Single Payer

Vouchers Are Not a Plan

Opponents of a single payer health care system in the United States like to say it would cost too much, even throwing in the inappropriate complaint that the CBO has not scored any plan.  Of course that won’t happen until congress puts bills such as H.R. 676 through the committee system. As an alternative a voucher plan is often offered up. The only thing that the voucher system offers is a cost-shifting lid on government spending. No control over total health care costs. No access to medical care for those who cannot afford the ever-increasing costs not covered by the vouchers. No system. An improved, expanded Medicare would require hard, thoughtful work and discipline, but it can succeed. We can pick and choose figures to argue over but  there is no ethical and rational alternative.

The financing of Medicare for All is a well explored issue. As far back as 1991 the GAO reported that, “If the universal coverage and single-payer features of the Canadian system were applied in the United States, the savings in administrative costs alone would be more than enough to finance insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured. There would be enough left over to permit a reduction, or possibly even the elimination, of copayments and deductibles, if that were deemed appropriate.”   Later the same year the CBO reported, “If the nation adopted…[a] single-payer system that paid providers at Medicare’s rates, the population that is currently uninsured could be covered without dramatically increasing national spending on health. In fact, all US residents might be covered by health insurance for roughly the current level of spending or even somewhat less, because of savings in administrative costs and lower payment rates for services used by the privately insured. The prospects for controlling health care expenditure in future years would also be improved.” (“Universal Health Insurance Coverage Using Medicare’s Payment Rates”) .  Fourteen years later the lack of true (not just for the government) cost controls make improved Medicare for All an even more imperative goal.

For a good, up-to-date discussion (2013 figures) of H.R. 676 see the article by Gerald Friedman, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Friedman extrapolates on (1) the savings on provider administrative overhead and  pharmaceutical costs, (2) the regressive and obsolete funding sources to be replaced by progressive taxation (in billions of dollars), (3) the savings on administrative costs of insurers, Medicaid, and employers (in billions of dollars) and (4) the savings on federal tax expenditures.

As Professor Friedman states, “On top of the enormous administrative savings of single payer, the savings from effective cost-control would make it possible to provide universal coverage and comprehensive benefits to future generations at a sustainable cost.”


…and study Friedman’s charts

Funding with progressive taxationFunding with Tobin Tax

Service Model, Not Business Model

Jim Flower has written an excellent article in Hospitals & Health Networks stating, ”It’s time to Rebuild Health Care’s Business Model”. He nicely portrays the unworkable elements of our present system and concludes that there is no way of tweaking the model to make it work. As he says, “The health care system, payers and providers playing the Default Model Game, are delivering an unreliable, unguaranteed, financially and medically dangerous product to their real customers — the large purchasers and the consumers of health care. This is not stable.”  Unfortunately he runs out of steam when it comes to the solution. Admittedly, he is speaking to hospitals and health networks and not to individual patients, policy makers, CMS, legislators, etc. His recommendations to get out of the fee-for-service business as much as possible, drive down internal costs and bid actual prices are, again, just different ways of playing the same old game. They don’t alter the present underlying attitudes of treating health care as a commercial, for-profit business rather than as a humane service. We have to grasp the knowledge that health insurance is a no-value-added business, that the patent protected pharmaceutical industry is avaricious, hospital systems are bounced between profit-making and forced service and physicians are losing their sense of their profession as a “calling”. Reforming business models is not going to change these fundamental dynamics.  If we want affordable, accessible and universal health care we need to improve Medicare and expand it to cover everybody from the day they are born and finance it through a single payer, multiple provider system dedicated to health care reform.  

Health Care Waste-Administrative Costs

The recent paper by Jiwani et al  concerning medical administrative costs has attracted a lot of attention. This paper in BMC Health Services Research calculates the costs of billing and insurance related activities (BIR) in the United States. Using 2012 figures, the authors conclude that BIR costs were approximately $471 billion. “Added BIR” was the amount which was judged to exceed costs in systems with simplified requirements using the Canadian single payer system and U.S. Medicare figures for comparison.

BIR Costs graph                                    Graph from Jiwani et al. BMC Health Services Research (2014) 14:556 

Excessive costs due to administrative complexity is just one of the five areas of health care spending examined by Berwick and Hackbarth using 2011 figures. These authors calculated the costs of our administrative complexity as a range with a mid-point of $248 billion compared to the updated and refined figure of $337 billion provide by Jiwani et al. The 20ll study also included estimates of wasteful spending in the areas of failures of care delivery, failures of coordination, overtreatment, and pricing failures. The total was $734 billion with an added $177 billion lost in fraud and abuse.

Waste 2011 graph

Recent commentators, including Jiwani et al , have noted that simplifying our system and recovering that $337 billion of excess administrative costs would pay for the upgrading of our present coverage including adding the presently un-insured. In dollars amount that makes sense but adoption of a single payer system would not immediately capture those savings. Elimination of the excessive overhead of the insurance industry would be done quickly and could recover half of that waste. The rest would have to wait for the development of new payment and delivery systems. The physician overhead portion would be especially difficult because it is built into the staffing of multiple scenarios, e.g., solo, small and large clinic, single and multiple specialties, self- and other-employed. The staffing includes multiple employees serving multiple roles with overlapping clinical and administrative functions. The savings can be harvested only by reducing the payments to the physicians. The current fee-for-service payment system would make it difficult to calculate a workable and equitable phase-out plan. However the physicians’ portion of the added BIR is only 13% so the needed gradual development of an improved physician compensations system would still be workable. The change in payments to hospitals and other health services would be easier to conceptualize.

When one looks at the other categories of waste it is obvious that there is a large opportunity for savings that can be realized only by a single payer system.

Vermont not SIngle Payer

Gov.Shumlin of Vermont has announced that he has given up trying to create a single payer medical system in Vermont. This is not surprising. There is no way that single states can obtain the authority to pool the present health care funding of our present system. This amounts to over 65% of today’s costs mostly paid by Federal programs, V.A., military, Medicare, Fed Employees and Fed share of Medicaid and ACA along with Fed prison expenses. Employers, many of whom are national or international, pick up most of the remainder of the bills. And single states do not have the power to control pharmaceutical prices and provider payments. As Don McCanne wrote of Gov.Shumlin, “He has shown us that it is imperative that we continue with our efforts toward a goal of enactment of federal single payer legislation.”. The only affordable way to do this and offer comprehensive coverage for everybody is on a national level

Hospitals As Stakeholders

The desire for health care reform in the U.S. must lead us to examine the role that the various stakeholders play in the high costs and dysfunction of our system(s). Abuse, waste, and profiteering have been well documented in the pharmaceutical, medical appliance, and insurance industries. Fraud and mal-aligned payment incentives by and for physicians is, at least, being discussed. The hospital industry has been receiving a lot of attention because of the notoriety of the obscene charges and opaque charge-master protocol. But, so far the general public has had little instruction as to the destructive changes that have been occurring in the hospital industry over the last 20 years. With over half of U.S. hospitals being a part of a Health System we are now talking about much bigger and more powerful entities.

1   Hospital wars
The fight for survival and supremacy has affected profit and not-for-profit hospitals alike. Developing profit-making but duplicative services has contributed to the rising cost of medical care over the last two to three decades. CT scanners and MRI machines around every corner creates excess capacity that is met with increased prices, advertising and non-indicated use (often supported by conflicts of interest promoted by referring physicians).

Hospitals follow the latest high cost medical fads in order to capture a higher portion of the medical dollar. In the previous two decades this included first, the popular coronary bypass (CABG) programs. These include 301 new CABG programs within a 20 mile radius of an existing program and 80% of the new ones were within 5 miles of the old ones. These were built to capture the dollar, not to fill a medical need. And contrary to free-market dogma, the prices went up instead of down (the invisible hand?).

Fewer CABGsDuplicatice CABG

Following this was the expensive cardiac lab for inserting stents in coronary arteries. This procedure is now on the watch list for its overuse in patients who have never had a coronary related episode. Again, every hospital wants to have one-so they have to be used. This not only drives costs but it creates unnecessary surgical complications.

Inappropriate Heart Procedures
Controversy in the Cath Lab
Duplication of New PCI Programs
Competition, Not Need, Drives Hospital Cardiac Care Investment

One of the latest fads is robotic surgery, pushed by Intuitive Surgical, Inc. These instruments are extremely expensive and very costly to maintain. The company’s claims of reducing surgical times and reducing complications have not been proven. In fact many complications have occurred from their use. It will take a number of years to sort out the appropriate use of these complex and sophisticated machines.  In the meantime hospitals are jumping on the bandwagon. As reported in the Seattle Times in 2012, “Washington hospitals now have at least 37 surgical robots, and robotic surgeries — most to remove a uterus or prostate — have skyrocketed in recent years. Swedish Medical Center has seven robots, Sacred Heart in Spokane has three. Even tiny Pullman Regional Hospital, with 25 beds, bought one. It cost twice as much as the hospital netted in 2010.”

Use of surgical robots booming despite hefty cost
Robotic Surgery Complications Underreported

2.  Advertising & Lobbying
As with insurance companies, the hospital industry spends $1.5 billion dollars annually to sell their product. This often includes endorsements by medical people who have a financial interest. It is the patient who ultimately pays for these efforts to produce sales and income beyond what the hospitals can acquire by just doing their job. As one example, at St. Francis Medical Center in Missouri the ad budget amounts to nearly $46,000 per licensed hospital bed a year, or $130 a day per bed

3.  Marked increase in payroll costs for non-clinical salaries

     Generic managers & Executive Salaries
Kaiser Health News created a chart of executive compensation in the hospital industry for the year 2011. The highest compensation was at Kaiser Permanente ($7,936,510). It should be noted that many of the executives are what have been called “generic” managers.  Generic managers, that is leaders trained only to manage, but not experienced in what constitutes personal health care.  Managers and bureaucrats are increasingly numerous in health care, the former somewhat and the latter greatly out-numbering physicians.

A similar, but more surprising chart had been developed by KUOW an NPR radio station. This was for the Puget Sound area in Washington State in 2008. 21 of the top 62 administrators received $1 million or more (two over $5 million).

         Growth of non-clinical workforce
As Robert Kocher says in The Downside of Health Care Job Growth, “Over half of the $2.6 trillion spent on health care in the United States in 2010 was wages for health care workers.”   and, “today, for every doctor, only 6 of the 16 non-doctor workers have clinical roles, including registered nurses, allied health professionals, aides, care coordinators, and medical assistants. Surprisingly, 10 of the 16 non-doctor workers are purely administrative and management staff, receptionists and information clerks, and office clerks.”  Kocher points out that this non-clinical workforce has little to do with delivering better patient outcomes or lowering costs. So much of this is created by the multiple payer insurance system with hundreds (thousands) of payers and many thousands of billing codes, policies, rules, etc.

A good example of this bloat of medical bureaucracy comes from the 2008 testimony of Uwe Reinhardt, the economist, before the Senate Committee on Finance when he stated that at Duke Health Systems, where he served on the Board they had 900 clerks on the payroll for a 900 bed hospital.

Physicians vs Adm

4.  Acquisitions and Mergers
In 2012, 94 mergers or acquisitions took place in the hospital industry worth a total of $1.88 billion. See Mergers in 2012. In the first 6 months of 2013 there were 46 M&A’s and 98 for the year. In the first 6 months of 2014 there were 43. Additionally we are seeing various “affiliations”, “quality alliances”, “strategic alliances”, partnerships, and “Clinically Integrated Networks”, etc. Some of these acquisitions occurred because one of the participants was in financial difficulty but the large number of them is designed to increase market leverage and create increased reimbursements. The increased leverage in a geographical area also allows the new entity to dominate any kind of negotiation during physician hiring.

Large scale mergers almost always lead to higher prices and there is no evidence that they improve quality of care. “Hospitals that face less competition charge substantially higher prices,” said Martin S. Gaynor, director of the F.T.C.’s bureau of economics price increases could be “as high as 40 percent to 50 percent.”

When Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital merged into Partners Health Care it drove up health care costs with no improvement in quality of care. Attempts to minimize the monopoly effect have been unsuccessful. As the New York Times stated in an editorial, “The experience in Massachusetts offers a cautionary tale to other states about the risks of big hospital mergers and the limits of antitrust law as a tool to break up a powerful market-dominating system once it is entrenched.”

5.  ACO’s
As hospitals try to position themselves in the world of Accountable Care Organizations the mergers and acquisitions noted above become part of the game plan. Kaiser Health News discusses this as a “Humongous Monopoly.” This leads into the latest trend of hospitals hiring physicians. So far there is no good evidence that these organizations can lower costs and no evidence that they can improve quality. In fact, hospitals dominate the governance of most of the existing ACO’s and any money saved is simply a shift of dollars from Medicare to the ACO’s, not the patients. Additionally, the hiring of primary care physicians reduces the number of physicians available to provide care in rural and distant suburban areas. When hospitals purchase medical practices and clinics the price goes up for everything from the office visit charge to electrocardiograms and other basic office procedures as well as the major procedures such as joint replacements and cardiac stents.

 6.  Religious influence
Dr. John Geyman has explained well the ill effects of the expansion of Catholic hospitals across the country.  This growth of religious influence on the quality and universality of medical care especially affects reproductive and end-of-life services. Ten of the biggest twenty-five health systems in the United States are Catholic. Merger Watch and the ACLU have teamed up to publish a definitive review of this phenomenon in “Miscarriage of Medicine: The Growth of Catholic Hospitals and the Threat to Reproductive Health Care.” In this report they state, ”Catholic hospitals have organized into large systems that behave like businesses – aggressively expanding to capture greater market share – but rely on public funding and use religious doctrine to compromise women’s health care.” In the process they are gobbling up both non-profit and for-profit entities. The only difference left between these categories is that the non-profits don’t pay taxes and they can solicit tax-free donations. Former quality differences have all but disappeared and the exceptional charity care has been swallowed up by the business model. More alarming is the threat posed to women’s reproductive health care and patient driven end-of-life care.

7.  Costs-Bitter Pill
In March, 2013, Time Magazine published the landmark article by Steven Brill, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us. The bizarre and obscene hospital charges that have become an all too familiar story are exposed as well as the rapacious “charge-master” billing system. These unbelievable bills will only get worse until hospitals are forced to live on a system of global payments for operations and tight certificates of need for capital improvements. This can not be accomplished with Obamacare or the free market.

8.  Fraud, Abuse, Fines
Hospital systems may increase their incomes by up-coding (raising diagnostic codes to a more severe level of illness) and thereby making their reimbursements higher and magnifying their risk-adjustment scores.         

Gaming the System
There are numerous other abuses such as (1)keeping patients in observation units for days instead of admitting them to the hospital is legal and profitable for the hospitals but inherently unethical, (2)charging huge mark-ups on cancer drugs, and (3)Aggressively pursuing collections at point-of-care from patients with medical emergencies.

The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association figures that fraud annually accounts for tens of billions of loss. This would include fraud by other providers and medical services as well as hospitals. Hospitals are prevented by federal law from providing financial or in-kind compensation to physicians for less than fair market value. Nevertheless these practices continue. The Office of Inspector General has published a list of 34 settlements for violations by hospitals over the last 5½ years. These were all self-disclosed and just hint at the real numbers involved in these practices. For instance, in 2012 Freeman Hospital System paid $9.3 million for paying physicians for referrals. Of course this was a pittance compared to the $731.4 million penalty paid by HCA in the year 2000. That didn’t stop them however, and in 2007 they paid another claim at $16.5 million. The list goes on and on, e.g., Health Management Associates, Parkland Memorial, Adventist Health, etc. Since January, 2009 the Department of Justice has recovered over $7.4 billion in health care fraud prosecutions.  Not all of these were from hospitals but here is a list of representative fines:

St. Barnabas Hospitals —$265,000,000
First American Health Care of Georgia — $225,000,000
Staten Island University Hospital —$76,500,000
University of Washington —$35,000,000
University of Pennsylvania —$30,000,000
University of California Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Irving andSan Diego — $22,500,000
Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center — $12,000,000
Catholic Healthcare West —$10,750,000
The Cleveland Clinic — $9,050,000
The Mayo Foundation —$6,500,000
San Diego Hospital Association —$6,200,000
Northwestern University —$5,500,000
Yale University School of Medicine— $5,500,000
New York Presbyterian Hospital —$4,880,000
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — $3,400,000
Harvard University and Beth Israel Hospitals — $2,400,000
University of Illinois College of Medicine and University of Chicago Hospitals $2,000,000
St. Louis University (a Tenet hospital) $1,800,000

Almost all of the problems discussed here relate to the nature of our fragmented, profit-motivated medical system. They are caused by the system and can not be solved by the system. And we haven’t even discussed the huge problems of quality, affordability and access. Only a revolutionary change can have the muscle to change the basis of our medical care from profit-motive to a service ethic. Creating and moving to an Improved Medicare For All is such a change.

Please “like” me if you do.  Help me spread the word. You follow me and I’ll follow you.  Let’s talk about revolutionizing our medical care. If you want, I will come to your community organization and present a run-down on the arguments for single payer medicine.

Can Physician Performance Be Measured?

In response to Comments in Becker Hospital Review I received these questions:

“Dr. Dave – I’d be interested in what outcomes you’d measure that really matter in the care of patients. And, what you’d suggest for a delivery and payment model(s).”

I submit the following answer:

I don’t know what background you are coming from. I’m a retired family doc with 27 years in private practice, 10 years working in and running a (salaried) rural health clinic and 7 years (salaried) doing urgent care in a >200 docs physician owned medical clinic and 6 years part-time in a low income clinic.

When talking about “measuring outcomes” remember the old saying (falsely attributed to Einstein) “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  What are outcomes;  mortality rate, days of pain free existence, avoidance of bankruptcy, peace of mind, years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLLs), years lived with disability (YLDs), healthy life expectancy (HALE) ?  And to whom do we attribute increase and decrease; the patient, which doctor, an institution, the system, society?  And, again, can numbers represent compassionate, concerned, competent care?  So what does it mean to “measure”?

There are numerous problems with current pay for performance problems. One of the biggest problems is thinking that any sense can made of the current Rube Goldberg system of Obamacare plus >2000 insurance carriers. Any real solutions need to benefit every single person in our country. Pretending to measure performance in medical care is a political diversion of both CMS and the insurance companies.

As far as I’m concerned putting all physicians on salary with reasonable negotiations is the only way to help gain control of medical costs and create the leverage for improving quality by eliminating incentives for cursory encounters and unnecessary medical procedures.

Pay-for-Performance is a poisonous concept whose unintended consequences are far greater that any conceivable benefits. System improvement and re-development of the culture of a medical “calling” and ethos of peer responsibility are essential. So-called P4P and quality improvement efforts cannot begin to deal with the multitude of problems that face us.

We can’t (and shouldn’t) go back to a Dr. Welby picture but we don’t have to keep going in the wrong direction.

I’m in favor of a single payer system (improved Medicare for All). I’m also in favor of starting that improvement now.  And I’m in favor of medical care reform in many areas (physician, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, medical appliances, costs, integrity, transparency, etc.)  A single-payer system would require a tremendous amount of work to create the needed reforms  but it’s the only system that can have the muscle to overcome the self-interest of the powerful stakeholders and ensure compassionate, competent, and cost-effective care for  everybody.

I invite you to visit my blog site (HC-Reform) and “Like” what you like. For our present discussion I would start with Pay-For-Performance (

Dr. Dave

Too Late, Too Little: Too Much, Too Soon

We Need an Improved Medicare

We should all be looking at ways we can increase the quality of our medical care and decrease the costs at least to equal the accomplishments of the rest of the industrialized world. It makes sense to work on improving Medicare so that when we finally exhaust all of the other alternatives (the American way) and adopt a single payer system, “Improved Medicare for All” we will already have accomplished a lot of the improvement. But Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), while administering Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, seems determined to spend a lot of money on “experiments” that don’t even make sense much less have any evidence to suggest that they are viable.  And they seem to spend no effort on predicting unintentional consequences. The effect of these diversions is going to be a further degradation of the medical care available not only to the Medicare eligible but to the entire population. The latest example is the new twist on Chronic Care Management (CCM) services. This was recently discussed in the New York Times in an article by Robert Pear, published August 16, 2014.  This is a plan to pay doctors a separate fee of $41.92 a month for managing the chronic care of some Medicare patients after January 1, 2015. This is for non face-to-face development and revision of care plans, communication with other care providers, prescription drug management, etc. see ADDENDUM. It will be classified as a G code with the description,” Chronic care management services furnished to patients with multiple (two or more) chronic conditions expected to last at least 12 months, or until the death of the patient, that place the patient at significant risk of death, acute exacerbation/ decompensation, or functional decline; 20 minutes or more; per 30 days.”

There is no question that care coordination is an increasing problem as patient care has transitioned to specialists and hospitals. Medical care of patients with chronic conditions is especially disjointed and plagued with discontinuities. This breakdown in care over the last 20 years has occurred as primary care, basically family practice, has been driven back to an office based medicine with little communication with hospitals, specialists, urgent care centers and other health care providers.

The Problems
The creators of this program have done an excellent job of incorporating many of the concepts that are being developed for complex ambulatory medical care, including the Leap Project.

Unfortunately the Chronic Care Management formula presents a number of consequences (which should be foreseen);The number of patients who will fall within the eligible parameters will probably be less than half of the Medicare population. And, in turn, the Medicare population represents  16.5% of the total population in the United States.

Excel Table3

This creates two major problems: The small, age defined group of beneficiaries will not provide ample sampling size or randomness to derive useful data for improving chronic care over-all. The additional fixed costs to medical providers for participation will be very high considering the small percentage of their practices affected and the reimbursement limited to the Medicare panel.

The matter of cost to the practitioners will limit participation to large groups and corporations. Rural and underserved areas will again be excluded from some of the benefits of Medicare. Keep in mind that as of 2010 almost half of primary care physicians saw their patients in offices of one or two physicians. Since then, of course, many have left practice.

  • Certified Electronic health records are required in this new plan but practice size is a major determinant of physicians’ use of EMRs and HIT capacity, including exchanging patient information electronically and providing electronic access to their patients. Half of physicians in solo practices report using EMRs, compared to 90 percent of those in practices with 20 or more physicians; likewise, there is a 4-fold difference between solo and large practices in achieving multifunctional HIT capacity (11 vs. 45 percent).
  • Participant practices will have to have a supervised staff person on call, after-hours, 24/7,  to address the “urgent chronic care needs” of the patients.
  • Tremendous amounts of paperwork, manpower and teamwork will be required to monitor, coordinate, and document all of the requirements of this plan. For a recent CMS list of these requirements see the ADDENDUM below.
  • Deborah N. Peikes discovered in her analysis of the similar team-based Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative that “At baseline, most CPC initiative practices used traditional staffing models and did not report having dedicated staff who may be integral to new primary care models, such as care coordinators, health educators, behavioral health specialists, and pharmacists. Without such staff and payment for their services, practices are unlikely to deliver comprehensive, coordinated, and accessible care to patients at a sustainable cost.”

It is understood that from the perspective of Medicare the high costs of the top 20% of the chronic care patients create the greatest expenditure. But our medical cost and care problems are much bigger than this small corner of the landscape. And all we have to help us is CMS with Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Of course if we had everyone in and nobody out we could tackle the bigger problems.

This program is serving as a diversion from solving the problem of adequate compensation for primary care in general. Meanwhile, our family practice workforce continues to decline while Nero fiddles. If as much energy had been put into solving the RVU and physician income disparities we could be on our way to re-establishing a primary care base. Unfortunately the new proposal only aggravates these problems. Two of the major factors that are driving medical students away from primary care is the low future income combined with the high student debt.  The third problem is the large burden of office practice administration. The cost of compliance and documentation with all of the existing programs is already overwhelming . This leaves the primary care profession with no time left over to worry about coordination but with a big desire to abandon this field of medicine. CMS has no solution to this and yet they want to add one more program that requires more continuous documentation, appeals of denial to file, cost of extra personnel, etc. CMS states that as part of the new service, doctors will assess patients’ medical, psychological and social needs; check whether they are taking medications as prescribed; monitor the care provided by other doctors; and make arrangements to ensure a smooth transition when patients move from a hospital to their home or to a nursing home. This workload is multiplied by the fact that the target patients are the sickest and oldest. They have a high mortality rate so the paperwork starts all over for the next replacement on the panel. For $42/month.

The Solution
Who in primary care is left to carry out the program?  Basically, it will be members of large group practices and hospital and other institutional employers in urban centers. The growing supply/demand incongruence of available primary care physicians will make that option even more profitable for the physicians. That leaves out the rest of America. And the uninsured and underinsured will continue to be left out in the cold. We need a broader vision. We need an Improved Medicare for All.

(CMS Statement)

“To assist stakeholders in commenting, we remind you of the elements of the current scope of service for CCM services that are required in order for a practitioner to bill Medicare for CCM services as finalized in the CY 2014 final rule with comment period. We would note that additional explanation of these elements can be found at 78 FR 74414 through 74428. The CCM service includes:

  • Access to care management services 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, which means providing beneficiaries with a means to make timely contact with health care providers in the practice to address the patient’s urgent chronic care needs regardless of the time of day or day of the week.
  • Continuity of care with a designated practitioner or member of the care team with whom the patient is able to get successive routine appointments.
  • Care management for chronic conditions including systematic assessment of patient’s medical, functional, and psychosocial needs; system-based approaches to ensure timely receipt of all recommended preventive care services; medication reconciliation with review of adherence and potential interactions; and oversight of patient self-management of medications.
  • Creation of a patient-centered care plan document to assure that care is provided in a way that is congruent with patient choices and values. A plan of care is based on a physical, mental, cognitive, psychosocial, functional and environmental (re)assessment and an inventory of resources and supports. It is a comprehensive plan of care for all health issues.
  • Management of care transitions between and among health care providers and settings, including referrals to other clinicians, follow-up after a beneficiary visit to an emergency department, and follow-up after discharges from hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, or other health care facilities.
  • Coordination with home and community based clinical service providers as appropriate to support a beneficiary’s ’s psychosocial needs and functional deficits.
  • Enhanced opportunities for a beneficiary and any relevant caregiver to communicate with the practitioner regarding the beneficiary’s care through, not only telephone access, but also through the use of secure messaging, internet or other asynchronous non face-to-face consultation methods.Similarly, we remind stakeholders that in the CY 2014 final rule, we established particular billing requirements for CCM services that require the practitioner to:
  • Inform the beneficiary about the availability of the CCM services from the practitioner and obtain his or her written agreement to have the services provided, including the beneficiary’s authorization for the electronic communication of the patient’s medical information with other treating providers as part of care coordination.
  • Document in the patient’s medical record that all of the CCM services were explained and offered to the patient, and note the beneficiary’s decision to accept or decline these services.
  • Provide the beneficiary a written or electronic copy of the care plan and document in the electronic medical record that the care plan was provided to the beneficiary.
  • Inform the beneficiary of the right to stop the CCM services at any time (effective at the end of a 30-day period) and the effect of a revocation of the agreement on CCM services.
  • Inform the beneficiary that only one practitioner can furnish and be paid for these services during the 30-day period. With the addition of the electronic health record element that we are proposing, we believe that these elements of the scope of service for CCM services, when combined with other important federal health and safety regulations, provide sufficient assurance that Medicare beneficiaries receiving CCM services will receive appropriate services. However, we remain interested in receiving public feedback regarding any meaningful elements of the CCM service or beneficiary protections that may be missing from these scope of service elements and billing requirements. We encourage commenters, in recommending additional possible elements or safeguards, to provide as much specific detail as possible regarding their recommendations and how they can be applied to the broad complement of practitioners who may furnish CCM services under the PFS.”
    Federal Register Vol 79 No. 133 July 11, 2014

The Triple Goal

The single payer movement in the U.S. is built around the concept of an “improved Medicare for all”. The “improved” part of that message recognizes that our present Medicare system needs some revisions to make it a valid vehicle to provide universal health care. Some of the major areas of concern are the control over fraud and abuse, the contrary incentives of the fee for service system, the disappearance of the primary care workforce, and the uncontrolled costs of prescription medications and durable goods. Solution to many other aberrations in our delivery of health care will have to wait for single payer.

Tackling some of these problems now can help ready us for producing a winner out of the starting gate. This includes working to improve quality of medical care. But trying to move forward illuminates the same problem that prevented the Affordable Care Act from achieving quality and cost-saving while providing comprehensive insurance coverage, viz., the political power of the various stakeholders and lack of any immunity from micromanagement by congress and the administration.

We need to get our voices heard as we work on the triple goals to:

  1. Improve Medicare
  2. Improve the quality of medical care
  3. Create Single Payer Medicine

These goals provide a set of action points for realizing the “Triple Aim” of improving the individual experience of care; improving the health of populations; and reducing the per capita costs of care for populations. (

Also read….

Questor Behavior Begs for Controls

Charles Ornstein’s article in Upshot discusses one more example of the unethical dealings of the pharmaceutical industry.   An old drug (ACTH) with a newer brand name (Acthar)  is reaping profits with no evidence that it gives any better results than inexpensive cortisone-type pills and injections.

When I started medical practice in 1964 a common treatment for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions was the ACTH shot. ACTH is adrenocorticotropic hormone, a hormone which we all have in our bodies. It is made by our pituitary gland and is responsible for the feedback mechanism that regulates the cortisone output by our own adrenal glands. ACTH causes us to increase our own output of cortisone. That reduces swelling and makes inflamed tissue feel better. In 1964 that was the rationale for using it.  But then came along the oral cortisone preparations such as prednisone (which costs about 1 cent a pill to make) and ACTH was no longer used (I think it used to cost about $5.00 for a shot that worked for 1-2 weeks).

But Questor came along in 2001 and bought the drug and began marketing it without any proof of benefit or effectiveness over prednisone. They have now worked the price up to $32,000 for a 5 dose vial. This story is just an example of  a pharmaceutical world of lying, greed, cheating, fraud, graft, bribery, and corruption.* These are not things that can be controlled by the “free market”. Like it or not; this industry has to be put under strong government control. We need not be hood-winked by the old clichés about stifling research and innovation. Very little of that goes on in the pharmaceutical industry which spends 19 times as much on promotion as they do on research. And a lot of basic research is paid for by the NIH. The high costs of drugs in general could be reined in by restructuring and empowering the Federal Drug Administration and allowing Medicare and health exchange plans to negotiate drug prices. These could be two more steps in creating an improved Medicare for all.

The drug companies have a license to steal…and they use it.

*For additional information on the corruption involved read Andrew Pollack’s article: