In Praise of Individual Health Mandates

Kenneth Lin

Posted 11/1/11 on Common Sense Family Doctor

Last month, my family was involved in a scary traffic accident en route to the Family Medicine Education Consortium‘s North East Region meeting. I was in the left-hand eastbound lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike when a westbound tractor trailer collided with a truck, causing the truck to cross over the grass median a few cars ahead of us. I hit the brakes and swerved to avoid the truck, but its momentum carried it forward into the left side of our car. Strapped into child safety seats in the back, both of my children were struck by shards of window glass. My five year-old son, who had been sitting behind me, eventually required twelve stitches to close a scalp laceration. Miraculously, none of the occupants of the other six damaged vehicles, including the truck driver, sustained any injuries.

Family physicians like me, and physicians in general, like to believe that the interventions we provide patients make a big difference in their eventual health outcomes. In a few cases, they do. But for most people, events largely outside of the scope of medical practice determine one’s quality and length of life, and public health legislation is more likely to save lives than the advice of well-meaning health professionals. My colleagues can counsel parents about car seat safety until they’re blue in the face, but state laws requiring that young children be belted into car safety seats are what made the difference for my son between a scalp laceration and a life-threatening injury.

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The Anti-Tax Lobby And The ‘Super Committee’

Merrill Goozner

First posted 8/17/11 in The Fiscal Times:

With a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction axe poised to fall in December, corporate lobbyists are lining the hallways of the nation’s capitol to ensure their clients’ necks aren’t on the chopping block.

Will these special interests be able to buy their way to a more solicitous consideration of their views? One thing is certain: For the 12 senators and representatives serving on the Super Committee to arrive at a compromise in December, some campaign contributors will have to take a haircut.

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It’s Not Just About The Money: Cost Control in Cancer Care

Harold Pollack

First published 7/17/11 on Kaiser Health News

Health reform raises central ideological questions about the size and scope of government, about progressive taxation, about the individual mandate and more. It’s easy to forget that cost control will be a huge challenge, no matter how these ideological matters are resolved, indeed under any health system. Finding the right combination of humanity and restraint will be particularly hard in addressing life-threatening or life-ending illness. Economic incentives, American culture, a changing doctor-patient relationship and fundamental uncertainties at the boundaries of clinical care conspire against our efforts to provide more humane, more financially prudent care.

Why Health Care Reform Is Here To Stay

Joe Paduda

First published 6/10/11 on Managed Care Matters

It’s pretty simple, really.

Once people gain actual real-life experience with a government program, they abandon their fear of the unknown, see its benefits more clearly, and become invested in its future.

We’ve seen that with Medicare, which consistently pleases its beneficiaries. Part D has similar traction, and now we’ve learned that the citizens of Massachusetts are increasingly happy with that state’s health reform.

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Prevention Politics Injures Patients

Kenneth Lin

First published 5/31/11 on Common Sense Family Doctor

PPIP is an acronym that officially stands for “Put Prevention Into Practice,” which serves as both the name of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s programs to disseminate the preventive care recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force as well as the tagline for a series of case study questions about these recommendations that I wrote for the journal American Family Physician from 2008 to 2010. Given theunfortunate events that have occurred since the USPSTF became inextricably linked to the Obama health care reform bill, however, I now propose a new meaning for PPIP: Prevention Politics Injures Patients.

In a recent New York Times editorial, “Squandering Medicare’s Money,” Archives of Internal Medicine editor Rita Redberg, MD pointed out that the Medicare program paid physicians more than $40 million in 2009 for screening colonoscopies in patients over age 75, and $50 million in 2008 for PSA screening in men age 75 and older and Pap smears in women age 65 and older. That’s nearly $100 million alone for 3 tests that the USPSTF concluded have few or zero health benefits and have a high potential to cause harm, and it doesn’t count the additional millions (billions?) of dollars of additional testing and procedures that result from these unnecessary screenings. Dr. Redberg writes:

Our medical culture is such that if the choice is between doing a test and not doing one, it is considered better care to do the test. So while Medicare is obligated to follow the [U.S. Preventive Services] task force’s recommendations to cover new preventive services, it has no similar mandate to deny coverage for services for which the task force has found no benefit.

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Controlling the Medicare Budget – Time To Fast Forward to 1999

Roger Collier

First published 4/28/11 on Health Care Reform Update

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the government deficit will exceed one and a half trillion dollars this year, with federal health care annual expenditures expected to hit the trillion dollar mark by 2012. The largest federal health care program is, of course, Medicare, with costs projected to be close to $600 billion in 2012, and growing at around seven percent a year thereafter, although forecast to drop to a mere six percent annual increase if and when the Accountable Care Act is fully implemented.
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Does Constraining Health Cost Growth Require Choosing between Obama and Ryan?

C. Eugene Steuerle

First published 4/21/11 on The American Square

President Barack Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) have laid out different approaches for curbing growth in health care costs. One would empower government-appointed officials to constrain health prices and services by, for instance, strengthening the power of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) created in 2010’s health-reform legislation. The other would provide Americans with premium support up to some dollar limit to cover their health insurance purchases. Both count on efficiency improvements as well. The political debates have quickly centered over whether Obama is heading toward ever-more cumbersome government regulation and price-setting and whether Ryan is opening up unregulated markets that would deprive many of needed health care.

It’s not that simple, though. Three questions are actually at issue:

(1) How should budget constraints be applied?

(2) Should automatic budget growth for health care programs (particularly, Medicare) finally be reined in?

(3) Should government health program budgets be limited even if neither side gets its way?

Continue reading “Does Constraining Health Cost Growth Require Choosing between Obama and Ryan?”