Thursday, November 1, 2007

How do people in different countries view their health care ? How do their opinions compare to those in the US?

As we debate how to achieve an improved health care system for the United States, the opponents of change often raise the specter of "socialized medicine", and invoke stories about the horrible care and service in other countries. What has been lacking in this discussion is, how do the residents of the United States and other countries actually feel themselves about their experiences within their respective health care systems?

A new seven-nation survey has just been released by The Commonwealth Fund. It shows that U.S. adults were the most likely to say they experienced medical errors, more likely to report they went without care because of the cost, and more likely to feel the health care system needs to be rebuilt completely. The results, are published in the journal Health Affairs.

The article, Higher-Performance Health Systems: Adults' Health Care Experiences in Seven Countries, 2007, also shows that U.S. adults have the highest out-of-pocket costs and the greatest difficulty paying for needed medical care.

The survey was conducted among 12,000 adults in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. One-third of U.S. adults surveyed called for rebuilding the system, and this was the highest rate of any country surveyed. In addition to cost concerns, the experiences of U.S. patients indicated more fragmented and inefficient care in the U.S., including medical record and test delays.

Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen, the lead author of the study, said "Patients in the U.S. are frustrated by high costs and a complicated health care system,".

The survey also examined the experiences of adults who have a "medical home", which was defined in this study as a regular source of care that is accessible and helps coordinate their care. Across all seven countries, only about half to 60 percent of the adults reported having such a relationship with a health care provider. In each of the countries in the survey, those adults who did have a medical home reported a significantly more positive care experience.

Food for thought as we discuss how to improve our system!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is there a Health Plan proposal that stands out in the Presidential Race? I think so!

On October 23, 2007 , Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware unveiled a health care plan that would provide health insurance for all children, provide more coverage options for adults, and focus on disease prevention and modernizing the nation's health care system.

Biden's plan would permit uninsured Americans to buy into an insurance program similar to the one that provides health care benefits to federal employees and members of Congress. People would pay on a sliding scale based on income. Biden's proposal would continue the Medicare program, and inaddition, allow people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into the Medicare program, with the federal government providing a subsidy to low-income individuals.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would be expanded to children in families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below. This equates to $61,950 for a family of four, and coverage to children in the family would be extended to at least age 21. Biden's plan also would have the federal government "reinsure" 75 percent of the cost of catastrophic health costs for cases exceeding $50,000 per individual, in order to help keep the cost of the commercial plans low.

Senator Biden has said that if he is elected, he would convene a meeting, within the first 90 days of his administration, with all players involved in health care, in hopes of making coverage both universal and affordable. "Getting this done will require the kind of experience and leadership that comes from years of success corralling bipartisan support for numerous issues," he said. "I have that experience and it will prove invaluable when I am president."

Here are some other important elements of Biden's plan:
  • Eliminate co-payments for physicals, vaccinations, vision and hearing screenings, and preventative dental checkups for children of all income levels.
  • Prohibit employers and insurers from collecting or using genetic discrimination when making decisions about hiring or providing health care coverage, including the cost of a policy.
  • Invest at least $1 billion yearly to help hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers move to electronic health records systems.
  • Add 100,000 new nurses to the workforce in the next five years and establish scholarship and loan repayment programs to encourage people to join the public health workforce.
After reviewing all of the plan proposals from the Democratic and Republican candidates for president that have so far been released, this plan seems like the best to me! It combines the strengths of our private insurance system with intelligent government subsidy for those who need it. It also encourages access to needed types of primary care in order to improve quality and decrease cost. It addresses a growing problem of older adults not yet able to join Medicare, ensures treatment for children, and covers the large group of younger adults who are ignored by most other proposals. Most importantly, this plan avoids the "false choice" between pouring more money into our dysfunctional current system, or going to a government take over of health care. It is an intelligent middle way, that includes important reforms along with intelligent funding.

One of my adult daughters has given money to the Biden campaign based on her support of this proposal, and I hope this plan receives a great deal of attention and debate!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

There is One Politician Telling the Truth about Health Care

Although our political landscape is littered with candidates who are ducking the issue, or speaking in platitudes, there is one courageous politician who is telling the truth about the need for health care reform in the United States, and I heard him speak on June 11, 2007.

Physician and former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is the founder of The Archimedes Movement, which is committed to creating opportunities for meaningful engagement about health care reform. He gave the keynote address here in Bellingham, Washington, at a community forum sponsored by the Whatcom Alliance for Health Care Access, which works locally to help obtain access to needed health care in our community.

His message was that fundamental change is needed to fix America’s “broken” health-care system, and he made the case forcefully, and then outlined what needs to be done.

Kitzhaber is promoting legislation introduced in the Oregon legislature that would restructure his state’s health-care system to provide universal care. “The responsibility to fix the health-care system does not belong to someone on the other side of the country,” Kitzhaber said. “It belongs to us.”

Kitzhaber, who is a physician, focused on the broader problems in American health care, including the pending financial crisis that will peak after millions of retiring members of the baby boom generation will seek benefits.

He also spoke of the “coverage gap” in the current system — the estimated 50 million Americans who do not receive health benefits through work and don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. These uninsured individuals typically do not receive preventive care and then often end up later in emergency rooms, which adds huge unnecessary costs to the system that are shifted to those who do pay for health care, Kitzhaber noted. At the same time, many of these folks are working individuals who are taxed to pay for the health care provided to others by the federal government, who are on Medicaid or Medicare, in spite of the fact that they themselves cannot afford their own care.

“It’s a huge hidden tax that adds enormous costs,” Kitzhaber said. “It makes no sense as a business model and it makes no sense as social policy.”

Kitzhaber said there needs to be a serious discussion on the national level about fixing the system, and that time is running out. SB 27 introduced in Salem is a way to get the issue on the national stage, so that congress must address it. He pointed to Oregon’s 1989 attempt to gain authority over how it administers federal health-care funds as an example of a state forcing a national discussion on the issue. Information about the current bill is available at

Although much of the talk focused on the finances of health care, I was pleased that Dr. Kitzhaber pointed out that we will not solve the problem if we do not reform how health care is delivered. We must emphasize the parts of health care that we already know confer the most benefit, such as primary care, education, health screening and chronic disease management, while empowering people to make choices that fit with their own values. Currently, our "system" favors paying for the expensive and the technological care which is often at the end of life, while trying to save money by limiting peoples access to the most valuable benefits. “It makes no sense as a business model and it makes no sense as social policy.”

"The ability to fix the U.S. healthcare system does not belong to someone else. It belongs to us. If we're not willing to do it for ourselves we can do it for our children and grandchildren."


You can learn more and sign up to help at

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


This article was written by family physician David H. Hopper MD, from Princeton, WV, upon the occaision of his premature withdrawal from Family Medicine practice. It is an eloguent testimonial to something that is happening all over the United States. The article appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.


Change is always difficult, yet as it says in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” After almost 30 years of serving the people of Princeton and the surrounding region, change took place in the lives of many in this community with my closing of Total Life Family Practice.

This decision was not an easy one, for my partner and I have enjoyed many good years caring for our patients through this practice. However, despite the governor’s logo, we are no longer “open for business.” With this closure over a dozen jobs have been lost and many thousands have lost their family doctors.

The demands of the practice of medicine are continuing to grow. Managing piles of paperwork, dealing with drug formulary and insurance issues, meeting rising overhead with inadequate reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies, paying high WV malpractice insurance premiums and handling numerous other issues make private practice increasingly difficult. These problems are nationwide, but seem to be even worse here in WV.

Over the years 8 physicians came and left the practice, all of whom moved out of state. Recruiting and retaining doctors became increasingly hard. It became progressively harder to take time off to follow other callings such as my medical mission trips to Sudan or other misfortunate places. Finally I made the extremely tough decision to close my practice.

My decision was an individual one and certainly does not apply to all primary care doctors, but it is one that seems to be increasingly common. The private practice of family medicine has become less and less appealing. The joy of long term patient care relationships, the fulfillment of knowing that you had been able to manage multiple problems which would have required visits to numerous specialists, and the pleasure caring for the children of children you delivered is still available to the family doctor. However the stress of the system, which has persistently undervalued primary care services, has led shrinking percentage of new graduates to enter these fields.

In a recent issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Dr. Richard Wender, President of the American Cancer Society said: “Adults with a primary care physician as their personal physician are 19% less likely to die prematurely than individuals who utilize a specialist as their personal physician.” And “Despite the striking evidence of the critical role played by primary care clinicians in the cancer fight, the future of primary care services in the United States is uncertain. Several high profile publications have questioned whether we are facing ‘the end of primary care.’ ”

Change will continue to take place in American healthcare, and it must. However it is sad to see the most personal aspect of the healthcare system die off. Be thankful for your family doctor, and support a system that allows whole person medicine to survive.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home, agreed upon by the AAFP and the ACP

American Academy of Family Physicians

American College of Physicians

Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home

July 2006


The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians have developed proposals for improving care of patients through a patient-centered practice model called the “medical home” (AAFP, 2004) or “advanced medical home” (ACP, 2006). Similarly the American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed a medical home for children and adolescents with special needs.

AAFP and ACP offer these joint principles that describe the elements of the patient-centered, physician-guided medical home.


Personal physician - each patient has an ongoing relationship with a personal physician trained to provide first contact, continuous and comprehensive care.

Physician directed medical practice – the personal physician leads a team of individuals at the practice level who collectively take responsibility for the ongoing care of patients.

Whole person orientation – the personal physician is responsible for providing for all the patient’s health care needs or taking responsibility for appropriately arranging care with other qualified professionals. This includes care for all stages of life; acute care; chronic care; preventive services; end of life care.

Care is coordinated and/or integrated across all domains of the health care system (hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes, consultants and other components of the complex health care system), facilitated by registries, information technology, health information exchange and other means to assure that patients get the indicated care when and where they need and want it.

Quality and safety are hallmarks of the medical home:

Evidence-based medicine and clinical decision-support tools guide decision making

Physicians in the practice accept accountability for continuous quality improvement through voluntary engagement in performance measurement and improvement.

Patients actively participate in decision-making and feedback is sought to ensure patients’ expectations are being met

Information technology is utilized appropriately to support optimal patient care, performance measurement, patient education, and enhanced communication

· Practices go through a voluntary recognition process by an appropriate non-governmental entity to demonstrate that they have the capabilities to provide patient centered services consistent with the medical home model.

Enhanced access to care through systems such as open scheduling, expanded hours and new options for communication between patients, their personal physician, and office staff.

Payment appropriately recognizes the added value provided to patients who have a patient-centered medical home. The payment structure should be based on the following framework:

· It should reflect the value of physician and non-physician staff work that falls outside of the face-to-face visit associated with patient-centered care management.

· It should pay for services associated with coordination of care both within a given practice and between consultants, ancillary providers, and community resources.

· It should support adoption and use of health information technology for quality improvement;

· It should support provision of enhanced communication access such as secure e-mail and telephone consultation;

· It should recognize the value of physician work associated with remote monitoring of clinical data using technology.

· It should allow for separate fee-for-service payments for face-to-face visits. (Payments for care management services that fall outside of the face-to-face visit, as described above, should not result in a reduction in the payments for face-to-face visits).

· It should recognize case mix differences in the patient population being treated within the practice.

· It should allow physicians to share in savings from reduced hospitalizations associated with physician-guided care management in the office setting.

· It should allow for additional payments for achieving measurable and continuous quality improvements.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Why Doesn't My Doctor's Office Take My New Insurance Plan?

Many people who get medical insurance through their employer have had the experience of the plan being changed by their employer from year to year. Usually the employer does this to save money on the premiums that they pay on behalf of the employee, and any other considerations are of a very secondary importance. This can be frustrating to employees, however, who may find that their personal physician either does not accept the new insurance, or is not a "preferred provider", which means that they will have to pay more for their care. Why don't doctors take every insurance? Here is a recent story that I am familiar with here in the Northwest.

A prominent employer was recently purchased by a new parent company, which made the decision to change the employee medical plan as part of cost savings measures. This medical plan they chose was not very active in the area, and so the plan gave the employer a very inexpensive price to try and "buy their business" and get a foothold in the community. Trouble was, very few doctors in the community had signed up with that plan. The local doctors were not consulted as to why they did not participate, and the employees of the company were not involved in the decision. It probably never even occurred to the company officials that their action might affect others in the community. Either that, or they did not care.

Suddenly, doctors were confronted with hundreds of their long time clients who presented their plan and asked for the office to sign a contract with their new insurance. It turns out that the doctors offices had not signed up with this company on purpose, due to the way the plan did business. Anxious to learn if things might have changed, one doctors group undertook a survey of medical practices in other areas that were already working with the plan. They learned that working with this plan was a disaster. Here are some of the specific problems they uncovered:
  • Doctors offices were forced to call customer service lines that were almost always busy, making it difficult to ask questions and get assistance
  • Customer service would frequently "transfer" calls which then became disconnected, starting the cycle of trying to get through again.
  • Customer service would frequently say they are going to reprocess a claim that was "lost" but then it would not happen
  • Most customer service calls are handled from India or Jamaica, by individuals who could not make a decision or really help. Often there is a lack of understanding from the person due to language barriers.
  • Payments for doctors services were artificially low, and grouped services together, only paying for one of them
  • Large, multispecialty clinics that could profit from expensive tests and procedures signed up and could afford the losses in primary care because they were able to make it up on their high ticket items, but the primary care clinics could not make it pay
  • The company's corporate practices often drove a wedge between the patient and the physician on several levels such as:
    • Inefficient claims process that loses claims but insists they were never billed and then blames the doctors office to the patient who complains
    • Requirements for multiple pre-authorization requests from the doctors office, even for routine care, but then hours are wasted trying to get through. An example is the requirement that the doctors office call them when a patient is in the hospital or is diagnosed as being pregnant. If this is not done "right away" then the later claim for care will not be paid
    • The plan created a business climate in the area that reduced medical insurance plan availability, since the other plans could not compete with the artificially low prices
    • Some states have already enacted legislation against this company because of some of their "predatory" business practices
The particular group in question decided once again not to participate with the plan, because to do so would jeopardize their own business and encourage employers to choose the plan. They do try to help their patients, however, by submitting a bill to the insurance company on behalf of the patient. If the claim is not paid, they then transfer it to the patient who gets to deal with their company directly to try and work things out.

Behavior like this from insurance companies is one reason why we have 50% less medical school graduates choosing to go into family medicine than we had when I made that choice in 1975. I believe that employers and citizens need to be more aware of how their choices affect the health care delivery system that they depend on for their care. Our health care "system' is a mess, precisely because of nonsense like this.