Each time I send out the THCB Reader, our newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB (Sign up here!) I include a brief tidbits section. Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
Plenty of reason to worry about the future of American health care this week. The biggest for-profit hospital chain–HCA–was accused of aggressively pushing patients into hospice care, sometimes in the same room, in order to make their hospitality mortality numbers look better. Most of the leading benefits consulting companies were exposed as taking payments from PBMs–yup, the same organizations their employer clients thought they were negotiating with on their behalf. And one of the biggest names in digital health, Babylon Health, tumbled into destitution, taking billions of dollars with it and leaving uncertain the fate of the medical groups in California it bought less than two years ago. Even the most successful capitalists in health care — United HealthGroup and its fellow insurers — saw their stock fall because apparently outpatient surgery volume is ticking up.
On the policy front the malaise is spreading too. The end of the public health emergency (remember Covid?) is being used as an excuse by the old confederate states to kick people off Medicaid. Georgia and Arkansas appear to be bringing back work requirements, even though I thought CMS has banned them and every study has acknowledged that they are cruel and ineffective. About 20 million people got on to Medicaid during the public health emergency and KFF estimates up to 17 million may be kicked off, while over 1.7 million already have.
Finally an article by Bob Kocher and Bob Wachter in Health Affairs Scholar remins us that big academic medical centers are nowhere near ready for value-based care (VBC). Jeff Goldsmith has been vocal on THCBGang and elsewhere about how VBC is becoming a religion more than a reality. And I remind you that Humana’s MA program is still basically a Fee-For-service program in drag (even though that’s now illegal in their home state).
I grew up in American health care expecting that eventually a combination of universal insurance mixed with value-based purchasing would lead to a series of tech-enabled companies doing the right thing by patients and making money to boot. With the managed care revolution, the ACA and the boom in digital health all firmly in the rear view mirror, the summer of 2023 is a lesson that you can never be too cynical about health care in America.