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‘Bitter Pill’ only tells half the story

I finally got around to finishing “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us,” the 24,000-word special report about healthcare costs that took up the entire feature section of the Feb. 20 edition of Time magazine. I was expecting to agree with most if not all of Steven Brill’s supposedly epic investigative piece. Instead, I was underwhelmed and quite disappointed that Brill, the founder of CourtTV (R.I.P., reincarnated as TruTV in Turner Broadcasting’s quest for more “reality” programming) and of American Lawyer magazine,  only told half the story about all that ails the U.S. healthcare industry. Brill also editorializes far more than he should.

Granted, the story is about the high cost of care, but you can’t discuss cutting costs without also delving into the subject of improving outcomes. As has been stated in many other places, we have more of a sick-care system than a healthcare system. The incentives favor treating illness, not preventing it.

I have to say I learned a lot about how the racket known as the chargemaster works to keep the true costs of care opaque to patients. I suspect that, with the exception of uninsured people who are the only ones expected to pay full price, the public was unaware of the chargemaster system that hospitals guard like a state secret. Brill is right when he says, “Unless you have Medicare, the health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot.” But he’s not telling the full story. Medicare’s payment list is public, sure, but do Medicare beneficiaries really care what the federal government pays their hospitals and doctors? No, they, like everyone else with insurance coverage, only pay attention to their out-of-pocket cost.

Sure, Brill spends a lot of time discussing the perverse incentives in healthcare, particularly those that encourage expensive testing, and even touches on some of the reforms in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that seem to have been left out of the debate over insurance coverage. Think the Medicare policy of not reimbursing hospitals for certain preventable readmissions.

But he completely neglects accountable care. Nor is there a mention of electronic health records and how interoperability can help reduce duplicate testing and unnecessary care. And he never addresses the elephant in the room, the shamefully high rate of medical errors that makes American healthcare far from the best in the world.

July 23, 2013 I Written By

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

Guest podcast: Deborah Gordon of Network Health talks reform with Sivad Solutions

Last September, I was a guest on a podcast hosted by Todd Schnick and Charles Davis of Sivad Business Solutions. Afterwards, we decided to share content if and when it made sense. That hasn’t happened until now (actually last month — I’m just getting around to posting now).

Schnick and Davis interviewed Deborah Gordon, chief marketing officer of Network Health, a health insurer in Massachusetts, to discuss healthcare reform. I wouldn’t be posting this if it didn’t have a focus on real reform of health care, and not just insurance expansion, with a strong element of patient safety and attention to outcomes.


From Sivad:

An honor to welcome Deborah Gordon, the Chief Marketing Officer for Network Health. Debbie joins us to talk about one of the more innovative non-profit health plans one can find across the US. You can learn more about Network Health here, the number three health plan for Medicaid health plans.

Discussion topics included:

1. The challenges of serving a very diverse population and customer base, along with lower income customers as a result of income or job situation.

2. Network Health, and states like Massachusetts, have lead the nation in Medicaid health care. How can that trend, and how can the reforms found in Massachusetts, spread across the land?

3. The creation of the Health Insurance Exchange is the key to success…which brings competition and market forces to bear in health care. “It is like Expedia for health insurance…”

4. A focus on quality patient care going forward…

5. What are the challenges going forward, and how does the heated national debate impact the work they are doing.

6. The innovation that’s possible when market forces are at play… “Regulators spawning innovation…”

7. More technology is available and serving the health care markets, which is exciting. But, will access to that technology be accessible to the low income markets?

8. The e-discharge program…

9. The utilization of analytics…

10. Exposing more information to the consumer makes them better patients, healthier, and more compliant to health recommendations…

11. The patient should be the center of the health care system… not the doctor.

12. Debbie was recently named a 2013 USA Eisenhower Fellow, a prestigious fellowship which recognizes emerging leaders who are making momentous contributions to society. In 2013, she will travel to Singapore and Australia where she will explore how these countries have successfully established systems and supports that allow consumers to make good decisions about their health care. The goal is to gather insights and best practices that can be applied here in the U.S.

 

April 16, 2013 I Written By

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