Health Wonk Review: Spring has just about sprung

Welcome to Health Wonk Review, where everyone is above average.  We enjoy above-average health care costs per capita, above-average uninsured rates, and above-average obsession with health care reform.  That's what it's like today in America.  Our president has said, Change has come to America.  In the words of Robert Hayden's [American Journal]:

america     as much a problem in metaphysics as
it is a nation earthly entity an iota in our
galaxy     an organism that changes even as i
examine it     fact and fantasy never twice the
same     so many variables

Like Schrodinger's cat, America's health care system seems to change in the changing light as we examine it; one thing we can all agree on is that it needs some work. 

Franz Kline Steve Martin We begin with some broad brush strokes on form and amount of spending:

Len Nichols presents HEALTH REFORM: Moving Past the Impasse on the Public Plan | New America Blogs posted at New Health Dialogue

Maggie Mahar presents Health Beat: Thinking About Dr. Atul Gawande’s Congressional Testimony Part 1: Why Health Care Reform Will Require Additional Spending at Health Beat.

Lewis Hine Mechanic One cost, no matter what the payment system, is labor.  Lynn Nicholas, President of the Massachusetts Hospital Association writes about some pending changes to labor laws that might make it easier for labor to unionize, presenting the favored position of a non-union shop as one of worker, rather than employer, preference.  See Keeping Communication Lines Open in the Healthcare Labor Debate at CommonHealth, the Massachusetts health care reform blog of WBUR (a Boston NPR affiliate).

Who Will Pay for Prescription Drugs? asks Adam Fein at Drug Channels. CMS projections show that the government will have a very strong hand in managing retail drug spending and shaping the future of drug channels.  How will that affect pricing and R&D?  Richard Fogoros (DrRich) presents A Brilliant Plan For Preserving Pharmaceutical Progress at The Covert Rationing Blog, saying, The title says it all. Can we have our cake (drug price controls) and eat it too (continue drug innovation)? DrRich says, yes we can!  Check out his proposal.

Pills My dad used to say he wanted to listen to a radio station that broadcast only good
news (not Good News, just good news).  Merrill Goozner, of GoozNews, suggests this week that there ought to be a journal dedicated solely to publishing negative results — as soon as they're known — as he is all hopped up due to delayed publication and/or suppression of data on adverse effects of drugs.  These issues in general, and a couple of current cases he discusses, have policy implications for the new leadership at the FDA.

At InsureBlog, Mike Feehan has a piece on Wellpoint's recent spinning off of its in-house PBM, About Wellpoint's PBM Auction, and future implications for prescription costs.

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Ill and Uninsured in Illinois gives us a simple but eloquent presentation of the difficulty of accessing specialty care while uninsured: The Wait for Cook County Health Care.

At the other end of the spectrum, Health Access WeBlog's Beth Capell asks What are gold-plated benefits anyway? An interesting question, now that the president has indicated that he is open to signing a bill including taxation of health benefits.  (As an aside, Obama's approach — White House Health Care Summit with stunning transparency, concluded with an invitation to Congress to send him a bill consistent with the policies he articulated throughout the campaign — is both a refreshing change from the Clinton years and a strategy likely to insulate him from criticism on the exact contours of the plan when it reaches his desk.)

Mao_tse_tungJared Rhoads presents Less government, not more at The Lucidicus Project, discussing the recent report by Physicians for a National Health Plan (the single payor proponents).  I spoke with PNHP's David Himmelstein a little while back, and while he has a compelling argument for adopting a single-payor plan in this country (the savings would be impressive), I still believe that the more pragmatic approach is to make incremental changes in the system before us. 

Taking our cue from Dr. Himmelstein, we begin a bit of a grand tour by visiting our neighbor to the north. 

North of the border, Sam Solomon asks Can Canadian doctors fire their patients? at Canadian Medicine, and says in short, yes, but carefully.

At BNET Healthcare, Ken Terry writes that Massachusetts Needs to Deal With Primary Care Crisis, saying that while proponents of the healthcare reform program in Massachusetts tout it as a model for the entire country, and detractors point to the program's rapidly rising costs, neither side is really focusing on the need for better access to primary care in the state. He also observes that retail clinics are expanding in Massachusetts, and community health centers are pulling in federal cash for expansion.  One observation: retail clinics in Massachusetts are not currently expanding as they cannot find nurse pratitioners to hire.  Also, on a national level, Minute Clinic recently shuttered 90 sites for the season.  Even if they were growing, they are no substitute for primary care.

Looking at a new model of physician practice — available 24/7, untethered to most of the traditional trappings of a physician practice (including that old-fashioned trope of accepting insurance payments), Ted Eytan, MD is Now Reading: Take Two Aspirin And Tweet Me In The Morning: How Twitter, Facebook, And Other Social Media Are Reshaping Health Care.

Great_Dictator_globe_scene_academy_print_bigGrrlScientist shares her overseas medicine story, Finnish Emergency Medicine: One American's Experience at Living the Scientific Life.  Seemed to work well for her without instantaneous contact back home.  (See my own tale of a close ecounter with an overseas health care system last year as well.)

Here at HealthBlawg, I recently interviewed the CEO of Satori World Medical, a medical tourism company that offers a twist: through an HRA, it funds patients' future years' insurance premiums with a portion of the savings their employers or insurers enjoy as a result of their overseas medical procedures.

Closer to home, many doctors are now leery of online ratings sites, and have started using a service, Medical Justice, to get patients to agree not to post negative reviews as a condition of being taken on as patients.  Dmitriy at Trusted.MD has been following this issue for a while and offers some insights.

Marx Brothers (A Day at the Races)_04_scrubbed_in Jaan Sidorov presents The Worrisome Outpatient Trend: What Does Disease Management Have to Offer? posted at Disease Management Care Blog.  Chronic care consumes 75% of the health care dollar in this country, and needs to be better managed.  Outpatient chronic care is a significant part of the equation.

Care management is also the theme of Julie Ferguson's post on The effect of obesity and other comorbidities on workers comp at Workers' Comp Insider.  In light of a new report which shows that workers comp medical claims can cost three times as much when the injured employee is obese, she makes the case for breaking down the silos between employer-based occupational health and general health programs.

David Williams' post on Wal-Mart and eClinicalWorks over at Health Business Blog concludes with a healthy bit of skepticism about this new EHR offering to small physician practices.

Using the cost per doc put out by Wal-Mart, John Moore does some calculations, and shows in his post The HITECH Challenge: Is $19B Enough to Drive HIT Adoption at Chilmark Research that docs getting wired and getting HITECH incentive dollars will be engaged in a money-losing proposition — they'd actually be better off financially not implementing EHRs and getting hit with the penalty a few years down the road. 

Speaking of Wal-Mart, it bears mentioning that this day in history marks the anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Bentonville (No, not that Bentonville; the battle was in North Carolina.)

Tinker Ready, at Boston Health News, shares some insights from John Glaser, CIO of Partners Healthcare, on getting HIT right.

Shahid N. Shah presents Client/Server vs. ASP/Web-Based in Healthcare IT posted at The Healthcare IT Guy, since with the HITECH Act and stimulus bill making news, many users are asking if they should purchase software and use it on premises or if they should use a "cloud" package or an ASP/web-based solution.

Metropolis5 In addition to jump-starting HIT, current legislation is giving a boost to research funding.  One pot of funds is time-limited; Glenn Laffel looks at Beaker Ready projects ready for NIH funding at Pizaazz.

Jason Shafrin reviews some of the pros and cons of establishing a government body to conduct cost effectiveness research in Should the U.S. get NICE? at Healthcare Economist.

In The Color of Money: What Sort of School Doesn't Pay Its Faculty to Teach? Roy Poses at Health Care Renewal puts academic medicine on the spot, saying that some leaders have abandoned core missions in favor of collecting "taxes" from medical faculty, which makes faculty more dependent on commercial interests.  Strong words indeed, and an issue that needs to be rolled out front and center together with other payment issues if there is to be a wholesale revamping of health care financing in this country.

For those brave enough to enter the land of credit default swaps, Joe Paduda, at Managed Care Matters, examines the reasons for propping up AIG and why it may fail anyway.

And finally, to leave you with some doom and gloom from The Health Care Blog to ponder, Brian Klepper and David Kibbe ask Is the healthcare economy rightsizing?

Thanks for visiting HealthBlawg for this edition.  Please see me on twitter too, and join us again next time for Health Wonk Review.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

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