There has been a lot of controversy in health policy circles recently about hospital market consolidation and its effect on costs. However, less noticed than the quickened pace of industry consolidation is a more puzzling and largely unremarked-upon development: hospitals seem to have hit the wall in technological innovation. One can wonder if the two phenomena are related somehow.
During the last three decades of the twentieth century, health policymakers warned constantly that medical technology was driving up costs inexorably, and that unless we could somehow harness technological change, we’d be forced to ration care. The most prominent statement of this thesis was Henry Aaron and William Schwartz’s Painful Prescription (1984). Advocates of technological change argued that higher prices for care were justified by substantial qualitative improvements in hospitals’ output.
Perhaps policymakers should be careful what they wish for. The care provided in the American hospital of 2013 seems eerily similar to that of the hospital of the year 2000, albeit far more expensive. This is despite some powerful incentives for manufacturers and inventors to innovate (like an aging boomer generation, advances in materials, and a revolution in genetics), and the widespread persistence of fee for service insurance payment that rewards hospitals for offering a more complex product.
Technology junkies should feel free to quarrel with these observations. But the last major new imaging platform in the health system was PET , which was introduced into hospital use in the early 1990’s. Though fusion technologies like PET/CT and PET/MR were introduced later, the last “got to have it” major imaging product was the 64 slice CT Scanner, which was introduced in 1998. Both PET and CT angiography were subjects of fierce controversy over CMS decisions to pay for the services.
Continue reading “Hospitals’ Twenty First Century Time Warp”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Costs, device regulation, EHR, Hospitals, Innovation, Jeff Goldsmith, market consolidation, Tech
May 21, 2013
Last week, CMS unilaterally released chargemaster data from 300 hospitals around the country. As David Dranove summed up well in his recent piece, this is an old hat. Yes, there are big variations in hospitals’ chargemasters. And yes, there is a lot of buzz around consumer price shopping.
A Kayak for hospitals is all well and good, but hospitals are cash-strapped as it is and there is only so much money to be saved by driving down the costs the hospital charges the health care plan unless the waste within the hospital is addressed. I would like to highlight perhaps one of the most exciting things going on under the radar in US healthcare today: using price transparency data within the hospital.
Hospitals are now reimbursed a capitated amount according to each patient’s diagnostic-related group. Capitated payment means, essentially, that the hospital receives a set amount of dollars for each patient that walks through its doors with a given diagnosis — say, $X for a patient with pneumonia or $Y for a patient with MI. Regardless of how many drugs, tests, or scans the hospital uses for the patient, it will still get the same compensation from the insurance company.
Yet, the physician up until now still acts as a kid in a candy store, running up a bill without awareness of cost or value. This is largely because the doctor is ordering from a menu without prices. I have talked to many physicians, in both out-patient and in-patient settings across seven health care systems around the country — they want a menu with prices.
I have seen firsthand the motivation for this, as pay-for-performance model is beginning to take over with my own practice. Gone are the days where doctors’ salaries are unhitched to the cost-effectiveness of care. Everyone is now in the same boat.As a neurologist, I want to share a few examples regarding stroke care that illustrate the potential savings available from educating physicians regarding cost, and also some pitfalls to avoid that could compromise patient care.
Continue reading “Using Price Transparency Data Within the Hospital”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Costs, David Halpert, Hospitals, pricing data, Transparency
May 16, 2013
Critically ill Medicare patients, who are battling for stable health at the end of life, are victims of repeated hospitalizations, especially after being discharged to a skilled nursing facility (SNF). The cycle of hospitalizations is an indicator of poor care coordination and discharge planning – causing the patient to get sicker after every “bounce back” to the hospital. Total spending for SNF care was approximately $31 billion in 2011; with an estimated one in four patients being re-hospitalized within thirty days of discharge to a SNF.
Each readmission leads to further test and treatments, higher health care costs, and most importantly, patient suffering. It is hard to imagine that patients would prefer to spend their last few months of life shuttling from one healthcare setting to another and receiving aggressive interventions that have little benefit to their quality and longevity of life. The heroic potential of medical care should not compromise the patient’s opportunity to die with dignity. A hospital is not a place to die.
Medicare beneficiaries are eligible to receive post-acute care at SNFs, after a three day hospital admission stay. SNFs provide skilled services such as post-medical or post-surgical rehabilitation, wound care, intravenous medication and necessities that support basic activities of daily living. Medicare Part A covers the cost of SNF services for a maximum of 100 days, with a co-payment of $148/day assessed to the patient after the 20th day. If a patient stops receiving skilled care for more than 30 days, then a new three day hospital stay is required to qualify for the allotted SNF care days that remain on the original 100 day benefit. However, if the patient stops receiving care for at least 60 days in a row, then the patient is eligible for a new 100 day benefit period after the required three day hospital admission. It is evident that the eligibility for the Medicare SNF benefit is dependent on hospitalizations – many of which may be a formality and a source of unnecessary costs.
Continue reading “The Bounce Back Effect”
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Anubhav Kaul, Costs, Dartmouth Atlas Project, End of Life Care, Medicare, Nursing, Readmissions, Senior Care, Sindhu Kubenderan, skilled nursing facilities
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
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 Sound Bite:
Increased longevity costs will bankrupt medicare.
Fact or Fiction?
This is partly fact, partly fiction. Medicare entitlement begins when a person ages in at 65, however just because beneficiaries are living longer does not necessarily mean higher Medicare costs.
The customary formulation of this myth is that Medicare is doomed by its own success in keeping its beneficiaries alive. Not only will the ranks of the program’s beneficiaries increase as the vaunted baby boom generation reaches the statutory age of eligibility, but because people are staying alive longer, Medicare’s costs will explode. The first part of this contention is indisputably true: entitlement to Medicare occurs when a person reaches age sixty-five, and the baby boom generation that is generally calibrated as starting in 1946 has arrived at that threshold. As a result, additional Medicare beneficiaries enter that program every day, and because the baby boom generation dwarfs any preceding age cohort, it is highly likely that more beneficiaries will be added to the program than are lost as older beneficiaries pass away. Consequently, the number of Medicare beneficiaries will inexorably increase over the next decade or so. Ceteris paribus, more beneficiaries mean higher aggregate costs.
The second part of the contention, however, is myth. Just because today’s Medicare beneficiaries live longer than did their predecessors does not necessarily translate into higher costs for the Medicare program. The source of this apparently counterintuitive proposition is the panoply of programmatic limitations that Medicare imposes on its coverages, regarding the myth that Medicare pays for long-term care. More specifically, beneficiaries who live longer typically do incur higher cumulative health care costs over their post-sixty-five lifetimes, but many of those costs are not borne by the Medicare program. This phenomenon is well illustrated by the following graph from an important analysis that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine:
FIGURE 1: Cumulative Health Care Expenditures From the Age of 65 Years Until Death, According to the Type of Health Service and the Age of Death
Continue reading “Fact Check:Will Increased Longevity Bring Down Medicare?”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Costs, Long Term Care, Medicare, Richard Kaplan, Seniors
May 1, 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
“No aspect of health IT entails as much uncertainty as the magnitude of its potential benefits.”
A few years into the Meaningful Use program, it seems this quote from a 2008 Congressional Budget Office report entitled “Evidence on the Costs and Benefits of Health Information Technology” may have been written with the assistance of a crystal ball.
Fast forward to 2013.
“Just from reading a week’s worth of news, it’s obvious that we don’t really know whether healthcare IT is better or worse off than before [Meaningful Use incentives],” popular blogger and health IT observer Mr. HIStalk wrote earlier this year.
So, perhaps RAND was hypnotized by Cerner funding when they created their rosy prognosis (hearken back, if you will, to 2005 and the projected $81 billion in annual healthcare savings). Maybe they were just plain wrong and the most recent RAND report stands as a tacit mea culpa.
Either way, we’re left with hypotheses that, while not incontrovertible, are gaining traction:
- Health IT benefits will manifest gradually over an extended timeframe.
- Those benefits will not quickly morph into reduced costs, if they ever do.
- Because of 1 and 2, investing in a hugely expensive electronic health record system is potentially risky.
How risky? Without question, massive health IT expense and the predominant proprietary IT model are threats to a hospital or health system’s financial viability, to its solvency.
We’re seeing some examples even now.
Continue reading “For Hospitals On the Edge, HIT Is the Tipping Point”
Filed Under: Tech, THCB
Tagged: bitter pill, Costs, Edmund Billings, Henry Ford Health System, HIT, Hospitals, Meaningful Use, RAND study, The States
May 1, 2013
Dementia is a chronic disease of aging that robs people of cognitive function, leaving them unable to tend to even the most basic activities of living. But demented persons can live for many years, incurring long-term care bills that can leave surviving spouses impoverished and estates depleted.
In a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, my colleagues and I reported that the total costs of paying for care for seniors with dementia in the United States are expected to more than double by 2040. Medicaid pays these costs for the poor, and some people have private insurance. But for large numbers of elderly Americans, dementia brings not only human suffering but financial ruin as well.
Designing and building a program to protect Americans from the cost of dementia care is a daunting and expensive task, one that probably cannot be accomplished without the help of the federal government. The federal government has broad experience in creating health safety nets and has been expressing concern over the state of the nation’s long-term care systems for some time now. If Congress and the administration need a reason to act, our numbers on costs can provide it.
Currently, some 15 percent of Americans 71 or older have dementia. That is about 3.8 million people; a large number to be sure, but one that will pale by comparison to the 9.1 million expected to be suffering from the disease by 2040.
Our report, The Monetary Costs of Dementia in the United States, estimated that in 2010 Americans spent $109 billion for dementia care purchased in the market place, like nursing home stays. Factoring in the costs of informal care—provided by family members or others outside of institutional settings—the total cost of caring for dementia patients grew to between $159 billion and $215 billion.
Continue reading “The Cost of Dementia: Who Will Pay?”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Caregiving, Costs, Dementia, Long Term Care, Michael D. Hurd
Apr 30, 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