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Pollice Verso: How State Legislators try to revive an ancient custom Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD   
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 10:24

IN MY OPINION                        

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Health Studies Cited for Transplant Cuts Put Under the Knife, highlights the looming issue of cost control.  Faced with skyrocketing healthcare costs, states will be forced to make tough decision on care allocation and coverage. 

Arizona already has taken drastic steps to drop Medicaid coverage for some organ transplants as the state tries to plug a $1 billion gap in its health-care budget for next year.  The state agency that recommended that Arizona stop paying for transplants of lungs and, for certain patients, hearts and livers, has defended the move by citing studies and figures that it says demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the procedures.   But the state agency has gone a step further by selecting studies that prove the point that certain transplants are ineffective.  To make its case for cuts, the Arizona agency cited several sets of numbers.  In dropping coverage of liver transplants for patients with hepatitis C, the state said liver recipients suffer recurrence of the disease at a rate of 100%.  And the state argued that candidates for lung transplants would live just as long with other medical care, citing data from university studies.    

Several transplant experts, however, point to flaws in the data and the way the state's Medicaid agency, called the Health Care Cost Containment System, has used the figures.  Arizona "used data that were outdated or data that made no sense, or they misinterpreted or misrepresented what experts said," says Michael Abecassis, director of Northwestern University's comprehensive transplant center and president of the surgeons' group. For lungs, a crux of the state's position was a 1995 study of 49 patients at the University of Washington, 25 of whom received transplants; the rest were waiting at the time of the study. The study concluded that transplant recipients would live half a year longer than those who didn't get a new lung, but the difference wasn't statistically significant-in part because the sample size was so small. Also, researchers didn't wait to track patients' survival, instead extrapolating long-term mortality rates from deaths and sickness in the short run.

So, what's the solution? States should not be permitted to arbitrarily decide what services can be covered under the state's Medicaid program. Instead, they should follow evidence-based data and, most importantly, comparative effectiveness research data.

Otherwise, we will revert to the Pollice Verso (thumbs turned) used in ancient Rome by the crowd to indicate if the defeated gladiator should be condemned to death.  Soon we do not need gladiators to revive this custom.  We just need legislators who will decide the fate of condemned Medicaid recipients.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 16:06
Government Takeover Concern Print E-mail
Written by Reader   
Sunday, 02 January 2011 17:56


In response to Challenging conservative truisms about HCR by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD

Click here to see original article

First things first; "PolitiFact Lie of the Year" has about as much journalistic credibility as "Pravda Lie of the Year".  PolitiFacts progressive/socialist editorial bias is unbridled and undeniable.

  • Unelected federal government bureaucrats will define up to (possibly fewer than) five plan definitions.  All American citizens will be obligated to purchase one of the plans that the federal government has designed.  Real lie of the year: "You will be able to keep your insurance coverage".
  • As dictated by the federal government, these plans may be sold only on exchanges constructed by State governments, under the criteria designed by federal government bureaucrats.
  • Purportedly free American companies will be prohibited from selling plans of their own design, even if there is strong demand for those designs from purportedly free American citizens.
  • Half of the current uninsured citizens will be enrolled in Medicaid, which will increase those rolls by approximately 50%, thereby dramatically increasing the number and percentage of citizens who are dependent on government run healthcare.  This is in spite of the fact that approximately 50% of primary care physicians' offices today will take no new Medicaid patients, and approximately 30% of primary care physicians' offices will take no Medicaid patients at all.  And, Medicaid is the largest budget item by far in nearly every State in the country, and is breaking the budgets of the majority of States in the country, before the planned 50% increase in enrollment. (Yes, the federal government will pay a disproportionate share of the increased Medicaid expense for a few years.  However the increased expense is permanent, not just for a few years,)
  • Half of the remaining uninsured are young, healthy people who can afford healthcare insurance, but have made the free choice not to purchase it.  They will no longer have that free choice, they will be required by the federal government to purchase this product that they don't want.
  • The other half of the remaining uninsured will be paid for by increased taxation on the 53% of American citizens who actually pay federal income taxes.
  • Federal bureaucrats have been empowered to design reimbursement schemes that they will be able to enforce upon the payors and providers of healthcare services.

Regulating with great specificity and dramatic impact the activities that private companies and citizens are permitted to engage in under penalty of law ("at the point of a gun"), and taking money from some of the citizens to give to those who pay nothing, for the purposes of achieving objectives that a self-appointed elite class has decided is in the best interest of the people, is textbook socialism/fascism, otherwise known as Government Takeover of Healthcare!

James "Jim" Craig


Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 16:07
Is it possible to de-politicize the health policy discussion? Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Herschler   
Sunday, 02 January 2011 17:45

        Probably not. That said it might be a good idea to temper our rhetoric a bit.  Although popular with politicians, health policy is not easily formulated against a political backdrop.  Countervailing values push and pull the debate and an ideological solution appears remote.  Meanwhile the polarization so evident in the broader community is apparent in our own ranks.  See Nurses, doctors at odds on politics, 10-13-10 - Health News Florida.  Progressives and Conservatives do agree on at least one aspect of health policy.  There is a general consensus  that significant change must be applied to our health system to cope with healthcare inflation, unfunded liabilities and an aging demographic.  But gridlock might be the result if a middle ground cannot be found. 

Healthcare is a bit of a policy conundrum.  On the one hand civilized society must provide as a basic humanitarian duty.  On the other, personal responsibility is critical for resource allocation efficiency. Progressive insist that government must underwrite healthcare as an essential resource/infrastructure investment in the same way it finances/operates schools, bridges & roads, law enforcement & the courts, and national defense.  Then Conservatives remind us that runaway costs demand a market solution and market price discipline.

And it's not as if the health policy riddle is a new one.  Allen D. Spiegel, Ph.D. describes a healthcare system created by King Hammurabi of Babylon: "AT THE DAWN OF CIVILIZATION, about 4,000 years ago, nomadic Semite tribes developed a managed health care system. Using cuneiform, a hieroglyphic writing, they inscribed the concepts on clay tablets and chiseled them into stone between the 17th and 21st centuries B.C.  Adapting the existing edicts, King Hammurabi of Babylon incorporated ... managed care precepts in the Codex Hammurabi, a huge stone stele erected about 1700 B.C."

Meanwhile, Wikipedia describes the Healthcare system in Ancient Rome: "The importation of the Aesculapium established medicine in the public domain. There is no record of fees being collected for a stay at one of them, at Rome or elsewhere. The expense of an Aesculapium must have been defrayed in the same way as all temple expenses: individuals vowed to perform certain actions or contribute a certain amount if certain events happened, some of which were healings. Such a system amounts to gradated contributions by income, as the contributor could only vow what he could provide. The building of a temple and its facilities on the other hand was the responsibility of the magistrates. The funds came from the state treasury or from taxes."

Or consider this passage from All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque describing the health system in World War I Germany:  "The dressings afterwards are so expensive" says my father.  "Doesn't the Invalid's Fund pay anything towards it, then?" I ask.  "Mother has been ill too long."  Sounds like mom hit the policy limits or perhaps is the victim of a pre-existing condition clause. 

A reader recently complained that "we (seemingly) inexorably evolve toward socialized medicine".  But a pure market based solution is unthinkable.  Could you imagine this scenario: "I am sorry sir, we can't treat you following your life threatening diagnosis; we were unable to get an approval code on your AMEX".  So some sort of government involvement including safety nets and income redistribution is mandatory.  We just need to figure out to what degree.

The Conservatives believe the Healthcare Reform of 2010 goes too far.  Some Progressives believe that it is woefully short of what's necessary.  The discussion will continue and we will evolve towards, I am sure, a uniquely American solution.  The fact is both extremes have valid points so compromise is the only reasonable outcome.

Healthy debate is a good thing and I encourage it in the pages of FHIweekly and (See LAST WORD article where Jim Craig engages Bernd Wollschlaeger on Government Takeover of Healthcare.)  But polarizing, ideological rhetoric is counterproductive.  As the sun rises on 2011 and we continue to emerge from the Great Recession, our challenges are enormous.  So gratuitous talking points are out.  Discussion and debate are encouraged. 

About the author:  Mr. Herschler is the Publisher & Editor of FHIweekly and
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 17:11
Setting the Record Straight Print E-mail
Written by Jeffrey Herschler   
Monday, 27 December 2010 12:24

  On the evening of Wednesday, December 15th, I was up late (as usual) putting the finishing touches on that week's issue of FHIweekly.  I was scanning the digital headlines for breaking news to post to my newsletter.  I spotted a juicy one:  Jackson Health holding secret meeting... in the Miami Herald.  I scanned it briefly then made a quick decision to post and link it to my newsletter.  The next morning FHIweekly went out on schedule and, as usual, I immediately received several messages from readers.  One caught my eye. "Jeff, of all of the articles to run about Jackson...frankly do you think this one is in good taste?" the reader inquired.  I clicked through to the offensive article to find out.  

It's a short article and the main point is delivered in the final three sentences:

"Tuesday, Jackson executives will offer the report on security video cameras -- in secret. That portion of the audit committee meeting will be closed to the public.

A Jackson spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that the meeting will be closed under a section of the Florida Sunshine Law exempting details about government security systems."

-Miami Herald 12.15.10 

Sounds reasonable to me.  If I was meeting with my banker to change my PIN, I'd have the meeting "in secret".  Similarly, if I was conferring with my attorney regarding my last will and testament, I'd insist on a private setting.  Jackson officials made a prudent decision when they decided to close a meeting on sensitive security issues.

That headline was inflammatory and misleading in the sense that it implied that Jackson officials were committing some ethical breach by conducting a closed meeting.  Frankly this headline was not in good taste and had no place in FHIweekly.

Jackson faces an uphill battle against flat revenues and limited resources to meet increased demand for charity care.  It will continue to be under the public spotlight. As a journalist I will report the relevant and timely Jackson stories - good and bad.  However I won't post the inflammatory and misleading ones.   

About the Author:  Mr. Herschler is the Editor and Publisher of FHIweekly and

Challenging conservative truisms about HCR Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD   
Monday, 27 December 2010 11:47

     An article published recently in the Miami Herald entitled, PolitiFact Lie of the Year: 'Government takeover of health care', summarizes the falsehoods attributed to the overhaul of America's health insurance system.

PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen ``government takeover of health care'' as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and leaders within organized medicine, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also falsely called "Obama Care", was passed  by Congress, and relies largely on the free market:

  • Employers will continue to provide health insurance to the majority of Americans through private insurance companies
  • Contrary to the claim, more people will get private health coverage. The law sets up ``exchanges'' where private insurers will compete to provide coverage to people who don't have it.
  • The government will not seize control of hospitals or nationalize doctors.
  • The law does not include the public option, a government-run insurance plan that would have competed with private insurers.
  • The law gives tax credits to people who have difficulty affording insurance, so they can buy their coverage from private providers on the exchange. But here too, the approach relies on a free market with regulations, not socialized medicine.

PolitiFact reporters have studied the 906-page bill and interviewed independent health care experts. They  concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers. It's true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.

I encourage you to  respond accurately to your patient questions regarding this law and impact on their lives and our profession.  Let's remember that facts should rise above cheap talking points and ideological gibberish.

Last Updated on Saturday, 15 January 2011 15:00
Reader Response Print E-mail
Written by Various Readers   
Wednesday, 15 December 2010 20:14

Regarding the Pill Mill Crisis - An editorial in the December 3rd Miami Herald entitled "Tallahassee's pill mills" correctly points out how the Republican dominated legislature voted to delay the implementation of tough new pain clinic regulations.  Subsequently, the unscrupulous clinic operators and drug dealers in white coats, wrongly called "doctors," can continue to churn out prescriptions for powerful painkiller.  The legislators seem to be more concerned with ideological correctness and purity than the somber facts detailed in a recent report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (released June 30th 2010) indicating that an average of seven Floridians per day die from prescription drug overdose!  It appears that our legislators live in a different universe than most of us have to live in. In their world reality has to be adapted to fit political theory.  In their world government regulation can only do harm and never do good. In their world pain clinics are successful businesses contributing to the overall economy and more regulations will drive them away from our state.  They seem to forget that the regulations were carefully crafted by Democrats and Republicans to PROTECT our citizens from those unscrupulous businesses, which contribute to the DEATH of seven Floridians a day!!  Now, the proposed rules must be submitted to the Legislature by Feb. 4 to qualify for consideration.  Those that don't make it would have to wait until the 2012 legislative session.  I am not only outraged by this political checkmate but also deeply concerned about its adverse impact on public health.  This issue is too important to allow politicians to gamble away the lives of Florida's citizen.  We need to return to pragmatism and sound reasoning to address and resolve the problem of prescription drug abuse in Florida.  Ideological grandstanding will only worsen the situation.  We do not have much time left and the clock is ticking.

 -Bernd Wollschlaeger,MD,FAAFP,FASAM 

Regarding Jackson Health System - We haven't yet heard the whole story, I am sure.  Almost daily we read anther provocative headline.  Innocent until proven guilty?  OK.  But where there is smoke there is fire.  If the allegations are true, we are looking at bureaucratic waste of epic proportions and possibly fraud as well.   Is JHS a microcosm of our national financial malaise?  What does the JHS situation foretell as we (seemingly) inexorably evolve toward socialized medicine?

-Name withheld by request

The Malpractice Myth: Republicans and Doctors offer no solutions Print E-mail
Written by Bernd Wollschlaeger, MD, FAAFP, FASAM   
Thursday, 09 December 2010 14:57


In a recent American Medical News article, "GOP state gains expected to have broad impact on physicians," November 15, 2010, the author points out that the substantial GOP electoral gains could affect physicians and the health system. Medical liability reform legislation probably will receive a boost from the GOP victories, said Mark A. Peterson, a professor of public policy and political science at the University of California Los Angeles. For example, Alabama Gov.-elect Robert Bentley, MD, and Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott -- founder of urgent-care chain Solantic -- campaigned on expanding tort reform for physicians and other health professionals. Both were endorsed by their respective state medical associations. "A central feature of Republican health care policy ... has been the notion that a major driver of costs has been malpractice" lawsuits, Peterson said. Subsequently, physicians are loudly repeating the myth that defensive medicine increases healthcare costs by up to 30% and that malpractice reform will stop and even reverse the cost increase. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), a physician, said recently on the House Republican website,, that "any credible attempt to rein in the cost of health care must include a plan to address the whole issue of the practice of defensive medicine. It is estimated to cost an astounding $650 billion each year. That's 26% of all money spent on health care. Defensive medicine does not raise the quality of care, only the cost."  There is only one big problem: the political pundits within organized medicine  are unable to provide any evidence to support their  argument.

In a series of articles published in the September 2010 issue of Health Affairs the authors reached the following conclusions: 

  • Defensive medicine includes tests and procedures ordered by physicians principally to reduce perceived threats of medical malpractice liability. The practice is commonly assumed to increase health care costs. The results of studies of the costs of defensive medicine have been inconsistent. We found that estimated savings resulting from a 10 percent decline in medical malpractice premiums would be less than 1 percent of total medical care costs in every specialty. These savings are lower than most previous estimates, and they suggest that the presumed impact of tort reform on health care costs may be overstated.
  • Physicians contend that the threat of malpractice lawsuits forces them to practice defensive medicine, which in turn raises the cost of health care. This argument underlies efforts to change malpractice laws through legislative tort reform. We evaluated physicians' perceptions about malpractice claims in states where more objective indicators of malpractice risk, such as malpractice premiums, varied considerably. We found high levels of malpractice concern among both generalists and specialists in states where objective measures of malpractice risk were low. We also found relatively modest differences in physicians' concerns across states with and with common tort reforms. These results suggest that many policies aimed at controlling malpractice costs may have a limited effect on physicians' malpractice concerns.
  • Concerns about reducing the rate of growth of health expenditures have reignited interest in medical liability reforms and their potential to save money by reducing the practice of defensive medicine. It is not easy to estimate the costs of the medical liability system, however. This article identifies the various components of liability system costs, generates national estimates for each component, and discusses the level of evidence available to support the estimates. Overall annual medical liability system costs, including defensive medicine, are estimated to be $55.6 billion in 2008 dollars, or 2.4 percent of total health care spending.

Notwithstanding all of the above quoted FACTS, politicians and their physicians allies still place their bets on malpractice reform.

But we all could start reforming the system TODAY if we would firmly commit ourselves to practice DEFENSIBLE MEDICINE instead. What does that mean?

  • Following expert guidelines and recommendations in managing and treating patients.
  • Implementing patient safety measures to reduce deadly medical errors killing more than 100,000 Americans every year.
  • Collaborating medical care in teams comprised of ALL health care professionals including physicians, physician assistants  and ARNPs.
  • Moving from physician centered to patient centered medicine.
  • Integrating health information technology into our  offices and learn to share medical information.

Even Tom Price (R-GA) admits that we need to  "adopt a set of best practice guidelines for treatment - agreed to by physicians, not bureaucrats - to provide an affirmative legal defense."

What are we waiting for? Let's start practicing defensible medicine today.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 17:00
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