Wednesday, March 28, 2018

OP-ED

OP-ED

Why the Potential CVS Acquisition of Aetna is Brilliant, The Law of Unintended Consequences

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Many people have been surprised by the announcement that CVS is interested in purchasing Aetna.  Why would a PBM want to own a health plan?  There has been speculation that the move by Amazon to get into the pharmacy space may be a reason.  But there is another more rationale reason and its based upon a flaw in the Affordable Care Act.

The flaw is known as the Medical Loss Ratio requirement and it reads like this from the CMS website

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% or 85% of premium dollars on medical care, with the rate review provisions imposing tighter limits on health insurance rate increases. If an issuer fails to meet the applicable MLR standard in any given year, as of 2012, the issuer is required to provide a rebate to its customers.

This requirement was put in place as a way to ensure that health plans did not make money by underutilizing medical care.  But it had the unintended consequence of insuring that costs never went down and here’s why.

Is Obamacare Dead?

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“It’s dead. It’s gone. There’s no such thing as Obamacare anymore. It’s no longer – you shouldn’t even mention.”

— President Donald J. Trump  October 17, 2017

Not so fast, President Great-Again. First off, this is an obviously and flatly false statement. But also, don’t look now but Congress and the Trump administration itself are haltingly and chaotically moving to enact bipartisan legislation to stabilize the ACA exchange marketplaces for 2018 and 2019.

Importantly, passage of such a measure would get the ACA through the 2018 mid-term elections, although it’s unlikely that any legislation will tamp down the long-running and fierce debate about the fate and future of the law.

The primary aim of the bipartisan effort is to get funding for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments on the budget books. The payments, which go to health insurance companies, lower deductibles and co-pays for millions of low-income people.

They are the subject of a long-running legal dispute, which entered a new phase on Oct. 25 when a federal judge in California rejected an urgent appeal by 18 states to compel the Trump administration to continue making the payments as litigation continues. Trump announced earlier this month he would cease reimbursing insurers for the assistance, which insurers are required to deliver.

My 14 Year Old Cancer Patient May Be Addicted to Opioids. What Do I Do?

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I’m a pediatric oncologist, but cancer is not always the most serious problem my young patients face. Currently one of them, a 14-year-old boy, his mother, or both may be opioid addicts. I may be enabling their addiction.

Tragically, their situation is not unique. Adolescent patients are at risk for addiction from opioid pain medications just as adult patients are. But pediatric patients are overlooked in this war against opioid addiction. No policies protect them or those caring for them.

Usually pain is short-term, and only limited opioids are needed. Most providers, including those caring for children, are trained in acute pain management. Patients and providers are also protected by policies limiting the prescribed amount of opioids for acute pain.

Do Doctors Deserve Mercy?

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This past week a video went viral when a woman complained about the lengthy wait time at a clinic.  On video, we see the physician asks if the patient still wants to be seen.  The patient declines to be seen, yet complains patients should be informed they will not be seen in a timely manner.  The frustrated physician replies, “Then fine…Get the hell out. Get your money and get the hell out.”  While we do not witness events leading up to the argument between doctor and patient, we do know staff at the front desk called the police due to threats made by the patient to others. 

Based on the statement released by Peter Gallogly, MD, he is a humble, thoughtful, and compassionate physician who was very concerned for the safety of his staff, which he considers “family.”  Physicians like Dr. Gallogly do their best to serve patients, ease their suffering, and avoid losing ourselves to burnout at the same time. Every human being deserves our compassion, kindness, and clemency.  Patients and physicians must accommodate each other when possible.

Do physicians actually deserve our mercy when necessary?  Yes, they do.  I should know.  The kindness shown to me by my patients over the past month has been unparalleled, leaving this physician thankful beyond words. 

My father has been a practicing pediatrician in our community for 47 years.  As I type these words, he is dying in a hospital bed.  We have worked side by side for the last 16 years.  It is difficult to make it through the day, desperately hoping to hear his voice one last time in the clinic hallway.  He was carrying a full patient load before an unexpected cardiac arrest ended his career.  The patient load doubled overnight; it is a burden I am carrying alone.

Could OpenNotes Transform the Analytics Marketplace?

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Could OpenNotes help push predictive analytics from paternalism to partnership?

As new payment incentives make it profitable to prevent illness as well as treat it, new technology is offering the tantalizing prospect of accurately targeting pre-emptive interventions.

At the recent Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference, for example, companies like Cardinal Analytx Solutions and Base Health spoke of using machine learning to find those individuals among a client’s population who haven’t yet been expensively sick, but are likely to be so soon. Companies seeking to make that information actionable touted their use of behavioral theory to “optimize patient motivation and engagement” via bots, texting and other technological tools.

Being able to stave off a significant amount of sickness would constitute extraordinary medical progress. Along the way, however, there’s a danger that an allegiance to algorithms will reinforce a paternalism we’ve only recently begun to shed. A thin line can separate engagement from enforcement, motivation from manipulation, and, sometimes, “This is for your own good” from “This is for my bottom line.” It is here where OpenNotes could play a critical role.

In a recent article for The BMJ, I proposed a concept called “collaborative health” to describe a shifting constellation of relationships for maintaining wellbeing and for sickness care. Shaped by each individual’s life circumstances, these will sometimes involve the traditional care system, as “patient-centered care” does, but not always.

EHR-Driven Medical Error: The Unknown and the Unknowable

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Politico’s Arthur Allen has written a useful report on recent findings about EHR-related errors. We must keep in mind, however, that almost all EHR-related errors are unknown, and often unknowable. Why?

  1. The most common errors involved with EHRs are medication prescribing errors. But we seldom find those errors because those type of errors seldom manifest themselves because so many hospitalized patients are old and sick, have several co-morbidities and are taking many other medications. Key organs, like the liver, kidney and heart, are compromised. Bad things can happen to these patients even when we do everything right; conversely, good things can happen even when we do much wrong. We usually miss the results of, say, a wrongly prescribed medication. (Note: these types of ‘missed’ medication errors contrast to leaving a pair of hemostats in the gut or to wrong-site surgery—where most errors soon become obvious).
  2. As the experts referenced (Dr. Bob Wachter, Dean Sittig and Hardeep Singh) noted, very, very few cases make it to litigation, further reducing the numbers examined in the study discussed.
  3. Perhaps worse, few clinicians want to report problems even if they know about them. This is a litigious society and few medical professionals want to spend time in court. Also, as the authors Allen interviewed (all of them my friends and respected colleagues): some of the errors that were known did not result in harm and many were caught by others or by the professional involved in the error before they harmed.

Six Assertions on Knowing the Unknowable Future of Healthcare

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Some things never change. Joe Flower is one of those things. Pay attention. Joe was the keynote speaker at Health 2.0 Silicon Valley earlier this month. We’re excited to feature the text of his remarks as a post on the blog today.  If you have questions for Joe, you can leave them the comment section. You’ll find a link to a complimentary copy of his report Healthcare 2027: at the end of this post. You should absolutely download and read it. And take notes.

The future. The Future of healthcare. 
Here are the seven words at the core. If you take nothing else away from this, take these:

Everything changes.
Everything is connected.
Pay attention.

— Jane Hirshfield 

We are gathered here on holy ground, in Silicon Valley, the home of the startup, the temple of everything new, of the Brave New World.

And healthcare? Healthcare is changing — consolidation, new technologies, political chaos, a vast and growing IT overburden, shifting rules, ever-rising costs, new solutions, business model experiments.

So when I say, “The Future of Healthcare,”
what are the pictures in your head? Catastrophic system failure? The dawn of a bright new day of better, stronger, cheaper healthcare for everyone, led by tech? Do we have all the confidence of a little girl screaming down a slide? Do we just say in denial about the future and end up in a kind of chaotic muddling along?

Sorry. Health Care Reform Can’t Wait for Quality Measures to Be Perfect

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There’s a debate in the United States about whether the current measures of health care quality are adequate to support the movement away from fee-for-service toward value-based payment. Some providers advocate slowing or even halting payment reform efforts because they don’t believe that quality can be adequately measured to determine fair payment. Employers and other purchasers, however, strongly support the currently available quality measures used in payment reform efforts to reward higher-performing providers. So far, the Trump administration has not weighed in.

The four of us, leaders of organizations that represent large employers and other purchasers of health care, reject any delay in payment reform efforts for the following three reasons:

Even imperfect measurement and transparency accelerate quality improvement. One set of measures often questioned is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and others in value-based payment programs. These indicators measure surgical complications and errors in hospitals, which is critical given that one in four hospital admissions is estimated to result in an adverse event.

PSIs remain among the most evidence-based, well-tested, and validated quality measures available. CMS uses many in its value-based purchasing programs. Use and reporting of PSIs through AHRQ’s Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System has measurably improved quality. For instance, CMS reported a reduction in inpatient venous thromboembolisms (VTEs) from 28,000 in 2010 to 16,000 in 2014, meaning that 12,000 fewer patients had potentially fatal blood clots in 2014.

In addition to using quality measures in payment programs and for quality improvement, making measures public is key to accelerating change. “If transparency were a medication, it would be a blockbuster,” concluded a multi-stakeholder roundtable convened by the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute in 2015. The foundation’s report cited the Leapfrog Group’s first-ever reporting of early elective delivery rates by hospitals in 2010, which galvanized a cascade of efforts to curtail the problem and thus reduce maternal harms and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions. This was effective: The national mean of early elective deliveries declined from a rate of 17% to 2.8% in only five years.

I’m 35 Years Old And I’m Realizing My Life May Be About to End. And I’m Panicking, Just a Little.

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It’s been a while since I put a piece of writing in the public domain, but suddenly I have a lot to get off my chest, well my colon actually.

Just three weeks ago life was good. Correction. It was awesome. The newest edition to our family had arrived on Christmas Eve, joining his two sisters aged 5 and 3. A month later we were on a plane home to Sydney, having spent four great years working for Google in California. My beautiful wife had been working at a startup on NASA’s Moffett campus and was worried about finding something equally interesting in Australia, but she managed to land a very similar gig with an innovative logistics start-up in Sydney. We’d come back primarily to be closer to family, but also to pursue a dream of setting up a family farm in partnership with my parents — intended as a great place to bring up our three kids but also as a new sideline income stream. We’d spent every weekend scouring Sydney for areas that met our criteria (good schools, commutable, cost of land etc) and we were settling on Kurrajong in Sydney’s west. I was just getting into a training routine for the CitytoSurf run having done the Monteray Bay half marathon a few months prior.

I’m 35 years old.

On July 19th I went for what I thought would be a routine GP visit. In my mind it was primarily to re-establish a GP relationship in case my kids needed an urgent care visit (the practice is literally around the corner from our place). I’d also noticed a bit of unusual bleeding from, well, my back passage and very recently a change in bowel habit. I wasn’t alarmed by either of these symptoms but my GP was concerned enough to refer me for a colonoscopy. So began the roller coaster.

Why Competition In the Politics Industry Is Failing America

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Year after year, Congress fails to reach consensus on important issues, the electorate screams for change, and voters become more polarized along party lines and ideology. These struggles aren’t causes of America’s political malaise, says Michael E. Porter, co-chair of the U.S. Competitiveness Project at Harvard Business School; they’re symptoms of a much larger problem. U.S. “democracy” is a weak, uncompetitive industry controlled by a duopoly that pursues private interests at the expense of public good.

“To fix our political system, we must see politics as the major industry it has become, the major economic benefits it provides for its participants, and how today’s political competition is not serving the public interest,” as Porter explains in “Why Competition in the Politics Industry Is Failing America,” a just-released groundbreaking study co-authored with business leader and former CEO Katherine M. Gehl.

Experts in the benefits and drawbacks of competition in the private sector, Porter and Gehl describe the four fundamentals of a healthy political system:

  1. Practical and effective solutions to solve our nation’s important problems and expand opportunity
  2. Legislative action to advance those solutions
  3. A reasonably broad-based public consensus on policy
  4. Respect for the Constitution and the rights of all citizens

Measured by these success factors alone, America’s system has already failed. But Porter and Gehl are adamant in their belief that we can recover our former sense of bipartisanship and dynamism.

Read Porter’s and Gehl’s paper to learn more about their poignant perspective on our nation’s most urgent problems and how business, strategy and competition can help solve them.

Danny Stern is Managing Director of the Stern Strategy Group