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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Four people in my family: Testimony on payment reform legislation

Testimony at the Massachusetts Statehouse, May 16, 2011
I'm Ken Farbstein, past President of Health Care for All's Consumer Health Quality Council. Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about four people in my family, in stories that are in my new book.

A surgeon once told me I should have Lasik eye surgery. When I probed to learn more, she said I'd probably still need to wear glasses afterward. I said No. Another time, an ENT surgeon said I should have sinus surgery. I looked into it carefully, and then I said No. Instead, both times, I shared in the decision-making by reading, and asking questions about the effectiveness and the alternatives and side-effects. Then I chose non-surgical alternatives that were less costly. If patients can share in the decision-making, they'll make better informed choices, and sometimes they'll decide against surgery – which could save money for the whole system.

And near the end of life, a lot of people would choose hospice care, like we chose for my father, who was then in the final stages of Parkinson's Disease. That was better for him, and for us, and it must have actually saved money for the taxpayers too.

My very active Aunt Anne had always lived alone, in Denver, far away from the rest of our family. So she didn't have the family support that helps keep people healthy. She didn't like doctors much, but sometimes she'd see a doctor, just to get a prescription. Perhaps if her primary care provider had had a patient educator on a medical home team, they could have worked out some kind of agreement with her about regularly taking her medication. If so, it[s possible she could still be alive. She died from a complication of untreated diabetes.

My uncle Leon in Florida had a Type A personality. He loved to eat. I doubt he got much exercise. Over the years he developed heart disease, and after he retired to Florida, had multiple stents inserted by the hospitals there. If the system had paid his healthcare providers to keep him healthy, that could have moderated or prevented the coronary artery disease and his fatal heart attack.

So in my family, patient empowerment would have helped. Transparency would have helped. A public health focus on prevention would have helped.

I think many people have the same experiences as my family has had, but I think they happen so often that most people don't even notice them. There are so many people - maybe some in your family? -with diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, or a substance abuse disorder, or a person who smokes, or drinks more than they should, or weighs more than they should, or doesn't exercise enough. Shouldn't the payment rules encourage providers to keep your family healthy?

The payment rules create a very subtle current that carries us in the wrong direction, so that providers and consultants who want to improve prevention have to make their way against the current, so they can't make much headway. Please fix the rules.

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