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President Trump’s Drug Plan

President Trump’s Drug Plan

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

It is very difficult to know the truth in our post truth era. Intellectuals, elites and the well-educated are criticizing every idea the Trump administration brings forward.

He was hampered in moving forward in Repairing the Healthcare System when his own Republican Party did not pass the house of representatives’ bill to repeal Obamacare. The repeal would have enabled his administration to move the repair of the healthcare system forward quickly.

Most of President Trump’s ideas when it has related to repairing the healthcare system have been common sense. They are steps in the right direction.

Common sense solutions sometimes threaten to undermine extremely profitable private and public enterprises. The pharmaceutical industry and all related middlemen are an industry that is threatened by President Trump’s common sense solutions.

The industry will do everything in its power to spin the story so that the Trump administration’s plans sound sinister to the American public.

The American public can only make decisions on the information presented. In the post-true era the public does not know what to believe. The media has been anti-Trump and is not interested in presenting the details of President Trump’s blueprint for lowering drug prices utilizing free market principles.

“The problem of high prescription drug costs is something that’s been talked about in Washington for a long time. But that’s all it’s been: talk, talk, talk.

We are privileged to have a president finally acting, by laying out a blueprint for solving these problems using private-sector competition and private sector negotiation.

We’re not going to propose cheap political gimmicks. The President’s blueprint is a sophisticated approach to reforming and improving our system.

Everyone at HHS is rolling up their sleeves to get to work on this.”

On October 28,2018 the WSJ editorial board wrote a negative view of the Trump administration’s plan to lower drug prices. It is almost as if the editorial board did not read President Trump’s proposal as it appears on the White House web site. 

I believe it is worth discussing President Trump’s blueprint for lower drug prices.

I will then present the main points in the Wall Street Journal editorial.

The blueprint starts by stating:

These are the main problems with drug prices in the U.S.

Drug costs consume 30% of the healthcare dollar. Drug costs are unaffordable to both consumers and the government. Over 40% of elderly patients consume greater than nine drugs daily. Fifty percent of those 40% experience adverse drug reactions due to drug interaction. Many end up being hospitalized thereby increasing the cost of medical care.

If a patient cannot afford to buy a drug because of its cost it will not help control their disease. A hospitalization will occur increasing the cost of healthcare.

One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. Prices will come down.”

President Donald J. Trump” 

The public should take this comment at face value.

These are some of the facts;

  • According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States had the highest per-capita pharmaceutical spending in 2015.
  • Senior citizens pay more in Medicare Part B and Part D because government rules prevent health plans and vendors from negotiating the better deals seen in other markets.

Isn’t that crazy? The government negotiates drug prices for the VA and Military but not for seniors. The government pays less than half for drugs in the VA healthcare system than seniors do for Medicare Part B and Part D.

  • Some hospitals that receive drug discounts under the 340B program, ultimately pushing up drug prices for patients with private health insurance.

The 340B program was enacted in 1992 by congress.  Section 340B requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to enter into an agreement, called a pharmaceutical pricing agreement (PPA), with the HHS Secretary.

Under the PPA, the manufacturer agrees to provide front-end discounts on covered outpatient drugs purchased by specified providers, called “covered entities,” that serve the nation’s most vulnerable patient populations. Medicaid patients get drugs free. The government pays the pharmaceutical companies the money through a series of middlemen.

  • Lower-cost drugs are kept out of the market by drug companies gaming regulatory processes and the patent system in order to unfairly maintain monopolies.
  • Lack of transparency in drug pricing benefits special interests and prevents patients from being able to make fully informed decisions about their care.
  • Other countries use socialized healthcare to command unfairly low prices from U.S. drug makers. These lower prices place the burden of financing drug development largely on American patients and taxpayers and subsidizes foreign consumers.
    • The United States pays more than 70 percent of branded drug profits among OECD countries.
  • The drug companies claim this behavior by other countries reduces innovation and the development of new treatments. They have to make the loss of revenue up by increasing the price of drugs.

The HHS executive summary outlines not only the problem it outlines the Trump administration’s solution. President Trump’s HHS team which includes CMS has spent many years studying the abuses that have led to dysfunction of the healthcare system. I believe HHS figured out the solution.

HHS has identified four challenges in the American drug market:

 High list prices for drugs

  • Seniors and government programs overpaying for drugs due to lack of the latest negotiation tools
  • High and rising out-of-pocket costs for consumers
  • Foreign governments free-riding of American investment in innovation

 Under President Trump, HHS has proposed a comprehensive blueprint for addressing these challenges, identifying four key strategies for reform:

 Improved competition

  • Better negotiation
  • Incentives for lower list prices
  • Lowering out-of-pocket costs

 There is nothing sinister about these goals. Some will work. Direct negotiation with drug companies certainly will work. The middlemen get more money per capsule than the drug company that invented and manufactured the drug. The middlemen, who are marketers, are terrified that President Trump is going to destroy their business.

 HHS’s blueprint encompasses two phases:

 1) actions the President may direct HHS to take immediately.

 2) actions HHS is actively considering, on which feedback is being solicited.

  Complex drug networks 11 26

The president and his administration are not a heartless group of politicians who don’t care about cancer drug cost. They are interested in patients receiving the best care at an affordable price. They care about fair pricing. Their goal is to eliminate the mechanisms by which multiple stakeholders game the system. This includes the multiple middlemen and the tremendous bureaucratic load.

Is the diagram complicated enough? Can you visualize all the areas of potential abuse? Do you think a government bureaucracy can control the potential abuse?

Phase one of the blueprint:

  • Lower prices on some Medicare Part B drugs could be negotiated for by Part D plans
  • Leveraging the Competitive Acquisition Program in Part B.
  • Working across the Administration to assess the problem of foreign free-riding.

 

The administration is aware of foreign free riding. They have not published a definite free market solution to change the situation yet.

Further Opportunities

  • Considering further use of value-based purchasing in federal programs, including indication-based pricing and long-term financing.
  • Removing government impediments to value-based purchasing by private payers.

 

ValueBased Purchasing (VBP) Linking provider payments to improved performance by health care providers. This form of payment holds health care providers accountable for both the cost and quality of care they provide. It attempts to reduce inappropriate care and to identify and reward the best-performing providers.”

 This is a stupid idea. It might save money but it tries to direct care and eliminate physician judgement. Healthcare providers will figure out how to game the system.

  • Requiring site neutrality in payment.

 

Site neutrality payment means “Under OPPS 2019, reimbursement for clinic visits in outpatient hospital settings would be capped at the rate paid for clinic visits in physician offices.”

It is about time this is happening. Hospitals are buying more and more physicians’ practices. Hospital systems bill the government hospital reimbursement prices. These prices are twice the government and private insurance companies approved office prices.

I suspect the hospital systems do not credit the physicians with this increase in reimbursement. The hospital systems leverage physicians’ intellectual property and outpatient surgical skills for the hospital systems’ own profit.

Hospital systems will fight this change tooth and nail. President Trump has the courage to go at it. Almost everyone in medicine has known about these unfair payments. However, past U.S. presidents have been afraid of the blowback from the powerful hospital lobby.

President Obama knew that this would drive physicians into selling their practices to hospital systems. The result is obvious. It would be easier to institute a single party payer system.

Evaluating the accuracy and usefulness of current national drug spending data.

Phase two;

  • Incentives for Lower List Prices Immediate Actions
  • FDA evaluation of requiring manufacturers to include list prices in advertising
  • Updating Medicare’s drug-pricing dashboard to make price increases and generic competition more transparent.

Further Opportunities

  • Measures to restrict the use of rebates, including revisiting the safe harbor under the Antikickback statute for drug rebates.

“The anti-kickback statute has been in place since 1971, but these specific safe harbors, protecting drug companies from anti-kickback laws, were introduced more than 2 decades ago.

The federal government provides an excellent resource for information about these safe harbors at the Federal Register website. It tells everything one needs to know about the opportunities for fraud and abuse in the current system. The website describes how the Trump administration plans to eliminate the government support of fraud and abuse.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/07/2016-28297/medicare-and-state-health-care-programs-fraud-and-abuse-revisions-to-the-safe-harbors-under-the

In brief, the safe harbors define exceptions to situations where organizations are receiving “remuneration” for providing goods or services.

 A rebate given as an incentive to provide a drug (i.e., on formulary) or to utilize more of a product (i.e., “performance rebates”) would currently qualify for safe harbor protection.”

 

https://biosimilarsrr.com/2018/07/24/anti-kickback-safe-harbors-drug-rebate-contracts-biosimilars/

I will discuss this in more detail in the future. This is another act of courage by the Trump administration. It is also a common sense move to reduce the cost of healthcare in our dysfunctional healthcare system.

  • Additional reforms to the rebating system.
  • Using incentives to discourage manufacturer price increases for drugs used in Part B and Part D.

The high retail pricing of new drugs on the market must be control. Many of the new drugs are a reformulation of two old drugs. The reformulation does not change the effectiveness of either drug.

The retail price of drugs used to treat cancer must be controlled someway.

  • Considering fiduciary status for Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs)
  • Reforms to the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program
  • Reforms to the 340B drug discount program
  • Considering changes to HHS regulations regarding drug copay discount cards

 Lowering Out-of-Pocket Costs Immediate Actions

  • Prohibiting Part D contracts from preventing pharmacists telling patients when they could pay less out-of-pocket by not using insurance
  • Improving the usefulness of the Part D Explanation of Benefits statement by including information about drug price increases and lower cost alternatives.

  Further Opportunities to Reduce Drug Costs to Consumers

 More measures to inform Medicare Parts B and D beneficiaries about lower cost alternatives

  • Providing better annual, or more frequent, information on costs to Part D beneficiaries
  •  Insurance Contract Reimbursement for Consumers’ Rx
  • Share of Manufacturer Rebates.
  • Consumers Payers Drug Manufacturer Pharmacies
  • Pharmacy Benefits Manager Formulary Agreement
  • Copayment Network Agreement
  • PBM Agreement Payment for Dispensed Drugs Formulary
  • Rebates & Other Fees Premium Drugs
  • Money Contracting Dispensed Drugs
  • Prime Vendor Agreement Shipped Bulk Drugs Payment for Wholesale Drugs Distributor
  • Payment for Wholesale Drugs Shipped Bulk Drugs Distributor Agreement

 

Most physician do not know about this complicated system. All they care about is taking care of the patients. It is time physicians understand how ancillary providers have been   ripping off the patients. Somehow, the ancillary providers manage to blame drug prices  on physicians.

Finally, we have an administration that not only recognizes the problems but is not afraid to fix them.

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



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President Trump’s Drug Plan Is On Target

Stanley Feld MD,FACP,MACE

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trumps-medicare-rx-blueprint-has-a-tricky-wrinkle/    

President Trump’s proposal for lowering drug prices to an affordable range is on target.

I have received a several requests asking me to explain the administrations plan. The “media is the message.” The traditional media has once again missed President Trump’s message completely. I suspect the traditional media has missed President Trump’s message on purpose because of their bias against the president.

The traditional media jumped on Trump’s plan as a non-plan aimed to penalize the middle class for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry.

Either the traditional media hates Trump and his administration so much that they are against everything he does or they have not read his plan with an open mind because it has too many words in it.

It is pretty clear that Nancy Pelosi did not read President Trump’s drug plan or if she did she did not understand it. She said:

“This weak plan abandons the millions of hard-working families struggling with the crisis of surging drug prices.”

Nancy Pelosi’s statement is otter nonsense.

Her statement is reminiscent of the statement she made about Obamacare;

“You have to pass the plan in order to see what is in it.”

Any thoughtful Democrat should be ashamed that Nancy Pelosi is their leader.

I picked the coverage of only a few of the traditional media, CBS news, The New York Times and the Washington Post’s. All the progressive leaning media are really echo chambers of each other.

Each media outlet missed the Trump administrations’ point. They all are looking through their progressive lens. They believe the only plan that would work is a single party payer system controlled by the government.

They also see a tired public looking forward for the government to take over the complicated issue of healthcare. They have not interest is looking at the unintended consequences of a government takeover of the healthcare system.

A single party payer system will not work because public dependence on bureaucrats and politicians has never worked.

Simple examples are the VA Healthcare System and Medicaid. Government controlled health plans such as the VA system became too inefficient, costly, corrupt and unsustainable. The quality of care decreased and consumer choice and input has been eliminated.

People would never know what President Trump’s drug plan is all about it if they just read about it in the traditional media. If they made it easier for themselves and just read the headlines, as some of my friends have, they would know nothing about Trump’s drug plan.

One must listen carefully and read the source material.

President Trumps YouTube

https://youtu.be/Cds8h9DbTdc

This is the official outline document of the steps that need to be taken to fix the broken drug plan system.

CBS new got it wrong right off the bat.

http://www.cbsnews.com/trumps-medicine-rx-bluprint-has-a-trickly-wrinkle/

“The Trump administration’s “Blueprint” to lower drug prices and reduce patient costs made one thing clear: The government will not directly negotiate with drug companies to secure lower prescription prices. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t proposing changes that would dramatically alter the way Medicare pays for some of the most expensive drugs, and in the process, potentially raise out-of-pocket costs for some of the country’s sickest patients.”

CBS News then brings up an issue that part of President Trump’s solution. The news agency criticizes the administration before it knows the administration’s solution.

A cornerstone of the Trump plan calls for all Medicare drug payments to be consolidated under Medicare Part D, the prescription drug plan for Medicare enrollees administered by private insurers. Under Part D, insurers and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) negotiate with drug companies for discounted prices in exchange for the drug companies’ products being included in the PBMs’ list of covered drugs.

But drugs intravenously administered in physicians’ offices, such as chemotherapy and vaccines, are usually covered as a medical treatment under Medicare Part B. Physicians buy these drugs directly from manufacturers, and Medicare reimburses doctors for the drugs’ average sales price plus 6 percent.

A perfect example is the yearly flu shot. Most flu shots are given at local pharmacies and supermarkets for Medicare patients’ convenience.

Medicare Part B pays $120 for a $15 injection dose. How is that for a colossal waste of Medicare dollars?

Pharmaceutical companies are against the idea, partly because they generally are paid more under Part B than Part D.

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary and former president of the U.S. division of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly (LLY), has been touting the move to consolidate Medicare drug payments.

“Bringing negotiation to Part B drugs is such a potent way to bring down prices that PhRMA is already protesting the idea,” Azar said in a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute in which he referred to the drug industry trade group called Pharmacuetical Research and Manufacturers.

Nonetheless, CBS points out a potential paper tiger to leave the message that the plan is no good. The “media is the message” even if it is a lie.

“But Azar and others have shed little light on exactly how this change would take place, leaving patients worried about the potential for astronomically higher out-of-pocket costs”.

The plan is there. CBS news has not read the plan.

“Medicare Part B presently creates incentives for doctors to purchase more expensive drugs to get a higher dollar profit”

This is a negative incentive that the President promised to eliminate. Physicians to not profit from higher drug prices. In the case of the flu shots pharmacies and supermarket pharmacies administering the flu shots profit.

“Azar said; it will create incentive for insurance companies and PBMs in Medicare Part D to negotiate discounts and lower prices and pass them on to patients.”

President Trump said he promises to eliminate the extreme profit the pharmacy benefit managers take from the system.

The New York Times took a different negative slant in order to criticize Present Trump.

“President Trump has the power to sink pharmaceutical stocks with a single jab about high drug prices.”

“But in a much-anticipated speech on the topic on Friday, Mr. Trump largely avoided the issues the industry fears the most, such as allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices, or allowing Americans to import drugs.”

President Trump’s plan is to force pharmacy benefit managers to negotiate the best price for Medicare and patients with private insurance in a free market system and not in a government controlled system.

The government negotiates much lower drug prices for itself in the military and VA systems. The drug companies just cost shift and charge the rest of us a higher price

“Investors noticed: Stocks of major drug companies rose after his speech, as did those of pharmacy benefit managers, or the “middlemen” that Mr. Trump said were getting “very, very rich.”

Last weekend I asked a retired friend what he thought of the Trump plan. He said President Trump is going to make the drug companies and the pharmacy benefit managers very, very, rich.

This is regurgitation of the NY Times coverage from a well-educated man. The media is the message!

 

Time Magazine coverage was no better. It, too, was anti-Trump. Time Magazine did not bother to understand that the Trump drug program is a free market system without cronyism.

“ President Donald Trump’s long-promised plan to bring down drug prices would mostly spare the pharmaceutical industry he previously accused of “getting away with murder.” Instead he focuses on private competition and more openness to reduce America’s prescription pain.”

Why can’t the media discuss the facts and let us decide what will work or not work? What is wrong with competition? It works. Government control doesn’t seem to work.

“The administration will pursue a raft of old and new measures intended to improve competition and transparency in the notoriously complex drug pricing system.”

“But most of the measures could take months or years to implement, and none would stop drug makers from setting sky-high initial prices.”

I believe the public is starting to see how the traditional media does not want to understand President Trump’s proposal or how President Trump is going to execute on his promises.

“Trump called his plan the “most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people.”

“But it does not include his campaign pledge to use the massive buying power of the government’s Medicare program to directly negotiate lower prices for seniors.”

Actually President Trump’s drug plan does use the massive buying power of the Medicare program to negotiate lower prices for seniors. He is doing it indirectly but through a free market system.

The traditional media’s prime focus is to criticize President Trump’s programs regardless of the facts.

In fact, with his drug plan, President Trump has published a blueprint that is going to change the metrics of how drugs are priced. His plan will make prices transparent to patients and physicians.

Patients will be given the choice to pick the best price. Physicians will be given the choice to decide if the price charged for new medication is worth the increase in price.

President Trump is going to eliminate the present failed system of pricing medication. It has not worked for consumers.

His blueprint cannot be evaluated in the context of the present pricing system.

I will describe the potential for improving the system with his blueprint in my next article.

All I can say at this point is let us see what is going to happen.

 

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



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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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President-elect Trump Part 9

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE

I am extending my discussion on the importance of malpractice reform because politicians ignore the potential costs and decreased access of care resulting from the present system.

In 2003, Texas Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature unenthusiastically changed tort reform laws in Texas.

I thought it was inadequate tort reform. It turned out that the meager reform has had great results.

Rick Perry and the Texas legislature ended plaintiff attorneys’ practice of venue shopping for friendly judges.

They also put a cap of $250,000 on noneconomic damages like pain and suffering.

These reforms have changed the malpractice climate in Texas. The reforms limited plaintiff’s attorneys’ profitability on frivolous liability claims.

Texans believe that because of these reforms and the lack of a state income tax, Texas has become the country’s best state for economic growth and job creation.

A Perryman group report concluded,

“Perhaps the most visible economic impact of lawsuit reforms is the benefits experienced by Texans who have better access to high-quality healthcare.”

 

“Doctors and hospitals are using their liability insurance savings to expand services and initiate innovative programs; those savings have allowed Texas hospitals to expand charity care by 24%.”

The medical malpractice business for plaintiff’’s attorneys has dried up in Texas. plaintiff’s attorneys are moving to other states.

Physicians are applying for licenses to move to Texas from other states.

“In 2001, according to the American Medical Association, Texas’ ranking in physicians per capita was a dismal 48th out of 50.”

“Beginning in 2003, physicians started returning to Texas. The Texas Medical Board reports licensing 10,878 new physicians since 2003, up from 8,391 in the prior four years.”

 “Dr. Perryman, subsequent to the issuance of his Report, informed TLR Foundation that at least 1,887 of those physicians are specifically the result of lawsuit reform.”

 The Texas Hospital Association reported a 70% reduction in the number of lawsuits filed against the state’s hospitals.

Medical liability insurance rates declined. Many doctors saw average rates drop 20% to 50%.

The American Medical Association removed Texas from its list of states experiencing a liability crisis; marking the first time it has removed any state from the list.

A survey by the Texas Medical Association also found a dramatic increase in physicians’ willingness to resume certain procedures they had stopped performing, including obstetrics, neurosurgical, radiation and oncological procedures during the Texas malpractice crisis.

Two simple changes in the tort laws made malpractice suits unprofitable for plaintiff attorneys.

Rick Perry has been so impressed with the results of his tort reforms that he wanted to extend his state’s impressive tort reform record.

Mr. Perry is proposing a British-style “loser pays” rule, which would require plaintiffs to pick up the legal costs of their targets if they lose their suits.

The Wall Street Journal showed that Ezekiel Emanuel malpractice cost estimate was wrong. It is not $25 billion year.

According to the Pacific Research Institutes estimate it is at least $242 billion dollars a year. I think the cost is closer to $750 billion dollars.

 

President-elect Trump, there are other consequences of the present malpractice liability system in the U.S. that cannot be measured in dollars.

One is alawsuits emotional wear and tear on both patients and physicians,

In order to avoid potential lawsuits physicians are avoiding high-risk patients and high-risk patient procedures. The result is a decrease in patient access to necessary care.

The details of the Massachusetts Medical Society Defensive Medicine 2008 survey is profoundly important in explaining trends in the healthcare costs due to the lack of malpractice reform.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media has published only meaningless sound bites about malpractice reform significance.

The survey’s significance has not had the impact on policy it should.

The authors state that the dollar estimates do not include the diagnostic procedures, hospital admissions, specialty referrals and consultations, or unnecessary prescriptions by physicians in specialties not included in the study.

The eight specialties surveyed represent only 46% of the physicians in the Massachusetts. The real costs to the healthcare system from the practice defensive medicine in the state of Massachusetts are much higher.

I believe the costs of defensive medicine in many other states are also much higher because in many states malpractice awards are higher. This encourages litigation.

President-elect Trump, defensive medicine is a huge burden nationally to the healthcare system. Its costs will undermine any attempt at healthcare reform. You must take medical malpractice liability reform seriously. There has to be a fundamental change in the structure of adjudication.

The survey’s findings must be studied carefully. The physicians surveyed estimated their percentages for defensive medicine testing to avoid lawsuits.

The real percentages can be studied objectively using big data. . Nonetheless the current estimates reveal unsustainable waste in our dysfunctional healthcare system.

Radiological imaging is one tool overused by physicians defensively to avoid litigation. Physicians feel they must test everything even if the probability of a positive result is insignificant.

“Plain Film X-Rays: An average of 22% of X-rays were ordered for defensive reasons.”

“CT Scans: An average of 28% of CT scans were motivated by liability concerns, with major differences among specialties.”

About 33% of scans ordered by obstetricians/ gynecologists, emergency physicians, and family practitioners were done for defensive reasons.

The total number of unnecessary CT scans needs to be calculated along with its costs in order to understand the significance of the percentage presented.

The health policy solution should not be to lower the reimbursement for CT scans. The solution is to fix the medical malpractice liability system.

MRI Studies: An average of 27% of MRIs were ordered for defensive reasons, with significant differences by specialty.

Obstetricians/ gynecologists, general surgeons, and family practitioners reported the highest rates, with the lowest rates by neurosurgeons and emergency physicians.

Ultrasound Studies: An average of 24% of Ultrasounds were ordered for defensive reasons. Orthopedic surgeons (33%) and obstetricians/gynecologists (28%) reported the highest rates, with neurosurgeons (6%) and anesthesiologists (9%) the lowest.

I believe neurosurgeons are underestimating their use of radiologic procedures in order to look good. Neurosurgery is one of the specialties with the highest malpractice rates.

Please note that obstetricians/gynecologists take no chances and order the most procedures for defensive purposes.

Laboratory Testing:

An average of 18% of laboratory tests were ordered for defensive reasons, with emergency physicians (25%) reporting the highest rates and neurosurgeons (7%) the lowest.

Specialty referrals, consultations and hospitalizations are overused the most for defensive reasons. No one wants to take a chance and send the patient home even if the indication for hospitalization is small.

Specialty Referrals and Consultations:

“An average of 28% of specialty referrals and consultations were motivated by liability concerns, with significant differences by specialty.

 Obstetricians/gynecologists reported that 40% of their referrals and consultations were done for defensive reasons, and anesthesiologists and family practitioners said that 33% of their referrals and consultations were done for the same reasons.”

Hospital Admissions:

An average of 13% of hospital admissions were motivated by liability concerns, with surgical specialties reporting lower rates than the other specialties.

The cost of defensive medicine is very high and extremely wasteful.

The repair of the dysfunctional malpractice system is simple. The system must decrease financial incentives for plaintiff’s attorneys to file frivolous lawsuits.

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

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2015 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Women’s Health Initiative (WHI): The Medical Community Is Waking Up

Stanley Feld M.D. FACP, MACE

The Women’s Health Initiative’s conclusions changed how peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women are treated in the U.S.

The conclusions of the study were released to the media before the medical community had a chance to study or debate the findings.

Since the media is the message and damn the facts, it was clear that estrogen caused heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and pulmonary embolism when used in peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women.

The conclusions frightened every peri-menopausal and post menopausal woman in this country. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) usage has decreased by eighty percent since the WHI was published in 2002.

Women were afraid to take HRT because they were afraid to contract these deadly diseases.

Physicians were afraid to prescribe HRT because of the fear of being sued in our litigious society if their patient contracted one of these diseases.

In the years before the WHI, observational data supported the conclusion that estrogen was of great value in treating symptoms associated with the acute menopausal syndrome, namely hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinary tract irritation, skin changes and emotional instability.

Estrogen also seemed to protect against heart disease, osteoporosis and weight gain and promote a general sense of well being in peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women. There was no good evidence for or against breast cancer.

One common complaint about observational studies is they are not double blind studies. One observes the outcome against a control group that does not have the same outcome.

“One common observational study is about the possible effect of a treatment on subjects, where the assignment of subjects into a treated group versus a control group is outside the control of the investigator.[1][2] This is in contrast with experiments, such as randomized controlled trials, where each subject is randomly assigned to a treated group or a control group.”

This NIH sponsored double blind placebo controlled study (WHI) was performed to prove with a level A (double blind placebo controlled) study to test the validity of observational data reports of the positive effects of estrogen.

The WHI reported results that concluded that estrogen had the opposite effects of previous observational studies.

The WHI conclusions were that conjugated estrogen caused breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, and pulmonary embolism. The WHI claimed that conjugated estrogen did protect against osteoporosis.

The media is the message and the conclusion resulted in the media frenzy. The implication was the medical profession was killing women by prescribing estrogen.

Prior to the release of the study’s conclusions many women were afraid to take estrogen on general principles alone. Many felt that estrogen deficiency was part of the aging process.

However, women had a life expectancy of 50 years in the early part of the 20th century. Women today live much longer and observational data suggests estrogen therapy (HRT) results in a healthier life.

There are many statistical problems with the WHI study. These problems have not been discussed in the media.

Practicing physicians were confused by the WHI study’s conclusions. They were also enraged because the results were released to the public before there was peer reviewed by the entire medical community.

Patients taking estrogen were upset at their physicians for giving them estrogen.

There are many defects in the WHI study from a statistical viewpoint.

  1. Age Distribution: 66.6% of the patients were between 60 and 70 years old. 87% of the patients were 60 to 80 years old. The majority of the patients in the study receiving Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for the first time were at least 10 years post-menopausal. This age distribution does not represent the usual population starting HRT.

 

HRT is usually started just prior to the onset of menopause or at menopause (48 years old).

  1. The drop out rate in the placebo and HRT group was 40%. The significance of the dropout rate was not addressed. This dropout rate nullifies the validity of statistical significance of all the conclusions in the study.

 

Maximal tolerable dropout rate for statistically significance of data in a study should not be greater than 20%.

Everyone had ignored this important statistical fact.

 

  1. The unblinding of 3000 women in the study represents a departure from the protocol. It biased the findings of treatment difference.

 

  1. A hazards ratio (HR) in a statistically significant conclusion should be greater than 2.0 in order for a conclusion to be valid. The Hazard Ration should not be expressed to two decimal places.

 

A Hazards Ratio of less than two does not discriminate causality from bias and confounding of variables.

  1. A 40% drop out rate nullified the power of the study. The study was not sufficiently powered to yield statistically significant results.

 

  1. Presenting data as a nominal confidence interval is valid only when one outcome is being studied against one placebo.

 

Adjusted confidence intervals must be used when multiple outcomes are involved that represent multiple confounding variables.

 

Confidence interval must not cross 1 to be statistically significant.

 

The WHI’s statistical conclusions of the WHI study were based on using nominal confidence intervals. The nominal confidence intervals were barely significant.

The WHI nominal confidence intervals came close to touching number one (1).

All of the WHI’s published adjusted confidence intervals were non significant because they all crossed 1.

These are the defects in the WHI study’s statistical analysis that invalidates its statistical significance.

The estimated Hazard Ratios (HRs), (Nominal 95% Confidence Intervals [Nom CIs] and Adjusted 95% Confidence Intervals [Adj CIs ) in the WHI study were as follows:

 

Cardiac Heart Disease: HR 1.29, Nom CI (1.02-1.63)                Adj CI 0.85-1.97.

Conclusion should have been the WHI was statistically insignificant for causing Cardiac Disease.

 

Breast cancer: HR 1.26, Nom CI(1.00-1.59),

Adj CI 0.83-1.92.

Conclusion should have been the WHI was statistically insignificant for causing Breast Cancer.

 

Stroke: HR 1.41, Nom CI (1.07-1.85)

Adj CI 0.86-2.31.

 

Conclusion should have been the WHI was statistically insignificant for causing Stroke.

 

Pulmonary Embolism: HR 2.13, Nom CI(1.39-3.25),

Adj CI 0.99-4.56.

The WHI conclusion for estrogen causing Pulmonary Embolism might be statistically significant if statistical analysis rules were not disregarded.

The Hazard Ratio (HR) was above 2. The Nominal Confidence limit (Nom Cl) did not go below 1. However it cannot be used for this study.

The Adjusted Confidence limit which must be used for this study crossed 1 making the WHI conclusion not statistically significant.

The adjusted confidence intervals were published in the original paper.

Media blitz publicity of the WHI’s invalid conclusions created a high level of public certainty about the results of the study.

Few physicians were in a position to dispute the statistical weakness of the data. Those who were in a position to dispute the statistical significance either remained silent or were marginalized.

The media blitz’ results changed the approach to women’s health in the U.S. in 2002. Eighty percent of women taking HRT discontinued estrogen replacement therapy.

In my opinion, the results have been a great disservice to women’s health. The media publicity also has had a devastating impact on the physician patient relationship and patients’ confidence in clinical research.

Even though estrogen might cause heart disease, pulmonary embolism, stroke, and breast cancer, the Women’s Health Initiative did not prove it in a statistically significant way.

Once again the media is the message.

Freedom of the press is vital to our freedom of speech, but the media’s tendency to sensationalize issues prior to proper judgment is disruptive to seeking the truth.

The medical community is starting to pick apart the conclusions of the WHI study.

I will describe some of the new and contradicting findings next time.

Dr. Joe Goldzieher, Reproductive Endocrinologist, helped me critique the statistics in 2002.

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

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2015 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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Managing Points Of View and Healthcare

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACE, MACE

Finally, it is official. Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, admitted that the Obama administration lied about the Iranian Nuclear deal to the press, public and congress.

His interview with David Samuels in a New York Times Magazine typified the approach to manipulating the truth by the Obama administration in all areas of the administration’s activities.

The administration has been trying to walk back Ben Rhodes’ statements for a week. The traditional media is trying to bury his statements even though the king of the mainstream media (the New York Times) published the interview.

The justification for this behavior is that it has been used by all-previous administrations including that of George Bush. It is therefore an insignificant objection.

Ben Rhodes explained to David Samuels, in the New York Times profile that,it was first necessary to lie to a corrupted and inexperienced American media about all sorts of things, beginning with the nature and intentions of the enemy in this case the Iranian regime.

Subsequent lies were added, as the White House took advantage of a dangerous mix of journalists’ ignorance, their ideological and partisan commitment to the administration, and finally, their career aspirations.

It reminds me of Jonathan Gruber’s attitude toward the press and President Obama’s pretense that he hardly knew Jonathan Gruber.

http://stanfeld.com/?s=Jonathan+Gruber

https://www.google.com/search?q=Ben+Rhodes+Iran+nuclar+deal&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

Rhodes went on to say, The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns… They literally know nothing.”

This implies the lack of respect the Obama administration has for the press, Americans and for the virtue of honesty. It is not a good example for our youth’s future behavior and the way to mange a Point of View.

Thus they (the press) will believe what he tells them. He also tells friendly non-governmental organizations and think tanks what he is telling the journalists. Those outlets produce “experts” whose expert opinion is just what Rhodes wants it to be. These ignorant young journalists thus have quotes that look like independent confirmation of the White House’s lies. :

Ben Rhodes admitted, when David Samuels asked,We created an echo chamber of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. ‘They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.’

This is the apparent attitude of President Obama and his administration. It is applied to every lie they have told to the American people.

Ben Rhodes described a tactic that is an extension of Sol Alinsky’s playbook. I believe the American people are catching on.

The defendants of the Obama administration marginalize the people who expose the lies with additional lies.

The Obama administration and its defendants are usually effective in marginalizing their opponents.

The defendants of the lie have the power of the pulpit and a friendly mainstream media.

The same tactics are used in defending Obamacare as I have described many times in my blog.

I find it difficult to believe that so many smart people believe these lies.

Carl Sandberg said “if you tell I lie enough times its eventually becomes the truth. This is especially true when people start adjusting and investing in the lie.

Marilyn Travenner, now that she is CEO of the healthcare insurance industry lobbying group, has a different point of view than when she was the head of CMS. Someone else other than government is paying her.

I have said that the dysfunction in the healthcare system is the fault of all the stakeholders, namely the government, the healthcare insurance companies, the drug companies, the physicians and the patients.

Each group adjusts to a dysfunctional element making the healthcare system more dysfunctional. The growing dysfunction is driven by the multiple points of view.

President Obama’s ideology has accelerated the dysfunction.

Marilyn Travenner is now diverting blame for the dysfunction away from the healthcare insurance industry. Many do not realize that the government run healthcare system is totally dependent on the healthcare insurance industry. The healthcare insurance industry does the administrative services for the government.

The administration brags that CMS’ overhead is only 2.5-5% of Medicare’s cost. This is an illusion; It is false.

The percentage of overhead published does not include the cost paid by the government to outsource the administrative services to the healthcare insurance industry.

The administrative services overhead is added into the cost of healthcare. Insurance premiums are calculated using the Medical Loss Ratio calculation. Many insurance company expenses are considered direct medical care expenses. Direct medical care expenses should only be for direct medical care.

The government programs set payments to the healthcare insurance industry for administrative service according to the Medical Loss Ratio.

Insurance administrative expenses, like a help desk or network selection expenses, should not be included in direct medical cost. Presently, it is the method used by the healthcare insurance industry to ultimately take 30-40% of the healthcare dollars off the top.

President Obama and his administration brag that Obamacare is bending the healthcare cost curve for Medicare and Medicaid. The only reason this was true in 2012 and 2013 was because Obamacare’s hidden taxes from citizens at every income level were being collected while there were no Obamacare medical care expenditures until 2014. The 2014 and 2015 cost curve was bent upward contributing to the 19 trillion dollar deficit.

In my last blog I mistakenly left out the word contributing to the 19 trillion dollar deficit. Obamacare is not budget neutral. It is not presently bending the healthcare cost curve.

Some smart people believe Obamacare is bending the healthcare curve because they uncritically believe all the administration’s press releases.

In the last few weeks we have been warned not to believe everything President Obama and his administration tell us.

I am sure the judge in Texas who was lied to by the Department of Justice about immigration reform is not very happy.

The cost of physician services might be increasing on a retail level. However, government and insurance reimbursement to physicians is decreasing.

Travenner, in her previous life blamed the rising cost of medical care on physicians. In order to divert attention from the healthcare insurance industry she continues to blame physicians.

The cost for everything from office visits to complex surgeries is on the rise, so there’s not much that can be done here to ebb this common cause of premium inflation.”

This is an incorrect premise. It is true that hospital costs are rising. If the premise is incorrect the solution is usually incorrect.

Next, Ms. Travenner explains additional reasons for increasing premiums.

“Prescription drug price inflation is a far bigger problem. A lack of a universal health plan, long periods of patent exclusivity, high demand for pharmaceutical products in the U.S., and the speed with which approved drugs can be brought to pharmacy shelves are all reasons why prescription drug costs could continue soaring in 2017 and future years.”

She omits the most important reasons for the increase in drug prices to the public.

President Bush’s deal with congress to pass Medicare Part D was to eliminate government’s ability to negotiate drug prices with the drug companies. The government negotiates drug prices for the military and VA. It gets negotiated prices that are comparable to all other countries on the globe.

At the same time the government restricts consumers from buying prescription drugs in Canada, suppressing competition.

The Obama administration keeps blaming the drug rules on President Bush’s administration. Why hasn’t President Obama renegotiated a better deal in the last seven years, or just change the rules by executive order as he usually does?

Tavenner also hit onthe point that restructuring the insurance market hasn’t paid benefits as expected.”

New regulations requiring Obamacare insurers to provide plans with a host of minimum benefits, as well as being unable to deny benefits to people with pre-existing conditions, has left insurers exposed to adverse selection.

In plainer terms, it means sicker people who’d been shut out of the insurance system previously have flooded in, and not enough healthier individuals have enrolled.

This last point is valid. The claim that the insurance industry is losing money is not true. It is losing money on adverse selection but they are making up that loss by increasing premium prices to the government and the corporate market.

If they did not make money how could they pay CEOs of some healthcare insurance industry companies 100 million dollars a year?

Finally, Tavenner cautioned that the turbulence can be expected because insurers “sit in the three-R world.”

What Tavenner is alluding to are two programs that are set to end in 2017: the reinsurance program that provided payments to plans that enroll higher-cost members, and the risk corridor, which acted like a modern day Robin Hood by taking excessive profits from top-performing insurers and giving them to Obamacare insurers losing excessive amounts of money.

Without the risk corridor, new insurance entrants could be discouraged, since they’d be responsible for covering the entirety of their losses. The third “r,” risk adjustment, will remain in place to distribute capital from plans with low-risk enrollees to those with high-risk.

The reinsurance aspect of Obamacare was probably illegal. The government guaranteed the insurance companies that it would make up whatever loss they claimed. The Obama administration paid the healthcare insurance industry only 12% of the promised amount. This deception by the government has led to some of the reasons UnitedHealthcare and now Aetna are pulling out of Obamacare’s health exchanges.

However, the government is totally dependent on the healthcare industry for it administrative services.

The devil is always in the details.

There is an ever-growing need to lie to manage the public’s point of view in favor of Obamacare.

The public is becoming aware of the Obama administration’s attempt to mange the public’s point of view. Ordinary citizens are madder than hell at the Obama administration and the establishment in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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

All Rights Reserved © 2006 – 2015 “Repairing The Healthcare System” Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

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The Defects In Obamacare

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE

We live in an era of sound bites driving opinions rather than details driving opinions. The devil is always in the details.

The defects in Obamacare are too numerous to count. President Obama provides the traditional mass media with sounds bites leading to false conclusions.

The sound bites are misleading. Many of the sound bites are lies. One such sound bite is Obamacare is working and therefore does not need changing.

He and the Democrats keep the discussion on the sound bites level and do not dig into the real issue. President Obama even keeps the details away from congress the very people he is dependent on to pass the bill.

President Obama kept the facts and details about Obamacare away from the congress and the people. He is now doing it with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional regulatory and investment pact. Just as with Obamacare, President Obama expects congress to vote in favor of a pact they have not debated and have not had an opportunity to read the details in the final bill.

It is another one of those bills where the administration is telling the congress and the American people you have to pass the bill in order to see what is in it.

Americans are tired of his lack of transparency and lies. They do not trust President Obama anymore.

Congress should never make the same mistake they made with Obamacare. If they do all Americans should rally to throw all the bums out.

The devil is always in the details.

United States Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said,

   “Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. […]

More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing. We hear that the process by which TPP is being negotiated has been a model of transparency. I disagree with that statement.[98]

President Obama and the speaker have told us it is good pact for the country’s economy. Senator Cruz is right. “Don’t vote for something whose details you do not know.”

There are many defects in Obamacare. One major defect is that it is not affordable to consumers, the federal government or state governments. When fully implemented the cost of healthcare to the federal government will be at least 50% of our GNP not the 23% of GNP predicted. Twenty three percent is bad enough.

Federal and State taxes will have to be increased to cover all medical care entitlement costs.

President Obama keeps telling us that Obamacare is working. He says it is here to stay.

The reality is Obamacare is an unworkable and costly failure in multiple areas including the health insurance exchanges, healthcare.gov, insurance premiums and deductible costs, the development of Accountable Care Organizations, maintenance of employer insurance and more.

Americans deserve a better system than Obamacare.

It is impossible to cover all of the harmful details of every category in one blog. 

It is disingenuous for President Obama to claim, in his repeated sound bites, that there is no need to change anything in Obamacare because Obamacare is working fine.

The real cost of Obamacare to consumers (especially taxpayers), the federal and state governments and the economy have not been disclosed nor are they transparent.

The real costs start to leak out with stories about how the costs affect consumers and their lifestyle.

This usually leads to the sound bites that it will be better to have a government single party payer system.

The underlying defect is that this system leads to consumers being dependent on government and not responsible for themselves. Government changes rules on a whim. Consumers do not have options. This is a road to serfdom.

After the Affordable Care Act kicked in, a 52-year-old sales and marketing entrepreneur reported his monthly health-insurance premium to cover himself and his family grew to $848 from $513. Like others, he wasn’t happy about it. “It’s taking a lot out of pocket,” he said.”

He is one of millions of Americans who earn too much to qualify for government subsidies on policies purchased through the federal insurance exchange. He was in favor of Obamacare before he realized Obamacare’s effect on reality.

 Obamacare requires insurance companies to offer insurance policies with broad coverage and greater protection against catastrophic medical costs. It also requires coverage on illnesses and conditions such as pregnancy and birth control coverage for people who do not need this coverage.

Obamacare was supposed to save every family $2,500 a year. It costs families more than $2,500 dollars a year. It was not supposed to affect anyone making less than $250,000 per year.

It is true that many of the above a not taxes. However it is a cost burden on consumers making less than $250,000 a year.

Others, making less than $50,000 a year, receive complete or partial government subsidies. This is what is meant by redistribution of wealth. It is a significant cost burden on consumers making $50,000 to $250,000 dollars a year.

Everyone remembers President Obama promising that Obamacare will not cost families making less that $250,000 one dime.

Obamacare premiums have become unaffordable to people earning less than $50,000 per year as well.

Obamacare’s goal was to cover everyone with broad insurance coverage and greater protection against catastrophic medical costs.

Yet, only 10 million out of 330 million are covered by the exchanges. Each enrollee in the exchanges also has high deductibles. These deductibles can be as high as $6,000 a year.

Many of the insurance companies claim they will be losing money after the government’s health insurance industry subsidies disappear in 2016.

These companies will leave the Obamacare federal health exchanges reducing competition. This in turn will increase premiums further and make premiums more unaffordable.

Another detail overlooked is enrollees are poorer, sicker and older. The pool is not diluted by younger, healthier and richer. The result is more expensive insurance rates.

“ HHS was saying that it needed about 40 percent of the exchange policies to be purchased by people age 18-35 to keep the exchanges financially stable. It was 28 percent in both 2014 and 2015, according to HHS data. The CBO had projected about 85 percent of exchange enrollees to be subsidized, falling toward 80 percent as enrollment grew; instead, that number is 87 percent and actually rose slightly from 2014.”

According to a study last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, people who bought silver and bronze plans on the federal and state health insurance exchanges saw total premiums and out-of-pocket payments rise an estimated 14% to 28% higher than pre- Obamacare premiums and out of pocket expenses.

Obamacare is not fulfilling any of President Obama’s sound-bite promises.

His claim that Obamacare is working well and does not have to change makes absolutely no sense.

If one tells a lie enough times it becomes eventually becomes the truth.

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

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Chaos Continues At HealthCare.gov

 

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

http://wtvr.com/2015/02/20/obama-administration-extending-health-care-enrollment-deadline/

Chaos continues at healthcare.gov with the sudden departure of QSSI. QSSI was a minor hub manger of healthcare.gov in early 2014 when the site was failing. It became the major integrator and senior advisor.

CGI was the major integrator at first.  Michelle Obama’s college friend was a principle in CGI. The friend obtained the non-bid CGI contract. CGI was dismissed as the web site disaster unveiled itself. The contract was for more than $600 million dollars.

QSSI was hired as the senior advisor and the web site’s prime integrator.

QSSI is a subsidiary of Optum the IT healthcare arm of healthcare insurance company United Healthcare. 

 Andy Slavitt, a senior executive at Optum, joined CMS in June 2014. He had subsequently been heralded by CMS as the savior of healthcare.gov

He received a rare waiver from federal ethics rules at the time which allowed him to be involved in contracting issues involving Optum and the United Healthcare Group.

When Slavitt joined CMS, a little known loophole in government hiring practices permitted him to pocket $4.8 million in tax-free money when he joined the government agency.”

Andy Slavitt was initially hired as deputy administrator of CMS. He was promoted to acting administrator when Marilyn Tavenenner left.

There has always been a question of conflict of interest between Slavitt , Optum and United Healthcare. It is not clear if Andy Slavitt is still at CMS.

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, asked CMS and United Health Group in June 2014 about Slavitt’s potential conflicts of interest.

The answer to Senator Grassly and Hatch’s questions were never made public.

A scandal occurred recently when 800,000 Obamacare enrollees received incorrect subsidy information on the 1095-A tax forms sent by the federal exchange healthcare.gov.

Some enrollees were mistakenly told they received too large a subsidy, while others were told their subsidy was too small.

Publicity of this error was buried in the news that the Obamacare enrollment period for 2015 healthcare insurance was being extended until April 30th, after initially being extended to February 15th.

 The real reason for the extension appears to be poor enrollment in healthcare.gov despite the administration bragging that the enrollment was great.

 One month later Optum suddenly quit.

An Optum spokesman said,

 “Having achieved the goal of making HealthCare.gov a stable, reliable platform for people seeking health coverage, Optum will not seek to continue our role as senior adviser to HealthCare.gov,”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Jeff Zients took over when healthcare.gov was launch in October 2013.

In December 2013 Zients, who Obama had turned to in the past to fix sticky issues, had “made it clear that he was not going to stay on the job past December.”

Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post,

Today, the site is night and day from what it was when it launched on October 1. I am very grateful for his service and leadership," Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

The Obama administration then announced that former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene took over the operation of HealthCare.gov in December 2013 in consultation with Marilyn Traverner and QSSI.
 

Somewhere in 2014 CGI was rehired and DelBene left. QSSI remained.

CGI was then relieved in December 2014.

Accenture was hired. In December 2014 Accenture was rehired with a $563 million dollar contract to run healthcare.gov.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in January dropped a key contractor on the project, CGI Federal, and selected Accenture Federal Services to rehabilitate and build out the portal.”

Suddenly, in May 2015, QSSI quit.

This all seems fishy to me. The price tag of more than $1.1 billion dollar for healthcare.gov seems very high. The web site is still incomplete. The healthcare insurance premiums are unaffordable and rising.

Consumers and physicians do not approve of Obamacare.

State exchanges are losing money they cannot afford. There is little evidence that the electronic medical records program is increasing the quality of medical care.

The individual health insurance market through healthcare.gov is a mess.

The public does not know how many people are uninsured, have become uninsured and do not have access to medical care.

Obamacare has been delayed in the group market. Private insurance has increased in price. Large corporations are increasing part-time employment to avoid paying for employees’ healthcare insurance and to avoid federal government penalties.

Yet, the Obama spin machine is trying to influence the public and the Supreme Court through the media saying the subsidy should be extended to the Federal Health Exchanges.

It all seems crazy to me. There is a better, more efficient way to help Americans purchase insurance and be protected in case of serious illness.

It is not a government run single party payer system. The government cannot even build an efficient website.

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

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How Should Healthcare Quality Be Measured?

Stanley Feld M.D., FACP,MACE

 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF) grading system for measuring the quality of healthcare is an wrong. It results in a way to limit physicians’ judgment and treats medical care as a commodity. It enables a computer program to judge if physicians have followed an algorithm to treat patients.

 “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).[57][citation needed has developed grading systems for assessing the quality of evidence for making judgments about treatments. 

  • Level I: Evidence obtained from at least one properly designed randomized controlled trial.
  • Level II-1: Evidence obtained from well-designed controlled trials without randomization.
  • Level II-2: Evidence obtained from well-designed cohort or case-control analytic studies, preferably from more than one center or research group.
  • Level II-3: Evidence obtained from multiple time series designs with or without the intervention. Dramatic results in uncontrolled trials might also be regarded as this type of evidence.
  • Level III: Opinions of respected authorities, based on clinical experience, descriptive studies, or reports of expert committees.”

The grading system is wrong. I will lead to shabby medical care. If quality of care should be measured, it should be measured by using Evidence-Based Behavioral Practice evaluations

 “Evidence-based behavioral practice (EBBP) "entails making decisions about how to promote health or provide care by integrating the best available evidence with practitioner expertise and other resources, and with the characteristics, state, needs, values and preferences of those who will be affected.”

Empirically supported treatments (ESTs) in some clinical settings are defined as "clearly specified psychological treatments shown to be efficacious in controlled research with a delineated population" [3]

Only when physicians’ clinical judgment and observations are included in the assessment of their quality of medical care should evaluation of that quality of care be measured.

The narrow criteria of the USPSTF will not define quality. It will only serve to restrict access to care and penalize physicians for using clinical judgment and consumers’ from receiving medical care.

Suddenly, it becomes easy to see how difficult it is to assess the quality medical care.

There is little question that an occasional physician practices terrible medicine. This is obvious to the medical community. The mechanism for improving a bad physicians quality of care is in place but not well executed.

Few, especially healthcare policy wonks, seem to understand the difficulty of assessment of medical care.

It should be easy for policy wonks to understand the limitations and criticisms of evidence based medicine.

Yet the Obama administration regards evidence-based medicine as measured presently as the gold standard of clinical practice,

Limitations and Criticisms of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM)

  • EBM produces quantitative research, especially from randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Accordingly, results may not be relevant for all treatment situations.[67]

This is obvious to most physicians.

  • The theoretical ideal of EBM (that every narrow clinical question, of which hundreds of thousands can exist, would be answered by meta-analysis and systematic reviews of multiple RCTs) faces the limitation that research (especially the RCTs themselves) is expensive; thus, in reality, for the foreseeable future, there will always be much more demand for EBM than supply, and the best humanity can do is to triage the application of scarce resources.

The reasons for EMS shortcoming are listed below. The list is not complete.

  • Because RCTs are expensive, the priority assigned to research topics is inevitably influenced by the sponsors' interests.
  • There is a lag between when the RCT is conducted and when its results are published.[68]
  • There is a lag between when results are published and when these are properly applied.[69]
  • Certain population segments have been historically under-researched (racial minorities and people with co-morbid diseases), and thus the RCT restricts generalizing.[70]
  • Not all evidence from an RCT is made accessible. Treatment effectiveness reported from RCTs may be different than that achieved in routine clinical practice.[64]
  • Published studies may not be representative of all studies completed on a given topic (published and unpublished) or may be unreliable due to the different study conditions and variables.[71]
  • Research tends to focus on populations, but individual persons can vary substantially from population norms, meaning that extrapolation of lessons learned may founder.
  •  Thus EBM applies to groups of people, but this should not preclude clinicians from using their personal experience in deciding how to treat each patient. One author advises that "the knowledge gained from clinical research does not directly answer the primary clinical question of what is best for the patient at hand" and suggests that evidence-based medicine should not discount the value of clinical experience.[56] Another author stated that "the practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research."[72]
  • Hypocognition (the absence of a simple, consolidated mental framework that new information can be placed into) can hinder the application of EBM.[73]
  • Valid enthusiasm for science should not cross the line into scientism, losing critical perspective.
  •  Although clinical experience and expert opinion are insufficient by themselves, neither are they valueless, as EBM fervor that approaches scientism sometimes tends to paint them.

This last point is repetition of a very important shortcoming.

  • An informed clinician can weigh confounding variables in a clinical case and decide that following a population-based guideline to the letter feels inadequate for the situation. Thus clinical backlash against "cookbook medicine" is not always misguided, and "guidelines are not gospel."[74]
  •  Conceptual models, by having fewer variables than always-multivariate reality, face limits of predictive accuracy, just as even the best supercomputer simulations cannot predict the weather with 100% accuracy, whether because of the butterfly effect or otherwise.
  •  Thus, just as clinical judgment alone cannot give epistemological completeness, neither can RCTs and systematic reviews alone.”

The answer to the reader’s last comment and question, “I believe a carrot and stick approach may be necessary with more carrot and less stick.  Your thoughts?” is

I believe that government must learn how to evaluate quality medical care accurately, if they want to base healthcare payments on the quality of medical care. Presently, the government is far from achieving that goal.

It could also be that measuring quality medical care is not President Obama’s goal.

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

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