Affordable Care Act
I always believed that, if we could harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the American physician, we could be capable of great things. Physician decisions drive much of what is good and bad about our health care system. Their pens are the biggest driver of cost and their vigilance is the most significant driver of quality. It is a shame that physician-owned hospitals are accelerating the creation of a two-tier system by cherry-picking healthy, well-insured patients.
There are overwhelming monetary incentives for physician-owned hospitals to market to the healthiest and wealthiest, who seek a narrow list of procedural interventions. But then those physicians are rewarded with value-based payments for high satisfaction scores and low readmission rates as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
What happens to the rest of the patients—the ones with one if not several chronic conditions and minimal if any insurance?
They find their way to teaching hospitals, which treat a disproportionate number of “dual eligibles” (seniors so poor they need both Medicare and Medicaid support), the disabled, and nonwhite patients. Teaching hospitals can quickly become underfunded and over-stretched, offering opportunities for physician-owned hospitals in the market to deliver better quality, albeit more expensive, health care to those who have the ability to choose. In spite of that, many teaching hospitals deliver excellent service and care.
In a May 14 Wall Street Journal article, Alicia Mundy wrote, “Doctor-owned hospitals are largely privately held, so it’s difficult to know their profit margins, despite the law’s growth restrictions. According to the American Hospital Directory, a private firm that provides data about some 6,000 U.S. hospitals, many physician-owned hospitals have enjoyed 20 to 35 percent profit margins in recent years.”
Continue reading “When Private Hospitals Cherry-Pick, Teaching Hospitals Pay the Price”
Filed Under: Hospitals
Tagged: academic medical centers, Affordable Care Act, doctor-owned hospitals, Joanne Conroy, Quality, Teaching hospitals
May 15, 2013
“Why is Wal-Mart speaking at a health care summit?” the company’s vice president for health and wellness, Marcus Osborne, rhetorically offered up at a conference back in January.
“Wal-Mart’s in retail, we’re not in health care.”
But as analysts, researchers, and other experts who spoke with me. took care to point out, Wal-Mart is in health care, and getting further entrenched by the year. In the past six months alone, Wal-Mart launched a major contracting initiative with half-a-dozen major hospitals, and dropped hints — since retracted — that the company is exploring new services like a health insurance exchange.
Notably, Osborne teased a broader health care strategy for Wal-Mart that would include “full primary care services over the next five to seven years,” in a Q&A at that January conference captured by the Orlando Business Journal.
Wal-Mart has since denied Osborne’s comments — the second time in about 18 months that the company has had to walk back stories about its planned primary care services — and Osborne subsequently stopped talking to the press. (Wal-Mart declined to comment, and Osborne did not respond to an interview request for this story.)
But Osborne’s remarks from that January conference, and his other archived speeches, are still readily accessible. And they paint a vivid picture of a company that’s not just a potential market-mover and disruptive innovator, but an organization that could do a lot to positively reform health care.
Background: Wal-Mart’s Growing Role in U.S. Health Care System
In many ways, this isn’t a new story. Back in 2007, Princeton University’s Uwe Reinhardt suggested to NPR that Wal-Mart could be “taking aim at the entire health care system” by expanding its new discount drug program.
“I think it’s a really fascinating way to come out of the corner and really slug the system,” Reinhardt said at the time. “At the moment, the body blows don’t hurt. But they add up. I’m watching this with great fascination, and expect more from them.”
And in subsequent years, Wal-Mart did grow its health care footprint, from launching retail clinics based within its stores to advocating for national health reform. Considering its history — as recently as 2005, Wal-Mart had little involvement in the health care market and was being pilloried for skimping on its own employees’ benefits — it’s been a significant turnaround for the firm, and has positioned Wal-Mart as one of the leading disruptive innovators in health care. Continue reading “Wal-Mart Could Transform Care–But Does It Want To?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Access, Affordable Care Act, Dan Diamond, Quality, Retail Clinics, Walmart
May 15, 2013
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) recently released a study that showed that 42% of Americans are unaware that Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) remains the “law of the land.” News like this seems to us, to act as a Rorschach test on how observers feel about the law. Considering 50% of Americans can’t identify New York on a map we tend not to read too much into these polls. However, according to the logic of extrapolation, since we know that the ACA remains law, we are in the elite 58% (it’s about time we made it into the elite of something).
In almost parallel to the KFF news, the New England Journal of Medicine published a follow-up study of the “Oregon experiment.” For those who haven’t been following closely, the study found that previously uninsured people who were enrolled in Medicaid did not see an improvement in clinical measures when compared to those who remained uninsured. The study did seem to show a reduction in the amount of financial distress for the insured however.
Another contentious study, another Rorschach test (example, example). The problem we see with the polarity of views is that both sides seem to be cranking up the extrapolation machine and use single studies/data points to draw broad conclusions to gin up opinions about ACA’s success or lack thereof. In light of the fact that for most practical matters ACA doesn’t really get going until 2014, use of the extrapolation noise generator approach smacks of a lack of analytical rigor in our view. We will know soon enough how the program is doing… exchanges start enrolling on 10/1.
As investors, we should state upfront that we tend to give more weight to financial returns than what the philosopher-kings might call the political context. So what caught our eye in the Oregon study was that Medicaid recipients had higher healthcare utilization rates (and associated costs) than the uninsured. The connection between gaining insured status and healthcare utilization should not come as a surprise since there is a very extensive literature elucidating this connection.
Continue reading “Into the Extrapolation Machine”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Kaiser Family Foundation, Les Funtleyder, NEJM, Oregon Medicaid Experiment
May 12, 2013
The recent Medicare report on variation in hospital “prices” is not exactly news. In fact, I wonder why anyone (including the NY Times and NPR) covered it, let alone make it a lead story.
As you probably know, Medicare reported that hospital charges for specific treatments, such as joint replacement surgery, greatly vary from one hospital to another. (This includes charges for all services during the hospitalization, including room charges, drugs, tests, therapy visits, etc.) Everyone in the healthcare business knows that charges do not equal the actual prices paid to hospitals, no more than automobile sticker prices equal the prices that car buyers actually pay. Except that for the past thirty years, the gap for hospitals greatly exceeds (in percentage terms) the gap for cars. This is not just a nonstory, it is an old nonstory.
So reporters tried to give it a new spin. One angle concerns the uninsured, who may have to pay full charges. I will write about this in a future blog. Another angle is that by publishing these charges, Medicare will encourage patients to shop around. That is the subject of this blog.
I suppose it is okay to tell patients that the amount they might have to pay out of their own pockets may vary from one hospital to the next. But the published charge data is useless for computing out of pocket payments; in fact, it may be worse than useless. As even the NY Times noted, insured patients make copayments based on prices that their insurers negotiate with hospitals. These prices are essentially uncorrelated with charges. So a patient who visits a hospital with low charges may well make higher out-of-pocket payments than a patient who visits a high charge hospital. It is a crap shoot.
Continue reading “The Rest of the Story About Hospital Pricing”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, bitter pill, CMS, Costs, David Dranove, Hospitals, Pharma, Price controls, Transparency
May 9, 2013
It was bound to happen.
By “it,” I mean that the small group of speciality hospitals (usually orthopedic or cardiology-focused) across that country that are owned by doctors were going to have their “See! We Told ‘ya so!” moment.
Doctor-owned hospitals: How many are there? Two hundred and thirty-eight of them in the whole country (out of more than five thousand)–somewhere between four and five percent of the total in the U.S. (numbers courtesy TA Henry from this excellent piece).
What are the issues?
- ObamaCare effectively bans doctors from owning hospitals in the U.S.
- Those already in existence are grandfathered in under the law.
- We know that doctor-owned hospitals have higher average costs–hence the rationale for banning them under a law with the intent of “bending the cost curve.”
Cue the iron-o-meter:
In the most recent Medicare data (December 2012 report on “value-based purchasing“), doctor-owned hospitals did well in terms of achieving quality milestones.
Really well. Physician-owned hospitals took nine out of the top ten spots in the country. And in spite of their low relative number, forty-eight out of the top one hundred.
Continue reading “Doctors and the Means of Production”
Filed Under: Hospitals, Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, doctor-owned hospitals, Hospitals, John Schumann, Physicians, the business of healthcare
May 7, 2013
The most important study in American health policy in decades, the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, published two-year results Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you’re reading up on the topic, get ready for bombastic claims and scorching heat as opposed to illuminating light. The quick read leads to an easy Drudge headline – “MEDICAID DOESN’T MAKE PEOPLE HEALTHIER: OBAMACARE WILL FAIL!” – but a fuller reading of the evidence provides a more optimistic, and honest, take.
In 2008, Oregon had 90,000 individuals who wanted to enroll in its Medicaid program, but the funding to enroll only a fraction. So it decided to use the opportunity to create an unparalleled experiment: the first Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) – the gold standard research methodology that is able to isolate the causal effect of an intervention – in Medicaid history. It endeavored to show nothing less than the actual, causal effect that Medicaid has on its population, a first in the field.
This study, in other words, is a big, big deal.
Two years of data are in, and the results are mixed. First up, the disappointing: Medicaid coverage.
Continue reading “Evidence That Health Does Not Equal Healthcare? Early Results From the Oregon Experiment Are In”
Filed Under: OP-ED
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Costs, Mike Miesen, NEJM study, Obamacare, Oregon Medicaid Experiment, Outcomes, prevention
May 2, 2013
The war over the Affordable Care Act may be over, but one battle shows no signs of waning.
The fight over Section 2713 of the Public Health Services Act under ACA’s Section 101 — better known as the health law’s regulation on preventive services — centers on contraception.
The benefit essentially calls for health plans to cover birth control and other services with no additional cost-sharing for enrollees.
But critics quickly seized on the administration’s initial proposal in 2011, which carved out an exception for “religious employers” — such as churches — but not for “religiously affiliated” employers — such as Catholic hospitals. As a result, HHS delayed implementation for religiously affiliated employers by a year but still required them to comply with the mandate.
In February, the White House released another accommodation for religiously affiliated employers. Yet rather than lay the issue to rest, the administration’s proposed amendments drew more than 400,000 comments — the most comments on any government regulation tracked by the Sunlight Foundation.
It’s just the latest salvo in an ongoing controversy. Opponents have filed more than 60 legal challenges against the benefit. Some have called it a “war on religion.”
While the sheer volume is astounding, there’s little mystery behind the root cause.
The contraception benefit touches on a half-dozen pressure points: Politics. Religion. Sex. Federal mandates. Federal entitlements.
“Our health care system is the dumping ground for all of our worst, unresolved arguments as a society,” J.D. Kleinke writes at The Health Care Blog. And the changes at the heart of Obamacare “spark every remaining culture war,” he adds.
And a mandate related to birth control is especially fraught.
Continue reading “Obamacare’s Birth Control Mandate: The Most Controversial Legislation Ever?”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Birth Control mandate, Contraception, Dan Diamond, prevention, Public Health Services Act
May 2, 2013
An uninsured Seattle man has put out an ad offering to trade his 2006 Mustang GT for brain surgery. He provides an image from a MRI of his brain even. The poster doesn’t describe what symptoms he attributes to his arachnoid cyst but the relationship between arachnoid cysts and late symptoms is often difficult to establish.
Arachnoid cysts have been associated with headaches, nausea, seizures, vertigo and even in anecdotal cases with psychiatric symptoms or the onset of dementia. But the relationship is often hard to establish. Up to a third of people with chronic headaches have some sort of abnormality on there MRI, including arachnoid cysts. Relating the findings and the symptoms is often difficult; sometimes you have a finding on an MRI or a CT scan but it is a red herring as far as the symptoms are concerned.
Arachnoid cysts are collections of cerebrospinal fluid trapped between the brain and spinal cord and the arachnoid membrane. They’re primarily a congenital entity but can be associated with trauma, infection or be iatrogenic following surgery. The vast majority of cysts are discovered incidentally and associated with no major symptoms. While even asymptomatic cysts can progress to cause symptoms and they can be associated with post traumatic, or even spontaneous, hemorrhage the risk of such is low enough that in small asymptomatic cysts it is often more than reasonable to do nothing.
I’m a little bit dubious of the poster as he relates that he’s been thinking of trying to get to the cyst himself. However, if it’s an honest post I think the poster really needs to sit down with a neurosurgeon in consultation and go over the above in detail and discuss the best course of action.
I suppose health insurance is coming in 2014.
Colin Son, MD is a neurosurgical resident in Texas. He blogs regularly at Residency Notes, where this post originally appeared.
Filed Under: THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Brain Injury, Colin Son, Costs, Craigslist, Reform
May 1, 2013
Every week, I get an email from the Maryland Health Connection––the state run health insurance exchange.
Maryland is one of a minority of states that are building their own Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) exchange.
You can go to their site and sign up for these weekly updates.
Let me suggest that Maryland is an example of what an on-track and well organized effort looks like for any exchange hoping to be ready to enroll people on October 1––and ensure that they will be covered should they walk into a doctor’s office on January 1, 2014.
Maryland is simply ticking through all of the key milestones they must meet. The latest release reviewed its efforts to launch the connector program (those who will assist people in signing up), the status of the carrier filings (Maryland Blue Cross has filed for an average increase of 25% for individual coverage warning young people could pay as much as 150% more), the timelines for carrier submissions of coverage packages, and they outlined their third party administration program to be able to launch the small business choice (SHOP) option––unlike the federal exchange Maryland will have the SHOP option.
Continue reading “A Health Insurance Exchange That Won’t Be a “Train Wreck””
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Insurance Exchanges, Maryland, Robert Laszewski, The States
May 1, 2013
The exponential growth in wellness programs indicates that Corporate America believes that medicalizing the workplace, through paying employees to participate in health risk assessments (“HRAs”) and biometric screens, will reduce healthcare spending.
It won’t. As shown in my book Why Nobody Believes the Numbers and subsequent analyses, the publicly reported outcomes data of these programs are made up—often to a laughable degree, starting with the fictional Safeway wellness success story that inspired the original Affordable Care Act wellness emphasis. None of this should be a surprise: in addition to HRAs and blood draws, wellness programs urge employees to go to the doctor, even though most preventive care costs more than it saves. So workplace medicalization saves no money – indeed, it probably increases direct costs with these extra doctor visits – but all this medicalization at least should make a company’s workforce healthier.
Except when it doesn’t — and harms employees instead, which happens altogether too often.
Yes, you read that right. While some health risk assessments just nag/remind employees to do the obvious — quit smoking, exercise more, avoid junk food and buckle their seat belts — many other HRAs and screens, from well-known vendors, provide blatantly incorrect advice that can potentially cause serious harm if followed.
Continue reading “Caution: Wellness Programs May Be Hazardous to Your Health”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Al Lewis, Cancer, CDC, corporate wellness, Costs, Employers, Health Risk Appraisal (HRA), NCQA, Obesity, overdiagnosis, prevention, Screening, WebMD, workplace medicalization
Apr 26, 2013