Monday, May 21, 2018
Blog Page 2

A Public-Private Partnership to Fix Health Care

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The Administration proposal that would enable small employers to band together to purchase health insurance by forming Association Health Plans has several good features. Large companies do pay about 15% less, apples-to-apples, for health insurance than small businesses because they negotiate lower administrative fees, get larger discounts on health care prices and avoid premium taxes and risk charges by self-insuring. Allowing small business to replicate what boils down to volume discounts also appeals politically to many as a market-based alternative to government intervention. Reliance on Association Health Plans could result in substantial volume discounts, but, in the end, would be like paying $10 for a tube of toothpaste that retails for $100, a big discount and a rip-off price.

Even though the largest companies get very deep discounts, there is substantial research showing that their net costs are much higher than everywhere else because we in the United States pay higher prices for health care goods and services. One need to look no further than the benchmark large corporate purchasers who continue to pay about 40% or 50% more than Medicare for the same health care to see how excessive health care prices for private payers are. And this disparity is likely to get worse. While hospitals gobble up other hospitals and doctors’ practices and gain near monopoly market power to raise prices, employers of all sizes remain highly fragmented and, as a result, impotent price negotiators.

A better approach to health care cost containment than Association Health Plans hides in full view.

Empowering Patients through Decentralized Information Governance

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Seema Verma is right, US health care will be transformed if we empower patients and physicians through access to information. Don Rucker is right to focus attention on APIs to enable the transformation. A year and a half into the new administration and the massively bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is having to navigate between the shoals of highly unpopular Meaningful Use regulations and the apparent need for regulation to undo the damage of market consolidation that they caused. From my perspective, it looks like HHS is doing a good job.

Prediction is a dangerous game but it’s necessary for investments that depend on health information technology. Nowadays, pretty much everything in healthcare depends on information technology, particularly if we need effective quality measures to enable transition to value-based healthcare.

Based on Verma’s most recent remarks, it’s safe to predict that HHS will use the power of the $900 Billion purse as a way of avoiding regulation as it tries to break down the oligopoly of the consolidated “integrated delivery networks” and their even more consolidated EHR vendors. What’s more interesting is to anticipate how Rucker’s recent remarks about Persistent Access will be translated into decision support information for patients and physicians that will actually drive the practice innovation Verma is talking about.

The AmWell – Avizia Merger and the Evolution of Telehealth

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Last week Avizia, where I’ve been the Chief Medical Officer since 2014, was acquired by American Well (AmWell). From my perspective, the merger made perfect sense. Avizia has been focused on chronically and acutely ill patients—those more directly attached to a hospital system. AmWell, on the other hand, has been the dominant solution for community-based care; it’s an online consultation service for folks who might otherwise have gone to an urgent care for problems like fever, headache, or a sore throat. Combining these entities provides a solution that spans the spectrum of care, which aligns with the needs of many healthcare systems. Issues related to patient access and satisfaction (think: less acute, community-based care) are top-of-mind for many administrators. However, with 80% of the dollars going to 20 % of the population, managing the continuum for the chronically ill (which is more in line with the mission of Avizia) is imperative to provide better care at a lower cost.

The merger also marks a predictable milestone in the common transition pattern for big ideas (internet, aeronautics, GPS, etc.)—from the military, to academia, to scalable business.

Telemedicine started as a military-run effort. NASA, concerned that astronaut healthcare issues would cause mission failures, was the first organization to devote significant funding to telemedicine research. Early ATA meetings were opened with military-sponsored presentations featuring the Telemedicine & Advanced Technology Research Center, a branch of the Army.

Next came academia. Millions of dollars in grant money were offered, but academics were no longer focused on the health of astronauts. Instead, the goal was providing care at a distance—to the citizens of Rural America. Many early leaders of the ATA came from the universities that built and deployed this technology.

Entrepreneurs are the third wave.

Health in 2 point 00, Episode 22

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In this edition of Health in 2 point 00 the tables are turned! Jessica DaMassa is at the upstart HLTH conference, which will make those of you with long memories of the first ehealth bubble laugh. So today I’m asking Jessica the questions, including whether Jonathan Bush likes the buyout idea, what Alex Drane (Walmart’s most extraordinary cashier) said, and whether there was anything about sex at HLTH or whether that was just at YTHLive!–Matthew Holt

MedStar Franklin Center:  The Case Against Global Capitation

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Baltimore County, Maryland is one hour north of Washington DC, where politicians appear impotent to contain runaway healthcare expenditures.  In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in partnership with the state of Maryland, piloted an “All Payer Model,” where every insurer, including Medicare and Medicaid, paid a fixed annual amount irrespective of inpatient or outpatient hospital utilization.  Maryland agreed to transition hospitals from fee-for-service arrangements to this global capitation model over five years. 

Capitation, in general, reimburses a fixed amount per patient, unrelated to service volume.  This sets an artificial fiscal ceiling and disincentivizes hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare personnel to provide healthcare. The philosophy is if hospitals or physicians reduce their output and save money, the unused funds can be kept by the organization. The basic premise of capitation pays hospitals, physicians, and others to AVOID providing care, an unfortunate consequence. 

Maryland is experimenting with global capitation, which allots a fixed sum to an institution from each payer, making revenue predictable, while at the same time, encouraging stewardship by the hospital to allocate funds wisely.  When expenses are lower than the prearranged sum, that hospital retains the leftover funds as additional profit.  To ensure care is not withheld to increase revenue, quality measures are assessed and shared publicly.  A 2015 report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed expenditure reductions of 0.64% and inpatient admissions decreased by 5%.   However, with unproven payment arrangements, unintended consequences always occur. 

Trump’s Docs

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It’s now clear that two public assessments of President Trump’s health since 2015—the only ones we know about—were seriously compromised.   

The import of this has been eclipsed by other (more salacious) recent events—Stormy Daniels, etc.   But what has transpired raises troubling questions and should prompt a reassessment of how candidates for president and presidents are medically evaluated, and the public’s right to that information.     

I’ve written two pieces for THCB on Trump’s physical and mental health.  You can find them here and here. 

The first assessment of Trump’s health, conducted in 2015 by his personal physician of 35 years, Harold Bornstein, is now under a dark cloud.   Bornstein told CNN this month that Trump dictated the contents and language of a one-page letter signed by Bornstein and released publicly by the Trump campaign in the early months of the campaign.    

The letter aimed to assuage concerns about Trump’s age and health status.  Clinton and Trump were two of the oldest candidates ever to make a presidential bid and neither had shared much information about their health status up to that point; both were under pressure to do so.

“He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Bornstein told CNN.  He had previously admitted (in August 2017) that he had typed the letter in his office in just five minutes while a limo sent by Trump waited outside.   

At the time, the four-paragraph letter seemed suspicious, to say the least.   It didn’t contain any details of test results or the like.   Instead, the letter made unusual and hyperbolic statements about the president’s health such as: “His [Trump’s] physical strength and stamina are extraordinary.”  And:  “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 21

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Jessica DaMassa asks me everything she can about health and technology in just 2 minutes. Including the firing of Ron Gutman at Healthtap, what happened at Dev4Health, gesture company Klue’s deals & Tom Price’s temporary lobotomy reversal. It’s Health in 2 point 00–Matthew Holt

Not Actually Fake News

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Trump appointees cheered by both Republicans and Democrats. Venture capitalists venting about too much investment cash. Data nerds decrying the deification of artificial intelligence.

For two days, Health Datapalooza 2018 offered a glimpse of a Washington where all sides work in harmony “to improve Americans’ health through better data,” in the words of Eric Hargan, deputy secretary of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Not to mention the goal of improving health care economics. Enable digital health entrepreneurs to earn millions of dollars in profits, goes the logic, and their innovations will help the feds and others avoid paying many more millions of dollars in health care bills.

Health Datapalooza began nine years ago as a showcase for public-private data partnership. The shining example back then was the way the release government meteorological data had paved the way for online apps like weather.com. What was significant at this year’s event was not so much the sweeping rhetoric as the signals sent by HHS that it will accelerate the push by previous administrations towards value-based payment.

So, for instance, Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said CMS will ask private insurers and state Medicaid programs to require hospitals to provide patients with their own data electronically. The Medicare program wants to make that requirement part of the “conditions of participation” for hospitals in Medicare; i.e., do this or you can’t participate in the program that’s your largest customer.

“The expectations of CMS have changed,” said Verma. “Patients can never again be kept in the dark with regard to their health care information.”

Expanding Medicare Advantage Benefits to Address Social Determinants of Health

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that Medicare Advantage (MA) plans could, in 2019, expand the health-related benefits they offer. In the announcement CMS wrote that it would

“allow supplemental benefits if they compensate for physical impairments, diminish the impact of injuries or health conditions, and/or reduce avoidable emergency room utilization.”

Such supplemental benefits could include things that are not normally thought of as “health care,” like, for example, groceries, air conditioners for beneficiaries with asthma, and even provider organized Lyft and Uber rides to and from and medical appointments.

While MA covers all Medicare services, MA plans are already permitted to offer extra coverage for supplemental benefits. Previously, MA supplemental benefits had to have a primary purpose of preventing, curing, or diminishing an illness. This ruled out those that might affect health outside the traditional health system, like groceries and non-ambulance transportation. CMS’s new regulation will permit such nontraditional MA benefits so long as they “increase health and improve quality of life.”

You may question why health care plans would include these types of benefits. The answer: If health is a puzzle, medical care is only one piece. The rest of the puzzle is filled in with pieces like environment, diet, and socio-economic status. CMS’s new regulation is intended to more directly address these social determinants of health.

Seeing Value From the Patient’s Perspective

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“Value” is the focus right now in American health care. Payers like Medicare and private insurers are placing great emphasis on it, as are hospitals and doctors’ offices needing to satisfy the demands of those payers to get paid. But the focus on value in the present system is centered on reforming payment and lowering costs almost exclusively, rather than enhancing the patient experience, and involves unproven approaches like “bundled payment” and “pay for performance”, in which doctors and hospitals are financially incented to fixate on efficiency in how they deliver care. In short, right now “value” means figuring out ways insurers can save money and providers cannot lose money.

The emphasis on value in terms of efficiency and payment reform isn’t trickling down in positive ways to individual patients. Insurance premiums continue to rise, taking more dollars out of patients’ paychecks to cover the care they need. Health insurance is covering less in that many of us pay higher deductibles and co-pays in our plans for services such as physical therapy, mental health care, and emergency care. Many people have annual deductibles of thousands of dollars that must be paid before having any specialty care covered.

Americans pay more and yet have serious access problems in primary care, long-term care, and much specialty care. Wait times to see all kinds of doctors are increasing in most areas of the country. To deal with this, in American primary care patients are guided into undifferentiated, highly transactional forms of service delivery that may be cheaper but are less comprehensive in the services offered and impersonal, involving fast-food care provided through web-based apps, big box stores, and urgent care centers. These sources of care often practice their medicine according to “cookbooks” of standardized clinical guidelines using high-turnover providers, giving us fewer moments of the relational excellence so important in high-quality health care.