If you’re a big follower of health care news, there were more than enough stories this week to keep you glued to your iPad. First, of course, was the opening of the new health insurance exchanges. Fortunately, the state-run programs,
… have largely fixed their technical problems, marking a sharp contrast with the federal government more than a week after the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act opened for business. When the health-care law was passed in 2010, it envisioned most of the 50 states running their own health-insurance exchanges where uninsured people could shop for coverage. Instead, only 14, including New York, chose to fully run their own, leaving the federal government responsible for the other 36. The federal exchange at HealthCare.gov has been plagued by problems from opening day, including error messages and long wait times.
… 50 percent of voters don’t want to eliminate funding for the health reform law, and the vast majority are opposed to tying Obamacare to the ongoing negotiations over the government shutdown. Just 23 percent of Americans say they want to continue the current shutdown to sabotage the health law.
And while the shutdown has done nothing to stop Obamacare, it has created more sick and injured patients in need of it. Let’s start with the salmonella outbreak, which has already sickened 278 people in 18 states, with many worried that “the bacteria are mutating to become harder to fight.”
CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said the agency’s skeletal staffing during the government shutdown hampered its analysis of the salmonella cases. “We were monitoring 30 outbreak clusters, and it became overwhelming” to the agency’s reduced staff, she said.
Of course, the shutdown isn’t the only cause of unnecessary deaths and injuries thanks to our messed up health care industry. Bloomberg reported this week on “the extremes one hospital went to in order to keep its catheterization clinic -- or “cath lab” -- operating and producing revenue."
Other hospitals paid millions in kickbacks -- using ghost jobs, padded fees, debt forgiveness or discounted office space -- to induce doctors to keep up the pace in U.S. medicine’s binge on stents, according to allegations made in five federal cases and three other private whistle-blower lawsuits.
Stents, metal mesh devices that prop open clogged blood vessels, have been implanted via catheters in seven million heart patients over the last decade -- perhaps as many as one-third of them needlessly, according to David Brown, a cardiologist at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. In all, 11 hospitals have agreed to settlements with the Justice Department, resolving civil allegations of needless stenting and related wrongdoing.
We also learned that the awesome advocates at California’s Consumer Watchdog “will be circulating around Disneyland on a mobile billboard this weekend, where the California Medical Association is convening” asking doctors to “pee in a cup” since “substance abuse among doctor runs twice as high among doctors as the general population -- 18 percent of physicians, according to the California Medical Board.” (Learn more here.)
So with all that health care news, here’s one story I bet you missed. You know all that talk about so-called “defensive medicine” driving up health care costs (i.e., the theory that doctors perform unnecessary tests for the sole purpose of avoiding lawsuits and not, say, because they get paid to implant unnecessary heart stents)? Well, there's now even more definitive academic research debunking this "defensive medicine" myth. Here’s the researchers' conclusion:
The comparison of the Dartmouth Atlas Medicare Reimbursement Data with Malpractice Reform State Rankings, which are used by the PRI, did not support the hypothesis that defensive medicine is a driver of rising health-care costs. Additionally, comparing Medicare reimbursements, premedical and postmedical tort reform, we found no consistent effect on health-care expenditures. Together, these data indicate that medical tort reform seems to have little to no effect on overall Medicare cost savings.
So, can we finally stop talking about this issue and focus on more important things? Like this: