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The Policymaker’s Guide to Options For Replacing the Cadillac Tax

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As policymakers debate repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), disagreement remains over how to address the ACA’s “Cadillac tax.” Rather than repealing the 40 percent tax on high-cost insurance plans outright, many advocates of “repeal and replace” have proposed replacing it with a limit on the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI). Doing so would be a wise choice, and limiting the ESI exclusion would both generate significant revenue to pay for an ACA replacement and help to limit the overall growth of health care spending. In this piece, we discuss some of the options available for replacement. 

Vulnerable Patients and Right to Try. Doing More Harm Than Good

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The McFadyens in 2010. Gabriel, Ellen, Andrew and Issac, aged 6.

In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, legislators have introduced “Right to Try” bills, which purport to give terminally ill patients access to experimental medications prior to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Vice President Pence recently met with Right to Try advocates, expressing support for the movement in a tweet. Forbes has published perspectives from both sides on the issue: first, a Right to Try proponent, Nathan Nascimento, defended the legislation, while medical ethicist Arthur Caplan’s response illustrated why Right to Try is – at its core – bad policy. A key voice missing from this dialogue, and the one needed most, is that of the patient.

A Million Jobs in Healthcare’s Future

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“The Future is Here. It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed.”

It’s true.

Science fiction writer William Gibson said that right. We simply have to look around enough – now – to find out what the future holds.

The future may never be evenly distributed. But it’s surely becoming the present faster.

What would you do when…

Here are a series of what-would-you-do-when questions to think about. Each of these are a reality today, somewhere.

There’s more medical data than insight

Kaiser Permanente presently manages 30 petabytes of data. Images. Lab tests. EHRs. Patient data. Billing. Registries. Clinical trials. Sooner than later, most medical devices (big and small) will become smart. They will have an IP address like a Fitbit and send data over the cloud.

What would happen when medical data expands to exabytes, zettabytes, and may be even a yottabyte (10^24)?

What it means for jobs: Expect a boom in data-related opportunities. Data scientists. Visualization gurus. Statisticians. Mathematicians who can build predictive models. Anyone who can spot wisdom from information.

Genetic programming becomes the new software gig

People interested in programming are well-suited to become biologists of tomorrow because ATGC (the genomic alphabet) can now be tinkered digitally using tools like CRISPR.

[Read: A programming language for living cells]

If you are a developer, you could join a bio hackerspace or create your own. Explore how programming can make foul-smelling E.coli develop the fragrance of bananas.

The Definitive Guide to Repealing & Replacing Obamacare

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“So how about it, Nash? You scared?”

“Terrified… mortified… petrified… stupefied… by you.” (–A Beautiful Mind)

Fear is now a sign that you are an intelligent, educated, open-minded and caring person. Being scared is incontestable proof that you have a beautiful heart. When it comes to your health, there is palpable terror that soon, very soon, the bad guys will take away Obamacare, which was the source of health care and life itself for many.

Obamacare is Now Officially the Status Quo

Obamacare went into effect only three years ago, but in the age of information technology, years are like decades. Obamacare  is deeply and solidly entrenched in the health care landscape. There is zero chance that anybody will be able to dig up its rhizomic growth into the actual practice of medicine, so let’s play along and see what can be done about the large shiny part, visible to the naked eye, namely health insurance.

Population Health Isn’t Working Out Quite the Way They Said It Would. What’s Going On?

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I hate shots.  Every year when flu season rolls around, I think, “what’s in it for me?” The answer is, “it isn’t for me. It’s for the herd.” I am young and healthy enough that I am unlikely to die of the flu but I have children, older people and vulnerable patients I care about it, so I get a flu shot every year.

This is true population health. I get a flu shot for the benefit of others. Population health has been extended to a much larger set of activities that have no communal benefit. One patient with diabetes doesn’t benefit from another getting a foot exam. (Mammograms, colonoscopies, no communal benefit. STD screening, on the other hand, fits in the category of true population health.)

This distinction matters. Here’s why:

  1. People are keenly aware of being told to do things that aren’t for their personal benefit.
  2. People reject recommendations that don’t match their health needs.
  3. People are much more likely to follow recommendations from people they trust.  Points 1 & 2 above undermine trust.

Lively discussion with my fellow panelists at upcoming HIMSS17 panel on consumer engagement highlighted my own misgivings about the absence of the patient’s individuality and voice in population health efforts. We all want better health in the population, but are we going about it in the right way?

Population health puts people into categories by conditions (diabetes, hypertension, depression), age, lab results and medical billing data. These categories presume their own importance. When in fact, psychosocial, behavioral and environmental factors determine individual health far more.  Patient goals, preferences and barriers to care tell us what stands between that patient and better health. Without this data, population health efforts are undermined.

Dashboards Are For 737 Pilots, Not Physicians.

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You’re right, Dr Hatch.  Nobody’s feels like they’re winning.  Last week I was in a room with a group of physicians, and the Chief Medical Officer of an ACO was explaining to them that he could give them all dashboards that they would love.

But the physicians didn’t look like they were dreaming of the same valentines.  “What would we do with a dashboard?”  Said one.  “Is this another Meaningful Use requirement gone bad?” Said another.

The undertone is that “we didn’t sign up for this population health” stuff.  Physicians are intellectually challenged by, and find meaning in the personal conversations and diagnostic puzzles that are well represented in caring for individual people.  We are not intellectually challenged by the need to remind patients to get a colonoscopy, mammogram or flu shot. 

A Reset For Physicians?

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Last week, the nominee to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma testified before the Senate Finance Committee. She conveyed a message akin to that of her new boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a physician and House of Representatives veteran: the federal government has made life miserable for providers adding unnecessary complexity and cost.

She challenged the value of electronic health records especially in small practices and rural settings and likened interoperability to a bridge too far. And she observed that Medicare and Medicaid, that cover 128 million Americans accounting for $1 trillion in federal spending, should play a leading role in fixing the problems it has created.

In their confirmation testimony, both Verma and Price were particularly deferential to the plight of physicians, explicitly associating the profession’s challenges with laws and regulations that frustrate clinicians and compromise patient care.

It’s clear the role physicians will play in the post Affordable Care Act era will be a prominent theme under their leadership.

The Public Health Enemy at the Gate

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President Donald Trump  keeps getting kicked around in court when challenges are brought against his ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump says he wants to halt the flow of people who might be planning attacks. What we cannot forget is that the kind of attack he has in mind is not confined to bombs and shootings. Trump is terrified that immigrants bring diseases with them. If racism fails, public health will likely afford Trump the rationale he seeks for making it difficult for those he does not like to enter our country.

The president is a self-described germaphobe. He has doubts about vaccines. He likely does not wake up every day to thrill at the latest advances in science. This is a president who might possibly let an infectious disease do what he has so far not been able to accomplish by impugning the country or religion of immigrants he doesn’t like: provide the basis for a ban.

The threat of a pandemic is yet another avenue he could possibly embrace to create a Fortress America. He might demand more walls, quarantine stations at airports and one-way tickets home for every potential human vector — including the frail, kids and pregnant women. No one who is sick, might be sick or who can be smeared as the source of Americans getting sick would get in.

Pandemic flu, Zika, yellow fever, West Nile and a host of other maladies are likely to keep popping up over the next four years. The news media are great at stoking fear about all of them. Public officials are ill-prepared to know what to do about any of them.

Don’t Get Too Distracted By the Smoke Coming Out of Washington

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Health care has risen to the top of the national agenda and Washington policymakers are once again debating how to affordably provide coverage and care for Americans. It is a discussion we welcome. But in the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the fundamentals that will ultimately produce greater value for our health care dollars.

At the heart of a high-performing health system is quality outcomes. For consumers to make informed decisions, they’ll need more data—reliable, actionable data. Health plans operating in managed care are accustomed to demonstrating their value and in fact have performed well under such scrutiny.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a national organization dedicated to measuring and improving health quality, has published annual evaluations of every private, Medicare and Medicaid health plan in the country for more than a decade.

A Measure of Insight on MACRA

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Featured Presentation: http://bit.ly/2lhvpjM

A 2016 study by Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College and the Medical Group Management Association found that physicians and their staff spend between 6 and 12 hours per week processing and reporting quality metrics to the government – at a cost of $15.4 billion a year.

As a recent Health Catalyst MACRA survey confirms, that burden is expected to significantly worsen in 2017 and beyond as physicians struggle to report quality metrics for the Medicare Access & CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) – the federal law that changes the way Medicare pays doctors. Commercial health insurers are expected to follow the government’s lead with similar programs of their own. In complex organizations, successfully achieving performance targets and submitting accurately for MACRA incentives will require integrating multiple measures across financial, regulatory and quality departments.