Wait times are still a problem in Canada

Critics of the Canadian health system (particularly from the USA) tend to bring up rationing.

“I’m 59. In either Canada or Great Britain, if I broke my hip, I couldn’t get it replaced.”

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), 8/12/2009

Blunt was pants-on-fire wrong about the Canadian government explicitly denying hip replacements to 59-year-olds.

“At least 63 percent of hip replacements performed in Canada last year and two-thirds of those done in England were on patients age 65 or older. More than 1,200 in Canada were done on people older than 85.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 8/16/2009

But the real problem is how long he would have to wait to get it. An editorial by The Toronto Sun spells out the problem.

One of the reports, by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, found that among other medical procedures, 30% of patients across Canada in 2018 requiring hip or knee replacement, or cataract surgery, did not have their procedures done within recommended wait times.

But that’s only half the story because the recommended wait times for hip and knee replacement are themselves excessive — 182 days or six months — and 112 days or almost four months for cataract surgery.

…In reality, Canada’s health care system could not function without excessive wait times for medically necessary care, as a way of rationing health care to Canadians.

The Toronto Sun, 3/30/2019

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of OECD data, Canadians spend less than half of what Americans spend per capita in total healthcare costs. And, yes, some of those savings come from reducing the overhead from multiple payers, but some of it is also from rationing.

The Canadian government places limits on the number of medical facilities built in a given area (sort of like certificate-of-need laws in some states), and their ratio of primary care physicians to specialists is much higher than it is in the USA. The Canadian government isn’t so much “pulling the plug on Grandma” (as Senator Chuck Grassley might say) or convening “death panels” (as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin might say), but they are engaging in implicit rationing.

We Americans ration healthcare too, but we do it based on each individual’s ability to pay the out-of-pocket expenses for a given medical procedure. People with rich health insurance benefits and/or deep pockets get much better access to healthcare than people with fewer resources. So, Rep. Blunt with his excellent benefits could get a much faster hip replacement in the USA than in Canada, but an uninsured or underinsured person might never get it…or go bankrupt.

And affluent people get more medical facilities and physicians closer to them. Just as a real-world example, Exit 210 of Interstate 69 in Fishers, Indiana hosts two competing hospitals within sight of one another…0.9 miles apart. A little to the west in Carmel, those same two hospital chains built hospitals 2.6 miles apart along U.S. 31. Indiana has no certificate-of-need laws, so these two chains are building hospitals so close together — just like a CVS and a Walgreens — because Hamilton County is the richest county in Indiana, and they’re competing for those large private health insurance dollars. There are currently 10 hospitals in Hamilton County, and possibly two more on the way.

Meanwhile, Fayette Regional Health System in rural Connersville, Indiana found itself in bankruptcy in 2018 and nearly closed before being bought out by Reid Hospital, a larger system based in the next county over. It is the only hospital in Fayette County, Indiana. It simply wasn’t bringing in enough revenue from the area’s heavy Medicare and Medicaid populations to stay afloat on its own…something single-payer advocates need to consider.

(Fayette Regional Health System has since been renamed Reid Health Connersville.)

There is no perfect health system. There are always tradeoffs to make. At least in Canada, the misery is spread equally.

Patently ridiculous: Pharma companies use gimmicks to extend patents almost indefinitely

It has been more than 20 years since Pfizer‘s blockbuster drug Viagra was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to introduce to the U.S. market and even longer since the original patent was granted, yet there are still no generic equivalents available for it.

The original U.S. patent was set to expire in 2012, but Pfizer added a “method-of-use” patent that extended its exclusivity on the drug through this year. (The Canadian government was not having it.)

This is one of many ways pharmaceutical companies game the system to keep generic competition off the market and keep their prices high. Another is with “citizen petitions,” which are, in theory, a way for citizens to raise concerns about pending drug approvals. In reality, 92 percent of citizen petitions are filed by corporations.

These aren’t mere unintended consequences. Rather, they are deliberate measures by the pharmaceutical industry and their extensive campaign finance and lobbying arms to control how the system works. These lobbying efforts are not partisan in nature — they take aim at whichever legislators are expected to assume power after the next election.

Yes, research and development for prescription drugs is very costly, and FDA approvals take years, but Pfizer alone brought in $53 billion in profits in 2018…so I think they are more than recouping their R&D costs.

 

 

Freestanding ERs confuse patients — especially when they get the bill

So, when you think of an emergency room, you probably picture the part of a hospital where ambulances bring people who need immediate, life-saving measures.

You probably don’t picture a small facility in a strip mall “next to a nail place.” That’s something altogether different, isn’t it? Like an urgent care, perhaps.

Not according to the bill.

Freestanding emergency rooms are popping up all over the country. While many of them are operated by hospitals, some are operated by independent companies, including the largest provider, Adeptus Health. Some sticker-shocked patients complained in a lawsuit.

The suit targets Adeptus Health, the largest provider of freestanding ERs in the country, claiming that Adeptus “actively conceals its billing practices” and operates a business model meant to “trick patients into believing that its centers are appropriate for non-emergent care for the purpose of extracting extravagant fees.”

NBC News, 4/25/2017

The lawsuit might be a moot point. According to The Dallas Morning News, Adeptus Health filed for bankruptcy in April. Even without Adeptus Health in the picture, many freestanding emergency rooms will continue to operate.

What about EMTALA?

There’s another significant way in which freestanding emergency rooms can differ from hospital emergency rooms. The federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) does not apply to them, meaning federal law doesn’t require them to accept all patients regardless of ability to pay. Some states have passed EMTALA-like laws for freestanding emergency rooms, but some have not.

So, are these facilities really emergency rooms, or are they merely urgent care facilities gouging non-emergent patients with ER-like prices? It’s an important reminder to be really sure about the level of care you are seeking before you receive it…or else you could pay a hefty price.

 

Health policy wonks of all stripes agree: GOP health plan is terrible

Despite the terrible news, I was heartened to see the phrase “healthcare policy wonks” in this article. It’s a shame these wonks weren’t included in writing the Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA).

Experts from across the ideological spectrum who actually understand health care policy know that the GOP’s health care plan doesn’t pass muster.

Here are a few objections.

From the left

The repeal bill will transfer money from low-income and middle-class Americans to millionaires.
Topher Spiro and Harry Stein, Center for American Progress

From the center

Some parts of the country will see very large financial hits even if they retain coverage.
Matthew Fiedler, Brookings Institute

From the right

The flat credit will price many poor and vulnerable people out of the health insurance market.
Avik Roy, Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity and health policy adviser to Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney presidential campaigns

This bill misses the mark primarily because it fails to correct the features of Obamacare that drove up health care costs.
Edmund F. Haislmaier, The Heritage Foundation

What happens to Pence’s HIP 2.0 if Obamacare is repealed?

I’ve written previously about the Healthy Indiana Plan started by former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and updated to version 2.0 under Governor and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence as Indiana’s unique take on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act‘s Medicaid expansion.

In short, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Pence (to put it mildly), but I gave him credit where was due for finding a way to expand access to health care in Indiana even when it meant negotiating with his political rivals in the Obama administration.

But the Obama administration is about to come to an end, and the incoming Trump administration has made repealing and replacing PPACA (more commonly known as Obamacare) one of its top priorities in its first 100 days, which might cause as many as 21 million Americans to lose their health coverage.

Senate Democrats will have enough votes to filibuster any bill to repeal Obamacare, but just as Democrats got the fix-it bill through the Senate in 2010 via the budget reconciliation process to avoid a GOP filibuster, Republicans will probably not shy away from using the same tactic.

So, assuming Republicans go this route, what will happen to one of Pence’s signature achievements as governor of Indiana? After all, HIP 2.0 relies on the federal funds for the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act.

That’s going to be an awkward conversation.