Rough week for the Massachusetts Model
“Massive spending on non-benefit costs.”
That’s the subtitle of a Health Affairs post about what is now known as “The Massachusetts Model.”
The short synopsis: The cost of the paperwork will kill any cost savings:
“The ‘reform’ does nothing to reduce the untamed costs of matching hundreds of thousands of billings with thousands of plans containing differing, confusing rate schedules. Hordes of provider personnel must generate the billings, and then hordes of insurer administrators process them and pay — or often reject — billed items and then frequently wrangle over them with providers and patients.”
Massachusetts model supporters also seemed a tiny bit defensive over the weekend at the “Massachusetts Teach-in on Health Reform: Massachusetts Reform as a National Model?” at Harvard Medical School.
Find more video from my coverage of the conference here.
Meanwhile, there is so much going on in D.C. this week, the news changes faster than the H1N1 cases count. So I suggest checking out the Wall Street Journal‘s Health Blog, National Public Radio’s Health Blog, the Kaiser news page and, of course, The Boston Globe.
Rock Stars of Science: A little embarrassing…
… or maybe I should give these guys a break for having some fun.
Men’s fashion designer Geoffrey Beene put up a multipage, cause marketing ad in GQ about his effort to raise money for research into conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. It features researchers posed with musicians like Josh Groban and Sheryl Crow. Mass General’s own Rudy Tanzi got to don mirror aviators, grab a mike and pose with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. Or did he? Might have been a bit of Photoshop at work here. The dean of Boston AD researchers, Dennis Selkoe, was not in the spread.
Seems MGH liked it, as they put out a press release shilling for the issue.
And there’s more. You can go to the site, see the whole spread and nominate your own Rock Star of Science. Cast your vote, help science and “get cool gear.”
Keep in mind that we — via taxes and NIH money — funded these guys. (Yes, guys — it is a spread on men’s fashion after all.) So give yourself a little credit.
Splitting hairs on the Partners/Harvard link
I had to do a double take on this quote in the Globe’s story on apparent conflicts of interest dogging Jack Connors, the chairman of Partner’s Health Care — the many-headed health giant that includes Massachusetts General Hospital and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital:
“There is no contract between Partners and Harvard,” Partners said in a statement to the Globe.”
Here’s the deal. The story is about a conflict of interest that Connors told the execs at Partners about, but not the board. Until 2004, Connors had a financial stake in M/C Communications, a for-profit continuing medical education company that had an “exclusive commercial relationship … with Harvard Medical School.”
According to the Globe, the company “profited hugely from an exclusive commercial relationship it maintained with Harvard Medical School.”
Of course they did. The Harvard brand is money.
I know Partner’s is not keen on the Globe. The paper keeps a close eye on the huge healthcare empire’s impact on healthcare costs and struggling suburban hospitals. But do Partners’ leaders have to be such slaves to their lawyers? Instead of having one of their well-spoken execs talk to the Globe, they put out a ridiculous statement like that. Technically, Partners may not have a contract with Harvard, but two powerful institutions are clearly and openly intertwined.
Lots of big institutions that don’t like the coverage they’re getting will shut out reporters and hope they go away. They don’t.
Thursday’s Globe had an editorial criticizing Partner’s expansion plans. It will be interesting to see how that thin skin serves Partners when health reform comes asking for big changes. For more on the dodgy business of CME, see this Institute of Medicine report.
Remember this when someone say the Globe is out to get Partners
Sundays’ story entitled “Much is given by hospitals, more is asked: Nonprofits reaping more in tax breaks than they report in charity work:”
“…(As) hospitals have prospered and grown, so too has the value of the breaks on state, federal, sales, and property taxes they enjoy as charities. And that fact has triggered a growing debate, among policy makers and politicians, about whether the public is still getting its money’s worth from an exemption that dates to the 19th century and was created to encourage hospitals to treat the poor.
“Today, in fact, the value of tax exemption far exceeds the amount the state’s leading hospitals spend on free care for the poor and other community benefits they report annually to the attorney general, a Globe review has found.”
Sometimes, MIT does the coolest stuff
MIT sends out a list of story ideas each week and this one caught my eye:
“Over the past few years, MIT engineers have successfully tested robotic devices to help stroke patients learn to control their arms and legs. Now, they’re building on that work to help children with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury.”
Maybe this will help the thousands of Iraq war soldiers returning home with brain and spinal injuries.
Shhhhhhh! Secret conference
So I got myself invited to the “Convergence Life Sciences Leadership forum” next week in Newport, where “a select group of 125 participants will gather … to explore the forces shaping the future of biotech, pharma, venture capital, healthcare, and medical devices.”
But I’ll have to do a little extra work to report on what anyone says there. Here’s the groups’ off-the record policy:
“You are free to blog your impressions of the event, and your responses to the ideas presented. But we ask that when it comes to particular things said on stage, you don’t paraphrase or directly quote Convergence speakers — unless you ask for and receive their permission after the session.”
Keeping an eye on the chemicals in Cape Cod’s water
The Silent Spring Institute, a group involved in studying the possible environmental causes of the high breast cancer rates on Cape Cod, last week won a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust “to continue studies of how endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs, chemicals that affect hormones) and pharmaceuticals may be leaching from septic systems into Cape Cod drinking water supplies.”
Gawande and Hand washing fun on WBUR
Sacha Pfeiffer offers a nice bit of multimedia on the silly but effective steps area hospitals are taking to get workers to wash their hands. She tagged along with the hand-washing police, but failed to get in on a bust.
No reggae soundtrack. Instead, I woke up this morning to MGH RN Pauline Albrecht’s “Cal-Stat” rap. “When you go and give a little handshake,” the lyrics go, “a little squirt is all it takes. Boom boom chicka chick Cal Stat.”
Watch out. It gets stuck in your head. But that’s the point.
Also at WBUR, Atul Gawande visited On Point Wednesday to talk about his story in the June 1 New Yorker about the absurdity of healthcare practice and cost variations.
There’s more by Tinker Ready over at Boston Health News.