Fact Checking Sen. Menendez ACA Diatribe

Dear Senator Menendez,

As a N.J. citizen, taxpayer, physician, husband and father, I must offer factual correction on your healthcare policy ACA diatribes.

You tweeted:

Nothing could be further from the truth in your partisan message:

1. Insurance coverage is not healthcare.
2. Forcing citizens into ACA Medicaid at taxpayer expense is foolhardy.
3. ACA through “guaranteed issue(preexisting conditions)” destroyed the risk pools that kept prices stable. Now ALL commercial plans premiums have doubled and tripled.
4. The individual insurance market was decimated by ACA, destroying any semblance of insurance competition.
5. ACA put most private practice independent physicians, that are more efficient and cheaper, out of business and working for hospitals. As you know, hospitals inflated pricing schemes also extorts taxpayer dollars
6. ACA also pushed insurers toward “narrow networks.” eliminated patients long-term relationships with physicians and further limited their choice of physician and facility.
7. ACA and forced government dependence will bankrupt the country and its citizens, as a whole and individually.
8. Remember the three big lies of Obamacare? Keep your doctor. Keep your insurance. Each family will save $2500. All proven false partisan narrative.
9. Attacking the president of the United States is a waste of time, money and energy when he would gladly work with you on these issues.

I would be glad to work with you and other legislators on competitive free-market plans and assure quality and give patients best choice and restore personal responsibility and freedom.

Sincerely
Craig M. Wax DO
Independent family physician, media host and healthcare policy expert

Senator Menendez: Stand Up Against Killer Kickbacks

Call Senator Menendez office today! (202) 224-4744 

Give him key questions to ask at tomorrow’s Senate meeting on PBM‘s. Please read below and call today. 

Dear Senator Menendez,

You are aware that the Senate Finance Committee meets on Tuesday, April 9, 2019,  to question Pharmacy Benefit Managers.I am truly sorry that none of the Senatorial staff from NJ could attend the meeting on April 1, at the Library of Congress. I am proud to have been intimately involved in the planning and execution of that meeting along with many others that have fresh working solutions for our health care crisis.  Patient advocates and physicians from across the aisle and across the country came together. We were especially moved by the presence of the Black Healthcare Coalition,  a group of 3000 pastors from across the country who are leaders for their African-American congregations.  It has been eye-opening for the Black Healthcare Coalition to learn their congregations are being targeted by the PBMs and GPOs, as is the rest of the nation.  The Safe Harbor for Legalized kickbacks for PBM and GPO cause artificial medication shortages and forces those with preexisting conditions to pay exorbitantly at the pharmacy counteror skip taking their medication(s) altogether. As Pastor Stephan Broden   framed the issue of legalized kickbacks, “It’s time for us to take this to the streets… because people are getting hurt.“

Congress is responsible for legalizing kickbacks for the GPO’s in 1987.  In 2003, the PBM’s  had legalized kickbacks extended to their industry.  The pay-to-play scheme for GPO is controlling which brand medications, solutions and devices are available in hospitals.   The PBM pay-to-play scheme is controlling what prescription meds are covered by insurance plans.   Patients and physicians are confronting life-threatening issues for patients, and neither the patients or physicians have any control.

Of the 150 drug shortages currently listed by the FDA,  roughly 90% of those medications have a single manufacturer because they bought the right to “sole-source contracting.” This unethical business practice by the PBMs was exposed in the second Senate Finance Committee hearings on February 26, 2019. I saw you both in attendance at that hearing, Senators.  I watched the hearing; many patients and physicians watched it, many of your constituents, and some are copied on this email.

Senator, you took an oath, just as physicians have taken an oath.  And we are fulfilling the Hippocratic Oath in the best way we know how, by speaking out for our patients who are hurt by continual drug shortages,  and high prices at the pharmacy counter and on hospital bills.Social media, The Black  congregations, the Hispanic population (Dr Wust Smith,  Pa pediatrician,  who is writing for the Hispanic outlook magazine and also attended the conference ) and the 1.8 million member Association of Mature American Citizens (also  in attendance Monday)  are all solidly behind repealing kickbacks for organizations who are robbing the American public of $200 billion a year while offering no research and development no manufacturing,  not even distribution of medications. As Pastor Broden says, “ We are gonna shine light and Make noise!”

Will you stand up for patients and the citizens of New Jersey, Senator Menendez, and ask the PBMs the following questions this Tuesday?

  1. How much do they take in rebates (kickbacks) from drug manufacturers and others. He should follow up with where do the so-called rebates go? They are supposed to go to the plan sponsor, employer, or individual purchasing the policy to keep prices down. They actually drive up prices and costs for all.
  2. Senator Menendez should insist that the PBMs make their rebates(kickbacks) transparent and report them to HHS, CMS, Congress and the public at large.
  3. Senator Menendez should advocate for the transparency and public report for all processes and payments by PBMs.
  4. Recommend that he advocate Senate and House to repeal the PBM safe harbor of 2002 that empowered PBMs to extort drug manufacturers for kickbacks called rebates, at the expense of patients, third parties, states, fed, and all taxpayers.
  5. Full repeal of 2002 PBM safe harbor for not only Medicare and Medicaid but also all payers including commercial and individual payors.

Senator, we are here to help you  take steps that are righteous and good in order to get our patients what they need which is affordable prescription medications, transparency of price and accessible quality healthcare.

Lastly, we would like to know  your position on the kickbacks themselves? Are you going to support Senator Braun’s Bill which will codify the Azar rebate rule as well as extend kickback repeal to the general insurance marketplace?

Simply put we are asking you, “do you stand for patients or do you stand for profits?”

What is Healthcare? And How to Fund It.

Dear Chairman Alexander,

Thank you very much for asking America’s MD and DO Physicians to weigh in on solutions to improve Americans’ health and launch an efficient and sustainable path for the healthcare ecosystem.

The first critical step is educating your colleagues that there is a difference between medical care and health insurance. My recent article published in Medical Economics may help policymakers understand that the difference matters: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/med-ec-blog/what-healthcare

Solving the current healthcare policy disaster ultimately means less federal intervention and regulation, combined with more freedom and liberty.

Please consider:

1. Expanded universal HSA heath savings accounts for all, independent of insurance, and usable for every healthcare service, medication and device.

2. Remove ACA restrictions on insurance policies and stop multi-billion dollar bailouts of the insurance industry. Insurers have driven up costs. Instead allow a diversity of insurance plans to compete side by side: from catastrophic with high deductible to first dollar HMO-coverage. Unique individuals should be shopping for unique plans to suit their own needs.

3. Repeal the Group Purchasing Organization safe harbor to the Anti Kickback Statute that is also being abused by Pharmacy Benefits Managers. The federal government has permitted kickbacks disguised as “rebates“ for decades and it must stop. Make kickbacks illegal again. GPO and PBM middleman must compete legally and not extort manufacturers.

4. Innovative solutions like Direct Primary Care (DPC), and similar direct payment arrangements between specialists and their patients are must not be subject to over-regulation under insurance rules . These arrangements are not insurance but cut out the third party bureaucracy driving up the cost of care. DPC serves to strengthen patient-physician relationships not interfere in them. This healing relationship is critical for regaining health and health maintenance. It makes both patients and physicians responsible to each other directly, as it should be.

5. Allow physicians and patients to opt out of Medicare, MACRA, and other top-down government programs. They should be voluntary, not compulsory. Direct contracting between patient and physicians will save lives and tax dollars.

6. Consider legislation to protect patient access to physicians of their choice, even if they are not in their plan’s network. Narrow networks serve to trap patients into obtaining care in the most expensive settings instead of from higher quality and less expensive options like independent physicians.

Please feel free to contact me via letter, email, social media, phone, or any other mechanism for short and long-term planning. Together we can harness free market and personal individual responsibility to organically solve America’s healthcare crisis.

My article catalog: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/authors/craig-m-wax-do

Best wishes for good health,

Craig M. Wax, DO
Family Physician
VP Healthcare Policy, Practicing Physicians of America
National Physicians Council on Healthcare Policy member
Independent Physicians for Patient Independence
Host of Your Health Matters
Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS FM
Twitter @drcraigwax
HealthIsNumberOne.com

Corporate Giants and the government revolving door create costly and fragmented care

By: Marion Mass, M.D. and Craig M. Wax, D.O.

Insurers, Pharmacy Benefit Managers(PBM), advocacy groups  such as AARP, and others are using their amassed wealth and influence to game the over-complicated and burdensome healthcare system for their own profit on the backs of the American taxpaying patient while fragmenting their care.  Let’s follow one pathway of corporate profiteering that results in a poorer quality of patient care:

United Healthcare’s subsidiary Optum (the company formerly known as Inginex) is one of the three big PBM…  companies that control what drugs your insurance company pays for and how much, while having the government given right to receive kickbacks from pharma manufacturers (conflict of interest much?). These kickbacks are costing Americans $200 BILLION PER YEAR and a prime reason why Optum got so rich. Their 2018 profits put them at the 100 billion mark.

How did a company with a history of fraud get so rich? Round up the usual suspects of the government/corporate cronyism.

After the fraud charges,  Ingenix rebranded itself as Optum, it’s CEO Andy Slavitt left and in 2015 became the Head of Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS)  while the former head of CMS, nurse Marilyn Tavenner, left to become the president of the insurance industry’s  lobby group AHIP. Slavitt was able to cash out stock options TAX FREE, getting a $4 million windfall.

Curiously, in 2015, while Slavitt is running CMS, Optum seems to take over the publication and administration of the CPT and ICD coding, their logo appearing on the coding material.

As if kickbacks, and coding are not enough, Optum finds another revenue stream via home visits. They send clinicians to medicare advantage patient’s homes often incentivizing the patients with gift cards.  ( apparently they discovered that kickbacks work)  These “wellness visits” prevent patients from being able to see their primary care physician for an annual physical, thus fragmenting care, while failing to forward critical information to the patients’ physicians.

These visits seem designed for Optum to be able to increase risk scores, and thus collect more from Medicare. A possible scenario: order protein levels, often low in elderly patients, increase the patients risk score, and viola!  Optum collects more from Medicare, and thus from the pockets of TAXPAYERS. Apparently, someone in the Justice Department is paying attention, as United looks to be in the hot waters of fraud yet again.

All this money-making benefits the AARP, a formidable lobby force in DC. The AARP gets nearly 50% of its income from royalties the big insurance companies pay them to peddle Medicare advantage plans, the bulk from United/Optum. A mere  17% of AARP’s collections come from membership fees from its 37 million members.
https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/

There you have it: big insurance and their PBM henchmen, hired by our government, teaming up with the AARP all getting rich gaming the system while Medicare patients get fragmented care and taxpayers pay more. Medicare advantage plans? They ought to call them “taking advantage of taxpayers plans. ”

Marion Mass, MD is co-chair of Practicing Physicians of America (PPA) and Craig M. Wax, DO is PPA’s VP of Health Care Policy.  Learn more: https://practicingphysician.org

Be There! New Jersey Doctor-Patient Alliance Inaugural Summit

You will not want to miss this summit on February 8-9, 2019!

IP4PI’s own Craig M. Wax, D.O. will join an all star lineup as a featured speaker. Dr. Wax will share reform priorities that will help put doctors and patients back in the driver’s seat. It is time to put and end to the shenanigans politicians pull to hand advantages to their crony buddies in the hospital industrial complex. Patients and their physicians must team up to reclaim their rights, increase the availability, and slash the cost of high quality care.

Coming soon to an EHR near you: Downtime and Missing Patient Data

Electronic Health Records are often full of bloat and incorrect data, except when they are not accessible at all and/or relevant patient data isn’t even entered into the system. Here’s a frightening note from management sent to “providers” in one health system earlier this week:

Subject: Downtime Message to Providers
To the Health Network Medical Staffs :

On December 12 from approximately 7:30-10 AM the entire network experienced a EHR unplanned outage. It was due to a server issue in Kansas City and affected several customers. The Issue was identified quickly and remedied. We were back up in under 2 hours.

We identified the fact that data from the EHR had not transferred since Nov 16th. We failed to actively monitor that transaction so did not know that data transfer had failed. The data transfer issue has been fixed by our EHR vendor and we are putting a process in place to assure that the monitoring of the transmission of data happens without fail.

Your IS team understands that this impacted your workflow and we apologize. We continue to work toward no disruption in information flow at all times.

Chief Medical Information Officer

Shenanigans, Larceny, And Fraud Define The Corporate Practice of Medicine

Bob Campbell, MD, co-founder of Physicians Against Drug Shortages writes in:

I have been gathering a lot of information for a “Corporate Practice of Medicine” project. Not sure what will come of it if anything but some of the shenanigans are very harmful at times. At other times just simple larceny.

The federal court in Philadelphia has issued a new decision in Aetna v. Mednax/Pediatrix Medical Group, 2018 WL 5264310 (E.D. Pa. 2018) involving fraud allegations asserted by Aetna against Mednax, a pediatric private equity firm.

The federal court held that Aetna’s allegations regarding Mednax’ alleged fraud upcoding scheme could proceed in litigation. Aetna alleged that Mednax routinely listed CPT codes that exaggerated the care needed and performed by designating infants as being sicker than they truly were so that it appeared as if the infants required more intensive treatment than was truly the case. This process allowed Mednax to submit inflated bills to Aetna so that Aetna would reimburse Mednax for more money than was justified.

Aetna also alleged the upcoding scheme permeated Mednax’ operations. Mednax trained and required physicians to engage in upcoding and encouraged physicians to perform unnecessary services to support higher billing rates. Mednax also sometimes inflated the codes itself above the level indicated by the physicians before submitting the claim forms. Aetna obtained evidence from former employees of Mednax that were aware of the upcoding scheme.

The court ultimately held that the specific types of upcoding that allegedly occurred, such as listing an infant as requiring critical care rather than general hospital care, sufficiently established the legal basis for fraud.

The federal court also allowed the litigation against the private equity firm controlling pediatric/neonatal intensive care physicians to proceed far beyond the 2-year statute of limitations based upon the “continuing fraud violation doctrine.”

I just wanted to keep you apprised of additional developments in the fraud realm in the context of private equity firms and some of the concerns raised about driving profits improperly. This is literally in your backyard, but also involves an alleged nationwide scheme.