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Medicine: Healthcare System


What Are The Republicans in the Senate Doing?

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Republican establishment in both houses of congress are trying to torpedo Donald Trump’s agenda.

Republicans had seven years to coordinate a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The House of Representative’s bill has finally past. Senate committees are stalling progress of the bill.

Both houses should have had all the debates and consensus reached to during the last seven years.

Why would congressmen try to stall the passage of the bill? President Trump has stated that passage of the budget bill is dependent on passage of the healthcare bill.

The reason is obvious to me.

President Trump has pledge to those who voted for him that he is going to drain the swamp in Washington. He is going to eliminate corruption and streamline the bloated bureaucracy.

The Republican establishment is a big part of the swamp. They are thriving in the swamp they helped create.

President Trump represents a direct threat to their power. The Republican establishment does not realize that the only reason they have a majority in both houses is because of the rebellion within the party against the Republican establishment.

Tea partyers and independents voted for unknown candidates and defeated many establishment Republicans in the primaries.

The goal of the Republican establishment is to weaken President Trump’s agenda.

They don’t understand that they are destroying the Republican Party while they are trying to save their own swamp.

It is time the Republicans in the Senate passed the bill.

Regulations that should be eliminated are any regulations that increase bureaucratic control over the healthcare system and the practice of medicine.

The healthcare community knows how to control the costs of chronic diseases. It is by decreasing the onset of complications. Patients have to participate in controlling their chronic disease.

If a healthcare system was developed to control the costs of these chronic diseases, the United States would not only have the best healthcare system in the world we would have the most cost effective healthcare system in the world.

“In the case of diabetes, for example, the American Diabetes Association reports that the total cost of that debilitating disease amounted to $245 billion in 2012. This includes $176 billion in direct medical costs, and $69 billion in lost productivity.”

The key to diabetes control and the avoidance of diabetes complications is to control blood sugar to a close to normal as possible. This takes a lot of work on the patient’s part. Patients need the education and the motivation to become the professor of their disease and control their blood sugar.

  As Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a physician, recently noted, diabetic seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare still do not have access to continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), a medical technology today covered by 95 percent of private health plans. ’’

It is bizarre. Yet, Republican Senators who should have figured this out over the last seven years are debating small points that will have little effect on the clinical outcomes. The Republican Party has an opportunity of a lifetime to fix the healthcare system for the American people.

Republicans are going to waste this opportunity to serve the people in order to preserve their swamp that has gotten the people into this horrible position.

I am afraid we are going to see this behavior of perpetuating waste when it comes to education, the environment and energy.

The Democratic Party is worse. They are not acting in the peoples’ interest. They are trying to obstruct everything President Trump is trying to accomplish.

They criticize every initiative saying it is bad without providing reasons for why it is bad.

I believe it is time for the members of both parties to get off the stick. They must stop thinking about themselves and start thinking about the welfare of Americans.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Democrats Still Think Americans Are Stupid

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP, MACE

The House Republicans finally got their act together and passed their version of the Obamacare repeal and replace act. It seems that many representatives do not trust Paul Ryan, Tom Price and President Donald Trump.

The Republican house version of the bill does not repeal and replace Obamacare completely.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) permitted Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary of HHS, to issue regulations to administer the act at her discretion. Many of her regulations were destructive to the healthcare system.

Tom Price, the new Secretary of HSS can eliminate many of these destructive regulations. The goal of the Obama administration’s regulations was to cause the healthcare system to fail and be replaced not by free market principals but by a single party payer system.

Her regulations were designed to eliminate any modicum of free choice for patients and physicians.

Tom Price’s actions and regulation eliminations should complete the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

President Obama ignored the fact that a single party payer system would be destined to bankrupt the country. His plan was to get the health care insurance industry out of the healthcare picture.

The defect in his logic was that the government would have to continue to outsource the administrative services to the healthcare insurance industry. The government now outsources the administrative services for Medicare and Medicaid.

The government then lies to the public declaring that its overhead is only 2.5% while the healthcare insurance industry takes 30% for services that are charged as direct patient care.

The healthcare insurance industry would continue to rip off the healthcare system in a single party payer system for all.

The completion of the repeal and replace act will be done as promised by Ryan, Price and Trump in three stages.

As soon as the house bill is passed the House Democrats came out with their talking points criticizing the act. These talking points had little substance and no compelling evidence. They only declared that the legislation was terrible without any explanation of why it was terrible.

They just said 20 million people are going to lose their insurance coverage. The Republican health care act is going to kill people.

The talking points are mostly lies.

A recent study had reported that Obamacare has cost 80,000 people to die.

“Democrat’s immediately made the accusation that the GOP “repeal and replace” bill will kill Americans.  It seems that Obamacare has already done that.” 

In a previous blog I pointed out that more people have lost insurance in the individual market that have gained insurance from Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges.

Fourteen million lost insurance in the individual market in 2009 and at most 8 million gained insurance through Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges.

The 20 million new insured comes from the 12 million new people receiving healthcare insurance through Medicaid.

“Quoting Oren Cass over at National Review, it turns out that fewer people – not more people – had health insurance after Obamacare.  The only increase in “coverage” was Medicaid, but, sadly, it turns out that Medicaid kills people.  It’s better to have no medical insurance at all.” 

 Researchers have found that in 2015 Medicaid patients experienced worse outcomes than similar uninsured Medicaid eligible patients.

Public-health data from the Centers for Disease Control confirm… [that had mortality continued to decline during ACA implementation in 2014 and 2015 at the same rate as during the 2000-13 period, 80,000 fewer Americans would have died in 2015 alone.”

The Democrats are using the typical progressive tactic of creating a lie. Many people died because of Obamacare but the Democrats threaten that the Republican bill will cost many lives. It diverts attention from the Democrats’ failure with Obamacare.

This is fear mongering for the progressives’ political gain.

This is one of Sol Alinsky’s favorite tactics. One should do everything to marginalize opponents even if it needs to be done by lying.

“Democrats are hurting real people with their scary shrieking about death by Republican.”

The Democrats criticize without facts. The Democrats will lie about the effects of the bill without evidence. I would guess that many have not even read it.

One should expect nothing less from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

The Democrats have even rolled out Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor of economics and co-author of Obamacare, who infamously said, “the stupidity of the American voter” helped get the measure to become law.

This week Gruber blamed President Trump for Obamacare’s failure on one of the Sunday news programs.

“Whose fault is this (rising premium costs)?” Gruber asked on “Fox News Sunday.” “Since President Trump has been elected … premiums are going up and insurers are exiting.”

This is total nonsense.

Jonathan Gruber still thinks Americans are stupid. However he has no credibility with the American public. Therefore his opinion has no impact on the discussion about the new bill.

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s lack of credibility with the American public does not seem to bother them.

Every lie they tell decreases their credibility even further.

Nancy Pelosi said, “the new Obamacare repeal bill is a ‘a very sad, deadly joke’

This is the same woman who said we will not know what is in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) until it is passed.

What is so deadly about it? She does not explain her statement. She figures the media is the message. The media will carry the message for her.

Chuck Schumer’s quote was even worse. He said, “Senate GOP should toss House healthcare bill ‘out the window’”

He called on Senate Republicans,

“To avoid following the lead of their colleagues in the House and to work on a bipartisan basis on healthcare reform rather than pushing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.”

He is trying to save President Obama’s legacy Obamacare. Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster. It is beyond saving.

It was a poorly constructed healthcare bill aimed at giving big government total control of the healthcare system. President Obama totally ignores the fact that Americans did not want it, have not joined it. He felt he clearly know what is best for America.

He goal was to get it passed by the partisan vote. President Obama lied to Americans and lied to his party members.

Obamacare is unsustainable economically to America and is in the process of destroying the economy.

Chuck Schumer said, “Trumpcare is a giant, broken promise to working people, the hard-working people of this great country of ours.

It would be valid if Chuck Schumer could prove his statement.

President Obama broke his promise to the working people, the hard working people of this great country of ours, when he said, “ If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor and if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance.”

Chuck Schumer did not see it then and he does not see Obamacare’s failure now.

I suggest that Chuck Schumer read the Republican bill carefully before he makes his false statements.

Clearly, he was dead wrong in his judgment about Obamacare

If he read the Obamacare law carefully and voted for doing the right thing, America’s healthcare system might not be in the mess it is in.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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I Don’t Get The Republican Leadership

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE

The media and Democrats in congress are stonewalling every initiative President Trump has presented whether or not it has merit. .

The American people have spoken. Donald Trump is President. Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

I should think the Democratic leadership would realize they are not connecting with the people. They should fear for their jobs and the jobs of other party members.

Nancy Pelosi, chair of the House Democrats, said, “We are the opposition party and it is our job to be the opposition.”

She is wrong. The Democrats should be doing what is right for the American people.

Recent elections have proven Americans do not approve of the Democrats’ policies at federal, state or local levels.

President Obama’s Democratic court appointed judges are slapping temporary injunctions on some of President Trump’s executive orders for no logical reasons.

These injunctions are occurring despite the terrorist disruptions that have occurred in American cities.

President Obama and the Democrats did nothing to neither stop this loss of life nor decrease the fear these terrorists generated.

The judges are slowing his initiatives down until they get to higher courts.

Democrats are acting juvenile.

Paul Ryan and the Republican establishment are not helping President Trump fulfill his agenda. They seem to be tripping up President Trump at every turn.

At the same time they are making the Republicans look bad and the Democrats look good.

If some of President Trump’s executive orders need congressional approval the Republican leadership in both houses should start the legislative process to get that congressional approval.

It seems like the Republican establishment is doing everything to make President Trump an ineffectual president.

The Republican establishment is bickering over the fine points of the initiatives. They are not looking at the big picture.

The American public gave the Republicans both houses of congress in order to allow them to be effective. The nuclear option in the senate should guarantee legislative effectiveness.

President Trump has some good ideas to fix the healthcare system and create economic growth.

Paul Ryan is supposed to be a legislative genius.

Paul Ryan seems to be intimidated by the Democrats and the mainstream media. He has not been bold in stepping out and supporting President Trump’s initiatives.

He should realize that the majority of the American public is not paying attention to the mainstream media.

This is reflected in the decrease in readership of the New York Times and the viewership at CNN and MSNBC. The mainstream media should not be influencing Paul Ryan’s actions.

Everything President Obama did during his presidency slowed the economy and polarized the nation. Paul Ryan should be doing the opposite.

Everything President Obama did with Obamacare made the healthcare system less efficient and more dysfunctional. Paul Ryan should have had a Republican consensus plan ready to repeal and replace Obamacare.

It is embarrassing that he did not have a plan ready after seven years.

My advice to the Republican controlled congress is to give President Trump a break and give him some support.

Stop playing politics. You are playing right into the Democrats’ obstructionist hands.

Paul Ryan’s healthcare fiasco is the prime example. He wouldn’t be speaker if it would not for the election of members of the Freedom Caucus.

Paul Ryan should take the bill the house previously passed and send it to the Senate. If there are things in that bill that do not pass the sequestration test for the Senate to pass the bill with 51 votes modify the bill.

Ryan has not made it clear to the public what he thinks is wrong with the old bill. He has also been secretive about the ongoing negotiations to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Now Paul Ryan is delaying President Trump’s wall appropriation request. He seems to be delaying President Trump’s tax cut initiative until 2018 without explanation.

If it is because the healthcare bill is not passed then pass the old healthcare bill.

He and the establishment Republicans confuse me. I think the American people are confused. Maybe the Republican establishment has to be voted out of congress in order to get anything passed.

I believe what President Trump is trying to accomplish is pretty logical. President Obama and the Democrats messed us up over the last eight years.

Many Americans are hurting. Americans who are not hurting do not understand it. Perhaps they refuse to understand it.

It is time government starting working and trying new ideas.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? Part 2 CPT Coding Is One Reason Health Care Costs So Much

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

After Ms. Wanda Wickizer was discharged from the University of Virginia Healthcare System (Part 1) the catastrophe caused by the healthcare system’s coding process began.

“The acronym HCPCS originally stood for HCFA Common Procedure Coding System, a medical billing process used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).”

“Prior to 2001, CMS was known as the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA).”

HCPCS was established in 1978 to provide a standardized coding system for describing the specific items and services provided in the delivery of health care.

The cost of Medicare and Medicaid became so high that the government decided to start knowing what it was paying for and standardizing the payments.

Such coding is necessary for Medicare, Medicaid, and other health insurance programs to ensure that insurance claims are processed in an orderly and consistent manner.”

This coding system has been dysfunctional since the government developed it for Medicare and Medicaid in 1978.

The unspoken goal was to decrease reimbursement for services provided for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

The government wanted to commoditize can reduce reimbursement by the evaluation of physician and hospital usage of procedure and services.

Initially, use of the codes was voluntary, but with the implementation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) use of the HCPCS for transactions involving health care information became mandatory.[2]

Ms. Rosenthal’s story is about how this poor woman, Wanda Wickizer, got trapped in the dysfunction of the healthcare system’s coding system.

Wanda Wickizer should have been insured through Obamacare. However, through the inefficiencies of the government or Ms. Wickizer lack of understanding of Obamacare she did not have insurance.

The healthcare system makes no provisions for billing the uninsured.

There are multiple prices charged for treatments and procedures. Hospital systems and physician groups have their own individual retail prices for services and procedures.

These providers negotiate prices with the government and the healthcare insurance industry.

There are many different prices negotiated by many different providers with the healthcare insurance industry. A healthcare insurance company negotiates many of the government’s final prices. The healthcare insurance company acts as the surrogate for the government.

None of these prices are transparent.

There is no one that negotiates price for the uninsured. The uninsured are responsible for the retail price of the services rendered unless they can negotiate a better price.

“And so in early 2014, without an insurer or employer or government agency to run interference between her and the hospital, she began receiving bills:

  • $16,000 from Sentara Norfolk (not including the scan or the E.R. doctor), $50,000 for the air ambulance.
  • Her local hospital
  • By the end of January, there was also one for $24,000 from the University of Virginia Physicians’ Group: charges for some of the doctors at the medical center. “I thought, O.K., that’s not so bad,” Wickizer recalls.
  • A month later, a bill for $54,000 arrived from the same physicians’ group, which included further charges and late fees.
  • Then a separate bill came just for the hospital’s charges, containing a demand for $356,884.42 but little in the way of comprehensible explanation.”

The uninsured are the only people who are responsible for the original retail prices. All the rest of the payment providers, namely the government and various members of the healthcare insurance industry pay their negotiated fees.

Shouldn’t the government pass a law requiring hospitals and doctors to charge only Medicare prices to the uninsured? It would eliminate Ms. Wickizer bill, a bill that reflects retail prices for services rendered.

The big mistake the University of Virginia made was that it did not provide her with a line item bill identifying the price of each service and procedure.

The University of Virginia subsequently refused to provide a line item bill to the patient. It was as if the university was hiding something.

Any thoughtful hospital administrator would have solved the problem in a minute.

It must be remembered that each provider has a different retail price per procedure and service. The reasoning is that they are trying to collect the highest amount they can.

There is something called a “chargemaster price.” It could help the uninsured figure out the wholesale price for services and procedures if they knew what the line item services and procedures they were charged for were.

The patient could then figure out what Medicare pays for those services and procedures.

However none of these line item charges are in the patients (EOB) Explanation Of Benefits. The EOB is impossible to interpret.

A simple rule should be passed by congress or issued by CMS saying a clear explanation of charges is required for payment of the bill.

The Obama administration knew about this uninsured billing problem. It did nothing about it because it wanted to force patients into buying Obamacare insurance even if they couldn’t afford it or didn’t need it.

I believe Tom Price M.D. (President Trump’s head of CMS) is aware of the problem. He also understands this simple way of solving it.

The healthcare insurance industry and the government get a detailed EOB for services rendered through the CPT coding system first established in 1978.

The Obama administration added 74,000 new codes to the CPT coding system. The government and the insurance companies wanted to know what they were paying for in detail.

This led to the requirement for Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and then meaningful use EMRs. Physicians and hospital systems will not get paid if they do not have a meaningful use EMR this year.

This led to a very expensive EMR development industry. EMRs were expensive. They did not function as meaningful use EMRs. They had to undergo extensive upgrades.

An EMR function should really be a teaching tool, teaching physicians how to upgrade their services to the best evidence based medicine practices.

Instead it has become a tool for the government and the healthcare insurance industry to punish patients.

The EMRs are unaffordable to many physicians. It has force them to sign up to become hospital system employees.

The government should have built a universal EMR in the cloud and charged physicians by the click.

The increase in codes led to an expensive coding industry. People are trained to teach physicians and hospital systems how to use the new 88,00 codes correctly.

The industry essentially teaches those providers how to how to game the healthcare system so that they can collect the most money for their services from the government and the healthcare insurance industry.

The goal of the government is to reduce reimbursement to providers.

Where is the consideration for patients in all of these maneuvers?

Where is the consideration for the uninsured patients?

Ms. Rosenthal’s main point is that CPT gaming by the medical professions and hospital systems are driving up healthcare costs.

However, missing from her argument is who developed the dysfunction CPT system.

Why was it developed?

Why was coding made so complex that it drives users of the coding system to game the system?

Ms. Rosenthat gives a few examples of coding driving the costs up.

  1. The diagnosis code for “heart failure” (ICD-9-CM Code 428) instead of the one for “acute systolic heart failure” (Code 428.21), the difference could mean thousands of dollars.

“In order to code for the more lucrative code, you have to know how it is defined and make sure the care described in the chart meets the criterion, the definition, for that higher number.”

In order to code for “acute systolic heart failure,” the patient’s chart (EMR) ought to include supporting documentation, for example, that the heart was pumping out less than 25 percent of its blood with each beat and that he was given an echocardiogram and a diuretic to lower blood pressure. Submitting a bill using the higher code without meeting criteria could constitute fraud.”

“Each billing, then, can be seen as a battle of provider coder versus payor coder.

The coders who work for hospitals and doctors strive to bring in as much revenue as possible from each service, while coders employed by insurers try to deny claims as overreaching.”

Hospital based physicians are taught how to up-code to generate the most income. They have little say in the coding process. Patients have no way of knowing if a procedure or service is coded.

  1. In a doctor’s office, a Level 3 visit (paid, say, at $175) might be legally transformed into a Level 4 (say, $225) by performing one extra maneuver, like weighing the patient or listening to the lungs, whether the patient’s illness required that or not.
  2. E.R. doctors have been taught that insurers might accept a higher-reimbursed code for the examination and treatment of a patient with a finger fracture (usually 99282) if — in addition to needed interventions — a narcotic painkiller was also prescribed (a plausible bump up to 99283), indicating a more serious condition.

The actual cost and expertize that might go into these services are never discussed or considered by bureaucrats decision and policy makers.

Price transparency for the patients would make a world of difference to costs. It would drive the cost of care and healthcare premiums down.

It might even result in the development of competitive pricing and a free market system.

I am sure the Trump administration is aware of this defect in the dysfunctional healthcare system.

President Obama ignored the problem as he tried to control hospital systems and physicians. He simply down coded services.

He probably figured that a single payer system would make everything much easier.

All I can say is look at the government run Veteran Administration Healthcare System.

Why most politicians ignore the coding defect in coding is beyond me?

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? CPT Coding Is One Reason Health Care Costs So Much: Part 1

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

Elisabeth Rosenthal is editor in chief of Kaiser Health News and a former senior writer at The New York Times.

She wrote an extensive article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine Section on the abuse of a hospital system on a patient without healthcare insurance.

Ms. Rosenthal usually points out defects in the healthcare system in great detail. She usually ignores the primary causes of those defects which leads to stakeholders’ adjustments.

Those adjustments lead to abuses of both the healthcare system and consumers utilizing the healthcare system.

It is important for all consumers and politicians (designated surrogates of consumers) to understand these abuses in detail.

It is doubly important that consumers and politicians understand the primary causes for these abuses.

The ideal goal would be to fix the primary causes so that stakeholders cannot abuse the system. In Ms. Rosenthal’s case study the University of Virginia’s bureaucrats are the decision makers who are far removed from the primarily medical care of patients.

They are far removed from the development of a physician/patient relationship. The patient/physician relationship is so vital to the success of a healthcare system.

These bureaucrats are immune to the tragedy that had befallen Ms. Rosenthal’s example, Ms. Wanda Wickizer. They are stuck in the rules its organization made or their interpretation of these rules.

There does not seem to be any flexibility built into the University of Virginia’s Medical School billing system.

The patient in Ms. Rosenthal story is not entirely immune to the disaster that occurred subsequently.

Her husband died in 2006. He had great city of Norfolk Virginia health insurance. The city of Norfolk continued providing her and her kids with insurance for the next three years.

“Her husband, who died in 2006, worked for the city of Norfolk, which insured their family while he was alive and for three years beyond.”

“After his death, Wanda Wickizer worked in a series of low-wage jobs, but none provided health insurance. A minor pre-existing condition — she was taking Lexapro, a common medicine for depression — meant that her only insurance option was to obtain Obamacare insurance through a health insurance exchange in 2010.

In 2009 only ineffective and costly state administered “high-risk pools” were available. High risk pools disappeared in 2010 with the passage of Obamacare.

She said she could not afford her Obamacare option. However, she did not consider the Obamacare option in her economic condition. Obamacare would have subsidized her insurance coverage up to 100%.

“She thought she would need to pay more than $800 per month for a policy with a $5,000 deductible, and her medical procedures would then be reimbursed at 80 percent. She felt she couldn’t afford that.”

She made a decision that did not take into account a potential medical catastrophe.

“In 2011, she decided to temporarily stop working to tend to her children, which qualified them for Medicaid; with trepidation, she left herself uninsured.”

At this point she probably would, also, have qualified for Medicaid or gotten insurance through the health insurance exchanges that would have been subsidized up to 100% by Obamacare.

Additionally, after she was sick she could have applied for Obamacare insurance. She would have supposedly received full insurance coverage at no cost to her. The application for Obamacare after the onset of an illness is one of the major objections to Obamacare.

This is a defect in Ms. Rosenthal’s story. It could have easily been avoided if Ms. Wickizer applied for insurance available to her at minimal charge.

The casual reader of the Sunday NYT magazine section could easily overlook this defect.

The rest of the story is about the billing catastrophe. Ms. Rosenthal exposes all the defects in the healthcare billing system structure.

A catastrophic illness struck Wanda Wickizer on Christmas Day 2013. It was a subarachnoid hemorrhage that can strike at any time.

“The catastrophe struck Wanda Wickizer on Christmas Day 2013.”

It occurred four years after Obamacare was enacted. She had a debilitating headache. The ambulance paramedics missed the diagnosis. They thought she had food poisoning and did not take her to the hospital.

Later, she, at 3 a.m. became confused and groggy. Her boyfriend raced her to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. A CAT scan revealed a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital felt it could not handle the subarachnoid hemorrhage and air evacuated her by helicopter to University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville 160 miles away.

At UVM the hemorrhage was stopped and the previous accumulation of blood evacuated. She was in the hospital for 3 weeks. When she was home the catastrophe of the healthcare system coding process began.

Ms. Wanda Wickzer’s story will be continued in Part 2 of Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? CPT Coding Is One Reason Health Care Costs So Much

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.
All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
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Let The Buyer Beware: Medicare Part D

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

The mystery of buying drugs under Medicare Part D increases each year. The plans offered become more costly and complicated.

Medicare did not cover outpatient prescription drugs until January 1, 2006, when it implemented the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

Congress authorized Medicare Part D with the heading the “Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.”

Private insurance companies administer Medicare Part D plans for the government. The government is not allowed to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.

The VA healthcare system negotiates prices with the pharmaceutical companies. The prices are at least 60% lower than the Part D prices.

Multiple plans are offered with increasing premium prices and deductibles each year.

The increases in deductibles are significant. Below are the increases between 2016 and 2017. Most seniors do not pay attention to the increase in premiums, deductibles or coverage because they automatically enroll each year.

They become aware of the changes changes when they go to pay for their medication

Initial Deductible:
will be increased by $40 to $400 in 2017.

Initial Coverage Limit:
will increase from $3,310 in 2016 to $3,700 in 2017.

Out-of-Pocket Threshold:
will increase from $4,850 in 2016 to $4,950 in 2017.

Coverage Gap (donut hole):
begins once you reach your Medicare Part D plan’s initial coverage limit ($3,700 in 2017) and ends when you spend a total of $4,950 in 2017.

In 2017, Part D enrollees will receive a 60% discount on the total retail cost of their brand-name drugs purchased while in the donut hole.

Generally, not all drugs are covered at the same out of pocket cost to the beneficiary. This gives participants incentives to choose certain drugs over others. This is most often implemented—as is the case for drug coverage for those not on Medicare—through incentives to use generic drugs over brand-name drugs.

The incentive is also often implemented via a system of tiered formularies in which some brand-name drugs are less expensive than others and not subject to step therapy.

Generic drugs are less expensive than brand named drugs. Patients learned this quickly. They encouraged their physicians to provide them with a prescription for generic drugs.

When patients buy drugs with Medicare Part D the deductible price is the patients’ cash outlay. However, the Medicare Part D plan charges patients the total retail price of the drug against their donut.

For example if a 90 day supply of a generic drug is $10 and the retail price is $60 dollars, the $60 is charged against the patient’s donut to be added to future purchases.

If patients paid $10 cash already shouldn’t only $50 of the $60 be charged against the donut?

Many generics can be purchased for a cash price or using a discount drug card coupon for $10 without using Medicare Part D and incurring the $60 retail charge against a donut.

Many generics can be purchased for less using a discount drug card coupon than the cash price a senior on Medicare Part D has to pay using Medicare Part D insurance.

It is not uncommon for senior patients to reach their donut in less than a year. At that time those senior patients have to pay 100% (60% in 2017) of the retail price for a drug until they reach $4,950.

The amount is an additional cash price of $1,250.

It was difficult to figure this out before discount drug cards became available.

How do these discount drugs card work and the discount drug card companies make money?

The Middle Men are:

“1.    Cardholder – the consumer

  1. Pharmacy – the retail outlet in which the purchase is made
  2. Pharmaceutical Company – the manufacturer of the medication
  3. Adjudicator – the organization that negotiates the discounts with the drug makers
  4. Card Marketer – the organization whose brand is on the card
  5. Card Marketer Affiliate – an organization that assists the Card Marketer in distribution

 Each time a card is used there is a transaction fee applied to the purchase price. 

 That fee is split 3 or 4 ways (though perhaps not evenly) between the Pharmacy, the Adjudicator, the Card Marketer and their Affiliate.

This transaction fee comes at the Cardholder’s expense.

However, usually the negotiated discount cost of the medication far exceeds the transaction fee so the Cardholder still wins. 

For example, the retail price for a medication is $100. The prescription discount card has negotiated a 40% discount, so the cost would be $60 but there is a $10 transaction fee. So the Cardholder pays $70 instead of $100. Of the $10 transaction fee, the Pharmacy might take $2, the Adjudicator $2 and the Card Marketer $6.

The Card Marketer might pay out $1 to their marketing


Many Medicare Part D patients have figured out how to optimize their drug cost through the use of the discount drug cards.

None of these government policy manipulations are to senior recipients of Medicare Part D advantage. They all benefit the middlemen.

A simple solution is to change the Medicare Part D law so the government can negotiate the cost of drugs just as all the middlemen in the Discounted Drug Card industry are negotiating the price of drugs to the advantage of seniors.

Sometimes the discount cards yield different discounts in different pharmacies in the same zip code.

Sometimes the pharmaceutical companies figure out how to combine two medications that are just as effective when taken separately to increase the cash price to senior patients.

These companies do it with FDA approval.

I became aware of the vast price differences recently with two commonly used drugs Dutasterile (Brand name Avodart) and Tamusulosin (Flow Max). Both drugs have been on the market long enough to be sold as generic drugs.

Using the Good RX discount card these are the variation in prices for the combination drug and the drugs sold separately in one zip code.

Dutasterilde +

Tamsulosin 90

Dutasterile 90 Tamusulosin 90
Walgreens $183.00 $183.08 $113.93
Kroger $316.98 $45.61 $30.62
CVS $388.69 $84.63 $58.62
Tom Thumb $391.85 49.85 $31.85
Albertson $391.60 $52.60 $31.85
Walmart $475.10 $398.71 $55.23
Target $388.69 $388.71 $136.41

Table 1

None of the pharmacies receive an appropriate discount for the combination of Dutasterile plus Tamulosin. Only Kroger’s negotiator received an appropriate discount for the two drugs sold separately. The total price is $76.23 for 90 pills vs. $316.98 for the combination.

However, seniors have run into a problem in shopping for the best price in a neighborhood.

The government provides a bonus to physician practices that have meaningful use electronic medical records.

One criterion for a meaningful use electronic medical record is the electronically ordering prescriptions for patients.

If a patient usually used the Wal-Mart Pharmacy that telephone number would be in the record. The physician’s prescription would automatically be sent to the Wal-Mart Pharmacy. If the physician wrote for the combination for it would cost $475.10. If the physician wrote the prescription for each medication separately in would cost the patient $453.94 as opposed to cost him $76.23 at Kroger’s.

Compounding the complexity of the electric medical records unintended consequence the pharmacist would automatically fill the combination prescription using that senior’s Medicare Part D insurance. It would be much cheaper than the cash price.

The senior would pay only $146.50 for the combination but his donut would be charged the full retail price of $475.10.

The physician’s office should be aware of the difference in price between the generic combination and the generic drugs sold separately. However, that is not the physicians job.

He should be able to give the patient a paper prescription for both the combination and separate medication so the patient would be able to shop for the best price in his zip code if he was so inclined.

Clearly Medicare Part D is a mess and needs straightening out.

The discount drug cards are not the answer on top of the rising Medicare Part D premiums.

Many retired seniors are living month to month on a pension. The Medicare Part D premiums are paid with after tax dollars not pre-tax dollars.

Many seniors simply cannot afford to pay for their medication. If they do not take their medication they will develop complications of their disease.

Medicare Part A and B will cost the government more and become more unsustainable.

A few simple fixes can solve the problems in Medicare Part D that policy makers and congressmen do not seem to be aware of.

Patients must be responsible for their medical care and their healthcare dollars.

It would be nice if the government would help a little with fixes in information and policies that work for senior patients.

In the meantime it is imperative to “Let the Patient Beware.”

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Obamacare Coverage: The Big Lie

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE

President Trump keeps telling us Obamacare is a disaster. Paul Krugman and Ezekiel Emanuel keep telling us it is a success.

The Obama administration told us that 20 million new people have obtained healthcare insurance because of Obamacare.

We know 14.5 million people lost their healthcare insurance in the individual market the year after Obamacare was passed.

Many assumed they got their insurance back through Obamacare. There is no evidence for that assumption.

I followed Obamacare enrollment carefully on

This site was supposed to be publishing the exact numbers published by the government weekly.

It turns out that the numbers published were inaccurate. They were too high.

“Since the release of the HHS study, the government has published two additional surveys of health-insurance coverage – the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Community Survey (ACS). Both offer data through the end of 2015, allowing for comparison with the NHIS estimate.”

The government now claims these studies are only estimates of nonelderly adults, under the age of 65, who gained insurance coverage.

The estimate in increased adult coverage ranges from 13.5 million in the CPS study to 16.5 million in the NHIS study.

Where did the number 20 million new lives covered come from? Bill Clinton boosted the number to 25 million when campaigning for Hilary Clinton.

Edmund F. Haislmaier and Drew Gonshorowski of the Heritage foundation examined data from insurance company regulatory filings and from the government’s own headcount of Medicaid enrollment.

“Their study found that 14 million people (including children) gained public or private coverage in 2014 and 2015.”

This total is even lower because it includes S-Chip coverage for children.

Compounding the government lies of estimated enrollees was that 84% of the new enrollees was either Medicaid or S-Chip children.

This means only 2,240,000 people signed up in President Obama’s Health Insurance Exchanges.

It also means that there were 11,760,000 new Medicaid or S-Chip patients.

Edmund F. Haislmaier concluded in testimony to congress;

“While the final figures will be somewhat different once the more complete end of year data is available, at this point it is reasonable to expect that

for the three year period 2014 through 2016, the net increase in health insurance enrollment was 16.5 million individuals. Of that figure, 13.8 million were added to Medicaid and 2.7 million were the net increase in private sector coverage enrollment.”

Eighty-five percent of the 2.7 million have pre-existing conditions. Most are receiving government subsidies.

The 2.7 million covered under Obamacare have destabilized the healthcare insurance market so that healthcare costs for businesses have become unaffordable.

No one has even mentioned the cost of this Obamacare folly to the average hard working taxpayers with healthcare coverage from their employers.

Obamacare’s failure to has been devastating.

The authors also found that nearly half the new Medicaid enrollees met eligibility standards that were in place before the ACA.”

Maybe Jonathan Gruber is right when he said we, the public, are too stupid to know the wool is being pulled over their eyes.


“For all the hoopla about the ACA exchanges, it appears that Medicaid accounts for the lion’s share of coverage gains and that many new Medicaid enrollees would have been eligible for that program even if the ACA had never passed.”

Medicaid is a single party payer system (socialized medicine) that works very poorly. It is almost as bad as the VA Healthcare System.

Is this what the public wants? No

America needs a better healthcare system. Hopefully Dr. Tom Price knows what to do replace Obamacare with once he dismantles all of the Obama administrations regulation.

Maybe Jonathan Gruber is wrong.

The general taxpayer may be smarter than Dr. Gruber thinks. Maybe it is the reason the public elected Donald Trump.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
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Stop The Noise: Start Working

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP, MACE

The New York Times is filled with case reports of people helped by Obamacare.

The implication is Obamacare is successful and the Republicans do not have a better plan.

Articles appear daily defending Obamacare despite the fact that premiums and deductibles are up, access to care and coverage is down and the medical profession and consumers are despondent.

Obama Says Healthcare Law is Working Fine

Obama Says Healthcare Law is Helping White Americans Despite Perceptions

Is The Healthcare Law Creating More Part Time Work?

Why Even Some Republicans Are Rejecting The Replacement Bill

Obamacare Users Await Repeal and Replacement With Dread Anticipation

All of this is “Fake News.”

I cannot understand how Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, with a straight face on national television, can say Obamacare is not failing.

Dr. Emanuel thinks Obamacare is a great deal. He is one of its authors.

His problem is he cannot prove it is great in reality.

I guess the Democrats hope is if you tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth.

The conservative media is starting to figure out how to neutralized this tactic that engenders sympathy for Obamacare. The Wall Street Journal published an article “How Obamacare Punishes the Sick.”

This article stimulates feeling against President Obama’s lies.

Republicans are nervous about repealing ObamaCare’s supposed ban on discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions.”

 If one can disregard the fact that one case does not win a medical argument, one can start talking about what might work to create a cost effective quality healthcare system.

Obamacare and its bureaucracies have set up perverse incentives for stakeholders and against consumers.

A recently reported study by Harvard and the University of Texas in Austin demonstrated these perverse incentives.

Obamacare is supposed to help the sick. It turns out Obamacare punishes the sick with certain illness.

“But a new study by Harvard and the University of Texas-Austin finds those rules penalize high-quality coverage for the sick, reward insurers who slash coverage for the sick, and leave patients unable to obtain adequate insurance.”

Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility and others high cost conditions are being charged higher deductibles, experiencing more prior-authorization for drugs, an increase in lesser quality substitution drugs, and often no coverage for the drugs they need.

Most of these conditions require long- term expensive medications.

Therefore consumers with these diseases cannot get treated adequately.

For example, a patient with multiple sclerosis might file a $61,000 claim.

Insurers lose money on every MS patient. An incentive is created for insurers to avoid enrolling patients with MS. The insurers then make its healthcare policy unattractive to people with multiple sclerosis.

Obamacare’s subsidy for patients with multiple sclerosis is inadequate for the cost of the disease’s care.

To mitigate that perverse incentive, ObamaCare lobs all manner of taxpayer subsidies at insurers. Yet the researchers find insurers still receive just $47,000 in revenue per MS patient—a $14,000 loss per patient.”


The insurer doesn’t want to loss $14,000 per patient. Patients are not stupid. They find the best coverage at the lowest price,

This insurer suffers high losses. He either leaves the market or decreases coverage. The perverse incentive leads to low quality care.

Patient with multiple sclerosis on Obamacare are not getting high quality healthcare.

Everyone losses. The government loses, the insurer loses but most of all the patient loses.

There is a better way to insure these people. In a free market system driven by my ideal medical saving accounts the creation of a high risk pool funded by all participating insurance companies in the lucrative private market spreads the risk to insurance companies and government while providing high quality care to qualified patients.

Politicians must start thinking smart.

The format of previous high-risk healthcare insurance pools was a disaster for all the stakeholders. High-risk pools can be formatted in a way that works for patients and does not contaminate the private market with spiraling insurance prices.

The Democrats ought to give up Obamacare. It is a dead horse.

Obamacare has failed for the many reasons I have pointed out in my blog over the past 7 years.

The Democrats’ knee jerk reaction would be why not just adopt a single party payer system.

The answer is look at the mess the VA system is in with it bureaucracy and apathy.

Republicans ought to stop trying to prove Obamacare is a failure.

The politicians ought to try to do something right for the people who put them in power.

They ought to get rid of Obamacare in the least disruptive way possible as quickly as possible.

I believe President Trump, Tom Price M.D., and Paul Ryan are trying to do just that with the American Healthcare Act that is being voted on the house tomorrow.

The conservative coalition in the house should get off its high horse and not shoot itself in the foot.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.
All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
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  • Paritosh C. Dutta, M.D.

    It was your brilliant presentation at the Dallas County Medical Society meeting last week. I learnt a lot of the problems of the health care system of this country. You gave some insight how to repair the broken system.
    You are doing a great service to this great country with your efforts. Best wishes.

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I Was Wrong

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

I was profoundly disappointed when The American Healthcare Act was introduced last week. There was immediate rejection by Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate.

The mainstream media commentators emphasized the Republicans’ rejections and added their own scornful objections. The mainstream media painted the Republican Party as a party is disarray.

The media was presumably giving a boost to the Democratic Party and Obamacare’s failure.

Both Paul Ryan and Dr. Tom Price gave complete explanations of their strategies on how this bill, along with its two other components, will repeal and replace Obamacare.

I was profoundly disappointed in the bill until I was able to hear Dr. Tom Price and Paul Ryan’s explanation of their reasons for the initial reconciliation bill and the plan of the other two components necessary for replacement.

Vice President Pence and President Donald Trump then repeated Ryan ad Price’s strategy in less detail.

I reacted immediately to the bill being a sell-out to the healthcare insurance industry and central government control of healthcare. It looked like Obamacare Lite or Obamacare 2.0. There was no other explanation presented.

It took them 24 to 36 hours to explain the logic of the strategy.

By that time there was so much mainstream media noise and politician noise that It was impossible to hear what Tom Price and Paul Ryan were trying to say.

No one listened to what President Trump was trying to say. They were only listening to the media describing Republican caucus’ members outburst against the bill.

President Trump tweeted “it is a beautiful healthcare bill. Everyone will be happy with the result.”

No one listened. No one heard.

The mistake Ryan and Price made was that in the initial introduction of the bill they were being too cute, cunning and clandestine. In reality they were very prepared. They have been working of this repeal and replacement since 2010.

The plan to repeal and replace Obamacare has three parts.

  1. Reconciliation
  2. Administrative Action
  3. Additional Action

It would be very helpful to understand their positions if you watch them explain their positions in their entirety.


This lecture by Paul Ryan is an excellent review of the metodology necessary to Repeal and Replace Obamacare


Both videos are a must see in order to understand the Trump administration and congressional leadership strategy.

Obamacare was supposed to provide an opportunity for people in the individual insurance market to buy healthcare insurance at an affordable price. It was not meant to affect the employer provided healthcare insurance market.

This was supposed to be done by State Health Insurance Exchanges that would supply this insurance. Much of the individual market would be subsided by the federal government..

Only 22 states signed up and most have failed after receiving over $200 billion dollar loans to cover startup cost. These state health insurance exchanges are never going to pay back the federal loans.

Additionally, Obamacare extended Medicaid coverage by increasing the poverty levels in states. This increased the eligibility for patients to participate in Medicaid.

President Obama completely ignored the fact that Medicaid was a financially unsustainable subsidy that was failing rapidly.

Thirty-three States signed up for this expanded Medicaid coverage because they were afraid to get stuck with the bill.

All states are supposed to have balanced budgets. Most states have budget deficits.

They share the costs of Medicaid with the federal government to provide free healthcare coverage to the poor.

President Obama said he would pay 90% of the Medicaid bill. He then increased it to 95% and then 100% in the first few years in order to induce states to join.

Remember, President Obama’s ultimate goal was to have the federal government be in total control of healthcare with a single party payer system.

Twelve million new people have signed up for Medicaid under Obamacare. Additionally new immigrants have been added to the Medicaid roles.

Only nine million have signed up for Obamacare through the health insurance exchanges. Most of the enrollees have preexisting illness.

Most of the enrollees cannot afford the premiums even though President Obama provides subsides to 85% of these people.

Additionally, these enrollees cannot afford the deductibles that are up to $6,000 in some states.

Obamacare has affected the employer market. Obamacare does not pay the insurers enough or have a high enough enrollment distribution to give the insurance industry a high enough return on investment.

Insurers compensate by increasing insurance rates in the employer sponsored private market in almost all of the states. The industry increased rates in both individual and employer sponsored private market by as much as 116% in Arizona.

This forces small and large employers to decrease insurance coverage for employees.

If they did not provide healthcare insurance many small businesses had to pay Obamacare’s mandated penalty.

A mandated penalty was avoided if people worked less than 29 hours a week. Therefore, large employers reduced full time jobs to part time.

There are many other reasons that Obamacare has failed. It has inhibited economic growth.

Obamacare must be completely repealed.

The Ryan plan’s process is repealing as much of Obamacare as it can through the reconciliation process. This is only the first stage. does.

Congressional reconciliation only needs 50 votes in the reconciliation process thanks to Harry Reed.

“Congress and the Trump Administration must completely repeal the law, beginning by seizing the opportunity to accomplish as much of repeal as possible through the reconciliation process.”

After passage of the American Healthcare Act, Dr. Tom Price will then move on to part two.

He will repeal all the administrative rules and regulations that President Obama and Donald Berwick put in place that hurt Americans and the economy.

He will replace them (one regulation for two eliminated) that will help people obtain affordable healthcare insurance and help our economy grow.

Republicans opposed to the Ryan plan do not seem to get this point.

If Republicans could get total repeal through the House of Representatives with they would not get the 60 votes necessary to get Senate approval.

In stage three Republicans will be able to get the 60 votes necessary for Senate approval.

There are 18 vulnerable Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018.

With Obamacare’s rules and regulations repealed at that time, Democrats’ opposition to things like expanded Health Savings Accounts, malpractice Reform, insurance Reform and insurance across state lines will melt. It will be important for these vulnerable Democrats to vote for these reforms in order to get reelected..

The Ryan plan now looks like an excellent strategy to me. I do not see why the opposition Republicans cannot see it.

Doing it their way with complete repeal a stage one might not work. Then will be stuck with Obamacare and the loss of both Republican controlled of the house and senate in 2018.

There are still refinements necessary to be a consumer driven healthcare plan that is patient-centered.

I hope the Ryan/Price plan is passed by congress.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” is, mine and mine alone.
All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2017 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
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