This is Chapter 8 of my book-in-progress, “Open Wide And Say Moo! – The Good Citizen’s Guide to Right Thoughts And Right Actions Under Obamacare.” Comments are fervently sought; you can leave them here.
You can read my rationale for undertaking this project, and thus opening myself up to the possibility of public failure, humiliation, derision, disapprobation, and unwanted scrutiny, here.
And here is the up-to-date archive for all the chapters that have been posted so far.
Update – September 1, 2012
Open Wide and Say Moo! is now revised and published!
Now available in the audiobook version!
In 2009, while the Obamacare legislation was being debated, opponents put together various, very scary “flow charts,” to show how utterly convoluted and inherently dysfunctional our healthcare system would become under this new plan. These charts incorporated the scores of new federal agencies, panels, commissions and bureaus that were to be created by Obamacare, and attempted to demonstrate their complex interlinkages with meandering flow lines, making evident, for instance, numerous opportunities for procedural endless loops. And on these charts, invariably doctors would be positioned on one distant corner, and patients far away on some other distant corner, and the astounding bureaucratic morass in the middle made it plain that they might as well be on separate planets.
In other words, the main point of these flow charts was to show how getting medical services under Obamacare would become an ungodly mess.
This remains an important thing to understand about Obamacare. Still, if you are an American who has attempted to get healthcare services out of the pre-Obama healthcare system, it would not be surprising if your reaction to such news is, “So what else is new?”
In fact, it seems likely that many Americans regard the prospect of Obamacare thusly: “Yes, Obamacare will almost certainly become a bureaucratic nightmare. Those charts do look a little scary. But really, all that means is that we’ll be trading one bureaucratic nightmare for another. And if Obamacare gets a lot more people health insurance, and offers coverage for pre-existing conditions, and stops the evil insurance companies from killing people, it still might be a good trade.”
Such flow charts, as nicely as they may illustrate the bureaucratic complexity of Obamacare, nonetheless fail to tell the real story. They fail to show that Obamacare is, in fact, fundamentally different from anything that has come before. That fundamental difference is in the complete, top-down, centralized, command-and-control organization it will bring to American healthcare. This top-down structure will systematically destroy the role of individual physicians in making medical decisions, and as a result their patients will be reduced to faceless members of a herd.
As we have seen several times, in order to control American healthcare it is absolutely imperative to control the behavior of American physicians. And fundamentally, the infrastructure of Obamacare is set up to do just that.
The scores of new federal agencies that show up on those flow charts, of course, will hamstring doctors in various useful ways. Each agency will have its own regulatory structure, and each will establish hundreds of new rules, regulations, and guidelines, and therefore, will produce hundreds of novel opportunities for doctors (and anyone else working in the healthcare system) to commit healthcare fraud. This will help to achieve the useful goal of placing doctors into a risk-avoidance frame of mind, rather than a patient-care frame of mind. But still, the large majority of these new agencies can be considered as nothing more than mere annoyances – sort of a swarm of flies buzzing around doctors’ heads as they plod along, trying to perform the main task.
It’s that main task – the real structure of Obamacare – that’s important.
Obamacare is set up primarily to eliminate the opportunity for doctors to make individual decisions. Important medical decisions will be made centrally, and will transmitted, through the new healthcare structure, to the doctors on the ground.
Over the years, healthcare bureaucrats have come to understand that just telling doctors what they are supposed to do will not be sufficient. Doctors may or may not obey, and policing the millions of individual decisions that are being made by doctors every day will be next to impossible.
So fundamentally, Obamacare is designed to incorporate doctors into new organizations that will be established to deliver efficient, high-quality healthcare, as defined by the Central Authority. And here I use the word “incorporate” in its literal form – to merge bodily into a larger structure, and to become fully a part of that larger structure.
To maintain their viability, these new organizations must require their physician-components (and all their other organic components) to function in what us usually referred to as an “integrated, team-based decisional paradigm,” that is, to give up any idea of independent decision making. Rather, for the survival of the whole, each entity within the organization will need to closely follow formally established “best practices.”
These new organizations – which at the moment are being called Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – will likely consist of hospitals, doctors, and legions of “nonphysician providers,” such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and care coordinators. All medical care will be delivered by “patient care teams,” and, spearheaded by these teams, the organizaitons will go “at risk,” accepting pre-determined bundled payments to deliver care to a pre-defined population of patients.
For such organizations to work, doctors will have to cease being independent agents. They will have to follow to the letter the care directives established by the “team.” The viability of the entire organization will depend on doctors’ full compliance with this collective prime directive. Fortunately, since there is no need (or allowance) for independent thought or action on the part of physicians in such a system, one doctor is pretty much the same as another, so doctors are entirely interchangeable. The non-compliant ones can be culled out and replaced as needed.
These ideas are not really new, of course. HMOs tried similar things in the 1990s. The difference is that now there is nowhere else for doctors to go. Private practice is rapidly becoming unfeasible. Direct-pay practices (for as long as they continue to remain legal) are really only suitable for primary care. Specialists, who require lots of expensive stuff – things like gamma cameras, operating suites, catheterization laboratories, hordes of highly trained medical technicians, &c. – generally find it exceedingly difficult to function as independent operators. It is no longer the 1990s; if doctors want to practice medicine, joining an ACO will soon be their only option.
Once doctors are fully absorbed into these new “team-based” entities, it becomes relatively easy for the Central Authority to control things. The ACOs will only be paid if they follow the directives that are handed down by the various panels, bureaus, &c, created by Obamacare, and the ACOs will only remain viable if the imbedded doctors spend less money than the ACO takes in. Since the decision not to spend all that money will have been disseminated among numerous members of the “team,” and since team-based decisions will be mindful of “social justice,” doctors will be at least partially absolved of the crime of withholding useful healthcare. And since the Central Authority is merely handing out the money (along with a few helpful “guidelines”), it can plausibly deny that it is telling doctors how to practice medicine.
Knowing that many American doctors will find this arrangement odious, Ezekiel Emanuel from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and Nancy-Ann M. De Parle, Mr. Obama’s Czar of Healthcare Reform, co-authored an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010, to help change hearts and minds. It is a message directly from the White House to American doctors, appearing in a prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal no less, explaining why joining up with the new ACOs will be to their great benefit, and indeed, that it is an offer they cannot refuse. After reminding doctors of all the glorious accomplishments of Obamacare, they articulated why there is a duty to comply:
“[Obamacare] will unleash forces that favor integration across the continuum of care. Some organizing function will need to be developed to track quality measures, account for and manage shared financial incentives, and oversee care coordination. . .As physicians organize themselves into increasing larger groups — patient-centered medical home practices and accountable care organizations — they are, out of necessity, investing in the acquisition or development of management skills that could provide these organizing functions efficiently for physicians groups. . .For physicians, this means a profession that is more rewarding, more productive, and better able to realize its moral ideal.”
For readers who become somewhat mind-numbed by this kind of policy-wonk jargon, here is the correct translation:
“Physicians! You have been neglecting your moral obligation to the collective, in favor of your archaic devotion to the individual patient. Under Obamacare you will need to join organizations which are devoted to the proper collective goals, and which therefore will guarantee the proper moral ideals. You must function not as individual decisionmakers, but as integrated cogs in a vast healthcare continuum, which will stretch from the centralized bastion of gleaming moral authority (from which we pen this message) all the way down to the humble tip of your stethoscope. You will be rewarded for your cooperation, or suffer for your resistance (resistance, of course, being futile). So rejoice for the health of the collective, and for your own well-being, and prepare to be assimilated!”
Doctors, and all other healthcare workers, are to be integrated into localized, healthcare delivery collectives, which will dance to the ever-changing tunes set by the Central Authority. Everything in these ACOs will be shared collectively, including the financial risk, the medical decisions, and even the ethics of those medical decisions. The notion of doctors working as independent professionals, answerable only to their professional standards and to their patients, is to be abolished once and for all. In an Accountable Care Organization doctors do not owe the featured accountability to the patients. but rather, to the ACO itself, and to the Central Authority that regulates it.
This, then, is the fundamental structure of Obamacare. It finally places doctors into their proper place. They become interchangeable cogs in an integrated healthcare machine, a machine which is tied irrevocably, flesh to flesh, to the Central Authority.
Under this structure patients will lose their personal advocates once and for all. They will finally be reduced to the position that Progressive healthcare requires of them. They will no longer be individuals whose doctors owe them a duty. They will be members of a herd which an ACO is charged with husbanding at the lowest cost possible. And so, assimilating doctors into the Borg is the final step. It removes the last remaining obstruction to the widespread implementation of herd medicine.
Everything else about Obamacare – all those new agencies and all that new bureaucratic complexity – is just details.
As we saw earlier (Chapter 1), in any system in which healthcare costs are shared collectively, truly controlling the cost of healthcare will require withholding useful medical services from many patients who would benefit from them. But so far, despite all the coercion that has been applied to the medical profession, and despite the troubling extent to which doctors have caved in to that coercion, not enough healthcare is being withheld, and costs continue to accelerate. Physicians still have not been sufficiently controlled.
Reducing physicians to members of an integrated “healthcare team” which makes decisions collectively is a brilliant move. Any remaining vestiges of professional responsibility that may remain to some of the newly-integrated physicians will be washed out by the other members of the team, who will outnumber the doctors and who never have had such a professional imperative. For these others, a moral responsibility to the needs of the collective, i.e., to social justice, will likely be the obvious overriding imperative. And furthermore, it will be an imperative that is strongly reinforced at every turn by the agencies of the Central Authority which will decide how much money the team is going to recieve for its efforts. So the integrated teams will be exquisitely sensitive (and even sympathetic) to the needs of the Central Authority.
Obamacare provides countless ways for the Central Authority to influence the integrated healthcare teams to withhold medical services, from imposing outright rules, to influencing treatment philosophies, to threatening (overtly or subtly) prosecution. For the most part, however, these can be reduced to two main efforts: the imposition of expert-generated guidelines, and the imposition of payment caps.
A major thrust of Obamacare will be to create numerous panels of experts, appointed by the Central Authority, which will – in an entirely disinterested and objective manner, of course – publish clinical “guidelines” which will suggest to physicians what medical services they ought to offer patients with specific medical conditions. In concept, clinical guidelines are a perfectly fine idea, and indeed are often helpful to practicing physicians. This is why professional organizations have published and updated numerous sets of clinical guidelines for decades.
But the guidelines published by the GOD panelists (Government Operatives Deliberating) will be something new. These guidelines will be treated as sacrosanct rules, which must not be broken, the violation of which might lead to criminal prosecution. We already have examples of criminal investigations based on alleged guideline violations, which I will show later.
I will be devoting much of the remainder of Part II of this book to the tyranny of experts which is about to be unleashed upon American doctors and patients, through the medium of “guidelines,” so I will say no more about it here. I will simply note that the structure of Obamacare, wherein it is an integrated team (instead of individual doctors) deciding whether to follow “suggested” sets of guidelines, will render this tool immensely more powerful than it has ever been before.
Perhaps nothing in the Obamacare legislation embodies the top-down, command-and-control nature of Progressive healthcare more than the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a 15-member panel of “experts” to be appointed by the President. There are three particular features of the IPAB that illustrate this fact: The IPAB will control all healthcare spending, public and private. The IPAB has been awarded near-dictatorial power. And the IPAB is designed to be a nearly immutable entity.
While the IPAB has several duties, the chief among these is to impose a final, insuperable cap on healthcare spending.
Obamacare hands the IPAB the authority to cap not only public healthcare spending, but also private healthcare spending (thus demonstrating, once again, that Progressives do indeed mean to restrict private healthcare spending). This particular feature of the IPAB is one of the more difficult-to-tease-out aspects of the Obamacare legislation, so it is fitting that the IPAB acquired this sweeping authority in a suitably convoluted and sneaky way.
Anyone who paid attention to the remarkable process that brought us our new and transformational healthcare system might recall that Obamacare was not passed in the usual manner. It began typically enough; there were separate House and Senate bills, each of which passed in their respective chambers (though without any Republican votes). Normally, the next step would be to send those two bills to a Joint Conference to hash out the differences, and then off to a final vote. This did not happen with Obamacare.
The main hangup occurred in the Senate. There, the President needed 60 votes to assure final passage of his bill. And in the way of negotiating for those necessary 60 votes, five or six Democrat Senators went behind closed doors to cobble together a list of amendments to the original Senate Bill – the so-called Managers’ Amendments. It is in the Managers’ Amendments that one can find such famous niceties as the bribes paid to Nebraska and Louisiana in order to entice their respective Senators to support the bill. Some of the deals made behind closed doors were so outlandish that even the Managers themselves (according to many reports at the time) did not expect them to survive the Joint Conference that everyone assumed would take place.
The original Senate bill, before the Managers’ Amendments were added, never created anything called an Independent Payment Advisory Board. Rather, in Section 3403 it created the Independent Medicare Advisory Board, whose powers (appropriately) were limited only to federally funded healthcare programs, such as Medicare. It was the Managers’ Amendments which re-empowered the IMAB, and re-christened it as the IPAB.
Specifically, Section 10320 (in the Managers’ Amendments portion of the legislation) grants the IPAB, beginning in 2015, the authority to limit all healthcare expenditures, that is, all healthcare expenditures, and not just expenditures by Medicare or government-run programs.
To emphasize this expanded authority, Section 10320 changes the name of the “Independent Medicare Advisory Board” to the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” It directs the IPAB, at least every two years, to “submit to Congress and the President recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures” for private healthcare programs. Furthermore, it designates that these “recommendations” may be implemented by the Secretary of HHS or other Federal agencies “administratively” (that is, without any action by Congress).
The justification for this mind-boggling expansion of the IPAB’s authority, to the extent that any justification was offered, appeared to be that controlling private healthcare expenditures will directly impact Medicare, since the “target” Medicare growth rate (which the IMAB was originally charged with achieving) will be determined by overall healthcare expenditures. Therefore, it is necessary to control all healthcare expenditures, public and private. (More practically, if Medicare patients are subjected to arbitrary cost-cutting measures that do not affect younger Americans, we Old Farts are likely to become inconveniently rowdy.)
Once the Managers had devised sufficient paybacks in the Managers’ Amendments to get the needed 60 votes, and the Senate bill finally passed, President Obama and his Congressional allies, Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi, determined that allowing the new law to go to Joint Conference would be counterproductive. Support among Democrats in the Senate was so tenuous that party leaders realized the bill would never survive another Senate vote after a Joint Conference. It would be easier, they calculated, to ram the Senate bill, fully intact including the Managers’ Amendments, through the House of Representatives, employing the always-useful reasoning that passing the law right then was a manifest emergency. So that is what they did. And while the vote was also a much closer call than Democrat leaders would have liked, the Senate bill finally passed in the House. And in this way, to the astonishment of many, the Senate bill, Managers’ Amendments and all, became law.
However convoluted the process may have been, the fact is that Obamacare grants the IPAB, a non-elected entity within the federal government, the authority to limit all healthcare spending, including private spending.
A quick reading of Section 3403 might leave one with the impression that the IPAB is a sort of Mr. Rogers of healthcare – a mild-mannered, friendly, always-helpful, but ultimately undemanding agent for good. This is the impression imparted by the first few paragraphs of the Section, which paint the new entity as an “advisory” board, whose main task is to develop “proposals” and “advisory reports,” which “proposals” and “advisory reports” would solely consist of various “recommendations,” that ought to be “considered” for the purpose of cost reduction.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This language is simply another example of supplying a new law, which is far more radical than the authors would like people to know, with a soothingly misleading introductory paragraph. The IPAB is actually designed to be as all-powerful as it’s possible to be.
Each year, once the Medicare’s Chief Actuary determines that the projected per capita growth rate for Medicare exceeds the designated target growth rate (which is an inevitability), the IPAB is required to submit a plan which will cut healthcare costs sufficiently to bring the growth rate back in line; which is to say, the IPAB will determine what will be paid for and what will not. Then, the Secretary of HHS is required to implement the IPAB’s plan in its entirety, without exception – unless Congress acts to block implementation. However, the ability of Congress to do so is severely limited. The representatives of the people are forbidden from taking any action “that would repeal or otherwise change the recommendations of the Board,” unless it: a)votes to halt the IPAB mandates with a supermajority of the Senate; and b: devises its own specific cost cutting scheme that will achieve equivalent results. If Congress had the will to do such a thing, however, we never would have needed Obamacare in the first place.
So, in practice, the cost-cutting “recommendations” which the IPAB will “propose” for “consideration” by the Secretary and by the Congress will be implemented in their entirety, automatically, without revision, and will be backed by the full authority of the Federal government.
For all practical purposes, the IPAB will become a new agency of the executive branch with near-dictatorial authority to cut healthcare spending, public and private, where and when and for whom it sees fit.
Section 3403 also contains some remarkable language that likely has never been seen before in American legislative history. To wit:
“It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.”
So the designers of Obamacare, recognizing that the arbitrary cost cutting that the IPAB will impose on all those ACOs and other integrated healthcare teams (as they happily toil away in the new healthcare worker’s paradise) is sure to create significant political blowback, has sought to immunize the IPAB from any revisionary lawmaking that might result.
And as astounding as it may sound, the IPAB and all its designated dictatorial functions are designed by law to be in force for perpetuity. Our Congress has passed legislation that purports to bind all future Congresses from altering it in any way.
We have heard from the President and others that the IPAB is a very important feature of our new healthcare system. This “immutability clause” ought to convince us just how important they believe it to be. This clause necessarily implies that the IPAB is not only the most important innovation in Obamacare, but indeed, it apparently is most important legislative provision ever written. We know this because no other provision has ever received such extraordinary protections from any future alterations whatsoever.
One can only bask in the utter audacity of our Progressive leaders, who are so sure they know what’s best for us that they were willing to engage in all manner of legislative legerdemain to pass Obamacare, not only against the apparent expressed will of the people, but also (as it turns out) against the objections of any future American Congress that is sent to Washington by those people.
Not even our Constitution itself – a document that attempted to establish a government for all time – was as audacious as this. For the Constitution, at least, provided a mechanism for its own alteration.
One wracks one’s brain to think of the last time a law was promulgated with such audacity – not with the audacity of hope, but the audacity of perpetuity. Even monarchs who purported to reign under Divine Right understood that future monarchs, who would also rule under the same God-given right, might thus alter any laws they made.
I believe we need to go all the way back to Moses, coming down from Mt. Sinai and holding aloft his awesome Tablets filled with divine writ, to find a law or set of laws that, from the moment they were written, were decreed to remain in force for ever and ever.
Only God has ever tried this before.
So now we can see clearly the entire skeletal infrastructure of Obamacare. Actual medical care will be parsed out by integrated healthcare “teams.” There will no longer be any “doctor-patient relationships,” dedicated to the welfare of the individual patient. Instead there will be “team-patient relationships” dedicated to the ethic of social justice. These teams will receive from the Central Authority, via expert panels whose work product is “guidelines,” the clinical rules under which they are to determine who gets what healthcare, when, and how. And they will receive from the greatest GOD panel of all – the IPAB – the budgets which will determine how much of that allowable healthcare they can actually deliver.
Individual patients who are cut out and who want to use their own resources to guard their personal welfare will be guilty of the crime of encouraging an unfair, two-tiered healthcare system.
So go ahead, if you must, and amuse yourself with those organizational charts about Obamacare published by Republicans and other troublemakers. They are indeed troubling.
But if all you get out of those charts is that Obamacare will become a bureaucratic nightmare – sort of a DMV on steroids – you are missing the greater point. Obamacare does far worse than merely add a few more layers of ossified bureaucracy onto an already difficult-to-navigate healthcare system.
It fundamentally changes the structure of American healthcare, centralizing control, eliminating the doctor-patient relationship once and for all, and subjecting individual patients to the decisions of “integrated teams” that will be overtly dedicated to collectivist goals.
This structure will finally systematize the practice of herd medicine in America.