October 2009


An excellent article appeared recently in Dallas News that talked about the health care systems in other Western countries and what America can learn from them to resolve its health care woes. Here is the article for a good read…

Tackling the high cost of health care is politically bruising and difficult work around the world. Among developed countries, only the Norwegians rival our level of spending. The French wrestle with rising costs every year. The Canadians are searching for a better model, and have had their eyes on France. But for all their troubles, the French and the Canadians – two bogeymen in the American reform debate – spend much less and live longer than we Americans.

In the last five years, I’ve spent time reporting on health care in 10 other countries to see what they might offer in the way of suggestions to improve the American way of medicine. No one has a perfect system. No one has a permanent solution. But medical spending can be slowed without sacrificing quality. Some do it with government price controls and government doctors, while some do it with government acting as a referee. Neither approach is fatal to medical quality.

The Swiss, the French and the Canadians all use very different approaches to get at the problem, but they get there. And when all else fails, there’s still medical tourism. You can get heart bypass surgery, with a tour of the Taj Mahal, in India for less than 10 percent of the U.S. cost – plus a year’s supply of pharmaceuticals.

I met Carlo Gislimberti, a New Mexico restaurateur, in New Delhi in 2005 while he was waiting for a coronary bypass at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre. He’d had three heart attacks. He had no health insurance. His Albuquerque hospital wanted $120,000 for the operation.

Escorts did the job for less than $12,000.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience with wonderful results,” Gislimberti said last week when I called him in Santa Fe.

“There was only one thing – the luxury is not there. But the knowledge, the quality of nursing, it was absolutely beyond belief. … I would still today recommend to all the people in my predicament to go abroad.”

Medical tourism is no longer a quirky answer for the desperate and uninsured. The health-consulting arm of Deloitte estimates 1.6 million Americans will seek medical treatment in another country this year. U.S. health insurers, looking for ways to lower costs, are exploring policies that cover such travel.

Gislimberti, now 64, sold his restaurant and paints for a living. His heart ailments qualified him for disability under Social Security, and last year he was accepted under Medicare. He had a pacemaker installed by his Albuquerque hospital in an operation last May.

One thing he learned: “If you have insurance, this country is the greatest. But it you don’t have insurance, this is a Third World country.”

Another lesson: Price competition is coming. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute consulting group last fall found that Americans pay 50 percent to 60 percent higher charges for pharmaceuticals, health insurance overhead and physician services than anyone else in the world. That could make medical tourism irresistible, and a competitive risk to the U.S. medical establishment.

Switzerland is intriguing because employers have gotten out of the insurance business. The Swiss government mandates personal health insurance. Everyone shops among scores of insurance companies to buy a policy. The insurers must offer everyone a basic policy and can’t exclude anyone. The government offers subsidies to people who can’t afford a policy, and fines people who don’t get one.

Swiss medical fees are set in annual negotiations between health care providers and insurers that must win the approval of the canton parliament. (Insurers and hospital chains do the same thing here, but those negotiations are seldom among equals and don’t have a referee like the canton parliament.)

One result of the Swiss approach is that consumers gravitate toward high-deductible policies – insurance that costs less per month, but takes more out of your wallet when you see a doctor. And because they’re paying for it, the Swiss are more cost-conscious health consumers. The Swiss spend about a third less than Americans for medical care.

France and Canada both have national health insurance. In France, this is like Medicare for all. There’s a gap of 30 percent to 40 percent between what the government insurance covers and what health care costs, so a lively market exists for private, supplemental insurance policies.

Doctors can choose compensation under a government schedule revised every year, or they can charge what they like – and forgo a government pension.

Canadians may, famously, wait for nonurgent treatments and surgeries. But they’re quicker to rally around a public health issue like obesity, because the insurance mechanism is part of the provincial government.

“Our wait lists are coming down, but they’re still substantially more than yours,” said Canadian health economist Steven Lewis. “But your system is twice as expensive. It doesn’t insure 45 million people, it underinsures another 45 million, and overall you have a less healthy population. Is that worth sustaining?”

In the current health care debate in Washington, no one argues that we should throw out the U.S. health care model for an import. There are models closer to home – like Temple’s Scott & White – worth emulating.

But there are plenty of places that spend less for equal or better care. It can be done.

By Jim Landers

Further reading:
Medical tourism
Domestic medical tourism
FREE surgery quote

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Vermont leads the nation in the delivery of its health care, while Mississippi is rated the worst, according to a non-partisan study that compares all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Vermont, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire ranked 1 to 5 in 38 indicators of health care.

At the bottom were Mississippi, along with Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Nevada and Texas.

The Commonwealth Fund Commission’s “Scorecard on Health System Performance,” rated the states on access, quality, costs and health outcomes in a follow up to their 2007 report.

Overall, the states which did best on the Commonwealth scorecard were in New England and the upper Midwest, and the worst states were in the South.

Vermont, with only 640,000 residents, has nearly universal health care coverage with 93 percent insured. Its innovative “Blue Print for Health” focuses on prevention of chronic diseases.

“We’re small. There are 19 cities larger than the state of Vermont,” said Susan Besio, director for health care reform and Medicaid for Vermont.

“But I believe there is something unique about Vermont in terms of its culture,” she told ABCNews.com. “We want to take care of each other and we are a healthy state.”

In Mississippi, however, about 20 percent are uninsured despite having some of the highest rates of hypertension, diabetes and asthma.

According to the report, only 35.7 percent of adults 50 or over in Mississippi receive recommended screening and preventive care.

“When you compare Mississippi on almost any socio-economic profile, we are a struggling population that has a large percentage of low-income individuals, high unemployment rates, low rate of education,” said Robert Pugh, director of the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association.

The scorecard “paints a picture of health care systems under stress, with deteriorating health insurance coverage for adults and rising health care costs,” according to co-author Cathy Schoen, who is senior vice president of the commission.

“Where you live matters for access, quality of care and whether you live a long and healthy life. These wide and persistent gaps among states highlight the need for national reforms and federal action to support states.”

For example, 32 percent of working-age adults in Texas are uninsured, compared to only 7 percent in Massachusetts in the most recent survey.

“It’s very hard to have a high performing health care system and hospitals that do well for everyone if you have a high rate of uninsured in the state,” said Schoen.

In 1999-00, there were only two states with 23 percent or more of adults uninsured. But by 2007-2008 there were nine.

Children fared much better, due in large part to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under Medicaid. The number of states with 16 percent or more of children uninsured dropped from nine to three during the same time period.

Other findings of the report were that in a, costs rose and quality improved in areas where outcomes were reported to the public.

Vermont’s ‘Blue Print For Health’ A Model

The Green Mountain state was cited for its model “Blue Print” program. Launched by Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, it covers everything from teaching children healthy eating to helping seniors stay in their homes rather than going to costly nursing homes.

“You betcha, I feel good about the reforms we put in place,” Douglas told ABCNews.com. “It’s centered on quality and containing costs. Care shouldn’t start in the emergency room.”

All Vermonters are encouraged to have yearly exams and adults are notified when they are due for check-ups.

Douglas talks to children about “getting off the couch” and set an example just this week by joining elementary students on a walk to school.

With the second oldest population in the nation, Vermont subsizes care for seniors and the disabled to defray the costs of home care. Nursing home beds were reduced by 200 last year.

In one pilot program, electronic medical records can avert expensive tests like MRIs and x-rays. One emergency room doctor seeing a woman with stomach pains discovered in her online medication history that she had not filled her prescription for ulcer medicine.

“It takes time and so a lot of the fruits come from years of work and planning and cooperation,” said Douglas.

Health Care Affects a State’s Economy

But Mississippi, with the highest infant mortality and low birth rates in the nation, makes access to these Medicaid programs more difficult, according to Roy Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (MHAP).

“I am not at all surprised we were 51st on the list,” he told ABCNews.com. “We are last on several health indicators. Our policy makers work hard at being last.”

Despite one of the highest matches of federal to state dollars in Medicaid funding, the state mandates “face-to-face” eligibility, requiring all new applicants and those reapplying for benefits to come in for an interview.

“As a direct result, 65,000 children have fallen off the rolls,” Mitchell said.

“Mississippi does virtually no outreach at all. They don’t publish where these face to face stations are and what times,” he said. “It’s a bureaucratic maze even to find out where to go. And when they get there they don’t have a certain document.”

Of those, about 77 percent would be eligible, he said. “It’s touted as fraud prevention.”

These disparities between the highest and lowest ranked states could be alleviated with national reform, according to Commonwealth.

The report emphasizes the need for insurance reform that rewards good outcomes, payment reform with an emphasis on prevention and advanced information systems that travel with the patient from physician to physician, saving time, money and preventing errors.

“What the scorecard is showing is that we have a system under stress, no matter where we live,” said co-author Schoen. “The costs are rising more than people’s incomes. We need to act.”

Schoen said she has hope for reform. “There is real leadership and people are taking reform seriously.”

Source: ABC News

Log on to Healthbase to learn about medical tourism or to get a FREE quote for any surgery in the United States or abroad.

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We all know the facts and the figures. About 46 to 47 million Americans are uninsured and with the economic recession not yet over, several more are expected to join the ranks.

The Congress is still debating over a national health care reform which no one knows will lead to what consequences. So, given the current state of affairs, the big question still looms – Who takes care of you when something major comes up? Or, worse yet, What happens if you are aging, start having health problems and no insurance wants to cover you even if you are willing to purchase the most expensive catastrophic policy?

NPR recently ran the story of a 58-year old uninsured American who landed himself into exactly this sort of a situation. Read on…

Fernando Arriola spends his days keeping track of four or five construction projects, and his nights praying for good health. The New Orleans home builder is one of the 46 million people in this country who don’t have health insurance.

Four years ago Arriola, 58, bought a friend’s contracting business, just as New Orleans was starting to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. He named it New Beginnings Enterprises.

“It was a new beginning for me; it was a new beginning for the city; it was a new beginning for a lot of people we were working with,” he says.

And business has been good. He does mostly residential work, like the quaint mother-in-law cottage in the Garden District where his crew is laying tile and putting on the finishing touches.

Making A Living, But Not Enough For Insurance

Arriola makes about $50,000 a year and says he enjoys working for himself. But what he’s missing is the comprehensive health coverage he had at his former job as a sales manager.

Ever since he’s been self-employed, Arriola has been on a health insurance roller coaster. Initially, he bought a standard policy with a $1,000 deductible to cover his family. Then, when business slowed down and money got tight, he decided to temporarily drop the coverage. When he tried to reinstate it, he could only afford a catastrophic plan.

“I was paying $900 a month for a $5,000 deductible that would cover nothing until I hit that $5,000. So I was paying in essence $15,000 before I had one penny covered. And that was too expensive,” Arriola says.

So he dropped that coverage, only to have second thoughts. And when he tried to get it back, he was denied even the expensive catastrophic policy. Arriola doesn’t know exactly why, but he acknowledges that he and his wife both have high blood pressure and are approaching 60.

“Insurance is nothing more than just a business. And they try to limit their liabilities. So where there’s an older person, they don’t want to cover it,” he says.

Aging Without Coverage

Maria Arriola doesn’t think it’s fair that after years of paying for coverage and not having many claims, now, when they are starting to have health problems, they can’t get insurance.

“There’s nothing you can do about that. As you get older things don’t work so well, so…” she says.

The Arriolas did buy a policy for their two daughters, ages 22 and 16. But Fernando and Maria are uninsured. They pay for doctor visits and prescriptions out of pocket.

If something major comes up, Arriola says he would leave the country for medical services. Arriola is a naturalized citizen and has lived in New Orleans since 1970. But last year, he traveled to his native Guatemala for arthroscopic knee surgery. It cost him less than $1,000.

“Over here [it] would cost me thousands. They have just as good of doctors as they have over here. Most of them graduated from here,” he says.

Not Waiting For Congress To Fix

As for the debate on Capitol Hill over health care reform, Arriola takes a businessman’s approach to the issue: Open up the marketplace, he says, and create a national playing field so consumers will have more options.

But he does not have faith that Congress will come up with a fix because of partisan politics. So, in the meantime, he’s working to do something locally as a member of the board of directors for the New Orleans Faith and Health Alliance. The group is trying to start a health clinic in unused classroom space at a midcity church. Patients would pay based on their income.

“The purpose is to be able to provide the working uninsured medical services. There is definitely a need. I’m a perfect example of it,” Arriola says.

The alliance hopes to start providing care this fall. Arriola plans to sign up. In the meantime, he prays that nothing serious happens. The way the system works now, he says, he’d have to experience a major calamity to get coverage.

“I would have to go into the hospital, I would have to lose my house, I will have to lose all my savings, lose everything for the government to be able to help me. So 40 years of work, 40 years of struggle has to come to nothing. I have to be totally destitute in order for me to be able to get some help.”

Arriola says he doesn’t want anybody to give him anything. He just wants to be able to afford health insurance.

“There has to be a way,” he says.
Source: NPR

For low cost high quality surgery abroad or discount medical services in the United States, call Healthbase at 1-617-418-3436.

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Almost all of us have been to the doctor at some point or the other in our lives. One of the common things you would have noted in your meetings with your doctor is him scribbling down notes. But, have you wondered what he writes in such notes? Do you think you should be allowed to see those notes? And, are you prepared to see what your doctor might have written about your meeting and your physiological and psychological conditions?

A lot of what’s in that note is objective stuff about your blood pressure, weight and blood count. But often your doctor puts down subjective impressions.

Did you seem down? Anxious? Angry? Drinking too much? Not so mentally sharp? Physicians also may speculate about a tentative diagnosis – maybe a scary one – they haven’t shared with you.

What do you think doctors would feel about letting patients see their notes? As you would guess, there are mixed opinions. Some feel comfortable while others don’t. It ranges from ‘Well, transparency is here, this will be good for patients, they’ll be more actively involved in their care, this is a terrific idea,‘ to ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard of.

Doctors’ notes are not really secret anyway. Other doctors see them. Insurance companies and lawyers do. And under a 1996 federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, patients have every right to see their complete medical records. But as Dr. Tom Delbanco of Harvard Medical School (HMS) puts it, “You can get it but we do everything in the world to make sure you don’t get it. The medical record has traditionally been viewed by the medical establishment as something that they own. They think: ‘It’s my private notes. This is my stuff.'”

Check out below for some other kinds of opinions that different doctors share:

  • “Information should be accessible, but that will mean more work for doctors who may need to explain their notes to patients.”
  • “My hope is that it will be a method of communicating with patients, so patients can see what we’re thinking, where our head is, what our plans are, why we’re suggesting what we do.”
  • “We may be less candid. We may not as accurately describe the mood of the patient, the tenor of the encounter, for fear that we may get someone perhaps already a little angry during the encounter – more so after they log on and read the note that I just finished.”
  • “Physicians are scared of this kind of thing. But the big, broad directions are clear. Which is: Patients have to be at the center of their care more and more. That doesn’t mean patients call the shots. But patients really have to be a team member. To be a team member, they’ve got to see the playbook. And doctors will have to learn to be respectful in the way they write their notes in some situation.”
  • “If there’s some delicate problem, doctors shouldn’t dodge that topic, and patients should be prepared to see some things which may be a little painful for them to confront too.”

Your doctor’s reservations to this idea are understandable:

  • It will be more work for them, because patients will call up wanting to know what something means, or demanding corrections.
  • It might lead to more lawsuits.
  • It might scare the hell out of patients.

Source: Adapted from the NPR story – “Doctors Don’t Agree On Letting Patients See Notes” by Richard Knox

For affordable and quality medical care in the United States, check out domestic medical tourism. For surgery abroad, check out medical tourism.

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