OP-ED

OP-ED

Pharma and Volume-to-Value: The Big Throwdown

0

Joe FlowerThe collision between the “volume-to-value” movement and the pharmaceutical and biotech industries over the next few years will have a powerful impact on them and on the healthcare industry and on us as customers, patients, and payers. 

On the one hand, pharma is perhaps the part of the healthcare industry least exposed to direct price regulation under the Obama reforms. The actual costs of pharmaceuticals have been rising as a percentage of what people spend on healthcare, and are seen as the part they have the least influence on. At the same time, many new drugs for cancer and other life-threatening diseases have come with astonishingly high price tags, often not fully covered by insurance (due to the high deductibles and co-pays of the new plans), and with few ways for regulators or the market to push back on them. The public perceives these huge price tags as threatening people with a Hobson’s choice of bankruptcy or death. In the volatile political atmosphere of the 2016 elections, this leaves the pharmaceutical industry highly exposed to political attack and actual new price regulation.

On the other hand, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries also potentially offer some of the best answers to bringing the cost of healthcare down through the use of personalized medicines, smart medicines, new methods of administration such as implants, as well as the possibilities glimmering at us from recent research of real breakthroughs in such important chronic disease areas as Alzheimers, diabetes, addiction, behavioral medicine, and functional medicine. For the most part, though, these answers remain potential. We will not see them adding to the “value” side of the equation until they become fully integrated into a system that is at risk for the health of its customers and using every trick in the handbook to bring those costs in line.

ONC Report on Health Information Blocking: A Solid Double, But NOT a Home Run

3

flying cadeuciiLast Friday ONC (the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT) released a long-awaited Report On Health Information Blocking. The ONC blog capsulizes the report:

Health information blocking occurs when persons or entities knowingly and unreasonably interfere with the exchange or use of electronic health information. Our report examines the known extent of information blocking, provides criteria for identifying and distinguishing it from other barriers to interoperability, and describes steps the federal government and the private sector can take to deter this conduct.

We were struck with two major reactions to the ONC Info Blocking Report:

  • It’s a solid double: it does a credible job of recognizing that the major problems of interoperability and blocking are not technical or due to a lack of standards, but rather due to business practices and business models. The report also proposes a baseline of potential solutions.
  • It’s not a home run: the report misses the opportunity to describe a comprehensive approach to combat information blocking.

The Facebook Model for Socialized Health Care

5

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 5.06.17 PMAs government involvement in U.S. health care deepens—through the Affordable Care Act, Meaningful Use, and the continued revisions and expansions of Medicaid and Medicare—the politically electric watchword is “socialism.”

Online, of course, social media is not a latent communist threat, but rather the most popular destination for internet users around the world.

People, whether out of fear for being left behind, or simply tickled by the ease with which they can publicize their lives, have been sharing every element of their public (and very often, their private) lives with ever-increasing zeal. Pictures, videos, by-the-minute commentary and updates, idle musings, blogs—the means by which people broadcast themselves are as numerous and diverse as sites on the web itself.

Even as the public decries government spying programs and panics at the news of the latest massive data-breach, the daily traffic to sites like Facebook and Twitter—especially through mobile devices—not only stays high, but continues to grow. These sites are designed around users volunteering personal information, from work and education information, to preferences in music, movies, politics, and even romantic partners.

So why not health data?

What Zeke Missed on an Annual Physical

46

flying cadeuciiIn January, Ezekiel Emanuel – one of the country’s foremost health experts – threw a presumptive grenade into the national discourse: the annual physical is worthless. As we watched the initial burst of reactionary fervor following hisNew York Times opinion piece, we weren’t quite sure what to think.

Then we realized why: in our training and burgeoning careers in primary care, neither of us has ever scheduled an “annual physical” for a patient. To us, the notion of such a visit – for scheduled, non-urgent care, and one not specifically for chronic disease management – is already dated. Given current trends in American health care delivery and professional training, we argue it is one that may well soon be obsolete.

But does that obsolescence change the value of that time – whether 15 minutes or 60 – with a patient, on a regular interval? Our perspective from medicine’s emerging front line offers a resounding no.

The most obvious argument for regular primary care visits is preventive care. Dr. Emanuel bases much of his argument on the validity (or lack thereof) of annual physicals. Drawing off that same evidence base, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force sets recommendations for evidence-based screening in various populations. Even the young and healthy benefit from cervical cancer screening, initiated at 21 years of age and continued every three years provided negative results until the age of 30 (when the recommendations change slightly). Patients with higher risk earn further screenings, based on whether they smoke, their weight, their age and their family history.

Climate Change and the Migration of Infectious Disease

3

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 1.13.40 PM

Zika is all over the news. Zika is surely dangerous, but it has its limitations and is likely to be well contained. However, its greater significance extends beyond any current spread. Instead, it exemplifies the crucial emerging trend of a novel infectious agent that has swiftly become a global threat.

The common phrase, ‘this time is different’, is almost always wrong. Yet, our modern circumstances are distinctly unlike any previous era. Humans possess a unique ability for rapid travel and we choose to journey with our favorite pets and plants. This unprecedented degree of mobility extends across every planetary habitat. Further yet, it now occurs during a phase of a rapidly shifting climate. Certainly, species migration or global climate change are not new but it is only in this present moment that these factors can amplify through instantaneous global travel in a singular manner.

In fact, the results of this unusual conjunction are already apparent. For example, Zika’s advance across Europe and to the Americas has been extremely rapid. This is such an extraordinary event that at the beginning of this year, the World Health Organization declared Zika a global emergency in recognition of its rapid spread from continent to continent. Its rising incidence mirrors our prior concerns about the global scope of other recent epidemics such as Ebola or SARS.

How Naïve Can Democrats Get?

41

Beholding David H. Howard’s rendering of the crazy-quilt of financial sources that have been tapped by the designers of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (hereafter ACA ’10) to finance the new entitlements they put in place – a little nuisance tax here, a little nuisance cut in other federal spending there – reminds me once more of the sincere, indeed touching, naiveté with which Democrats tend to go about enacting new entitlements.

It is a totally counterproductive and inelegant approach. To be sure, none of the added taxes or spending cuts in the bill seriously disrupt anyone; but they do spread a little pain all around. Therefore, it seems almost deliberately designed to maximize opposition to it from many quarters.

It also leads to acute embarrassments, such as having to postpone by a year (and perhaps more years) the unseemly penalty imposed on employers with 50 or more employees each working 40 your or more etc etc, even at the appearance of having broken the law – or so we are told.

When will the Democrats ever learn?

And from whom might they learn?

From the Republicans, of course.

Dream back to the good old days – 2003 – when the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress pushed through, with deft parliamentary maneuvering and some arms twisting, H.R. 1 (2003), the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act – hereafter the MMA ’03.

Does Life Expectancy Matter?

88

U.S. life expectancy declined in 2015 for the first time in more than two decades, according to a National Center for Health Statistics study released last week. The decline of 0.1 percent was ever so slight ― life expectancy at birth was 78.8 years in 2015, compared with 78.9 years in 2014.  However, this reversal of a long-time upward trend makes these results significant.

While many researchers are scratching their dumbfounded heads in utter astonishment, I hypothesize the decline in life expectancy is partly due to the decrease in the primary care physician supply.  Studies have shown the ratio of primary care physicians per 10,000 people inversely correlates with overall mortality rate.  It is a well-known and reproducible statistical relationship that holds true throughout the world.  In the U.S., increasing by one primary care physician per 10,000 population, decreases mortality by 5.3%, ultimately avoiding 127,617 deaths per year.

Headlines last week highlighted how much these unexpected results left the researchers baffled.   Jiaquan Xu, a lead author of the study told The Washington Post, “This is unusual, and we don’t know what happened…so many leading causes of death increased.”   Age-adjusted death rates went up by 1.2 percent, from 724.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014 to 733.1 in 2015.  Death rates increased for eight of the ten leading causes of death, including heart disease, chronic respiratory illness, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, renal disease and suicide.  Differences in mortality were most prevalent in poorer communities, where smoking, obesity, unhealthy diets, and lack of exercise are ubiquitous. 

Key Mechanisms That Define Health City Cayman Islands’ Value Innovation

17

Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI), less than three years old and located in the Caribbean just an hour’s flight south from Miami, is a 104-bed hospital outpost of Bangalore, India-headquartered Narayana Health (NH). HCCI has caught the attention of US health care professionals not just as a nearshore health care destination, but for having extremely high quality despite pricing that is a fraction of that in the US, as well as careful attention to the patient’s experience. HCCI is not only a competitor to traditional US health systems, it is potentially a radical disruptor. It’s model is so different that it could significantly change the standards by which health systems are judged.

HCCI’s performance is the culmination of a deep commitment to access, efficiency and excellence. NH’s Founder, Dr. Devi Shetty, began with a mission-driven awareness that health care is an essential need and must be affordable to be accessible. He then spearheaded an enterprise-wide focus on process optimization to deliver the best care possible at the lowest possible price. The results have been remarkable. Fifteen years ago, NH’s bundled costs for open heart surgery in India averaged about $2,000. Now they are about $1,400, or about 1% of average US cost. Interestingly, Dr. Shetty believes that better results are within reach and has set a five year target of $800 for those services.

Health is Life

7

Alex-Drane We’ve all experienced the crushing agony of a heartbreak, or the deep foundational stress of worrying about how you’ll pay all your bills, or the isolating and bleak reality of a mum or dad or loved one whose health is failing in a way you can’t figure out how to stop – or fix. Life is hard. Now – how hard is all relative … but for most of us, our days are consumed on some level with a pretty significant level of worry. Did you overextend when you bought that house? Is so-and-so gunning for your job? Is it wrong that you secretly and deeply resent your partner because you’re sick of them “never doing anything”?

And how about the real worries – will you have food, electricity, heat, clothing, safety…the worries that consume more people than any of us would care to imagine (The Shriver Report has 1 out of 3 women living ‘on the brink’ – in other words, right smack dab in this reality). For fun – let’s try an exercise marriage counselors use for marriages that are in trouble…they have each of you sit down and write on a piece of paper what matters to you, and what you think matters to your partner. Then they compare the two. And what do you think stands out in stark testament to the current state of the relationship? Pretty much zero overlap. You don’t understand what matters to me, and I don’t understand what matters to you.

Let’s extend that analogy to the healthcare space…picture a typical day for many of us in the health communication space, for example. How are we spending our days? Dreaming up new and more imaginative ways to lecture about the importance of getting a colon cancer screening, or eating well, or taking your blood pressure medication, or getting in for your annual Medicare wellness visit, or or or…

And a question for those of us working on this stuff. If you turned all that passion and intensity you bring with you to work, and to the task of telling others how to live in a way that complies with HEDIS this or STAR that or [insert any other traditional health quality metric here]…if you turned that lens on yourself – how are you doing? Do you eat the way you should? How’s your weight? Do you sleep the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night? How are you on your preventive screenings – are you up to date? Did you exercise at all in the last week?

I’d bet the answer to all those questions is “no”.

In Defense of Small Data

4

flying cadeuciiI read with interest a recent editorial that opined on the poor evidence for screening in cancer trials. The evidence was judged poor because apparently no screening trial has demonstrated a clear reduction in all-cause mortality, only disease-specific mortality.  One example discussed in the analysis reviews the data for colon cancer screening and notes that, while there were a statistically significant lower number of deaths related to colon cancer in the screened group, the total mortality in the two groups was no different.  The authors posit that the study is either underpowered for total mortality or that the screened patients may have more deaths due to the ‘downstream effects’ of screening.  The provocative conclusion by many a tweet and retweet is that cancer screening has not been shown to save lives. Apparently the path to progress in medicine now must be paved by studies with millions of patients.  I understand the desire for more and more data, but I see danger in the sanctimonious protestations of those who can only find truth within the confines of a million-person, randomized control trial.  This approach ignores the history of advances in clinical medicine, most of which live far outside of the boundaries of million-strong randomized clinical trials.