Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Medicare sucks

There are a lot of changes going on in health care. One is that pretty soon in Pennsylvania, it will be mandatory for hospitals to report hospital-related infections. Now, I believe this is a very good step overall. For one, it's important for hospitals to keep track of something like that, and to take steps to lower the numbers. It is probably impossible to completely eliminate it, but it's crucial to reduce it as much as possible. Although hospitals should already be taking measures to do so, I think mandatory reporting will go a long ways toward speeding hospitals along. Secondly, I think it's good that patients will be able to access this information and see the rates of hospital-related infections at different institutions. This may help them make health care decisions, which in turn, will pressure these institutions to lower their rates of hospital-related infections.

However, I also see some potential problems. For one, I have heard that Medicare is going to stop paying for hospital-related complications and infections. Now while I believe that many hospitals will be able to reduce these by quite a lot, hospital-related infections will never be completely eliminated. Let me give an example.

A patient comes in because he had a heart attack. He's on the older side, also has hypertension, and congestive heart failure. The heart attack really does a number on his heart and it starts failing. He can't pump his blood well, fluid builds up in his lungs, he can't breathe, and he gets sent to the ICU and gets intubated - that's getting a tube thrust down your pharynx so that you can breathe with the help of a machine. This is a life-saving intervention. Without it, this patient would have died. However, several days after intubation, the patient develops a rip-roaring pneumonia. He gets treated with antibiotics and gets better. Eventually, the patient's heart gets better, he gets extubated (the breathing machine is removed), has open-heart surgery and lives another happy 20 years.

A relatively high percentage of patients that are intubated develop pneumonia. While this is serious, it can be treated with antibiotics. Medicare is saying that they will not pay for the antibiotics, because this type of pneumonia is a hospital-related infection - even though this infection was the result of a life-saving intervention! This is not the only example of something like this - there are many others.

Who is going to pay for the cost then? The patients? No - they never have enough money. So it will go to the hospitals. They will have to eat the costs and make up for them by billing more for just about everything else. Would it be ethically okay for the hospital and doctors and nurses to say, well, this patient will probably develop pneumonia if we intubate him, and we won't get paid for that, so nevermind. Let's just let him die. Of course that would not be ethically acceptable, and of course that won't happen.

I think it's ridiculous and sustainable for neither the insurance companies nor the hospitals.

Paul Levy, the president and CEO of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston posted about this topic and I think he also brought up some very good issues.


Paul Levy said...

Thanks very much! BTW, I have linked my blog to yours.

JoJoJangJang said...

I'm honored! Thank you very much - I will do the same.

Anonymous said...

Medicare does suck. It's all politics playing with the health of the American people. I have been in the Home Medical equipment arena for 25 years and Medicare has done nothing but failed miserabally at everything they have came up with. It's a ploy to get everyone off Medicare and in to the private replacement policies.

Offsprung said...

I cannot believe how bad it is until it was forced on my wife last month. Expensive, no answers anywhere and frankly you can get private insurance for less with better coverage and answers

Hannah said...

This is Hannah Bevills, I am an editor with Hospital.com. We are a medical publication whose focus is geared towards promoting awareness on hospitals, including information, news, and reviews on them. Given the relevance of what you are offering from your site and what our mission is, I feel we may be able to collaborate in some way or another, I look forward to your response regarding the matter. Thanks!

Hannah Bevills

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