President Trump’s Salute to Patients Promises Welcome Changes, But Special Interests Attack

The week before President Trump’s Independence Day “Salute to America” he gave a welcome Salute to Patients when he signed Executive Order 13877, “Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare To Put Patients First.”

As free market champion Dr. Keith Smith of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma puts it, the “healthcare industry price gougers wore out their welcome” and were “kicked to the curb by President Trump.”

What does the order do? Its first priority is to end “opaque pricing structures,” that “benefit powerful special interest groups, such as large hospital systems and insurance companies,” but, “generally leave patients and taxpayers worse off than would a more transparent system.”

But there’s more: the order also aims to “enhance patients’ control over their own healthcare resources” by removing failed policies that impede patients from choosing to enroll in affordable Direct Primary Care practices or alternatives to big insurance like Health Care Sharing Ministries.

The bottom line is increasing patient freedom and choice is the centerpiece of President Trump’s order. However, make no mistake, it is also put a target squarely on the middlemen who have for too long taken advantage of backroom deals made with government cronies. And the middlemen are already fighting back with a vengeance and working to undermine the order.

Underestimating the special interests’ power to stop the good changes is not an option. Just last week the Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) cartel killed a White House proposal that would begin to unwind corrupt kickbacks that result in out of control price hikes for life saving drugs through disingenuous propaganda that lower prices would somehow raise premiums.

And the fake news campaigns about the Transparency Order are already underway.

Thankfully physicians like Chad Savage, MD are debunking the industry lies:

No price transparency will not lead to higher prices. “This is akin to saying the best way to get a good price on a new Sony TV is to have no idea what it costs. If someone said that to you, you would rightly reject any future advice from that individual,” explains Dr. Savage.

Marni Jamison of the Association of Independent Doctors exposes another tactic of those who oppose transparency:

The cronies are “lawyering and lobbying up, busily working to undermine, narrow and water down the order. They are not going to give up the hundreds of billions of excess dollars flowing their way easily,” she writes and shares examples of weasel words insurers and mega health systems will attempt to use to corrupt the outcome.

Middlemen’s fingerprints are already evident on the order itself to some extent. For example the “Health Quality Roadmap” provisions empower the use of failed quality metrics that are already driving up the cost of care with out any benefit to outcomes. “Practitioners who practice according to the needs of their individual patients, not according to some standardized protocol approved by a third party whose only focus may be efficiency and cost-cutting, may be penalized,” warns Twila Brase of the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom and award-winning author of Big Brother in the Exam Room. AAPS, while overall supportive of the order, flagged provisions as potentially harmful to privacy rights and urged that “patients’ right to consent to use of their data must also be respected.”

Winning these battles for patients and those who care for them will not be easy! But nothing worthwhile ever is. So let’s all Salute President Trump for taking these bold steps by stepping to help him fend off the special interests trying to thwart his welcome orders.

Opaque Transparency?

Lack of price transparency is one of the biggest problems plaguing American patients and well-intentioned state legislators are now taking a stab legislative fixes.

But is a government mandate the right approach? Dr. Keith Smith, for one, warns that it isn’t.  Here’s a recent example of just what can go wrong.

In one state, Ohio, the legislature passed a law now known as Ohio Revised Statute 5162.80, which has misdiagnosed the disease and has prescribed an ineffective and even potentially harmful cure, particularly for patients tied to an “insurance” plan.

On it’s face the bill seems straightforward: doctors and hospitals must give patients good faith estimates for charges and payments. Who could be opposed to that?

The devil is in the details, particularly in this section of the law:

A provider of medical services shall provide in writing before care is rendered: “The amount the health plan issuer intends to pay for the product, service, or procedure…”

Anyone who has ever tried to get an insurance company to divulge its contracted rates with providers prior to receiving care knows all too well what a herculean task it is.

To their credit, the bill’s authors included a provision to address this problem:

“Any health plan issuer contacted by a provider … shall provide such information to the provider within a reasonable time of the provider’s request.”

Again this looks like a reasonable provision at first glance, but it is really non-transparent transparency and worse could lead to delays in care.

Why should a patient have to contact a physician or facility to find out what his or her insurance plan will pay? This is in reality erecting a barrier between the patient and finding out what the actual costs for care will be at any given doctor or facility. It blocks meaningfully shopping for the best price.

We are not recommending government mandates, but  a more effective requirement might be to demand that the insurers release ALL of their reimbursement rates, both in network and out-of-network, in a transparent manner so that everyone, particularly patients enrolled in a plan, can easily see how much the insurer would pay paying before a patient even sets foot in a doctors office.

The bill as written only requires that the insurers divulge the info on a case by case basis to the “provider.” Why not also to the patient? After all the patient is at least purportedly the actual customer of the insurance company.

As Dr. Michel Accad explains, price opaqueness is a symptom of larger problem, pervasive third-party-payment, and not in itself the root cause.

In a free and competitive healthcare market, price transparency would rarely be an issue, as it is not an issue in the market for cell phones and bubble gum.  Doctors and hospitals could not survive without being upfront about fees.  But, in its great wisdom, and supported by the sound logic of healthcare analysts and healthcare economists, the government has ensured—through its tampering with and participation in health insurance—that charges would be as opaque as possible.

As demonstrated by free market facilities like the Surgery Center of Oklahoma — who post their actual prices not fictitious chargemaster rates — the ultimate solution to not only price transparency, but increasing access to high quality, low cost care, is to kick out the middlemen driving up and obscuring the prices.

HSAs Need A Makeover: Meet the Health Empowerment Account

Comrades in arms,

Thank you for working to bring back true low premium high deductible health insurance that reimburses patient for catastrophic losses and health savings accounts. Current HSAs are fatally flawed as they are currently limited in use scope and inexorably tied to health insurance. Here are some principles to help. If the HSA is limited by definition, perhaps we can advocate for a new concept like “health empowerment accounts(HEA).”

1. HEA/HSA should be one to each individual from birth or whenever they are added on. They should belong only to that individual unless lawfully transferred to a family member(see 3). Continue reading

We need to stop looking to politicians

Richard Armstrong, MD shares his thoughts on what physicians must do following the King vs. Burwell ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States:

The government is on a fantasy fiscal trajectory and they have been for 5 decades. MACRA accelerated it, but it allowed Congress to wash their hands of the issues for about another decade. This SCOTUS decision simply says that the government can “allocate” about another $700 billion to subsidize health care spending over the next decade…roughly.

Since 1990 the percentage of GDP allocated to all federal spending has remained relatively constant. However, in 1990 1/3 of that spending was on “entitlement” programs. By 2015 the percentage has increased to ½. The projection is that by 2030 the percentage will be 2/3. Spending on entitlements will crowd out everything else. Continue reading