Friday, March 7, 2014
The running joke of the Disney Monsters,Inc. movies is that there really are monsters in little kids' closets, but they aren't dangerous. Too often in medical education, lawyers and law suits are used as "monsters in the closet" to scare medical students into paying attention. This, I suggest, has become very expensive. A recent post in the Harvard Bill of Health blog by former medical student Deborah Cho quite accurately describes how little accurate information medical students get about the law--and how much they come to dislike and mistrust lawyers. Although I haven't seen research tracking how often the phrase "or you will get sued" is used in instructing medical students, but based on my experience it may be among the most common phrases they hear. Without even addressing the vast literature suggesting that postive instruction is at least as instructive as negative, I contend we just can't afford the malpractice bogeyman.
The question now is what can be done about? Tort Reform won't solve this problem--because it will never eliminate the possibility of being sued. But maybe a change in medical education will. The first step towards change is to realize that words and attitudes matter--drumming in a constant fear of being sued cannot help but affect how doctors see their work.
Friday, February 28, 2014
A big part of the job of being a Health Law Prof is to help students understand the intersection of the many legal specialties that comprise the big tent of "Health Law." Wellness Programs are a good way of doing that because one of the key features of the Affordable Care Act is the flexibility it provides employers to link the cost their employees pay for health insurance with the individual employee's participation in a company sponsored "welleness program." Here's an article I wrote explaining how PPACA went about doing that. Here's a link to the Department of Labor's summary of the current rules and a good overview by the law firm Nixon-Peabody. This report from Rand is an overview of what these programs are and how companies have increasingly fallen in love with them. At this point just about every insurance company is offering to create one--here's some information from Aetna.
The problem is, there's very little evidence that these programs do anything to demonstrably improve health (whatever that may mean). And quite a bit that they may promote many different kinds of social injustice.
This article in the Harvard Business Review does a great job describing the kinds of programs that are now descending on employees and how they are creating disatsifaction without any scientifically supportable improvement in "health."
There is also a growing literature suggesting that these programs may disproportionately discourage workers who employers aren't that unhappy to see go--but might not legally be able to actually fire. Here is some very interesting testimony by Jennifer Mathis Director of Programs, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
On Behalf of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.
Michelle Mello at Harvard has coined the term "life-style discrimination" to describe the ways Wellness Programs may target individuals employers may perceive as undesirable because they are obese, smoke or have other non-job related characteristics.
Studying Wellness Programs--and the issues they raise--can be an accessible entry point for students who can easily be intimated by the regulatory complexity of health law and can also be a bridge to understanding how fundamentally the Affordable Care Act has affected the way health care will be paid for and delivered as our students begin their careers in advising those struggling to implement these new regulations.
February 28, 2014 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Coverage, Disabilities, Effectiveness, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Genetics, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Insurance, Mental Health, Obesity, Policy, Politics, PPACA, Prevention, Public Health, Quality, Reform, Workforce | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 17, 2014
I recently posted a new piece that uses technology as a lens for examining some of the fragmentation and coodination problems exhibited by the healthcare system. Here's the abstract.
Fragmentation and lack of coordination remain as some of the most intractable problems facing health care. Attention has often alighted on the promise of Health care Information Technology not least because IT has had such positive impact on many other personal, professional and industrial domains. For at least two decades the HIT-panacea narrative has been persistent even though the context has shifted. At various times we have been promised that patient safety technologies would solve our medical error problems, electronic transactions would simplify healthcare administration and insurance and clinical data would become interoperable courtesy of electronic medical records. Today the IoM is positioning HIT at the center of its new “continuously learning” health care model that is in large part aimed at solving our fragmentation and lack of coordination problems. While the consensus judgment that HIT can reduce fragmentation and increase coordination has intuitive force the specifics are more complicated. First, the relationship between health care and IT has been both culturally and financially complex. Second, HIT has been overhyped as a solution for all of health care’s woes; it has its own problems. Third, the HIT-fragmentation solution presents a chicken-and-egg problem — can HIT solve health care fragmentation and lack of coordination problems or must health care problems such as episodic care be solved prior to successful deployment of HIT? The article takes a critical look at both health care and HIT with those questions in mind before concluding with some admittedly difficult recommendations designed to break the chicken-and-egg deadlock.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Where does one start with AOL CEO Armstrong's ridiculous and unfeeling justifications for changes in his company’s 401(k) plan. Cable TV and Twitter came out of the blocks fast with the obvious critiques. And the outrage only increased after novelist Deanna Fei took to Slate to identify her daughter as one of the subjects of Armstrong’s implied criticism. Armstrong has now apologized and reversed his earlier decision.
As the corporate spin doctors contain the damage, Armstrong’s statements likely will recede from memory, although I am still hoping The Onion will memorialize Armstrong’s entry into the healthcare debate (suggested headline, "CEO Discovers Nation's Healthcare Crisis Caused by 25 Ounce Baby”). But supposing (just supposing) your health law students ask about the story in class this week. What sort of journey can you take them on?
February 10, 2014 in Affordable Care Act, Cost, Coverage, Employer-Sponsored Insurance, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Law, HIPAA, privacy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 17, 2014
On Wednesday, Judge Friedman (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) granted summary judgment to Secretary Sebelius in Halbig v. Sebelius (2014 WL 129023). Individual plaintiffs and small businesses, supported by the Cato Institute, Competetive Enterprise Institute, and others, challenged the availability of tax credits in federally-run Health Insurance Exchanges as exceeding the IRS's administrative authority. The court found that the statute, Congress's intent, and the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act supported the IRS's regulations. Thus, tax credits will be available in Exchanges whether the insurance is purchased on an exchange created by a state or an exchange created by the federal government standing in the state's shoes. The opinion engaged in careful statutory analysis and found the first part of the Chevron test answered the legal questions the plaintiffs presented (though a footnote provided a quick second step analysis anyway). Professor Gluck called this decision a big win for the ACA given that Chevron deference was not necessary in the court's analysis, and the court's methodical statutory analysis is certainly persuasive. (Professor Bagley posted a similarly sanguine analysis here.) By all accounts, this decision is a win for the Obama Administration.
This solid decision ought to end this frivolous litigation, but the plaintiffs have already stated that they will file an appeal. As I discussed here and here, even though these challenges have no statutory traction, the plaintiffs are financially well supported, and they have the means to continue pressing their theories up the federal court ladder. And, the political climate inspires unhappy policy losers to pursue their desired outcome through the judicial branch when they have lost in the legislative and executive branches. Although the decision in NFIB v. Sebelius allowed the ACA to move forward, it opened the courthouse doors to litigation such as this, which pushes legal reasoning in directions that would not have been considered serious before the successes of the NFIB litigation. While I do not believe that Halbig et al. have a real case for preventing tax credits in federally-run exchanges, that will not necessarily prevent another federal court from finding a differently.
Monday, December 30, 2013
As health care cost inflation has slowed markedly, some observers have cited the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as a major factor—even though the moderation in health care spending began before ACA’s enactment. To be sure, some of ACA’s important cost containment provisions may be playing a role, such as its push for accountable care organizations and its emphasis on paying for quality of care rather than just quantity of care.
Or maybe cost containment is simply the result of a recession that has reduced the spending power of Americans, with a significant contribution from an important pre-ACA trend (about 20 percent of the cost slowdown according to one study). For some time, employers and insurers have been increasing the public’s “skin in the game” by increasing the individual’s share of health care costs through premiums, deductibles and copayments. We’ve known for a long time that making health care more expensive for patients can discourage them from seeking care, so it isn’t surprising that higher patient costs would help contain health care spending. But we also know that patients don’t always distinguish between unnecessary care that can be forgone and necessary care that should be sought.
Time will help us sort out the causes of health care cost containment—if indeed it persists. In the meantime, we should be careful to distinguish between what we would like to be true and what we know to be true.
[cross-posted at orentlicher.tumblr.com]
Friday, December 27, 2013
Today’s New York Times describes the Republican Party’s search for an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With millions of Americans about to receive their health care through ACA health insurance exchanges, GOP members of Congress recognize that reform rather than repeal is the more sensible strategy.
Interestingly, proposals by leading Republicans look very much like ACA and especially like the favored reform proposal of former Obama senior staffer, Ezekiel Emanuel. While Emanuel has embraced ACA’s individual mandate, his preferred approach to reform is a universal voucher for health care coverage (also discussed here). According to the Times, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan soon will release a revised version of a universal voucher that he and U.S. Senator Tom Coburn proposed in the past. The main difference between Emanuel’s voucher and the Ryan-Coburn voucher is in the amount of coverage. Emanuel would cover the full cost of an insurance plan with standard benefits (akin to the essential benefits requirement of ACA), while Ryan and Coburn pegged the value of a voucher at a fixed dollar amount, about 50-60 percent of the cost of a standard insurance policy. As with ACA, Ryan and Coburn would have established health insurance exchanges, required insurers to meet minimum standards and protected persons with pre-existing conditions from discrimination (though perhaps not to the degree that ACA protects them).
There are good reasons to prefer universal vouchers to ACA. When all Americans, rich and poor, are in the same program, the program works much better. Consider in this regard the differences between Medicare and Medicaid. ACA may promise nearly universal coverage, but persons at higher incomes still will receive their health care mostly through their employers rather than through ACA’s health insurance exchanges or the Medicaid expansion. That gives the political influential a much smaller stake in the success of ACA than they would have in a universal voucher program.
It’s not surprising that there is more agreement than disagreement on the specifics of health care reform. As many observers noted during the health care reform debate, the individual mandate for health care coverage began as a conservative alternative to Clinton health care, and Mitt Romney championed an individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts. As with immigration reform and other policy initiatives, the chief stumbling block to progress is not the lack of common ground but the strong political incentives for elected officials to pursue a policy of conflict.
[cross-posted at orentlicher.tumblr.com]
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Yesterday's reports on the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association indicated disarray over the Medicaid expansion, and an opinion piece in the NYT highlighted the common story that only half of states are expanding their Medicaid programs. If CMS is counting, then this tally is correct, as the federal agency can only account for those states that have submitted the proper documentation for expansion. But this is not the only way to consider the states' decisionmaking regarding the expansion. I have just posted a short essay preliminarily detailing research I have performed over the last several months, which reveals that many states currently counted as "not participating" are acting to expand their Medicaid programs. Here is the abstract:
November 23, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, CMS, Constitutional, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, HHS, Medicaid, Obama Administration, PPACA, Spending | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, November 8, 2013
is that most of what I do is in the "no spin zone." I may agree or not with a holding or a policy, but my job is to explain--not (in my view) editoralize.
Unless something is really wrong--and this headline is really wrong. Obama: ‘I’m Sorry’ About Americans Who Are Losing Current Health Plans
Yes, I heard President Obama say he was "sorry" that people who "liked" their health insurance were losing it. But there are no facts to support the implied conclusion that they were reasonable in their affection.
So--are people "losing" health insurance they had because it provided so little coverage (so little value for money) that it was as good as being uninsured? Yes. But are there any identifiable people who experienced an illness, were satisfied with the level of coverage they had from these policies? Not that I've heard speak in any form that can be recorded for review.
I'm from Connecticut and to say that people are losing coverage they "liked" is to suggest that those unlucky enough to pay a peddler for a piece of wood shaped like a nutmeg "liked" it well enough to continue putting sawdust in their eggnog for years to follow. Sure, maybe they had thought they got a bargain and at the time could not have afforded a real nutmeg. But there's a solid old time English word for what they experienced: they were swindled. And would in no sense describe their feeling about the old block of wood as "liking."
What's missing here is any definition--let alone understanding--of what it means to "like" insurance coverage for which you are paying a monthly premium only to discover on needing it that it's not worth what you paid for it. People who had this insurance did so either because they were defrauded or because they had no other access to health insurance and were hoping for the best from it.
Here's my concern--I'm not qualified to assess the politics of this or even the longterm economics. But I do know that many vulnerable people who either now have solid, excellent insurance through Medicare, the VA or their jobs believe that they could lose it because of Obamacare. And that's simply not true.
All of us who are health law professors field questions from students, friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances about Obamacare all the time--and my answer to almost everyone until very recently was, "I don't know--we'll have to see what happens when it actually takes effect."
But here is something I do know---the people who are "losing" healthcare are losing something that was never worth having--and which, by the way, they would surely have lost instantly the first time they made a claim. Thus putting them in the same catagory of people from whom we have heard no complaints--those without access to health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or prohibitive premiums and now find it available and affordable.
Folks who are finding out that the coverage they had did not meet minimum standards and who now have the option of buying insurance that is worth what it costs may well not know the details yet--because they haven't been able to get on line to read about it. And if they were lucky enough to never have had to use their policies, they may never have known how little they had.
But lets not forget that the system we had was responsible for 62% of personal bankruptcies due to medical bills. And that includes a lot of people who had health insurance they "liked" but which proved inadequate when needed.
Not being a pundit--let alone an expert on presidential speech writing--I can't imagine how President Obama thought it was a good idea to make a promise that he had as much power to keep as that it wouldn't rain on anyone's Fourth of July Parade or that the entire United States would be covered by an even blanket of new snow on Christmas Eve.
Most people with "good" insurance through work face changes in doctors, hospitals, and covered medications just about everytime their employer re-negotiates their contract. It's a reality we all live with.
But are people who had adequate and affordable insurance losing coverage? To switch states for a moment, we have to all be from Missouri. Show us.
Until we see what options are available to these folks who were paying monthly premiums to plans, now being cancelled, which would not be there when needed, lets stop scaring people by telling them that the adequate insurance they do have is going to be taken away. And that they will become uninsured.
Sure, the roll out is a disaster--and in retrospect predictable once it became apparent how many states were declining the opportunity to set up their own exchanges and shifting the burden onto the woefully unprepared department of Health and Human Services.
But lets not confuse the messenger with the message. The actual insurance available is from private insurance companies--which for the first time must by law provide comprehensive health insurance for a fair price. There's no reason to think it will be worse than the expensive and inadequate plans it replaces. And certainly it will be far better than nothing. And it seems like the people directly affected by these cancellations know that because with all the glitches and apologies, the majority of Americans continue to support the increased access to affordable care insurance at the same rate they did when the bill was passed--three years ago!.
Getting back to being a professor, one of the biggest problems in explaining this topic is that it's a moving target and a substantial mistrust about sources of information. Once again, I recommend the non-profit and non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation which continues to gather and explain facts. If indeed the people "losing" their insurance do not soon have access to better coverage at an affordable price, then there is a serious problem far past computer glitches. Lets wait and see.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Monday, October 7, 2013
[Cross posted today at Constitution Daily:]
The Affordable Care Act expresses many goals, but its heart is the desire to create a health insurance home for all Americans. The American healthcare system historically exists at the pleasure of a number of stakeholders and is not a coherent whole. This lack of system is reflected in the consistent tensions that underlie American healthcare, most notably federal power versus state power; the collective versus the individual; and the individual versus the state. In creating near-universal health insurance, the ACA has resolved one of those tensions, individual versus the collective, in favor of the collective. To that end, the ACA eliminated many of the practices health insurers used to cherry pick policyholders, which excluded people who need medical care from their risk pools. In so doing, the ACA represented a federal choice to make all people insurable, whatever their wealth, age, medical history, sex, race, or other distinguishing factor.
Despite the redirection this leveling of the health insurance playing field represents, the ACA did not craft a coherent whole out of the American healthcare system. Instead, the ACA remodels the preexisting, unstable healthcare system. In building on the old foundation rather than starting anew, the law retained the historic role of the states in regulating medical matters. To that end, the ACA urged the states to implement two key aspects of its insurance modifications: Health Insurance Exchanges and the expansion of the Medicaid program. The federal government has the power under the Spending Clause to create a federally-run insurance mechanism, but it chose instead to employ cooperative federalism to keep states engaged in healthcare policymaking. The trouble is that some states have not been cooperating with these central legislative goals.
The Exchanges, or Marketplaces, are an instrument through which qualified private health insurance plans can be purchased by individuals or small businesses. The states were offered federal funding to create their own state-run Exchanges, which were operative as of October 1, 2013 (Tuesday last week). Many states created Exchanges, but many rejected them as an expression of their distaste for the ACA. Predictably, many of the states that have refused to create their own Exchanges were the same states that challenged the constitutionality of the ACA. While there is value in dissent, the states that refused to create Exchanges invited more federal power into the state, because rejecting the federal offer for funding to create a state-run Exchange did not halt Exchanges from coming into existence. Instead, the ACA tasked the federal government with operating Exchanges in states that did not create their own. While expressing a desire to protect their state sovereignty, these states have invited federal authority into their borders. Though the Exchanges at both the state and federal levels have experienced some technical glitches this week, it appears that many people are eager to purchase insurance through them and that they have been successful at doing so. The states that rejected Exchanges have not stopped implementation of the law, but their actions have other notable ramifications.
The Medicaid expansion was designed to catch childless adults under age 65 and below 133% of the federal poverty level in Medicaid’s safety net. As with other modifications to the Medicaid program over the years, the expansion added a new element to the Medicaid Act that states could reject, but they could lose all of their funding if they made that choice. The day the ACA was signed into law, states challenged the expansion of the Medicaid program as unconstitutionally coercive. They succeeded on this claim in NFIB v. Sebelius, and the Court rendered the expansion optional for states. Immediately pundits began to question whether the states would participate in the Medicaid expansion.
Though national media tallies make it appear that just over half of the states are participating in the Medicaid expansion, in reality the number is and will be much higher. In almost every state reported as “leaning toward not participating,” and in many states reported as “not participating,” some significant act has occurred to explore implementation of the Medicaid expansion. Some states have special commissions or task forces researching expansion; some state governors have indicated a desire to participate and have included the expansion in the budget; some legislatures have held debate or scheduled it for the next session; and so on. Though some states will not have their Medicaid expansions running by January 1, 2014, it seems very likely that most if not all states will participate in the expansion in the relatively near future.
In the meantime, state non-cooperation will have a direct effect on some of the nation’s poorest citizens. People from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive tax credits for purchasing insurance in the Exchanges. In states with no expansion, people above 100% of the federal poverty level who would have qualified for Medicaid will still be able to obtain insurance through federal subsidies in the Exchanges. But, people who are below 100% of the federal poverty level will be too poor for tax-credits and living in states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs, therefore they will not be able to enroll in Medicaid either. These very low income people will not be penalized for failing to carry health insurance, but they will not have health insurance either. These individuals will get caught in a health insurance black hole that exists in part because the Court allowed states to refuse Medicaid expansion and in part because of state resistance to partnering in the implementation of the ACA.
State cooperation in the Medicaid expansion is even more important than state participation in the Exchanges, because many thousands of people may not get the access to health insurance that is the promise of the ACA. The debate over the meaning of federalism that swirls around political and academic circles will have a direct and important effect on the people who can least afford it. The good news for them is that Medicaid’s history indicates that all states eventually participate in the program and its amendments, but this week’s implementation of the Exchanges keeps access to medical care through health insurance tantalizingly out of reach.
October 7, 2013 in Affordable Care Act, Constitutional, Health Care, Health Care Reform, Health Law, Health Reform, Medicaid, Obama Administration, PPACA, Private Insurance, Spending, State Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Despite best efforts to prevent the exchanges, or marketplaces, from going on line, today the exchanges have begun to do the work of facilitating a health insurance home for people in the United States. If you live in a state that has declined to create its own exchange, then you should visit https://www.healthcare.gov/, the federal website for the federal health insurance marketplace. Though there were reports of the site crashing, as of 3:00 this afternoon it seems to be working. And, the site will guide you to your state's marketplace site, as necessary. No need to rush though, as open enrollment lasts through March of 2014.
Many probably saw Governor Beshear's op-ed in the New York Times last week regarding the reasons that Kentucky has created its own state-based exchange (and will accept federal funding for the Medicaid expansion), here. The commentary seems even more relevant in the wake of the House Republicans shutting down the federal government over health insurance.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Big news in the world of ACA implementation: CMS approved Arkansas' proposed waiver for an alternative mechanism for Medicaid expansion, which is to be called the Arkansas Health Care Independence Program. Arkansas proposed a premium assistance program, wherein newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries will obtain insurance through the Arkansas health insurance exchange by receiving financial assistance for premium costs. This will place the new Medicaid population in qualified health insurance plans, i.e. private health insurance, which is administratively more expensive than government-sponsored insurance, but it may help to deal with the problem of "churn" between Medicaid and Marketplace-based private insurance.
CMS's approval of Arkansas' Medicaid demonstration program is significant for a number of reasons, but here I'd like to focus on what I think is one of the biggest: this waiver approval will pave the way for other states that are "undecided" to finally declare their intent to expand their Medicaid programs. I believe this will happen relatively quickly, because most states are already working on expansion. You would not think this is true from the national media's reporting on the Medicaid expansion. If you have been following any of the many color-coded maps depicting the five possible categories of expansion (expanding, not expanding, leaning toward expanding, leaning toward not expanding, and alternative model), you would think that just over half of the states are participating in the Medicaid expansion. The national media has gotten this story wrong, because they do not pick up on the negotiations, investigations, committees, special commissions, and other ways in which the "leanging toward not participating" states are actually exploring how they can expand their Medicaid programs. To understand how dynamic the state decision making is, you have to track the local newspapers that follow every move of the state legislatures and their conversations with their governors (which I have been doing all summer).
After NFIB v. Sebelius was decided, I wrote that most states would still expand their Medicaid programs. It appears that most states are now working toward Medicaid expansion in some form. In future posts, I will explain this dynamic federalism story in more detail. For today, I will emphasize that CMS has opened the door to more state waivers, which will lead to more states expanding their Medicaid programs. Though I am not necessarily on board with federalism by waiver, espcially given states' history of waiver mistakes and failures, I do think that in this instance, alternative expansion is better than no expansion. Otherwise, many of our poorest citizens will be left out of the attempt at national insurance coverage, not paying a penalty, but not having access to much-needed healthcare either.
When it comes to public benefit programs, federal-state partnerships often disappoint. States once determined eligibility for food stamps, and access to the program was not available in many counties across the country. And because states have set the income thresholds for adults to qualify for Medicaid, access to health care coverage has varied considerably from state-to-state for the indigent.
Unfortunately, both because of ACA’s design and the Supreme Court’s decision on the Medicaid expansion, ACA’s implementation relies quite a bit on federal-state partnerships. We are now seeing substantial differences from state to state in the roll out of the statute. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week and the New York Times earlier this month, poor people are much more likely to obtain Medicaid coverage in New Mexico than next door in Texas, and customers for insurance on an ACA exchange will find much more guidance from state officials in Colorado than in Missouri.
The Medicare model of a federal-only program works much more effectively at delivering its benefits than does the Medicaid/ACA model of a federal-state partnership.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Don't miss a fascinating article in the August 30th issue of Science, "Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function." The article contends that there is a causal explanation for the correlation between poverty and disfunctional behavior, such as the failure to keep medical appointments or to employ healthy behaviors. Put crudely, the connection is that people in poverty have to think about so much just to keep going that they don't have the cognitive bandwidth to make carefully reasoned decisions.
The authors of the article, Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainanthan, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao, present two studies in support of their claim. The first study involved four experiments in which shoppers at a New Jersey mall were paid participants. The income level of the shoppers varied, from the bottom quartile of US income to over $70,000. In the first experiment, participants were asked to think about a decision about how to pay for car repairs, and were randomized to inexpensive ($150) or expensive ($1500) costs of the repair. They were then asked to perform simple cognitive tests on a computer. Among those asked to think about the inexpensive repair, there were no significant differences by income level in performance of the cognitive task. By contrast, there were significant differences in performance by income among those confronted with the more expensive repair. Variations on this experiment involved problems where sums of money were not involved (to control for math anxiety), incentives in the form of getting paid for getting the right answers on the cognitive tests, and situations in which participants came to a decision about the financial problem, engaged in intervening activities, and then were asked to perform the cognitive tests. Each of these variations produced results similar to the initial experiment: the performance of people in poverty on the cognitive tests was significantly associated with the expensive repair, but the performance of those in higher income groups was not.
In the authors' second study, participants were a random sample of sugar cane farmers in Tamil Nadu in southern India. They were interviewed before and after the cane harvest. Pre-harvest the farmers faced more significant financial pressures (as measured by criteria such as numbers of pawned items, numbers of loans, and the like) than post-harvest. Performance on cognitive function tests was significantly higher post-harvest than pre-harvest. Because the cane harvest extends over a considerable time period, the authors were able to control for calendar effects; the difference was similar early or later in the 5 month period of the harvest. The authors conclude that poverty has about the same cognitive consequences as the loss of a night's sleep.
To be sure, other variables might explain the authors' findings. They are careful to discuss many of these such as physical exertion, stress, nutrition, or training effects. If the authors are right, however, their findings have some impressive implications for health policy. One, which they note, is that it may just be more difficult for people who are poor to perform complex tasks needed to apply for eligibility for programs such as Medicaid (why are we surprised that so many who are eligible don't sign up?). Another is that programs designed to incentivize healthy behaviors may just not work very well if they ignore cognitive loads.
September 5, 2013 in Access, Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Reform, Medicaid, Obesity, Prevention, Public Health, Uninsured | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, August 26, 2013
Challenges designed to spur innovative uses of data are springing up frequently. These are contests, sponsored by a mix of government agencies, industry, foundations, a variety of not-for-profit groups, or even individuals. They offer prize money or other incentives for people or teams to come up with solutions to a wide range of problems. In addition to grand prizes, they often offer many smaller prizes or networking opportunities. The latest such challenge to come to my attention was announced August 19 by the Knight Foundation: $2 million for answers to the question "how can we harnass data and information for the health of communities?" Companion prizes, of up to $200,000, are also being offered by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the California Healthcare Foundation.
Such challenges are also a favorite of the Obama administration. From promoting Obamacare among younger Americans (over 100 prizes of up to $30,000)--now entered by Karl Rove's Crossroads group--to arms control and identification of sewer overflows, the federal government has gone in for challenges big time. Check out challenge.gov to see the impressive list. Use of information and technological innovation feature prominently in the challenges, but there is also a challenge for "innovative communications strategies to target individuals who experience high levels of involuntary breaks ("churn") in health insurance coverage" (from SAMHSA), a challenge to design posters to educate kids about concussions (from CDC), a challenge to develop a robot that can retrieve samples (from NASA), and a challenge to use technology for atrocity prevention (from USAID and Humanity United). All in all, some 285 challenges sponsored by the federal government are currently active, although for some the submission period has closed.
These challenges are entertaining, call on crowdsourcing for knowledge production, find new sources of expertise way beyond the Beltway or even US borders, encourage private sector groups rather than government to bear costs and risks of development (or failure), and may bring novel and highly useful ideas to light. So what's not to like? I may be just grumpy today, but I have some serious worries about the rush to challenges as a way to solve persistent or apparently intractable problems.
Challenges may be more hype than achievement, more heat than ultimate light. They may emphasize the quick and clever--the nifty over the difficult or profound. They may substitute the excitement of awarding and winning a prize for making real progress on a problem. Most troubling to me, however, is the challenge strategy's potential to skew what government finds interesting and what it is willing to do. Many challenges have private partners in industry, appear likely to result in for-profit products, or set aside values that may be more difficult to quantify or instantiate.
Take the HHS Datapalooza, for example. Now entering its fifth year, the Datapalooza is an annual celebration of innovations designed to make use of health data available from a wide variety of sources, including government health data. "Data liberation" is the watchword, with periodic but limited references to data protection, security and privacy. A look at the 2013 agenda reveals a planning committee representing start-ups and venture capital. It also reveals a $500,000 prize awarded by Heritage Provider Network, a managed care organization originally located in Southern California but now expanding in markets in Arizona and New York and serving many Medicare Advantage patients. The prize was for a model to predict hospitalizations accurately and in advance--so that they could be avoided. The winning team, powerdot, didn't reach the benchmark needed to win the full $3m prize. So . . . Heritage is continuing the competition, making more (and apparently no longer deidentified) data available to a select set of leading competitors in the original competition in order to improve the accuracy of the modeling. (A description of deidentification methods for the data made available to all entrants in the original competition is available here.) There are of course real advantages in developing a good predictive model--for patients in avoiding hospitalizations, and for Heritage in saving money in patient care. This is potentially a "win win"--as Mark Wagar, the executive awarding the prize stated, "it's not just about the money; it's personal." But "it's not just about the money" is telling: the risk of these challenges is that they are about the money, and that the money will come to dominate personal or other values unless we are careful.
Solutions, if my concerns are well-founded? Trying to turn back the disruptive clock and fight the appeal of challenges is probably futile--although perhaps some of the initial enthusiasm may wane. One solution is to join in--after all, challenges are infectious and potentially innovative--encouraging more challenges aimed at different problems--say, challenges for privacy or security protection alongside challenges for data liberation and use. Or, challenges for improving patient understanding of their health conditions and informed consent to strategies for managing them--as some of the challenges aimed at patients with diabetes illustrate. Another solution is to watch very carefully what challenges are offered, who funds them, who wins them, and what is ultimately achieved by them.
August 26, 2013 in Bioethics, Biotech, Competition, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health IT, Health Reform, Obama Administration, privacy, Reform, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, July 8, 2013
In yesterday's New York Times, Ross Douthat joined the chorus that criticizes employer-sponsored health care insurance. According to Douthat, this "unsustainable relic" is a "burden on businesses, a source of perverse incentives for the health care market and an obstacle to more efficient, affordable and universal coverage."
In fact, the United States is not unusual in the extent to which it relies on companies to fund health care coverage. Indeed, employers in France, Germany and Japan shoulder a higher percentage of their countries' national health spending than do U.S. employers. Government-run systems must find sources of funding for their programs, and employers are an obvious place to look.
To be sure, there are problems with employer-sponsored coverage, but the Affordable Care Act (ACA) takes care of a very important one. Employer-sponsored coverage has promoted "job lock" in the United States. Many would-be entrepreneurs have been reluctant to start their own companies because they would lose their employer-sponsored coverage and have to pay for insurance out of their own pocket. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, insurance might not be available. Under ACA, the new entrepreneur will be able to find an affordable health care plan on an insurance exchange.
The abandonment of employer-sponsored coverage would reduce the burden on businesses only if health care costs overall were lower under the replacement system. Many health care policy experts observe that costs are lower in government-run systems overseas because the governments can exercise greater negotiating leverage with doctors and hospitals than can insurance companies in the United States. In short, the high cost of U.S. health care and its burden on business seems to be not so much a problem of relying on employers rather than individuals to purchase coverage but a problem of relying on private insurers rather than government to operate the system.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
For those of you who thought we could forget about ongoing ACA litigation, here's a little update: the issue of premium assistance through tax credits for insurance purchased in federal exchanges is alive and well. The plaintiffs in the recently filed Halbig v. Sebelius claim that the ACA does not permit tax credits in federally run exchanges (opponents state that this is merely a statutory oversight, as I wrote in September.) A nice summary of the ongoing litigation on this issue was published yesterday on California Health Line.
These challenges seem to reveal the angst that the ACA is producing as the January 1, 2014 deadline creeps nearer. They also seem to reveal the upside-down federalism occuring in the states that have rejected the state-based exchanges. Those states have exercised their sovereign prerogative, but they are also inviting more federal power into the state, which aggrandizes federal power. Though I don't think these cases have a strong chance of success, if the plaintiffs are successful, undoubtedly we'll see more testing of the fence by states and private litigants.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
It's no secret that the night staff of a hospital are both over-worked and over-tired. Nor is it any secret that many medical errors occur at night. But until we look at the totality of the human factors making up medical error, we are unlikely to make significant headway in addressing it. A review of the literature suggests that the reason isn't a lack of understanding about the factors which cause human errors, it's concern about the cost of addressing them.
The authors of a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled, Relationship Between Occurrence of Surgical Complications and Hospital Finances conclude that not only aren’t hospitals doing all they can to reduce medical errors, they actually have no financial incentives to do so.
I'd suggest that financial incentives are behind ineffective efforts to address the issues of staff over-work and the inherent dangers of intermittent shift work.
It's no surprise that another widely reported recent study has found that reductions in the hours medical residents work has not resulted in increased patient safety. The study authors conclude that this is because although residents worked less hours, they did not have a reduced work load. So, like Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory, the trying to cram more work in the same amount of time increased resident error.
The findings of that study need to be seen in combination with the vast amount of scientific research on the increase in errors caused during night shifts. A recent study of nurses working night shifts showed that “on average, the error rate increase 6% after the second night shift in a row, 17% after the third successive night shift and an astounding 35% higher on the fourth night shift.” See also this and this article by the Joint Commission. Although no one disputes the reality that human beings perform best in the day time, every hospital must be fully staffed 24 hours a day. The information is both anecdotal and research based. But no one seems to be listening.
An article in Nursing World does an excellent job of using available research to describe the scope of the problem, but implies that it can be effectively addressed by nurses proactively paying more attention to their sleep patterns. It advises nurses working the night shift to “take control of sleep.” In fact the NSF “recommends that nurses wear wrap around sunglasses when driving home so the body is less aware that it is daylight.” This advice ignores the scientific reality that humans are not as effective or alert at night as they are in the day time. Nor does it consider the human reality that medical shift workers do not have the luxury of using their days to sleep. Like everyone else living in a diurnal world, they must cope with the tasks of family and daily living.
Techniques like wearing dark glasses may work in making a shift to a new rhythm--like travelling to another time zone. But given the unlikeliness of medical staff to convert to a permanent change in their circadian rhthyms, as if they were working in a submarine (and that doesn’t work very well either) the answer is to address the reality that humans are less effective at recognizing problems and completing complex tasks at night. But that’s not where the problem solving is going.
May 25, 2013 in Cost, Effectiveness, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Care Reform, Health Economics, Health Law, Hospital Finances, Hospitals, Insurance, Medical Malpractice, Nurses, Patient Safety, Payment, Physicians, Policy, Public Health, Quality, Quality Improvement, Reform, Research, Science and Health, Substance Abuse | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)