Medical bills have long been labeled the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US. A recent study has examined how medical crises produce personal financial disaster. Researchers say for the uninsured, medical bills are, indeed, a heavy burden. But for both insured and uninsured, illness or injury can cause disruption of employment that may linger for years, and from which family finances may never recover. Experts discuss causes and possible solutions to the problem.
Dr. David Himmelstein, Distinguished Professor of Public Health, City University of New York at Hunter College
Dr. Matthew Notowidigdo, Associate Professor of Economics & Strategy, Northwestern University
Decades ago, psychiatric treatment meant talk therapy. Now it usually means drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy for an extremely short time. A noted clinical psychologist and author explains why patients are better served when talk therapy is an option for recovery.
Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, clinical psychologist and author, Saving Talk Therapy: How Health Insurers, Big Pharma, and Slanted Science are Ruining Good Mental Health Care
Homeless Americans have a life expectancy of only around 50, and often use the ER for primary care at a huge cost. The lack of follow-up care for their illnesses and the mental health or substance abuse disorders common in this population add up to an enormous health burden. Experts discuss how doctors on the street can improve health for the homeless and lower cost for society.
Dr. Jim Withers, Medical Director and Founder, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Operation Safety Net and the Street Medicine Institute
Dr. Jim O’Connell, President, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program and author, Stories from the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor
High prescription drug costs are a problem that most Americans deal with. In response to this, President Donald Trump announced last month that his administration is introducing a 50-point plan to cut drug prices. Dr. David Hyman, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and co-author of Overcharged: Why Americans Pay Too Much for Healthcare, talks through some of the major points of the plan and how effective they could truly be in the long run.
Two important parts of the plan are an attempt to ease the entry of generic drugs into the market and to make their prices more flexible. Eric Hargan, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, says branded drug companies must stop the “gamesmanship” that slows the creation of a competitive, free market for drugs. And, getting more drugs into “part D” allows Medicare to negotiate for lower prices through pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs).
But, the PBMs bring a problem of their own into the industry. President Trump says that these middlemen have been part of the problem by stopping the distribution of rebates and discounts to consumers and pocketing the money themselves, which also leads to artificially high list prices for drugs. Dr. Hyman says that PBMs are still important to the industry, because they structure the pharmaceutical market, but the plan will hopefully help to create a fairer market.
Another potentially influential part of the plan, announced by Alex Azar, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, will be to require drug companies to announce the list prices of drugs in their advertisements in the interest of transparency.
In his book, Dr. Hyman introduces several points that he believes would be beneficial in helping Americans pay less for drugs, although these points are not in President Trump’s recent plan. He suggests that allowing Americans to import generic drugs from foreign markets would help solve the generic drug price hikes. Dr. Hyman also stressed that high insurance costs are the biggest driver of high costs for prescription drugs.
For more information about the plan to lower drug prices or about our guests, visit the links below.
Dr. David Hyman, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and co-author of Overcharged: Why Americans Pay Too Much for Healthcare
Eric Hargan, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services
With the opioid epidemic continuing to take many lives every year, people are concerned with how to stop it. In order to help counter this epidemic, Medicare has taken steps to implement limits on the prescriptions of opioids. However, the Medicare proposal has left doctors wondering if these new limits will do more harm than good for patients.
Currently, the United States is experiencing the second wave of the opioid epidemic. Dr. Anna Lembke, Associate Professor and Chief of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, explains that opioid addiction arises from the prescription of these medications as a go-to for doctors even if the medical condition does not necessarily call for it. Furthermore, Dr. Sally Satel, an addiction psychiatrist and lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine and Resident Scholar at American Enterprise Institute, states that another issue is not just the prescribing of opioid medications, but the over-prescribing. In many cases, a doctor will prescribe a patient an unnecessary amount of opioids, but this often leads to leftover medication that tends to get into the hands of people who are likely to abuse it. So, one way that Medicare is working to counteract this is by regulating the quantity and overall dose of opioids that are allowed to be prescribed to a patient. Dr. Satel explains that by limiting the number of pills allowed when refilling a prescription, not only will it decrease the number of leftover pills, but it will also guarantee that those who benefit from opioids continue to take them appropriately. Along with this, Dr. Lembke states that this limit on the number allowed to be prescribed is important because doctors most likely would not limit their prescriptions enough to a point that would allow for a decrease in the epidemic. With this regulation, the number of leftover pills being circulated outside of who they were prescribed to will decrease which will allow for a drop in the number of people addicted to prescription opioids.
The proposed Medicare regulations also came with a second leg to it. This other guideline would cut-off any doctor from prescribing a high-dose of opioid medications. However, Dr. Satel explains that many pain physicians had problems with this regulation because it would make it extremely difficult for patients who do benefit from these prescriptions, and use them properly, to have access to them. So, when the final Medicare proposal was released, this second guideline was altered to allow physicians to prescribe high-doses of opioid medications, but it gave pharmacists the power to override a high-dose request that seemed unnecessary.
While these Medicare limits are a step in the right direction for managing the opioid epidemic, there is still much that can be done to improve it. For instance, other medical treatments should be made more accessible through Medicare, explains Dr. Lembke. It’s important to reduce the access to opioids. However, it is also important to facilitate the use of other medical treatments to help with pain. Improvements are being made in the healthcare system to stop the opioid epidemic, but those who benefit from opioid prescriptions should not have to suffer.
Dr. Anna Lembke, Associate Professor and Chief of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine
Dr. Sally Satel, addiction psychiatrist and lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and Resident Scholar at American Enterprise Institute
In some areas, it has become almost impossible to find independent physician practices. Many of these smaller practices have opted into being bought by hospitals and other large medical groups. So, what has prompted the increase of consolidation in the medical field? And what does this mean for patients?
The incentives of consolidation have been researched, but the results do not point to one reason. Dr. Laurence Baker, Professor of Health Research and Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, explains that physicians running smaller practices might benefit from no longer having their own business. Another possibility, Dr. Christopher Ody, Research Assistant Professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, explains, is that some hospitals may view consolidation as a way to improve the quality of healthcare and decrease the costs to help physicians and their patients. However, data has indicated that the factor with the largest role in consolidation has to do with increasing the amount that hospitals are getting paid, and decreasing the amount paid to pharmaceutical companies. Even though research has not provided an overarching incentive that drives consolidation, the data seems to point to increasing income for hospitals rather than providing patients with better care. Furthermore, hospital consolidation has not been shown to benefit the patient. Dr. Baker explains that data indicates that the cost of healthcare has not gone down for patients with consolidation. Since the cost of healthcare has increased for patients, many have started to wonder how consolidation has been able to continue and what is being done to control it.
In the medical field, it is important to maintain consistency in market concentration and ensure that the markets are still competitive. One way in which authorities in the medical field work to maintain market concentration is by regulating transactions that reach a price threshold. However, Dr. Ody explains that hospitals have been able to avoid these regulations by partaking in multiple smaller transactions that invest in a small number of physicians at a time in order to ensure that the cost is below the threshold for evaluation. By avoiding regulations, hospitals have been able to grow into much larger entities that generate a lot of power and income from smaller practices. Since consolidation has prompted increased healthcare costs, it currently appears to be detrimental to the medical field rather than helpful. Yet, it could be worth it if hospitals were able to determine a method of consolidation that decreases healthcare costs and improves the quality of care that is provided to patients.
Dr. Laurence Baker, Professor of Health Research and Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine
Dr. Christopher Ody, Research Assistant Professor at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
We all know that doctors endure years and years of schooling and training in order to learn how to diagnose their patients and provide them with the best care. But, studies have shown that many doctors tend to miss details about other aspects of a patient’s life that can also have an affect on their wellbeing. Dr. Saul Jeremy Weiner, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics & Medical Education at University of Illinois and co-author of Listening For What Matters: Avoiding Contextual Errors in Health Care, explains that patients will make important comments that do not necessarily pertain to their symptoms, but that this information is often overlooked despite being critical for a doctor to understand in order to provide the patient with an effective care plan. But, what is the overall impact of this on the patient? Dr. Weiner and Dr. Alan Schwartz, Michael Reese Endowed Professor of Medical Education at University of Illinois, Chicago, and co-author, Listening For What Matters: Avoiding Contextual Errors in Health Care, have done their own research that has shown the effects of doctor’s that are too focused on the biomedical details in providing care for patients. Dr. Schwartz explains that the results of their research showed that doctors who address the patient’s personal life were able to provide a much more successful care plan for the patient. Furthermore, the study also showed that the cost of healthcare for the patient increased when the doctor was too concerned with the science of the diagnosis. In order to have the most successful outcome without increasing the cost of healthcare, doctors must address more than just the patient’s biomedical symptoms.
So, how can doctors learn to listen to their patients more efficiently? Dr. Weiner suggests using an approach commonly used in other industries: mystery shoppers. In the medical field, a mystery shopper is an unannounced standardized patient that is trained to go into a physician’s office and provide data to help identify problems–a tool that many doctors have found to be helpful in improving their practice. Dr. Schwartz states that by investing in improving contextual care doctor’s will be able to provide better care for their patients and decrease the cost of healthcare, too. However, all patients and employees in the medical field must be willing to undertake these methods and procedures in regular practice in order to improve the overall experience for everybody.
Dr. Saul Jeremy Weiner, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics & Medical Education at University of Illinois and co-author of Listening For What Matters: Avoiding Contextual Errors in Health Care
Dr. Alan Schwartz, Michael Reese Endowed Professor of Medical Education at University of Illinois, Chicago, and co-author of Listening For What Matters: Avoiding Contextual Errors in Health Care.