeff Goldsmith and Jeff Leibach predict more than 55% of rural hospitals could risk closure, up from 21% who risk closure today according to their previous studies.

Leibach said the analysis was tailored to individual hospitals, accounting for hospitals that wouldn’t see cuts since they don’t have many commercially insured patients.

The spotlight on rural hospitals in the debate on who should pay for healthcare is common these days, particularly as politicians or the executive branch eye policies that could cut hospital or physician pay.

On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) seemingly acknowledged this when she published her own proposal to raise Medicare rates for rural hospitals as part of her goal to implement single-payer or Medicare for All. She is running for the Democratic nomination for president for the 2020 election.

“Medicare already has special designations available to rural hospitals, but they must be updated to match the reality of rural areas,” Warren said in a post announcing a rural strategy as part of her campaign platform. “I will create a new designation that reimburses rural hospitals at a higher rate, relieves distance requirements and offers the flexibility of services by assessing the needs of their communities.”

Warren is a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is credited with the party’s leftward shift on the healthcare coverage question. But she is trying to differentiate herself from Sanders, and the criticisms about the potentially drastic pay cuts to hospitals have dogged single-payer debates.

Most experts acknowledge the need for a significant policy overhaul that lets rural hospitals adjust their business models. Those providers tend to have aging and sick patients; high rates of uninsured and public pay patients over those covered by commercial insurance; and fewer patients overall than their urban counterparts.

But lawmakers in Washington aren’t likely to act during this Congress. The major recent changes have mostly been driven by the Trump administration, where officials just last week finalized an overhaul of the Medicare wage index to help rural hospitals.

As political rhetoric around the public option or single-payer has gone mainstream this presidential primary season, rural hospitals will likely remain a talking point in the ideas to overhaul or reorganize the U.S.’s $3.3 trillion healthcare industry.

This was in evidence in May, when the House Budget Committee convened a hearing on Medicare for All to investigate some of the fiscal impacts. One Congressional Budget Office official said rural hospitals with mostly Medicaid, Medicare, and uninsured patients could actually see a boost in a redistribution of doctor and hospital pay.

But the CBO didn’t analyze specific legislation and offered a vague overview of how a single-payer system might look, rather than giving exact numbers.

The plight of rural hospitals has been used in lobbying tactics throughout this year — in Congress’ fight over how to end surprise medical bills as well as opposition to hospital contracting reforms proposed in the Senate.

And it has worked to some extent. Both House and Senate committees have made concessions to their surprise billing proposals to mollify some lawmakers’ worries.

New research finds restructuring Medicare Shared Savings Program can yield 40% savings in healthcare costs, bolstering payments to providers

As I reviewed in the last few posts, the evaluation of Medicare was underestimated regarding the cost of the program many times.  Ashley Smith reported that more than a trillion dollars were spent on healthcare in the United States in 2018, with Medicare and Medicaid accounting for some 37% of those expenditures. With healthcare costs expected to continue to rise by roughly 5% per year, a continued debate in healthcare policy is how to reduce costs without compromising quality.

As part of this effort, the Medicare Shared Savings Program was created to control escalating Medicare spending by giving healthcare providers incentives to deliver more efficient healthcare.

New research published in the INFORMS journal Operations Research offers a new approach that could substantially change the healthcare spending paradigm by utilizing performance-based incentives to drive down spending.

The researchers Anil Aswani and Zuo-Jun (Max) Shen of the University of California, Berkeley, and Auyon Siddiq of the University of California, Los Angeles found that redesigning the contract for the shared savings program to better align provider incentives with performance-based subsidies can both increase Medicare savings and increase providers’ reimbursement payments.

“Introducing performance-based subsidies can boost Medicare savings by up to 40% without compromising provider participation in the shared savings program,” said Aswani, a professor in the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department at UC Berkeley. “This contract can lead to improved outcomes for both Medicare and participating providers,” he continued.

So, again Medicare will be tweaked and reworked for the present aging population.

What will happen with the Medicare program if it applies to all and at what cost?

And finally, we physicians are on the front lines of caring for patients affected by the intentional or unintentional firearm-related injury. We care for those who experience a lifetime of physical and mental disability related to firearm injury and provides support for families affected by firearm-related injury and death. Physicians are the ones who inform families when their loved ones die as a result of the firearm-related injury. Firearm violence directly impacts physicians, their colleagues, and their families. In a recent survey of trauma surgeons, one-third of respondents had themselves been injured or had a family member or close friend(s) injured or killed by a firearm (38). As with other public health crises, firearm-related injury and death are preventable. The medical profession has an obligation to advocate for changes to reduce the burden of firearm-related injuries and death on our patients, their families, our communities, our colleagues, and our society. Our organizations are committed to working with all stakeholders to identify reasonable, evidence-based solutions to stem firearm-related injury and death and will continue to speak out on the need to address the public health threat of firearms and I will discuss this in more detail in the following weeks.

First, we have to ignore the NRA and make a difference in order to decrease the increasing gun violence!!!!! I predict that if the President and the Republican Senate doesn’t make inroads they are doomed to fail in the 2020 election.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the Worst Patients in the World?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on the History of Medicare and Other Healthcare Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come next week!

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

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

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

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

But “father” is different.

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

Then, two years became three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s at about 400 now.”

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

“No.”

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

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

“That must have been terrifying,” Cowan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I would like to think so, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s minute-by-minute,” he replied.

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

“About $7,000.”

“Which gets you how far?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mainly just sit and hope,” Steele said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handguns were not included in the assault weapons ban.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And More About the Medicare Story!

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

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

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

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

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

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