community health

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt #69: community.

The photograph is from 2010, when the mad as hell doctors toured California to talk about single payer health care, medicare for all.

Small communities rolled out the welcome:

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In this community, every table was sponsored by local health groups: clinic, the health department, mental health, addiction treatment. In small communities everyone knows someone who has lost their health, their health insurance and/or their job and home.

Here we are setting up for another program:

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People asked questions:

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And they listened and responded:

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The health care industry has money. The insurance companies are for profit and make enormous profits. But in the end you and I have VOTES. When we stand up as a nation and say that we want medicare for all, Congress will listen. Stand up.

The mandate for health care already is a law: no one can be turned away from an emergency room. But as things stand, we do not take care that the person in the emergency room has care after the emergency room. The hospital may take the person’s house. We already have the government doing no profit care for over 50% of the care in the US: Medicare, Medicaid, active duty military and the Veterans Association. It is time to shut down the for profit insurance companies that refuse medicines, refuse care, refuse to answer their phones, tell me on the phone “we don’t have a fax”, the parent company tells me a medicine is covered and then the part D drug coverage still refuses: it is BEYOND TIME TO SHUT THEM DOWN.

Is the goal of health care profit? Or is it care for our citizens, support for families, works like the police and the fire station: we all support each other. Stand up, shout and VOTE.

 

 

Long notes and unhappy patients.

A patient of mine saw a cardiologist recently.

His previous cardiologist has retired. The patient had a cardiac bypass in the past, he has a stent, he has known coronary heart disease and he’s in the young half of my practice. That is, under 60.

He had not seen a cardiologist for 2-3 years because he had a work injury, worked with Labor and Industries, the case was closed, he couldn’t go back to work, he found a lawyer. He lost his regular health insurance along with the job, so couldn’t see the cardiologist.

The L & I case is reopened. A physiatrist recommended specific treatment that was not done, and that allowed the case to reopen.

The specific treatment center then notes that he has heart disease and that he needs clearance from a cardiologist. I set him up with a new cardiologist.

“How was the visit?” I ask.

He shrugs. “The staff was nice.”

“I have the note.”

“The cardiologist spent under ten minutes with me. It was clear that she was rushed. She did not seem very interested. It was difficult to get my questions answered.”

“Her note is six pages.”

He snorts. “Great that she could get a six page note out of that visit.”

“Do you want a copy?”

“No.”

He is cleared for the specific treatment.

I have no doubt that the cardiologist spent more than 6-8 minutes on his visit and his note. But not in the room. Other people are entering the information filled out in the waiting room, medicines, allergies, past medical history, family history. Hopefully the cardiologist is reading my note and letter. But the problem is, doctors aren’t doing it in the room. So the impression left with the patient is that we spend 6-8 minutes on their visit, we are late, we are rushed. Doctors are looking at data. They are not listening to patients.

Medical Economics, a journal that arrives without me asking for it, says over and over that we need more physician “extenders”, that we need to have people doing the data entry, people doing the patient teaching, more people and machines….No. They are wrong. We need LESS barriers between us and the patients, not MORE. We need more time with patients. Every single extender we add burns physicians out more, because the salary has to be paid AND more patients seen faster to do that AND we are still ultimately responsible for knowing and reading and absorbing every single piece of information that is placed in that patient’s chart. An extender is NOT an extension of my brain and an extender is another person I have to communicate with and train.

Just. Say. No. to the managers who pile MORE barriers between the physician and the patient. NO.


It just makes me so mad that he lost his health insurance BECAUSE he got injured at work and so then his heart disease goes untreated as well… can’t afford medicines…if he then has a heart attack while uninsured we lifeflight him to Seattle, it costs a fortune, he loses his house and property and then is on medicaid and may end up on permanent disability, and what are the chances he returns to work? The US medical corporate money grubbing is insane. Single payer, medicare for all, make the US great again.

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?

 

Eeeeeee

My theme is happy things, though sometimes they are things where I am trying to find the perspective to love what is happening.

When my son was little, I had Dr. Suess’s ABCs memorized: Ear, egg, elephant, E, e, e!

My words today are everybody, embody and evening.

E for Everybody. Everybody in, nobody out! This is one of the calls for Healthcare for all, and I am still a Mad as Hell Doctor, working for single payer.

Our state representative was here a year ago and said that there is not a mandate for healthcare for all. I said, “I politely disagree. We already have a law in place that emergency rooms cannot turn anyone away. They cannot refuse to treat a person. This is a mandate for care. Unfortunately, the emergency room is the most expensive and inefficient care, unless you are about to die. The emergency room cannot do chronic care: it cannot help people stop smoking, help lower blood pressure, help people with chronic illness such as diabetes, do preventative care like pap smears and checking kidney function to stave off renal failure. We have the mandate: now we need the political will to change to a single payer system that gives good care. A patient can see me in my family practice clinic a dozen times for the cost of one emergency room visit.” S o, everybody in, nobody out. The law that insurance companies can ONLY keep 20 cents of every dollar does not comfort me: I want my dollar to go to health care for everyone and not 1/5 to profit!

Embody: what do I embody? What do you embody? Do you treat your body well? Do you thank it? What is it carrying?

I see people so fixed on success and progress and getting goals, that sometimes we don’t pay any attention to our bodies. We treat the body like a tool, like a hammer or a wrench, use and abuse it, try to make it conform to some idea of external beauty, get angry when it breaks down. Fix me back to where I was three years ago, when I could work 12 hours a day and never ever paid attention to my body. Bad food, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, gallons of caffeine, energy drinks, sugar, illegal drugs, no exercise… and then we are surprised when it breaks down? Even exercise is seen as an inconvenient and necessary job, like buying new tires for the car. When people say get me back to where I was, I ask, “Back to working the 12 hours a day that caused this damage? Do you think that is a good idea?

And I include myself in that! I have had pneumonia with sepsis symptoms twice. The second time I thought, how dumb I am! My father died and I did not take any time off. I just kept working and added executor to my jobs and cried daily. Is it any surprise that after a year of that I became ill? Now my goal is to not do medicine for more than forty hours a week and to listen to my body and to take breaks!

Evening: the sunset. I am so grateful for the day, for the night, for the light changing and the world turning, for the stars and the moon and the sun and the glorious, gorgeous, generous world.

E

This is an evening photograph from Mauna Loa last week.

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….

 

Bruise, muscle and bone

I asked an older patient recently, “What is a bruise?”

She thought about it and said, “I don’t know.”

A bruise is blood, bleeding. Old blood changes color and is reabsorbed by the body as it heals. But where does that blood come from?

Any tissue in the body can bleed. Even a tooth, if broken into the center.

So what is bleeding for MOST bruises?

Muscle. Muscle, muscle, muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia, occasionally bone if broken and internal organs can bleed as well.

Somehow we entirely fail to teach this, at least in the US.

If you fall, or like my mountain biking daughter, hit something, your body will bleed. I tried to train the mountain bike team to carry an ace wrap and use it any time they hit something hard with an extremity. I pretty much failed. Why do I want an ace wrap and why use it immediately?

Trauma or hitting something hard causes bleeding. The more the muscle and tissue bleeds, the more swollen it gets. Usually the peak of bleeding and swelling is at about 48 hours after the injury. By then the body is sending immune system cells and repair cells to fix the trauma. It is swollen, red, hot, inflamed and painful! If we ace wrap our ankle or foot or elbow immediately, the bleeding stops faster. Wrap it, ice and elevate to keep the bleeding down. The torn muscles are held in their normal position, the bleeding stops more quickly, there is less swelling, less redness, inflammation and pain!

Our acronym is RICE:
Rest
Ice
Compression
Elevation

There are things that you can’t ace wrap: don’t ace wrap your neck or ribs and if it’s bad trauma to the head, neck, chest or abdomon, go to the emergency room! But even then, ice and compression help. First check airway, breathing and circulation, that the heart is beating if you happen on a trauma. But then try to use pressure on bleeding.

Do not put heat on a bruise for that first 48 hours. Why? It bleeds more and swells more. The exception may be if you do much more exercise than usual without a localized injury: hydrate, stay away from alcohol and a hot tub or hot bath may help. The hydration and hot water help the muscles relax and wash out the CK, creatine kinase, the protein from tiny muscle traumas that make us “stiff”.

The I in RICE used to mean ibuprofen as well. However, ibuprofen and aspirin and naprosyn are all blood thinners, so they may help with pain and inflammation, but may make the bruising worse. Acetominophen is not a blood thinner and also doesn’t do as much for inflammation, but it may be a better choice. It does help with pain.

In her third year of mountain bike racing, the Introverted Thinker had a quarter size bruise on her knee after a race.

“Are you going to do anything about that bruise?” I asked.

“No, it’s small.” she said.

“Ok.”

Two hours later: “Mom? Would you look at my knee?” Now the bruise is the size of an orange.

“Hmmm. What are you going to do about that?”

“I think I might ace wrap it and ice it and put it up for a while. Where is the ace wrap?”

Good plan. It didn’t get any bigger.

I see the handouts from the emergency room given for back pain and they are terribly misleading. It shows the spine and talks about the discs. 99% of the back pain I see is NOT a disc: it is the six layers of back muscles, and complex web of tendons, muscles and ligaments that hold the spine together and let us move in very complex ways. I pull my Netter Anatomy out daily in clinic and show people the six layers of back muscles.

What happens after a muscle is torn and bruised and bleeding? The muscle cramps up to stop the bleeding and attempt to keep from being torn more. No, I don’t like muscle relaxers much as medicines and they are useless long term. For sleep only right after injury. I am not talking about major trauma, but back pain and injuries.

If the muscle heals in the cramped position, it won’t work right any more. It can form scar tissue. It takes about six weeks for a muscle or ligament or tendon tear to heal and during that time we need to gently stretch the muscles without tearing them, so that they heal in the right position. Once they are healed in a scarred position, it’s more work to rehabilitate them, but it can be done. Physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractor, acupuncture, but the most important work is done BY the patient, not TO them. I can’t fix it with pills. Yes, it is work.

You can bruise bone too. Ow. The surface of the bone is living cells and the bones are continually torn down by osteoclasts and rebuilt by osteoblasts. The bone can be bruised without breaking. Again, 6 weeks to heal, little kids faster and 90 year olds kind of slow.

Take care of your muscles, ligaments and tendons, and they will take care of you.

 

I took the photograph on the first Mad as Hell Doctors tour for health care for all in 2009. I will be marching again today:  WE ARE ONE NATION! HEALTH CARE FOR ALL! NO DISCRIMINATION!  MEDICARE FOR ALL!

 

Comparison of cost of abdominal CT with and without contrast

I keep reading that the US Health System should be a “free market” with competition.

To have an free market, one needs to be able to check the prices. I want to compare price tags. I have a patient who needs a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis with and without contrast. So can I, as a doctor, find out the price?

I start making phone calls:

I call AIM Specialty Health, a procedure clearing house hired by many insurers here, to get prior authorization for the CT of the abdomen and pelvis with and without contrast. They ask for the usual identifying information: my name, tax id, NPI number, patient name, insurance number, check my address, phone number, fax number. They ask for theICD-9 codes — codes for the diagnosis. I know those. They ask for the CPT code, which is the procedure code for the test. I have to scramble to find the book and look it up: 74178. With the brain MRI the other day they volunteered site specific charges. Not this time. The representative said they didn’t know. I asked for prior authorization in Poulsbo, since that was most reasonable for the brain MRI. I asked what the patient’s copay is: AIM does not know.

Call to Premara Blue Cross, which is the patient’s insurance company. They can tell me that the patient has a $10,500 deductible each year. She will have to pay that much before the insurance pays anything. I ask them what it will cost at different sites. They say they can’t give me that information.

Next I call 5 different sites to get the price for that CPT code/proceedure.
Call to my local hospital: Charged amount is $4200.00
Call to a free standing radiology clinic in Poulsbo: Charged amount $1416.00
Call to the hospital in Bremerton, south of us: $8958.00.
Call to a free standing radiology clinic further south in Silverdale:$1526.00 + $20.00 for contrast.
Call to the hospital in Port Angeles, north of us: $ 3101.70 for the facility fee. Gave me Radia’s number for the physician fee.
Call to Radia and left message.
Left message with patient.

Radia called back and the fee is $346.80, so that would be added to the $3101.70 at Olympic Medical Center.

Now I know the amount BILLED at five sites. However, that is not the amount my patient will PAY.

If the site is “in network” then the site has a contract with Premara Blue Cross, which states the amount that Premara is going to pay. The patient will get an EOB, an explanation of benefits, from the insurance. “Benefits” is an interesting choice of words. The patient has paid for the insurance so that they will cover the bills. Is that a “benefit”?

On the EOB, it will state the amount that was billed for the service. Next it will state the amount “allowed”. “Allowed” is misleading. To me it implies that the insurance has held the cost down. But the insurance “allowed” the site to be “in network” because the doctor/site signed a contract. So this is a contracted price or agreed upon price.

I want to know the allowed/contracted/agreed upon price.

Call to the WA State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. The office says that the patient should be able to request the allowed cost for a specific site. Each site has a separate contract with the health insurance, so the allowed cost could be different at each site.

Call to Premara Blue Cross. This time they say that it’s not that they refused the information, it’s that it was not available. Now the representative says that they need the “units or minutes billed.” I don’t know what that is, but I will find out. I ask if that is the only other thing that I need. They say yes, but I cannot contact the same rep directly. I have to go through the rigamarole each time: my name, my tax id, patient’s name, patient’s insurance identification number, my clinic address, fax number, phone number, sometimes the patient phone number. Usually I have to punch 4 or five of these into the automated system and then have to repeat it all when I reach a human being.

Call to Poulsbo. The units refer to 100 units of contrast. Some patients will need more, up to 200 units.

Call to Premara Blue Cross again. I go over everything with representative Hailey, who then wants to know the amount that Poulsbo is billing. Explained that I was told only the units were needed. She put me on hold and checked with Poulsbo. She is quoted the same price.

Continuing with call to Premara Blue Cross. Hailey has entered everything and doesn’t get a result. She says she doesn’t know. I explain that they have a contract with Poulsbo that names an actual amount. She transfers me to another department after 25 minutes. The representative there says that she can give the allowed amount information to the provider doing the test, that is, to Poulsbo. I explained that the WA State Office of the Insurance Commissioner says that a patient can indeed request that information. I asked if they are refusing it to the patient. Rep repeats that she can give it to that provider but not me. I offer to have the patient in for a visit and get them on speaker phone and again request the information. Without the information, I will strongly consider filing a complaint with the state insurance commission. She decides to transfer me. That’s at 30 min and I am again put on hold.

The call to Premara Blue Cross ended after 45 min and 37 seconds and the third representative in the provider relations department states that if they get a call from Poulsbo that they could tell THEM the contracted allowable amount. Again stated that the insurance commissioner’s office says that the patient can request the amount. Are they and will they refuse it to the patient? Representative Whitney says that she has access only to provider accounts and that the contract with Poulsbo is proprietary information*. I say that I think health insurance is also a contract between the patient and the insurance and surely the patient can ask what it will cost in advance. I stated that I would be calling the patient and the state insurance commissioner’s office again.

I talk to the patient. She will now call the insurance and ask the “allowed” amount for this site. I give her the diagnosis code, CPT code and units billed.

She calls back. Premara says “around $600.00”.

I call Poulsbo and ask if they will check the contracted amount. They call Premara. They call me back.

If she only has 100 units of contrast, the CT of the abdomen and pelvis with and without contrast will cost her $641.00, as the “allowed” amount by contract between her insurance and the radiology site.

I still do not know the “allowed”/contracted amount for the other four sites, so I have failed in my attempt at comparing price tags. I only know the amount the sites would bill. The “allowed”/contracted amount for each site could be different. The hospitals bill more because they have a “facility” fee. I think this means that they are allowed to factor in various hospital costs. Even so, it seems outrageous that one hospital bills twice as much as the other two and more than six times as much as the least expensive site, but the allowed amount might be lower then the billed amount.

I don’t think this is a free market. I think it is an obscured market. And this is just one procedure and one single charge. Think of a hospital stay.
AIM Specialty Health http://aimspecialtyhealth.com/about-aim/guidelines
Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner is at http://www.insurance.wa.gov/
Premara Blue Cross https://www.premera.com/wa/visitor/

* When I called about the head MRI, why wasn’t the information about what is billed at different sites proprietary then?

This was initially posted on everything2 on Friday, May 16, 2014.

sometimes the hummingbird

sometimes the hummingbird

Boa cat
meows
the meow that means she’s caught something
and wants to show me

and I go to look
it is a hummingbird
probably immature
dead

I pat her and praise her
Good Boa
I see what you caught

She taps the hummingbird
around the room a few times
but it is dead

so she eats it

and I’m crying

sometimes the hummingbird
gets eaten

and that is ok