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Breaking news: Private-sector health groups agree to work with Obama

There’s some fairly significant news coming out of Washington tonight: A CNN Money report via Yahoo! says that six key private-sector health industry groups have agreed to participate in the Obama administration’s effort to reform healthcare by pledging to take $2 trillion in costs out of the system over the next 10 years.

“Six trade associations representing unions, hospitals, insurers and the drug industry have signed on to the commitment,” the story says. An Associated Press story says doctors are participating as well. Based on these stories, we can safely assume that coalition includes the AMA, AHA, AHIP, PhRMA and probably the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the Service Employees International Union.

We’ll know for sure Monday when representatives from the six participating groups join President Obama at a press conference.

CNN reports that Obama will make reference to the AHIP-backed ad campaign that torpedoed reform efforts during the Clinton administration. “It is a recognition that the fictional television couple, Harry and Louise, who became the iconic faces of those who opposed health care reform in the ’90s, desperately need health care reform in 2009. And so does America,” Obama reportedly will say Monday.

May 10, 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.

New? Really?

Friday’s AHIP Solutions SmartBrief had this item:

New AHRQ campaign focuses on patient empowerment
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is rolling out a new campaign called “Questions Are the Answer,” designed to help patients be more involved in their care to avoid preventable harm. The program offers a Web site that includes video, checklists and advice for patients and providers on asking and answering questions. The Boston Globe (6/26)

The Boston Globe story from Thursday didn’t make mention of this being a new campaign; only the Spanish component is new. And that’s accurate. Readers of this blog would know that “Questions Are the Answer” is not new. I wrote about it on April 23, 2007.

On another subject, last week’s Health Wonk Review was one of the best I’ve seen to date—and not just because health IT got top billing. Kudos to Jaan Sidorov of the Disease Management Care Blog for his excellent and detailed commentary.

The link to the “Ultimate Guide to Google Health” was particularly useful. It’s nice to have time to put together such a comprehensive list. Or so I’m told.

June 30, 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.


Just a quick note: I’m the guest host, as it were, of FierceHealthIT this week. I wasn’t sure until it was too late if I was supposed to write a commentary, so I didn’t, but four of the top five story summaries this week carry my byline:

The one I didn’t write, “Top P4P hospitals to score $7m in bonuses from CMS,” ran in the daily FierceHealthcare last Thursday.

June 23, 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.

A new gig!

Ladies and Gentlereaders,

I am proud to announce that I have a new gig. I am writing a monthly supplement to the weekly Part B News called Physician Office Technology Report. It’s published by Decision Health of Rockville, Md.

The title pretty much speaks for itself, and the audience is primarily physician practice managers, similar to my last full-time job at a publication that shall remain nameless because I don’t want them to have the publicity.

So yeah, there was a good reason why I was in Philadelphia last week for the Medical Group Management Association‘s annual conference and yet another reason why my blogging has been rather spotty of late.

The first issue of the Part B News Physician Office Technology Report came out this week. Look for it the first week of each month.

Speaking of conferences I’m covering, I will be at the American Medical Informatics Association confab here in Chicago next week. The last time I saw Don Detmer’s crew was in Australia for MedInfo in August. Let’s see, 17 hours of flying vs. 25 minutes on the bus. Discuss.

The AMIA meeting at the Sheraton overlaps with the AHIP Business Forum, which is at the Renaissance Chicago about five blocks away, so it’s unlikely I’ll spend much time with the health insurers.

I did go to the AHIP annual meeting in Las Vegas in June (much warmer than Chicago in November, or, for that matter, Chicago in October 1871), but I’m not sure how much I’d get out of next week’s meeting.

A poll question in an AHIP “SmartBrief” last week asked which of the following trends was most significant in 2007:

1. CMS ruling not to reimburse costs for preventable errors.
2. Expansion of walk-in clinics in retail health settings.
3. Efforts to provide more insurance options for young people.
4. Obesity epidemic continuing.

Notice that health IT didn’t register. It’s not a top-tier issue on the national healthcare scene at the moment, a point further driven home at another event I dropped in on last week: the 25th anniversary celebration for Health Affairs. There, representatives from nine or 10 presidential campaigns participated in a roundtable discussion of healthcare issues.

The way it sounded to me was: “Access. Cost. Access. Cost. Medicare reform. Access. Cost. Health savings accounts. Access. Cost. Access Cost.” John McCain’s representative did mention health IT and, at the very end, Barack Obama’s guy alluded to quality. And you wonder why national HIT legislation hasn’t gone anywhere?

Want another sign that physicians are lagging on the IT front? I’m going to scrape the very bottom of the barrel for some evidence contained in a spam e-mail. Yeah, I know.

Someone trying to sell physician mailing lists said there were 788,974 total licensed physicians in the U.S. That sounds about right. This particular outfit claimed to have e-mail addresses for 17,042 of them. That works out to about 2 percent. Even if you consider only the 600,000 or so practicing docs, you’re only taking about 3 percent.

OK, enough with the spam. Here’s a public service for some people I’ve worked with, either directly or indirectly: Job listings.

First, blogger Matthew Holt is looking for 2-3 unpaid interns for the next health 2.0 conference, scheduled for San Diego next March. He’s based in San Francisco, and I assume most of the work is too. (Maybe I shouldn’t mention that the current issue of another pub I contribute to, Inside Healthcare Computing, has a commentary headlined “Our Take: Health 2.0 Is Really Advertising 2.0.”)

Also, E-Health Media in the UK, publisher of E-Health Insider, is putting on a healthcare IT careers forum in London on Nov. 30.

If you go to the latter, bring me back some British pounds. They’re worth about $2.11 as of this writing. Heck, I’d settle for Canadian or Aussie dollars, euros, yen, whatever.

November 5, 2007 I Written By

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

Say what?

I generally try to stay apolitical on this blog and in my writing, but I got an unbelievably shocking e-mail from the Cato Institute this week: “Join the Anti-Universal Coverage Club!” said the subject line, exclamation point included.

According to the e-mail, and these words are verbatim:

  1. Health policy should focus on making health care of ever-increasing quality available to an ever-increasing number of people.
  2. To achieve “universal coverage” would require either having the government provide health insurance to everyone or forcing everyone to buy it. Government provision is undesirable, because government generally does a poor job of improving quality or affordability. Forcing people to get insurance would lead to a worse health-care system for everyone, because it would necessitate so much more government intervention.
  3. In a free society, people should have the right to refuse health insurance.
  4. If governments must subsidize, they should be free to experiment with cash subsidies, vouchers, insurance coverage, public clinics & hospitals, uncompensated care payments, and tax exemptions, rather than be forced by a policy of “universal coverage” to subsidize people via “insurance.”

The first point certainly is valid. Wide availability of quality certainly is a worthy goal. But does it mean availability to everyone who wants it?

The other points all raise questions, such as, if government intervention in healthcare is so bad, why is Medicare so sacrosanct in U.S. policy-making and why is the Veterans Health Administration held in such high esteem?

Sure, some people may lose the right to refuse health insurance under certain proposals, but that likely will end up varying state-by-state, similar to automobile insurance laws. (Here in Illinois, people have the right to refuse to wear helmets while riding motorcycles, but is that really such a great idea?)

I’m guessing that this Cato e-mail was prompted by two things: the push for universal coverage in key states like Massachusetts and California and the release of the movie “Sicko.” Well, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the closing keynote address to the annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans the week before last, and he was warmly received since private health plans stand to benefit greatly from his flavor of universal coverage.

As for “Sicko,” the rumored appearance of Michael Moore at the AHIP meeting never materialized, but the filmmaker’s presence certainly was felt. The impending release of the movie was on the minds of a lot of attendees, and I heard an AHIP media representative on the phone, giving an impassioned defense of private insurance to an out-of-town reporter. (At the time, the film hadn’t been released, and nobody I know had seen anything more than the trailers.) Further, AHIP CEO Karen Ignani had an op-ed in USA Today last Friday, the day of the movie’s release.

I haven’t seen the movie myself yet, but I have noticed that the debate so far has delivered a deafening silence in the areas of quality and efficiency. How can any discussion of healthcare reform forget such important points?

July 2, 2007 I Written By

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

Michael Moore at AHIP meeting?

LAS VEGAS—In the sweltering June desert heat (dry heat, sure, but 104 degrees is still 104 degrees) comes a wonderfly not dry—OK, let’s call it juicy—rumor. Filmmaker Michael Moore, he of the forthcoming cinematic indictment of American healthcare called “Sicko”, may make an appearance Thursday or Friday at the annual America’s Health Insurance Plans meeting.

When I heard this, I immediately thought of the film that first put Moore on the map, 1989’s “Roger & Me”, in which the portly Michigander pursues then-General Motors boss Roger Smith before finally confronting Smith at the company’s annual meeting. As a GM shareholder at the time, Moore was entitled to attend—except he brought a camera crew and pointedly asked Smith why GM pulled so many high-paying factory jobs from Moore’s decaying hometown of Flint, Mich.

If, in fact, Moore does show up here at the AHIP meeting, I seriously doubt he’ll get a chance to confront AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni in front of the gathered audience. I picture more of a staged demonstration on the posh grounds of the convention site, the Wynn Las Vegas, with an entourage of sick Americans allegedly denied care by insurance companies. Whatever it might be, I expect great theater. I’ll have my camera handy just in case.

Why do I suspect there’s something to the rumor? Aside from Moore’s history of high-profile publicity stunts, his name was mentioned in Wednesday’s performance of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Wynn. Perhaps he was in the audience? Perhaps that’s just a regular part of the lyrics? I dunno, I’d never seen the show before. But I highly recommend it. (And now by mentioning it, my ticket becomes a deductible business expense. Same thing if I go see “Sicko.”)

Even if Moore doesn’t show, a bona fide movie star will be part of the official program. AHIP has confirmed that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will speak at Friday’s closing session.

Meanwhile, I became the butt of a joke on Wednesday. During a session on consumer-directed health plans, panelist David Harris of PricewaterhouseCoopers noted how many parties, from consumers to providers to banks to health insurers themselves, don’t quite understand exactly how high-deductible health plans and HSAs are supposed to work. Harris noted how early adopters of the automobile a century ago tended to get into a lot of accidents because they weren’t quite sure how to operate those newfangled horseless carriages.

During the Q&A portion of the session, I commented how I have an HSA from a bank that didn’t offer an HSA debit card for more than a year after I first opened my account, suggesting that the bank jumped in without fully planning its strategy. (I was writing checks at the pharmacy.) I also mentioned my experience in getting a free injection from a P.A. who didn’t think it was worth the time to check the price of the service.

“You’re an accident,” Harris jokingly said. One of the other panelists suggested my employer didn’t do much homework before offering the consumer-directed plan. I then said I was self-employed, to much laughter.

So there you have it: What happens in Vegas … eventually ends up on the Internet.

June 20, 2007 I Written By

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