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
We recently participated in a program at Columbia Business School’s Healthcare Program on whether ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) will fail. For those of you that don’t know, ACOs are one of the structures promulgated by PPACA (aka Obamacare) designed to encourage better cost control and quality improvement in the healthcare system.
The current zeitgeist among the commentariat is that ACOs will fail (examples: here and here). We think the reason for the one-sided nature of the question is that those of us who lived through the healthcare upheaval in the early and mid “90s” saw first hand the failure of PHOs, PPMs and IDNs (and all of the other acronyms now relegated to the dustbin of history). When ACOs are touted as a saving grace for the system, you can almost hear the collective groan of the industry veterans.
Ever the contrarian, however, we took the side of the debate that said ACOs will NOT fail. The premise of our argument was that since we already have a good idea of why the structure will fail, we can, a priori, fix the shortcomings, and though likely, ACO failure is not inevitable.
There is an extensive list of why list of why ACOs will fail. We put them into four general buckets.
Infrastructure: The system has mis-allocated resources so we have too many of some things and not enough of others leading to inefficiencies.
Technological/telecommunication: For a number reasons the healthcare system has not adopted technology as fast as other industries.
Cultural: Providers are habituated to fee-for-service payment mechanisms and patients aren’t likely to change their own healthcare behaviors.
Inertia: The well known system problems (e.g. asymmetry of information, the Pareto nature of patient demand, unexplained variation of care, counterproductive incentives) have been around forever and are difficult to overcome.
Because we spend most of our time identifying private healthcare companies with investment potential, we often get a view into what is happening in the entrepreneurial space under the punditry radar.
Continue reading “The ACO Failure Hypothesis: Likely But Not Inevitable”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: ACOs, Asymmetry of Information, Columbia Business School, Les Funtleyder, Obamacare, PPACA
Apr 28, 2013
Following the Obama administration’s announcement about the suspension of enrollment in a high-risk health insurance program known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a flurry of commentary began on what the move means for the Affordable Care Act.
Some observers said that the program’s underwhelming enrollment numbers and high costs foreshadow inevitable problems with the ACA’s health insurance exchanges, while others drew a clear division between a program intended to insure only those with pre-existing health conditions and state marketplaces designed to spread risk by insuring both those who are sick and those in good health.
Two months after the halted enrollment, the debate continues.
Closing the Pools
The high-risk pools were designed to help sick U.S. residents gain coverage ahead of January 2014, when the ACA’s ban on denying individuals coverage because of pre-existing conditions will take effect.
In early February, the administration announced several cost-saving reforms intended to prevent the $5 billion program from running out of money. However, on Feb. 15, HHS officials announced that enrollment in the high-risk pools would end because of rising costs and limited funding.
Continue reading “Is the Suspension of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan a Preview of Obamacare’s Failure?”
Filed Under: Health Plans, THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Health Plans, HHS, high-risk pools, Insurance Exchanges, Matthew Wayt, Obamacare, PCIP, Reform
Apr 26, 2013
It was one of the most notorious quotes that emerged from the battle over the Affordable Care Act.
We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it. – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010.
The line was taken out-of-context, as Pelosi’s office has continued to protest. But more than three years after her quote — and nearly three years after the ACA passed Congress — Pelosi’s accidental gaffe seems pretty apropos.
The law continues to delight supporters with what they see as positive surprises; for example, some backers say Obamacare deserves credit for the unexpected slowdown in national health spending. But critics warn that the law’s perverse effects on premiums are just beginning to be felt.
And there still are “vast parts of the bill you never hear about,” notes Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington & Lee. “I wonder if they’re [even] being implemented.”
Jost and a half-dozen other health policy experts spoke with me, ahead of Obamacare’s third birthday on Saturday, to discuss how the law’s been implemented and what lawmakers could have done better.
Continue reading “Five Things Obamacare Got Right-and What Experts Would Fix”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Costs, Dan Diamond, Health Reform, HHS, Obamacare, PPACA, Preventive care, Universal coverage
Mar 20, 2013
This is how sexy the chatter gets over cocktails at health policy wonk-ins in Washington. This is how sexy the chatter gets over cocktails at health policy wonk-ins in Washington.
“No pre-ex’s, community rating, guaranteed issue.”
“No, that’s Obamacare stuff,” I said to my colleague, as she read a summary of Congressman Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget plan released on Tuesday. “Everyone in Medicare already has those. You must have the wrong memo.”
She scrolled to the top of her iPhone and pointed at the screen. “Summary of the Ryan Budget Plan – Medicare.”
“Maybe just a gimme for popular support?” I speculated, knowing from headline coverage earlier in the day that the Ryan plan sought to repeal Obamacare, not strengthen its most popular consumer protections. “Guaranteed issue but no mandate — that would sure hang the insurers out to dry. But why would you put that in a budget?”
“Here’s why,” she read. “‘Seniors buy coverage through new Medicare Exchange.’”
Consumers need protections only when they are turned into consumers. And that is what Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget seeks to do for — or do to, depending on your feelings about medical capitalism — future Medicare beneficiaries.
Continue reading “Ready For O’Ryancare?”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Costs, GOP, IPAB, J.D. Kleinke, Medicare, Medicare Exchange, national budget, Obamacare, Oryancare, Paul Ryan, Ryan plan, Seniors
Mar 15, 2013
A seasoned colleague recently told me that some PowerPoint presentations have no power and make no point.
But sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Or maybe — in the case of any meaningful discussion of health reform, thanks to its density and complexity — it might be worth 10,000 words. Hence our handy little exhibit.
This picture captures the 10,000 words it would require to explain with technical precision where President Obama’s Affordable Care Act fits relative to all health reform plans. It places “ObamaCare” along an ideologically scaled continuum of all serious reform options developed, debated and discarded or ignored since the 1980s.
They are all here: from the single-payer, centrally controlled models popular with those who detest corporations and the influence of money in medicine — two actual, not imagined “government takeovers of health care” — to two free market, laissez-faire models favored by those who detest regulation and the heavy hand of government in medicine.
Continue reading “Obamacare In Pictures”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Costs, David Goldhill, HillaryCare, Medicare For All, Multi-State Plans, Obamacare, Policy, Single payer
Mar 2, 2013
Two-hundred-and-fifty-nine organizations have been named Medicare accountable care organizations. Most were formed by hospitals. Some were launched by physician groups.
And three were created by a pharmacy chain.
Walgreens’ move into shared savings is many things: unusual, eye-catching, a sign of the times.
But it’s not surprising, observers say, as the pharmacy chain has been cultivating a broader strategy to ramp up its role in frontline care. And through a handful of new programs, Walgreens already has “demonstrated … the valuable role our pharmacists can play working with physicians to meet the triple aim” of improving patient outcomes and satisfaction while cutting health costs, spokesperson Jim Cohn told me.
“ACOs are the next step.”
Continue reading “Is Walgreens the Future? What a Big Pharmacy Chain’s Moves Tell Us About Obamacare”
Filed Under: THCB, The Business of Health Care
Tagged: ACOs, Affordable Care Act, Dan Diamond, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, National Community Pharmacists Association, Obamacare, Pharmacies, Pharmacists, shared savings program, Walgreens, WellTransitions
Feb 6, 2013
Suppose I throw a rock through a store owner’s window. You admonish me for this act of vandalism. But I reply that I have actually done a good deed.
The store owner will now have to employ someone to haul the broken glass away and someone else, perhaps, to clean up afterward. Then, the order of a new glass pane will create work and wages for the glassmaker. Plus, someone will have to install it. In short, my act of vandalism created jobs and income for others.
The French economist, Frédéric Bastiat called this type of reasoning the “fallacy of the broken window.” All the resources employed to remove the broken glass and install a new pane, he said, could have been employed to produce something else. Now they will not be. So society is not better off from my act of vandalism. It is worse off — by one pane of glass.
But there is a new type of Keynesian (to be distinguished from Keynes himself) that rejects the economist’s answer. Wasteful spending can actually be good, they argue. If so, they will love what happens in health care.
By some estimates one of every three dollars spent on health care is unnecessary and therefore wasteful. ObamaCare’s “wellness exams” for Medicare enrollees — so touted during the last election — is an example. Millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent on this service, yet there is no known medical benefit. Similarly, ObamaCare is encouraging all manner of preventive care — by requiring no deductibles or copayments — which is not cost effective.
Continue reading “Could Wasteful Healthcare Spending Be Good for the Economy?”
Filed Under: OP-ED, THCB
Tagged: fallacy of the broken window, fiscal stimulus, Frederic Bastiat, Health care spending, Johannes Wieland, John Cochrane, John Goodman, Medicare wellness exams, Obamacare, Paul Krugman, PPACA, Preventive care
Jan 31, 2013
The Affordable Care Act contains a number of provisions intended to incent “personal responsibility,” or the notion that health care isn’t just a right — it’s an obligation. None of these measures is more prominent than the law’s individual mandate, designed to ensure that every American obtains health coverage or pays a fine for choosing to go uninsured.
But one provision that’s gotten much less attention — until recently — relates to smoking; specifically, the ACA allows payers to treat tobacco users very differently by opening the door to much higher premiums for this population.
That measure has some health policy analysts cheering, suggesting that higher premiums are necessary to raise revenue for the law and (hopefully) deter smokers’ bad habits. But other observers have warned that the ACA takes a heavy-handed stick to smokers who may be unhappily addicted to tobacco, rather than enticing them with a carrot to quit.
Under proposed rules, HHS would allow insurers to charge a smoker seeking health coverage in the individual market as much as 50% more in premiums than a non-smoker.
That difference in premiums may rapidly add up for smokers, given the expectation that Obamacare’s new medical-loss ratios already will lead to major cost hikes in the individual market. “For many people, in the years after the law, premiums aren’t just going to [go] up a little,” Peter Suderman predicts at Reason. “They’re going to rise a lot.”
Meanwhile, Ann Marie Marciarille, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, adds that insurers have “considerable flexibility” in how to set up a potential surcharge for tobacco use. For example, insurers could apply a high surcharge for tobacco use in older smokers — perhaps several hundred dollars per month — further hitting a population that tends to be poorer.
Is this cost-shifting fair? The average American tends to think so.
Continue reading “About Time? Smokers Face Tough New Rules Under Obamacare”
Filed Under: THCB, The Insider's Guide To Health Care
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Cancer, Dan Diamond, Insurers, Medicaid Expansion, MLR, Obamacare, Premiums, smoking, smoking cessation, tobacco
Jan 25, 2013
Thanks to David Kerrigan of the Massachusetts Health Connector for pointing out that the Obama Administration has suddenly switched terminology: health insurance exchanges are now health insurance marketplaces. I think it’s a great idea, which is why I wrote a blog post on this very topic on Friday. The Hill (Obama officials ditch ‘exchanges’ in rebranding of healthcare reform law) covers the story.
However, the Hill has a weird angle on this. The article heavily features an anti-ObamaCare activist, Dean Clancy who says:
“They could call them motherhood or apple pie, but it wouldn’t change our feelings about them… We’re encouraged that they’re showing signs of desperation. I think that it’s too late in the game to try to start calling this something different. And [we’re] not going to spend a lot of effort fighting over a word.”
Clancy’s website is called blockexchanges.com, so he may actually have more commitment to the word exchange than the Obama folks. Somehow blockmarketplaces.com just doesn’t have the same ring to it. (That domain is still available at this writing in case you want to grab it.) Blockexchanges also has some misleading information on its home page:
“Remember, without the state exchanges, ObamaCare cannot function.”
Actually, the federal government will step in if the states don’t.
Personally, I don’t sense desperation but rather a gradual wising up about what implementation will require. The term “marketplace” makes a good deal of sense for someone who is comparison shopping for health insurance. Here’s to more commonsense improvements as ObamaCare is rolled out.
David E. Williams is co-founder of MedPharma Partners LLC, strategy consultant in technology enabled health care services, pharma, biotech, and medical devices. Formerly with BCG and LEK. He writes regularly at Health Business Blog, where this post first appeared.
Filed Under: THCB
Tagged: Affordable Care Act, Connector, David Kerrigan, David Williams, Dean Clancy, Health Insurance Exchanges, Health Insurance Markets, Massachusetts, Obamacare, The States
Jan 23, 2013