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More Signs of Rate Shock and Awe

Last week, I reported on my informal survey of health insurance companies and their estimate for how much rates will rise on account of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Today, there are press reports quoting the CEO of Aetna with their estimate. The Aetna estimate is worse than mine.

From Bloomberg:

Health insurance premiums may as much as double for some small businesses and individual buyers in the U.S. when the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions start in 2014, Aetna Inc. (AET)’s chief executive officer said.

While subsidies in the law will shield some people, other consumers who make too much for assistance are in for “premium rate shock,” Mark Bertolini, who runs the third-biggest U.S. health-insurance company, told analysts yesterday at a conference in New York. The prospect has spurred discussion of having Congress delay or phase in parts of the law, he said.

“We’ve shared it all with the people in Washington and I think it’s a big concern,” the CEO said. “We’re going to see some markets go up as much as as 100 percent.”

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My Grand, Sweeping Cardiovascular Predictions for 2013

Cardiovascular predictions for next year are always fun to contemplate this time of year.  So much is happening to the practice of medicine as we’ve known it that it can be helpful to highlight some of those changes, both good and bad, as our medical world continues to evolve.  While these predictions contain pure guesses, they also contain one doctor’s observations of our new evolving medical world.  Many of these changes will profoundly shape how doctors interact with their patients.

So grab some coffee and strap in.  Here are my 2013 predictions of life as a cardiologist in 2013.  (Please feel free to add your own predictions in the comments section.)

Valvular Heart Disease

  • TAVR for critical aortic stenosis will be applied to progressively younger and healthier patients.
  • As smaller delivery systems for percutaneous heart valves gain widespread acceptance, government payers will look for new and inventive techniques to restrict patient access to these devices.  No heart valve will remain untouched as creative uses of the approved devices are attempted in non-surgical patients.
  • Innovations valve design will improve the safety and effectiveness of this therapy.

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Are We Finally Seeing the Dawn of the Golden Age of Interoperability?

Today I’m speaking at the ONC annual meeting as part of panel discussing interoperability.

For years, patients, providers and payers have complained that EHRs “do not talk to each other.”

By 2014, I expect this issue to disappear.

Why?

Do I expect that every state and territory will have a robust, sustainable healthcare information exchange by 2014?  No

Do I expect that every provider will be connected to a Nationwide Health Information Network by 2014?  No

Do I expect that a single vendor will create a centrally hosted method to share data by 2014 just as Sabre did for the airline industry in the 1960’s?  No

What I expect is that Meaningful Use Stage 2 will provide the technology, policy, and incentives to make interoperability real.

Stage 2 requires that providers demonstrate, in production, the exchange of clinical care summaries for 10% of their patient encounters during the reporting period.   The application and infrastructure investment necessary to support 10% is not much different than 100%.   The 10% requirement will bring most professionals and hospitals to the tipping point where information exchange will be implemented at scale, rapidly accelerating data liquidity.

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Repairing ObamaCare

In the aftermath of the recent election, virtually all commentators were quick to conclude that ObamaCare has been saved. The health reform law can now go forward and Republicans are powerless to stop it.

The trouble is: ObamaCare is a deeply flawed piece of legislation. Its defects are so huge that Democrats are going to want to perform major surgery on it in the near future, even if the Republicans stand by and twiddle their thumbs.

That raises this question: What changes need to be made in the legislation to turn it into a health reform that solves existing problems without creating even more serious new problems? Here are six essential short term fixes:

Subsidize all insurance the same way. The way the government subsidizes health insurance under the current system is arbitrary and unfair. Employees with employer-provided insurance get that benefit tax free — a subsidy that is worth almost half the cost of the insurance for middle-income families. However, there is almost no subsidy available for people who must purchase insurance on their own. They must pay taxes on their income and then buy the insurance with what’s left over.

Under ObamaCare the subsidies become even more arbitrary. Although the new law creates generous tax credits for low and moderate income families who must buy their own insurance in newly created health insurance exchanges, the subsidy in an exchange can be as much as $12,000 higher than the same family will get if the same insurance is obtained through an employer!

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Is Fee-for-Service Really Dead? Really?

The 21st century challenge for the American health care delivery system is to deliver higher quality care for less money.   Republican and Democratic experts agree that payment reform involving transitioning from fee-for-service to global, value-based systems is necessary for us to achieve that goal.  Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are the new entities that will receive the new global payments and distribute them to the doctors, allied health professionals, hospitals, and post-acute care facilities that care for the patients; Medicare ACOs are being piloted under provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Commercial ACOs are being developed by private insurance companies, hospitals, and physician groups.

The ideal payment system would support the ideal value-driven health care delivery system.  Distinguished expert panels convened by the Commonwealth Fund and the Institute of Medicine have described the attributes of a system that would be far superior to our current delivery system:

· Care would be patient-centered
· Care would be safe
· Care would be timely and accessible
· Care would be efficient with little waste
· Care would be coordinated among providers and across facilities
· Continuity of care and care relationships would be facilitated
· Collaboration among providers would deliver high quality, low cost care
· Patients’ clinical information would be efficiently exchanged
· Caregivers would engage patients in ways that would maximize health
· Accountability for each aspect and for total care would be clear
· Continuous innovation, learning, and improvement would occur

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Patient Politics: the PCORI Puzzle

The new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has been asking different stakeholders about the most important issues to address with the hundreds of millions of dollars the quasi-governmental group will shortly be doling out in grants. Not surprisingly, the stakeholders have been more than happy to respond.

PCORI’s most recent day of dialogue, which I attended as a representative of the Society for Participatory Medicine (SPM), was characterized by genteel civility and a big question mark: “Is PCORI serious about transforming health care?” When I asked directly, I didn’t get much of an answer. The reason, I suspect, goes to PCORI’s origins. It is the offspring of a shotgun marriage between goo-goos and pinky-ringers, and no one is quite sure yet what this child will be once it grows up.

Let me pause here a moment to parse the political shorthand. “Goo-goos” are “good government” types, the kind of folks who trumpet the need for transparency in government or better public transit. Goo-goos, seeing the half trillion dollars or so of waste in U.S. health care system, called for a new national organization to carry out comparative effectiveness research in order to help Americans get the most value for our money.

The goo-goos pointed out that our current regulatory structure is designed to ensure that treatments are safe and effective, not compare them. Nor does the private sector have much incentive to pay for comparative studies that may undermine products currently selling quite nicely, thank you.

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ACOs: We’re NOT There Yet

Last week veteran analyst Vince Kuraitis reviewed a report from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman (OW), arguing that the trend toward reconfiguring health systems to deliver more accountable care is more widespread than any of us suspect.

“The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs-and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.”

OW provides a well-reasoned analysis and conclusions, but I’m skeptical. In discussions with health system executives around the country, I hear some movement toward change, but relatively few organizations are materially turning their operations in a different direction. The specter of policy change is looming, but it is still abstract. As I’ve described before, market forces are intensifying, but they’re mostly still scattered and immature.

Fee-for-service remains the prevailing paradigm, and there is no palpable threat to the health care excess that is business-as-usual. Several health system CFOs have told me: “Why should we take less money until we have to?”

There’s no question that Medicare’s ACO programs have the bulls-eye on reimbursement for health systems, which are a convergence point for a large percentage of appropriate and inappropriate health care costs. But there is a silver lining. American health care is so replete with waste – on the order of half or more of all health care expenditures – that any system that tries could deliver dramatically lower costs and improved outcomes.

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Aetna’s Martha Wofford Talks Technology Development

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Matthew Holt spoke to Martha Wofford, head of Aetna’s CarePass platform, at the 2012 mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. last week. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini had just delivered a keynote and announced that his company will release the CarePass mobile app in March 2013. CarePass is a web portal where patients can connect data from their different personal applications. Here Holt speaks to Wofford about the development of Aetna’s technology offerings. He also asks her how much of an impact she thinks this tech can have on wasteful spending in the U.S. health care system.

Health Insurance Exchanges Will Transform Health Care. Magically Increase Transparency. Improve Access. And Maybe Even Lower Costs. But Only if We Get it Right …

NPR ran a story recently about how some retailers are retooling efforts to appeal to consumers in light of increased competition, particularly from online vendors.

Many are striving to be more “customer friendly”; Kohl’s department store was mentioned for adopting a “no questions asked” return policy with the idea that customer loyalty could be enhanced as the retailer made itself easier to do business with.

Comparisons between health care and retail abound, and while we say it is ideal for the consumer experience to be the same in both industries, in fact they are much different. The gap between the two industries was well-illustrated in this video of a shopper in a grocery store. We see them at the counter having their items rung up. But they aren’t told the prices and when they are given the receipt at the end, they’re told the final amount due may actually differ from what they see on the receipt.

Let’s take the analogy a step further: what if the customer expected the same “no questions asked” return policy from Kohl’s? Or a money back guarantee? In health care, only recently has the federal government taken steps to impose financial penalties in instances of poor care (which is the health care system’s equivalent of a “return policy” from providers).

When our team was at Subimo we initially focused on cost and quality (outcomes) information on hospitals. It was clear that – for the same procedures – there were both low cost and high quality providers as well as high cost and poor quality providers. Our efforts with transparency were designed to help people sort through the information so they could make more informed decisions and understand what quality outcomes might mean to them. We knew there was much variation in outcomes with certain procedures (e.g. aortic aneurysm repair) and less variation with others (e.g. normal vaginal delivery). Helping people understand when a poor outcome was more likely to occur helped them with their decisions (and presumably made them better shoppers).

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Getting Quality Right: Exercise Due Caution When Grading Hospitals, Schools and Doctors

If Americans judged the quality of hospital care the way Newsweek judges high schools, we would soon be inundated with “charter hospitals” that only treat healthy patients.

As reported in The New York Times, thirty-seven of Newsweek’s top 50 high schools have selective admission standards, thereby enrolling the cream of the eighth grade crop. That means that when these high scoring eighth graders reach eleventh grade, they’ll be high scoring eleventh graders, helping the school move up the Newsweek rankings. These selective admission schools simply have to avoid screwing up their talented students.

That’s no way to determine how good a school is. The measure of a good education should be to assess how well students did in that school compared to how they would have been predicted to do if they had gone to other schools.

Imagine two liver transplant programs, one whose patients experience 90% survival in the year following their transplant and the other whose patients experience only a 75% survival rate. Based on that information, the former hospital looks like the place to go when your liver fails. But aren’t you curious about the kind of patients that receive care in these two hospitals? Wouldn’t you want to know whether that first hospital was padding its statistics by selectively transplanting relatively healthy patients?

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