Serendipity landed me across the table from a couple of enormously brainy people the other day. We sat having drinks overlooking the hubbub of New York’s Grand Central station. One was a seasoned corporate attorney, the other a superbly incisive CEO. I mentioned how the younger crowd was in a hurry to get home from their marginally satisfying work worlds to engage in their vastly more challenging virtual worlds.
Two months ago, my medical director and medical services director came to me with an interesting case related to medical tourism. In short, one of our covered members went overseas to Europe to have his spine repaired.
He received two spinal implants that cost a total of $42,000 U.S. He was requesting reimbursement as he had paid the providers directly for the surgery.
The following paragraph is from the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual, 6th Edition:
“Physicians have a responsibility to practice effective and efficient health care and to use health care resources responsibly. Parsimonious care that utilizes the most efficient means to effectively diagnose a condition and treat a patient respects the need to use resources wisely and to help ensure that resources are equitably available. In making recommendations to patients, designing practice guidelines and formularies, and making decisions on medical benefits review boards, physicians' considered judgments should reflect the best available evidence in the biomedical literature, including data on the cost-effectiveness of different clinical approaches. When patients ask, they should be informed of the rationale that underlies the physician's recommendation.“
With synonyms for parsimonious that include miserly, stingy, and frugal, it is no surprise that this word choice evoked some criticism. The preponderance of the Ethics Manual advocates that the physician’s primary obligations and duties are to the patient, exercising beneficence, confidentiality, and honesty, with the best interest of the patient being paramount. The paragraph above is a small, but important, segment of the Ethics Manual.
Ever since I started covering health care 20 years ago, managed care companies — HMOs back then — have had little respect from the public. I am sorry to have to point you to a new report that has managed care companies at the bottom of a list of industries in consumers’ eyes. Just below Internet service providers, TV service providers, and computer makers, and far below fast-food chains, banks, and retailers. The highest rating went to grocery chains.
The information comes from the Temkin Group, which surveyed 10,000 consumers. It uses the term “experience ratings.”
A visit to my dental hygienist this week began with a conversation about diagnostic tests. Before the dental x-rays, I asked Dottie if I needed x-rays, and she replied that it had been 18 months, and, based on my age and past dental history, every year to two years was a reasonable interval. Not wanting to debate this point before confronting the Cavitron, I accepted that rationale.
Back in the 1980s, the theme song for the television comedy show Cheers had a line: “Where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” Now, clinical executives have that place, and its drawing power is not the broad strokes associated with a mammoth social network site like Facebook, but rather, a more focused perspective.
This post is not about coronary artery disease. Nor is it about the “stiff” ventricles in diastolic heart failure.
Like “Never Rest”, which I posted several weeks ago, this brief discussion was inspired by Saturday morning Torah study. “Harden Heart” refers to the Pharaoh at the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egyptian slavery. What struck me from our discussion on Saturday morning that relates to health plans and health benefits is that those of us who have responsibility/authority over what is reimbursed, or not, how it is reimbursed, and at what level are — metaphorically — in a parallel role to the Higher Power in the Torah passage. Those whom the purchasers and payers are influencing, or who are on the receiving end of attempts at influence by the purchaser or payer are, metaphorically, in the position of Pharaoh (No implication or suggestion intended about virtue or lack thereof on either side of this analogy!). They are employees, plan members, health care professionals and facilities, ancillary providers, and any other entities that are being paid for services.
In the story, it takes many sticks (no carrots) to ultimately influence Pharaoh to free the Jews. The question that we discussed and debated is to what degree God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and to what degree did Pharaoh, using free will, refuse to set the slaves free even in the face of punitive actions — the plagues.
The vast majority of Part D plans follow a tiered cost-sharing structure with incentives for members to use less expensive generic and preferred brand-name drugs. Cost-sharing has increased since 2006, but the Kaiser Family Foundation reports in “Analysis of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans in 2011 and Key Trends Since 2006” that there was barely a change between 2010 and 2011.” The foundation reports that since 2006, median cost sharing for a 30-day supply of nonpreferred brand name drugs in stand-alone prescription drug plans (PDPs) increased by 42 percent, from $55 to $78. Preferred brand costs increased 50 percent, from $28 to $42. But since 2010, cost sharing has been stable.
About half of PDP enrollees and over 75 percent of MA-PD plan enrollees are in plans that charge 33 percent coinsurance for specialty drugs. Compared to 2009, this share is down modestly for PDPs but up substantially for MA-PD plans. In contrast, only 4 of the 35 national or near-national PDPs charged a 33 percent coinsurance rate for specialty tier drugs in 2006.
It's all about choice these days. Different routes, same destination. In this case, it's reading Managed Care when and where you like, and if you own an iPhone or an iPad, you can do that with our new app available at the Apple Store.
After grand rounds this morning at the University Medical Center at Princeton, the director of the recently created transitional care program, Kathleen H. Seneca, MSN, was speaking with one of our nephrologists about the purpose of the program. It fills the transitional gap for people discharged from the hospital that do not qualify (in terms of reimbursement guidelines) for home care, but would benefit from additional education, care planning, and hands-on instruction.