Thursday, July 23, 2009

Health Care Reform

Anyone watch President Obama's news conference last night? He made some key points about the health care reform effort. We really have two choices. The first one will at least double what we pay for health care in the next ten years with millions more losing their insurance or being able to afford insurance. That's the program we have today, the one where costs have doubled over the last ten years, currently consuming 16.3% of our nation's GDP. America can't afford to pay 32% of our GDP on health care ten years from now which is why the message is clear: change health care NOW.

The second choice is to reform health care. We'll join every other industrialized country on earth with universal coverage and reduce our costs. America spends more on health care than any other country in the world yet we are no healthier for it. In fact, in most categories we're worse than other countries. So not only are we paying more for it, we're not getting as good a deal. President Obama made the point with the car analogy - if your neighbor bought a car and paid $6,000 less for it than you did, you'd want to find the same deal, and he's right.

This morning I even heard an anchor on Fox Business say it's crazy that we spend 98% of our health care dollars on treatment, and he's right. That's why other countries focus on prevention and have lower costs. We're paying for treatments instead of results. Our medical system is upside down and we're all paying the price for it, and it's going to get worse unless we do something about it now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Health Reform Progress

Who would've dreamed the American Medical Association would support Obama's health care reform plan? Yes, it will give them 46 million new patients with health insurance, even if it is the public option. But the AMA has traditionally opposed radical changes in the health care system including programs like Medicare. This support should signal Congress that everyone wants change, now the disagreement is exactly what kind of change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

PBS Story On Reform Efforts

Bill Moyers had a interesting report on the health care reform situation, call it "the other side of the news" from the millions being spent by the medical and pharmaceutical industries. Watch it for yourself at REFORM NOW.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Drug Advertising Change

Everyone knows that prescription drug advertising is big business in America, the industry was the 10th biggest advertiser in 2006 with $5.3 billion in spending, or 3.5% of the total advertising market in America. Being only one of two countries in the world that even permits direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs no one who watches TV today is surprised that they spend 55% of that amount on TV advertising.

The party may be coming to a close because Charles Rangel, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, wants to drop the drug-advertising deduction. The move would raise up to $37 billion over the next decade, money that could be used for health care reform.

Would anyone really miss those TV ads?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Even Edison Knew

Ran across a wonderful quote this week that shows the error of relying on artificial prescription drugs for our health today. Many people remember Thomas Edison as a great scientist and inventor. Even he could not understand why mainstream medicine continued to persist in treating diseases with drugs, when it was obvious to him that disease was caused by biological imbalances which drugs can do nothing to correct. He best stated his opinion in one of his writings when he said: "The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease."

Sounds an awful lot like Traditional Chinese Medicine and many, many other types of complementary and alternative therapies, doesn't it? Want to go back even further?

Four hundred years ago Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels, wrote that "the three best doctors in the world are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman." Today four centuries later we're still figuring out the importance to our health today of what we eat and drink, the peace that we find within, and the joy that we find within life.

Those of you familiar with the Ornish Program will recognize those features as being key to the program's success. The Ornish Program has been medically proven to reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery. It's so successful that Medicare last year approved it as the first lifestyle therapy in Medicare history.

Bottom line: drugs don't solve problems, they solve symptoms.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hospitals for Change

Three of the largest hospital groups have agreed to contribute $155 billion towards the cost of insuring the 47 million Americans without coverage over the next 10 years. The majority of the savings would come through lower Medicare and Medicaid payments to hospitals.

The catch in the deal seems to be an understanding that a public option for insurance would reimburse at higher levels. The groups supporting this position are the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and the Catholic Health Association.

While I'm on the subject of hospitals, have you checked out some of the rating and review sites available? Transparency is one of the keys to getting hospitals to adopt best practices for better care and lower costs but the public has to take advantage of the information that's available. The federal government site allows you to do some comparison shopping for care. For safety, quality and efficiency try the Leapfrog Group site. To find hospitals with a problem stopping the spread of infections try the Consumers Union site.

Consumers of health care are going to have to talk about the choice of hospitals with their doctors and stop simply going along with whatever he/she suggests. Without consumer pressure there is no reason for hospitals to change how they do business.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Politics and Business As Usual

Would it surprise you to learn that there are 350 more former government officials, insiders and elected officials lobbying to protect the interests of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, drug makers and others? What, you're surprised there aren't more? Well, frankly so am I given what's at stake.

The Washington Post says the health care industry is spending $1.4 million more right now to influence health care reform. The Post should know, they tried to auction off access to their reporters to lobbyists for prices ranging from $25,000 to more than $1 million. As a former journalist I find the idea of taking money from lobbyists who are eager to influence how a story is reported to be highly offensive. Doesn't anyone in Washington, D.C. have any ethics anymore?

The revolving door for elected officials to stay in Washington and make even more money as a lobbyist has to stop if we're going to protect the interests of the citizens of this country. Perhaps a 5-year moratorium before they can talk to their ol' buddies again?

Who's speaking up for the interests of Americans who want more affordable health care today in Washington?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two States Restrict Gifts to Doctors

New laws taking effect this week in Massachusetts and Vermont ban or heavily restrict gifts from drug companies to doctors. The radio industry had payola scandals decades ago but the medical profession seems unable to restrict its appetite for money and gifts so lawmakers have stepped in. What's sad is that it's only in 2 states.

If doctors aren't embarrassed by all of these gifts why don't they simply put a big poster up in their waiting rooms and a special page on their website so patients can make informed decisions about their health care. After all, do you want a doctor doing your knee replacement who's taken $1,000,000 from a particular device manufacturer or one who has accepted no payments to bias his use of the best products for your care?

Let's be honest, the drug companies wouldn't be spending tens of millions of dollars on these "gifts" (regular folks would call them bribes) unless they increased sales and profits. Doctors claiming to be above being influenced are simply kidding themselves and their profession. The drug companies start the addiction with gifts while they're in medical school and it just gets worse over time.

But perhaps we should take a different approach. In NASCAR they proudly display their sponsors. The biggest sponsors get the biggest decals in the best position on the race car. Maybe doctors should admit they're being sponsored and put patches for each of the drug company products on their white lab coats. The biggest payments earn the biggest patches and best locations. At least then patients would know what to expect.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No Safe Drugs

Americans believe that if the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug then it's safe. They don't realize that there is no such thing as a drug that's 100% safe, even over-the-counter drugs. By now you've probably heard the news that the FDA is considering tough new standards for Tylenol and other products that contain acetaminophen including reduction in recommended dose, a possible "black box" warning and even elimination in some products such as Vicodin and Percocet.

The actions are being considered because acetaminophen is responsible for 56,000 people going to the emergency room and around 200 deaths each year due to liver damage. No one can even estimate the number of people who may suffer liver damage from these popular products. There is no such thing as a completely safe drug.

In contrast, none of the 300+ therapies listed in my book on complementary and alternative therapies send thousands of people to the hospital every year or kill hundreds. And doctors say complementary and alternative medicine is dangerous?