Segment 7 – Healthcare Power, Politics & Philosophy

Segment 7 – Healthcare Power, Politics & Philosophy

 

This segment reviews preconditions for having a focused discussion of healthcare reform necessitated by powerful vested interests, and it discusses how to overcome political polarization.

In the first six Segments, we have reviewed the relentless growth of healthcare spending. And how rising costs are literally built into the system as it is now. This review should give us some ideas on how to fix the system.

But before we talk about how to fix the healthcare system, we must first tackle some landmines that lurk beneath the surface. The landmines are power, politics and philosophy. They are the subject of the next 2 Segments.

In this Segment, we will discuss both preconditions necessary for a calm, focused discussion of healthcare reform as well as what I call “loaded” political words. Then in the following Segment we will look at traditional American values and principles that can be brought to bear on resolving the core philosophical dilemma that has kept us from fixing US healthcare all these years.

Let’s start with preconditions. The idea here is that healthcare now comprises 1/6 of the entire US economy. So, there are powerful interests, lots of money, and fierce political convictions that could derail any discussion before it even gets started.

So, I suggest setting preconditions to be agreed on beforehand. Only then can we calmly get into the meat of the discussion. Here are the preconditions.

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First, for purposes of discussion, let’s agree to keep dollar spending at the 2017 level – no winners, no losers, everything the same.

Second, let’s keep power the same. Keep the AMA, the hospital association, the VA, Health & Human Services, etc. No power struggles.

Third, strive to keep partisan politics out of the discussion. Make it a joint problem-solving project. Give credit where it’s due: to politicians or policy writers who contribute constructively. The motto is: “U.S. spells us.” Healthcare employs 1/6 of us and touches all of us.

Fourth, here’s where I will insert a viewpoint from my 40 years experience as a doctor: Human beings all get the same illnesses, all suffer, all are interconnected mind/body/spirits. I – like all doctors — have taken care of rich and poor, all races and nationalities, religious and non-religious, social outcasts and VIPs, saints and sinners. In a hospital bed or in the doctor’s office, we’re all the same. We should remember, “We’re all in this together”

Lastly, since healthcare is “too big to fail,” whatever is done should be done deliberately, slowly, with monitoring along the way and mid-course corrections when needed. If we accept these preconditions, we can have a Win-Win Discussion.

This kind of discussion should look at Facts, Goals, Values and lastly Methods, the actual Fix.

We have already discussed the Facts. The key facts are:

– the US health system has grown to 3.2 trillion dollars, representing 1/6 of the entire economy

– Cost growth is built into the system, has always outpaced inflation, and has resisted attempts to restrain the growth

– Healthcare spending is draining vitality from the economy, government and individual household budgets

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Here are the key Goals:

– We must stop excess healthcare growth beyond the natural increase expected from population increase, aging, and innovation.

– To do so will require fundamental reform of the system, not just tinkering with public finance and private insurance

– Since healthcare is “too big to fail”, a key goal is Avoid short-term disruption, again proceed slowly.

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The last things to discuss before we get to specific Methods – what I am calling the Fix of healthcare – are Politics and Values.

We all know that our country is polarized to an unhealthy extent. This has contributed to political paralysis – not getting anything done. I’m not a political scientist and cannot tackle the whole subject of healthcare politics.

But I do want to look at what I call “loaded words” that creep into our debates on healthcare. These words lock us into a closed, rigid mindset and can shut down discussion.

Let’s look at a few “loaded words” and suggest more neutral words to help keep the discussion open-minded.

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First is “socialized medicine.” This terminology stirs up the negative connotations of the so-called “Prussian menace” after World War I and “Red scare” after World War II. A more neutral term would be “publicly financed medicine.” The truth of the matter is that currently almost 50% of healthcare is already publicly financed through Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. The issues behind the loaded words, which do need thoughtful discussion, are accountability; and also advantages and disadvantages of uniformity and nationwide scale, instead of the current fragmented system.

The next loaded terms are “free market” and “competition.” The connotations are freedom from government interference, freedom from politics, consumer freedom, and efficiency. The grain of truth behind the terms is that the law of supply and demand does drive down prices to a balance point in pure markets. The reality, however, is that healthcare is not a pure market, as we saw in Segment 5. Also, markets sometimes leave aside consumers who are poor or powerless, which includes many of the sick. A more neutral term is commercial market.

Next is “rationing.” The connotation is forcibly withholding something from an individual. A more neutral term is “limit-setting” or “prioritizing.” We will talk more about this in the next Segment, and about the need for patients’ to consent to limits on their health service or health insurance. The reality is that we already have de facto rationing by zip code, income level, government budgeting, and hospital technology policies. Prioritizing is not bad – it’s necessary.

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Another loaded word is “choice.” The connotation is that the government will interfere in choice of doctor or into the doctor-patient relationship itself. This was one of the scare tactics used by the insurance association in 1993 to bring down the President Clinton’s health reform plan. But the reality is that insurance network plans restrict patient choice of doctor more than government rules do. In addition, doctor inclusion in Medicaid – and other insurance plans, for that matter — is often a matter of the pay scales set by Medicaid or insurance companies, not the choices made by patients.

And the last loaded term I’ll mention is “big government.” The connotation goes back to President Reagan saying, “Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” We always hear about the Army’s 100-dollar toilet seats (in 1986 dollars) and the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare website.

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And the truth is that government is big and can be just as flawed as any big institution. However, national government, unlike private companies, is legally transparent and accountable. Also, Government can fulfill some functions more effectively and efficiently than some private sector piecemeal approaches. Here are examples: FAA, FDA, FCC. Currently the military enjoys a high regard. Some examples of public-private partnerships are the moon shot, internet and healthcare research. Medicare has an enviable customer satisfaction rating of 77%.

The reality is that we are now a nation (and world) of big institutions – for-profit, non-profit, government, academic. All have institutional governance and administrative challenges, which are studied by the disciplines of public administration and business administration. Public administration and business administration tell us how best to run big institutions so as to fulfill their mission and to remain accountable and transparent. More neutral terms instead of “big government” are: public sector programs or taxpayer-funded program.

So we have some better neutral terminology to use for discussing healthcare to avoid inflammatory polemical words.

In the next Segment we will look at American values at stake in health care. We will also look at what philosophers say is a fair way to run US healthcare.

I’ll see you then.

 

 

Why Do People Hate Obamacare, Anyway?

Why Do People Hate Obamacare, Anyway?

The Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” has roiled America since the day it was signed into law in 2010. From the start, the public was almost evenly divided between those who supported it and those who opposed it.

They still are. The November monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 50 percent of those polled had a favorable view of the health law, while 46 percent viewed it unfavorably. Partisan politics drives the split. Eighty percent of Democrats were supportive in November, while 81 percent of Republicans were strongly negative. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

That helps explain why Republicans are working to repeal a key element of the health law in the tax bill Congress is negotiating. The requirement that most Americans have health insurance or pay a tax penalty — the so-called individual mandate — is by far the most unpopular provision of the law, particularly among Republicans.

Still, while partisanship is a major reason why some people hate the health law, it’s far from the only one. Here are four more: 

Ideology

Conservatives and libertarians strongly object to the federal government becoming ever more involved in the nation’s health care system. While the refrain that the ACA represented a “government takeover” of health care was a significant exaggeration, the law did insinuate the government significantly further in its funding and oversight of health care.

Adding to that was the unhappiness with the ACA’s individual mandate. Although the idea was originally suggested by Republicans in the late 1980s, the GOP had mostly backed away from it over the years (with the notable exception of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who supported that state’s health overhaul in 2006).

But conservatives are not alone in opposing the ACA on ideological grounds. Many liberals don’t like the law, either. They think it does not go far enough toward a fully government-run system and gives too much power to private insurance companies. 

Lack Of Knowledge

A big part of why people don’t like the health law is that they don’t understand what it does or how it works. Some of that is because health care is complicated.

Even some of the main arguments made by the law’s supporters are not well understood. For example, the health law is responsible for some 20 million Americans gaining health insurance. Yet in 2016, when the uninsured rate hit an all-time low, only one-quarter of respondents to the Kaiser tracking poll knew that. A little under half thought the rate had remained unchanged, and 21 percent thought the rate had risen to an all-time high.

But some misperceptions follow intentional fabrications or exaggerations of the law’s impact. Many people came to believe (incorrectly) that the law would create “death panels” to decide the fate of seniors on Medicare, which became PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2009. Other outlandish and untrue claims about the law included the idea that it would require people to be microchipped, that it would create a “private army” for President Barack Obama and that it would require hospitals to fire obese employees.

Even the derisive nickname “Obamacare” fed the confusion. In a now-famous skit by comedian Jimmy Kimmel, people on the street expressed a strong preference for the Affordable Care Act over Obamacare — unaware that they were the same thing. 

Confusing The Health Law With The Rest Of The Health System

Once the ACA became law, basically everything bad that happened in health care was attributed to it. This is the famous “you broke it, you bought it” problem — the law became the scapegoat for any number of problems in the health care system, regardless of whether they predated its enactment.

For example, rising prices for prescription drugs has been a problem for years. But the ACA did not seek to address that, except for one provision that sought to facilitate generic copies of some of the most expensive biologic medications.

Also, before the ACA, some insurers stopped offering plans in the individual market, while others raised premiums dramatically and often would not cover care at high-cost providers like teaching hospitals. 

Some People Actually Are Worse Off

The ACA did create some losers. Healthy people who managed to buy individual health insurance before the law’s passage have seen their premiums and out-of-pocket costs soar as insurers have raised prices to accommodate sicker people who had been largely shut out of coverage. Among those hardest hit are people who earn just slightly too much to qualify for federal premium subsidies, particularly early retirees and people in their 50s and early 60s who are self-employed.

Many of those people would have been helped if Democrats had been able to pass some of their original ideas for the ACA, including a “public option” plan run by the government, or a “Medicare buy-in” that would have given people age 55 and older the option of purchasing Medicare coverage before the normal eligibility age of 65. Both were rejected by more conservative Democrats in the Senate.

Some people found themselves in a “coverage gap” after the Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the ACA requirement for states to expand Medicaid had to be optional. That meant people with incomes under the poverty line but still too high to qualify for Medicaid in their states have no affordable program available.

Others were forced to give up coverage that they liked, even if it did not offer many benefits, or were angry because their doctors and hospitals were no longer in their insurers’ networks. Obama’s promise that “if you like your health plan you can keep it” was PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” for 2013.

However, even some of those consumers have seen benefits from the law, although they might not realize it, like required rebates from insurers who charge too much for administrative costs.

But it is human nature for people who feel wronged to complain loudly, while people who are satisfied merely go on with their lives. In the end, that is why it seems so many more people hate Obamacare than actually do.

 

Why Expertise Matters

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/07/522992390/why-expertise-matters?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170407

It's important for everyone to realize and acknowledge that there are experts who really do know more than the rest of us on certain topics, says Adam Frank.

I am an expert — a card-carrying, credential-bearing expert.

Of course, there are only a few hundred people on the planet who care about the thing I’m an expert on: the death of stars like the sun. But, nonetheless, if the death of stars like the sun is something you want to know about, I’m one of the folks to call. I tell you this not to brag or make my mom proud, but because expertise has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s worth a moment of our time to understand exactly why this “death of expertise” is happening — and what it means for the world.

The attack on expertise was given its most visceral form by British politician Michael Gove during the Brexit campaign last year when he famously claimed, “people in this country have had enough of experts.” The same kinds of issues, however, are also at stake here in the U.S. in our discussions about “alternative facts,” “fake news” and “denial” of various kinds. That issue can be put as a simple question: When does one opinion count more than another?

By definition, an expert is someone whose learning and experience lets them understand a subject deeper than you or I do (assuming we’re not an expert in that subject, too). The weird thing about having to write this essay at all is this: Who would have a problem with that? Doesn’t everyone want their brain surgery done by an expert surgeon rather than the guy who fixes their brakes? On the other hand, doesn’t everyone want their brakes fixed by an expert auto mechanic rather than a brain surgeon who has never fixed a flat?

But Nichols is profoundly troubled by the willful “know-nothing-ism” he sees around him. Its principle cause, he argues, are the new mechanisms that shape our discussions (i.e. the Internet and social media). He writes:

“There was once a time when participation in public debate, even in the pages of the local newspaper, required submission of a letter or an article, and that submission had to be written intelligently, pass editorial review, and stand with the author’s name attached… Now, anyone can bum rush the comments section of any major publication. Sometimes, that results in a free-for-all that spurs better thinking. Most of the time, however, it means that anyone can post anything they want, under any anonymous cover, and never have to defend their views or get called out for being wrong.”

Nichols also points to excesses of partisanship in politics, the weakening of expectations in schools and, finally, to human nature. The last cause, he says, is particularly troubling. As he puts it:

“Its called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.”

Part of the problem, says Nichols, is that while the democratization of knowledge is great, it’s threatened by the strange insistence that every opinion has equal weight. That’s an idea, he rightly says, that has nothing to do with democracy:

“Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge. It assuredly does not mean that ‘everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.’ And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.”