Category: Culture

Medicare and the end of racial segregation in healthcare

August 12th, 2016 by

ID-10082234

The story of how Medicare ended segregation in healthcare settings is a pretty remarkable one. Temple University Professor David Barton Smith’s  The Power to Health: Civil Rights, Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health Care System brings the events of 50 years ago to light.

“In four months [government bureaucrats] transformed the nation’s hospitals from our most racially and economically segregated institutions to our most integrated,”he writes. “A profound transformation, now taken for granted, happened almost overnight.”

In the early 1960s healthcare was even more segregated than the economy as a whole. In Southern states there were separate hospitals for whites and blacks; there were separate waiting rooms in physician offices, with black patients seen last.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in programs that received federal funds. But when Medicare was enacted in 1965, no one really took the provision seriously. After all, the Brown v. Board of Education decision a decade earlier had not led to rapid progress in school desegregation.

And yet Wilbur Cohen and a small team from the Social Security Administration and Public Health Service put together rules that prevented hospitals that discriminated from receiving Medicare funding. Learning their lesson from the failure of Brown’s “all deliberate speed” language, which had let school segregation fester, the team decided to enforce the rules from day 1.

Since hospitals couldn’t afford to forego Medicare, desegregation was achieved in a matter of months. Imagine that.

Image courtesy of podpad at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

MGH marketers take on Boston Children's

August 1st, 2016 by
ID-100406395
The doctor will see you now –and forever

I was driving along in Boston last weekend when I heard an intriguing radio advertisement for MassGeneral Hospital for Children, the pediatric division of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

MGH is a world famous hospital, but when it comes to pediatrics it’s much smaller, less well known, and lower ranked than Boston Children’s Hospital –the #1 rated children’s hospital by US News.

I thought MGH picked a clever angle for the ad: highlighting a patient with Crohn’s disease who was diagnosed at age 10 and is now an adult. The message: illnesses that occur in childhood may need ongoing care into adulthood. Therefore why not start with a hospital that cares for children and adults? Boston Children’s isn’t mentioned, but it’s the clear target.

The Crohn’s example is not accidental. It’s a fast growing illness among kids, and it lasts for life. I don’t have the data but my sense is that it must be a highly profitable line of business for hospitals because of the frequent surgeries, endoscopy, and use of biologic drugs. (I would have been surprised if they had uses a common but non-lucrative disease like diabetes.)

The transition from a pediatric to adult gastroenterologist is an important step on the patient journey. A bad transition can be stressful and even lead to worse health outcomes. I’d be interested to learn what processes MGH has in place to make the transition smoother for its patients than what Children’s can offer. (I’ll have to research that.) It’s also unclear how highly to weigh this factor when choosing a place for a child to be treated, especially if that child might move away for and after college.

I don’t want to sound too cynical on this. In my own experience, I’ve seen physicians from Children’s and MGH –including in gastroenterology– collaborate closely to help one another’s patients. If you have a child with inflammatory bowel disease and live near Boston, count your blessings.

Image courtesy of kdshutterman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Drinking while grocery shopping. Is pot next?

July 13th, 2016 by
ID-100164752
Where did my grocery cart disappear to?

Amazon.com seems to be unstoppable. It’s grabbed the lion’s share of the e-commerce market, turned other retailers into mere showrooms for shoppers who then purchase online, discarded list prices in favor of its own internal comparisons, and turned Prime Day into a new national shopping holiday. Little buttons around the house can be pressed to reorder staples, and voice commands to my Amazon Echo can summon goods to the home.

Supermarkets are now in Amazon’s sights. I’ve received come-ons lately for Amazon Fresh.

But instead of quaking in their boots, some supermarkets are taking a page from the casino playbook and offering inexpensive alcoholic beverages to customers. From the Wall Street Journal (Supermarkets Invite Shoppers to Drink While They Shop):

At nearly 350 Whole Foods locations nationwide, shoppers can carry open beverages out of the bar area and around the store as they shop around. Some stores have added cup holders to their shopping carts or placed racks around the store where shoppers can place empty stemless wine glasses. In some Texas locations, the $1 cans of beer rest in ice-filled buckets labeled “walkin’ around beer.” “When customers find out that they can sip and shop, a lot of times it’s a lightbulb moment,” Mr. Kopperud says.

Take that Jeff Bezos!

As just about everyone knows, alcohol lowers inhibitions and is more or less guaranteed to boost retail sales. Impulse purchase anyone?

But let’s fast forward this story just a bit. With the movement toward the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes –which I oppose– it’s just a matter of time before these same stores start opening marijuana boutiques at their entrances, featuring a wide variety of tasty edibles. For Whole Foods they will likely be organic, gluten free and artisanal.

You can bet the munchies will contribute to a healthy boost to the average sale!

Come to think of it, these two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. A walkin’ around beer and a marijuana edible sounds pretty darn attractive.

Ok, Amazon. What’s your reply?

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

Staying away from substance abuse on campus

June 15th, 2016 by
ID-100213615
Safe at home

The opioid epidemic is truly devastating. Drug overdoses (mostly opioids) are a leading cause of death in the US, topping guns and car crashes. People don’t want to become addicted to drugs or die from overdoses, so why does it happen so often?

It often starts with a doctor writing a prescription for someone complaining of chronic or acute pain or following a surgical procedure. Little thought is given to the number of pills prescribed; extra pills are either consumed by the patient or left lying around in the medicine cabinet where they may be taken by family members or house guests who have developed a habit. When prescription pills run out and the cost of buying them on the black market is too high, users shift quickly to heroin, which is cheap, potent and readily available. The downward spiral can be steep.

Thankfully, the country is starting to get a grip on the opioid crisis. Health insurers are tightening up on opioid coverage, doctors are trying alternative therapies (like massage) or being more conservative in their prescribing. TV and newspaper stories are pointing out the perils.

Awareness is spreading, including to the younger generation. I’m really pleased to see that some colleges are offering “sober dorms” for students committed to a substance-free lifestyle. The idea is not brand new –a Rutgers program dates back to 1988—but it seems to be gaining traction as more schools try out the approach.

A number of schools offer housing for people in recovery, designed to prevent relapse. New Jersey has a new law requiring any college with more than one quarter of students living on campus to offer sober housing. Other schools are starting to offer sober dorms to students who are looking for a clean lifestyle, whether they are in recovery or not.

It’s also my impression that college administrators are doing more than they used to to enforce alcohol and drug laws, regardless of a dorm’s official designation.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.

In the future, will every job be a healthcare job?

June 6th, 2016 by
ID-100404750
I’m here for your job

The US added 38,000 jobs in May, including 46,000 in healthcare. In other words, healthcare added more than 100 percent of the new jobs in the economy. That won’t happen every month, but it’s a pretty striking statistic.

What’s going on here?

I recently read The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, which basically argues that almost all jobs –including highly skilled ones– will be wiped out by automation, robots and artificial intelligence. Case in point: truck drivers and taxi drivers, who will be replaced by self-driving vehicles.

Job destruction is happening today on a large scale. Manual laborers have been vulnerable for a long time, but professionals are now under threat as well. There’s little opportunity in previously safe jobs like bookkeeper and paralegal. I firmly believe that a big driver of Donald Trump’s popularity is the alienation felt by many workers –including skilled ones– whom the economy no longer really needs or won’t need soon. It’s easy to blame free trade pacts, Chinese, Mexicans, and our feckless political leadership, but technology is actually the root cause.

The two big exceptions to job loss are healthcare and education, sectors that have been very slow to match the innovation pace established by the rest of the economy. That’s kept costs high and rising. As a result, Americans are getting killed by healthcare and education expenses at a time that incomes are stagnant.

Healthcare is always 10-20 years behind the rest of the economy (I’ll let someone else speak for education) so we can expect continued robust healthcare hiring for some time.

If the jobless future described in The Second Machine Age really comes to pass, society will be in serious trouble. I really don’t like the author’s idea of addressing joblessness by paying everyone a guaranteed minimum income. Sure people need an income, but they also need purpose in life, which often comes from having something productive to do on the job.

As I’ve been saying for years –for example Welcoming immigrants and robots to fill the nursing shortage and Robots are coming and they plan to treat you like a moron –I do think healthcare will eventually catch up with the rest of the economy and healthcare jobs will go by the wayside. But maybe there will be enough lag time that we will in fact preserve and invent meaningful jobs in healthcare, and that the healthcare field will lead the next wave for the re-humanization of the economy.

Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group.