HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT0

March 23 marks the two-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s ambitious and controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While the ultimate legacy of this landmark legislation remains to be seen, its fate will soon rest in the hands of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and then possibly the Electoral College.

With talk of constitutional challenges and potential repeal sharing headlines almost every day, now is the perfect opportunity to trace the changes in American health care over these past 24 months.

As our health care system continues to experience growing pains, certain basic tenets of reform have already made their mark, and may be difficult to retract in the event of the bill’s failure. The number of insured young adults under the age of 26 has continued to rise since 2010, as has the estimated 105 million Americans who no longer face lifetime limits on health benefits. Statistics also point to 50,000 newly insured who had in the past failed to qualify for health insurance due to pre-existing conditions.

Across the nation, individual states are gearing up for health insurance exchanges, while hospitals and physicians prepare for monumental changes in the Medicare reimbursement infrastructure as it transitions from a historically cost-based to a performance-driven platform.

Under the reform bill, the Federal Government has increased its presence with an unprecedented focus on eliminating health care fraud, abuse and waste.

Thanks to the Office of the Inspector General, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Department of Justice having procured health care fraud-related settlements and judgments in excess of $3 billion last year (capping the largest three-year streak in history with a total of $8.7 billion since January 2009), health care providers are now busy crafting or fine tuning their own custom-tailored compliance programs.  At the same time, providers must also fight off Medicare and Medicaid related audits from a number of newly created entities known only by their acronyms (RACs, MICs, MACs and ZPICs to name a few).

No matter what effects the Supreme Court’s decision and upcoming elections may hold for the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that American health care will never be the same.

Only time will offer any definitive perspective for us to evaluate the changes it has imposed upon the delivery of our nation’s health care.

Welcome to health care reform, year three, as it promises to be a busy one.

Adjudicating health care reform by dissent0

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on March 15, 2012.

The procedural infrastructure within which the nation’s judicial system operates is as important as the canons of law the Courts espouse. In many ways, the doctrine of justiciability affords the federal courts an opportunity to rule with finality in matters of the U.S. Constitution, while at the same time ensuring that an appropriate distance is maintained between the three branches of federal government. Given the numerous preconditions upon which certiorari is determined, rightful passage through the Supreme Court’s Corinthian columns can seem as improbable as procuring a return ticket across the river Styx.

However, those for whom certiorari is ultimately granted can count on a few basics from the Supreme Court, including a session each first Monday in October, quill pens on counsel tables, and the Court’s own general prohibition from issuing judicial advisory opinions. In commenting upon this most revered prohibition, Chief Justice Earl Warren noted: “When the federal judicial power is invoked to pass upon the validity of actions by the Legislative and Executive Branches of the Government, the rule against advisory opinions implements the separation of powers prescribed by the Constitution and confines federal courts to the role assigned them by Article III.”[1] … Read more →

Health care reform experiences growing pains1

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on January 27, 2012.

In its attempt to modify the basic structure of our nation’s health care system, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act has understandably caused a series of rifts between competing factions within the health care industry.  As the entire nation waits to discover its ultimate fate, the fledgling program continues to promote conflict as it experiences growing pains, exemplified by recent modifications to federal regulations that push the invisible line separating church and state from a health care perspective. With an eye to the future, the Affordable Care Act must move cautiously in its attempt to revamp the foundations of health care, fending not only for its survival in the political arena, but in terms of constitutionality as well.

At its core, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (known colloquially as the “Affordable Care Act” or “health care reform”), promotes preventative measures designed in theory to eliminate health issues before they start. With such a sweeping directive, it is certainly understandable that constitutional challenges abound within, yet two of the more recent and most highly publicized concerns stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a brief news release detailing a controversial August 2011 interim final rule that was specifically created to require health insurance plans to cover preventative services for women, including contraceptives, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible.  Under this interim final rule, however, certain non-profit religious employers retained the option to omit contraceptive services from their employee insurance plan. Announced last week, the final decision now guarantees that women with health insurance as of Aug. 1, will be allowed access to all federally recommended preventative services, including contraception measures approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. … Read more →

Lessons From My Father0

This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated website This Emotional Life.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  –Oscar Wilde, Irish writer and poet

When it comes to understanding what it means to be a man, little boys typically look toward one specific individual, Dear Old Dad.  What is not so consistent, however, is the manner in which a father chooses to undertake his role. Nowhere else is the drive to impart all that he has learned so strong and the possibility of instilling hard-won wisdom so pronounced as when a father looks at his eager young son. And yet, for this very reason the school of fatherhood boasts a subjective curriculum at best, as the competency of the teacher pales in comparison to the ways in which the student will go on to apply these lifelong lessons, many of which have been handed down through generations, whether knowingly or not.

Several thousand years of fiction tell us all we need to know about how tenuous the influence of a mature man upon his children can be.  From King Laios of Thebes (the biological father of Oedipus) to Wilbur Meecham (the tyrannical father of Ben) to Carlisle Cullen (the eternal father who adopted Edward), the most valuable lessons often emanate from the reactions of the son rather than the actions of the father. In truth, a man’s best intentions may fall upon deaf ears or be misinterpreted by a youth struggling to carve the foundations of his own identity, and sometimes the best we can hope for is that a little luck and our unspoken influence through way of example will provide the necessary navigational instincts for our children as they pass through whatever storms may confront them.

The relationship between father and son is always complicated and in each case unique, with every example of success or failure providing a new interpretation on what it means to be a father. If that was not enough, there is never a guarantee that an idyllic father will raise a comparable son, or that the child of an atrocious man will ultimately follow in his ancestor’s malevolent footsteps. This cumulative nature of fatherhood is in many ways for the best, as nearly every boy at one point or another finds himself determined to be anything but his father. Today, however, as I read that rhyming masterpiece of Dr. Seuss, Hop on Pop, to my 10-month old son on what would be my own father’s 75th birthday, I realize that not only am I deep into uncharted territory, but there is no way of knowing what aspects of history might repeat themselves. Without any guidance or source of direction, how will I ever know if I am a good father?

In looking for answers, I find it hard to gather much from my siblings on what it means to be a father, as both my brother and sister learned from the same role model I did. While fiction and history provide a number of cautionary tales, they are blueprints at best, to be relied upon loosely.  But even as I try to learn from the experiences of friends whose opinions I respect on this subject, there remains the ever-present fact that every case is different, from the point of view of both father and son.  Though one friend is in my opinion an exemplary role model for his children, I cannot help but wonder how much of his inspiration stems from his contentious relationship with his own father, the secrets of which are lost on me and my very different experiences growing up. An example in stark contrast does little more than cast an even brighter light on the many different facets that can shape the paternal instinct. … Read more →

California’s Vanishing Community Hospital: An Endangered Institution0

This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 Issue of California Health Law News, a Publication of the California Society of Healthcare Attorneys.

Across the nation, America’s community hospitals are under siege. Once considered indispensible to our health care system, the twenty-first century finds the local hospital fighting an uphill battle against a convergence of factors that favors the sharing of resources by multiple facilities.  Rising health care expenses, challenging regulatory hurdles, and a reimbursement structure in the midst of transition all bear some responsibility for the obstacles faced by today’s community hospital.  Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in California, where regular hospital closings amid an ever-growing population stand as incentive for remaining hospitals to team up (or remain teamed up) under the potentially false notion that in modern American health care, there is safety in numbers.

Learning From Past Mistakes – What History Reveals About Health Care

Understanding the historical evolution of the American hospital is fundamental to recognizing the core problems faced by smaller hospitals today.  From the 1736 opening of an almshouse in New York City (which would eventually become Bellevue Hospital) through the expansion to nearly 5,000 hospitals by the 1920s, and continuing through the post-1960 shift toward multifunctional facilities, health care has responded to the socioeconomic and political influences of each era.  A trend of multihospital systems replacing freestanding community hospitals picked up speed after 1965, driven largely by a combination of economic factors (including the creation of Medicare) and technological advances in medicine.  The five hospital consolidations noted in 1961 ballooned to upwards of fifty per year in the 1970s.  By the 1980s, an estimated thirty percent of the hospital beds in the United States existed within hospital systems.[1] … Read more →

Our Fear of Health Care Reform and the Household Vacuum0

“That’s the nice thing about carousels, they always play the same songs.”  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated website This Emotional Life.

It starts with a vacuum.

The sudden, unfamiliar dissonance signals fear in his little mind, which grows quickly, magnified by the sight of an unexpected entanglement between the woman he trusts most and this monstrous machine. As he turns to run (or crawl), I find myself thankful to be just inches away, in perfect position to catch my 10-month old boy as he does his best to flee the frightful scene. His two outstretched arms secure a tight grip around my neck, while a sad face burrows deep into my chest. For one sharp moment I feel like a hero, a wholly necessary, trustworthy entity whose sole purpose is to be relied upon in times of trouble.

Fear is a formidable foe, and the ways in which we as grown ups react to its presence can often be inconsistent. Regardless of its origin, any meaningful cause for alarm typically signifies a commonality of chaos, to be first understood, and then vanquished. Though my son’s safety was obviously never compromised during his run-in with the vacuum cleaner, his reaction illustrates the fact that in the eyes of an infant the world is full of uncertainties. In the mind of a child, laughter and tears coexist every day, yet we seldom stop to consider how these emotions actually resonate. Rather, we tend to focus on the cause, which with luck might lead us to a solution, as a means to restore the calm and save the day. Indeed, some of the most seasoned parents have an entire cache of remedies upon which to rely when a crisis hits, and they wield them like weapons of precision, each one crafted and selected for just the right moment.

But what about the child in the midst of a trauma?  … Read more →

Providing Care for the Uninsured Without the Federal Case0

The article first appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review.

Estimated at close to 50 million strong, the fate of America’s uninsured has caused quite a stir of late. As the media anxiously reports on the U.S. Supreme Court’s acquiescence to assess the constitutionality of certain tenets at the heart of healthcare reform, the nation sits anxiously on the sidelines, awaiting the outcome. Indeed, a suggested, unprecedented televised hearing on the insurance mandate could potentially attract even more viewers than the record-breaking 111 million football fans who watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011.

The uninsured conundrum

At the core of the debate lies an enormous price tag. The sheer volume in dollars it takes to provide medical treatment to the uninsured is astounding, and its ramifications affect many fundamental aspects of our healthcare structure. In 2008, uncompensated medical care in the United States approached an estimated $57 billion, of which nearly $43 billion was paid by federal, state and local governments from funds earmarked for this very purpose. Although the federal government typically foots close to half of this annual bill, its contribution equals only 2 percent of federal healthcare spending yearly. The great bulk of responsibility for America’s uninsured falls to our nation’s hospitals, who shoulder approximately 60 percent of uncompensated medical care, due largely to a regulatory structure mandating that emergency departments at hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid must treat just about anyone who arrives in need of medical care, regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay.

To add to the friction, most Americans have a stronger grasp on the rules of professional cricket than they do the leading constitutional challenge to President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. … Read more →

Tracing the Evolution of American Health Care Through Medicare0

This article first appeared in the journal Health, Culture and Society.

I. Before Medicare

Since its inception as a government sanctioned public health insurance program, Medicare has been both a bone of contention between political parties and a beacon from which to gauge the changes in American health care as a whole. Passed as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965, Medicare had as its focus individuals sixty five years of age and older, with a similar yet state-run program, Medicaid, addressing the medical needs of people with certain disabilities and low income families. Over time, however, Medicare has grown to be the preeminent standard for our nation’s health care in its entirety, with nearly every substantive change to its core foundation signaling a corresponding restructuring of our overall health care system.

The modifications imposed on Medicare, both by market forces and federal legislation, stand as a series of growing pains from which to mark the evolution of the American health care model. By charting these changes through the decades we can better understand the ways in which health care as a whole has morphed from a cost based system to one of performance evaluation. In turn, this may provide us with a glimpse into health care’s future if certain fundamental issues are not addressed in current reform legislation.

The rise of the government’s role in providing health care to its citizens came relatively late in America’s history. For much of its first two centuries the burden of caring for the sick and injured fell to neighbors, friends and relatives, with additional support from individual communities and religious groups. Visits by an actual doctor were generally limited to the home and dictated by local demographics. Almshouses and charity wards provided a certain degree of medical service, as hospitals were few and far between, and often existed solely upon the largess of the surrounding vicinities. Those who had the opportunity to visit a hospital prior to the twentieth century more than likely did so after an accident or as the result of an unfortunate designation of insanity.

Read the complete article here.