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Topic: Affordable Care
December 19, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

There are some ominous social and political trends currently in American society on which the field of bioethics should focus more attention. In this informal and admittedly polemical blog, I would like to briefly explore a couple of them.

Governors from about half of the states, mostly from the Tea Party GOP, have invoked their constitutional right to deny healthcare coverage to individuals in their states who make less that 138% of the federal poverty level. These governors calmly claim that pragmatism, not politics, is the basis for their decision to refuse their states the opportunity to participate in the Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s just too costly and the Medicaid program is broken, so they say.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 12, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

A July 28, 2012 article in The New York Times by Anne Lowry and Robert Pear titled “Doctor Shortage Likely to Worsen with Health Law” was recently updated with a follow-up report about Medicaid expansion by Abby Goodnough in a piece titled “Medicaid Growth Could Aggravate Doctor Shortage.” 

Many report that there’s not enough doctors now. It may be curious and rhetorical, but why would anyone suspect that there’s not going to be doctor shortages of some degree – in the very near future – if Medicaid expands by 9 million new persons and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) adds another 30 million or so newly-insured patients to those already covered by some plan. How could this not have been anticipated? It must have been factored into the ACA equation. In the same way that legislators should have realized that some insured would not be able to “keep their coverage” once the new health law was to take effect.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

November 25, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

The political right in the U.S. has mounted a formidable effort from the outset to mischaracterize the aims of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to mislead voters about the need for fundamental reform in healthcare. I take it as a given that the opposition to the ACA has never been about its efficacy to promote certain goals to expand coverage for more Americans; even if the ACA accomplished its goals perfectly, those on the extreme political right would still oppose it. That is, the opposition from the political right is not about whether or not the ACA will work effectively but about ideology—they oppose the ACA as a matter of principle. They are committed to the view that government should not be involved in healthcare and fear, perhaps rightly, that if the ACA proves workable it would lead to a single payer system of universal coverage for all citizens. They apparently see healthcare services being like any other market service provided in a capitalistic society. But upon even a superficial analysis, this position is flawed.

It is basic to free markets that the ability of an individual to use a certain service or product is a function his or her ability to purchase it. One of the few services that is an exception in our current capitalistic society is healthcare, albeit only at the level of requiring services at an acute level. For example no matter how desperately I need transportation to go back and forth to work, I will not get a free car as a function of someone else’s obligation to provide it. This is not true of healthcare: even if I cannot pay for healthcare or I lack healthcare insurance, if I get sick enough and show up at an Emergency Room, I’ll not only be stabilized, I’ll be hospitalized and be given all I need to improve, or more fittingly, to be rescued from dying.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 25, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In the summer of 2009 when the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Obamacare, was being widely discussed as a front burner political issue, I attended a town hall meeting held by my congressional representative, a moderate democrat, to listen to public comments before he decided whether or not to support the ACA. In the years following the disappointing implosion of healthcare reform during the Clinton administration, honestly, I did not expect to see the issue of healthcare reform back on the political agenda in my lifetime. So I was eager to attend and lend my support for a bill that would expand healthcare coverage for Americans and to hear my congressman respond to questions. When I arrived I was struck by the number of attendees and even more so by the large number of signs and placards with crude slogans linking ACA death panels, Nazism, killing grandma, etc. It was also striking that many of the people there were local working people who were members of the newly formed Tea Party and fierce opponents of the ACA. The negative views being expressed were passionate and urgent: Passage of the ACA would take our country down a path toward socialism, loss of freedom and government interference into the sacred domain of the physician-patient relationship.

Now that the ACA has passed both chambers of congress, signed by the president and ruled to be constitutional by the Supreme Court, there are still strong efforts by it opponents to stop its implementation. At present, the right wing of Republican Party in the house of representation has been willing to shut down our government and threaten default on our national debt unless the ACA is repealed or delayed. It is instructive to put the recent efforts to derail the ACA into historical context and see them as an extension of a century long effort, led by well-funded special interests groups to motivate American citizens through misinformation and scare tactics to vote against their own interests.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 4, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

In her Sunday, June 2, 2013, New York Times article titled “The 2.7 Trillion Medical Bill”, reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal reminds us once again that with the U.S. healthcare “system,” traditional economic market forces are a myth. In example after example, from angiogram to colonoscopy to hip replacement surgery to Lipitor to everyday radiology studies, she shows how U.S. costs are three-to-four times higher than charges in other countries, and how no one can really explain why. For this reason alone, why do some continue to insist on saying that American healthcare is sustained by free market forces as if it were another “business”?

Victor R. Fuchs – in his 1986 text The Health Economy – recalled that a typical market includes: (1) many well-informed buyers and sellers, with no large group of either able to influence price; (2) buyers and sellers acting independently; and (3) free entry of new buyers and sellers. The American healthcare market departs remarkably from these competitive conditions, often as a consequence of openly debated public policy. In America, it is very difficult for patients, consumers, “to vote with their feet” as Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman oft wrote.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

February 4, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

A recent blog about a tragic situation in Tennessee highlights how difficult it is to create a “fair” healthcare system.

In this case, the patient is a nine-year-old severely disabled girl. She is maintained on a ventilator and feed through a tube. “She requires medicines and breathing treatments around the clock.” “She has to be suctioned every ten minutes or so to avoid suffocating on her own saliva.” She responds to family and caregivers minimally. And, she resides at home with her parents. Her father works and her mother is disabled with severe arthritis. Because family members cannot take care of her 24 hours a day, seven days a week, home health nurses provide most of the moment-to-moment care. However, home health nurses are very expensive, much more costly than if the patient were a patient in a nursing home (about $1000 a day).

The crux of the controversy between the parents and Tennessee’s Medicaid program – TennCare – is home care versus nursing home care. The parents want to keep their child at home with 24 hours nursing support, but TennCare will only pay for nursing home care in a skilled care facility.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 12, 2012 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Recently, I attended a debate between two very informed health care professionals about whether or not our country should have a single payer health care system. Each seemed to have their own philosophical or ideological perspective about health care as a basic service in our society and it through their ideological lens that each speaker viewed health care and brought to bear the facts to support their positions. It was striking that these two very informed and thoughtful individuals often disagreed about fundamental facts pertaining to our health care system. 

For example, the opponent of a single payer system supported his claim that turning over health care to the federal government would be a failure at least in part on the assumption government is incompetent to perform this task. He claimed, as other thoughtful conservatives do, that that Medicare and Medicaid are less efficient than private health plans. If the analysis in the first link below, which is part of the Ryan Plan, is true, then perhaps there are some facts to support their case.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit ourwebsite.

October 3, 2012 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

The September 20, 2012, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine carried two Sounding Board pieces about recommendations to contain health care spending. One article is titled “A Systematic Approach to Containing Health Care Spending” was produced by nationally known health policy experts working in cooperation with the Center for American Progress.

About half of the 11 recommended solutions are not new, nor have they proven to be anything more than platitudes from the past. Among these recommendations are: (a) “accelerate use of alternatives to fee-for-service payment”; (b) “simplify administrative systems for all payers and providers”; (c) “make better use of nonphysician providers [such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants]”; (d) “expand the Medicare ban on physician self-referrals”; and (e) “reduce the costs of defensive medicine.” Should one peruse any one of several books produced in the 1980s written by politicians and health system gurus – such as Alain C. Enthoven’s Health Plan (1980), Joseph A. Califano, Jr.’s America’s Health Care Revolution (1986), Victor R. Fuch’s The Health Economy (1986), and Rashi Fein’s Medical Care, Medical Costs (1989) – they would find the same recommendations. Also, not so curiously, all of these authors and many others agreed in spirit – in the 1980s – that health care spending “trends [then] could squeeze out critical investments in education and infrastructure, contribute to unsustainable debt levels, and constrain wage increases for the middle class.” This at a time when total health care spending was one-tenth of what it is today (health care spending in 1980 was $256 billon; health care spending in 2020 was $2.6 trillion).

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 26, 2012 | Posted By Hayley Dittus-Doria, MPH

An article about the concept of overtreatment recently caught my eye. We live in a world of excess-bigger houses and larger food portions, among others. These are necessarily bad, just perhaps more than we need. The same goes for medical treatment. Like many things in the U.S., people equate “more” or “bigger” with “better.”

The problem with this mentality when it comes to healthcare procedures is the large cost that comes with it. According to the article, overtreatment is costing the U.S. healthcare system $210 billion each year. And spending that money doesn’t earn us high marks in terms of our health outcomes compared to the rest of theworld. Between “one fifth and one third of our health care dollars” are spent “on care that does nothing to improve our health” according to Shannon Brownlee, author of “Overtreated.” In a 2009 New Yorker article, Dr. Atul Gwande also points out the fact that simply because you’re receiving more aggressive healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthier. 

Overtreatment has additional, non-financial ramifications as well. Emotional consequences can be quite serious. What if you had a cough for a few weeks? And when looking into the cough, you discover something else? And when looking into that new diagnosis, yet another problem comes to light? When your expectation was just to be treated for your cough, would you want to find out all of the other illnesses you might have? Maybe. But maybe not. Perhaps, other than your cough, you felt fine, but now your days are spent getting test done, blood work run, procedures scheduled.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 11, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Plans are underway at some drug store chains and other discount retailers to open in-store clinics which will offer an expanded menu of low cost vaccines and basic clinic services to consumers. Vaccines for flu and pneumonia have been available at retail locations for a number of years, and have become a familiar practice at drugstore chains and other retailers particularly during autumn when the newest flu vaccines are available. A folding table and chairs, consent forms, alcohol swabs and a sharps container typically wait at the end of often long lines of people seeking these prophylactic shots. More recently, several retailers began opening in-store clinics and current estimates of existing in-store clinics hover around 1,300. The pending expansion of these clinics may bring the numbers up to over 3,000 within the next 3 years. 

The self-proclaimed low price leader, Wal-Mart, plans to open independently owned and operated in-store clinics which will treat walk-in patients seven days a week. The list of services ranges from acne care and common vaccines to flu treatment (for those who missed the Wal-Mart flu shots) and upper respiratory infections. It seems reasonable to presume that other in-store clinics are or will be similarly equipped. For the millions of Americans who have difficulty accessing primary care, this may be a tolerable solution which falls somewhere in between going to the ER for these routine healthcare issues and having a primary care physician who can provide comprehensive on-going care. As noted in a piece printed in The Detroit News, the Affordable Care Act will thrust millions of newly insured patients into the waiting rooms of medical offices clogging an already strained primary care system. Perhaps the locating clinics in popular stores is a kind of outreach for clinic owners who  have been unsuccessful in efforts to provide care to underserved populations. I am not convinced these clinics represent such altruistic intentions. This expansion of medical services raises questions about whether or not this venue truly supports the best interests of patients.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit ourwebsite.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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