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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
   Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

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Entries in healthcare costs (3)

Friday
Jul262019

Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?

Several Democratic presidential candidates have pushed the idea of “Medicare for All” and a “Medicare for All” bill has been introduced into the US house with over 100 sponsors. A recent Medpage Today editorial by Milton Packer asks whether this will benefit patients or physicians (1). Below are our views on “Medicare for All” with the caveat that we do not speak for the American Thoracic Society nor any of its chapters.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that medical care in the US costs too much. US health care spending grew 3.9 percent in 2017, reaching $3.5 trillion or $10,739 per person, and 17.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) (2). This is more than any industrialized country. Furthermore, our expenditures continue to rise faster than most other comparable countries such as Japan, Germany, England, Australia and Canada (2).

Despite the high costs, the US does not provide access to healthcare for all of its citizens. In 2017, 8.8 percent of people, or 28.5 million, did not have health insurance at any point during the year (3). In contrast, other comparable industrialized countries provide at least some care for everyone.

Furthermore, our outcomes are worse. Infant mortality is higher than any similar country (4). US life expectancy is shorter at 78.6 years compared to just about any comparable industrialized company with Japan leading the way at 84.1 years. All the Western European countries (such as Germany, France, England, etc.), as well as Australia and Canada have a longer life expectancy than the US (range 81.8-83.7 years).

Our high infant mortality and lagging life expectancy was not always so. In 1980, the US had similar infant mortality and life expectancy when compared to other industrialized countries. Why did we lose ground over the last 40 years? Beginning in about 1980, there have been increasing business pressures on our healthcare system. In his editorial, Packer called our system "financialized" to an extreme (1). Hospitals, pharmaceutical and device companies, insurance companies, pharmacies and sadly,  even some physicians often price their products and services not according to what is fair or good for patients but to maximize profit. By incentivizing procedures that often do not benefit patients but benefit the businessmen’s’ pockets, these practices likely account for the high costs and for our worsening outcomes.

Packer points out that in the US, intermediaries (insurers and pharmacy benefit managers) exert considerable control of payment while unnecessarily adding to the administrative costs of healthcare. Congress has been pressured to forbid Medicare from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies benefitting only the drug manufacturers and those that benefit from the high drug prices. Consequently, administrative costs are four times higher and pharmaceuticals three times greater in the U.S. than in other countries.

If “Medicare for All” could reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes, it might seem like a good idea. It has the potential for reducing administrative costs and assuming the power to negotiate drug prices was restored, pharmaceutical costs. However, it will be opposed by those who financially benefit from the present system including administrators, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance companies, etc. Furthermore, there is a libertarian segment of the population that opposes any Government interference in healthcare, even those that would strengthen the free market principles that so many libertarians tout. There are already TV adds opposing “Medicare for All.” It seems likely that any “Medicare for All” or any similar plan will meet with considerable political opposition. 

One solution might be to have both Government and non-Government plans. Assuming transparency in both services covered and costs, it leaves the choice in healthcare plans where it belongs-with those paying for the care. It also makes it much harder for those with financial or political interests to convincingly argue against a Government plan (although we are sure they will try). It will force insurance companies to reduce their prices and/or offer more coverage, which is not a bad thing for patients and ultimately, the healthcare system as a whole. However, it does impose a risk, i.e., that profit-driven insurance companies and those who benefit from the current infrastructure will be  replaced by bureaucrats who are primarily concerned with administrative procedure rather than patient care. Present day examples include the VA, Medicare and Medicaid systems. Close public and medical oversight of such a system would be needed.

Ideally, a healthcare system should ensure that citizens can access at least a basic level of health services without incurring financial hardship and with the goal of improving health outcomes. Such a system, would provide a middle path between the extremes of paying for nothing and paying for everything such as unwarranted chemotherapy, stem cell therapy, or unnecessary diagnostic procedures. Determining what services are covered, and how much of the cost is covered are not easy questions to answer, but promises to deliver better health for less money than our current system. Physicians, by dint of their training, and responsibility to uphold their profession and protect their patients, understand that healthcare is not a mere commodity. If we are to protect what little autonomy we have left, we need to be a part of the discussion which should not be driven solely by those in the insurance, the hospital and the pharmaceutical industries.

Richard A. Robbins, MD1

Angela C. Wang, MD2

1Phoenix Pulmonary and Critical Care Research and Education Foundation, Gilbert, AZ USA

2Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines, La Jolla, CA USA

References

  1. Packer M. Medicare for All: Would Patients and Physicians Benefit or Lose? Medpage Today. July 10, 2019. Available at: https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/revolutionandrevelation/80926?xid=nl_mpt_blog2019-07-10&eun=g1127723d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Packer_071019&utm_term=NL_Gen_Int_Milton_Packer (accessed 7/10/19).
  2. CMS. National Healthcare Expenditure Data. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nationalhealthaccountshistorical.html (accessed 7/11/19).
  3. Berchick ER, Hood E, Barnett JC. Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2017. September 12, 2018. United States Census Bureau Report Number P60-264. Available at: https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-264.html (accessed 7/11/19).
  4. Gonzales S,  Sawyer  B.  How does infant mortality in the U.S. compare to other countries? Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. July 7, 2017. Available at: https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/infant-mortality-u-s-compare-countries/#item-start (accessed 7/11/19).
  5. Gonzales S, Ramirez M, Sawyer B.  How does U.S. life expectancy compare to other countries? Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker. April 4, 2019. Available at: https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/u-s-life-expectancy-compare-countries/#item-start (accessed 7/11/19).

Cite as: Robbins RA, Wang AC. Medicare for all-good idea or political death? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2019;19(1):18-20. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc051-19 PDF

Monday
Aug312015

Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 

Two principles in medical economics central to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were dealt blows by recently published studies. The first principle is the belief that economies of scale will result in lower prices. The theory is that larger insurers will have lower prices because they are more administratively efficient. The second principle is that provider-owned health plans, usually hospitals, will reduce premiums. The theory is that  by controlling doctors over charging health plans in a fee-for-service model will lower prices.

The first study published in Technology Science found that the largest insurer in each of the states served by HealthCare.gov raised their prices in 2015 by an average of over 10 per cent compared to smaller competitors in the same market (1). Those steeper price hikes for monthly premiums did not seem warranted by the level of health claims which did not significantly differ as a percentage of premiums in 2014.

The second study published by HealthPocket compared the lowest monthly premiums for provider-owned to nonprovider-owned plans within twelve counties across the US (2). The counties analyzed were spread across the eastern, central, and western regions of the U.S. Premiums were based on a 40-year-old, non-smoker profile. Insurance offered by health-care providers such as hospitals, was on average 12% more expensive compared to  traditional insurers. The data were also analyzed by the type of plan under the ACA: bronze, silver and gold. There were too few platinum plans to perform an analysis. Table 1 shows the local results in the three western states analyzed.

Table 1. Monthly premiums for Provider and Non-Provider Health Plans Under the ACA (2).

Silver plans account for two-thirds of plan selections on the ACA marketplaces during the 2015 annual enrollment period (3). Only the premiums for the bronze and silver provider-owned health plans in Arizona cheaper. Both in New Mexico and Utah all the provider-owned health plans and the more frequently selected silver plan in Arizona were all more expensive.

The premises of economies of scale and elimination of the fee-for-service reimbursement are both central to the ACA. Both appear to be myths. The results of these studies illustrate the sobering reality that the best intentions in reforming American healthcare do not necessarily produce the intent imagined. Despite the theoretical promise of reducing expenses by eliminating waste, both studies show an increase in healthcare costs, opposite the direction that traditional economics predict. Both larger companies and provider-owned health plans have a profit motive with numerous conflicts which likely accounts for these increases in premiums. Rather than allowing mergers and focusing on controlling physician behavior as strategies in reducing costs, it is time to focus on the insurers. Their strategy appears to be "capture market share, raise prices" and therefore their profits. This later premise agrees more with the data. Most of us who work in healthcare know this, it is time for those in Washington to pay attention to what is going on rather than their prejudices and political beliefs. 

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor

Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

References 

  1. Wang E, Gee G. Larger Issuers, Larger Premium Increases: Health insurance issuer competition post-ACA. Technology Science. 2015081104. August 11, 2015. Available at: http://techscience.org/a/2015081104 (accessed 8/31/15).
  2. Colemen K, Gleeson J. Cheapest healthcare provider-owned insurance plans still 12% more expensive than cheapest insurance plans not owned by providers. HealthPocket. August 20, 2015. Available at: https://www.healthpocket.com/healthcare-research/infostat/fee-for-service-and-provider-health-plans#.VeRqLPlVhBd (accessed 8/31/15).
  3. Health Insurance Marketplaces 2015 Open Enrollment Period: March Enrollment Report. ASPE Issue Brief. (March 10, 2015).

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care, the American Thoracic Society or the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or California Thoracic Societies.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Capture market share, raise prices. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;11(2):88-9. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc115-15 PDF

Thursday
Jun202013

Executive Pay and the High Cost of Healthcare 

Two recent articles examined hospital executive pay. One was “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” from Time magazine (1). We reviewed this article in our “March 2013 Critical Care Journal Club” (2). The other is a more recent article from Kaiser Health News (3). The later is particularly intriguing since it discusses healthcare executive compensation. We thought it might be of interest to examine executive compensation from selected nonprofit hospital tax returns from Arizona, New Mexico and Arizona. (Table 1). [Editor's note: It may be necessary to enlarge the view on your browswer to adquately visualize the tables.]

Table 1. Financial information from Southwest hospitals latest year tax return as listed by GuideStar (4).

*Includes Scottsdale Healthcare Corporation

These Southwest hospitals appear to be doing quite well. Overall they had combined incomes of $19,831,088,546, assets of $ 10,228,640,923 and profits of $1,145,888,944. None lost money. Although the data from organizations such as Dignity, Banner, Scottsdale Healthcare, Exempla, and Presbyterian Healthcare include several hospitals, they are doing well, especially for “nonprofit” hospitals.

The CEOs were also doing well (Table 2).

Table 2. CEO and executive compensation from Southwest hospitals latest year tax return as listed by GuideStar (4).

*Includes employees listed on Form 990.

**Includes Scottsdale Healthcare Corporation

The CEOs were paid an average of $1,718,484 and the average executive made $591,618. Not bad for being paid by a “nonprofit” organization. The CEO pay is nearly 8 times and the executive pay is nearly 3 times the slightly over $200,000 average Southwest pulmonary and critical care physician received in 2011 (5).

The Kaiser Healthcare News article went on to point out that boards at nonprofit hospitals are often paying hospital administrators much more for boosting volume than delivering healthcare value (3). Hospital administrators agreed but were quick to point out that compensation is increasingly being determined by healthcare performance incentives. However, James Guthrie, a hospital compensation consultant for Integrated Healthcare Strategies stated about administrative compensation, "What you're seeing is incentive plans that look pretty similar to what they looked like five years ago or ten years ago…they're changing, but they're changing fairly slowly."

Two of the local executives mentioned in the Kaiser Healthcare News article were Lloyd Dean and Peter Fine, heads of Dignity Health and Banner Health respectively. Incentive goals for Dean included unspecified "annual and long-term financial performance” (4). Dean's bonus for 2011 was $2.1 million. Fine speaks of "an unwavering commitment to improve clinical quality and efficiency" but Fine's long-term incentive goals included profits and revenue growth (4).

"Boards of trustees in health care are oriented around top-line, revenue goals," said Dr. Donald Berwick, who was CEO of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) and later the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Dr. Donald Berwick

"They celebrate the CEO when the hospital is full instead of rewarding business models that improve patients' care." Such deals undermine measures in the 2010 health law that aim to cut unnecessary treatment and control costs, say economists and policy authorities (3).

An explosion of medical regulatory groups have arisen to improve quality, including Berwick’s IHI. These regulatory groups have often produced guidelines embraced by hospital administrators as improving healthcare. However, the administrators are often self-servingly paid bonuses for guideline compliance. Because nearly all the regulatory organizations are “nonprofit” like the hospitals, surely they would have more modest profits (Table 3).

Table 3. Financial information of healthcare regulatory organizations from latest year tax return as listed by GuideStar (4).

We are happy to report that the regulatory organizations had much more humble finances compared to the Southwest hospitals. Overall the four we examined totaled incomes of $589,724,293, assets of $563,032,211 and profits of $30,489,739. Only the American Board of Internal Medicine lost money with a loss of $-1,733,146 on income of nearly $50 million. For comparison, we added the Phoenix Pulmonary and Critical Care Research and Education Foundation to Table 3. It is the financial source behind the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care.

Executive pay was also more modest than Southwest hospital administrators (Table 4).

Table 4. CEO and executive compensation from healthcare regulatory organizations latest year tax return as listed by GuideStar (4).

*Includes employees listed on Form 990.

The CEOs were paid an average of $885,938 and the average executive made $382,009. Although much lower than the average $1,718,484 and the $591,618 paid to Southwest hospital CEO and executives, these salaries are still not bad for a “nonprofit” organization.

The only regulatory organization to lose money was the American Board of Internal Medicine. Either an increase or revenue or a decrease in expenses will eventually be necessary. The major source of income for the American Board is test revenue and increasing the fee for certification or the frequency and/or fees for maintenance of certification may be necessary. Alternatively, they could pay their CEO less than $786,751, eliminate the CEO’s spousal travel benefits, or lower the compensation for general internists such as Eric Holmboe from $417,945 to be more in line with the $161,000 average income of general internists in the mid-Atlantic region (4,5).

Donald Berwick has a good point and is correct. Hospital administrators need to be rewarded more for improving healthcare and less for keeping the hospital full and profits high. However, in 2009 while CEO at IHI Berwick was compensated $920,952 (4). This is almost 7 times the compensation of the average pediatrician in New England (5). Included were $88,200 in bonuses. It is unclear from the tax return what justified these bonuses (4).

Executive pay for both hospital and regulatory administrators is too high and contributes to the high cost of healthcare. We find no evidence that either type of administrator contributes much to improved patient-centered outcomes. Quality care continues to rely on an adequate number of good doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers. If anyone should be paid bonuses for healthcare, it is those providing care, not administrators.

Present bonus systems for healthcare administrators are perverse. As noted above these include bonuses for keeping the hospital full and profits high, neither consistent with what should be the goals of a nonprofit organization. Furthermore, increasing pay for supervising an increased number of administrative personnel will only add to the increasing costs. If administrators must be paid a bonus let them be paid for performance directly under their control. This could include ensuring that adequate numbers of good doctors and nurses are caring for the patients and improving administrative efficiency. These should result in better care but lower numbers of administrators consuming fewer healthcare dollars.

Last Friday, June 14, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC released their recommendations to Congress (8). These include recommendations that may be relative to hospital administrative pay. One is for “site-neutral payment”. Currently Medicare pays hospitals more than private physician offices for many services. MedPAC recommended that Congress “move immediately to cut payments to hospitals for many services that can be provided at much lower cost in doctors’ offices.” The commission said that “current payment disparities had created incentives for hospitals to buy physician practices, driving up costs...” This will increase the hospital’s bottom line, and therefore, the administrators’ bonuses. We agree with MedPAC’s recommendation.

MedPAC also told Congress that “the financial penalties that Medicare imposes on hospitals with high rates of patient readmissions are too harsh for hospitals serving the poor and should be changed.” Based on this and data that higher mortality is associated with lower readmission rates, we agree (9). Rewarding hospitals for potentially harmful patient practices that increase the hospital’s bottom line are not appropriate. Financial incentives for reducing readmissions should only be part of a more global assessment of patient outcomes including mortality, length of stay and morbidity. Regulatory administrators need to become more focused on patients and less on an endless array of surrogate markers that have little to do with quality of care.

Richard A. Robbins, M.D.*

Clement U. Singarajah, M.D.*

References

  1. Brill S. Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us. Time. February 20, 2013. PDF available at: http://livingwithmcl.com/BitterPill.pdf (accessed 6/17/13).
  2. Stander P. March 2013 critical care journal club. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(4):168-9. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/critical-care-journal-club/2013/4/2/march-2013-critical-care-journal-club.html (accessed 6-17-13).
  3. Hancock J. Hospital CEO Bonuses Reward Volume And Growth. Kaiser Health News. June 16, 2013. Available at: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2013/June/06/hospital-ceo-compensation-mainbar.aspx (accessed 6-17-13).
  4. http://www.guidestar.org/ (accessed 6-17-13).
  5. http://www.medscape.com/sites/public/physician-comp/2012 (accessed 6-17-13).
  6. Robbins RA, Thomas AR, Raschke RA. Guidelines, recommendations and improvement in healthcare. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2011;2:34-37. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/editorial/2011/2/25/guidelines-recommendations-and-improvement-in-healthcare.html
  7. Robbins RA. Why is it so difficult to get rid of bad guidelines? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2011;3:141-3. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/editorial/2011/11/1/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-get-rid-of-bad-guidelines.html
  8. http://www.medpac.gov/documents/Jun13_EntireReport.pdf (accessed 6-17-13).
  9. Robbins RA, Gerkin RD. Comparisons between Medicare mortality, morbidity, readmission and complications. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(6):278-86. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/general-medicine/2013/6/13/comparisons-between-medicare-mortality-readmission-and-compl.html

*The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care or the Arizona, New Mexico or Colorado Thoracic Societies.

Reference as: Robbins RA, Singarajah CU. Executive pay and the high cost of healthcare. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;6(6):299-304. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc080-13 PDF