Friday, June 1, 2012
Learning from Massachusetts
In 2006 Massachusetts passed sweeping health care reform which provided for insurance coverage for nearly all of its residents. In 2010 the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed at the federal level which will enact very similar reforms nationally. While the U.S. Senate was debating the ACA, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published one opinion article after another extolling the ACA's virtues and making positive comparisons to the benefits that Massachusetts had experienced under its health care reform.
Since then, the data coming from the Massachusetts experiment has not been encouraging, and I was gratified to see this week an NEJM opinion piece which gives a very frank appraisal of the state of health care in Massachusetts.
The one incontrovertible measure by which the Massachusetts plan has met its goals is that nearly everyone, 98% of the state's population, has insurance. That has come at a cost which even the article's authors admit is unsustainable. Massachusetts is now among the highest states in the country in per-capita health care spending, and health care is taking up a larger fraction every year of the state's budget, crowding out other priorities. The growth of health care spending in Massachusetts is also consistently higher than economic growth, another indicator that the current system is unsustainable.
One of the justifications of the Massachusetts plan (and of the ACA nationally) was that it would make insurance more affordable for the middle class, but in Massachusetts insurance premiums have become more expensive, and have done so faster than in the rest of the nation.
Other sources, including the Massachusetts Medical Society, inform us that wait times for a primary care physician have skyrocketed and the number of doctors accepting new patients and accepting state insurance plans have dropped. That makes sense and was predicted by critics of the plan. If the number of patients who can seek care at little cost to themselves is suddenly increased without a corresponding increase in the number doctors, longer wait times are bound to result.
So Massachusetts has shown us how to build a system in which everyone has insurance but only few can get to a doctor. One would think that the authors of the NEJM article would conclude that it is a well-intentioned but unsustainable failure and a sobering warning about what we are about to impose on the nation. Instead, they are so wedded to the mirage of universal insurance coverage that they spend the second half of the article discussing desperate ways to save the plan through various cost-cutting measures. These schemes quickly degenerate into an alphabet soup of bureaucratic names like ACOs and the AQC. If any of these manage to cut costs without worsening care, I'll eat my stethoscope.
I've explained before how the health insurance market broke and why buying routine care through insurance is the problem, not the answer. Universal insurance coverage simply universalizes a terrible way to acquire care. We should give that some thought before the ACA rolls out nationwide.
Controlling Health Care Spending--The Massachusetts Experiment (New England Journal of Medicine perspective article)
Kaiser Family State Health Facts--Massachusetts
Massachusetts Medical Society Releases 2011 Study of Patient Access to Health Care (Massachusetts Medical Society)
Six ways Romneycare changed Massachusetts (Washington Post)
Three Lessons from Massachusetts (National Center for Policy Analysis)
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000. Holding privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, he is also an assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Department of Medicine. This post originally appeared at his blog.
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Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
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Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.
David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.
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Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.
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Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.
Technology in (Medical)
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.
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Other blogs of note:
American Journal of
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.
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The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.