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Health Wonk Review: Special SCOTUS edition

To the surprise of nobody, the healthcare blogosphere was busy last week in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Because of this, Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters put together a special edition of Health Wonk Review. In fact, he did a two-parter, and did it in just a couple of days. My post from Friday just barely made the cut, as the second-to-last entry mentioned in Part 2. Paduda had a lot of fun with Part 1, which he put up late Thursday night in the immediate aftermath of the decision.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also link back to the most recent regular edition of Health Wonk Review, also hosted by Paduda. It’s been up since June 22, but I forgot to mention it before. He included my post about the difficult task of informing the public that they have the right to access and correct their own medical records. Sorry  for the oversight, but better late than never. There’s a lot of other good stuff in there about the future of healthcare reform beyond the ACA, so please check it out.

July 5, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

ACA decision is a beginning, not an end, to health reform

I’ve spent a lot of time on social media since Thursday morning debating the meaning of the Supreme Court’s rather stunning decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was stunning in that Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with the four liberal-minded justices, but also stunning in that the court went against conventional wisdom by upholding the individual mandate on the grounds that it was a legal exercise of Congress’ constitutional right to levy taxes.

I had to remind a lot of people that this decision neither solves the crisis, as supporters have claimed, or turns us into the Soviet Union, as some on the lunatic fringe have suggested. Expanding insurance only throws more money at the same problem. This was my first tweet after I learned of the decision:

Breaking news: American #healthcare still sucks. It's quality, stupid. #ACA #hcr #SCOTUS #Obamacare
@nversel
Neil Versel

The cynic in me likes to point out that the individual mandate was an idea first conceived by the conservative Heritage Foundation and championed in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. Both somehow now oppose the idea. The law that ultimately passed Congress was written by Liz Fowler, a top legal counsel to Max Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee who previously was a lobbyist for WellPoint. Her reward for doing the bidding of the insurance industry was for Obama to appoint her deputy director of the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at HHS. This was insider dealing at its finest, as much a gift to insurers as the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act was a gift to Big Pharma.

Of course, I initially was misinformed about the Supreme Court ruling because CNN jumped the gun (as did Fox News) and erroneously reported that the court had struck down the individual mandate on the grounds that it violated the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution. But so were millions of others.

I suppose that was fitting, since the national media have for more than two years been misinforming the public about what is really in the law. There are small but real elements of actual care reform — not just an insurance expansion — in there, but very few have been reported. The actual reform has been drowned out by ideologues on both sides. Here’s a handy explanation of most of what’s really there (it’s a good list but not exhaustive). The insurance expansion, the only thing people are talking about, really is just throwing more money at the problem. There is a lot more work to be done to fix our broken system.

What I consider real reform in the ACA includes accountable care organizations and the creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. Along with the innovation center, CMS also gets the power to expand pilot programs that are successful at saving money or producing better outcomes. In the past, successful “demonstrations” would need specific authorization from Congress, which could take years.

Notice that there isn’t a whole lot specific to IT. That’s because the “meaningful use” incentive program for EHRs was authorized by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Another key element of real reform that also is not part of the ACA is Medicare’s new policy of not reimbursing for certain preventable hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge.

We need more attention to quality of care. Many have argued that tort reform needs to be part of the equation, too, because defensive medicine leads to duplicative and often unnecessary care. Perhaps, but lawsuits are a small issue compared to the problem of medical errors. Cut down on mistakes and you cut down on malpractice suits. Properly implemented EHRs and health information exchange — and I do mean properly implemented — will help by improving communication between providers so everybody involved with a patient’s care knows exactly what’s going on at all times.

All of these facts lead me to conclude that true healthcare reform hasn’t really happened yet. Look at this Supreme Court ruling as a beginning, not an end, to reform.

 

June 29, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Health reform is so much more than insurance

The headline above shouldn’t surprise regular readers or anyone who knows me. I’ve been saying for a couple of years to anyone who asks me about “Obamacare” or any other aspect of healthcare reform—and many people who haven’t asked—that the public debate and media coverage have been about insurance reform, not care reform, and health insurance is not the same thing as healthcare. I’ve publicly chided the national media, too.

Maybe that is changing. Last month, attorney Philip K. Howard, chairman of advocacy group Common Good (an organization working to “fill the substance void in the 2012 election by offering new solutions to fix broken government”), wrote in The Atlantic that no matter what the Supreme Court does with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, healthcare still will remain inefficient and expensive. “The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, strives for universal coverage. While it encourages pilots for more efficient delivery systems, the overall effect is to exacerbate the unaffordability of American health care. In this sense, the upcoming Supreme Court decision on constitutionality is just a side skirmish,” Howard said.

In other words, as I’ve been arguing for two years, the insurance expansion of this supposed comprehensive “healthcare reform” legislation is simply throwing more money at the same problem. Having insurance doesn’t assure you good care, nor will it by itself even reduce overall costs. It just shifts costs. There was more reform in the HITECH section of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in the form of the $27 billion incentive program for “meaningful use” of electronic health records than there is in the part of the ACA being widely debated in this election year.

That’s why, as I pointed out Friday, I was happy to see that investigative journalism organization ProPublica has started a Facebook community for people to share stories of patient harm. And today, the New York Times discussed actual healthcare quality in one of its Sunday editorials (h/t Jane Sarasohn-Kahn). The Times highlighted efforts at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and hospital alliance Premier, saying, “It is a measure of how dysfunctional the system has become that these successful experiments — based on medical sense, sound research and efficiencies — seem so revolutionary.” Indeed.

By the way, my recent, controversial post arguing that faxing should be considered malpractice isn’t a new thought I’ve had. I just rediscovered my January 2011 commentary in Columbia Journalism Review about media coverage of telephone-based “telemedicine.” I ended the piece by advising fellow journalists to “start asking the health-care organizations you cover why they still rely on old-fashioned telephones and fax machines.” Malpractice or not, legal or not, it’s more than a decade into the 21st century, yet we still view healthcare through a 20th-century lens.

Or, as I also like to say, it’s quality, stupid.

June 3, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

$10M settlement in death from medical error

Remember James C. Tyree, the University of Chicago Medical Center board member who died last year from a preventable medical error at the very same hospital he was on the board of? His estate has reached a $10 million settlement with the prestigious teaching hospital for “alleged negligence,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

As I previously wrote, Tyree died from an intravascular air embolism, the result of an improperly removed catheter. That just happens to be one of the National Quality Forum’s so-called “never events.”

Tyree, as chairman and CEO of  financial services firm Mesirow Financial, was pretty well-off. He also should have gotten VIP treatment at U. of C. Medical Center since he was a board member. Yet his money and connections could not save him from a preventable error that really should never happen.

Think about that the next time someone tells you that having health insurance automatically gives you access to good care and that the wealthy get better care than the rest of us. Health insurance just means the insurer will help pay the bills — and often the bills rise (as does hospital revenue) — when there’s a preventable error, as seems to be happening with my own father this week. (He’s still in the hospital, though the pneumonia has subsided.) Being a VIP at a teaching hospital just means you might get faster service, more — not necessarily better — care and perhaps direct supervision from executive faculty, not just residents and the occasional attending physician.

Poor quality is epidemic in American healthcare. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Kudos to David Doherty of Ireland-based telehealth provider 3G Doctor for this summation of the problem, which he tweeted in response to the post about my dad:

In 2012 where else but the sickcare industry do you make more money by failing http://t.co/pUOebYho Hope Dad gets well soon @
@mHealthInsight
mHealth Insight

Keep spreading the word: It’s quality, stupid.

April 24, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Virginia gets $10 million ransom demand for data breach

From InformationWeek via the Health Care Law Blog comes news that the Virginia Department of Health Professions has received a $10 million ransom demand for 8.3 million patient records and 35.6 million prescription records.

Let me repeat: someone allegedly is extorting the State of Virginia for $10 million over a security breach involving millions of electronic health records.

I’d write more, but it seems like Bob Coffield has covered the issue pretty comprehensively on the Health Care Law Blog. He cites the alleged ransom note, Virginia’s response and a very interesting blog post about HIPAA notification responsibilities from John Moore of Chilmark Research.

May 5, 2009 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Daschle’s looking better already

From Paragraph 93 of the federal criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich unsealed this morning:

On November 5, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with Deputy Governor A regarding positions that ROD BLAGOJEVICH might be able to obtain in exchange for the soon-to-be vacated Senate seat. Among the potential positions discussed were Secretary of Health and Human Services and various ambassadorships.

Paragraph 98 alleges:

On November 7, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with Advisor A about the Senate seat. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that he is willing to “trade” the Senate seat to Senate Candidate 1 in exchange for the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services in the President-elect’s cabinet.

That’s right, Blagojevich allegedly saw himself as the right person to fix America’s healthcare woes. Well, there is a precedent for Midwestern governors taking over HHS—Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson—but it seems so far like President-elect Barack Obama made a wise choice in picking Tom Daschle over Captain Hairdo. Particularly in light of this gem from Paragraph 101(c):

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.”

Ah, the joys of Chicago politics!

December 9, 2008 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.