What To Do About Broken

California Healthcare News first published this article “What To Do About Broken” on October 9, 2018.

iStock_000010152161Small-150x150“All of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling.” – Blaise Pascal

An adjective, the word “broken” encompasses a multitude of meanings, most of which identify a magnitude of concern, while very few provide comfort.  Recognizing that which is broken often remains elusive, creating a daunting challenge when facing this dangerous combination. Even when a solution presents itself, the ability to surrender remains a most formidable foe. Navigating through this labyrinth, individually and as a society, is also sometimes referred to as “life.”

It is no coincidence that life usually starts and ends in a hospital. With almost 5,500 hospitals in the United States today, only by the middle of the twentieth century did these institutions become symbols of hope, slowly creating an inextricable dependence upon which the sick and infirm rely. Nearly a score into the twenty-first century, the hospital represents the primary solution when there is a threat to health. What would happen if the basket holding all of society’s proverbial eggs breaks (assuming this container is not already broken)? … Read more →

Health Care and the Laws of Nature

The Daily Journal first published this article, Health Care and the Laws of Nature, on August 8, 2018.

Caduceus background

“If there is no God, everything is permitted.” – Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

The Laws of Nature

When science prevails over the laws of nature, controversy is near. Stories from antiquity warned against such hubris, like poor Icarus who plunged to his death during a maiden voyage with wings made from feathers and wax. Zeus intervened twice on the side of nature, first when he sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment for delivering the gift of fire to humanity, and again when he struck down love-stricken Orpheus with a bolt of lightning before Orpheus escaped from Hades.

Whether divine warnings or stories told to invoke fear, science celebrates similar transgressions as evidence that God may be man-made. Whether we live in a universe forged over billions of years or in just under seven days, what are the malleability of nature’s laws? In 1903 Orville Wright elevated above the ground for 12 seconds in a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, but his legacy exists today in the context of war, travel and commerce. The impact from fire on an evolutionary timeline often omits reference that 10,000 years ago a spark may have transformed tuberculosis from an environmental microbe to a deadly disease that has killed more than 1 billion people. When science finally resurrects the dinosaurs, we can ask them about nature’s resilience. … Read more →

HOSPITALS GIVE UNTIL IT HURTS

This article, Hospitals Give Until It Hurts, first appeared in California Healthcare News on April 10, 2018.

iStock_000002984165Small

“The formula ‘two and two make five’ is not without its attractions.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

A 2005 report surveyed 1,771 personal bankruptcy filings, half of which cited medical expense as the cause.  For those suffering from an illness that preceded bankruptcy, individual out-of-pocket medical expenses averaged close to $12,000, and those qualifying as “medical debtors” were 42% more likely to experience lapses in health insurance coverage. This serves as the backdrop to what is commonly known in health care as “charity care” or “hospital fair pricing policies.”  Consumer advocates blamed hospitals as the cause of this financial epidemic, fueled by the absence of any law or regulation regarding the prices that uninsured and underinsured consumers/patients paid for health care, not to mention the collection practices employed by those entities insisting upon payment for services rendered.

Health Care By Robin Hood

Fundamentally there should be nothing wrong with accepting from those patients without financial means less money than wealthier patients for similar services. Certain laws are inconsistent with this medical benevolence, such as one federal statute that prohibits health care providers from submitting a bill for payment substantially in excess of that entity’s usual charges for these items or services.  The penalty for violating this law, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7(b)(6), is possible exclusion from Federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The California Court of Appeal, Fifth District, offered another reason why hospitals should refrain from such generosity, specifically after the seminal 2014 decision in Children’s Hospital of Central California v. Blue Cross of California (226 Cal. App. 4th 1260). After decades of fighting between non-contracting providers and insurance companies, the best advice the judicial system had to offer in defining “reasonable value” was past agreements to pay and accept a particular price.

Nevertheless, legislators believed the ways in which hospitals should bill the uninsured could not be left to chance, and in 2005 California passed Assembly Bill 774 which required hospitals to develop a policy specifying how it will determine financial liability for services rendered to financially qualified patients and those patients without any insurance.  In part, AB 774 (1) placed limitations on billing and collection practices for hospitals as well as their billing agents, (2) required hospitals to submit to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) their plan to comply with the new obligations, and (3) charged the Office of the Attorney General with enforcing transgressions. … Read more →

The Senator Will See You Now0

California Healthcare News first published this article “The Senator Will See You Now” on July 11, 2017.

The Senator Will See You Now“It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility.”  — Joseph Conrad

On May 4, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act of 2017 (“AHCA”) by a picayune margin of just four votes. Commonly referred to as the most recent legislation designed to “repeal and replace” the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”), the Senatorial counterpart to the ACHA, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (“BCRA”), today rests in the hands of 52 Republican, 46 Democratic and 2 Independent U.S. Senators, as the nation waits for word on the fate of the ACA and President Obama’s legacy in the spectrum of health care reform.

There should be no cause for alarm when it comes to the hospital institution, enveloped as it is by a veritable blanket of seasoned health care practitioners with access to a formidable armory replete with 21st century medicine that defies science fiction, including cutting-edge technology that may have finally surpassed the elusive tricorder.  As the average life expectancy in the United States hovers on the cusp of 79 years, due in part to the acceptance of mental health parity and near elimination of yellow fever, smallpox, malaria, measles and diphtheria, the nation should be proud of its health care system and supportive of the estimated 23% of the nation’s $7 trillion annual budget it consumes.Read more →

The House that Cried Wolf0

This article “The House that Cried Wolf” first appeared in the Daily Journal on May 10, 2017.

iStock_000009605208Medium“The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.”  – Confucius

An Exercise in Futility?

When it comes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”), there is one thing on which both proponents and detractors can agree – this curious, far-reaching, highly controversial bill is a survivalist. Fraught with controversy and conflict from its inception, the bill found itself with a target on its back less than one full year after President Obama signed it into law, as the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” introduced in January 2011, passed the House of Representatives (the “House”) by a lopsided vote of 245-189. Four months later, a bill to repeal the ACA’s funding for health insurance exchanges passed the House by a similar margin of 55 votes. In 2012, the “Repeal of Obamacare Act” passed the house by a vote of 244-185, followed close behind by a 2013 bill of like-minded intent which passed the House by a vote of 299-195. Still another passed the House in 2015 by a vote of 239-186.  Whether threatened by death from subcommittee or senatorial action, Obamacare nonetheless persevered through these partisan attacks.

Throughout Obama’s tenure, numerous other attempts designed to retard or even sabotage various aspects of the ACA passed the House with flying colors, such as the 2014 bill suspending the Individual Mandate penalty. It was not until 2015, however, that both the House and Senate passed the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015,” a bill vetoed by President Obama in early 2016.  Most recently, on May 4, 2017, the House passed the latest attempt to repeal and replace the ACA by a slim margin of four votes (217-213). Fueled by the nation’s enigmatic, 45th President and coming just six months after the Chicago Cubs won their first World series in 108 years, the “American Health Care Act of 2017” (“AHCA”) seems to have everyone’s attention, even if the actual contents of H.R. 1628 remain elusive at best to both experts and laymen alike.Read more →

A Time to Kill HIPAA1

This article “A Time to Kill HIPAA” first appeared in the Daily Journal on May 5, 2017.

iStock_000006020673Large“Sarcasm:  the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.” – Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Imagine a world in which a basic identification card contained a lifetime of medical information, immediately accessible during a routine physical or life-threatening emergency. The technology behind such seeming science fiction could heal a fragmented health care system, affording providers access to critical information in a timely manner to ensure the highest standard of care with maximum efficiency.  Only a few years ago, such inefficiencies inherent at the core of American health care provision resulted in as much as $226 billion in increased spending annually, yet salient health care information remained just out of a provider’s technical reach.

The greatest obstacle standing between American health care and the elusive, omnipotent digital medical record turns 21 this summer, the equivalent of a modern-day Methuselah in an industry defined by zeros and ones. Born the same year Google launched and the price of gasoline was $1.22 per gallon, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) sought to improve portability and continuity of health insurance coverage by, among other things, adopting standards for organizations to develop ways in which electronic health transactions could improve health care while also addressing the security of electronic health information systems. HIPAA’s privacy component debuted in 1999, followed by a series of modifications in 2002, as well as the addition of a security rule in 2003 and an enforcement rule addendum in 2006.  Changes in health care and technology during the first decade of HIPAA ultimately led to the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which specifically focused on the privacy and security concerns associated with electronic transmission of health information by strengthening the civil and criminal enforcement components within HIPAA.

Together, HIPAA and HITECH revolutionized the way health care providers (also known as “covered entities”) and the non-clinical entities with which they teamed (also known as “business associates”) shared and made available for use patient health information (PHI). With such broad definitions of “breach” and the resultant draconian punishments for noncompliance, HITECH sent the act of sharing health care information back in time in many ways, forcing providers to rely upon the United States Post Office to deliver highly personal, often time-sensitive, sometimes life or death information, while improvements were made to the infrastructures within which electronic and facsimile transmissions took place. Purportedly simplified in 2013 through even more regulatory modifications, modern day HIPAA regulation affords practically no room for error for those who utilize technology as a way to improve the delivery of health care in the United States. As it turns out, we have come to learn that health care is more about perseverance than perfection.Read more →

Intricacies of the Modern Health Care Behemoth0

California Healthcare News first published this article, Intricacies of the Modern Health Care Behemoth, on April  4, 2017.

Formul [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/my_lightbox_contents.php?lightboxID=6549169 ][img]http://photofile.ru/photo/alengo/3749832/large/85679456.jpg[/img][/url] [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/my_lightbox_contents.php?lightboxID=4411471 ][img]http://photofile.ru/photo/alengo/3723954/large/84303967.jpg[/img][/url]

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” – Henry Louis Mencken

Known by some as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, others by the often sardonic alias “Obamacare,” and most recently highlighted through contentious “repeal and replace” rhetoric, health care reform has reemerged as a hot topic of discussion in households across the country. Those affected by this issue include anyone who (1) is currently sick or has been sick in the past, (2) has a friend or family member that is dealing or has dealt with an illness, or (3) is or knows someone who may one day receive that plastic bracelet bestowing the title of “hospital patient.” Basically, this refers to every American. And yet, so great is the divisiveness on how best to manage health care in the modern age, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now finds itself in a paralytic state as advocates and critics tangle over the vast complexities at its core. The only commonality is the recognition that there is no simple solution.

Is Health Care Really So Complicated?

Complex by necessity, America’s current health care system may appear elaborate, ridiculous or even labyrinthine in turns, and changing even the smallest fraction involves delving deep into the belly of the beast. For example, Medicare disproportionate share hospital (DSH) adjustment provisions rely upon a statutory formula to calculate DSH patient percentage which is equal to the sum of the percentage of Medicare inpatient days attributable to patients eligible for both Medicare Part A and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the percentage of total inpatient days attributable to patients eligible for Medicaid by not Medicare Part A. With this in mind, even the health care layman is quick to realize that, in labeling DSH adjustments (DSH Patient Percent = (Medicare SSI Days / Total Medicare Days) + Medicaid, Non-Medicare Days / Total Patient Days), one is forced to learn the equivalent of a new language. … Read more →

Health Care’s Unfinished Bridge0

This article, Health Care’s Unfinished Bridge, was first published in California Healthcare News on April 5, 2016.

Health Care's Unfinished Bridge“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

Every era relies on the intuition of a talented few in its search for scientific breakthroughs. Herodotus rejected the notion the Earth was flat, and in particular its description on the Shield of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. Some 29 centuries later, science has reduced the labors of Homer to little more than myth, though philosophy still honors the epic, from its very first word (“μῆνῐν” or “wrath”) to its lesson addressing the value of balancing excessive pride with the fear of anonymity. Similarly, advances in technology have greatly benefited medicine in recent generations, as doctors increasingly approach diseases of the body from a tangible perspective. However, the treatment of diseases of the mind continues to be far more speculative in nature, serving to highlight the chasm between these two seemingly similar but ultimately disparate fields. This in turn presents a complex issue for both medical practitioner and mental health provider. … Read more →

Health Care’s Adventures in Wonderland0

This article by Craig B. Garner[1] and Jessica Weizenbluth[2], Health Care’s Adventures in Wonderland: Provider Agreements for Electronic Records, was first published in February 2016 in California Health Law News.

iStock_000068974059_Large“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”[3]

I.  INTRODUCTION

Y93.J1: Activity, piano playing[4]

Today’s health care provides its own spin on the word “complex,”[5] while at the same time forging possible paths to what may be “unwinnable” scenarios.[6] For the modern physician[7], the universe within which he or she exists requires updated definitions for words such as “complex” and “challenging,” especially as that “perfect storm”[8] also known as health care reform continues to age. Somewhere in between the 2015 Physician Quality Reporting System (“PQRS”)[9], the Physician Value Based Payment Modifying Policies (“VBP”)[10] and tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (also known as ICD-10),[11] physicians find themselves still struggling to adopt electronic health records (“EHR”) in practice.[12]

As technology continues to evolve, there remains a general landscape with which those in the health care field must familiarize themselves. Even from this challenging vantage point, providers still have opportunities to bolster their position and practice their craft as they continue down the digital path and adopt an EHR system for which the Federal Government established incentive payments.[13]Read more →

Killing HIPAA0

This article, Killing HIPAA, first appeared in California Healthcare News on February 8, 2016.

iStock_000012752406_Large“When truth is buried, it grows. It chokes. It gathers such an explosive force that on the day it bursts out, it blows up everything with it.” -Emile Zola

The issue of confidentiality when applied to modern American healthcare is fraught with differing objectives, creating myriad complications as the needs of each attempt to merge together in their search for common ground and compromise. To arrive at a sense of clarity, we must look to those exceptions that define the fundamental system of rules at the heart of our nation’s health care structure, as the conflicting areas to be found within shed light on the vulnerabilities of the concept as a whole. The demands of federal statutes aside, gray areas abound, since attorneys can breach the duty of confidentiality in response to threats against life or to prevent substantial bodily harm, physicians must answer to certain matters of public health before protecting the secrets of the patient, and spouses can freely tell all when it comes to the actions of their partner, even if the words between them remain protected. … Read more →