Tag: "Medicare"

Prostate Cancer Screening: Can the Government Get It Right?

Senior Man ThinkingProstate Specific Antigen (PSA) tests are back in the news, as they are one entry point for the government to start micromanaging how it pays doctors in Medicare. To set the stage:

  • Currently, Medicare pays for an annual PSA test for men 50 and older as “preventive care.”
  • However, Obamacare does not consider an annual PSA test for men 50 and over as “preventive care.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s current guidelines (updated in 2012), recommend against PSA tests.
  • PSA testing has declined significantly since the 2012 guidelines were updated.
  • The American Cancer Society favors PSA tests for men over 50, and as early as 40 for men with more than one first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Hospital Ownership of Physicians Drives Up Costs

New research published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal supports, with rigorous data analysis, that hospital ownership of medical practices drives up costs:

Among the 240 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, physician-hospital integration increased from 2008 to 2012 by a mean of 3.3 percentage points, with considerable variation in increases across MSAs. For our study sample of 7,391,335 nonelderly enrollees, an increase in physician-hospital integration equivalent to the 75th percentile of changes experienced by MSAs was associated with a mean increase of $75 per enrollee in annual outpatient spending from 2008 to 2012, a 3.1% increase relative to mean outpatient spending in 2012). This increase in outpatient spending was driven almost entirely by price increases because associated changes in utilization were minimal (corresponding change in price-standardized spending, $14). Changes in physician-hospital integration were not associated with significant changes in inpatient spending ($22 per enrollee) or utilization ($10 per enrollee).

(Note: I have edited out the measures of statistical significance from the abstract, for ease of reading.)

Jeb Bush’s Positive Plan to Reform Medicare

Bush2(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy.)

Jeb Bush’s Medicare reform contains two proposals — premium support and Health Savings Accounts — that will have a significant, positive effect on seniors’ access to care and Medicare’s finances. In particular, the proposals will address four flaws in Medicare Advantage, an alternative to traditional Medicare in which seniors choose a plan from a private insurer.

Although Obamacare tried to cut seniors’ access to private plans, the use of these plans continues to grow. Before Obama took office, one-quarter of beneficiaries chose Medicare Advantage plans. Today, about one-third do. But despite their popularity, private Medicare plans do not live up to their potential for cost-effectiveness.

Hillary Clinton Profits from Big Pharma, Big Insurance

Chris Jacobs of the Conservative Review has an interesting review of Hillary Clinton’s business income from health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers:

At the end of this campaign’s first debate for Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton claimed that she counted the pharmaceutical and insurance industries as her enemies. Since that time, various reports have focused on the way in which her campaigns, as well as the Clinton Foundation, have profited from contributions by drug and insurance companies. However, few have reported how Bill and Hillary Clinton personally profited from insurance and drug company largesse.

To call it mere profit would be an understatement. As the below spreadsheet shows, financial disclosure records filed by the Clintons demonstrate that since Bill Clinton left office in January 2001, he and his wife have received more than $9.3 million in honoraria for speeches before groups associated with health care, and a whopping $3.4 million for speeches paid for by groups in the drug, device, and insurance industries (bolded in the spreadsheet).

(Readers can download the spreadsheet at Mr. Jacob’s article.)

My own conclusion is that the health insurers will get what they paid for, if Mrs. Clinton is elected President, whereas the drug-makers will be reminded of the old adage that “you cannot buy politicians; but only rent them.”

Rock Star Physician Rebels Against Medicare Bureaucracy

Confident DoctorsRebekah Bernard, MD, who wrote a book titled How to Be a Rock Star Doctor:  The Complete Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Life and Your Profession, has written an open letter to her Medicare patients. Here are the choice bits:

For every office visit that we spend together, I spend at least as much time on what Medicare deems as necessary documentation, especially a new program called meaningful use.

To comply with Medicare requirements, I’ve had to spend thousands of dollars and massive amounts of time instituting electronic health records, adapting my practice to conform to the computer technology that wasn’t created to help me, your physician.

And next year the whole ballgame changes for physicians as the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) goes into full effect, with a complete paradigm shift in Medicare payment from “fee-for-service” (I send a bill for your medical care, Medicare pays me), to “value-based payment” (I submit a bill, and I get paid if Medicare thinks that I’ve done a good enough job).

The kicker is that the pot of money remains constant – so even if every doctor makes an ‘A’ grade, half of them will be paid less money, just by nature of this “budget-neutral” payment system.

Up to this point, I have managed to play by the rules that Medicare has set.

In 2017, this may no longer be the case.

Health Care and the Budget Deal: Three Steps Forward, One Step Back


(A version of this Health Alert was published by Forbes.)

Yesterday, the White House and Congressional leaders announced a last-minute budget agreement that avoids a so-called government shut-down for now. The deal has four health-related items, and is expected to reduce net federal health spending by about $4.5 billion over five years, and $15.5 billion over ten years. Overall, it is not a bad deal with respect to health care. However, some of its budget savings are fragile and it largely avoids reforms that will actually reduce the growth of health spending.

Improper Payments Up 18 Percent, Mostly Medicare & Medicaid

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just reported that “improper payments” (that is fraud and abuse) are up to $124. 7 billion in 2014 from $105.8 billion in 2013. Most of this is Medicare and Medicaid:

The almost $19 billion increase was primarily due to the Medicare, Medicaid, and Earned Income Tax Credit programs, which account for over 75 percent of the government-wide improper payment estimate. Federal spending in Medicare and Medicaid is expected to significantly increase, so it is critical that actions are taken to reduce improper payments in these programs.


Are Medicare ACOs Gaining A Foothold?

man-in-wheelchairThis blog has never gotten very excited by Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). ACOs are risk-sharing arrangements between Medicare and providers, which are supposed to save money through efficiency. As a concept, they are fine – certainly an improvement over the incumbent, Soviet-style fee schedule. However, it is unlikely that the government has the incentives to get the risk-sharing incentives right.

I had anticipated that ACOs might end “with a whimper.” The Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) have released results of Pioneer ACO’s third year of operation and 2014 results for Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs which launched in 2012 through 2014. While ACOs are hardly taking off like the administration hoped, they seem to have gained a foothold.

Bundled Payments, Barely Hatched, Go the Way of the Dodo

man-in-wheelchairLast month, I wrote about Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), medical groups accountable to the federal government for management of healthy populations. Even Zeke Emanuel recognizes that they are failing. Dr. Emanuel advised Medicare should “lump together” all the services associated with a procedure, such as a hip replacement, and pay one fee for the entire services.

As I noted, Medicare already does this via its Bundled Payments for Care Initiative (BPCI) which launched in 2013. At the time, hospitals and other providers were offered voluntary participation. Just a few weeks ago, the Medicare decided to make bundled payments mandatory for some procedures in some areas. Now we know why: Providers are learning that the bundles don’t work.

Medicare Devours the Federal Government

(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy.)

Every year, the Medicare Trustees issue a report on the program’s financial status. Reaction to the last few years’ reports has been complacency. Because Medicare’s fiscal problems do not appear to be getting worse, people have the misconception that Medicare’s finances are improving. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, the Trustees themselves insist that: “Notwithstanding recent favorable developments, current-law projections indicate that Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation. Such legislation should be enacted sooner rather than later to minimize the impact on beneficiaries, providers, and taxpayers.”

In 2014, Medicare’s taxes and premiums added up to $342 billion dollars, just 11 percent of federal tax and fee revenue of a little over $3 trillion. However, its spending of $600 billion comprised 17 percent of $3.5 trillion of federal spending. This is just short of defense and security-related spending, which amounted to $615 billion.