The Los Angeles Times has reported that Covered California, the largest state’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, has started releasing to insurance agents throughout the state the names and contact information of tens of thousands of persons who started an application using the state’s online system but failed to complete it. The Covered California director Peter Lee acknowledges the practice but says that the outreach program still complies with privacy laws and was reviewed by the exchange’s legal counsel. “I can see a lot of people will be comforted and relieved at getting the help they need to navigate a confusing process,” explained Lee.
I am hardly as confident as Covered California’s lawyers apparently were that this practice was legal.
The law requires that disclosures to third parties be necessary and I do not see why Covered California could not have contacted non-completers directly and ask them if they wanted help from an insurance agent rather than disclosing their identify to insurance agents. But even if the practice could be said to be borderline legal, it is difficult to imagine a practice more likely to sabotage enrollment efforts in California — and, since California’s interpretation could be precedent for other states — elsewhere. For every person unable to complete their application online in California and who will, with the comforting help provided by insurance agents, now want to complete it, there are likely 10 who will be turned off by the cavalier attitude towards privacy exhibited by this government agency. Beyond a violation of ACA privacy safeguards, the action is either a sign of desperation about enrollment figures, even in a state that boasts of its success such as Peter Lee’s California, or monumental stupidity.
If California wanted to create an adverse selection death spiral, it would be difficult to be more effective than, without notice or consent, releasing personally identifiable information to insurance agents.
Continue reading “Probably Illegal and Unquestionably Stupid: Covered California’s Release of Personal Health Information.”
Filed Under: THCB
Dec 9, 2013
Among the sacrifices Congressional representatives placed on the altar of deficit negotiations is an “inflation adjustment” that will shave “only” a few hundred dollars from an average, newly retired Social Security beneficiary’s income each year. But the cruel hoax is that the reduction will amount to as much as $1600 when the beneficiary is older, poorer, and sicker. Many seniors already have a tough time paying for food, rent, and medical care.
Even worse, reductions in beneficiaries’ incomes may well cost government more for potentially preventable hospital and long-term care. Senator Elizabeth Warren and other New England lawmakers should be lauded for splitting from Democratic representatives and the Administration regarding this ill-conceived proposal.
Many senior citizens are already vulnerable to economic hardship. A recent US Census analysis that counts rising medical expenses found that over 1 in 6 elderly people live in poverty, unable to meet basic living expenses, and almost 20% more are living just above the poverty line. Social Security is the only or largest source of income for about 70% of seniors; the average monthly check is only about $1200.
The typical retirement savings of seniors is a paltry $50,000 — barely enough to get through several years’ living expenses, let alone 20-30 years of retirement. This is not the result of cavalier actions by the older generation; these are the Americans whose home values have plummeted, whose defined-benefit pension plans have been decimated or disappeared, and whose retirement accounts were eviscerated by the Wall Street meltdown of the last decade. Yet the current proposal punishes these Americans as if they were at fault for their poverty.
Fidelity Investments has estimated that the average retired couple will need more than $200,000 to pay their out-of-pocket medical expenses during retirement, and that figure is probably conservative.
The arithmetic of Social Security benefit reductions just doesn’t fit with this reality.
Continue reading “The Really Bad Math Behind the Social Security Cuts”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Elizabeth Warren, Long Term Care, Senior Care, Social Security, Stephen Soumerai
Dec 8, 2013
That is what we have been told the Obama administration will claim today as they begin the job of reselling Obamacare.
Is Obamacare even partly responsible for the slowdown in health care costs?
That is silly.
First, Obamacare is not a health care reform law; it is a health insurance reform law. No one on either side of the debate has ever argued anything different.
Does the law have some limited cost containment features in it?
Yes. But these are either pilot projects or are years from being fully implemented.
I have heard the argument that the Medicare cuts that were made to help pay for the program are examples of cost containment efforts that are having a short-term impact on controlling costs. The Democrats need to be careful with this one. I recall their countering Republican “Mediscare” claims by saying the Medicare cuts were not significant.
In a letter last year accompanying the Medicare Trustee’s report, the Medicare actuary said, “The [Obamacare Medicare cuts] will affect Medicare price levels more gradually, but a strong likelihood exists that, without very substantial transformational changes in health care practices, payment rates would become inadequate in the long range.”
Translated: The Obama Medicare provider cuts are not having a big impact in the short-run but will be unsustainable over the longer-term.
Continue reading “Is Obamacare Responsible For the Recent Slowdown in Health Care Costs?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Costs, Health care spending, Obama administration, Robert Laszewski, The Affordable Care Act
Dec 6, 2013
In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has been appropriately raked over the coals for saying, multiple times, “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep it.” He shouldn’t have said it. The problem is, he shouldn’t have said it for entirely different reasons than most Americans think.
Let’s begin with a basic question: What does it mean to “like” one’s plan? And what is the value of this statement? All of this came to a head at an October 30 Congressional hearing with the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.
At the hearing, in a cantankerous challenge to Sebelius’s credibility, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn highlighted two constituents, Mark and Lucinda, who “like their plans,” but were being told they could not keep them because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), so-called “Obamacare.” A long-entrenched individualist rhetoric provided the framework for Blackburn’s point, namely that we should allow Mark and Lucinda to keep their plans in the name of individual freedom, just because they “like” them.
For purposes of argument, let’s assume that what Mark and Lucinda’s insurers are saying—that the cancellations are a result of the ACA—is true. But, as we do this, let’s also keep in mind that just because insurers claim premium hikes and cancellations are because of the ACA doesn’t mean that it’s true. In fact, it seems to be true only rarely and, even then, often as a half-truth.
But, anyway, let’s assume it is true. The question then becomes: why is it true? The problem is that this individual freedom is made possible by the assurances of a social safety net. This brings us back to the existential foundation of the ACA, namely that the choice to not carry health insurance—or to carry poor health insurance that individuals may find out, at some point, doesn’t cover something important—simply dumps those individuals into social institutions such as emergency rooms and local care centers, and does so in an extremely wasteful way. This returns us to the problem we started with and a question of whether or not ACA opponents are concerned with solving the problem of building a sustainable health care system.
In other words, Blackburn’s logic, as inspirational as it might be to some, bathed as it is in the rhetoric of freedom, is not premised on an analysis or understanding of health insurance, but deference to Mark and Lucinda to make their own choices, consequences be damned.
Continue reading “Why “Liking” Your Plan Is Not the Point”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Daniel Skinner, Health Plans, Obama administration, The Affordable Care Act
Dec 6, 2013
I’ve been a busy world traveler lately. The focus of the health care tech and policy crowd in the US has been on the fix to one high visibility website. Before I talk about the rest of the world it’s worth noting that the Administration painted itself into a corner here.
When healthcare.gov failed on take-off they didn’t make the obvious choice of letting other brokers and plans enroll people directly–and worry about correcting subsidies on the back end. I spoke with one big online broker this week who told me that his company still couldn’t get reliable access to the subsidy calculator API, and so can’t enroll people. I suggested the solution to that back in October but apparently no one is listening at HHS–although Sen Mary Landrieu was. The White House was however listening to the Fox news crowd ranting about cancelled insurance policies and made the bad policy (if necessary political) call to allow current individual market policies to continue–even if they are rightly now illegal under the ACA.
But elsewhere the impetus that the US has been seeing on the health technology side–with over $2 billion in venture funding this year–is spreading. The UK just confirmed that it’s releasing the equivalent of $800 million for new health technology, and we just returned from a very successful Health 2.0 Europe conference. All kinds of activity is going on over there–did you know there were over 100 digital health start-ups in Finland & the Baltics alone? Well, you do now.
Today the Health 2.0 international roadshow is in Sao Paulo, Brazil–a city that has the size and energy of New York–albeit before Guliani cleaned up the graffiti. And yes, even in Latin America, there’s lots of activity in using technology to change health care. I’ll tell you more next time, but it’s clear that there’s way more than one website in healthcare.
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Health 2.0, Health 2.0 International Roadshow, Matthew Holt, mHealth Summit
Dec 6, 2013
Large coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act have reignited concerns about physician shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) continues to forecast large shortfalls (130,000 by 2025) and has pushed for additional Medicare funding of residency slots as a key solution.
These shortage estimates result from models that forecast future supply of, and demand for, physicians – largely based on past trends and current practice. While useful exercises, they do not necessarily imply that intervening to boost physician supply would be worth the investment. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Most physician shortage forecast models assume insurance coverage expansions under the ACA will generate large increases in demand for physicians. The standard underlying assumption is that each newly insured individual will roughly double their demand for care upon becoming insured (based on the observation that the uninsured currently use about half as much care). However, the best studies of this – those using randomized trials or observed behavior following health insurance changes – tend to find increases closer to one-third rather than a doubling.
2. A recent article in Health Affairs found that the growing use of telehealth technologies, such as virtual office visits and diagnoses, could reduce demand for physicians by 25% or more.
3. New models of care, such as the patient-centered medical home and the nurse-managed health center, appear to provide equally effective primary care but with fewer physicians. If these models, fostered by the ACA, continue to grow, they could reduce predicted physician shortages by half.
Continue reading “Is There Really a Physician Shortage?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: AAMC, David Auerbach, Physician Shortage, Physicians, Rand
Dec 5, 2013
I want to update you on ComChart EMR’s “Meaningful Use Certification” status.
ComChart EMR will continued to be certified as a Complete EMR for Stage I Meaningful Use. Unfortunately, we will not be able to meet the Stage 2 (or greater) Meaningful Use certification requirements as these requirements are technically extremely difficult to implement.
In addition to the Meaningful Use mandates, there continues to be a never ending stream of new mandates such as ICD-10, PQRI, Meaningful Use 2, Meaningful Use 3, SNOMED, ePrescribing, LOINC, Direct Project, health information exchanges etc. As a result of the mountain of mandates, ComChart EMR and the other small EMR companies will have to choose to implement the mandates or use their resources to add “innovative” features to their EMR. Unfortunately, the small EMR companies do not have the resources to do both.
(I suspect this is also true, to some extent, for all EMR companies.)
While the individual people involved in promulgating these EMR mandates (mostly) have the best of intentions, they clearly do not understand what transpires in the exam room, as many of the mandated features confer little or no benefit to either the patient or the healthcare provider.
In addition to a lack of understanding of what is important during the process of providing healthcare, it has also become apparent to me that the Federal and State health information technology agenda is now largely driven by the strongest HIT companies and health institutions; the individual physician is only an afterthought in the entire process.
Continue reading “Open Letter From a Small EMR Vendor To Our Customers and Our Friends In Washington”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: EHR, Hayward Zwerling, Meaningful Use Stage 2, Physicians
Dec 5, 2013
A few weeks ago Lisa Suennen, founding partner of Psilos Group and fledging best-seller author, wrote ”Times of massive system transformation, such as we are in today, pave the way for new market entrants and disruptive technologies a la Clayton Christensen’s stories about other industries that have endured dramatic change. ” She was talking about health insurance exchanges, but could just as well have been talking about care transitions.
Health 2.0 Advisors is the Innovation Analytics and Acceleration business unit of Health 2.0, helping companies make sense of the – often ‘noisy’ – innovation landscape. Recently, innovation in care transition improvement became an important area of demand among hospitals and many startups have been developing new technologies, tools, and solutions to improve care transitions. Next week, Health 2.0 Advisors will be publishing a report that synthesizes barriers to adoption of such innovation in hospitals, lessons learned from those who succeeded, and share information about untapped areas of opportunity.
This report is based on a project done for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which included interviews with (100+) CIOs, CMIOs of hospitals, as well as startups of varying sizes and degrees of success in working with hospitals.
Check out the special presentation of highlights from this report during the mHealth Summit in Washington D.C. on the 8th. The report will be available for download after that and I will write a follow up post with some additional highlights and perspectives. If you want to receive a copy of this report but cannot make it to the mHealth Summit, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will email you the download link after the mHealth Summit presentation.
Filed Under: Health 2.0, health care reform, Health Policy, THCB
Dec 5, 2013
East Coast THCB reader writes:
“Ok. Here’s my situation. I’ve tried signing up for coverage at Healthcare.gov several times without success. (I got a combination of the weird glitches and other symptoms other readers have reported. ) After the last fail, I decided to hold off on any further attempts on the theory that things are bound to get better.
Based on the news reports I’m seeing, that may or may not be happening. I’m starting to worry that if I wait too long I may get caught up in the mad rush as people scramble to beat the deadline. Given what’s happened so far, I’m not highly confident that Healthcare.gov will be working.
So here’s my question: am I better off waiting or should I try to push my application through the system now?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: December 23 Deadline, Healthcare.gov
Dec 4, 2013
Through a series of small grants, we’re is exploring the utility of applying behavioral economic principles to perplexing health and health care problems—everything from getting seniors to walk more to forgoing low-value health care.
At a recent meeting in Philadelphia we challenged grantees to compete in an Innovation Tournament. The goal was to identify testable ideas that leverage behavioral economic principles to help make people healthier by working with commercial entities. Participants were assigned to groups and made their best pitches to their colleagues. And of course we used a behavioral economics principle (financial incentives) to increase participation: Each member of the first, second and third place teams received Amazon gift cards.
Eight teams made the finals:
1. Love Lock: This team addressed the issue of driving and texting by proposing an app that could be installed on your cell phone that would send reminders not to text while driving. This team would work with car insurance and mobile phone carrier companies and provide discounts to those who get it installed. The behavioral economics principles being tested are default choice and opt-out.
2. McQuick & Fit: Too many people eat unhealthy food. This team’s idea was to have a rewards card that can only be used to purchase healthy food. With each purchase, the customer would earn points toward free, healthy foods. Online orders would be placed through a website that would feature salient labeling and allow for defaults to order healthy meals. The behavioral economics principles at play include pre-commitment, default choice, labeling, and incentives.
3. Just Bring Me Water: The problem tackled by this team is “regrettable” calories—mindlessly consuming whatever is put in front of you, such as free bread at a restaurant, or soda on a plane. The innovation: when booking a table online or calling for a reservation, you could ask to “opt-out” of the complimentary bread or chips that are offered. This would reduce the consumption of regrettable calories.
4. Lunch Club: This group looked at addressing gluttony through a partnership with a chain restaurant. When going out for a meal, portions are typically bigger and diners consume more. But what if you had the option of doggy-bagging one third of the meal for another meal—framed as “buy dinner and get lunch free”? And, if you took this option, you would get a scratch off as an enhanced incentive and immediate reward. The behavioral economic principles being tested here include loss aversion, active choice, and incentives.
5. Snooze, But Don’t Lose: People don’t get enough good sleep, which leads to poor executive functioning and safety issues. To increase safety, productivity, and efficiency, this group proposed using a Fitbit to build in reminders to go to bed earlier and provide feedback on good sleep. The behavioral economic principles at play are pre-commitment and loss aversion.
Continue reading “Eight Bright New Ideas From Behavioral Economists That Could Help You Get Healthy.”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: behavioral economics, Deborah Bae, Incentives, RWJF Pioneer, Wellness
Dec 4, 2013