Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Has the U.S. lost its capacity for outrage?

That's the question I asked myself after reading Art Caplan's piece in Newsday today. Art tells the tale of the recent meeting in Denver of the American Society of Concierge Physicians: "Concierge medicine is a special, high-end form of medical care that guarantees that if you need treatment you will get it, without a hassle, seven days a week-but only for an extra fee. If you can pay amounts that range from $20 to thousands of dollars a month, you can guarantee that your phone calls will be promptly returned by your doctor and that you'll get special attention whenever you're admitted to a hospital." He contrasts the "quality medicine for the rich" philosophy of the ASCP with TennCare's recent cutbacks to the state's Medicaid program:
It is making over its state Medicaid program known as TennCare. If this program gets implemented, many of the poor, elderly, children and disabled in Tennessee who rely on Medicaid will be told simply to get over it. And other hard-pressed states may well follow suit.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a former HMO entrepreneur, sees the challenge of health care for the poor in Tennessee in very stark terms. In a speech last February, the governor described the state Medicaid program as nothing more than an open checkbook that is continuously being raided by "doctors and hospitals and advocates" who "decide what is needed."
Caplan's opening paragraph provides a fitting close, as well: "Just how bad is the state of health care in America? Well, consider two recent developments that shine a spotlight on a system that was already showing signs of severe distress, even before the Supreme Court decided to let HMOs off the legal hook. In Colorado the rich are paying what amount to bribes to make sure that they are at the head of the line when it comes to getting health care, and in Tennessee the poor are basically being told to get lost."

I've examined concierge, or "boutique," medicine in this space before, and as recently as last week reported on a hospital in the tony Hamptons on Long Island that has offered "concierge emergency care" contracts to selected (and wealthy) residents in its service area. I understand the frustration physicians feel on the daily treadmill practicing "hamster medicine," as well as the doom and gloom many state CEO's feel as they contemplate the sinking of state budgets by seemingly boundless growth in the demand for health care dollars. But neither of the developments chronicled in Caplan's piece provides a viable answer to managed care woes or the problems of the indigent and the uninsured. In fact, what they both have in common is a set of blinders that allows the concierge docs and the state to say, "Screw the consequences. We're holding on to whatever we can keep for ourselves, despite the cost to the system."
posted by tommayo, 1:45 PM

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