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
The dreaded sequester cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 went into effect this month, putting into place a 2 percent cut in Medicare spending.
While Congress can still enact a “fix” that will delay or amend these cuts, that seems unlikely as of this writing. Yet how the cuts will impact Medicare and its nearly 50 million beneficiaries is a still a moving target.
In a joint study issued September 2012 by the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, it was estimated that some 766,000 jobs would be lost by 2021 if the sequester cuts went into effect.
According to the study, “Researchers forecast that more than 496,000 jobs will be lost during the first year of sequestration, and these cuts will impact health-care sectors in every state. In California alone, the health sector could lose more than 78,000 jobs by 2021.”
Continue reading “So Who Gets Hurt By the Sequester?”
Filed Under: OP-ED
Tagged: Budget Control Act of 2011, CMS, federal budget deficit, health care jobs, John Wasik, Medicare, Medicare spending, Seniors, sequestration
Apr 12, 2013
We’re all aware of the past criticisms of “disease management.” According to the critics, these for-profit vendors were in collusion with commercial insurers, relying robo-calls to blanket unsuspecting patients with dubious advice. Their claims of “outcomes” were based on flawed research that was never intended to be science; it was really intended to market their wares.
But suppose this correspondent alerted you to:
1. A company that had developed a patient registry to identify at-risk patients who had not received an evidence-based care recommendation? Software created mailings to those patients that not only informed them of the recommendation but offered them a toll-free number to call if there were questions. Patients who remained non-compliant were then called by coordinators, who made three attempts to contact the patient and assist in any scheduling needs. If necessary, a nurse was available to telephonically engage patients and develop alternative care options.
If you think that sounds like typical vendor-driven telephonic disease management, you’d be right. You’d also be describing an approach to care that was studied by Group Health Cooperative using their electronic record, medical assistants and nurses. When it was applied to colon cancer screening, a randomized study revealed each additional level of support progressively resulted in statistically significant screening rates.
Continue reading “Why Disease Management Won’t Be Going Away Any Time Soon”
Filed Under: The Business of Health Care
Tagged: CMS, Commonwealth Fund, Disease Management, Group Health, Insurers, Jaan Sidorov, Outcomes, Patients, PCMH, prevention, vendor-driven disease management, Vendors
Apr 2, 2013
Last April, the ABIM Foundation, with Consumer Reports and other partners, drew national attention to overuse of ineffective and harmful practices across the health care system with their Choosing Wisely campaign. As part of the campaign, professional medical societies identified practices within their own specialties that patients should avoid or question carefully. Today, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) have joined the campaign, drawing national attention to the overuse and misuse of induction of labor. ACOG and AAFP are telling women and their maternity care providers:
1. Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor or cesarean deliveries before 39 weeks 0 days gestational age.
2. Don’t schedule elective, non-medically indicated inductions of labor between 39 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 0 days unless the cervix is deemed favorable.
(“Favorable” means the cervix is already thinned out and beginning to dilate, and the baby is settling into the pelvis. Another word for this is “ripe,” and doctors and midwives use a tool called the Bishop Score to give an objective measurement of ripeness. Although ACOG and AAFP do not define “favorable,” studies show cesarean risk is elevated with a Bishop Score of 8 or lower in a woman having her first birth and 6 or lower in women who have already given birth vaginally.)
Much work has already been done to spread the first message. Although ACOG has long advised against early elective deliveries, the practice has persisted. But a confluence of recent reforms has made it increasingly difficult for providers to perform elective deliveries before 39 weeks. Quality collaboratives have supported hospitals to implement “hard stops” that prevent these deliveries. Payers have used carrots and sticks to disincentivize them. CMS has funded a national public awareness campaign to reduce consumer demand.
Continue reading “Delivering Progress. Choosing Wisely.”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: AAFP, ABIM Foundation, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, c-section, Choosing Wisely Campaign, CMS, Consumer Reports, The Leapfrog Group
Feb 22, 2013
Should we hold hospitals accountable for what happens after a patient leaves the hospitals’ doors? A year ago, I thought the answer was no. A hospital’s job was to take care of sick patients, make them better and send them on their way. With more thought and consideration, I have come to conclude that I was probably wrong. It may be perfectly reasonable to hold hospitals accountable for care beyond their walls, but we should be clear why we’re doing it. Readmissions are not a good quality measure – but they may be a very good way to change the notion of accountability within the healthcare delivery system.
The debate around the readmissions measure has come to the forefront because of the CMS Hospital Readmission Reduction Program, which penalizes hospitals for “greater than expected” readmission rates. It has raised the question — does a hospital’s 30-day readmission rate measure the “quality of care” it provides? Over the last three years, the evidence has come in, and to my read, it is unequivocal. By most standards, the readmissions metric fails as a quality measure.
Why do I say that readmissions are a poor measure of hospital quality? First, we have to begin by thinking about what makes a good quality measure. Quality is about the essence of the thing being produced – a good or a service. The job of a car is to get you from place A to place B and a high-quality car may be one that does the job reliably, safely, or maybe even comfortably. The job of a restaurant is to provide a meal that you don’t have to cook — and a high quality restaurant may provide food that is fresh, tasty, or with an attention to service that you enjoy. What is the job of a hospital? When you get sick and require hospital services, a high-quality hospital should give you the right treatments, attend to your needs while you’re there, and make sure nothing bad (i.e. a new nosocomial infection) happens along the way. That’s how we measure hospital quality.
Quality measures for healthcare come in three flavors – structural measures (do you have enough intensivists manning your ICU?), processes measures (did you give the heart attack patient his or her aspirin?) and outcomes measures (did the pneumonia patient die?). The elemental part of both structural measures and process measures is that they have to be tied to an outcome we care about. If having more intensivists in the ICU does not lead to lower ICU mortality (or lower complication rates), we wouldn’t think it’s a particularly good quality measure. We know that giving aspirin to heart attack patients lowers their chances of dying by 25%. We have multiple randomized trials. We don’t need much more evidence. Hospitals that have the right structures in place and reliably deliver the right treatments can reasonably be called high-quality hospitals.
Continue reading “The 30-day Readmission Rate: Not a Quality Measure but an Accountability Measure”
Filed Under: Hospitals, THCB
Tagged: Accountability, accountability metrics, Ashish Jha, CMS, CMS Hospital Readmission Reduction Program, Hospitals, JAMA, Quality, quality metrics, Readmission Rates
Feb 14, 2013
The RUC is an easy target. The RUC is flawed. But the RUC is not the problem. Several bloggers have written extensively about the RUC – How the RUC Escaped a Challenge to Our Deeply Flawed Reimbursement System and US Senate Subcommittee Asks What the RUC is About.
In no way can I defend the payment schedules that the RUC has proposed to Medicare. I can defend their recent changes. Radiology payments decreased last year; interventional cardiology payments decreased last year; and many other procedures have decreased dramatically. The relative payments are still wrong (in my opinion), but the RUC actually has been responsive to criticism. They have increased primary care payments (admittedly not enough).
But if one studies the problem carefully enough, one must decide that the idea of paying per episode almost must lead to gaming the system. Forget the RUC, the entire idea of time independent episode based payment must lead to worse medical care and higher costs. If physicians can make more money by doing more, then some will.
Practice administrators push primary care physicians to see more patients each day. If we can decrease the time spent per patient from 20 min to 15 min then we could see up to 8 more patients in an 8 hour day. Our overhead has not changed – hence the marginal financial benefits are huge.
But any honest physician will tell you that the result is rushed medical care. Do we want our surgeon trying to do 5 surgeries today rather than 4? Do you want to be the 5th patient? Continue reading “The RUC is a Symptom. RBRVS is the Disease”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: CMS, Medicare, physician pay, primary care, RBRVS, Robert Centor, RUC
Feb 12, 2013
On January 7, a federal appeals court rejected six Georgia primary care physicians’ (PCPs) challenge to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) 20-year, sole-source relationship with the secretive, specialist-dominated federal advisory committee that determines the relative value of medical services. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) is, in the court’s view, not subject to the public interest rules that govern other federal advisory groups. Like the district court ruling before it, the decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims out of hand and on procedural grounds, with almost no discussion of content or merit.
Thus ends the latest attempt to dislodge what is perhaps the most blatantly corrosive mechanism of US health care finance, a star-chamber of powerful interests that, complicit with federal regulators, spins Medicare reimbursement to the industry’s advantage and facilitates payment levels that are followed by much of health care’s commercial sector. Most important, this new legal opinion affirms that the health industry’s grip on US health care policy and practice is all but unshakable and unaccountable, and it appears to have co-opted the reach of law.
The RUC exerts its influence by rolling up the collective interests of the nation’s most powerful medical specialty societies and, indirectly, the drug and device firms that support and benefit from their activity. The RUC uses questionable “methodologies,” closed to public scrutiny, to value medical services. CMS has historically accepted nearly 90 percent of the RUC’s recommendations without further due diligence. In a damning October 2010 Wall Street Journal expose, former CMS Administrator Tom Scully described the RUC’s processes as “indefensible.”
Continue reading “How the RUC Escaped a Challenge to Our Deeply-Flawed Reimbursement System”
Filed Under: Physicians, THCB
Tagged: Brian Klepper, CMS, Federal Advisory Committee Act, Medicare, PCP, physician pay, primary care, primary care shortage, RUC, valuation
Feb 6, 2013
Recent articles highlight challenges with holding providers accountable for the care they deliver. One of the major thrusts of efforts to transform the American healthcare delivery system has been to become more patient-centered and to allow patients to provide feedback that matters.
Emblematic of this is the emphasis on patient involvement in the final rules for the Shared Savings Program accountable care organizations (ACO).
Echoing former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Director Don Berwick’s plea on the behalf of patients (“Nothing about us without us”), the ACO final rules emphasize patient engagement in governance, quality improvement and the individual doctor/patient interaction.
Michael Millenson’s white paper provides a summary of the patient empowerment movement.
The development of the patient activation measure (PAM) and the Center for Advancing Health’s 43 engagement behaviors has allowed us to study patient-centeredness with more specificity. Studies have shown that activated patients are less likely to choose surgical interventions, have better functional status and satisfaction, are more likely to perform self-management behaviors, and report higher medication adherence rates.
Healthcare policy experts and payers have embraced the argument outlined above, and patients’ reports of their satisfaction with both physicians and hospitals have increasingly been used to calculate financial rewards.
Continue reading “Should Your Review of Your Doctor Be Taken Seriously?”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: ACOs, CFAH, CMS, Don Berwick, Kent Bottles, Michael Millenson, Participatory medicine, Patient Activation Measure, Patient-centered care, Patients, Physicians
Feb 3, 2013
For the third year in a row, national health spending in 2011 grew less than 4 percent, according to the CMS Office of the Actuary. However, the report said modest rebounds in pharmaceutical spending and physician visits pointed toward an acceleration of costs in 2012 and beyond. CMS’s analysts make much of the cyclical character of health spending’s relationship to economic growth and also forecast a doubling of cost growth in 2014 to coincide with the implementation of health reform.
This non-economist respectfully disagrees and believes the pause could be more durable, even after 2014. Something deeper and more troublesome than the recession is at work here. As observed last year, the health spending curve actually bent downward a decade ago, four years before the economic crisis. Health cost growth has now spent three years at a pre-Medicare (indeed, a pre-Kennedy Administration) low.
More Than The Recession Is At Work
Hospital inpatient admissions have been flat for nine years, and down for the past two, despite compelling incentives for hospitals to admit more patients. Even hospital outpatient volumes flat-lined in 2010 and 2011, after, seemingly, decades of near double-digit growth. Physician office visits peaked eight years ago, in 2005, and fell 10 percent from 2009 to 2011 before a modest rebound late in 2011 — all this despite the irresistible power of fee-for-service incentives to induce demand.
The modest rebound in pharmaceutical spending (2.9 percent growth) in 2011 appears to have been a blip. IMS Health reports that US pharmaceutical sales actually shrank in 2012, for the first time in recorded history, and that generic drugs vaulted to the high 70s as a percent of prescriptions!
There is no question that the recession’s 7-million increase in the uninsured depressed cost growth. But the main reason health cost growth has been slowing for ten years is the steadily growing number of Americans — insured or otherwise — that cannot afford to use the health system. The cost of health care may have played an unscripted role in the 2008 economic collapse. A 2011 analysis published in Health Affairs found that after accounting for increased health premium contributions, out-of-pocket spending growth and general inflation, families had a princely $95 more a month to spend on non-health items in 2009 than a decade earlier. To maintain their living standards, families doubled their household debt in just five years (2003-2008), a debt load that proved unsustainable. When consumers began defaulting on their mortgages, credit cards and car loans, the resultant chain reaction brought down our financial markets, and nearly resulted in a depression.
By sucking up consumers’ income since 2008, the rising cost of health benefits has weighed heavily upon the recovery. According to the 2012 Milliman Cost Index, the cost of health coverage rose by 32.8 percent from 2008 to 2012, while family income did not grow at all in real terms. The total cost (employer and employee contributions plus OOP spending) of a standard PPO policy for a US family of four was $20,700, almost 42 percent of the US household median income in 2012.
Continue reading “The Gold Plated Health Care System: What the New Numbers Tell Us about the State of the Economy”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, California, CMS, CMS Office of the Actuary, Costs, Health care spending, Health Insurance Exchanges, Jeff Goldsmith, Massachusetts, Medicaid Expansion, The States
Feb 2, 2013
In 2013, I’m focused on five major work streams:
· Meaningful Use Stage 2, including Electronic Medication Administration Records
· ICD10, including clinical documentation improvement and computer assisted coding
· Replacement of all Laboratory Information Systems
· Compliance/Regulatory priorities, including security program maturity
·Supporting the IT needs of our evolving Accountable Care Organization including analytics for care management
I’ve written about some of these themes in previous posts and each has their uncharted territory.
One component that crosses several of my goals is how electronic documentation should support structured data capture for ICD10 and ACO quality metrics.
How are most inpatient progress notes documented in hospitals today? The intern writes a note that is often copied by the resident which is often copied by the attending which informs the consultants who may not agree with content. The chart is a largely unreadable and sometimes questionably useful document created via individual contributions and not by the consensus of the care team. The content is sometimes typed, sometimes dictated, sometimes templated, and sometimes cut/pasted. There must be a better way.
Continue reading “Brainstorming About the Future of Clinical Documentation”
Filed Under: Uncategorized
Tagged: ACO, Clinical Documentation, CMS, Geisinger, ICD-10, John Halamka, Kaiser, Mayo, Meaningful Use Stage 2, Physicians, quality metrics, SNOMED-CT
Dec 18, 2012