Monday, April 27, 2009

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ayn Rand on Mob Politics and Targetted Taxation

We live in a time of world-wide economic difficulty, a time when everyone is cutting spending, tightening their belts and budgets, and preparing for some lean times. That is, everyone except for the world governments. They, some some reason, have ballooning budgets and unchecked ambition for expansion. (President Obama promised 3% of the national GDP for development of science technologies today. He forgets that social security and other national obligations of debt already eclipse the GLOBAL gross domestic product.) So where is the funding for these programs to come from, with money so scarce among the citizenry? For politicians who have won office on the vote of the poor, the answer comes easily: tax the wealthy.

But what happens when a majority of voters chooses to strip the rights of the few? What happens when we begin to single out members of society to carry a country's financial burdens? Can a country sustain itself with such policies? Can we escape a recession with such legislative looting?

Andrew Lloyd Webber, the British broadway behemoth, spoke out today against a new 50% income tax on in an editorial in the London Daily Mail. Great Britain has upped their 40% income tax with a 50% income tax on anyone earning over 150,000 pounds. Here's what he had to say:

"The opinion polls have uttered. The country loves the new 50 per cent top rate of income tax. Soak the rich. Smash the bankers. So Government spin doctors are in second heaven...

The next few years are going to be horrendous in the UK. The last thing we need is a Somali pirate-style raid on the few wealth creators who still dare to navigate Britain's gale-force waters...

I write this article because I fear the inevitable exodus of the talent that can dig us out of the hole we find ourselves in. It is inevitable, given that other countries are bidding for entrepreneurs. The Government must modify its proposals...

So I ask the Government to reconsider what it is doing. More than ever before we need to keep high-flying professionals in the UK. We can't, as we have done in the past, dump on them through penal personal taxation."

Andrew Lloyd Webber's points out that not only is such taxation unfair, it is ineffective. Industry leaders and highly-trained professionals, or "High-flyers" as he put it, are not going to stay in a country where they are enslaved. They will take their talents and the jobs and revenue they would generate elsewhere. Individuals who would generously "take one for the team" when done voluntarily may not feel so generous if they feel they are being robbed at gunpoint. They can afford plane tickets and they will leave.

His point is eloquently reinforced by an email titled "Who is John Galt?" sent to me today:

"We all hear about the need to protect patients' so-called "right" to health care. But we don't hear about protecting the rights of the doctors or the doctor-patient relationship. This issue is eloquently summarized by Dr. Thomas Hendricks, one of the characters in Ayn Rand's novel, Atlas Shrugged:

'Do you know what it takes to perform a brain operation? Do you know the kind of skill it demands, and the years of passionate, merciless, excruciating devotion that go to acquire that skill? That was what I would not place at the disposal of men whose sole qualification to rule me was their capacity to spout the fraudulent generalities that got them elected to the privilege of enforcing their wishes at the point of a gun. I would not let them dictate the purpose for which my years of study had been spent, or the conditions of my work, or my choice of patients, or the amount of my reward. I observed that in all the discussions that preceded the enslavement of medicine, men discussed everything--except the desires of the doctors. Men considered only the "welfare" of the patients, with no thought for those who were to provide it. That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter, was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only "to serve." . . . I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind--yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands?'

We need to protect the rights of doctors and patients to trade on a free market to mutual benefit. Otherwise we will see more and more doctors silently shrugging off the burdens of being controlled by collectivists."

We've seen historically what happens when a nation tries to enslave portions of its population. The population rebels, especially when the population is already a motivated and hard-working demographic. Look at the American Revolution. When Britain tried to impose taxation without proper representation on its hard-working entrepreunerial colonists, those colonists rebelled. Great Britain lost the incredible wealth and talent that developed from this continent by its targetted taxations. This sort of rebellion and exodus is likely to occur in any democracy where a majority mob vote determines to strip the rights of the minority.

Not only is targetted taxation a formula for economic failure, but it is a sign of a failing democracy. A democracy is a meaningless institution without guranteed rights. When rights are eroded for any portion of population, they are eroded for all. Those who find themselves in power with the majority in one moment are liable to find themselves isolated and enslaved as a minority in the next moment. We cannot expect the good favor of the Creator, or durability as a republic if we trample those rights that we once held to be God-given.

Rusty Scalpel

Friday, April 24, 2009

Helping Patients Take Charge of Their Health (Part II)

Might God help them get better?

Helping patients make life-saving changes can be a challenge. Many of the behaviors that contribute to the development of preventable illness are habitual and some are even addictive. Last week we talked about using money as a motivating factor to help patients to take responsibility for their health. We showed how a fee-for-service system and a personal assumption of medical costs might help diabetes patients to better control their disease. But we acknowledge that even patients who are resolved to make major lifestyle changes may fail to do so. Changes, even the major changes that survival often requires, are often difficult to pull off.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting where visiting physicians talked about their past histories of drug abuse. They talked about how they, even with their understanding of medicine and the body, became desperately addicted to various drugs. They knew the effects of what they were doing. They saw the havoc the drugs were wreaking on their professional lives and on their families, but they would not quit.

One physician told about his addiction to prescription painkillers. At night he would return to the the hospital he worked at and rummage through the garbage and sharps containers looking for old needles and syringes that might have residues of the painkillers he was addicted to. He would collect these residues little by little until he would have enough to take a hit of the drug. Another physician told of a crack house in Detroit that he often visited. He had a credit card with a $100,000 line of credit. Seeing his affluence and his dependence on the drug, the crack house opened a room just for him to stay in during his frequent visits.

But a couple things happened to these physicians to help them turn their lives around. First, they hit rock bottom and realized they had to change. Second, they found God.

The physicians described the desperation they felt when they realized that their lives were out of control. They were losing everything that was dear to them. They realized they had to change and made the decision to change. They told us about the support they received from professional organizations and the Twelve Step Program. The physicians then related, boldly and unabashedly, that only through the help of God were they able to break free from their addictions. Without Him, they would have been lost. Every single day, they told us, they thank Him for helping them escape and remain free from the drugs that once dominated them.

Let's return to our patients who struggle with habits that impact their health and shorten their lives. As physicians we counsel, we educate, we set goals and do everything in our power to help these patients change life habits. But our experience demonstrates that most patients will not change their behavior. Have we come to believe that change is impossible? Are our patients helpless? Are they irreversibly locked in habits of smoking, drinking, over-eating, drugs, inactivity, and damaging sexual practices?

Most physicians and patients believe in God. Do physicians believe that God can help patients overcome their habits? More importantly, do patients believe in a God that would help them change their lives?

As physicians we use all sorts of tools to try to help our patients to change unhealthy habits. Have we tried applying the patient's own faith to the problem? To the patient that is sincerely but unsuccessfully trying to quit smoking, we might ask, "Do you believe that God will help you have the strength to stop smoking?" How powerful it will be if we can follow their affirmative response with, "I know He will."

Change is hard to make, but it is not impossible. We are not treating animals who have no control of their destiny, but Man. He can choose to change. If our patients need help in making change, why not tap into the resource of their faith to help them clinch that change? If our patients believe in a God who watches after the life of each sparrow and cares for the lilies of the field, then perhaps he will help them control their diabetes or quit smoking.

Rusty Scalpel

Friday, April 17, 2009

Helping Patients Take Charge of Their Health (Part I)

Making Money a Motivating Factor

Americans spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year treating preventable illnesses. The sums of money spent on these illnesses are even more breathtaking when we realize that it is money that does not have to be spent. For example, in 2007 Americans spent $116 billion on medical expenses related to diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. The average diabetic spends $6649 a year just on diabetes. The numbers force us to ask: what must we do to prevent this preventable disease?

In this post, I'll use diabetes as a case study for all other preventable diseases. When speaking of preventable diabetes, I am referring to most Type II diabetes mellitus. Although it has genetic components, the onset of this type of diabetes is generally brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle. The landmark Diabetes Prevention Program study showed that type II diabetes could be prevented or delayed by diet and exercise in 58% of cases (compared to placebo). This effect was seen in all individuals regardless of race, sex and class. In short, type II diabetes can be prevented in most patients by diet and exercise.

The American physician struggles to help patients prevent and treat diabetes. The first-line treatment for diabetes is exercise and diet. Doctors tell this to their patients. Yet deep in his or her heart, the doctor knows that the patient probably will not change their lifestyle. They will return to the next visit with the same blood glucose level and without having exercised or dieted. The doctor will be left with only pharmacological and surgical means for treating a disease that the patient should be able to treat on his or her own. So instead of pounds being dropped, medications are prescribed and gastric bypasses are performed.

One reason that patients may be unmotivated is that we have attempted to remove money as a motivating factor in our health care system. We want everyone to get the care they need, regardless of their ability to pay. We try to create a health care system where money is not the object, but in so doing we may be harming our patients.

Consider the Medicaid patient who knows that diabetes is shortening their life and ruining their lifestyle, but is unmotivated to personally address their diabetes. Free visits to the clinic and daily insulin shots are much easier than a massive overhaul of diet and daily exercise. Instead of getting healthy, the disease progresses and the taxpayer shoulders the bills. Patients with comprehensive health insurance may likewise put off taking care of their health. If they stay on their current policy, their premiums will not radically change and the disease may not hit their pocketbooks too hard.

But imagine the patient that is directly confronted with the cost of their poor health in every visit and with every prescription. In every medical bill these patients have a concrete, immediate reason to take diabetes into their own hands. As stated above, diabetes will cost the average patient $6649 a year on top of their other medical expenses. These self-paying patients are immediately aware of this cost and will look for ways to reduce it.

The thoughtful doctor could talk finances with a self-paying patient and encourage health lifestyle with a conversation something like this:

"Bob, you know that I'm concerned about your weight, your blood pressure, and your glucose levels. Unless we get these under control, it's not a question of if you'll get diabetes, but when you'll get diabetes. But if we can get your weight and these other things under control, you're going to be healthy for years.

Now I know that work and family keep you busy and you don't feel you have time to take care of yourself. But think of it this way. If you get diabetes, it is going to cost you about $7000 a year to treat. Now that's a lot of money. If we can start preventing the disease now, that's money in your pocket. If we work out the numbers, taking a 30-minute daily walk may save you $20 a day. Earning forty bucks an hour to take care of yourself- that's not bad."

I don't know about you, but if I were Bob, I might start jogging. I could think of a lot better uses for $7000 a year than insulin shots. Seven thousand dollars a year- now that's motivation.

Some might say that having patients to pay for their own care is cruel or unfair. But look at the scenario above- paying his own bill just made Bob healthier. We must pay for our own care. Any other system cannot last- such socialism truly is only a contrivance. When the reality of our personal responsibility for our health is realized (perhaps accompanied with some lessons from the school of hard knocks), we will see the epidemic of preventable disease disappear along with its accompanying epidemic of apathy.

Preventable diseases are prevented when patients are made responsible for their own health. As doctors, we're really missing out on one of our best tools to help patients truly be healthy if we don't make money a motivating factor. As Americans and as children of God, we're not meant to be coddled. When given the responsibility, we take care of ourselves. When entrusted to the system, we all get gastric bypasses.

Rusty Scalpel

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wal-Mart offers Electronic Medical Records System

In the past we've praised Wal-Mart's $4 prescription plan and in-store clinics. Wal-Mart continues to drop the price of health care in a recently announced move to enter electronic medical records business. The news is a couple of weeks old, but it is interesting and worth discussing.

Wal-Mart is teaming up with Dell and eClinicalWorks to offer a bundled electronic medical records system that would cost about $44,000 to set up and operate per physician. For most doctors, that's about half the price of setting up other available systems.

Wal-Mart is consistently demonstrating that the market has plenty of solutions to medical care problems. Good business is the answer to the high price of care.

Further analysis of the medical records package is far beyond my expertise, but a good analysis of the product and the Wal-Mart/Dell/eClinicalWorks partnership by Don Fornes of Medical Software Advice is available here.

Rusty Scalpel