Slightly Hazy: An Insurer’s Emergency Room Policy Draws Congressional Scrutiny

By Oliver Kim

Last year, I had the good fortune to present at the Petrie-Flom Center’s conference on transparency and I started with an anecdote about a congressman who decided to wait rather than take his son immediately to the emergency room after he injured himself. The congressman assumed his son only had a sprain, but he had actually broken his arm. So why the wait? Because of a difference in his co-pay. In an interview, the congressman argued for policies to push consumers to understand—and be exposed to— healthcare costs in order to make better decisions about their care: “Way too often, people pull out their insurance card and they say ‘I don’t know the difference or cost between an X-ray or an MRI or CT Scan.’ I might make a little different decision if I did know (what) some of those costs were and those costs came back to me.”

The congressman’s policy prescription is becoming reality: last year, the largest Blue Cross Blue Shield plan Anthem announced a new policy where it would deny coverage for care provided in an emergency room that was later deemed non-emergent (except in certain circumstances). It seems a far cry from simply charging an ER co-pay, but Anthem argues it has seen a rise in non-emergency care being provided in emergency rooms. How are patients supposed to know if the ache or pain they are experiencing is not an emergency? Apparently there is a spreadsheet of over 1,900 ailments that Anthem considers non-emergent.

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House of Commons Report: Managing the Costs of Clinical Negligence in NHS Hospitals

By John Tingle

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts (Committee of Public Accounts) has recently considered the issue of managing the increasing clinical negligence costs in NHS (National Health Service) hospitals in a report. They make a number of important recommendations as well as putting into the spotlight a number of developing trends and themes. The report is linked to a report recently published by the National Audit Office on managing clinical negligence costs.This report is closely examined by the Committee with witnesses giving oral and written evidence.

The high cost of clinical negligence litigation

The report begins with a statement on the high and increasing cost of clinical negligence which sets the scene and tone for the rest of the report The Committee has raised concerns about the rising costs of clinical negligence on a number of previous occasions going back as far as 2002. The questions and answers of witnesses called by the Committee do reveal some very interesting and telling insights into the issues and the problems faced. Continue reading

The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part III: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Dismissed Harm Reduction Strategies

Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Opioids are responsible for most drug-related deaths killing an estimated 91 people each day. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In Part II I explore how the Commission dismissed medical interventions used successfully in the U.S. and abroad such as kratom and ibogaine. In this third part of the series, I explain how the Commission ignored increasingly proven harm reduction strategies such as drug checking and safe injection facilities (SIFs).

In its final report released November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission acknowledged that “synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl analogs, are by far the most problematic substances because they are emerging as a leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.” While speaking before the House Oversight Committee last month, the Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan stated that of the 1180 overdose deaths in his state this year, 850 (72%) were due to synthetic opioids. Street drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl and other synthetics. Dealers add them to heroin, and buyers may not be aware that they are consuming adulterated drugs. As a result, they can be caught off guard by their potency, which contributes to respiratory depression and death. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the sharpest rise in opioid-related mortality (see blue line in Fig. 1 below). Continue reading

The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part II: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Ignored Promising Medical Treatments

Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids kill an estimated 91 Americans each day and are responsible for most drug-related deaths in the US. This public health crisis requires solutions that are supported by science and reason instead of emotion and political ideology. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In this second part of the series, I explore how the Opioid Commission ignored medical interventions that are used successfully in the U.S. and abroad. In Part III, I will discuss non-medical interventions such as drug checking and safe injection sites. The Commission’s failure to consider these options is likely driven by emotions such as fear and disgust rather than a careful review of scientific evidence.

Medical marijuana is currently accepted in 29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is also permitted in at least 10 countries. However, the Opioid Commission outright rejected calls to consider the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for managing pain. Prior to the Commission’s first meeting, it solicited input from industry and members of the public on how to address the opioid crisis. In response, it received over 8,000 public comments. According to VICE News, which obtained the documents by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, most comments were submitted by individuals urging the Commission to “consider medical marijuana as a solution to the opioid epidemic.” A spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a body of the Executive Branch that provides administrative support to the Opioid Commission, reports receiving “more than 7,800 public comments relating to marijuana.” Despite these comments, in its final report, the Commission dismissed the notion that marijuana should play a role in treating chronic pain and opioid addiction. Its report cited a recent study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, which concluded that marijuana use was associated with an increased risk of opioid abuse. However, this study relied on data that was collected over twelve years ago. One of its authors, Columbia Medical School Professor Mark Olfson, told CNN that if the data were collected today, they could yield different results.

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The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part I: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Misinterpreted Scientific Studies

By Mason Marks

The opioid crisis kills at least 91 Americans each day and has far-reaching social and economic consequences for us all. As lawmakers explore solutions to the problem, they should ensure that new regulations are based on scientific evidence and reason rather than emotion or political ideology. Though emotions should motivate the creation of policies and legislation, solutions to the opioid epidemic should be grounded in empirical observation rather than feelings of anger, fear, or disgust. Legislators must be unafraid to explore bold solutions to the crisis, and some measured risks should be taken. In this three-part series on evidence-backed solutions to the opioid crisis, I discuss proposals under consideration by the Trump Administration including recent recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Though the Commission made some justifiable proposals, it misinterpreted the conclusions of scientific studies and failed to consider evidence-based solutions used in other countries. This first part of the series focuses on the misinterpretation of scientific data.

Last year more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is “now the leading cause of death” in people under 50. Opioids are responsible for most of these deaths. By comparison, the National Safety Council estimates about 40,000 Americans died in auto crashes last year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that 38,000 people were killed by firearms. Unlike deaths due to cars and firearms, which have remained relatively stable over the past few years, opioid deaths have spiked abruptly. Between 2002 and 2015, U.S. opioid-related deaths nearly tripled (from about 12,000 deaths in 2002 to over 33,000 in 2015). Last year, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl contributed to over 20,000 deaths and accounted for the sharpest increase in opioid fatalities (See blue line in Fig. 1 below). Continue reading

The Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB):The New Kid On The Patient Safety Block

By John Tingle

The Department of Health and the government in England have published a draft Bill for discussion which will create a Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) with powers enshrined in law. The HSSIB replaces the current Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) which operates under the umbrella of NHS Improvement and came into operation in April 2017. Unlike the HSIB, the new HSSIB will be independent of the NHS, and have its own statutory power base. The HSSIB will not be responsible for investigating all serious patient safety incidents in the NHS and existing frameworks will remain.

Eight fact sheets have been published by the Department of Health to accompany the draft Bill which explain its purpose and rationale and how everything will work. It is expected that the HSSIB will investigate up to 30 serious patient safety issues a year and will have an annual budget of £3.8 Million.

It will be important for the HSSIB to manage public and NHS expectations of what it can actually achieve given its small budget, staffing and the number of investigations that it intends to carry out. There are around 24,000 serious patient safety incidents a year in the NHS. The small-scale operation of the HSSIB can be justified as it will act as an exemplar of good investigative practice and will cascade down standards into the NHS.

The Bill Continue reading

The NHS in England: Running to Stand Still?

By John Tingle

The Health and Social Care Regulator of the NHS in England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has published its latest annual report on the state of health and adult social care in England 2016/17.When reading the report ,the reader is left wondering whether the NHS as currently established can cope adequately with current future health and social care demands. The NHS turns seventy years of age next year and there is much to celebrate but there is also a lot of increasing concern about NHS efficiency, sustainability, safety and quality. The number of people aged 65 is projected to increase in all regions of England by an average of 20 % between mid-2014-and mid-2024.People are also increasingly presenting with complex, chronic or multiple conditions. The total number of people with Dementia is projected to reach one million by 2027.We are also living longer. Life expectancy at birth, 2013-2015 is 79 years for men and 83 for women. All these factors test the model of NHS care that we have and its long-term sustainability.

Like the previous year’s annual report,this year’s warns that the health and care system is operating at full stretch and that care quality in some areas is deteriorating. The situation can only get worse unless more resources are made available or new ways of the NHS operating are devised. The NHS faces an infinite public demand for its finite resources. Continue reading

Housing Equity Week in Review

Here’s the latest news from housing law and equity, for the week of November 6-10, 2017:

  • The Public Health Institute released a study that calculates the number of children with lead poisoning in the United States.
  • A new law in Seattle will prevent landlords from screening tenants based on their criminal history, via The Regulatory Review.
  • “It’s time to stop ignoring our crumbling housing code enforcement” — coverage of APHA2017 sessions on housing code enforcement, featuring CPHLR Director Scott Burris and the Five Essential Public Health Law Services Framework developed in collaboration with ChangeLab Solutions and the Network for Public Health Law, via Public Health Newswire.
  • San Jose has a new plan to get downtown landlords to clean up their vacant storefronts using a pilot program that would create a registry of vacant buildings and fine property owners who are neglecting their properties, via NextCity.
  • Civil rights groups are fighting the suspension of a HUD rule they say helps low-income families move to better neighborhoods, via CityLab.
  • Texans voted to loosen some of the tightest home lending restrictions in the country. via Governing.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England: End of Term Report Card

By John Tingle

In terms of NHS health quality and patient safety regulation, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) occupies a pivotal role as the independent regulator of health and social care in England. How well it performs its function is fundamental to the health of the nation. The CQC functions and operations has been recently put under the microscope by the National Audit Office (NAO).The NAO scrutinises public spending for Parliament, making sure it is well spent. Both good and bad findings are made on the work of the CQC in the report and a number of recommendations are made.

On reading the report it’s fair to say that overall the CQC is doing a good job but there are deficiencies identified which need to be remedied. The report is divided into four parts: Continue reading

Housing Equity Week in Review

An update from the world of housing law and equity, for the week of October 30-November 3, 2017

  • New viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, from Megan Sandel, MD, MPH and Matthew Desmond, PhD, says investing in housing for health improves mission and margin.
  • An analysis from the Seattle Times asks, “Will allowing more housing types in some single-family zones make Seattle’s whitest neighborhoods more racially diverse?”
  • As sea levels rise, wealthy people can more easily afford to move to high ground, making gentrification worse, via Yale Climate Connections.
  • A new study finds a correlation between the number of patents a city produces and economic segregation within its limits, via the Atlantic.
  • Benjamin Somogyi argues in the Regulatory Review, to solve the next foreclosure crisis, look to Sacramento
  • New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have approved funding to provide legal defense to low-income tenants at risk of eviction. A look at how free legal help could prevent evictions, via Huffington Post.

Patient Safety at the Crossroads

By John Tingle

The NHS (National Health Service) in the UK is 70 next year: it was founded on 5th July 1948 and celebrations are being planned. Clearly a lot has changed since it was founded. Our concept of wellness has changed, we go to the doctor for reasons that would never have been considered appropriate in 1948. Health today is not just about the absence of physical diseases.

What is clear is that ever since 1948 the NHS has been shortage of resources in the face of a seemingly insatiable demand for its services. Balancing finite resources against near infinite demands is no easy task. Seventy years on, it is most concerning that a vast amount of money in the NHS is now being spent on clinical negligence claims. In their latest annual report and accounts, NHS Resolution estimates the total amount for clinical negligence claims it owes is £65 Billion. Damages paid to patients rose significantly from £950.4 million to £1,083.0 million, an increase of 14%. The high cost of clinical negligence is not sustainable and something must be urgently done to reduce the number of claims against the NHS. The issues were recently considered by the National Audit Office (NAO), which found:

  • The cost of clinical negligence claims is rising at a faster rate year-on-year, than NHS funding.
  • Even if successful, NHS Resolution and the Department’s current actions are unlikely to stop the growth in the cost of clinical negligence claims.
  • The government lacks a coherent cross-government strategy, underpinned by policy, to support measures to tackle the rising cost of clinical negligence.

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Current trends in clinical negligence litigation in the National Health Service (NHS)

By John Tingle

NHS Resolution (the new operating name for the NHS LA, National Health Service Litigation Authority) occupies a central role in the NHS clinical negligence claims environment. They manage clinical negligence claims on behalf of NHS trusts (hospitals) and other bodies. They also provide indemnity cover and have an increasing role in assisting the NHS with risk management and patient safety.

NHS Resolution have recently published their Annual Report and Accounts which contains important data, trends, case studies and other information on clinical negligence and patient safety. This report also very clearly signals the new more inclusive, upstream, closer to the problem approach that NHS Resolution is now taking to its work.

Facts, figures and trends Continue reading

Housing Equity Week in Review

Here’s the latest news in housing law and equity, for the week of August 15-21, 2017:

  • The Urban Institute has released a new tool about using fair housing data. The report contains details on data sources related to demographics and segregation, housing, land use, disability, education, employment, environment, health, and public safety.
  • The Washington Post reports that California lawmakers are planning on putting housing as a top priority after the summer.
  • Richard Rothstein, author of the critically acclaimed book The Color of Law, writes an op-ed for the LA Times about the role law plays in maintaining racial segregation in Los Angeles.
  • From the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast: How past racial segregation predicts modern-day economic (im)mobility.
  • Durham County, the county with the highest eviction rate in North Carolina, is taking on the eviction crisis by launching an eviction diversion program. Story via IndyWeek.
  • Bill de Blasio signed the first law in the nation to establish a right to counsel for the poor in housing cases. Story via CityLab.
  • New York Magazine and ProPublica collaborate on an in-depth look into Ben Carson’s HUD.

Housing Equity Week in Review

Here is our weekly round-up of developments from the world of housing law and health. For the week of August 7-14, 2017:

  • HUD released its “Worst Case Housing Needs” report to Congress providing national data and analysis of the problems facing low-income renting families. CityLab offers a summary of the report here.
  • Is California’s housing laws making its housing crisis worse? Natalie Delgadillo at Governing analyzes the impact of the 1985 Ellis Act, which allows landlords to mass-evict tenants in order to leave the rental business.
  • A new study from University of Hawaii researchers finds homelessness and inadequate housing are major causes of unnecessary hospitalizations. Read more.
  • HUD is inviting paper submissions for a symposium on housing and health. Submissions will be accepted through September 30. Full details here.
  • A new Colorado law requires landlords to give 21-days notice of rent increases and lease terminations, via HousingWire.
  • Amy Clark at the National Housing Conference offers an explanation of YIMBYism — “yes, in my backyard” — via NHC’s Open House blog.

How the GOP Misread Public Anger over Obamacare

By David Orentlicher

In today’s New York Times, Kate Zernike reports on the lack of excitement among conservative activists for the Republican health care legislation. As Zernike observes, “President Trump and congressional leaders are getting little support from what were once the loudest anti-Obamacare voices.”

Some observers think that activists are disappointed in the failure of the GOP proposals to go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act. But that’s not the real story. In general, the public likes many of Obamacare’s key provisions, such as the protections for people with preexisting medical conditions or the ability of parents to insure their children up to age 26. Even among Republicans, there is majority support for the ban on higher premiums because of preexisting conditions and also for the mandate that insurers cover “essential health benefits.” And by 2014, Obamacare had faded as a campaign issue for Republican candidates for Congress.

So why don’t grassroots Republicans care so much about repealing the Affordable Care Act? Tea Party activists and other voters were genuinely mad about Obamacare, and they fueled the Republican wave in the 2010 House elections that saw Republicans gain 63 seats. But what made them angry was the feeling that President Obama cared more about health care than he did about the economy. In March 2010, when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. The public cared much more about jobs than about health care insurance, and they saw their President focusing on health care. Remember how many times Obama promised to “pivot” back to the economy?

Voters elected President Trump and gave Republicans majorities in the House and Senate because they wanted more jobs at better pay. If the GOP lets health care distract it from economic stimulus, we may see another wave election in 2018.

Housing Equity Week in Review

Our latest round-up of the biggest stories in housing law and equity, for the week of June 12-18, 2017:

  • The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released the yearly State of the Nation Housing report. The report encourages a renewed national commitment to expand the range of housing options available.
  • A NY State Appellate Court struck down a chronic nuisance ordinance in Groton, NY, because of provisions that led to the eviction of those who seek emergency services. Story via Ithaca.com
  • The Out of Reach report and tool that was published a couple of weeks ago by the National Low Income Housing Coalition is getting press around the country for showing the gap between current wages and rents in most US cities. This article, from CNBC highlights the lack of affordable housing for minimum wage workers.
  • An opinion piece in The Hill makes, again, the case for investment in housing as an investment in childhood development and health.
  • 79 people are presumed dead in the fire at Grenfell Tower in London. Some argue that the tragedy should be a red light for distressed public housing in the US.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer posted its second article in its Toxic City series. This most recent article investigates lead-poisoned soil in the city’s River Wards neighborhoods. While lead paint is often considered the biggest danger to children, in these areas and others, the soil may be a great danger.

WHO: Global Patient Safety Leadership

By John Tingle

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just produced a very informative and helpful report on the need to view patient safety as a global concern and to highlight resources that they have made available to deal with the problem and those in development. Patient safety is a fundamental principle of health care and this is fully acknowledged in the report. The report begins by quoting several facts and figures which emphasize the fact that medical errors should be regarded as a matter of acute global concern:

“According to a new study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. In the United Kingdom, recent estimations show that on average, one incident of patient harm is reported every 35 seconds. Similarly, in low- and middle income countries, a combination of numerous unfavourable factors such as understaffing, inadequate structures and overcrowding, lack of health care commodities and shortage of basic equipment, and poor hygiene and sanitation, contribute to unsafe patient care (p1).”

Approximately two-thirds of all adverse health events happen in low-and middle-income countries. Fifteen per cent of hospital expenditure in Europe can be attributed to treating patient safety accidents. Continue reading

Patient Safety in the NHS: The Culture Change Agents

By John Tingle and Jen Minford 

It is important to take a broad holistic approach when looking at patient safety policy development and practice in the NHS. There cannot be a one size fits all approach and a number of possibly quite disparate organisations and stakeholders in the NHS and beyond must be consulted and involved so that effective and positive culture change takes place.

The  CQC (Care Quality Commission) is a major patient safety culture change agent whose job is to ensure that health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care. The CQC encourages care service providers to be on an upward trajectory of improvement. They have recently produced a report to analyse what impact they have on quality and improvement in health and social care. The report provides evidence that the CQC is having a significantly positive impact  on regulating care and ensuring good standards.

A majority of new providers and registered managers responding to a CQC survey said that their guidance and standards are clear. The CQC approach to regulation and their standards have an influence on how some providers measure their own quality. CQC inspection reports were also said to be useful. Continue reading

Advancing the Global Patient Safety Agenda

By John Tingle and Jen Minford

All too often it seems that patient safety and health quality policy makers work in their own silos unaware of what is taking place in other countries, wasting valuable resources by trying to re-invent the wheel. There is a clear need to have a way of cascading the news down on what is happening in patient safety globally. Developing and transitioning countries do not always have the resources to build up patient safety infrastructures, tools and policies and letting them know about initiatives going on in other countries fulfils a very important global public health need.

There is also the concept of ‘reverse innovation’.  Developed countries’ patient safety practices and policies can be informed by the experiences of developing and transitioning countries who may be using them in a different and novel way. Patient safety learning can be a two-way street. Continue reading

Housing Equity Week in Review

Lots of news from the past week in housing equity and law. Check out the latest in the field from the week of April 10-17, 2017:

  • In his first television interview as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson talked about the rich’s obligation to help the poor and the importance of private sector involvement in planning of housing policy. Coverage from NY Times.
  • Ben Carson’s listening tour arrived in Miami, where he then got stuck in an elevator at a public housing complex. Some advocates hope that this will be a live example of the need for more funds to maintain these facilities, via CBSNews.com
  • Chronic nuisance ordinances continue to be a driver for eviction, but do they have a disparate impact against victims of domestic abuse? Via the NY Times.
  • Baltimore is taking a new approach to neighborhood revitalization. Can it be done without gentrification? Via the Nation.
  • The Atlantic’s CityLab published a New Urban Crisis Index map!