Sunday, December 31, 2006

Single-payer system for the US: you heard it here last

Today's New York Times has an article on the virtually unimpeachable argument in favor of a single-payer health-care financing system for the United States. All the arguments are there (except for one, which may be implicit in the others: we could provide universal coverage and still save a bundle). The article also recognizes that the great stumbling block isn't economics or logic: it's

CBO and tax-exempt hospitals

This month the Congressional Budget Office issued two reports on the tax-exempt hospital industry. Both are worth reading, as much for what they say about the mind-set on Capital Hill these days as for what they tell us about tax-exempt hospitals.1. Nonprofit Hospitals and the Provision of Community Benefits. How much tax benefit do nonprofit hospitals receive as a result of their exemption from

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Drug wholesaler settles with New York

New York's AG, Eliot Spitzer, announced on Thursday that his office had reached a settlement with prescription drug behemoth Cardinal Health, Inc., in connection with that drug wholesaler's purchasing practices. Here are some of the salient features of the announcement:Cardinal -- based in Dublin, Ohio and ranked 19th on the Fortune 500 list of America's largest corporations -- is one of the

Middlemen redux

Following up on my earlier post about the role of middlemen in health care, yesterday's WSJ had a nice front-page article (link good for 7 days) on middlemen. After extolling the usual list of the virtues of a middleman --A lot of the money that goes to health-care middlemen is well spent. It allows employers to combine their purchasing power for leverage with hospitals and drug makers. It

When will this madness end?

The FTC put out a press release yesterday that announces a proposed consent decree in the case of "several organizations representing more than 2,900 independent Chicago-area physicians for agreeing to fix prices and for refusing to deal with certain health plans except on collectively determined terms. The FTC’s complaint charges that the actions of Advocate Health Partners (AHP) and other

The spine as profit center

Today there is yet another story from The New York Times about yet another opportunity for entrepreneurial docs (this time, spine surgeons) to combine with entrepreneurial manufacturers (this time, of medical devices) for mutual profit. Not, as Jerry used to say, there is anything wrong with that, unless the profit motive is warping medical judgment and leading surgeons to make decisions based

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Viaticals -- something was rotten, indeed

From today's Modern Healthcare "Daily Dose":Florida physician Clark Mitchell pleaded guilty to participating in a securities fraud scheme with Mutual Benefits Corp. that robbed investors of $965 million and conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. According to the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of Florida, MBC principals induced investors to purchase interests in the

DeBakey's surgery

It is sometimes said you should be able to teach an entire Bioethics course from the stories that appear in your local daily paper, but it is also sometimes the case that you could teach the course from a single article. Once such article is "The Man on the Table Devised the Surgery" in the Christmas-day edition of The New York Times.The gist of the story is pretty straightforward. Last Dec. 31,

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Physicians' "verbal orders": who may authenticate them?

It probably isn't worth fighting this fight, so I won't, but I have to note in passing that all physicians' orders are verbal orders as long as they used words in some form or another (either written or oral), which pretty much includes everything except body language. (See, e.g., Columbia Guide to Standard American English.) But, by long-standing practice, "verbal orders" is the established

Nice news for the antitrust bar

Worth watching in 2007:Nurses filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against Detroit-area hospitals and health systems, claiming that they colluded since before November 2002 to fix wages at below-market levels. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, names Bon Secours Cottage Health Services, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, McLaren Health Care Corp., Oakwood

What ever happened to the bird flu pandemic?

AP ran a story this month ("Experts Puzzle Over Halt of Bird Flu") with a couple of interesting points:Bird flu may not be gone, but merely resting -- there are lots of potential hiding places, made difficult to find because of a combination of factors, including warmer weather, poultry vaccination programs, and the reluctance of academics and developing countries to part with virus samples.Cold

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Talking about what doctors don't want to talk about

Death.Today's New York Times has an op-ed by Dr. Pauline Chen on "The Most-Avoided Conversation in Medicine" -- i.e., the one that includes the words "you're dying and we've run out of ways to slow it or stop it." Chen's useful suggestion, which probably amount to spitting into the wind but is worth repeating to every medical student and doctor you meet: "I think there is a simple way to change.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Willie Sutton School of Healthcare Cost Management

Considering the incredible profits being earned by many of the middlemen in the health care industry, wouldn't you think there would be a more efficient way to deliver health care that didn't require the services of the paper-pushers, leaving more money on the table for goods and services that actually benefit real patients? That was one of the lessons, I thought, from the story involving United

Friday, December 22, 2006

Some folks have a head for business . . . .

The AP reports (courtesy of MyWay) on an interesting case that lies at the intersection of criminal procedure and a patient's right to refuse an unwanted medical procedure. Seventeen-year-old Joshua Bush has a 9mm bullet in his head. Its presence isn't life-threatening, and a procedure to remove it wouldn't be any more dangerous than other surgeries that require general anesthesia. He has refused

Piergiorgio Welby dies after respirator removed

The Italian poet who lost in his bid for court authorization to have his respirator removed (see earlier post), died after his physician removed the respirator without official permission (Reuters). Meanwhile, AP reports that prosecutors in Rome are looking into the details of Welby's death (AP/CBS News).The death came the evening after an expert medical panel ruled Wednesday "that the use of a

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Italian poet pushes the law on his right to die

Today's New York Times has a story about Piergiorgio Welby, an Italian poet who apparently has entered the final chapter in his 40-year fight with muscular dystrophy. His breathing is supported by a respirator and he may have a feeding tube (the article isn't crystal clear on this point), and he has asked for permission to have his respirator removed. Italian authorities have so far said no:“I