Hospitals target nutrition, other social needs to boost health

Physician Joshua Sharfstein, former Maryland Secretary

Tom Shicowich “really, really, really liked Coca-Cola” before he began a new nutrition program targeting his Type 2 diabetes and weight. Being on a “very tight budget,” he couldn’t afford the fruit and vegetables he cut up for a living at his part-time grocery store job. Dinner was often a pizza or fast food meal he picked up on the way home.

Six months after getting free healthy groceries every week through the Geisinger hospital near his rural Pennsylvania home, Shicowich has cut his blood sugar level from nearly 11 to close to a normal level of 7. The 6′ 5″ former high school track team competitor has lost 35 pounds but is still nearly 200 pounds from his target weight of 250 pounds.

The Geisinger Health System is on its way to making its own numbers. On March 1, Geisinger plans to expand its five-patient pilot project to 50 more of its sickest and highest-cost diabetes patients. So far, all of those participating in Geisinger’s Fresh Food Pharmacy have lost weight, lowered their body mass indices, decreased their use of medication, lowered their cholesterol and improved their hemoglobin A1C levels, says Andrea Feinberg, an internal medicine doctor who is “clinical program champion.”

Geisinger is what’s known as an accountable care organization, which makes it fully responsible for the insurance and all health costs for their patients. They employ the doctors and own the hospitals and insurance company. The better-known Kaiser Permanente is another example. That means unlike other hospitals, their profits aren’t based upon patients’ visits and treatments.

“It is no coincidence that the health systems and hospitals that are doing it the best have aligned their incentives more closely to the health of their patients,” says Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician who is a former secretary of health for Maryland and top Food and Drug Administration official. “It’s very hard to ask a hospital that’s getting paid for every preventable admission to invest in ways that would eliminate those admissions.”

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Healthcare: Transition refining quality care

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Where do you see San Diego’s health care sector headed in 2017?

Along with the trend nationally, I see a continued shift in San Diego to treating patients not in hospitals, but in other locations that provide the right level of care in the right place at the right time. Patients will benefit by getting the care they need in a setting that’s more convenient for them, with easier access to appointments and with an integrated approach to care among all of their care providers. We need to be where patients need us when they need us.

I also see a growing emphasis not just on prolonging a patient’s life — which medicine is good at doing — but improving the quality of that life, as well. End-of-life care should be what the patient wants it to be, where they want it to be.

Scientific advances will continue to transform medicine and the delivery of health care through this year and years to come. There will be more advances in individualized medicine that tailors treatment to patients based on genomics, which will continue to affect everything from which drugs are right for each patient to understanding the best way to treat different cancers. At the same time, there will be advances in helping whole populations of patients as health care’s ability to use data changes the research landscape and helps translate findings to the patient bedside faster. Other technological advances will help perform seeming miracles, like detecting potential heart attacks before they happen.


With Coverage in Peril and Obama Gone, Health Law’s Critics Go Quiet

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For seven years, few issues have animated conservative voters as much as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But with President Barack Obama out of office, the debate over “Obamacare” is becoming less about “Obama” and more about “care” — greatly complicating the issue for Republican lawmakers.

Polling indicates that more Republicans want to make fixes to the law rather than do away with it. President Trump, who remains popular on the right, has mused about a replacement plan that is even more expansive than the original. The conservative news media are focused more on Mr. Trump’s near-daily skirmishes with Democrats and reporters, among others, than on policy issues like health care. And the congressional debate, as well as the paid advertisements on both sides, is centered on the substance of the law rather than its namesake, draining some of its toxicity on the right.

As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. From deeply conservative districts in the South and the West to the more moderate parts of the Northeast, Republicans in Congress say there is significantly less intensity among opponents of the law than when Mr. Obama was in office.

“I hear more concerns than before about ‘You’re going to repeal it, and we’re all going to lose insurance’ because they don’t think we’re going to replace it,” said Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican who represents a conservative district in Idaho.

But it was not until now, with the Republicans taking control of the federal government, that the debate fully shifted from the theoretical to the tangible. It was easy for conservatives to rally against a law identified with a president they despised when he was capable of vetoing any repeal. Now that he is gone and the law’s benefits appear to be on the chopping block, the people who stand to lose the most are the most vocal.

“I’ve heard from constituents who have been harmed by the Affordable Care Act over the course of its being in existence,” said Representative Leonard Lance, Republican of New Jersey, whose affluent district Mr. Trump narrowly lost last year. “More recently, because of our discussions on repairing it, I’ve heard from those who do not wish to have the act amended. More recently, that is the preponderance of those who have contacted me.”

It is a longstanding rule of politics that rallying opposition to a proposal is usually easier than galvanizing support. And never is this more the case than when a widely distributed benefit is at risk of being taken away.

GOP anxiety rises as conservatives and moderates split on ACA repeal

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Divisions sharpened last week between hard-right and more pragmatic Republicans over both policy and strategy for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Those differences—along with the apparently slow progress in drafting actual legislation that could be scored by the Congressional Budget Office on cost and coverage impact—underscore the tough struggle Republicans face in dismantling Obamacare and establishing an alternative system.

One of their biggest disagreements is over the future of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid coverage to more than 10 million low-income adults. Conservatives want to eliminate it while a number of GOP senators and governors want to keep that coverage.

Congressional Republicans are feeling growing pressure to show progress on healthcare. Many are going back to their districts this week and holding town hall events, where they may face constituents who are upset about the potential loss of their ACA coverage. In addition, insurers are signaling they may pull out of the individual market in 2018, as Humana announced it would do last week.

House Speaker Paul Ryan promised Thursday to introduce repeal-and-replace legislation when the House returns from recess on Feb. 27, though he’s presented no legislative language so far. He said he’s waiting for the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation to score his proposed bill on costs and coverage levels before it’s unveiled.

Ryan has promised the House will repeal most of the ACA via an expedited budget reconciliation bill passed on a party-line vote by early April. He’s indicated it will include some replacement features, such as expanded health savings accounts and age-based premium tax credits.

GOP leaders want to erase most of the ACA taxes that fund the law’s coverage expansions and replace them with a cap on the tax exclusion employees receive for employer-provided health benefits.

Two people familiar with Ryan’s proposal told the Associated Press that employees would pay taxes on the value of coverage above $12,000 for individuals and $30,000 for families. Republicans would not confirm those amounts. But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told reporters that the “vast majority of Americans” would be unaffected. That suggests it wouldn’t raise much revenue.

That proposal is likely to trigger strong opposition from business and labor groups and from many conservative congressional Republicans, who may see it as a new tax.