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.

 

Keeping score on health care reform0

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on November 9, 2011.

As 2011 enters its penultimate month, the fledgling Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues to unfold, and at times, unravel. Nearly two years after its passage, federal regulations are still building upon the original 2,700 pages, even as the threat of repeal dangles over the Executive Branch like a Sword of Damocles. With its fate resting in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court and Electoral College, and speculation as to whether the justices will make a move before the American voters have a chance to weigh in making headlines daily, it appears that many of health care reform’s latest additions may be here to stay.

The New and Improved Accountable Care Organizations

At the forefront of reform stand the new and improved accountable care organizations (ACOs), health care partnerships designed to monitor the quality and efficiency of doctors and hospitals and create new quality standards for compensation. The original version of the ACOs released last April met with significant industry-wide opposition, so much so in fact that three additional federal agencies exerted their authority heavily on the rewrites. First, the Office of the Inspector General clarified the implications of physician self-referral laws and federal anti-kickback statutes, thought by many to be glaring omissions from the original version.  Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed that entry into ACOs will not require a mandatory antitrust review, while at the same time creating an antitrust “safety zone” for ACOs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Internal Revenue Service provided another critical component by establishing participation guidelines for charitable organizations without compromising any tax-exempt status.

Under the revised regulations, retrospective assignment of patients gave way to a preliminary prospective-assignment method, identifying beneficiaries quarterly with an opportunity for a final reconciliation after each performance year.  The new regulations also cut in half the number of quality measures to which ACOs must adhere (from 65 to 33) while adding some flexibility within each calendar year as to when ACOs must perform. Compliance with electronic health records has also been discarded as a condition of participation, although the digital medical record remains an important quality measure.

The Many Ways To Save

As the nation’s growing financial struggles threaten health care reform’s very survival, it is no wonder the government is trying to tighten its belt in any way it can. … Read more →

Health Care Reform Sets the Standard Under the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, But How Much Longer Will It Apply?0

17 No. 4 Westlaw Journal Health Care Fraud 1

October 12, 2011 — Commentary

Craig B. Garner, Esq.

Copyright © 2011 Thomson Reuters — Reprinted with Permission

Introduction

Under its aegis, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Health Care Reform, Pub. L. No. 111-148, clarified the criminal-intent requirement under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b.

Before PPACA, federal courts applied different standards of intent, both general and specific, in determining the existence of violations under the AKS. Section 6402(f)(2) of PPACA amends the AKS by stating, in part:

With respect to violations of this section, a person need not have actual knowledge of this section or specific intent to commit a violation of this section.

Like it or not, congressional design is clear, and this general-intent threshold now serves as the national standard for the AKS after PPACA. While constitutional scholars may take aim at this seemingly benign amendment when they eventually tire of health care reform’s individual insurance mandate, health care and criminal law practitioners are better served by understanding the historical landscape leading up to Section 6402(f)(2). By tracing the evolution of the AKS, as well as the companion False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729, and the Ethics in Patient Referrals Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395nn (more commonly referred to as Stark I and Stark II), practitioners may have a stronger perspective with which to offer their clients advice within the rapidly changing climate of health care reform, rather than relying upon cautionary missives that speak to this watered-down standard of scienter.

Some legal history

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. (“The act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.”) [FN1]

With a few exceptions, historical discussion of criminal law has tended to combine bad actions with a previously existing desire to effectuate the same. Most often in the context of ordinary, visible crimes such as murder, battery, robbery, arson, etc., a common condition precedent to conviction for such offenses was specific intent. [FN2] This mental element exists as a subset within two separate and distinct types of crimes: those prohibited by statutory authority (malum prohibitum, such as parking regulations, copyright laws and the tax code), and those plainly in violation of society’s standards (malum in se, such as rape and murder). … Read more →

Looking Back to Move Ahead: Leading Hospitals Through Fast-Paced Change (Becker’s Hospital Review)0

The article was first published August 26, 2011 on Becker’s Hospital Review (written by Molly Gamble).

Healthcare executives might remember time moving a bit more slowly before March 23, 2010. That was the day President Obama penned his signature, supposedly letter by letter, onto the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The average workday for healthcare or hospital CEOs was probably filled with slightly different concerns or agendas before that moment. Since then, though, the industry has been flung into fast motion to accommodate the policy changes mandated in that 2,700 page bill along with its larger overarching themes that are shaping modern-day healthcare.

For the rest of the article, visit the Becker’s Hospital Review Website.

PBS’s ‘This Emotional Life’: Medicine By the Numbers

PBS’s “This Emotional Life”: Medicine By the Numbers

Lewis Carroll wrote: “If you want to inspire confidence, give plenty of statistics. It does not matter that they should be accurate, or even intelligible, as long as there is enough of them.”

When people are first told that a loved one is in the hospital, they want answers. Straight answers. And they want them fast.

But oftentimes in today’s medical centers, what patients and family members alike are met with is numbers: Hypotheticals, probabilities and percentages. When combined with complex medical jargon, this can quickly lead to confusion and uncertainty, as those involved must make sense of the stats before they can understand the state of the patient’s condition. Without the proper frame of reference, this type of information can quickly exacerbate fears and increase emotional distress. Rather than serve as beacons to shed light on a patient’s chances, these figures quickly become barriers to the truth. For many of us, the numbers are to be feared, not followed.

Still, whether we like it or not, playing the percentages is a medical necessity. In the modern age, health care is all about the bottom line. As technology advances and life expectancy increases, today’s treatment options become more and more focused on the probabilities of success or failure. From prenatal care to geriatric services, every patient ultimately wants to know one thing: “Where do I stand?” More and more, the answer is delivered as a number, culled from experience, testing, and appropriate clinical research trials. This often leaves the physician to mediate between patient and procedure, as he or she attempts to present new information in such a way that those involved can both understand and take comfort from that most dispassionate of messengers, the statistic.

The numbers themselves are not to be blamed. At the risk of making modern health care sound like a sports bar in Las Vegas, the purpose of statistics in a medical environment is to give the facts about a patient’s condition in black and white, which, if not done humanely, can seem lacking in compassion. The key to recognizing the value of such numbers is to use them as guidelines, not ultimatums.

Properly used, statistics perform a dual function: When correctly interpreted and explained, these numbers can act as a security blanket, breaking down frightening uncertainties into hard facts in which patients can wrap themselves during a time of emotional upheaval, while also providing a solid understanding of treatment options and outlooks. From a doctor’s perspective, they stand as a buffer, protecting the physician from being forced into the unrealistic role of savior, no matter what the condition. In their way, percentages help to reinforce the idea that nature, and not the doctor, will ultimately make the final call as to a patient’s future. Such impartiality goes a long way toward strengthening the doctor-patient relationship, especially when the prognosis is not as good as a patient might have expected.

Numbers can be persuasive to those patients faced with making important yet difficult lifestyle changes or deciding upon end-of-life treatments. For patients diagnosed with serious illnesses and their families, much of today’s medical data provides hope. For example, according to the information available at the end of 2009, life expectancy in the United States reached an all-time high in 2007 — 77.9 years (75.3 years for men and 80.4 years for women). Between 2006 and 2007, rates dropped for nearly half of the leading causes of death in the United States (cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, accidents, diabetes, homicides and pneumonia), reaching a new low of about 0.76 percent of the population (760.3 deaths per 100,000 people). That is approximately one half the rate from 1947. Once fatal illnesses are slowly being reclassified, provided the patient heeds the warnings found among the numbers and takes the appropriate steps to live in a healthier manner.

On the other end of life’s spectrum, many newly pregnant couples become surprisingly imaginative upon first hearing their good news and spend much time contemplating the worst. To calm the parents’ nerves (and to protect the doctor’s interests), it is now standard practice to administer a series of tests to assess the baby’s health throughout development. Then end result of most of these tests comes back in numbers. Statistics again.

Without debating the ethics and morality of abortion, which is not a doctor’s role, many of these tests seek to ascertain the health of the fetus and predict the odds of certain birth defects such as Down syndrome, trisomy 18, or trisomy 13. The number of things for a pregnant couple to worry about can be staggering, yet doctors are often obligated to advise them of the chances in advance. For example, in North America, 1 in 260 females carry the chromosome for Fragile X (also known as “Martin-Bell”) syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in an array of physical and mental limitations, ranging from severe to mild in manifestation. Likewise, 1 in 149 Ashkenazi Jewish individuals carry the gene for Nemaline Myopathy, a neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness of varying severity. In its most potent form, Nemaline Myopathy results in death after just a few years. By incorporating these tests with such relevant factors as the age and overall health of the mother and the genetic background of each parent, doctors can provide a statistical model on which to gauge the probability of the baby’s being born to normal health. This can provide parents with peace of mind if the chances of defects are low, or the opportunity to prepare themselves or consider their options if the outlook is not favorable.

At least one reason behind the surge in statistical diagnosis is the continued rise in medical malpractice claims. Having been forced into the role of omniscient healer as a result of advances in diagnostic testing, doctors must now use this same technology to cover themselves in the event of a statistical improbability. A recent study by the American Medical Association concluded that “defensive medicine” (defined as medicine relying upon diagnostic and other therapeutic measures to safeguard against malpractice claims first, and the health of the patient second) increase health care costs by as much as $150 billion each year. To be sure, throwing the title of statistician into a doctor’s medical bag of magic tricks does not help to further the doctor-patient relationship.

There is no numeric substitute for direct and clear communication between a doctor and patient. That said, making sense of medical statistics can go a long way in helping a patient understand diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness, your decisions about treatment can often be linked to “quality of life” concerns. No matter what age, patients want answers to certain questions, often combined with supporting statistics, such as:

  • How will this disease affect my life on a day-to-day basis
  • Is this disease terminal, or if left untreated, will it become terminal?
  • How will the treatment affect my life on a day-to-day basis?
  • How will the disease, treated and/or untreated, alter my life expectancy compared to my anticipated decline in health as I age?

It is important to remember that statistics are numbers, plain and simple. While numbers may not lie, they have no bedside manner and can be interpreted in a variety of methods and made to suit many arguments. The best way to know where you or your loved one stands is to discuss your situation clearly and openly with your doctor, taking into consideration the big picture as well as the percentages.

This Emotional Life is a two-year campaign to foster awareness, connections and solutions around emotional wellness. Join our community at www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife.