Enough about health care, focus on health

Every parent knows how heartbreaking it can be when a child gets sick; they feel anxiety, helplessness and a desire to "fix" what’s wrong. Parents have the right instincts.

New research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggests that failing to get ill children the medical treatment they need doesn't just prolong that physical damage and emotional trauma in the here and now -- it also raises the risk they'll suffer poor health in adulthood.

The NBER compared the incidence of childhood and adult illnesses in America and England and found that American children are more likely to develop chronic diseases later in life because illnesses go undetected or untreated when they're young.


Little known board could have big health care impact

PCORI is in Washington this week. PCORI is the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, an organization created under the Affordable Care Act to conduct comparative clinical effectiveness research.

PCORI has not received a lot of attention over the past year -- which is probably a good thing after all the controversy over rationing during the health reform debate -- but ultimately its work could be very important to improving our health system over the long run by supporting patients and patient-centered health care.

The controversy of comparative effectiveness research and rationing is understandable. There have been too many examples where policymakers have used CER as a rigid standard that restricts patient access care, or as the basis for provider incentives that impose a one-size-fits-all approach that impedes the doctor's ability to tailor care to the needs of the individual patient.


Personalizing medicine to combat the cost of health care

In 2003, completion of the Human Genome Project heralded a new era in medicine. This collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health has helped to advance the way we diagnose, treat and prevent thousands of disorders to dramatically improve patient care. As this type of research continues to progress, we are seeing a fundamental shift in medicine – from reactive and generalized to proactive and personalized.  

This is great news for patients and for all Americans. Advances in personalized medicine hold promise not only in saving and improving more lives, but in helping control health care costs through better disease prediction and preventions, as well as giving doctors the tools to more effectively target the right treatments for the right patients. Only through investing in personalized medicine research are we beginning to realize the benefits of how these advancements will provide for improved and affordable health care for the future.


What will employers do with comparative effectiveness research?

For well over a decade, employers have been concerned about the cost of providing health care to their employees and its impact on the competitiveness of their businesses domestically and internationally. The impact of these rising health care costs are seen clearly as more businesses, especially small businesses, are cutting or scaling back insurance coverage, or shifting more of the cost burden on employees.

Running in parallel to this issue of rising costs has been the national trend of declining health status. Employers of companies large and small are a reflection of the nation as a whole, and unfortunately the trajectory of our nation’s health over the past several years has not been a positive story. Faced with these dual challenges of rising costs and decreased health of their workforces, what are employers to do? Nearly all of them have been addressing the cost side of the equation, but now a growing universe of employers are more aggressively tackling the “wellness” side of the equation because they understand that healthier employees are good for business.


Mystery shoppers are a waste of taxpayer money

Recently the Obama administration created a team of "mystery shoppers" to pose as patients, call doctors' offices and request appointments to see how difficult it is for Americans to obtain primary care. As a physician for over 30 years, I find this troubling because instead of creating solutions to fix the doctor shortage, the administration is spying on physicians.

Through these mystery shoppers, the Obama administration is deceiving doctors' offices - going as far to fabricate health problems - all to see if doctors are accepting new patients. This sort of behavior is exactly why the American people do not trust government.


Declare war on Medicare fraud, not seniors

As Congress wrangles over the debt ceiling, the federal budget, and the future of entitlement programs, it's clear that the nearly $500 billion spent each year on Medicare will remain a topic of great interest. 

And it should be: Medicare, which provides health coverage for elderly and disabled Americans, is second only to Social Security in its share of the federal budget. As it figures out what to do with Medicare, however, Congress needs to take a close look at the level of fraud in the system and focus on reducing it before asking seniors who have paid into the system their entire lives to accept poorly conceived benefit reductions or co-pays.  Congress, in short, should declare war on Medicare fraudsters, not the seniors that benefit from the program.


Help children with rare diseases get the new medicines they need

Having a seriously ill child is always difficult and painful. It’s even more so when a child’s illness is one of the 7,000 rare diseases for which cures and treatments are hard to find.

Rare diseases affect more than 15 million children in the United States.  A disease is considered rare if it affects less than 200,000 people; however the majority of rare diseases are considered ‘ultra rare’ meaning that they affect less than 6,500 patients.  Diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Huntington’s disease and pediatric cancers are some of the better known rare diseases that strike children and adults.  But there are thousands more that touch only a few hundred lives and are virtually unknown to the broader public.

Because these diseases are rare, support networks are hard to find and information can be difficult to obtain. Even getting a diagnosis can be a challenge because doctors may not know what they’re looking for. And when the diagnosis comes, it is often followed by the frustrating news that no cure exists and treatment options are minimal. 


CER will cost money and lives

Ask anyone for a list of ways to live a longer, healthier life, and they’re likely to include exercise, a better diet and less stress. But there’s something they’re likely to leave off the list that’s had a far more profound effect on health and longevity: medical innovation.

New drugs, new surgical techniques, new medical devices -- from retroviral AIDS therapies to cutting-edge chemotherapy treatments -- have, quite literally, given us more time on earth.

Unfortunately, there’s a piece of the health care reform law passed last year that could derail this life-prolonging momentum. 


Keep Medicaid strong and protect our children

As a pediatrician working in southeast DC, the Medicaid program means more to me than just fodder for heated budget debates on Capitol Hill.  Despite its imperfections, Medicaid is a lifeline of health and dignity for my patients and their families.

So when I hear talks of "tightening the belt" when it comes to federal spending, I don't see Medicaid as an expendable program. Yet, this belt-tightening metaphor is being used to justify support for proposed legislation like the State Flexibility Act (HR1683/S868), which lets states off the hook from maintaining Medicaid eligibility requirements for some of the country's most vulnerable populations. 


Religious voices support access to abortion

Some of the legislation that has come out of Congress recently seems more like a decree from on high than the result of the democratic process. Capitol Hill should be a reflection of the needs and values of all Americans — not just those with the loudest voices or the strongest lobby. Often, religious voices are used to impose or support the most conservative policies, despite the diversity that exists among people of faith.

Our Catholic tradition places a premium on what the Declaration on Religious Freedom calls “the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom.” Though we come from different backgrounds, all of us share the belief that women should have the right to make their own choice about abortion, in particular, and reproductive health choices in general. All of these choices are under fire in Congress. In fact, the U.S. bishops have been the greatest obstacle to women exercising these choices – even though Catholics disagree fundamentally with positions that the bishops have taken on these matters.