Vol. 42 April 1, 2011 Updates on Health Care Reform

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
-Winston Churchill

Mitt Romney announces his candidacy for Governor of Massachusetts

Persistently harassed by Tea Party leaders and other conservative Republicans for the inclusion of the “individual mandate requirement” in his Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act and tired of defending it as “good for Massachusetts but not necessarily for [insert name of any state in which Romney is that day]”, Mitt Romney has announced that he will abandon his exploratory campaign for the Presidency. He will return to Massachusetts to run for Governor against Duval Patrick. “Since this annoying issue of the individual mandate just won’t go away, I am going back to Massachusetts to undo it,” said Romney.

Donald Berwick, MD apologizes to Congress for his extreme behavior during his hearing

Though most reviewers remarked on Dr. Berwick’s evenhanded responses to the sometimes hostile questioning at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination as CMS Administrator, this blogger has a different view. I was present in the hearing room just after the TV cameras and microphones were turned off. Dr. Berwick, having kept his cool for so long, literally exploded, cussing the senators for their “mean-spirited, narrow-minded, myopic views of the federal government’s role in health care”. “Arguing with you is like talking to a dinner table.” When this outburst hit You Tube via someone’s cell phone the next day, Dr. Berwick quickly apologized. “As a pediatrician I thought I knew how to control temper tantrums, but somehow that hearing just conjured up all the adolescent turmoil that I thought I had outgrown, and I flew off the handle. I am extremely sorry, but am very thankful that my staff took away my iPhone before I was able to tweet.”

President Obama was so shaken by Dr. Berwick’s outburst that he has begun seeking a replacement; one who has experience in public policy, is a strong individual, is acceptable to most Republicans, and who is currently unemployed.  Arnold Schwarzenegger springs to my mind, though he is rumored to have returned to acting, “I lift things up and then put them down.”

Sarah Palin withdraws her opposition to “Death Panels”

According to David Williams writing for the Health Care Blog: “Chief among Sarah Palin’s assaults on truth and reason is her contention that providing reimbursement for end-of-life planning sessions with a health care provider is tantamount to a “death panel” where a “bureaucrat can decide based on a subjective judgment of [a person’s] ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.” One ingredient of end-of-life planning is patients’ opting for palliative care. He summarized a recent study in New York state where patients who received palliative care cost Medicaid almost $7000 less in hospital costs per admission than a matched control group that didn’t receive palliative care. Patients receiving palliative care spent less time in the intensive care unit and were less likely to die there. They were also more likely to receive hospice care after discharge and to be discharged to appropriate settings.

Impressed by this report and other studies, Sarah Palin has withdrawn her opposition to the reimbursement of  “Death Panels” to help patients and families plan for end-of-life care. However, her newly found acceptance of rational end-of-life care is tempered by the unintended consequence of the increased satisfaction of families receiving palliative care.  “Most people on Medicaid are unemployed, deadbeats, or probably illegal immigrants, so why should we be spending time and money increasing their satisfaction with our health care system?”

Starbucks will add Urgi-Care Centers to their stores

Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks, announced that as of April 1 they would be establishing urgent care counters in selected urban stores. He is impressed with the successful implementation and rapid growth of convenient medical service centers in CVS pharmacies and wants to remain competitive in the crowded field of one-stop-service retail stores. According to Schultz, “Starbucks is the quintessential experience brand and the experience comes to life by our people.  The only competitive advantage we have is the relationship we have with our people and the relationship they have built with our customers.”

Analysts remark that this move is consistent with Starbuck’s image as a “home away from home and work” where one can go to relax, listen to music, buy a CD, work on a computer, read a newspaper, eat a snack, trip over a stroller, smile at the dogs tied up outside the door, and …get a cup of coffee.

Schulz also announced that a new flavor shot, “Potassium Iodide”, will be introduced in selected West coast stores in response to recent consumer inquiries there. Despite the phenomenal growth of medical marijuana stores in California and Colorado, Starbucks has no current plans to add this to their offerings. “A double espresso mocha caramel Vente is as high as you can go at Starbucks for the moment.”

Congress to hold hearings on what to call the new medical care payment system

The Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) proposed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will require the replacement of fee-for-service provider payments with a collecting together of all kinds of medical care bills which will then be paid out of a single account. Congress has known for a long time that no one knows what “ACO” means, and now, no one seems to agrees on what to call this new billing and payment method. The CMS, GAO, AMA, AHA, and AAMC just issued issued a report of their study of possible labels and asked for congressional hearings on their conclusion. Here are selected samples of the rejected names and their recommended conclusion:

“fee-splitting”– Though functionally similar to ACO methods the AMA objected to this because of their successful, long time efforts of labeling it as unethical.

“capitation” (also called “capitation-light” or “neo-capitation”) – Again, though functionally very similar to the ACO method, it was felt that this word had too many negative political, economic, and patient-control associations.

“global payments” – This one was very popular and is still in use by some people, but the negative associations with the weird weather we are having and with Al Gore nixed it. The fact that “global” corporations seem to be very successful in  avoiding anti-trust litigation was a definite plus for this label.

“rational budget allocation” – Sounded too much like the U.K. National Health Service,  definitely requires the advance planning dreaded by most physicians, and the  second word was the only one with a meaning accepted by all.

“single payment to all medical providers for a patient’s illness for life” (SPAM PILL)- An accurate statement, but much too long for an acronym or sound bite, and though the acronym implies a use of electronic networking (good), it has an  annoying connotation (bad).

After many meetings, exhaustive staff work, and numerous drafts of over 100 pages each the report finished with this final conclusion:

‘The one word that captures the collective nature of the new payment system with both warm, fuzzy connotations and a positive image is ‘bundling’, as in the soft, warm bundling of a baby in a blanket. Who could be threatened by that?”

HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY

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