Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Health law and policy

Interesting book review in tomorrow's JAMA:
The Privatization of Health Care Reform: Legal and Regulatory Perspectives
edited by M. Gregg Bloche, 220 pp, $39.95, ISBN 0-19-510868-X, New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2003.
JAMA. 2004;291:375.

The reviewer is Ronald Andersen, PhD, UCLA School of Public Health. Apparently no fan of the role of health law (or health lawyers?) on the health care system, Andersen concludes his review:
Bloche concludes, "Scholarship that concedes the health sphere's complexities and seeks remedies that fit this country's legal, political and cultural constraints can contribute to reasoned regulatory governance." Again, he may be right. Still, I am left with the troubling suspicion that by narrowly focusing on health law's role in reform of the medical marketplace the book may be seeking to make the proverbial "silk purse out of a sow's ear."
The book itself sounds like it might be a good read:
The failure of President Clinton's health reform plan in 1994 was followed by multiple efforts at market-driven reform in the US health services system. This book is about those efforts. . . .

The authors start from the premise that systematic, state-sponsored overhaul of the US system is unlikely in the foreseeable future. . . .

Much of the market-driven reform over the past 10 years has been the efforts of managed care plans to control costs through preauthorization review of proposed treatments, selective affiliation with frugal providers, bargaining for discounted payment rates, and financial incentives to physicians to limit spending. Challenges to these managed care cost control efforts by consumers and providers and the law's treatment of these challenges is the main focus of the book. The authors provide some in-depth understanding of some of the managed care revolution's failings and the law's relationship to these failings. Some of the authors consider law as a cause of market failure while others examine the law's potential and limitations to correct market failure.
The legal/regulatory areas that are the book's main focus include "the power of the state vs the federal government in making rules for the medical marketplace; conflicts between insurers and patients and providers regarding what constitutes medical need; how financial rewards to physicians for frugal practice influence their medical decisions; the role of antitrust law in the organization of health care provision and financing; privatization as a solution to bureaucratic and legal rigidities in public hospitals; and the case against tax and regulatory preferences for the nonprofit form over investor ownership in the hospital and health insurance sectors."

Andersen's main beef seems to be his disagreement over the book's focus on private market-driven reforms to the exclusion of top-down reforms: "Nonetheless, I believe that failure of the market-driven mechanisms to provide universal access to care, control costs, or 'empower the consumer' suggests that attention in the book to other approaches to system reform might still have been warranted." But that, as the saying goes, would have been a different book.
posted by tommayo, 2:18 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter