HealthThinkShop

How to Charge $546 for Six Liters of Saltwater – NYTimes.com

Perhaps the problems with our healthcare system go beyond health behaviors, physician patient relations and hospital healthcare performance. Perhaps the problem isn’t our healthcare system at all.

The following NYTs article sheds light on one of the most insidious problems with healthcare today, you might even say with most things in our society that are commodities and get distributed through what we call “the market.” It appears that the healthcare dollar is in a tug of war with every merchant, vendor and sales person that crosses its path. Everyone is trying to live by getting healthcare but everyone is also trying to live on healthcare as a commodity and a business.

Studies show that in a downturn economy healthcare needs go up and healthcare increases as an important component of the downturn economy. This is especially true in this most recent deep recession.

How are people going to survive when they need urgent, local and appropriate healthcare if healthcare is a commodity encumbered by the pursuit of profit and wealth?

By definition, those people who have the least ability to pay are often the ones most in need of healthcare–either through prevention of the diseases that have higher prevalence among poor and undereducated populations or through low paying jobs that are often physically challenging and potentially harmful than so called “white collar” jobs.

If the price of healthcare is not set reasonably then the distribution of healthcare as a commodity is not only inefficient but unaccessible to those who may need it most.

“It is one of the most common components of emergency medicine: an intravenous bag of sterile saltwater.

Luckily for anyone who has ever needed an IV bag to replenish lost fluids or to receive medication, it is also one of the least expensive. The average manufacturer’s price, according to government data, has fluctuated in recent years from 44 cents to $1.

Yet there is nothing either cheap or simple about its ultimate cost, as I learned when I tried to trace the commercial path of IV bags from the factory to the veins of more than 100 patients struck by a …”

More via How to Charge $546 for Six Liters of Saltwater – NYTimes.com.

Best Apps For College Students

Best Apps For College Students.

Why is my neighbor getting that for free?! The experts tell us … and the Band Plays On…

To work or not to work?  That is the question.  How will Obamacare work for working families?

The Policy ThinkShop is currently having an internal discussion on poverty in America and access to basic healthcare services.  It has come to our attention that many of the states are not supporting healthcare reform and that those states make up more than half of the Nation’s minority community (racial and ethnic communities who are usually overrepresented in poverty statistics).

We asked one of our policy pundits (a current policy expert who grew up in a household below the poverty line) from our Health ThinkShop team to research the topic and provide us with perspective:

America has always had a problem with poverty.  It has struggled to measure it, to understand it. Real Americans have even struggled to even look at poverty for very long without animating it and personifying it at the crossroads of maternity, fatherhood and good old hard work.  The welfare reform ACT passed by the Clinton administration (PRWORA, 1996), or “welfare reform,” focused greatly on people’s seeming refusal to work.  Ironically, the current ACA “Obamacare” greatly focuses on people’s ability to work, while not being able to afford healthcare.

American’s seem to experience significant cognitive dissonance when contemplating concern for the poor if it means giving them things they themselves can barely afford.

This national psychosis is mostly pondered  and acted on by Michael Harrington’s “other,” Other America–these are people who are not poor and have time and resources to define, discuss and develop responses to the poverty problem.  Indeed, the public, policy and media discourses on “things that affect the poor” are usually an insular conversation between the “policy experts” and the media pundits.  Politicians seem to make up their minds based on polls taken after the experts and the pundits have their say, America’s living rooms listen,  and the general public reacts accordingly.

  • Background: As noted by the federal government “[t]he poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963 and 1964 by Mollie Orshansky, an economist working for the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is important to note that Orshansky’s “multiplier” methodology for deriving the thresholds was normative, not empirical–that is, it was based on a normative assumption involving (1955) consumption patterns of the population as a whole, and not on the empirical consumption behavior of lower-income groups.However, her work appeared at a strategic time. The Johnson Administration had announced a War on Poverty in January 1964, and in late 1964 (when preprints of Orshansky’s January 1965 article were being widely circulated) the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was being implemented and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was being set up. As noted [by the [federal government official reports] , OEO adopted the lower of Orshansky’s two sets of poverty thresholds as a working definition of poverty for statistical, planning, and budget purposes in May 1965. Certain aspects of the poverty thresholds were revised in August 1969 based on the recommendations of a federal interagency committee; in the same month, the Bureau of the Budget designated the just-revised poverty thresholds as the federal government’s official statistical definition of poverty. Additional minor revisions in the poverty thresholds were made in 1981 based on the recommendations of another federal interagency committee.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a new report on the central policy tool of the current Affordable Care Act (ACA)–the expansion of Medicaid to persons currently making too much money to qualify for Medicaid–they don’t qualify because they make just over the cutoff for persons in total poverty who currently qualify for the government health program.  Since the federal government began “measuring” poverty, cutoffs and regulations or advisories defining poverty status and access to program benefits have become political and policy footballs.  They have become impactful and controversial because a change in the definition can have huge impact on budgets–especially state budgets who are themselves quite “sick and out of work” in these recessionary times.  To be sure, liberalizing these government program access cutoffs can also have huge positive impacts on the poor, but the poor are not usually at the policy table or in the voting booth for that matter.  Curiously, there is also a nationwide effort by local states to lock the voting booth through added voting requirements that will likely keep poor people (and disproportionately minorities) out of the booth.

The previous debate on poverty in America was about so called “lazy people on welfare.” It included, for example, lots of talk about teen pregnant mothers and absentee (“dead beat”) fathers.

The tenor of the debate was moralistic and accusatory and the target was “lazy women on welfare having babies.”

Today, the debate on healthcare reform and its implementation is more nuanced. The inherent contradiction is that ACA (Obamacare) is about providing access to healthcare services to people who work too much and make a little too much to fall into the previously conservative standard proscribing who qualifies for Medicaid.  This time around, it has been difficult to demonize the potential recipients of this service, though, since the very issue is that they work.

America is at a crossroads.  All of its promises and hopes, the American Dream itself, hang in the balance as millions of people remain in limbo regarding access to basic healthcare services.  Of course, healthcare is one of those commodities that is linked to

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So we better get this right.

This is not a question to be put to the general public in the media circus or to be debated in partisan circles.  It is a moral leadership question that will require thought, research and reason.  America is not the only nation dealing with economic adversity and inclusion of poor people who may not appeal to tax payers and voters.  The European Community has experienced great economic upheaval, union protests and the rise of xenophobia.  Americans faced these issues in the 2012 election with the top 1% debate, the OCCUPY MOVEMENT and the eventual election of a so called “liberal” President Obama.

America seems increasingly divided between the haves and the have nots.  It is a delicate matter that can destroy America and turn it into another post-industrial democracy struggling to fend off immigrants, while keeping hordes of malcontents from burning and destroying in the name of “protecting the homeland.”  Partisan politics and partisan media sources try to out do one another with vitriol and cynicism appealing to their followers.  To millions of young Americans coming home from ambiguous wars overseas this rhetoric could be confusing.  To millions of Americans in limbo, post College education and pre loan payments pressures, and without a job in site, all this rhetoric could lead to scapegoating.  Wars of global reach are squeezing the federal budget at a time when the states don’t want the federal government to help with local matters.  At the same time, the states can hardly help themselves as recessionary pressures leave them squeezed at home.  Home rule and state rights become less relevant when states themselves loose efficacy not because the feds are in their way but because they have no money.

We may be on the verge of fomenting possibly out of control discontent among partisan and politicized so called “real Americans” who seem willing to throw the Nation’s most critical policy debates into their Tea Party voyage and eventually overboard!

Xenophobia is the direct product of segments of a desperate populous for whom democracy no longer seems to be delivering on the social contract.  As mainstream citizens are forced to live on stagnant wages and are therefore forced to sacrifice basic wants, in order to pay for expensive and not always effective health services, they bristle when they hear that their neighbors are getting it for free!

But as the refrain went “No man is an island.” Health is also one of the socioeconomic, if personal, statuses that may equally affect those around you. If you are sick your disease may be contagious or it may cost more money to help you get better than you can afford. The problem has been that if you do not have access to health information, health education and health services (especially preventive health services), you’re going to cost society sooner or later at the emergency room of an expensive hospital or health center–or you’re going to be a threat to public health–as the spread of HIV so clearly demonstrated.  Sick people cost big money and diseases tend to fester and spread where poor living conditions exist.  On the East Coast HIV often spread through needle sharing in “shooting galleries” (usually empty dilapidated building where drug addicts congregate to share the doping experience) in the cities of Jersey City, Newark and Camden, for example.

Public health is our first line of defense against birth defects, spread of disease and in promoting health literacy.  The public health infrastructure ensures that we are aware of emerging health problems and that communities have a basic infrastructure for responding to (wether through prevention, treatment or recovery supports) emerging epidemics and all forms of local health challenges.  Yet public health is not enough.  America also needs an effective and cost efficient local healthcare system that persons with new healthcare access can benefit from.  It does not currently exist in appropriate culturally and linguistically competent fashion, for example.  If State policy is controlled by those who, by definition, are so different from the so called “poor” then how will that policy process overcome stigma and urban myths about the poor?

The discussion of poverty and health access must be discussed in a more enlightened and intelligent discourse that allows for reason, planning and long term investment thinking so that policies are supported–especially at the budget table where wise investment and “who is deserving” may predominate the decision calculus of government bureaucrats.

The dilemma this time is not that persons who may qualify for ACA programs are lazy or immoral–presumably, its quite the opposite.  They are young struggling families with young children who can’t afford health benefits but work hard for themselves and the well to do who benefit from their labor.

“People of color will be disproportionately impacted by state decisions to expand Medicaid. People of color make up the majority of uninsured individuals with incomes below the Medicaid expansion limit in both states moving forward and not moving forward with the Medicaid expansion (Figure 1). This reflects that people of color are disproportionately likely to be low-income and uninsured.

Nearly half (47%) of uninsured people of color with incomes below the Medicaid expansion limit reside in the 21 states not moving forward with the expansion at this time (Figure 2). Some 43% reside in the 24 states moving forward, and 10% are in the 6 states where there is ongoing debate over the Medicaid expansion.”

Kaiser Family Foundation Latest (July 2013) Report. Click and Download Here: http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/8450-the-impact-of-current-state-medicaid-expansion-decisions.pdf

Preventable Chronic Conditions Plague Medicaid Population

It is amazing to see how much good data and research there is to inform us about the role of healthcare in poverty conditions for millions of Americans.  The current healthcare reform is likely to benefit millions, especially hard working people with low income jobs and even lower benefits–especially no health benefit jobs.  For example, there are popular misconceptions that most poor people, people on welfare and people on Medicaid come from minority (racial or ethnic) communities.  According to the Kaiser Foundation:

Click table below to view data …

Distribution of the Nonelderly with Medicaid by Race

Having and keeping a job over time is probably one of the best indicators of long term success for any person. People who have jobs and keep jobs are more likely to eventually move up–or at least their children  might.  A majority of people on Medicaid will be on it for significant time–many of them women with young growing children and another significant segment of the Medicaid population is elderly. These are two cohorts with high health needs.

In the case of persons on Medicaid, especially after the 1996 passage of Bill Clinton’s PRWORA welfare reform, most people on welfare and medicaid today are there because they face serious obstacles to work–especially obstacles related to chronic health problems.

Looking at the demographics and sociodemographic profile of persons on Medicaid is important because many of the chronic diseases that plague people in poverty are related to access to health information, healthy foods and exercise.  Any programs or policies that will successfully address the needs of the poor and gain the support of policy makers, politicians and voters, must address behavioral health issues, lifestyle issues and dietary issues that continue to plague the poor.

Although there can be disagreement as to the causes of these health conditions, the facts are clear that America’s poor are unhealthy because of diseases related to conditions we can address through health education, health literacy improvement and culturally competent preventive health resources.

“U.S. adults whose primary health insurance source is Medicaid are in significantly worse health than are adults who get their coverage from an employer or union. More than three in 10 adults on Medicaid are obese, and more than two in 10 say they are being treated for depression (22%) and high blood pressure (24%). Medicaid recipients also struggle disproportionately with asthma and diabetes.”

Chronic Health Problems by Primary Insurance Source

via Preventable Chronic Conditions Plague Medicaid Population.

In U.S., Less Than Half Look at Restaurant Nutrition Facts | Gallup Poll

The Policy ThinkShop is expanding in order to better address healthcare issues, including current healthcare reform.

The Health ThinkShop will develop these important and timely resources.

THE POLICY THINKSHOP "Think Together"

The Policy ThinkShop is expanding its policy analysis and research resources in response to the current  healthcare reform challenges faced by the states and communities.  We will be posting periodic articles and resources addressing the numerous variables that define the nation’s current healthcare challenges which go well beyond putting a health insurance card in a person’s hand.

Visit our health policy and research blog at:

http://healththinkshop.com

for more health specific resources and to share with us which areas of health you want us to address for your daily health administration, policy and planning needs.

The restaurant industry can be seen as fitting into a continuum.  At one extreme are the restaurants that focus on providing easy to make menus, easy to store foods, easy to please customers.  By easy to please we might mean people who are looking for the basic satisfying elements producing the classic “addictive” flavors from sweets…

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ASPE – The Office of The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: Facts and figures about America’s Poverty Problem – Why we can’t win the war on poverty

Not all American’s are created equal but their status under the constitution is.  That is the most important part of the American promise and perhaps of the social contract that makes our democratic polity possible.

What is at stake here is who we are as a nation and how the rest of the world community sees us.  After our heroic role in WWII, we have enjoyed a special place in the new world order that manifested itself as east and west–Russians, their allies, and the rest of us free people’s.  But today the international community and our internal polity have become much more complex.  And we are having a difficult time moving forward.

America’s social, economic and ethnic diversity is becoming an increasing challenge to discussing, understanding and agreeing to a conception of:

  • what is an American,
  • what America stands for, and
  • who is eligible to partake in her bounty.

The use of electoral politics to coerce or control voter access to their democratic choice speaks volumes to how citizenship has been usurped  throughout our history till this very day.  One could argue that voting by anyone other than White, land owning men is still seen as problematic by many.  Gender, racial and economic opportunity are not universal in practice throughout our land.  Witness the current rape scandal in our military today.

The semantically charged issues of immigration, taxation, government spending, crime and punishment, and voting, all have a common denominator:  citizenship status and privilege.  In theory, everyone born or naturalized is a citizen with equal rights and protections under the law.  In practice, the exercise of citizenship is mediated, supported and sometimes limited by privilege.  Meritocracy and fairness come to mind here.  Equality under the law is an abstract right that has to be applied and presumably protected or guaranteed by governing leaders.  Equality of privilege is not guaranteed because in a society that values personal freedom and individual choice privilege must be earned.

The national debate on poverty in the US is as old as the ongoing immigration to crowded and now increasingly dilapidated cities.  Originally a religious charity problem, poverty has become a deflated political football that is mostly mentioned around election time and is only debated and addressed in any serious way during periodic elections.  Indeed, the poverty issue tends to ebb and flow with the rise and fall of other issues like healthcare, national security, education and immigration reform always remaining somewhere near the bottom of the political heap.  So why is poverty such a prevalent issue but rarely an issue that is taken more seriously and addressed in ernest?

For starters, poverty is an issue that affects the powerless.  Unlike Autism, AIDS and Drug Addiction, for example, poverty tends to be concentrated among poor families, poor neighborhoods and poor cities.  When poverty is concentrated in families, groups and geographic areas, the traditional problems of powerlessness also tend to be concentrated in those settings:  low voter registration, low voter participation, poor educational systems, low employment and a weak business sector, to name a few.

Perhaps because most Americans are focused on working, making money and acquiring  commodities, people who are limited in participating in these three economic areas are seen as lazy or somehow at fault for failing.  It is hard to get people to empathize with people in conditions that they themselves are constantly trying to avoid and which they see as shameful, unwanted and unsightly.  Poverty is not an interesting issue and it is difficult to organize people who are experiencing the worst poverty because it is often accompanied by personal deficits that do not allow them to be active and effective group participants.  Poor people are much less likely to have the wherewithal to attend civic activities, be articulate, vocal and persistent.

One of the main reports from the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is charged with doing studies that measure progress and/or impact of federal social programs, stated that former President Clinton’s welfare reform law (PRWORA) had so aggressively and effectively removed so many people off of the welfare roles that only persons with significant disabilities make up the 20% or so that remained on the roles after full implementation of the PRWORA law.

To be sure, there is controversy and confusion about the poor, poverty itself and what can or cannot be done about it. Surprisingly, the US Federal Government spends significant resources and time developing measures of poverty so that government programs can be applied effectively throughout the USA.  This information exists so that programs appropriate distribute resources, which are a small percentage of what we spend on all the other military wars.  Compared to those, the war on poverty is not a real war we are fighting to win–it is simply a government network of programs available to those who qualify and apparently effective for those who need help.   That help is not meant to replace a job or personal effort to succeed. The recent recession has clearly highlighted the fact that when our economic system does not produce adequate opportunity for all some pay the price of falling deeper into poverty.  Perhaps the recent recession was so long and deep that some individuals and whole families will be set back for at least a generation.  A lost portion of a generation that will ensure that poverty will continue for years to come.

Today the debate has quieted and shifted from welfare mothers and handouts to income gaps and poverty.  The Federal Government provides important resources for understanding poverty as a social deprivation measure that can be quantified and applied to the eligibility for government help reserved for those officially considered poor.

The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) advises the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on policy development in health, disability, human services, data, and science, and provides advice and analysis on economic policy.  ASPE leads special initiatives, coordinates the Department’s evaluation, research and demonstration activities, and manages cross-Department planning activities such as strategic planning, legislative planning, and review of regulations.  Integral to this role, ASPE conducts research and evaluation studies, develops policy analyses, and estimates the cost and benefits of policy alternatives under consideration by the Department or Congress.

There is a strong correlation between income, education and health outcomes for all Americans.  It is important, then, that we are very clear about what poverty means, who it affects and what can be done about it because to be poor is to be limited in the politically guaranteed participation of full citizenship in terms of rights and responsibilities.

2013 Poverty Guidelines.

There are two slightly different versions of the federal poverty measure:

The poverty thresholds, and

The poverty guidelines.

The poverty thresholds are the original version of the federal poverty measure.  They are updated each year by the Census Bureau.  The thresholds are used mainly for statistical purposes — for instance, preparing estimates of the number of Americans in poverty each year.  (In other words, all official poverty population figures are calculated using the poverty thresholds, not the guidelines.)  Poverty thresholds since 1973 (and for selected earlier years) and weighted average poverty thresholds since 1959 are available on the Census Bureau’s Web site.  For an example of how the Census Bureau applies the thresholds to a family’s income to determine its poverty status, see “How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty” on the Census Bureau’s web site.

The poverty guidelines are the other version of the federal poverty measure. They are issued each year in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The guidelines are a simplification of the poverty thresholds for use for administrative purposes — for instance, determining financial eligibility for certain federal programs.  The Federal Register notice of the 2013 poverty guidelines is available.

The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the “federal poverty level” (FPL), but that phrase is ambiguous and should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important.

Key differences between poverty thresholds and poverty guidelines are outlined in a table under Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). See also the discussion of this topic on the Institute for Research on Poverty’s web site.

The following figures are the 2013 HHS poverty guidelines which are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on January 24, 2013. (Additional information will be posted after the guidelines are published.)

The following link will give you access to the Federal Government’s resources on poverty measurement so that you can get a clear foundation on how poverty is measured and why…

via ASPE.

Community Health

America is eating itself into the grave.  Not just in quantity but in quality.  Not only are salt, sugar and animal fat addictive, but they are almost unavoidable in the mainstream market.  They are either the main course, as in candy, burgers or potato chips, or they are hidden in everything we eat as fillers and additives that are designed to make us want and eat the many commodities available to us and our children.

Knowledge is not enough.   Most of us have to eat at least twice a day and many of us eat more than 5 times a day.

Many of us eat every time our stomach feels empty, without getting the chance to actually feel a little hungry.  This form of ongoing compulsive eating is destroying the health of many Americans because when our body gets too much salt, sugar and animal fat, our blood gets “polluted” and our organs and the cardiovascular system that maintains those organs begins to atrophy.

For more information on understanding what being overweight means for you click the link that follows:

Community Health.

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