Bioethics for Breakfast: Our Sick Health Care System: What’s the Differential Diagnosis?

Bioethics for Breakfast Seminars in Medicine, Law and SocietyLaura Appel and Marti Lolli presented at the December 5th Bioethics for Breakfast event, offering perspectives and insight on the topic “Our Sick Health Care System: What’s the Differential Diagnosis?”

This year’s Bioethics for Breakfast series centers on the theme “Is There a Cure for Our Sick Health Care System?” The series is generously sponsored by Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman.

Our health care system is exhibiting multiple symptoms of serious illness. Treating symptoms is rarely a good idea. What we need is a differential diagnosis. What are the root causes for skyrocketing costs, increasing access barriers, physician burnout, patient non-adherence and dis-satisfaction, failed therapies, and so on? Too many greedy profit-takers? Too many stingy insurers? Too much administrative bureaucracy? Too much competition? Too little competition? Too much unhealthy behavior by patients? Too little time for patients? Too much technology? Large empathy deficits? Too little prevention? Too many medical specialists? Too few primary care physicians? Not enough evidence-based medicine? Too much waste and inefficiency? Too many hospital mergers? Too fragmented a financing system? Patients demanding too much care? Unregulated drug prices? Too many special interests shaping health care policy?

Addressing these questions, Priority Health’s Marti Lolli first emphasized that these challenges are complex and cannot be simplified. She posited that there is enough money in the system—collectively we must get creative. In “diagnosing” our health care system, she put forward three items: 1) radically overhaul the fee-for-service system, 2) move away from the “one size fits all” health care model, and 3) accept data, technology, and transparency.

Michigan Health & Hospital Association’s Laura Appel then shared her perspective. Her three-item “diagnosis” began with the first point that there is a focus on health care when the underlying problem is health. One example she gave was that kidney disease in Michigan cost Medicaid $1 billion, stating, “We cannot change the output if we don’t change the input.” Her second item was that we don’t really have a “system,” also discussing the need for more behavioral health resources. Her third item focused on evidence, and that overall, to have a “system,” the system needs to respond to the evidence, recognizing what needs to change.

 
Attendee questions and comments addressed a variety of topics, including caregiver education, advance care planning, evidence-based medicine in practice, and social and structural determinants of health. Finally, one overarching point that those in attendance seemed to agree on: change is hard.

Marti Lolli Laura Appel and Leonard Fleck speaking to audience

Image description: pictured left to right are Marti Lolli, Laura Appel, and Leonard Fleck during the question and answers portion of Bioethics for Breakfast on December 5. Image source: Liz McDaniel/Center for Ethics.

About the Speakers

Laura Appel
Laura Appel is senior vice president and chief innovation officer at the Michigan Health & Hospital Association. She focuses on healthcare policy, hospital finance, legislation and governance. At the federal level, she represents the interests of Michigan hospitals and health systems in both the legislative and regulatory arenas on key issues, including federal healthcare reform and Medicare. She is an expert in auto insurance and legislative policy and has a proven ability to influence legislation and healthcare policy through her understanding of the issues, educating influencers and policymakers, and introducing fresh ideas.

Marti Lolli, MBA
Marti Lolli is chief marketing officer and senior vice president of consumer and government markets at Priority Health, a nationally recognized health plan. She oversees the individual market, Medicare advantage and Medicaid markets, and market intelligence. She also oversees all marketing, digital strategy, communications and customer experience at Priority Health. Her areas of expertise include consumerism in health care, market trends in health care, competitive and consumer analytics, health care reform, health care innovation and strategic planning.

About Bioethics for Breakfast:
In 2010, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman invited the Center for Ethics to partner on a bioethics seminar series. The Center for Ethics and Hall Render invite guests from the health professions, religious and community organizations, political circles, and the academy to engage in lively discussions of topics spanning the worlds of bioethics, health law, business, and policy. For each event, the Center selects from a wide range of controversial issues and provides two presenters either from our own faculty or invited guests, who offer distinctive, and sometimes clashing, perspectives. Those brief presentations are followed by a moderated open discussion.
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Listen: Social Determinants of Health in Medical Education

No Easy Answers in Bioethics logoNo Easy Answers in Bioethics Episode 18

How can social determinants of health be integrated effectively into medical education and clinical practice?

This episode focuses on the topic of social determinants of health, or the social and environmental factors that influence our health and access to resources. Center for Ethics Assistant Director Libby Bogdan-Lovis and Associate Professor Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake speak with College of Human Medicine student Brittany Ajegba, who emphasizes the need for standardization when training physicians on social determinants of health. From medical education to clinical encounters, they provide a variety of perspectives on this increasingly important work.

Ways to Listen

This episode was produced and edited by Liz McDaniel in the Center for Ethics. Music: “While We Walk (2004)” by Antony Raijekov via Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Full episode transcript available.

About: No Easy Answers in Bioethics is a podcast series from the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Each month Center for Ethics faculty and their collaborators discuss their ongoing work and research across many areas of bioethics. Episodes are hosted by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

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Article from Dr. Laura Cabrera in November ‘Bioethics’ issue

Laura Cabrera photoAn article by Center Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Cabrera has been published in the November 2019 issue of Bioethics. The article, “A human rights approach to low data reporting in clinical trials of psychiatric deep brain stimulation,” advocates for “the importance of reporting clinical trial data of invasive procedures in highly vulnerable populations, such as psychiatric DBS trials.”

Abstract: The reporting of clinical trial data is necessary not only for doctors to determine treatment efficacy, but also to explore new questions without unnecessarily repeating trials, and to protect patients and the public from dangers when data are withheld. This issue is particularly salient in those trials involving invasive neurosurgical interventions, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), for ‘treatment refractory’ psychiatric disorders. Using the federal database ClinicalTrials.gov, it was discovered that out of the completed or unknown‐status trials related to psychiatric DBS up to November 2018, only two had submitted results to ClinicalTrials.gov. These results suggest that, despite federal requirements to report clinical trial data, reporting on psychiatric DBS trials is problematically minimal. It is argued that a human rights approach to this problem establishes a legal and ethical foundation for the need to report clinical trial results in this area.

The full text is available online via Wiley Online Library (MSU Library or other institutional access may be required to view this article).

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We Need Healthier Schools, and Student Activists Are Stepping Up

Bioethics in the News logoThis post is a part of our Bioethics in the News series

By Sean A. Valles, PhD

California just passed two laws that advance health in schools in ways that might not seem intuitive: pushing middle school and high school start times to after 8am, and banning school districts from “lunch shaming” that treats students differently based on whether they have unpaid school lunch debt. These laws are part of a collection of diverse efforts to make U.S. schools healthier places. The fact that some of these efforts have been led by students themselves is especially heartening.

Bioethics of school policies
The two new laws in California are worthy of attention in a bioethics blog because U.S. schools are, for many students and in many ways, unhealthy places. Not simply because they are crowded spaces infamous for spreading coughs and colds (and stress). For many students, they are also places of food insecurity, social stigma, or even fear of violence. Those problems also shed light on larger problems in society. Even as a child in Los Angeles, I grasped that the local high school having a metal detector at the door signified that something much bigger had gone horribly wrong in my community. Most student problems have their roots outside the school walls, but we can at least do our best to design schools to contend with the difficult realities of young people’s lives.

There is now compelling evidence that later start times for schools are better for adolescent health than early morning ones. As pointed out in one review of the research, adolescents’ bedtimes seem to be more or less independent of when school starts in the morning, partly due to biological clock rhythms changing during puberty. Students forced to begin school early in the morning suffer all of the resulting harms of insufficient sleep (most readers are surely aware that insufficient sleep is bad for physical and mental well-being). This change is surprising in part because the American Academy of Pediatrics has, with limited success until now, been pushing for later school start times, insisting that school start times should facilitate the 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep appropriate for adolescent biology. It will be a difficult schedule transition for some California schools and families/guardians to adjust to, but the health rationale remains powerful.

Stigmatizing and manipulating students are problems, not solutions
It is also encouraging to see California legislate against lunch shaming. Unless prohibited, U.S. schools have the freedom to intentionally or incidentally shame students for being unable to afford their lunch meals. They have done so by giving indebted students inferior meals, marking the students with wristbands or stamps, etc. This is a serious health matter because imposing a stigmatized status upon a child, or even just amplifying an existing one, is a harmful act. Research is quite clear that stigma (“the co-occurrence of labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination in a context in which power is exercised”) is a powerful and pervasive cause of health injustices. Stigma stresses bodies, socially controls people, and excludes them from social opportunities and resources available to others. Being a child without enough money to pay for lunch is quite hard enough, without one’s school officials metaphorically painting a target on one’s back.

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Image description: Young person at the March for Our Lives protest, holding a placard painted with the words “AM I NEXT?” in red. Image source: Roger Jones/Public Domain.

The desirability of the California law gets clearer when one looks at a policy that goes in the opposite direction. In a widely-criticized lurch backwards, a newly-created policy in a New Jersey school district gives discretion to principals to ban students with lunch debt from participating in extracurricular activities. Which students? Under which circumstances? What goals are achieved by such exclusions? Certainly banning students from soccer practice or chess club doesn’t make money magically appear in their parents’ pockets. The policy is a setback, but I am encouraged by the backlash that gives a new sense of clarity to how remarkably regressive this policy is in light of the opposite trend.

Student advocacy should be welcomed
Most encouraging to me is the fact that students are advocating for themselves and the health of their schools. I am glad that the American Academy of Pediatrics and some California state legislators are advocating for healthier schools, but I have argued at length elsewhere that it is preferable to empower people advocate for themselves. And so students are. For instance, they have been at the forefront of a series of lobbying efforts (successful in Oregon and Utah) to get mental sick days recognized as legitimate reasons for missing school.

It is no coincidence that this push to create space for “mental health days” comes in the middle of a period of worsening mental health of young people in the U.S. Deaths from suicides just replaced deaths from homicides as the second leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds (deaths from traffic accidents are down, but still exceed both). And homicides are also a target of student activism; after the Parkland school shooting, young people became the unexpected leaders of a new wave of gun control activism.

The late 2010s have been a time of disorienting rapid change, but I suspect that future historians will highlight one global social phenomenon: young people demanding a better world. The most prominent example is the rise of young climate change activists around the world—Greta Thunberg being the most famous—demanding action with a new sense of clarity and resolve. As I write this, Teen Vogue’s website teases an article with a link saying “Why Homeless Advocates Aren’t Happy With the 2020 Presidential Candidates” and an op-ed on radical labor organizing among nail salon workers.

Better health through better spaces
Even though lunch shaming, poor mental health, exhaustion and all sorts of other health problems still tragically afflict young people in schools, I am optimistic because it really does feel that the winds have shifted—thanks in large part to student activists, unhealthy schools are finally getting reforms they have long needed. As I argue at length in the book Philosophy of Population Health, health depends not just on whether we have good medical care, but also on whether the places where we live our everyday lives have been thoughtfully designed to support good health.

Sean Valles photo

Sean A. Valles, PhD, is an Associate Professor with an appointment in Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University. His research spans a range of topics in the philosophy of population health, from the use of evidence in medical genetics to the roles played by race concepts in epidemiology. He is author of the 2018 book, Philosophy of Population Health: Philosophy for a New Public Health Era. He is also Director of the MSU Science and Society @ State Program, supporting interdisciplinary faculty collaborations that join the humanities, arts, and sciences.

Join the discussion! Your comments and responses to this commentary are welcomed. The author will respond to all comments made by Thursday, November 28, 2019. With your participation, we hope to create discussions rich with insights from diverse perspectives.

You must provide your name and email address to leave a comment. Your email address will not be made public.

More Bioethics in the News from Dr. Valles: Recognizing Menstrual Supplies as Basic Health Necessities: The Bioethics of #FreePeriodsTrump’s Attempt to Reignite the Coal Industry Is Another Health Policy BlunderPolitics and the Other Lead Poisoning: The Public Health Ethics of Gun Violence; Climate Change and Medical Risk

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Dr. Cabrera presents at International Neuroscience Society annual meeting

Laura Cabrera photoLast month Center Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Cabrera presented at the International Neuroethics Society (INS) Annual Meeting in Chicago. The meeting theme, “Mapping Neuroethics: An Expanded Vision” resulted in a gathering of a truly diverse group of scholars, scientists, clinicians, and professionals dedicated to the responsible use of advances in brain science.

Dr. Cabrera participated in the panel “Incapable Patients and Psychiatric Neurosurgery: What do Law and Ethics Have to Say?”, discussing the regulatory and ethical landscape around psychiatric neurosurgery. Additionally, Dr. Cabrera had two posters discussing results from her NEURON collaboration with Dr. Judy Illes (University of British Columbia), and two posters discussing results from her NIH BRAIN Initiative grant on psychiatric electroceutical interventions. Undergraduate research assistants Emily Castillo and Marissa Cortright were there to present the posters discussing results from the developmental stage of the ongoing NIH BRAIN project. They are pictured below with the posters “Public Views About Treating Depression Across Four Treatment Modalities” and “Perceived Invasiveness of Psychiatric Electroceutical Interventions as Treatment for Clinical Depression.”

Marissa Cortright with poster at INS 2019

Marissa Cortright with the poster “Public Views About Treating Depression Across Four Treatment Modalities.” Photo courtesy of Emily Castillo.

Emily Castillo with poster at INS 2019

Emily Castillo with the poster “Perceived Invasiveness of Psychiatric Electroceutical Interventions as Treatment for Clinical Depression.” Photo courtesy of Emily Castillo.

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Listen: Genes, Behavior, and the Brain

No Easy Answers in Bioethics logoNo Easy Answers in Bioethics Episode 17

We can look at an individual’s DNA and know what their hair color is, but what about their behavioral traits? This episode features Center for Ethics Assistant Professor Dr. Laura Cabrera, and Dr. Mark Reimers, Associate Professor in the Neuroscience Program in MSU’s College of Natural Science. Drawing from their expertise as neuroscience researchers, they discuss what we know about how our DNA affects our behavior—from IQ scores to mental illness. They also explore possible ethical issues that may arise in the near future related to the study of behavioral genetics and gene expression.

Ways to Listen

This episode was produced and edited by Liz McDaniel in the Center for Ethics. Music: “While We Walk (2004)” by Antony Raijekov via Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Full episode transcript available.

About: No Easy Answers in Bioethics is a podcast series from the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Each month Center for Ethics faculty and their collaborators discuss their ongoing work and research across many areas of bioethics. Episodes are hosted by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

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Dr. Fleck presents at 21st Annual ASBH Conference

Leonard Fleck photoCenter Acting Director and Professor Dr. Leonard Fleck recently attended and presented at the 21st American Society for Bioethics and Humanities Annual Conference, held in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Fleck participated in a session titled “Ageism in History, Moral Thought, and Healthcare Decisions,” presenting “Just Caring: In Defense of Fair Innings, Not Extra Innings, for the Elderly.”

Dr. Fleck has provided a summary of his presentation below.

A just and caring society has as its first obligation to assure access to needed and effective health care for all so that, if medically possible, all have an opportunity to achieve a normal life span (their fair innings). It is wrong to deny the elderly (over age 70) access at social cost to needed and effective health care simply because they are old or very old. But it is equally morally objectionable for the elderly to demand unlimited access at social cost to any medical intervention that offers them some opportunity (no matter how small) for some extended life or somewhat improved quality of life. Those are unjust demands by the elderly and cannot be rightly criticized for being ageist.

In the real world, the non-elderly do not wish to pay unlimited sums (payroll taxes) to underwrite the costs of the current generation of the elderly. But it is also the case that the current generation of the non-elderly do not wish to pay more in taxes to support the even greater health care needs of their own future possible elderly selves.

The clearest example I have of “pure” age-based rationing is one of the recommendations we made to the governor in the event of a pandemic in the vicinity of the “Spanish flu of 1918.” We said if there was a shortage of vents/ ICU beds or other such life-saving interventions, no one over age 70 would have access to those interventions. I would not want my grandkids or your grandkids to die so that I could live to my mid-80s or beyond.

There is a new version of a totally implantable artificial heart (TIAH), expected to be in clinical trials in early 2020. This would promise extra years of life to the 500,000 patients each year in the U.S. in late-stage heart failure. The cost per person would be more than $400,000. Many of these patients will be in their 80s or beyond. If all 500,000 patients had an equal just claim to a TIAH, that would add $200 billion per year to the cost of health care. Could we agree through public deliberation no one over age 80 would be eligible for this heart at social expense?

Iibrutinib is for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia at a cost of $156,000 per person per year. These patients are mostly older; median onset at age 71. Ibrutinib will fail some at year 2, year 4, year 6, year 8. Then patients either die or (today) have the option of CAR T-cell immunotherapy at a front-end cost of $475,000. (And there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs per patient for those who experience cytokine release syndrome). 30% of these patients given CAR T-cell therapy will die in less than a year. If we had a biomarker that could identify those patients before the fact, would it be just to still allow access to CAR T-cell therapy if a patient were less than 75, but deny it to patients over age 75 who were identified with 90% probability of being in that 30% group? These are challenges for democratic deliberation.

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