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CPBJ Extra Blog

The Obamacare Valentines

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It has been another big week in Obamacare news, and I'll have more for you on that soon.

But for today, I cannot resist the opportunity to share with you what is hands-down the best thing I have seen in almost two years of covering health care. Go to Twitter and search for #healthpolicyvalentines.

Feb. 14 will never look the same to you again.

• • •

Of this whole interview with Dr. Robert E. Harbaugh, chairman of the neurosurgery department at Hershey Medical Center, one part stood out to me: Where he pulled no punches on his view of Obamacare.

"During the debate on this act, neurosurgery was the leading voice of resistance to what is, I believe, an almost unmitigated disaster for our specialty and our patients. The promise of the PPACA to improve access, increase quality and reduce costs should be a red flag to any cogent observer. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The PPACA, if enacted, will almost certainly drive patients from the private insurance market and dramatically increase the number of Medicaid patients. These large numbers of Medicaid patients will not be able to find physicians and will inundate the emergency rooms. Hospitals that presently work on slim margins, that will now need to care for larger numbers of Medicaid patients, will close; and the costs to the federal government will continue to rise."

• • •

On the proposals to repeal the much-hated Medicare SGR: I'll get really excited when you show me the money.

• • •

Speaking of showing me the money, the thing about companies saying they're doing things because of Obamacare is that unless you have extraordinary access, it can be hard to assess whether the numbers support that claim or health care reform was just a convenient scapegoat.

And the thing about calling out specific employees' health issues when announcing that you're cutting benefits is that it rather strikes me as throwing them under a bus, even if you're a company as big as AOL. And, in this case, I'm not the only one who thinks it smells a little fishy.

Addendum: This story continued, and eventually we had "AOL CEO sorry for 'distressed babies' remark; reverses retirement plan" and "My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line" to read as well.

• • •

This isn't directly in our coverage area, but at only an hour and a half away from Harrisburg, it's close enough that some employees could easily live here: Meritus Health last week announced an overall 4-percent reduction in current budgeted positions — more specifically, eliminating 60 vacant positions and 60 current positions and reducing the hours of another 43 positions.

But that's not all. The news release says, "Cost-reduction strategies for the organization also include consolidation and reorganization of services, such as the recent transition of retail pharmacies to Walgreens, the shift to a single urgent care location on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown and the closure of two under-utilized laboratory patient service center locations (in Frederick and on Opal Court in Hagerstown)."

• • •

Dr. Glenn Steele Jr., president and CEO of Geisinger Health System — which is on our radar a lot more now that it's pursuing an affiliation with Holy Spirit Health System — has been renamed to the Congressional Budget Office's 22-person panel of health advisers, of which he has been a member since 2012.

Speaking of Steele, he's been busy lately.

Here's a transcript of a discussion on ACOs that involved him.

Here's a video of him and Partners Healthcare CEO Dr. Gary Gottlieb debating Obamacare with Steve Brill and Avik Roy.

• And here's an article titled "How Geisinger and Partners CEOs lost debate on need for Affordable Care Act." As these things go, you can probably find someone of the opposite opinion too.

• • •

We hear a lot about how coordinated care — ACO, accountable care arrangements, medical homes, etc. — are supposed to work conceptually, but what I really like is seeing details of what they're actually doing. Therefore, this look at Lancaster General Health's Care Connections clinic interested me.

• • •

Finally, we don't talk a lot about medical technology or procedures, but PinnacleHealth recently did a first-in-the-nation procedure and Hershey Medical Center has used the fascinating extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy on 14 patients this flu season.

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits, education and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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