Archives For medicare

2014-05-30_09-29-20Shinseki reiterated other steps he’s taken, including putting the leadership at the Phoenix facility on leave and ordering a “nationwide audit of all other major VA health care facilities to ensure understanding of, and compliance with, our appointment policy.”

Some question whether removing Shinseki would address the core problems at the VA or simply serve as a distraction for now.”Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on?,” asked House Speaker John Boehner, the chamber’s top Republican, adding that his answer so far was “no.”

SOURCE: Shinseki initiating removal of senior leaders at Phoenix VA – CNN.com.

I don’t know about you but it seems I have been hearing the above type problems with the VA almost all of my life. It was pleasantly surprising to see that the top House Republican saying firing another head of that agency won’t fix the problem. If fact it would probably just delay the fixes more.

I’m just a simple guy but it seems that the solution to this problem is pretty logical. Why not just put veterans into the Medicare system? I have been on Medicare for about three years now and have never had to wait more than one month to see any specialist. The article above talks about 115 day waits in the Phoenix VA hospital!  Another fundamental question seems to be why does the VA need their own hospitals? Why can’t they go to the same hospitals as the rest of us.  If PTSD or other specialists are needed I’m sure they could be hired from the existing VA or trained by the private sector.

I’m pretty sure my conservative friends would jump on this solution as WRONG. Maybe we are reversing roles here. I say let the private sector take care of our veterans the same way as they take care of us seniors.  One thing that would be nice to carry over from the VA is for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices. VA can presently do that while Medicare can’t. That alone would save us billions in healthcare costs.

Eventually, probably not in my life time, all our health care will be folded into a single payer system as much of the rest of the world has already done. But until that time it just seems to make sense to once and for all get rid of these perpetual problems with VA hospitals. Our young men and women who have been traumatized by their war experiences deserve it. But then again this solution just seems to be common sense and logical so I doubt that those folks in Washington will even consider it…..

Medicaid Expansion 2023

Anyone who has read some of my posts know that I am an advocate for universal single-payer healthcare.  After all, it is very efficient and cost containing system used in much of the rest of the world.  Many of our citizens in the U.S. including this one are currently on a single payer system known as Medicare. After being on it for two years now I can attest that I have found it to be much better than the private insurance mode I fought with for so many years prior. Other citizens also on a single-payer system are those on Medicaid and with military healthcare systems. This makes up about 40% of the current population. The other 60% are on various employer or private systems or no insurance at all.

But to those so adamantly against Obamacare, which ended up not even be close to single-payer all of these systems are to be eliminated. Just why they believe that I really don’t know. They say those systems are socialist but why is that a bad thing?  Most of the rest of the world, at least those who no longer have the mammoth healthcare runaway costs implemented single payer systems years ago and statistically most in those countries actually live longer than we do.

When the pollsters show that 52% of the people are against Obamacare what they don’t show is that there is a significant number of those people who are like me and don’t really like Obamacare because it doesn’t go far enough. There are also a large portion in the polls who readily admit that they actually know practically nothing about Obamacare and are only parroting what their favorite talking-head has told them. They are against it because their party is against it.  So much for free-thinkers among the GOP! :)  Because Obamacare is such a piecemeal piece of legislation it will have to be pretty greatly changed in the future in order to be cost-effective.

Getting back to the original thoughts for this post, it seems if we are patient enough that we will eventually get to a single payer system. With all us baby boomers retiring and so many others at the other end of the spectrum becoming eligible for Medicaid the population that is in these two systems will continue to grow.  and then of course with our incessant increases in military spending that system will also expand. We might eventually work our way into a single payer system via the back door.

Wouldn’t that be something?

LOL Moment….

September 30, 2013

Medicare CardJust a quick note to say I just watched a video of a town hall meeting opposing Obamacare. There was an elderly lady who ranted on and on about it. She was totally convinced that if we allow it to be implemented that it would certainly cause the downfall of the entire country.  She finished with the following statement. “I realize that Obamacare does not directly affect me but I just want to make sure that we keep the government out of my Medicare!!”

They didn’t show if anyone had bothered to tell her that Medicare is a single payer system run exclusively by the government. Of course this just goes to show how so many on the radical right and particularly Fox News have distorted the reality of the Affordable Care Act.

I also reviewed some of the things that happened in 1965 when Medicare was enacted.  It is amazing to see the similarities with today. Most Republicans were, like today, adamantly against that too.

SurgeonA central reason U.S. health care spending is so high is because hospitals and doctors charge more for their services and there’s little transparency about why. There is no uniformity to the system, in which public and private insurers have separate, unrelated contracts with hospitals and doctors. The result is a tangled, confusing and largely secretive collection of forces driving health care prices higher and higher.

This isn’t possible in many other countries either because governments set prices for health care services or broker negotiations between coalitions of insurers and providers. Known as “all-payer rate setting,” insurers in these systems band together to negotiate as groups. In contrast, U.S. insurers closely guard the secrecy of their contracted prices with health care providers and negotiate individually. This is why a hospital hosting five patients for knee replacements might get paid five different amounts for the surgeries.

Source: Why Our Health Care Lets Prices Run Wild | TIME.com.

There seems to be so many possible solutions to reigning in our ever-increasing healthcare costs if only those in congress would be brave enough to actually try a few. Instead they seem intent on just complaining about the situation. That’s easy, solving it is where the work begins and I am convinced that those yahoos inside the beltway are just too lazy to do the work to actually affect the problem.

After putting in quite a bit of study in this area I have come to believe that the above quote gets to the heart of the problem.  Like everything else in life if something is totally unregulated and uncontrolled it tends to move to an extreme.  I will admit that there are many doctors who are the exception to this statement but overall doctor’s pay is out of control.  When they believe that they are justified in charging me thousands of dollars for an hour of their time they need to be taught otherwise.

The way that hospitals set their rates is simply insanity. It has nothing to do with the actual cost of the service but more to do with getting the most possible. I love the quote above that “the result is a tangled, confusing and largely secretive collection of forces driving health care prices higher and higher”. As long as all of these price setting schemes are held behind closed doors our costs will inevitably grow higher and higher.  Why can’t we understand that simple fact.

Even a simple solution such as allowing Social Security to bargain for lower drug prices has been deemed not allowed by many of the so-called leaders in our government. Until we can finally realize that at some level of regulation is necessary in order to contain our healthcare dollars we will continue to complain about costs but fail to do any real action to contain them. The rest of the world discovered these solutions years ago, when will we ever catch up with them?

But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know…..

SurgeonA hospital in Livingston, N.J., charged $70,712 on average to implant a pacemaker, while a hospital in nearby Rahway, N.J., charged $101,945.In Saint Augustine, Fla., one hospital typically billed nearly $40,000 to remove a gallbladder using minimally invasive surgery, while one in Orange Park, Fla., charged $91,000.

In one hospital in Dallas, the average bill for treating simple pneumonia was $14,610, while another there charged over $38,000…

Source: Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, U.S. Data Shows – NYTimes.com.

I must admit that I have been lazy in regard to studying and reporting on how hospitals are at least partially responsible for the runaway medical costs in our country…..

You might think that just because a hospital charges an amount for a procedure that they actually receive that payment. Fortunately that is not the case for single payer systems like Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans.  The article goes on to say:

Medicare does not actually pay the amount a hospital charges but instead uses a system of standardized payments to reimburse hospitals for treating specific conditions. Private insurers do not pay the full charge either, but negotiate payments with hospitals for specific treatments. Since many patients are covered by Medicare or have private insurance, they are not directly affected by what hospitals charge.

Experts say it is likely that the people who can afford it least — those with little or no insurance — are getting hit with extremely high hospitals bills that may bear little connection to the cost of treatment.

Now that I have been on Medicare for a couple of years now I have been exposed to these extreme differences.  I recently had an endoscopy for an esophagus problem and when I got the paperwork from Medicare I could see that the medical facility charged about $3,500 for the fifteen minute procedure but Medicare approved less than $700 of which they paid 80% and my Medigap coverage paid the other 20%.  Since I was on Medicare and knew that they paid the same to all facilities I did not shop around for the different costs for the procedure but if I had I probably would have encountered differences like shown in the article above.

If like so many on the radical right seem to wish, I had not had Medicare I’m sure I would have been billed and expected to pay the full amount. The sad fact about it is that those who can afford it the least are the ones who actually are charged the most simply because they have no power behind them.

The rest of the developed world is for the most part on a single payer system similar to Medicare. I know that the most famous doctors tend to migrate to the U.S. because of our extreme compensations but even that fact does not give us superior care to most other countries. In fact even with our ultra-expensive way of doing healthcare many other countries are ahead of us when it come to living longer and healthier. When will we ever learn this very basic fact??

I get the feeling that if lawn mowing services were run by hospital administrators I would be charged  $1,000 for every time they mowed my lawn. Too bad someone can’t come up with DIY pace makers.

Banner - Aside 2

Source: Paul Ryan’s new Medicare plan could be tip of the iceberg (+video) – CSMonitor.com.

A parallel factor is rising income. As a society grows richer, it tends to spend more of its income on health care. Add in demographics (an aging population) and a lack of competition among health-care providers in many markets, and you have a recipe for more people to consume more health-care services at higher prices.

For once I am not going to comment on Mr. Ryan’s seemingly enthusiasm to balance his budget on the backs of the poor while asking for increases in our bloated military budgets and more tax breaks for the rich. That continues to be insane to me but is not the focus of this particular post.  Instead this post is about fixing Medicare and Medicaid. The quote above is at the end of this news article but says much about how some view the problem of spending our healthcare dollars.

The quoted argument seems to say that we choose to go to doctors because we can.  I don’t know about you but I don’t sit down in the morning and try to decide whether I will go to the mall, the park, or to the doctor that day.  I go to the doctor when I am sick or have what I think might be a serious medical problem. I don’t use doctors as a form of entertainment! Yeah, I know about the hypochondriacs out there but I hope they are a very small group.

Of course the quote also deems that the lack of competition is the cause for increasing prices for healthcare.  We just don’t have enough McDoctors and McHospitals around yet I guess.  Maybe I am naive about all of this but I kind of  believe that competition is more of a cause than a solution.  When Hospital “A” gets the latest multi-million dollar piece of medical equipment then Hospital “B” has to get it too so they can compete.  It doesn’t matter that one machine could provide all the tests needed by the community. It doesn’t matter that hospitals will use the machines where they really aren’t necessary because they have them.

If we really want to get our healthcare costs down we need to do what the rest of the world already knows and that is a single payer regulated system.  We spend more than twice as much as everyone else and actually live shorter and less healthy lives. It continues to amaze me how we in the U.S. fail to understand this very basic approach to healthcare.

Banner - Aside 2

Source: Top six myths about Medicare | Reuters.

hospitalMYTH FOUR: DOCTORS WILL NOT ACCEPT MEDICARE BECAUSE OF ALL THESE CUTS

Facts: Most Medicare patients do not have trouble finding doctors who will see them, but there is growing concern about access to primary care physicians.

This issue is monitored closely by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), an independent Congressional agency charged with advising Congress on Medicare. The agency’s most recent annual survey of Medicare patients found that just 2 percent of beneficiaries had problems of any kind finding a new primary care doctor willing to accept Medicare – the same percentage of patients aged 50-64 with private insurance who report problems.

Likewise, just 2.1 percent report trouble of any kind finding specialists willing to accept Medicare, compared with 2.3 percent for patients with private insurance.

I recently got into a discussion with one of my frequent visitors to this blog about doctors not accepting Medicare patients so I did a little research on the topic. As seen above the difference between doctors accepting Medicare patients vs. private insurance patients is basically the same.  The statistics show that it is actually slightly easier for a Medicare patient to see a specialist than it is for someone on private insurance! How is that for knocking that myth!

We constantly hear about how government-funded healthcare will produce inferior care and denied patients but as usual these types of things are usually just fear tactics put out by political partisans. Given that the Internet is so prevalent in most of our homes (although not so much in rural areas) it is relatively easy to get information on just about anything you care to research. It took me about five minutes to find the facts above.  Granted I had to sift through dozens of political articles about death panels and such but that is the price we pay for making information so easy. Learning the trick about googling helps too.

One of my personal favorite posts on this blog is about Lazy Minds (click here to see it).  It is just too easy for people to believe  and then pass one the rhetoric from someone with a very biased agenda gives them on about something instead of taking a little time to research it on their own. Lazy minds are the primary cause for so much that haunts our world today.

So the next time someone give you a political line about Obamacare or any other topic take the time to research it on your own. The real answers are out there if you care to wade through all the garbage to know the facts. But then again finding the facts can also get you in trouble with some groups, particularly those pertaining to religion. But that is another story…

Banner - Will Rogers

What the government has got to do is live as cheap as the people.           21 December 1932  Will Rogers

Speaking about money not being wisely spent this morning got me to thinking about Will’s quote above. If you have read much on this blog you will know that I am a proud social progressive but also a fiscal conservative. In that light I certainly agree with Will here. Our government needs to learn how to live as cheap as its people. That doesn’t seem to be possible anymore. There is always that new model of military drone the DOD wants to buy in the thousands of course. There is always some other group including many corporations that need some type of incentive to provide jobs. Besides getting the drilling rights at gut cheap prices from government land the money bloated oil companies say they need more bucks to help them find the oil. But when it comes time to sell the oil they will only give it back to us at world prices! There is always someone with their hand out and our government can’t seem to keep their wallet in its pocket. Continue Reading…

Mr. 3.75 Percent

October 15, 2012

Source: Mr. 3.75 Percent – By Daniel Altman | Foreign Policy.

One political leader who likes to plan for the really long term is Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for U.S. vice president. By 2050, Ryan’s budget plan would reduce federal spending outside health-care programs and Social Security to 3.75 percent of GDP, down from 12.5 percent last year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So, what would it mean to chop away two-thirds of the federal government?

According to the World Bank, government spending minus health care was already lower in the United States than in all of the European Union, Japan, China, and India in 2009, the latest year with comprehensive figures. At just 3.75 percent of GDP, the United States would be one of the world’s lowest spenders. The only countries that spent less in 2009 were Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Central African Republic. Continue Reading…

Military Spending Cuts…….

September 25, 2012

Here is another poll that shows when it comes to making cuts in Medicare or Social Security a big percentage of people think we should cut our bloated defense spending instead.  If we could somehow manage to get our war machine budgets in line with the rest of the world, yes I mean the other 95% of the world, then most of our budget and deficit problems would be almost immediately solved.

Why don’t the politicians listen to us? I’m sure the answer like always is mainly politics and power struggles. God didn’t rule that somehow we are supposed to be the policemen of the world. When we get that into our heads we will be on their way to prosperity again. Let’s give some of that responsibility back to the rest of the world. We just can’t afford it anymore if we ever really could in the first place.

But what do I know……