Posts tagged ‘American Medical Association’

Expect A LOT More of This With The New Federal Health Care Rules

Via the Dallas Morning News:

A last-minute change in the federal health care bill ditched a proposed 5 percent tax on cosmetic medical procedures and replaced it with a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services.

Goodbye Botox tax. Hello tan tax.

This seems really random.  Why should either of these businesses foot a special, disproportionate share of my health care bill?  Well, things that seem random to most of us make perfect sense in Congress.

The tan tax popped up in the health care bill last weekend after powerful medical lobbies "“ including the American Academy of Dermatology Association, American Medical Association, American Society of Plastic Surgeons and Botox-maker Allergan "“ persuaded Congress to remove a tax on cosmetic medical procedures and replace it with a 10 percent surcharge on indoor tanning services.

Lobbyists are very good at punching political hot-buttons.  Since they couldn't argue that botox is "for the children," and since it is generally used by rich white people they could not place the race or class card, they played the only card they had:

"Since 90 percent of cosmetic surgery patients are women, this would have been a very discriminatory tax," said White, who opposed the cosmetic surgery tax.

Technocrats want to believe, and perhaps honestly believe themselves, that care guidelines in the new Federal health care system will be science-based.  What possible basis do they have for thinking that?  We have 50 state laboratories, where states specify must-carry rules on procedures, and not a single one of these lists are science based -- they are loaded with special interest handouts.   I even show in this post how special interests give money to academia to produce studies whose entire conclusion is that certain procedures (performed by the special interest group funding the study) need to be in the minimum coverage laws.   The very first time out, when confronted with a science-based care recommendation (that women not receive breast cancer screening until after 50), the Congress specifically overrode it in the bill under a firestorm of public outcry.

But maybe the dermatologist guys are really looking after us?  After all:

The American Academy of Dermatology warns of significant health risks caused by indoor tanning.

But, as it turns out, it only sees health risks in the use of ultra-violet light by practitioners who are not members of their trade group.  I have bolded the key passage that gives away the game.

Indoor tanning industry groups note that dermatologists use tanning equipment in their offices for cosmetic skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, in phototherapy treatments that cost up to $100 per visit billed to health insurance companies. In contrast, indoor tanning salons cost as little as $6 to $20 per session.

The tan tax would exempt phototherapy services performed by a licensed medical professional.

"This is like Coke being allowed to lobby the government to tax Pepsi, but that Coke be allowed to sell the same product and not be taxed for it," International Smart Tan Network Vice President Joseph Levy said in a statement. "It's unbelievable."

But No One Shops for Health Care

For a while, I have been trying to highlight that the real problem with health care is that consumers who receive the service do not have any incentive to shop for the best price or to make trade offs on marginal procedures based on price.  The only people who have any incentive to shop are 1) people without insurance and 2) people with high deductibles (like me).  Politicians are trying to eliminate the former group, even if they don't want insurance, and programs like Romney's in Massachusetts actually ban high deductible insurance.

Now, Obama is worried about anti-trust:

The consequences of lax enforcement for consumers are clear. Take
health care, for example. There have been over 400 health care mergers
in the last 10 years. The American Medical Association reports that 95%
of insurance markets in the United States are now highly concentrated
and the number of insurers has fallen by just under 20% since 2000.
These changes were supposed to make the industry more efficient, but
instead premiums have skyrocketed, increasing over 87 percent over the
past six years. As president, I will direct my administration to
reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. It will step up review of merger
activity and take effective action to stop or restructure those mergers
that are likely to harm consumer welfare, while quickly clearing those
that do not.

How can these mergers harm consumers when consumers don't shop for the service and don't care about price in the first place?  Candidates like Obama and Clinton are threatening to create single payer systems that use monopsony power combined presumably with the coercive power of government to hammer suppliers.  Is it any wonder that they are joining together to try to gain some sort of bargaining position for themselves?  In the context of what Obama wants to do with health care buying, this can be thought of more as unionizing than merging.

By the way, does anyone else note the irony of Obama, who wants to create a single supplier for health care (the US Government) lamenting concentration in the health care field?

Serving My Kids Alcohol

Increasingly MADD and the tea-totaling Nazis are after parents who allow kids to drink alcohol at home.

Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2004 found
that adolescents whose parents permitted them to attend unchaperoned
parties where drinking occurred had twice the average binge-drinking
rate. But the study also had another, more arresting conclusion:
Children whose parents introduced drinking to the children at home were
one-third as likely to binge....

In fact, the American Medical Association has actually put out press releases
lamenting the fact that most teens get their first sip of alcohol from
their parents. I'd say that's exactly who ought to be giving it to them.

While I have no intention of throwing wild parties and getting my kids' friends drunk, I do intend to introduce alcohol as well as a respect for it at the dinner table, just as my parents did.  I am a firm believer that letting you kids drink a bit in the very controlled home environment is the best possible way to take the edginess and mystery out of drinking -- after all, how cool can it be if you do it with your parents.

Blame It On The Profits

Steven Pearlstein has a column on the American health care system based on a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute.  As Mr. Pearlstein reads it, the problem with the American medical system is all about the profit - it's all about the doctor profit stacked on the drug profit stacked on the insurance profit.  If the government would just take over and get rid of all that profit, the system would run smoothly and be much cheaper.  I am flabbergasted that anyone at Cato would remark on such an article with approval.

First, while I worked at McKinsey & Co, I never worked for the global institute.  However, though I have not yet read the study, it would be unusual to the point of uniqueness if their recommendation for the industry was more government control and less profit motive, but I guess it is possible.  More likely, Mr. Pearlstein is reading the study through his own progressive lens.  Anyway, let me deal with a few parts of the article:

Even after adjusting for wealth, population mix and higher levels of
some diseases, McKinsey calculated that we spend $477 billion a year
more on health care than would be expected if the United States fit the
spending pattern of 13 other advanced countries. That staggering waste
of money works out to 3.6 percent of the nation's entire economic
output, or $1,645 per person, every year.

I will agree that for a variety of reasons, there is a lot of waste in the medical system.  We will get to "why" in a minute.  However, note that the author is taking a leap from "we spend more per capita than Europeans" to "staggering waste."  The US spends more per capita on a lot of things than the Europeans, in large part because we are wealthier (by a lot, and more every day).  One man's waste is another man's preference.  However, I would agree that health care is unique, in that it is the one industry where the decision maker(s) on whether to purchase a service is not the same person who is paying the bills.  I think we will find, though, that I and Mr. Pearlstein differ on who the person should be who should do both simultaneously (I say each person for himself, he says Nancy Pelosi and George Bush for everyone).

But let's get into all that money-grubbing.  Mr. Pearlstein reads the study as saying the problem is all that profit.  Because we have layers of profit in the distribution channel, our health care costs more than it does in Europe, where you have the efficiency [sic!] of government management.  Before we get into detail, I would observe that this fails a pretty basic smell test right off:  Nearly every single product and service we Americans buy, all of which are rife with layers of nasty profits in the supply chain, are cheaper than their counterpart services and products in Europe.  If this layering of profit without government management is a problem, why is it only a problem in health care but not a problem in thousands of other industries.  But anyway, to details:

Let's start with one the American Medical Association hopes no one
will notice, which is that American doctors make a lot more money than
doctors elsewhere -- roughly twice as much. The average incomes of
$274,000 for specialists and $173,000 for general practitioners are,
respectively, 6.6 and 4.2 times those of the average patient. The rate
in the other countries is 4 and 3.2.

According to McKinsey, the
difference works out to $58 billion a year. What drives it is not how
much doctors charge per procedure, but how many procedures they perform
and how many patients they see -- a volume of business 60 percent
higher here than elsewhere.

Ooh, those greedy doctors.  They are the problem!  But read carefully, especially the last sentence.  He makes clear doctors in the US are not making more because they charge more, they make more because they see more patients --- ie, they work harder than their European counterparts.  Where have I heard this before?  Again, in every other industry you can name, the fact that our workers work harder than their European counterparts is a good thing, leading to lower costs and higher productivity.  So why is it suddenly bad in medicine?  For this I would instead draw the conclusion that their are perhaps too many procedures (an expected outcome of the screwy incentives in the system) and thus too many doctors.  Doctors, whom Mr. Pearlstein paints as enemy number one in the health care system, are actually its greatest asset, being 60% more productive than their European counterparts, certainly something to build on.

Don't be distracted by arguments that American doctors need to make
more because they have to pay $20 billion a year in malpractice
insurance premiums forced on them by a hostile legal system, or an
equal amount for all the paperwork required by our private insurance
system. The $58 billion in what the study defines as excess physician
income is calculated after those expenses are paid.

Walter Olson, are you listening?  Since Walter is not here, I will say it for him.  Malpractice insurance premiums themselves are only a part of the cost of runaway malpractice.  Defensive medicine, including the overuse of tests, is another big cost.  Malpractice is one big reason doctors prescribe so many more tests and procedures than their European peers.

Proponents of a government-run "single-payer" system will certainly
home in on the $84 billion a year that McKinsey found that Americans
spend to administer the private sector portion of its health system --
a cost that national health plans largely avoid. But as long as
Americans continue to reject a government-run health system, a private
system will require something close to the $30 billion a year in
after-tax profits earned by health insurance companies. What may not be
necessary, McKinsey suggests, is the $32 billion that the industry
spends each year on marketing and figuring out the premium for each
individual or group customer in each state. Insurance-market reform
could eliminate much of that expense.

What freaking planet does this guy live on?  Does he really think administrative costs are going to go down in a single payer system?  That's insane.  I am willing to believe that the number of procedures will go way down, as Congress starts to ration care in favor of building bridges for their constituents  (a savings likely offset as America's world-leading doctor productivity discussed above takes a nosedive).  Does he really think that administrative costs will go down?  Most administrative costs today are for satisfying government paperwork requirements - how is having the government run everything going to reduce these?   I would argue exactly the opposite -- that eliminating government from the equation would reduce private administrative costs substantially.

I won't bore you with any more, but he doesn't miss the chance to blame health care costs on drug and hospital company profits as well.  Just for entertainment value, I urge the reader to look up a few P&L's of some of these companies.  The profit as a percent of sales for Humana is 2.3% of sales.  So if you wiped out all that egregious profit at Humana, you would save all its customers a whopping 2.3% (before, of course, the incentives problems take over and costs bloat for the lack of a profit incentive to manage them). Insurer CIGNA's profit is a bit under 10%.   Merck's profit is a more comfortable 19% of sales, which means that by cutting their profit to zero we could get nearly a 20% discount on drugs.  Of course, new drug development would cease, but the AARP doesn't care about drugs that won't be on the market after their current constituency is dead.

Isn't it more reasonable, as I am sure the McKinsey study actually concludes, that the problem is not in companies making profits or doctors working hard, it is in having a health care system, built the way it is through distortive tax law, that gives neither patient nor doctor any reason to consider costs when deciding on care?  Can you imagine such a screwed up system in any other industry?  How inefficient would retail be in the US, for example, if we all had a "shopping policy" that paid for all our purchases.  Would you give a crap about the price of anything?  Would you hesitate one second buying something you may not need but is covered by your "policy"?

Mr. Pearlstein sortof agrees, but its hard to find this incentives point in the middle of all his blame-it-on-the-profits progressive rhetoric.  Here is our one hint that Mr. Pearlstein understands that the true problem is this mismatch between payer and decision-maker.  Unfortunately (emphasis added) he has a really destructive perspective on the issue:

What we have here is pretty good circumstantial evidence of
Pearlstein's First Law of Health Economics, which holds that if you pay
doctors on the basis of how many procedures they do, and you leave it
to doctors and their insured patients to decide how much health care
they get
, consumption of health services will rise to whatever level is
necessary for doctors to earn as much as the lawyers who sue them.

Mr. medico-fascist Pearlstein thinks the big system problem is leaving it to you, the patient, to decide what health care you get.  The solution for him is to have the person spending the money, preferably the US Congress, decide how much health care you get.  I think a much saner solution, and the only one consistent with a free society, is to get back to a system where the same person who gets the care, pays for the care.  If its a good enough system for 9,999 things we purchase each year, its good enough for health care too.

The Surgeon General Should Switch to Climate Science

From Michael Siegel, with a hat tip to Reason's Hit and Run (use of colored text in the original):

An article in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association),
reporting on the recent Surgeon General's review of the health effects
of secondhand smoke, brings to the forefront the controversy over
whether the Surgeon General misrepresented
the science in his public communications surrounding the report's
release ...

controversy stems from the press release and other ancillary materials
released by the Surgeon General to accompany the report itself.

Here is what those ancillary materials stated:

According to the Surgeon General's press release:

brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the
cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung
cancer, the report says."

According to the Surgeon General's remarks to the media:

secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the
cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful
effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of
a heart attack."

According to the Surgeon General's accompanying fact sheet:

secondhand smoke for even a short time can have immediate adverse
effects on the cardiovascular system, interfering with the normal
functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that
increase the risk of heart attack."

And according to the Surgeon General's accompanying brochure:

a short time in a smoky room causes your blood platelets to stick
together. Secondhand smoke also damages the lining of your blood
vessels. In your heart, these bad changes can cause a deadly heart

These claims are markedly different from those
made in the Surgeon General's report itself, which concludes that
chronic exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for heart
disease, but does not conclude (or even present evidence that) a brief
exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart attacks, or
heart disease.

This is a classic technique used today in scientific reports on global warming, where the report itself is often full of cautionary language about potential problems in the models and the uncertainties in predicting climate, but the summary and press releases make doom and gloom statements with absolute certainty that aren't actually supported by the research they purport to summarize. 

In both cases, the principles justify the exaggeration of the public message as all in a "good cause", which of course is the justification every lying politician uses.  Even Ted Stevens.

Food Nazis Get Fact-Checked

Apparently, the mortality rates from obesity that the media has been breathlessly lecturing us with were overestimated by at least 1500%:

But in a study released this week by the CDC
and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association ("Excess Deaths
Associated with Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity"), the public health
community has finally owned up to their massive fib by acknowledging that the
number of deaths due to obesity in the US is closer to 26,000 not 400,000 as
previously reported.

The part of the earlier study that really got people's attention was the fact that even those slightly overweight but well short of obese had a significantly increased risk of death.  Now, the CDC channels Emily Littella in saying "never mind":

for the merely overweight with BMI's from 25-30 there is no excess mortality. In
fact, being overweight was "associated with a slight reduction in mortality
relative to the normal weight category." Being overweight not only does not lead
to premature death, something that dozens of other studies from around the world
have been saying for the last 30 years, but it also carries less risk from
premature death than being "normal" weight. In other words the overweight=early death "fact" proclaimed
by the public health community is simply not true.

In fact, the study argues, the risks from being underweight are greater than overweight, something that resonates with me having known two women who died due to complications from anorexia.

Other studies will have to replicate these findings, but this study does seem to have taken a more careful approach than previous approaches.  One thing you can be sure about, is that this will not stop lawsuits against fast food companies, since overwhelming medical evidence of the safety of breast implants has not stopped litigation in that arena.  Heck, the fact that most people who are suing asbestos companies admits they are not even sick has not stopped litigation in that arena.