Low Tech Health Care Reform: Stop Smoking!

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Photo: sonofthesouth.net

I have a very simple way to save the government billions of dollars in health care costs, and make Americans healthier, almost immediately:

Outlaw tobacco.

Likely to happen? Not a chance.  The tobacco lobby is way too powerful, and the tobacco states will rally loudly and strongly against it, not to mention big pharma that will see a decrease in revenues as the use of patches, gums and pills goes down.

Okay, next option: tax the poo out of cigarettes.  Currently the average tax by state on a package of cigarettes is $1.19.  The state with the lowest?  Not surprising, South Carolina, where the tax is just $0.07.  The tobacco states  average is $0.33 per pack, while other states average is $1.30.  Pathetic, but it shows that there is a lot of room to increase the taxes, especially in the tobacco states.  There should be a HUGE federal tax on cigarettes.  Likely to happen?  See above r.e. tobacco lobby.

Next option: teach ’em young.  The feds need to mandate a  ‘smoking is bad’ curriculum YEARLY kindergarten through 12th grade.

Last option: We docs keep plugging at our patients.  I’m not so optimistic on this accord, but I’ll keep trying.  Here was my must recent attempt to convince a patient to stop smoking.  I report a conversation I had with a 70ish year old gentleman, on his way to the OR to have his foot whacked off secondary to peripheral vascular disease.

Me:  (earnestly) Mr. Marlboro, what can I do to help you stop smoking? Would it be helpful to have the nicotine patch while you are in the hospital?

Mr. Marlboro: (just as earnestly)  No, I don’t need the patch.

Me: You know, while you are in the hospital, it’s a great time to quit, because you can’t smoke here.  Besides, cigarettes are so expensive.

Mr. Marlboro: Well, I don’t care about the expense.  I’d just spend the money on something else.  Besides, I’ve smoked all my life, and it’s never hurt me.

At this moment, the transport team arrives to take him to the operating room.

Me: (defeated) Oh.

Good luck out there.  Sounds like I need to brush up on my motivational stop smoking speech, as I’m not envisioning President Obama or Mr. Daschle following my suggestions.

Health Care Reform With Out High Tech: Changing a Culture of Fatness to a Culture of Fitness

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photo: flickr.com

 

President Obama has a stimulus package all ready to roll out.  Reportedly, it will include money ear marked to expand COBRA.  If this is true, there will be precious little left to fund the ‘everybody has to have an EMR’ mandate.

Good, I say.  Let’s work on some low tech solutions that will reap true benefits.  Yes, I admit that the low tech, grunt it out in the trenches approach is not nearly as sexy as an EMR with bells and whistles, but this time, I think low tech will trump high tech.  Here goes the PookieMD save the world through hard work approach:

First, focus on America’s growing middle.  Here are five low tech ways to cut the fat and increase activity.  (Literally and figuratively!)  I will work from the global to the micro.

  1. Mandate the physical education be held every day from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Our plump kids are the diabetics  and cardiac stentees of tomorrow.   Making time for health now will pay off immensely later as we make physical movement a daily part of children’s day.  (By the way, cup stacking is not a sport!  Getting the heart rate up counts!  For a great look on what happens when schools institute a required daily physical education class read Spark, by John Ratey, MD.  Hint: test scores go up, learning improves and discipline problems go down.  Pretty good for having a bunch of kids run around a track!)
  2. Offer tax benefits to companies that have in house exercise programs.  Tax benefits would be proportional to percentage of employees participating.  We need to change the culture of fatness into a culture of fitness.
  3. Get your office workers in shape.  With all due respect, many times the office help are bigger than the patients.  One practice I know had a very successful biggest loser competition.  Why don’t YOU sponsor it, and include yourself? Consider a small prize (gift basket with soaps/lotions?) for the biggest loser.  Of course, absentee rates and sick days will go down as you and your staff get more fit.
  4. Make fitness a part of your office culture.  Have info on health clubs, classes, rec centers available.  Consider a group visit for obese patients, focusing on exercise. Do group walks, enter a 3 k, host a weight watcher type group, do SOMETHING.  Getting your office in the news would be a nice side benefit.
  5. Encourage patients to “chunk”.  (No we don’t want chunky patients!)  The surgeon general recommends 30 minutes of exercise daily.  Encourage the couch  potatoes to start by walking 15 minutes two times a day, or 10 minutes 3 times per day.  There is no law that says it should be all at once, although it’s a good goal.  For the  obese, a gym can be intimidating, so start simple: encourage walking, then jogging, and then maybe a trip to the gym.  It doesn’t get much easier than a walk around the block or up the stairs.  (You do take the stairs at the hospital don’t you?)  Additionally, the television is filled with exercise shows–for those who still can’t tear themselves away from the small screen.

These ideas aren’t new, definitely aren’t sexy, and won’t get your sponsorship from a drug company.  However, they will work and we, as physicians, hold the keys.  We need to start with legislation, and move on to what we as ‘health coaches’ can do.    We can have huge impact on the huge, and not so huge.  Please, please, let me know what WE can do together to move our country to health, starting TODAY in our medical officese and clinics.

Technology will not save health care, personal responsibility will.

 

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During  President Obama’s speech he stated

“We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.”

I completely, totally disagree.  President Obama, health care doesn’t need high technology, health care needs personal responsibility.  America’s health care costs are excessive for several reasons, and most have nothing to do with technology.  America spends 15% of it’s gross domestic product on health care, or from a different perspective,  $5711 per capita.  Our closest big spender?  The wealthy country of Luxembourg,which spends $4611 per capita.  Japan spends $2249, and Italy, where they eat all that pasta, spends $2314 per capita.  Why are we spending so dang much?

Here are the reasons, and they have nothing to do with technology:

  1. We Americans are pigs.  30% of our population is obese.  Note I said obese, not over weight.  We eat in our cars, chow on super sized fat filled “fast food”, and consider opening the refrigerator a sport.
  2. Television watching has morphed into an art form.  The average American watches FOUR hours of T.V. daily! Who has time to watch that much?!  In addition the wii is now considered a way to exercise.  C’mon, gimme a break!  The only way a wii can help you get exercise is when you walk the cardboard box it came in out to the garbage.  (Yes, I have played!)
  3. The Marlboro Man still rides.  Nearly 20% of Americans still smoke.  (Sadly, including our president.)  Those most likely to smoke were those below the poverty level, with the least amount of education, (and the least access to health care).

Sloth is causing Americans to be unhealthy.  High technology will make us more efficient in the way we diagnose and treat illnesses, but it will not prevent them.  Obesity, tobacco and inactivity are the root cause to heart disease, diabetes mellitus, many cancers, and  COPD.  The fanciest technology in the world will not change this.  What will?  America will spend less when we have sweeping cultural changes such that Americans get off the couch, toss away the remote, and spend their money on healthy foods, rather than cigarettes and french fries.

President Obama, I’m glad you’re here, but please, focus on the root of the problem.  Pruning the tree will not change the roots!

Next post: HOW we can create a healthier America with out expensive high technology.

AHIP Rides in to Save Health Care

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has released a plan on how to reduce health care costs.  The platform is summarized below:

The new reform proposal would:

Ensure universal coverage by guaranteeing coverage for pre-existing conditions, fixing the health care safety net, giving tax credits to working families and enacting an individual coverage requirement;
Call on the nation to set a goal of reducing the growth in health care costs by 30 percent;
Enhance portability for people changing or in between jobs;
Provide more affordable health care options for small businesses; and
Increase value and improve quality.

An admirable statement indeed. But once again, one must look a little deeper. 

Reducing costs: AHIP points out “Respected studies have shown that patients do not consistently receive high-quality health care and receive care based on best practices only 55 percent of the time.”  Hmm, does  mean that we as physicians are giving ‘low qulaity’ care the other 45% of the time? Who is determining what is ‘high quality’ care?  They advocate using “evidence based standards.”  Aren’t we already doing this?  Furthermore, evidence based standards typically apply to ONE disease state, not the multiple chronic problems primary care physicians deal with.  C’mon give us something fresh!  Stop blaming the doctors for the problem.

AHIP also advocates “exploring” replacing medical liability with dispute resolution. No argument here!  Now who will reign in the powerful legal special interest groups that so effectively court congress?

The reform proposal also advocate controlling fraud.  Now really, how big of a problem is this?

AHIP also advocates pay for performance.  This is a little scary, given the current P4P mess.  I could see this as just another way to with hold payment to providers.  Based on my work as a hospitalist, I find it laughable when the 80 year old post op knee patient is expected to be discharged on day 3.  However, insurance companies don’t care to notice the hypoxia, anemia and confusion attendant with operating on the elderly. Instead, they leave a bright orange sticker on the chart demanding that I justify why the patient is still in the hospital.  Good thing I’m not currently paid for my performance in getting the total knee replacement patient out on time.  The heck with hypoxia!  Clearly I must be doing something wrong and my pay should reflect this!

They also advocate “streamlining” administrative costs.  Gosh, I’d love to streamline my claims, and not have to have extra office staff there to beg insurance companies to pay the bills, or jump through hoops for pre-authorization.  Insurance companies should begin immediately to streamline their administrative costs–they don’t need a government mandate or huge reform to do this–but, I suspect, this may take money from their own pockets.

AHIP states another priority: “Refocusing our health care system on keeping people healthy, intervening early, and providing coordinated care for chronic conditions.”  This is something the health insurance companies should be doing already!  It should not take a “crises” in health care for health care plans to make STAYING healthy a mandate.  They also advocate strongly for “patient centered homes”, a concept that I think is just repackaging of the current model, albeit more top heavy with “midlevel”  and ancillary providers.  

Information technology is embraced (how fashionable!) but no attempt is made as to explain WHO will pay for technology.  Why don’t we admit that the emperor has no clothes?!  There is no money to pay for an EMR and nationalized technology.  Putting it on the backs of primary care practices will drive more physicians out of primary care.  Perhaps insurance companies should pony up for this cost?

They also advocate that everyone should have insurance, regardless of condition.  AHIP also states there should be tax benefits to small businesses so they can offer health insurance, and “large markets should be strengthened.”  They even suggest that the government offer assistance to small businesses. They also advocate broadening SCHIP and medicaid eligibility, as well as offering tax credits to lower income families.    This completely ignores the fact that medicaid reimburses so poorly  that  physicians can’t afford to see medicaid patients!  AHIP also wants  “community health centers” to receive “adequate” support.  Ah yes, another bail out in the making!

American Health Insurance Plans close with a mandate that the feds should provide a “framework” for reform, and that state governments should follow suit.  They also pledge to “cooperate” with the effort.  After reading the entire proprosal, I am left with just one question: what are the health insurance companies going to do?  Are they going to fly to Washington in their private jets to ask the government to pay for the uninsured?

 Visit the complete reform platform at:

http://www.americanhealthsolution.org/assets/Uploads/healthcarereformproposal.pdf