I have little hope. After 34 years as a healthcare executive, therapist, HIT visionary and above all: Advocate for fair and proper service access to all US Citizens; I doubt I will have my needs met as a patient:
I also doubt I will ever see harmony between payers, providers, patients and the media. It is far too easy to become distracted by the numerous disparities and factors giving rise to our overall US population cost and the rage between stakeholders. The distractions allow all who work in the industry to define a spot for themselves where they are comfortable: Comfortable with regard to salary, comfortable with regard to business processes, comfortable when they create a new service industry within the market under the argument of cost savings and quality improvement; comfortable, comfortable, comfortable. It is far too easy to reinvent ‘value added’ services and industrial segments. No ONE is in charge. No ONE is willing to step-up and claim they are the Great Oz.
I began my career as a paramedic and then received credentials in respiratory therapy, cardio-vascular technology and pulmonary physiology. My work unfolded as I was promoted to department director and then division director in the first five years; as DRG’s were settling in and hospitals began finding new ways to make money in ancillary services. Healthcare –because of its capacity to rename, re-market, leverage known waste into ‘new savings’ and offer new technologies without utilization controls and proof of social value has been very good to me. My upper middle class salary increased every three years and when it became apparent that HMOS would begin purchasing business logic to approve and deny procedures, define lengths of stay and pummel physicians with outcome data I learned enough about each sector to add consulting value on both ends. Because of the dynamic legislation across both commercial and socialized sectors any entrepreneur could make an excellent living as long as he or she was personable and able to rationalize their behavior in terms of improving quality adjusted life-years for the 85 year-old golfing buddy who needs a second CABG.
Then…in 1989 I began a ten-year period where I retreated to offering disease management programs for folks with moderate to end-stage lung disease. We accomplished a great deal of good for many people in the last years (or months) of their lives.
But in the end I found myself arguing for my ashen patients who had lost their oxygen prescriptions when they rolled off of Massachusetts Medicaid because of a $1.00 per hour bump in salary. I found new ways to ‘work the system for payment for their oxygen’. The oxygen they received through a small machine which cost $750.00 retail was billed to payers at $299.00 per month in 1989 dollars. In 1997 I flew to NYC and other areas of the North East to review individuals who were dependent on ventilators in acute care facilities. The call for help came from the hospitals as they accrued huge losses due to the prospective payment on these cases that were depending on their life support. One day as I was stepping off of the company Cessna the senior VP asked to review my list of cases from the day. Taking interest in an 80 year old woman on the list he asked “how long do you think this one will live Jeff?”; “Is the family willing to transfer her and liquidate her assets?” His self-justification for asking the question was a simple knowledge that he owned an excellent group of rehabilitation hospitals. He was not the type of fella to consider the pain associated with separating a grandmother from her grandchildren.
I left this venture to work in the design of web-based continuous care plans for persons with Chronic Disease. However, even separating myself from the ugliness of clinical care that we all see in our lives I found similar behaviors wherever I went. For example: I had an IT start-up CEO fly us out to the 1999 Managed Care Conference. We had just released a very cool integrated transfer management system the previous month. The founder asked me to place a sign in our booth stating MEDICAL LOSS RATIOs 69%!!!! In essence, he asked me to repeat the MLR of the one brand new client that had purchased our new system the previous month. I felt ashamed and refused. (ref. MLR is amount spent on medical care / member fees)
Eventually I found myself in NC as I declared I wanted to learn about policy. I was hired to work with what I envisioned to be a leader in Medicaid community care management and care coordination. The years I spent in the public sector with special programs under Medicaid only revealed the same type of rationalization for ‘stretching the truth’ or creating political and financial pressure for physicians. The eternal mind-set; we know this is the right thing so we need to keep the program alive.
I found NC Medicaid to have a wonderful program. But, as in many situations in the past I felt boxed in to “the –insert corporate name- WAY”. I have found that questions as to data integrity or suggestions to reduce cost by deploying new technology that will remove a necessary contract with a friendly vendor to always be un-welcome. Many healthcare workers are content with status quo; some are not. So I became a consultant.
My last few years were spent listening to boards of directors who shared numerous conflicts of interest shift charity funding between duplicative projects. I thought the ARRA, HITECH and perhaps parts of the PPACA might make work more enjoyable. Unfortunately, I found myself asking an FQHC who had received $1M in stimulus funding to delay their deployment of telemedicine since they had no plan. I said this just as the checks were being written to purchase high resolution flat panels for the clinics and a local vendor was installing a new VLAN. This was my first day on the contract. After fifteen months they never did succeed with getting their VLAN up and running. I was however able to launch their desired remote-psychiatry service for children with ADDH. How…well I conferred with some geek friends, researched the legal security standards; drove to Best-Buy and installed a three clinic encrypted Skype service. My submitted expense report for the work was $250.00. The cost of the ARRA never implemented tele-medicine service across a new VLAN? $144,000
As a diabetic who is now retired after 44 year’s dancing with the disease and receiving SSDI at the age of 56 I feel as though I waited my entire career. My income is $2400 per month, I have some savings, little debt and many fond memories of the days with my patients. My insurance cost through my wife along with the ‘cost sharing’ pieces of my “cost of care”; roughly $1200 per month.
What I see happening is ONE MORE TIME…new products and services. Last week I was told my physician was to charge me an additional $1500 per year through the local university’s Integrative Health Program. The money evidently is to pay for better access and (I am not kidding) an interest in my LIFE GOALS.
The issue of the cost of health care in the USA has nothing to do with Physicians, Hospitals, HMOs, TPAs, Pharma, Therapists, Insurance Companies or any other entity. The problem is far greater than the sum of the parts.
A society has gone askew with its values when it treats “Well Being” and “Well Fare” as a commodity in a free market system. The value of “Well Being” varies for every person, or culture and when intertwined with the largest factor in “Well Being” in early life (Employment) the calculus becomes complicated enough to manipulate and confuse the masses.
Jeffrey Harris (BS, RCVT,RPFT,LRCP) All exams inflated salary beyond reasonable value for just one more Bozo on the Bus.
src=”http://www.untangledhealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/crop-150×150.jpg” alt=”Blessings” width=”150″ height=”150″ class=”size-thumbnail wp-image-233″ />