So just an update on the latest data from the Census Bureau’s Small Area Health Insurance Estimates program which put out 2010 data last month. noted last year was that for 2009 the estimated health insurance coverage for children (under age 18) population was higher than any county in Pennsylvania.
So with 2010 data that is still the case. At 3.7% of children uninsured by my quick scan it looks to me to be one of the lowest uninsured rate for large county in the US. Honolulu, Hawaii, DuPage county in Illinois, Hartford and New Haven in CT and Middlesex County, MA are all a bit lower, but that is it.
Join the forum discussion on this post - (1) Posts
First, here’s this:
Cancer-busting chemotherapy can cause damage to healthy cells which triggers them to secrete a protein that sustains tumour growth and resistance to further treatment, a study said Sunday.
Researchers in the United States made the “completely unexpected” finding while seeking to explain why cancer cells are so resilient inside the human body when they are easy to kill in the lab.
They tested the effects of a type of chemotherapy on tissue collected from men with prostate cancer, and found “evidence of DNA damage” in healthy cells after treatment, the scientists wrote in Nature Medicine.
Of course, it should be fairly obvious in the first place that chemotherapy is going to have rather toxic effects on the body since it is rather toxic. Thus, it should surprise no one that its effects are toxic. This then begs the question of why Chemotherapy is so widely used in combatting cancer. The answer, unsurprisingly, is that chemotherapy is incredibly profitable to doctors (specifically, oncologists). As to why, this is the case, consider:
This unique payment system started years ago because Medicare and insurers wanted to save money by moving cancer treatments out of the hospital. But it has come under increasing scrutiny as prices for some cancer drugs skyrocketed to tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Consider also this story:
A tuberculosis vaccine in use for 90 years may help reverse Type 1 diabetes and eliminate the life- long need for insulin injections, say Harvard University researchers raising money to conduct large, human studies.
The vaccine, a weakened form of the tuberculosis bacteria, stimulates production of TNF, a cell-signaling protein that plays a role in cell death. With more TNF, the body can attack those harmful immune cells while leaving the rest of the body’s defenses intact. The vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for tuberculosis though it isn’t generally recommended for use in the U.S. The vaccine also is approved to fight bladder cancer. [Emphasis added.]
Faustman and her colleagues at Massachusetts General in Boston are working to get the vaccine to market. After their early findings in studies with mice, she said they tried to interest every major drugmaker in developing the vaccine as a possible cure for diabetes. All told her there wasn’t enough money to be made in a cure that used an inexpensive, generically available vaccine, Faustman said.
So now, she is trying to raise money to pay for the expensive larger human trials. Her lab so far has received $11 million of the $25 million needed to pay for the next stage of testing. All of the money is coming from private donors, the largest of which is the Iacocca Family Foundation.
Notice how, in both cases, government intervention creates perverse incentives that are harmful to those who are suffering from illnesses. In the case of chemotherapy, Medicare wanted to control cancer treatment costs, and so urged doctors to administer medicine directly, which encouraged doctors to mark up drug costs and, in order to increase profitability, overprescribe, with apparently little concern for their patients. In the latter case, the FDA has not yet approved a drug for use in combatting diabetes, even though that same drug is approved for other uses.
Furthermore, this doesn’t even begin to consider how farming subsidies impact what food is brought to market, nor does it consider how corporate law encourages the production of highly processed frankenfood, nor does it consider the myriad regulations governing (and in some cases outlawing) unprocessed food. And there are even more interventions beyond this that encourage people to eat unhealthy food, which makes them sick and unhealthy, which is then treated with expensive poison drugs that tend to mask symptoms rather than address the underlying pathologies.
Anyway, it’s no wonder Americans are so sick and unhealthy. Their government is trying to poison them.
, in reference to encouraging people to become organ donors:
I am not in favor of messing with the insurance system for this purpose but have argued for a more direct approach. Under what I call a “no-give, no-take” rule if you are not willing to sign your organ donor card you go to the bottom of the list should you one day need an organ. Israel recently introduced a version of no-give, no take which gives those who previously signed their organ donor cards points pushing them up the list should they need an organ transplant–as a result, tens of thousands of people rushed to sign their organ donor cards.
This doesn’t strike me as a difficult issue to solve. Open the market up, and allow people to buy and sell their organs. I realize that this sounds crude, and possibly exploitative to some. But if this increases the number of organ donations, and consequently the number of lives saved, wouldn’t it be worth it? Or must we insist on moral posturing at the expense of human life?
What’s got Charles Johnson (the wrong-headed Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, not the right-headed anarchist Rad Geek) so worked up?
Now the GOP Wants to Permit Any Employer to Deny Contraception Coverage
What’s all this “permit” and “deny” stuff?
An employer doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have to offer health insurance as a job benefit at all (he or she may choose to do so, including as part of some contract negotiation or whatever, of course).
And if an employer does offer health insurance as a job benefit, excluding this or that item from said offering isn’t “denying” anyone anything, nor should any “permission” to exclude anything, nor any excuse for excluding anything, be required. As long as he’s not lying about what it is he’s offering, I’m free to take it, leave it, or try to negotiate something different.
There’s no “right” to force someone else pay for or deliver whatever health care you might happen to want, and there never will be, no matter how many times Johnson clicks his heels and shouts “war on women’s rights! … [W]ar on contraception!”
The whole “religious exemption” thing is just a distraction. I suspect that’s where you’ll find most objections to covering contraception in particular, for the simple reason that most employers and insurers would rather pay for contraception, vasectomies, tubal ligations, etc. than pay for pre-natal care and delivery of a baby, then cover that baby’s health care expenses as well. But the general principle extends far beyond religious objections.
Maybe my employer finds out that he or she can save $10 per employee per month by offering us policies that exclude sports injuries. Unless we have a contract specifying otherwise, why should he be mandatorily out $10 extra a month so that I can play rugby or ride bulls on the weekend?
Or maybe I’ve had myself snipped and my significant other has had her tubes tied. Why should we not be able to buy a policy that doesn’t cover (at an extra premium cost) a bunch of services we’re never going to need?
Hey, maybe … no, not just maybe … the details of what health insurance we buy (or don’t buy), or negotiate (or not) with our employers, are none of Barack Obama’s and Kathleen Sebelius’s business.
Princeton economist, Uwe Reinhardt, contributes regularly to The New York Times Economix Blog. Recently he wrote, in
“Health Care Payers Push Back Against Costs“ that high U.S. healthcare costs are driven by several factors:
- American’s over-use of high-cost/high-tech services owing to some American’s being over-insured.
- High administrative costs (mostly in the health insurance area)
- Higher prices paid by Americans for healthcare services and products
On this latter point – higher prices – he points to an imbalance of power between the buyers (and payers) vs. the suppliers of healthcare.
[...]higher prices are the product of a deliberate strategy, hashed out in our political bazaars between the supply side of health care and state and federal legislators, always to keep the payment side of our health system fragmented and relatively weak vis à vis the supply side of health care.
He also notes how difficult it is for patients to do price comparisons – “price opacity” he calls it. He saves his strongest reaction to the system of price discrimination found in healthcare today. Providers charge (and are paid) differently depending on who pays the bill. Insurance companies demand substantial discounts from hospitals, and Medicare reimbursements are significantly lower than provider costs.
Reinhardt warns providers to prepare for an era of increasing price information and comparisons, along with other purchasing initiatives.
To add my own commentary: Our public discourse on complex problems often veers towards finding the villain – the “bad guy.” Once identified that villain gets all of our intention, and if the political stars are aligned government legislation and regulation results. If healthcare costs are an inflated balloon, then pushing in on one portion will only cause the balloon to bulge out elsewhere. It would be a mistake to assume that our healthcare challenge would be fixed by just getting providers to reduce their prices.
More open price comparisons and a more straightforward pricing mechanism are two important elements in successful healthcare reform. With only some exceptions, providers (physicians, hospitals, drug companies, tech companies) are not looking for ways to extract more money from patients. They are taking steps to survive in a broken marketplace. Changing public attitudes about appropriate care, changing insurance to give patients more exposure to their decisions and choices, giving providers incentives to prescribe cost effective care, opening scope of practice laws to let well-trained but less expensive professionals provide some care, and maintaining vigilance over abuse of the patent and malpractice systems are all important steps to take.
In honor of the first week in our Healthcare Economics class, and the beginning of a 6 week session on healthcare via OLLI, here is an interesting report from The New York Times.
National health spending rose a slight 3.9 percent in 2010, as Americans delayed hospital care, doctor’s visits and prescription drug purchases for the second year in a row, the Obama administration reported Monday.
The recession, which lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, reined in the growth of health spending as many people lost jobs, income and health insurance, the government said in a report, published in the journal Health Affairs.
from The New York Times
There are a couple of takeaways from this news.
First, the reduction in spending on healthcare could mean a welcome, albeit temporary relief to those governments and organizations that pay for healthcare….BUT…no real relief for state and local agencies which provide/finance healthcare for poor people. Recessions, of course, result in greater numbers of people qualifying for government-supported care.
The other point is a reminder that some portion of healthcare services are discretionary. When healthcare spending was growing by 10 percent or more each year in the 1980s, that growth probably wasn’t driven by an increase in the need for services. Likewise the slower growth over the last several years is probably not due to the population getting healthier and needing fewer services. Instead, people moderated their demand for healthcare. They put off diagnostic tests, or did not follow through on treatments or prescriptions. Going in the other direction, hospitals routinely see increases in elective surgeries near the end of a calendar year, as people have already met insurance deductibles, and decide to seek care before those deductibles are reset in the new year.
Is this good news? Not necessarily. To the extent the people put off truly necessary tests and treatments, those delays may cost us more in the long run. To some extent, though, tough economic times force us to be more cautious about discretionary spending, and there may be very little impact on long run health status. There is the old saying that if you get a cold, it will take 7 days to go away, but if you see a doctor you’ll be cured in a week! One important element of effective healthcare reform is to introduce that sense of caution in our population. It is a delicate balance – not wanting to interfere with early testing and early, cost-effective treatment, but also discouraging care that has less impact on long term health.
Prices for medical care services and supplies also stayed roughly on par with general inflation during this last year, which is a change from the decades of the 1980s and 1990s where the medical care component of the consumer price index routinely outstripped regular price increases.
I wouldn’t have to polish my crystal ball very much to predict that spending increases for healthcare will pick up speed as the economy recovers. This remains the single most important issue in our nation’s federal deficit struggles.
Some new data out on Small Area Health Insurance Estimates from the census folks.
They have a tool there you can use to look this up yourself, but what I get is that for children (age 18 and under) in Pennsylania, Allegheny County is tied with Montgomery for the lowest percentage without health insurance at 3.9%. The highest: 10% in Lancaster County. Data is for 2009.
Join the forum discussion on this post - (1) Posts
Suppose you went into a grocery store, and found no prices on anything. You ask a clerk how much five pounds of potatoes would be, and he asks you whether you are 65 or older. Youre taken aback, but you tell him you are 64, and he asks whether your income is less than $40,000.00 a year. Startled, you say it is more than that, and then he asks whether you have food insurance. Why would the
price of potatoes depend on the buyers age, income, and insurance status, rather than on the cost of growing, transporting, and stocking the potatoes? That would be absurd.
Yet thats how it is with medical care. I would be unable to find out, for example, the cost of an echocardiogram from the hospital where I did my residency. The price is different for different people. The government instituted this ridiculous situation, in 1965, with Medicare and Medicaid. There is a lot of mythology about these programs, but few people understand them like the physicians who are on the front lines actually seeing the patients. For some of them, it has been a gravy train. They game the system. For others, it has been a disaster to go through medical school and residency, and come out a de facto servant to government programs, but of
course, without benefits or retirement. If you are scrupulously honest, these programs will bankrupt youeven while turning you into Public Enemy #1.
Senators Ron Wyden and Charles Grassley have put forth the Medicare Data Access for Transparency and Accountability Act (the DATA Act) to open a database so that everyone can see how much money Medicare has sent to any physician enrolled in it. Regardless of the cost to provide medical services, the price the taxpayers are forced by the government to pay for other peoples medical care has gone down and down per procedure, per diagnosis, per office visit.
The public wont see that, but it will hear about some isolated cases; for example, an Oregon neurosurgeon who allegedly performed multiple spine surgeries on the same patient, or a Florida physician accused of $3 million dollars in Medicare fraud.
Gaming the system is fraud. But the biggest fraud is the one perpetrated on the working people of this nation who are forced to pay for other peoples medical problems. When Medicare was first instituted, Americans were reassured that it would never cost the taxpayers more than $9 billion a year. It is more like $500 billion a year now.
Patients learn to game the system too. Workers must pay through their taxes for even the most trivial complaint when someone on Medicare makes an appointment for it; say for a cosmetic skin lesion that has been present for 30 years without causing any problem. Working people are also forced to pay for the consequences of other peoples smoking, excess drinking, or risky lifestyle choices. Thats fraud, perpetrated by the government on taxpayers. Its hidden behind political smoke and mirrors.
Amazingly, we managed somehow for 189 years after 1776 without Medicare and Medicaid, and things were getting better and better until Lyndon Johnson came up with a good fraudulent vote-buying scheme, and then a lot of people decided there was money to be made off medical problems with the taxpayers the losers.
So, Wyden and Grassley, open your database. But include a list of all the procedures and diagnoses, and what Medicare and Medicaid actually send the physicians as reimbursement so people can see that physicians who spent years of their life in training while incurring tremendous debtare paid about the same as auto mechanics. And also account for where the rest (about 80%) of the
$500 billion goes.
That would be a good start for medical price transparency. And a good precedent for another database, one detailing just how much value politicians give taxpayers who pay their salaries.
About the Author:
Dr. Tamzin Rosenwasser earned her MD from Washington University in St Louis. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Dermatology and has practiced Emergency Medicine and Dermatology. Dr. Rosenwasser served as President of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) in 2007-2008 and is currently on the Board of Directors. She also serves as the chair of the Research Advisory Committee of the Newfoundland Club of America. As a life-long dog lover and trainer, she realizes that her dogs have better access to medical care and more medical privacy than she has, and her veterinarians are paid more than physicians in the United States for exactly the same types of surgery.