Ladies: Stop Cutting Off Healthy Breasts

bra_breast_cancerReally scary story in The Wall Street Journal this week about a dramatic increase in double mastectomies in this country — and not for women who need them.

Most women diagnosed with breast cancer only need a lumpectomy in the affected breast or, more rarely, a mastectomy. There is no evidence that removing the healthy breast reduces the risk of recurrence or increases survival.

Yet rates of double mastectomy among women diagnosed with breast cancer have skyrocketed in the past 13 years, from 2 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2011. And no, it’s not because women have been diagnosed with more severe breast cancer or some major study showed that slicing off healthy breasts keeps cancer at bay.

As one plastic surgeon quoted in the Journal article tells his patients: “Why don’t we simply remove your foot? It will have the same effect on survival.”

Don’t take my word for it; check out this study of 190,000 women with breast cancer that compared survival rates in those who had a double mastectomy vs those who underwent lumpectomy followed by radiation. Bottom line: … Continue Reading

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cost health insurance waste

How Much Is That CT Scan In the Window?

transparencyDo you know how much that 50-inch, flat-screen TV cost? How about your car? The cashmere cardigan you just had to have?

So how much did that visit with your gyn because of your painful period cost (men: substitute whatever you want here)? The ultrasound to see if you had a fibroid? The myomectomy to remove the fibroid?

A few years ago it didn’t matter so much; most of us only had to handle relatively small copayments and many of us didn’t even have deductibles. Fast forward to today, when the cost job-based health insurance has grown faster than our incomes, essentially eating up any salary increases over the past 10 years. In fact, the average deductible has more than doubled for most employees regardless of the size of their companies.

Note I said the past 10 years. Which means you can’t blame the five-year-old Affordable Care Act entirely. In fact, out-of-pocket payments would likely be higher without the ACA; a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund found a “marked slowdown in premium growth in 31 states and the District of Columbia.” However, that same report also found that premiums increased about … Continue Reading

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cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform payment

A Letter to a Friend (or, I’m Sorry I Lost My Temper Last Night”)

Sibling RivalrySo I did something last night that I’m not proud of. I got into an argument – complete with raised voices – with a friend. Over health care and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), of course. (Note that he continually called it “Obamacare” in a somewhat sneering tone, which, as those of you who read my blog regularly or know me, know I consider a derogatory term for a very important piece of legislation).

I felt terrible after we left and tossed and turned all night coming up with things I wished I said (not to mention wishing I hadn’t lost my temper).

So I decided to write my friend a letter via this blog.

Dear Friend:

I am really sorry about last night’s discussion, er, argument. I should have remained calmer (I’m blaming it on the martini you made me, which, by the way, was very, very good). So here is a cooler version of responses to some of the points you made.

The government should not be paying for health insurance.

Well, I notice that you are quite happy to … Continue Reading

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Affordable Care Act blog health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare

Why Repealing the Affordable Care Act Won’t Stop Healthcare Reform

So the election is over. The Republicans now control both houses. And several are promising that one of their first jobs is to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I’m sure there are lots of people jumping up and down with glee.

This reaction reminds me what one doctor told me a couple of weeks ago after I spoke to his group (abdominal surgeons) about healthcare reform (you can read more about the experience here). “This (the ACA) is going to go away and things will return to normal.”

Um, not quite.

Sure, if the ACA goes away we’ll return to more than 40 million uninsured Americans who can’t afford health care. States that have expanded Medicaid will have to pick up the full tab for those expansions (instead of 10% beginning in 2020). Young adults who are still covered on their parents’ policies will now have to buy their own — if they can afford them. Women will once again be discriminated against in terms of premiums and plan designs. People with preexisting conditions will be unable to find affordable health insurance on the individual market. We’ll have no guarantee of a basic set of benefits (for instance, some … Continue Reading

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Affordable Care Act cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system;

Doctors Are Angry. I Get That. But . . .

surgeonI knew this would be the toughest audience yet in my three years of teaching/speaking about the US healthcare system and healthcare reform. I even put on a flak jacket at the beginning of my talk as a way of breaking the ice (and protecting myself; I mean, these guys pack scalpels!). And I made it through the two-hour talk and their anger without losing my composure or my sense of humor (thank god for that sense of humor).

Now I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home and find myself tearing up. Not because the doctors were mean or cruel — they weren’t — but because of how much distance there is between  reality and perception, how much anger is out there, how too many people rely only on anecdotes and commentary instead of facts to develop opinions, and how scary it is to look at where we are and where we need to be — and realize that, more and more, it is unlikely we will ever get there given the rhetoric and anger in this country.

The doctors this morning, most of whom have been in practice … Continue Reading

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ACA Affordable Care Act health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; malpractice insurance Obamacare patient-centered care patient-centered healthcare Uncategorized

Help! I’ve Lost My Insurance and I Can’t Get Up!

indexThe serendipity of the universe never ceases to amaze me. A couple of days ago I gave the keynote speech on healthcare reform at the Texas Medical Association’s CME Association’s annual meeting in Austin. A physician in the audience brought up an issue that was trumpeted in the press when the health care exchanges rolled out for open enrollment; namely, that people had lost their insurance and couldn’t see their doctors. I knew that a very small minority of people had actually “lost” their insurance, and that, in most cases, that insurance provided pretty bad coverage at fairly high prices. But I didn’t want to get into it with him, so I just agreed that yes, the Affordable Care Act certainly has flaws, then moved on to the next question.

If only I’d checked the news before my talk. I could have told him about a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of non-group enrollees (ie, they don’t have employer-provided insurance and bought their own insurance, most on the Exchanges). Among the findings:

About  two-thirds of those with non-group coverage are now in ACA-compliant plans, while three in 10 have coverage they purchased before … Continue Reading

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ACA Affordable Care Act health insurance health insurance exchanges healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare Obamacare

Why I Envy My Sister-in-Law (and Why You Should, Too)

Twenty-three years ago I married an amazing man who just happened to be Scottish. Real Scottish, as in, grew up in Glasgow and attended the university there. In the process, I gained a wonderful sister-in-law and, later, her husband (brother-in-law?).

She and her husband (and my mother-in-law, who is also pretty great!) live in picture-book-pretty idyllic Scottish towns complete with stone walls, sheep, cows, and salmon-filled streams for fly fishing. They also live in a country with nationalized healthcare, which, some would have us believe, is second only to nuclear war in terms of the horrific effects it would have if implemented here.

So when I was teaching a class on the US healthcare system this spring, I asked my sister-in-law for some insider information about the National Health System (or NHS as they fondly call it). Focus on your mother, I said, since she’s had some health problems in recent years. Here’s what she wrote me. . .

“Mum was taken to hospital around seven times in the space of two years. In total, she spent a few weeks in hospital. She didn’t pay anything, not for the ambulances, consultants, accommodation, … Continue Reading

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health insurance healthcare reform healthcare system; Medicare

The CT Scan Cost HOW Much??

So a couple of months ago I saw my doctor about this chronic pain in my lower right abdomen. I’d had it for about a year, sometimes barely noticeable, sometimes more noticeable, and, being a medical writer, I was certain it was ovarian cancer (don’t ask my why, but I’m convinced that this is the cancer lying in wait for me, even though I have no risk factors. Medical writers are only second to med students in terms of hypochondria).

Anyway, my doctor thought it was probably gynecologic and told me to see my gyn. But he also suggested a CT scan to rule out a kidney infection or stone. Sure, I said, and off I went to radiology.

Long story short, we still don’t know why I have this sometimes pain, but it’s not that bad and I’ll just live with it (until it turns out to be something serious and it kills me [see, I told you medical writers were hypochondriacs]).

But the pain got much worse last week when I received a bill from the radiology center for $778.62. Turns out that’s what I owe after my insurance company paid it’s part of the charge. Here’s how … Continue Reading

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Affordable Care Act cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare payment

Reigning in the Cost of Health Insurance, or, Why We Can’t Have Granite Countertops on a Laminate Budget

This blog comes to you courtesy of a nasty exchange on Facebook. It started with a posting about the fact that an insurance plan offered through the state exchange did not include the regional children’s hospital in its network.

This is happening around the country as insurers limit provider networks in order to keep premiums within  prescribed limits, whether those limits are mandated by the Affordable Care Act or by the employer paying for the health insurance. And it’s no secret that specialty hospitals like children’s hospitals and teaching hospitals have far higher costs than community hospitals. Reasons include the cost of training medical residents and fellows, the high percentage of Medicaid patients they see as well as the high percentage of uncompensated care they provide, and their mission to do research as well as provide patient care. They do receive additional federal and state funding to compensate — at least partly — for those expenditures, but in this day of shrinking budgets it doesn’t cover it all.

On the other hand, insurers offering policies on the exchanges must keep premiums within a certain limit based on actuarial data in their region. In addition, employers are looking for ways to … Continue Reading

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Affordable Care Act cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform high-deductible health plan Obamacare