Alternative Quality Contract

After a seemingly endless presidential campaign, we’re just days away from the Nov. 6 election. And to be sure, health care issues remain at the forefront.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tried to claim the high ground as Medicare’s number one defender. In his latest column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman argues that next week’s vote “is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid.” And writing on Bloomberg View, columnist Ezra Klein takes an even broader stance, concluding that “this election is all about health care.”

But health care isn’t all about the election, despite politics’ seeming ability to draw every sector into its gravitational pull.

In fact, many of the most significant stories in health care from the past two months haven’t come from the campaign trail — where candidates have mostly rehashed their existing policies — but from the private sector, as employers and providers have made aggressive, and sometimes unexpected, deals and changes. Reforms that will continue regardless of who’s sitting in the Oval Office next year.

Here are some of those stories.

Top Employers Move to Defined Contribution

As previously discussed in “Road to Reform,” Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants have made plans to shift away from their current “defined benefits” — where they choose a set of health insurance benefits on behalf of their workers — and roll out “defined contribution” instead.

Under that model, firms pay a fixed amount for employees’ health benefits and allow workers to choose their coverage from an online marketplace, such as the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or the emerging number of privately run exchanges.

In theory, the model would slow employers’ health costs while allowing employees to have more control over their own health care spending. And Sears and Darden’s announcements aren’t wholly unexpected, given that many employers have signaled their interest in making a similar shift.

But given the long-entrenched employer-sponsored health coverage model, some employers needed to be the first movers before the rest would be ready to follow.

Will they? That will be a major industry issue to watch across the next months.

Continue reading “How Health Care Changed While You Were Watching the Election”

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The big health care story in Washington, D.C this week comes down to three letters: CBO. The Congressional Budget Office released its latest projections about the Affordable Care Act’s cost and coverage, concluding that the Supreme Court’s changes to the ACA will lead to some states to opt out of its Medicaid reform. As a result, the ACA’s cost would fall by $84 billion over 11 years but lead to about three million fewer people receiving health insurance.

The CBO numbers are incredibly important in one sense: They reframe the debate over the ACA yet again. As I noted last week, more than two-thirds of states are waffling on whether to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion, and the new CBO numbers will offer new targets for supporters and opponents of ObamaCare to make their case.

But the CBO score is also more of a political story than policy news. And as both parties continue to haggle over the ACA’s price and impact, keep in mind that the CBO’s projections about health law costs are often wrong.

So rather than focus on estimates of future reforms, we’ll focus on results from a current one: the Alternative Quality Contract. It’s an important payment pilot developed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts — and a key forerunner of the ACA’s accountable care organizations.

AQC Offers Template for ACO

Under the AQC, which Blue Cross launched in January 2009, a hospital or physician group negotiates a budget — or global payment — that covers the cost of care for all patients in their practice. If participating providers stay under budget, they receive bonuses; if they overspend, they pay the difference.

Continue reading “To Gauge ObamaCare Impact, Ignore CBO and Focus on AQC”

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Editor-At-Large, Wellness

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Contributing Editor

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Contributing Editor

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