singlepayer

Reference Pricing: Another Fad

 

There have been a number of good discussions of reference pricing. This concept is mainly applicable only to large employer sponsored plans. As Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar from the Associated Press observed, “However, the strategy appears to be suitable only for a subset of medical care: procedures and tests that are frequently performed, where the prices charged vary widely but the quality of results generally does not. In addition to knee and hip replacements, that could include such procedures as MRIs and other imaging tests, cataract surgery and colonoscopies.” The idea is essentially incompatible with the insurance exchanges and narrow networks. And, is there any reason to trust the insurance companies to use a fair, patient-centered set of standards in establishing any given price? Or is it possible that they will game any such system to their own advantage? For instance, they have already found a way to make sure any additional expenses incurred by the patient will not be allowed to apply to the out-of pocket caps required by the ACA.  Sarah Lazare in Common Dreams discusses some of the pitfalls in this latest experiment by CMS. In June, 2014, FamiliesUSA published an excellent brief by Lydia Mitts, “How To Make Reference Pricing Work For Consumers.” Ms. Mitts points out the potential financial risks of cost shifting to consumers if the insurance companies set their pricing too low making it difficult for patients to find providers who will accept the payments. She also mentions that those who do accept the prices might raise prices for other services. She concludes with an excellent list of key elements that would be necessary in order to make such a system work for patients. Unfortunately, the health insurance industry has shown little interest or ability to do such things as providing adequate networks or prioritizing (or even, measuring) quality. Don McCanne provided a good commentary back in 2013, which he summarized by saying, that CMS is saying “we should shift risk to the patients – exposing them to financial penalties should they not make perfect decisions in their health care purchasing, even as the private insurers create yet more barriers to perfectly priced health care!”

The goal to bring down prices of medical care is admirable but one more payment system just adds to the incomprehensible world of multiple payers, multiple (often conflicting) rules and regulations, confused eligibilities, unintended consequences, profit-making, rent-seeking and cost-shifting to the “consumer.”

Improve-Don’t Destroy-Medicare

The recently passed House of Representatives “doc fix” is a warning and should serve as an inspiration to forge ahead in improving and expanding Medicare for all.  Instead of sticking with the necessary goal of repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) the Republican lead House has started on its quest to privatize (cost-shift back to out-of-pocket expensing) Medicare and cut back on Medigap benefits. Those of us who are concerned about the health care of everyone in our country need to get serious about the job of improving Medicare even before we move into universal coverage. We could start with proposals for quickly eliminating the donut hole in drug coverage. That, combined with eliminating the proscription against negotiating prices with the pharmaceutical industry, would offer affordable availability of even the specialty drugs for cancer, hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid diseases, etc.  A quick fix should be made to the physician payment system until workable substitutes for our present volume based system can be developed under a single payer plan. That fix could be a simple up-adjustment of evaluation and management codes and down-adjustment of procedural codes with a budget neutral end point. And we could stop wasting time, money and other resources on the present catch-word pay-for-performance and pay-for-value experiments. Attention could be focused on mental health and long term care needs. Expandable systems could be developed for these areas even before Medicare moves to universal coverage. We should also be making the necessary changes to eliminate the need for Medigap policies, Part D coverage, and Medicare Advantage Plans. Not solely related to Medicare but open to immediate action would be improvement in the recruitment and financing of the primary care pipeline from first year medical students through residency training programs. We could also take a few steps back to re-think the present electronic medical records push and its Meaningful Use regulations. This has been a poorly thought out, expensive, provider exhausting  effort with a huge disconnect between the stated goals and the existing technology and financing resources.

We should be improving Medicare, not destroying it. We should all be putting pressure on our Congressmen and administration to eschew any actions that disregard the above goals.

Obamacare Unsustainable

Geyman's Books

Dr. John Geyman has published his latest book on the state and future of American health care.* He has written a series of books on this subject over the last 13 years.** His latest, “How Obamacare is Unsustainable” should be must reading for every congressmen, CMS employee and medical reporter and blogger as well as President Obama and his staff. It should be recommended reading for everyone else concerned about health care in the United States.

Dr. Geyman discusses the failure of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to effectively address the four biggest challenges of health care reform: restricted access, increasing costs, increasing unaffordability even for people with insurance, and poor quality of care compared to the rest of the industrial world. He first reviews the history of the corporation led charade that created the byzantine ACA. Political corruption, lobby money, and media entanglements with corporate stakeholders (especially the pharmaceutical and insurance industries) disfigured the initial goals beyond recognition.

In Chapter 10, after reviewing where we stand now, 5 years into the ACA, he elaborates on the ten lessons we should have learned (and were predictable):

1) Health care “reform’ through the ACA was framed and hijacked by corporate stakeholders, themselves in large part responsible for system problems of health care and dedicated to perpetuating their self-interests in an unfettered health care marketplace.

2) You can’t contain health care costs by leaving for-profit health care industries to pursue their business “ethic” in a deregulated marketplace.

3) You can’t reform the delivery system without reforming the financing system.

4) The private insurance industry does not offer enough value to be bailed out by government.

5) It is futile to embark on unproven and disproven incremental tweaks to our present system while ignoring health policy and experience around the world.

6) In order to gain the most efficiency of insurance coverage we need the largest possible risk pool to spread the risk and avoid adverse selection.

7) The ACA is a massive bailout of private interests profiting on the backs of sick or injured Americans.

8) The single-payer alternative was considered “politically unfeasible” by being “too disruptive” to the existing system; instead, look at how disruptive the ACA has been compared to the simplified single-payer alternative.

9) The ACA is unaffordable for many patients and their families, is byzantine in its complexity, and is unsustainable in the long run.

10) We cannot trust many states to assure an adequate safety net for the insured and underinsured.

Dr. Geyman goes on to define the need for, and the barriers to the development of a single-payer system in the United States. He describes what a single-payer system would look like and what the political prospects are for developing such a system.

This evidence-based analysis of our health care non-system offers the most comprehensive, accurate, and functional map of the road to universal health care in the United States.

* Geyman, JP. How Obamacare is Unsustainable: Why We Need a Single-Payer Solution for All Americans. Friday Harbor, WA. Copernicus Healthcare, 2015.

**A list of books by Dr. John Geyman

  •  Health Care in America                                                 2002
  • The Corporate Transformation of Health Care               2004
  • Falling Through the Safety Net                                       2005
  • Shredding the Social Contract                                        2006
  • The Corrosion of Medicine                                              2008
  • Do Not Resuscitate                                                          2008
  • Hijacked                                                                           2010
  • Breaking Point                                                                  2011
  • The Cancer Generation                                                    2012
  • Health Care Wars                                                             2012
  • How Obamacare is Unsustainable                                   2015

To see Dr. Geyman’s biography and web site visit….…http://www.johngeymanmd.org/PNHP-profile-jgeyman-2007.html & http://www.johngeymanmd.org/