Friday, June 27, 2014

Health Insurance Reform - It's Not a Bumper to Bumper Warranty

We have some Healthcare reform in the US but we are still challenged with a system that is failing to deliver results. This piece recently: America Ranks No. 1 for Over-Priced, Inefficient Health Care featured the chart from the Commonwealth fund

That ranks the US last in a group of 11 industrialized countries.

As he puts it:
There is one way America is clearly exceptional:  we have a healthcare system that is dramatically more expensive than the rest of the industrialized world, but it doesn’t manage to make us any healthier.While  the Affordable Care Act attempts to address access it does little to address the cost of the system and the inefficiencies. This does not require a reduction in premiums it needs to address the costs built in to the system that we are all paying for in on form or another

Dr Hans Duvefelt wrote this piece on the healthcare blog: A Swedish Country Doctor’s Proposal for Health Insurance Reform that draws on his personal experience in "socialized medicine, student health, cash-only practices and government-sponsored rural health clinic working for an underserved, underinsured rural population."

His focus is as a primary care physician but most would agree this is one of the most challenging areas for reform with the shortage in clinicians and low reimbursement rates that is driving doctors out and certainly no encouraging our new generating of clinicians to dive into this essential area.

His main proposals center on basic services that are covered by a flat rate for populations

  • Have the insurance company provide a flat rate in the $500/year range to patients’ freely chosen Primary Care Provider, similar to membership fees in Direct Care Medical Practices.
  • Provide a prepaid card for basic healthcare, free from billing expenses and administration.

but importantly changing the responsibility and feedback on the cost from a central purchasing authority (the government for example) to the user themselves.

  • Unused balances can be rolled over to the following years, letting patients “save” money to cover copays for future elective procedures.

And offers a pathway to specialty care with some appropriate oversight and appriroate levels of reimbursement.

  • Keep prior authorizations for big-ticket items, both testing and procedures, if necessary for the health of the system.
  • Keep specialty care fee-for-service.

 These are clever suggestions and would do much to encourage the patient engagement that will be, as Leonard Kish stated

Patient Engagement is the  Blockbuster drug of the century


He rightly points out that the current health “insurance” products are often poorly named - given that insurance that pays and copiers to identify diseases with screening but then stops short of paying to treat conditions and diseases when they are found through that screening. But most of all Insurance should be user driven and priorities and decision left in the hands of the individual and their clinician and not relegated to others who sit in offices emoted from clinical practice and focused on fiscal drivers not on care and quality fo life

Health insurance is not like anything else we call insurance; all other insurance products cover the unexpected and not the expected. Most people never collect on their homeowners’ insurance, and most people never total their car. Health insurance, on the other hand, is expected by many to be like a bumper-to-bumper warranty that insulates us from every misfortune or inconvenience by covering everything from the smallest and most mundane to the most catastrophic or esoteric.

His point about setting of priorities is important - no matter how you cut it there is no unlimited pot of money o resources to treat everything and everybody. These are difficult conversation and ripe for abuse by those with their own agenda’s through fear mongering and use of emotive terms like “Death Panels”.

None of this aspect of reform is simple but it needs to be addressed and included.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) may not be perfect but they have started this process of addressing the challenge of allocating resources in an open manner. They developed the the quality-adjusted life years measurement (QALY) out of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). There has been criticism and push back as there will always be but the concept and methodology use is not limited to the UK. While imperfect as Laozi (c 604 bc - c 531 bc) stated:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step



There is lots of detail in this piece and I would encourage you to go over and read it