Vol. 178 October 1, 2017 What is Single-Payer Health Insurance?

October 1, 2017

Now that Bernie Sanders is again firing up the discussion about single-payer health insurance, it might be a good idea to review this complex issue. So, here’s a short self-test for you to gauge your understanding of what Bernie, and a lot of other people, are talking about.  The correct answers are supplied right away, so you won’t stay confused for long. Since this is an internet-based test, YOUR ANSWERS, of course, WILL BE COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS. Nothing will  be recorded by NSA , Equifax, or the Russians.

 

“Single-payer” means:

  1. socialized medicine
  2. 100% of health care costs are paid for with taxes
  3. Pop-Pop picks up the dinner bill for everyone
  4. none of the above

Answer: 4. none of the above – In socialized medicine health care facilities and providers are owned by the government. “Socialized medicine” is a pejorative term which is now irrelevant since at least 70% of U.S. healthcare costs are already met by tax dollars  from Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veterans Administration. “Single-payer” is just an insurance scheme for public or privately owned services. In countries with universal health care insurance 77%-87% of costs are met by taxes. In the U.K. private insurance pays for about 13%. Pop-Pop gladly picks up the dinner bill for his children, but health insurance is still on them.

The number of countries with universal health insurance are:

  1.  1
  2.  2
  3.  3
  4. 58

Answer: 4. 58 – Germany in 1883, France in 1945, UK in 1946, Australia in 1975, Canada in 1984, Israel in 1995.

A basic tenet of single-payer insurance is that everyone will be covered without regard to income level:

  1. true
  2. false
  3. true, but …

Answer: 3. True, but … it will take years to bring everyone in the U.S. under “Medicare For All”.  Each year or so another decade of ages will be added to the coverage. States will need to coordinate their income-based Medicaid programs with “Medicare For All”.  Some states could request and receive waivers from the national program. Etc., etc., as incrementally we always go.

Universal health care insurance in other countries is administered:

  1. nationally
  2. regionally
  3. locally (municipalities)
  4. all of the above

Answer: 4. all of the above – Germany has 1100 public and private “sickness funds” with a national standard level of coverage. In the Netherlands health insurance is administered by municipalities that levy local taxes to pay the costs. This  apparently enhances transparency and both taxpayer and patient satisfaction. Conclusion: If you have seen one system of universal health coverage, you have seen ONE. By the way, isn’t “sickness fund” a much more honest name for insurance which pays for medical care and does not necessarily buy “health”. (Leave it to the Germans to say it like it is).

Universal health insurance is based on which basic insurance principles:

  1. spread the risk over the greatest number of people
  2. use education and regulation (i.e.. fire laws) to reduce the highest risks of loss
  3. if you win (stay healthy), you “lose” (your premiums). If you “lose” (get sick), you win (care is paid for)
  4. use excess premium revenue to build fancy office buildings and pay for expensive lobbyists .

Answer: 1-3 (see subsequent question for further information on #4)

Single payer health insurance will cost less to administer than our present system:

  1. true
  2. false
  3. true, but …

Answer: 3. true, but… maybe not as much reduction as we hope. Administrative costs for the individual provider will probably remain the same because “meaningful criteria” compliance, complex diagnostic coding, need for medical necessity justification, and need for data showing that quality is not being eroded will continue to require significant personnel time and computer capability. Remember also that Medicare is currently administered in large part by “fiscal intermediaries” like Blue Cross. That probably won’t change. Some predict that because of continued pressure on a single-payer to reduce costs, it may, if fact,  get even more complicated for providers to get paid for their services. Of course, the huge consumer advertising, employer marketing, and lobbying expenses of private health insurance companies will be greatly reduced when the market share of private insurance is reduced to 10-15% as has occurred in other countries. If only we could get Visa to run Medicare’s fraud protection system!

Why not “Medicaid For All”;  could individual states institute universal health insurance so that we wouldn’t have to wait for a national consensus?

  1. no
  2. yes
  3. yes, but…

Answer: 3. Yes, but … the hallmark of universal health insurance in other countries is a consistent standard of coverage for all residents. Medicaid programs are state-specific and coverage is extremely variable, as is provider payments. If you see one, you have seen one. Attempts to waive the Obamacare national standards by those wishing to repeal it spotlighted the potential glaring inequities. But, Massachusetts has done it for 90% of its population, and there are bills in its legislature to do it for all. California is attempting to do it. Most California families and businesses, a University of Massachusetts study has said, would pay less for health care than they do now, even with the new taxes, because they would no longer pay premiums, deductibles or co-pays. As Samantha Bee recently noted: “You don’t have to be racist anymore to believe in States’ Rights .”

Why is a single-payer sometimes described as a “double-edged sword”?

  1.  a single-payer could have much greater negotiating leverage with both suppliers (drug companies) and providers (doctors and hospitals)
  2. a single-payer would be perched on the sharpest edge of the cost-quality equation
  3. the standardization of payments by a single-payer could dampen innovation and hamper medical progress
  4. all of the above

Answer: 4. all of the above – More leverage against the drug companies is “good”. More leverage against the providers could be “bad”.  Despite studies that show that good quality care is less costly, many still see a dichotomy between cost and quality. Concern about hampering innovation (“new ways of doing things”) with excessive standardization (“the old ways”) was one reason Obamacare created a Center for Innovation within Medicare as part of the ACA .

Who is in favor of single-payer health insurance?

  1. 60% of those polled
  2. 38% of those polled
  3. depends on the nature of the poll
  4.  all of the above

Answer: 4. all of the above – The 60% in favor of single-payer health insurance dropped to 38% when the question was tied to one about increased taxes. The most recent Harris-Harvard poll (9/17/17) showed that 52% were in favor of single-payer insurance. 69% believe that it would provide more coverage, including 54% of Republicans. . Most of the other questions about a governmental single-payer were 50/50 pro and con. Some physicians, hospitals, and other providers are in favor of single-payer insurance.

What are some of the barriers to implementing single-payer, universal health insurance in the U.S.?:

What does President Trump think?:

 

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Vol. 104 January 1, 2014 Hubslist’s Blogs of 2013

January 1, 2014

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“Happiness is Not a Warm Gun” – Jan 1, 2013
In half of my lifetime our culture has moved from arguing that sometimes it was “better to not wear a seat belt in case there was a car fire” to having my grandchildren remind me that I shouldn’t start the car until MY seat belt is buckled. No ONE law accomplished that, and it happened despite critics and opposition from big time lobbyists. Why can’t we do the same for gun control?

Ten Ways To Improve Your Health – Jan 15, 2013
 This list, “backed by scientific research”, was complied by AARP.
1.  Throw a Party – Social connections help you live longer.
2.  Adopt a Pet – Exercise it (and you) and count it as another social connection.
3.  Choose Dark Chocolate – An ounce a day keeps the doctor away.
4.  Savor Your Coffee –  Three cups a day keeps Alzheimer’s away.
5. Have a glass of wine or beer – “Guinness is Good For You” One glass a day for women, two for men!
6. Have Sex – There is nothing bad about releasing endorphins. It also counts as aerobic exercise.
7. Listen to Your Favorite Music – A song a day keeps the heart pumping away.
8. Take a Nap –  A nap a day keeps the brain hoarder at bay.
9. Go Outdoors – Go look at the greens, don’t just eat them.
10. Use Soap. regular soap – Antibacterial soaps with triclosan aren’t worth the cost and may not be safe.

The MYTH of Antioxidants – Feb. 1, 2013
A 2007 systematic review of 68 clinical trials concluded that antioxidants do not reduce the risk of death. Certain antioxidants were linked to a 5%  INCREASED risk of death. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association now advise “that people should not take antioxidant supplements except to treat a diagnosed vitamin deficiency”. “The literature is providing growing evidence that these supplements – in particular at high doses –  do not necessarily have the beneficial effects that they have been thought to…We’ve become acutely aware of potential downsides.”

The ATF has no ammunition – Feb. 15, 2013
The Tiahrt Amendment, passed by Congress in 2006, permits gun dealers to destroy gun registration applications within 24 hours of completion so as “to avoid any inadvertent errors from being promulgated” . It placed these prohibitions on the ATF;  the federal agency overseeing firearms

prohibited from establishing a registry of gun owners (imagine no one keeping a registry of car owners)
prohibited from requiring gun dealers to maintain inventories of their wares
prohibited from inspecting any gun dealer’s records more than once a year
prohibited from revealing firearms trace data to anyone other than law enforcement personnel (firearm tracing is done for  firearms used in crimes. One study showed that 57% of guns used in crimes in one state were traced to only 1% of gun dealers.)
prohibited from requiring gun dealers to respond to police inquiries.

 So we may not need any more laws or regulations for gun safety. We could just repeal the one “Tiahrt Amendment”, and let the ATF begin to do its job.

Take a Pill – March 1, 2013
“Something like a third of consumers who’ve seen a drug ad have talked to their doctor about it,” says Julie Donohue, a professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh who is considered a leading expert on this subject.”About two-thirds of those have asked for a prescription. And the majority of people who ask for a prescription have that request honored.”  Our mantra continues:
“Hey, Doc,
Forget the Mediterranean Diet.
I’m an American.
Give me a pill.”

The New Pope – March 15, 2013
The medical question I have not been able to answer despite my extensive, exhaustive research (at least an hour on Google) is:  Which Pope had the ulnar nerve palsy? The classic hand gesture of the “Papal Blessing” or “Papal Benediction”, despite erudite analysis by reverent writers on the religious symbolism of his hand and fingers, is, in fact, the result of a nerve palsy of the hand. Even the Vatican tourist guides know this.popesign1The Italian bishops were surprised that the Bishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, was not elected, and much to their embarrassment they prematurely released a report that he had been. I, too, was disappointed that Angelo Scola did not get elected. We all could have called him Pope Scola.

Pope Francis Bails Out Obamacare – April 1, 2013
In a solemn Easter Mass Pope Francis dramatically offered the help of the Roman Catholic Church in funding universal health care in the U.S. He noted that because the U.S. is the only civilized Western country without universal health care and is currently having financial problems, it is the Christian thing to do. “Since neither disease nor money is restricted by national boundaries, it makes good sense to protect the rest of the world from the health problems of  the beleaguered U.S. ” The Pope’s plan was immediately dubbed, “Francincare” (pronounced  as “Frankincare” with the Italian hard “c”). At the end of the press conference Pope Francis returned briefly, showed the persistent Papal nerve palsy to the gathering, and closed with a benediction in Italian: “Felice Aprile Ingannare Giorno”, in Spanish: “Felize Abril Enganar Dia”, and finally in English: Happy April Fools Day”.

Patient Centered Medicine – April 15, 2013
PARENT:  So, I should breast feed Leonard for a whole year, but could have started solid foods two months ago?  Most of my friends swear that giving food makes their babies sleep longer at night.
PHYSICIAN: Exclusive breast feeding for 6 months has lots of advantages for the infant. There is no evidence that giving solid foods makes the infant sleep longer at night, but there is probably no harm in starting him on cereal now.
PARENT: Any particular kind of cereal?
PHYSICIAN: A 1994 Swedish study showed that introducing wheat before 6 months of age caused a big spike in gluten allergies and celiac disease, but a more recent one there showed that giving wheat to breast-fed babies at 4 months actually decreased the later occurrence of celiac disease and gluten allergy.
PARENT: So, wheat cereal could be either good or bad at his age? This is very confusing.
PHYSICIAN: Science can be confusing. It often changes its mind as new data is gathered.

Lessons Learned from the Development of Polio Vaccines – May 1, 2013
1. Even in science, what you know is important, but WHO you know can be also.
2. Yesterdays “field trial” is today’s mass immunization campaign, and NOBODY tests drugs or vaccines, whether from mice brains or monkey kidneys, on themselves and their family members anymore!
3. The history of testing vaccines and drugs on impaired or incarcerated populations reminds us again of the necessity for “informed consent”.
4. As more academic institutions seek joint contracts with big pharma to replace reduced NIH support of research (MGH and Sanofi, AztraZenenca, etc.) accusations of being a “commercial scientist” seem moot.
5. Some immigrants can be very smart, focussed, and hard-working, and they can contribute immensely to our country’s health and wealth.
6. Science keeps gathering data and testing hypotheses, so we should not be surprised when its recommendations change.

Medical Marijuana – May 15, 2013
1. Marijuana use before the age of 20 does have structural and functional effects on brain development, primarily but not limited to the frontal lobe. (“The frontal lobe, responsible for impulse control, is the last to develop and the first to go.”)
2. After the age of 20 there is little current evidence that MJ causes any permanent effect on brain function or structure.
3. There are  currently no predictors that will identify an occasional user of MJ as one who will become dependent or addicted to MJ (daily use), but the earlier one starts using marijuana (13 yo.) the more likely brain function will be effected.
4. Despite the “trustworthy karma” of medical marijuana, marijuana prescriptions will result in the dispensing of varied, complex, and inconsistent products.
5.Access to marijuana by middle and high school students in 2013 is now so easy according to both students and researchers that medical marijuana dispensaries will provide little increased access to adolescents.

The three drugs of adolescent choice today, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, do share a common denominator in that those who use one of the three drugs by age 13, will use one or more of the others before 18 yr. There is NO evidence that one is the “gateway” to another. In fact, one researcher remarked that the concept of a gateway is more of a myth than a reality. He called development of addiction to one or the other substance as a “shared vulnerability”.

Sunscreen SPF Ratings Escalation – June 1, 2013
This year Consumer Reports states that the according to their tests the maximum effective SPF is now 40. Paying for anything above that is wasted money. Two years ago Consumer Reports tests showed that any sunscreen with a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) over 30 gave no more protection than a 30. They also recommended that year-old sunscreen might have lost some of its effectiveness, so new sunscreen should be bought each year. New FDA regulations require the sunscreen to be labeled with a three-year expiration date.

What Massachusetts Docs Think About Medical Marijuana – June 15, 2013  Common threads in the  118 comments posted were:
1. Does marijuana even belong in the purview of physicians? “Just legalize it and let patients decide whether to use it or not”
2. Most physicians who supported its medical use would do so “in certain circumstances”; implying strongly that physician control over use was assumed by supporters.
3. All camps called for more research to move toward a stronger basis of evidence.

Do You Have Obesity or Are You Just Fat?- July 1, 2013
The House of Delegates of the AMA just voted to designate obesity as a disease. This means that you will no longer “be fat”. You will “have obesity” like you “have diabetes”.  The AMA Scientific Council recommended to retain obesity as “a condition”. A spirited debate about the consequences has begun. I suspect that much of the controversy  is about money. Medicalizing a societal condition will cause more money to be spent on surgery and drugs.  “Insurers will pay more.” The upside of that could be more provider reimbursement for prevention and life style counseling by primary care providers, but surgery and big pharma are usually first in line. Two new anti-obesity drugs (Belvig and Qsymia) came on the market this past year. More than one-third of Americans will instantly be labeled as “ill” and therefore eligible for more medical services.

Sunscreens Are Poisonous? – July 15, 2013
The culprit is oxybenzone  and other similar chemicals in chemical sunscreens first described as “endocrine disruptors”, a code word for “estrogen effect” which directly connects it emotionally to breast cancer, particularly by Dr. Oz.   Oxybenzone is such a common ingredient in skin products that a CDC survey of Americans in 2003 detected it in 97% of urine samples. The link to breast cancer in humans has not been proven. One reassuring fact is that hormones, like all chemicals and unlike radiation, have to reach a certain blood or tissue level to have any significant effect.  An average woman would have to apply 1 and 1/2 quarts of sunscreen to 25% of her body (arms, legs, and face) each year for 277 years to attain the levels of oxybenzone that had uterine effects in lab rats!

Too Much Sun in Vermont?! – August 1  , 2013
I am in a hammock in Vermont reading, much to my surprise, that Vermont, the land of a severely short summer, has one of the highest melanoma rates in the country.  About 29 people per 100,000 in Vermont get diagnosed with melanoma as compared to the national average of 19 per 100,000. Bennington County has the HIGHEST rate of melanoma of any county in the nation, 179% above the national average!

Somezhiemer’s – Sept. 1, 2013
News releases and internet blogs this week are full of buzz about a protein that apparently is related to the memory loss of aging; something I call Somezhiemer’s as opposed to Allzhiemer’s (sic).  In this Columbia University School of Medicine study a deficiency of the protein RbAp48 in a specific part of the brain in both older mice and 8 older humans (both postmortem) was correlated with memory loss ; at least the ability of the mice to remember a water maze pathway.
The good news is that one specific biological cause of memory loss has been discovered, as contrasted with speculation about aluminum, cooper, mercury, zinc, and other environmental agents.The bad news is that us older people will probably not, in our lifetime, be able to take a “RbAp48 pill” each morning, so we don’t misplace our car keys, glasses or …. forget to write an August 15 blog.

Fear of Fever – Sept. 15, 2013
Many parents think that a temperature over 98.6 F is a fever. Most pediatricians consider a temperature of 101 F or higher as a fever, except in infants under 3 months where we pay attention to temperatures over 100 F. Any pediatric practice worth its salt has a handout or a website page describing fever as one of nature’s way to fight infection. Fevers are usually caused by common viruses for which antibiotics are no help, and discomfort from them is relieved easily by simple medicines.
We desire zero risk level in our lives, and a fever, no matter how small or how short in duration, indicates that something may be wrong. Speaking of risks, how can we accept that everyone must remove their shoes at the airport because one person had a bomb in a shoe, but we don’t register gun owners and accept the much greater risks of our kids being shot?

 Obamacare Begins – October 1, 2013
Like the Bible, Obamacare is open to interpretation. Your view of it may depend on your political party rather than your religion. Both are vulnerable to quoting out of context in support of opposing viewpoints. Both have overall, encompassing goals which can often be lost, or at least obscured, by minute details of excess verbiage. Both have, and will continue to have, “unintended consequences” (like the Inquisition and the Crusades) that we mere mortals have to deal with.
Everyone certainly agrees that Obamacare is NOT divinely inspired. Congress has clearly rejected the idea of a central authority (like the Pope, or Donald Berwick, MD as “Czar” of CMS). The Bible is no longer chained in the dark in the back of the church.  Obamacare is now out in public, out in the market place. We shall eventually see how well it meets the needs of our citizens for affordable health care.
By the time the Republicans win the presidency Obamacare will have so many beneficiaries (voters) that they won’t dare to kill it, and they’ll have to rename it. I wonder WWJD?

Flu Vaccination – October 16, 2013
The trivalent vaccine is the most readily available (at both your physician’s office or a retail store) and there is no compelling reason to seek out the quadrivalent vaccine. The vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing the flu depends on which flu strain is circulating in your area. Effectiveness may be as high as 80% in young adults, but is almost always lower in the elderly. A high dose vaccine that allegedly delivers four times the usual prod to your immune system is being marketed for the over 65ers , but it is not recommended since there is no independent study of its success.
In Massachusetts last year there were 5 flu deaths in children under 17 yo.  None of the five had been adequately vaccinated. Two of the five had no pre-existing health problems. Nationally there were 146 pediatric deaths from the flu last year compared to 34 the previous year.  40% of those deaths were in children who were otherwise very healthy.  90% of them were unvaccinated.

Paranoia – Nov. 1, 2013
Former Vice President Dick Cheney recently said during a “60 Minute” interview that he had his cardiologist turn off the wireless function in his implanted pacemaker “in case a terrorist tried to send his heart a fatal shock.” Years later, he saw that scenario played out in an “Homeland” episode. We knew that his DC residency was pixellated in the Google satellite view, and we wondered if he was on the NASA phone surveillance list.  But then, we remembered that he had ordered it.
Polls taken in Boston after the Marathon bombings indicate that more people think that “such attacks are likelier, but fewer live in dread of them.”.”In the United States since 9/11 Islamic terrorism has resulted in the deaths of 37 people. During that same period, ten thousand times that many have been killed by guns wielded by their countrymen or themselves.”

Is It a Strep Throat or Just a Virus Cold? – Nov. 15, 2013
A team of Boston research physicians have recently come up with a potential APP for that! These physicians combined two clinical findings that the patient could recognize with real-time data about the occurrence of positive strep tests in the community in the past 14 days to generate a “Home Score” to tell you if you really need a strep throat test.
There may soon be a home kit for that! Other physician researchers in Boston are ready to test a home-based, patient-administered Rapid Strep Test. A positive home-based RST would be enough to initiate treatment and prevent complications.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking – Dec. 1, 2013
“Multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking…When we talk to multitaskers they seem to think that they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.” Actually, those who did it the least, did it the best. “We are worried that multitasking may be creating people who are unable to think well or clearly.”
Recent work involved study of the erosion of social and emotional development by the increasing use of social media. “We have to get back to that saying, ‘Look at me when I talk to you’”.

Aspergers or Autism – Dec. 15, 2013
Confusion about these syndromes  increased in the 2000’s as screening tools improved and awareness of the syndromes grew.  The authors of the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) , the bible of insurance company reimbursement, has attempted to simplify and clarify the situation by lumping all the diagnostic names into one billing code, “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD).
The attempt has not succeeded according to its critics and many practicing physicians.
Parents of Asperger children could lose insurance benefits now tied to that diagnosis. Grant-supported educational and enrichment programs for Asperger’s may dry up. Asperger’s has always been a less terrifying diagnosis than autism.  People with Asperger’s, and probably more important, their parents, don’t want to be labeled with the stigmata of “autistic”. Dan Akroyd and Daryl Hannah  self-proclaimed their Asperger’s in 2013.


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