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EPtalk by Dr. Jayne 7/19/18

July 19, 2018 Dr. Jayne No Comments

Every fall, providers across the country are required to update their ICD-10 codes in order to be compliant for services performed on or after October 1. A quick review of this year’s changes offers some insight about healthcare and culture in the US.

New codes were added for elevated lipoprotein(a), postpartum depression, and newborns affected by maternal use of opioids and other substances. Other codes help document forced labor and sexual exploitation. The one I found most disheartening was Z28.83, Immunization not carried out due to unavailability of vaccine. It’s unfortunate that practices that want to administer vaccinations can’t do so for a variety of reasons – manufacturing shortages, cost of supplies, cost of appropriate storage, and more. Vaccines are one of the most clinically-proven and cost-effective services we can provide, and access should be universal.

I appreciate the book recommendations that readers have been posting in response to my recent Curbside Consult. Bill Gates has also been recommending books over the last eight years, and they’ve been compiled into a list by Quartz.  Many of them address public health issues, including:

  • “Dirt and Disease: Polio before FDR” (Naomi Rogers)
  • “House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox” (William H. Foege)
  • “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues” (Paul Farmer)
  • “The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years” (Sonia Shah)
  • “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver” (Arthur Allen)
  • “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” (Atul Gawande)

As a confirmed Atul Gawande fan-girl, I’ve read the last one, but will add the others to my list for when I need something substantial to counter my summer reading diet of chick-lit.

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I have to admit that I was pulled in by the headline “Pay Bump for PCPs Fails to Drive Medicaid Participation.” Looking at data for 2013 and 2014, when payments increased under the Affordable Care Act, researchers didn’t see an increase in the number of physicians willing to accept Medicaid patients or the number of Medicaid patients seen by the cohort of 20,000 physicians. It should be noted that the boost only took the payments to the Medicare amount, not all the way to the amount paid by commercial insurance carriers. If Medicaid payments were increased to that amount, I think you’d see a boost, but not a tremendous one.

Medicaid patients are some of the most challenging to treat due to concomitant social and resource issues. Providers and their practices spend a large amount of time trying to coordinate care, identify subspecialists who are willing to consult on Medicaid patients, and trying to figure out how to improve outcomes and quality of life while dealing with issues such as unemployment, lack of transportation, low health literacy, poverty, overutilization of emergency services, and more. Providing those additional services costs money, which is one reason (besides low payments) that providers limit their care of Medicaid patients.

The article goes on to mention a possible solution with advanced payment models, including risk-adjusted capitated payments with bonuses for outcomes and cost-control. This would only work if you also provided the other necessary economic and social supports that complex patients need in order to successfully navigate our healthcare system.

In other news, LA Care Health Plan is throwing $31 million at efforts to recruit primary care physicians in a move to reduce physician shortages at safety net clinics that see its 2 million members. LA Care Health Plan is publicly operated and understands that physicians are more likely to choose employment with larger organizations such as health systems rather than opt for the smaller salaries often paid by clinics and health centers. They’re targeting younger physicians through grant programs, medical school scholarships, and loan repayment programs and are intentionally not recruiting physicians already serving in the county or working with underserved populations. Additional moves include salary subsidies, signing bonuses, and payment of relocation costs. The latter two are fairly standard for physicians in a highly sought-after specialty, so it’s a bit surprising that they’re just adding them now.

Focusing on loan repayment doesn’t incentivize some older physicians, who have had theirs paid off for some time. I know quite a few seasoned family physicians who would be willing to move to a more meaningful care environment if the compensation was right. However, when loan repayment comes from grant and other funds, potential employers are not able to compensate with a higher salary for physicians without loans, and the recruiting falls apart. Employers are eager to trumpet “total compensation” except for when employees do the analysis. I have several colleagues who don’t take health benefits from their employer, which is a substantial savings for the organization, but were unsuccessful in negotiating higher salaries to offset the change in the total package. Finding the right physicians will reduce turnover and save them money in the long run, so I wish LA Care Health Plan the best of luck.

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As we swing into another hurricane season, the Food and Drug Administration has formed a Drug Shortages Task Force to address shortages of medically necessary drugs. Our practice is still contending with supply chain issues impacting IV fluids, which manufacturers continue to attribute to Hurricane Maria’s assault on Puerto Rico. We’re also short on local anesthetics, injectable anti-nausea medication, and several injectable antibiotics. It’s nerve-wracking to have to use a drug that you’re not familiar with that is the only available substitute for something you need. I hope they can find some long-term solutions quickly.

This one almost snuck under my radar, but the FDA has given its first approval to a drug for smallpox treatment. Smallpox has been considered eradicated since 1980, and I hope it stays that way. There aren’t any human clinical trials due to the lack of disease, but it has proven effective in animals. It has also been shown to have no severe side effects during human safety tests. The drug has been in development since 2001 and approval went to Siga Technologies, which developed it under a federal contract. Smallpox is a nasty disease, killing a third of those infected. Although research stockpiles remain in Russia as well as at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there is concern that gene hackers could create strains for release. For those of us without the telltale vaccination scars on our arms, it’s a terrifying thought.

What disease do you fear the most? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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