P for prior authorization

The letter P and my theme is happy things. But what comes to mind are these P words: prior authorization,  pharmaceutical, payer.

Prior authorizations are NOT a happy thing. The latest twist from insurance companies, three different ones in the last week, is that they are requiring prior authorization for old inexpensive medicines. I ordered a muscle relaxant for night time only on Thursday last week for a person with a flare of back pain. Friday I was dismayed to see that the insurance company was requiring a prior authorization. I have to prioritize the order of urgency of all the work: I did not have time. I called the patient who had paid cash for it. The insurance company wins. They didn’t have to pay for a covered medicine because they made it difficult to get. They keep the patient’s money.

Prior authorizations are on the rise very rapidly. With over 800 insurance companies, each with a different website, each with multiple insurance “products”, no one can keep up with it. It is a shell game, the ball under the cup, three cups moving, but the ball is the money and it’s already palmed by the insurance companies. I predict that this will continue to get worse. We do need a single payer system for the simple reason that physicians will not be able to hire enough staff to learn and navigate 800 different websites. I do most prior authorizations on the phone in the room with the patient: the other day we spent 35 minutes on the phone only to have the insurance company say that we had called the wrong number. Call another one. Not the one on the insurance card. We could complain to the state insurance commissioner, but my patient is afraid of losing their insurance. Time’s up. The prior authorization is not obtained, and we are five minutes into the next patient’s visit. People are finding that the medicine they have taken for 20 years suddenly requires prior authorization.

And remember: prior authorization is your insurance company making rules and extra paperwork for your physician. It is advertised as a way to save money, but it costs YOU money. Back in 2009, the estimate was that physicians in the US had to spend 90,000$ per year EACH on employees to do prior authorizations by computer or phone. And YOUR insurance dollars go to the employees at the insurance company refusing medicines and dreaming up new medicines to refuse. They change the contract. Every year and during the year. The law is now that 80 cents of each dollar must go to healthcare, not profit, but those computer and phone employees are counted as healthcare. Do we really think that is healthcare?

Take CT scans. Medicare does NOT require prior authorization. But most insurance companies do. Think about that. Is age the difference? CT scans increase cancer risk over time so physicians don’t order them by reflex.

And for pharmaceuticals, insurance companies often have an on line formulary. But it is different for every insurance “product” in individual companies. A patient and I were trying to sort out a less expensive medicine on a website and we were having difficulty figuring out which insurance she had. Multiple abbreviations and color coding and we could spend the entire clinic visit just figuring it out. Is that what medicine is in the United States? You can say that someone else in the office could do it, but the more employees your physician hires, the less time the physician will spend with you, because he or she has to pay all of those people.

If there was one set of rules, one website, I would learn it. Medicare for all, single payer, when will the United States people wake up and tell congress: if you want our vote, make it so.

P

But wait, where are the happy things? I am so happy that I still am in business in my small clinic, p for patients and patience and prayer and single payer, we will have medicare for all in my lifetime. Whether I am still a practicing physician in the US at that time is uncertain. If I can’t afford my own health insurance, my clinic will close. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

 

hipaa, health insurance, and health information

Blogging from A to Z, my theme is happy things. Letter H is for HIPAA and health insurance and health information.

H is for hipaa: the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, from 1996. I’ve been thinking about HIPAA and I have a question: if the patient handouts are supposed to be written at the fifth grade reading level for patients, why doesn’t Congress have to write laws at the fifth grade reading level?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, right? Everyone in the US is supposed to follow the laws. Have you read them? I am supposed to follow HIPAA, right? I am supposed to follow the Affordable Care Act, (also nicknamed ObamaCare). It is 3600 pages long. It is written by Congress and attorneys.

What about health insurance? Have you read your health insurance policy? It’s a contract. If multiple US citizens have difficulty reading, why isn’t health insurance written at a fifth grade level?

CMS too and triwest and medicaid. I do not have time as a physician to learn the language of their websites.  I run my own small practice. It is infuriating to try to read, understand and follow medicare, medicaid and Veterans Choice rules and they change every year. We ask why health care costs so much, and then there are over 800 different insurance companies, each with multiple insurance plans, and more and more people are hired to try to navigate and understand the rules. It’s ridiculous. We need a single payer system so there is ONE set of rules. Everybody in, nobody out.

At the UW Telepain telemedicine, I said that I show chronic pain patients the link to the Washington State Law about opioids and pain medicine.

One of the faculty said, “Patients can’t understand that.”

I said, “Well, I’m supposed to follow that law and I am not an attorney. ”

My patients are all smart in something. Some of them can’t read well. I have had two recently that I recognized a reading issue in the clinic room when I gave them a survey tool to fill out. I promptly said, “Let’s do this together.” I read them the questions and the answers. They are not stupid, but I am not sure that their reading skills were up to the form.

I am not using the American Academy of Family Practice patient handouts much because I think they are too dumb. I use the Mayo Clinic much more. I direct patients to the CDC, to NIH, to the Mayo Clinic website. Sometimes my patients may not be able to read at that level, but I think everyone appreciates being treated with respect. I am also happy to go over and explain more about a topic. I also warn them that there are loads of crappy medical sites and pseudo scientific sites and misinformation on the internet. If they want to look something up, I want them on a decent site.

Now how are these happy things to think about? It makes me happy to question my own behavior and my own assumptions. It makes me wonder how our country can insist that medical information has to be at a fifth grade level but lets Congress write laws that I find nearly unreadable.

Now I am warning my patients that a federal law may go into effect in January 2019, about opioids, and that it will be different and override the state law. Change will keep coming.

H

The photograph is from the beach last night: brant. What would the flock think about our health insurance? 

 

Illness Anxiety Disorder

“Please write something from a medical perspective about anxious people who worry every little thing is some serious disease.” — reQuest 2018

This is quite a brilliant and timely question.

Here: https://www.anxiety.org/hypochondriasis-replaced-by-two-new-disorders-in-dsm-5.

The DSM V was published on May 18, 2013. This is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5,  and it redefines various disorders. For example, opiate dependence has disappeared and so has opiate addiction. Instead, there is one diagnosis: opiate overuse syndrome. Which really combines both opiate addiction and opiate dependence and makes it a spectrum.

The DSM V drops hypochondriasis. Wait, you say, that diagnosis no longer exists? Well, yes, correct. So the diagnoses are made up? Yes, as my daughter says, “All the words are made up.” So psychiatry changes and the diagnosis definitions change and some diagnoses disappear. Medicine is like the Oregon Dunes, really. The information is changing daily. I went into medicine thinking it is like a cookbook, where I just have to learn all the recipes. Nope, sand dunes: the wind and waves and new information change the contours daily. It drives my patients nuts. “My insurance won’t cover the medicine I’ve been on for 26 years.” Um, yeah, sorry, work for single payer and shut down the insurance companies, ok? “This combination of medicines has never killed me yet.” Um, yeah, sorry, but you are in fact getting older and we no longer think that combination is safe and first do no harm: I can’t prescribe combinations that I think may kill you.

Hypochondriasis has been replaced by two diagnoses: Somatic Symptom Disorder and Illness Anxiety Disorder.

From the Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/clinical-updates/psychiatry-psychology/diagnostic-statistical-manual-mental-disorders-redefines-hypochondriasis.

“Patients with illness anxiety disorder may or may not have a medical condition but have heightened bodily sensations, are intensely anxious about the possibility of an undiagnosed illness, or devote excessive time and energy to health concerns, often obsessively researching them. Like people with somatic symptom disorder, they are not easily reassured. Illness anxiety disorder can cause considerable distress and life disruption, even at moderate levels.”

“To meet the criteria for somatic symptom disorder, patients must have one or more chronic somatic symptoms about which they are excessively concerned, preoccupied or fearful. These fears and behaviors cause significant distress and dysfunction, and although patients may make frequent use of health care services, they are rarely reassured and often feel their medical care has been inadequate.”

So, subtle difference. Broadly, the illness anxiety disorder people are sure they have SOMETHING and are worried about ALL THE SYMPTOMS. The somatic symptom disorder people are worried about A SPECIFIC SYMPTOM OR SYMPTOMS and WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED ME.

Some of the people complaining of weird symptoms do have a medical diagnosis that has not been sorted out. Take multiple sclerosis for example. The average time from the start of symptoms to diagnosis is 4-5 years.

Here: http://biketxh.nationalmssociety.org/site/DocServer/Facts-about-MS.pdf?docID=54383).

Also here: https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-Tools.

Another one is sarcoidosis: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sarcoidosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350358. It’s hard to diagnose, can affect different parts of the body, and it’s still pretty mysterious. Add to that list chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and numerous other diagnoses.

With multiple sclerosis, you may be thinking, well, if they had just done the brain MRI sooner, the diagnosis would be made. Not necessarily. I did find a patient with a bunch of MS brain lesions: made the diagnosis. She had had a brain MRI 3-5 years before because of suspicious symptoms during pregnancy. At that time her MRI was entirely normal.

The DSM V does not have a diagnosis called psychophysiological disorder. This is an ongoing discussion:
1. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7f7f/21a9b524fb677d575428bea11aab4c8d70c5.pdf
2. https://thoughtbroadcast.com/2011/01/21/psychosomatic-illness-and-the-dsm-5/
This site: http://www.stressillness.com/ is my current favorite about psychophysiological disorders. I heard a lecture from the physician who runs the site. He is at OHSU in Portland and gets the gastrointestinal patients where “they can’t find anything wrong” from all over the state. He is really good at this. He and I are in agreement: the symptoms are real. However, the symptoms may come from emotional suffering and from emotional trauma in the past and present.

It is clear that fibromyalgia is a “real” disorder: functional MRI of the brain shows the pain centers lighting up more with a standardized pain stimulus than “normal” patients. PTSD is “real”. It is interesting that there is more stigma surrounding fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue than PTSD: is that because the former two are more often diagnosed in women, and the latter is legitimate (finally) for male (and a smaller number of female) veterans?

And what do I, your humble country doctor, think? I think that chronic fatigue and PTSD and fibromyalgia and illness anxiety disorder and the others all may be variations of the same thing. Our body will handle and “store” or “stuff” emotions that we cannot handle or are not in a safe situation to handle it. Eventually our body decides that we are now safe enough and will notify us that we have to handle the emotions. Currently our culture is terribly unsupportive of this and there is huge stigma attached to dealing with it. We are all supposed to just be nice.

In the end, we can’t judge how a friend feels or whether they are well or not. We have to treat them with respect and kindness.

The photograph is me on my grandfather’s lap. He became a psychiatrist and I am a family physician. Taken in 1962 or 3. We are at cabins in Ontario, Canada. What a pair of grubs, but happy…..

bust

I took this in 2011, as a Mad as Hell Doctor, traveling around California talking about single payer.

We are losing more and more physicians. Our three counties, 450,000 people, are down from 8 neurologists ten years ago, to 2. The last one standing in the county of 350,000 says that he is really tired.

Single payer, medicare for all….. because I dream of other countries, civilized countries, countries where there is one set of rules, I can take care of any person who comes to me, I know what is covered and what is not, and I actually get paid….

 

He Who We Are Tired Of

I propose a quiet week.

I propose a week off.

No twitter.
No video.
No tapes.
No attention: that is, a week where we do not mention He Who We Are Tired Of.

We don’t read the twitter
the tweets
the discord
the insults
the stunts
the anger.

We interview the laundry worker at the White House.

“How are things?”

“Quiet. Today we are bleaching.”

“Wow, those sheets are really white.”

“Yes. They are.”

We interview a gardener at the White House.

“How are things?”

“Quiet.”

“Any problems?”

“There is a mole in the South Lawn.”

“Wow. Is that a problem?”

“Not really. Someone could step in a hole and hurt an ankle.”

“Are you using poison?”

“Oh, no, that wouldn’t be nice. We’ve done research and a live capture will move her to a really beautiful meadow in Alexandria. The owner likes moles. We send some South Lawn dirt along to keep her from being upset. We’re been very successful with this program, no complaints.”

“None have come back?”

“The bridges are a bit much for moles. They haven’t tried though, they usually find Alexandria quieter. The Easter Egg hunt is a bit stressful for moles, all those crowds.”

“That’s great! How wonderful.”

“Yes, all quiet here. I love my job.”

“Well, that’s the White House and Washington, DC update for today. Tomorrow we talk to a congressional window washer. They have an amazing view!”

 

For the Daily Prompt: trademark.

 

 

Not quite acculturated

And she was unsympathetic
That doctor
That immigrant doctor
I heard she told a patient
“You’re too fat.”
This was whispered
In accents of pleased shocked horror

She came to dinner
That unsympathetic doctor
Southeast asian
Told a little of her story
To my wide eyed children

When she was 10
They were boat people
Escapees
Refugees
Pirates caught them
Real pirates
“They weren’t so bad,” she said
“We were about to die from lack
of food and water
Though we heard other stories
that were very bad.”

My daughter could imagine the boat.
She moved to my lap.
The pirates were too real.

Perhaps plenty is not always taken
for granted
And sympathy is a matter of degree.

 

previously posted on everything2.com in 2009 and here too, though I have not figured out how to find it….

for the Daily Prompt: enlighten.

Luminous night of the soul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OaRZrdoTQ0