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Why Hillarycare failed…and what we need to learn from that failure

By MATTHEW HOLT

In July 2005 George W Bush had relatively recently won a Presidential election in which the Republican won the popular vote (something that will likely never happen again) & the Republicans controlled all three branches of Government. Those of us liberals at the bottom of a dark trench were wondering if and how we’d get to health reform. So in another reprint to celebrate THCB’s 15th birthday, here was my then take on what went wrong in 1994 and what would happen next–Matthew Holt     

There are lots of versions about what killed the 1993-4 health care reform effort.  Hillary Clinton has now decided that the problem was the lack of incrementalism in her plan.  Last week the New York Times said that since becoming a Senator:

“She has deliberately avoided the major mistake she made as first lady, namely trying to sell an ambitious plan to a public with no appetite for radical change. <SNIP>. She summed up her approach in the first floor speech she delivered in the Senate about four years ago, when she unveiled a series of relatively modest health care initiatives. “I learned some valuable lessons about the legislative process, the importance of bipartisan cooperation and the wisdom of taking small steps to get a big job done,” she said, referring to the 1994 defeat of her health care plan.”

On the other hand, some people are still claiming victory for the plan’s defeat even if they were at most modest bit players.  Here’s what one fawning bio says about former New York Lt Governor Betsy McCaughey

“A 35-year-old senior fellow named Elizabeth McCaughey…wrote an article for The New Republic on what she discovered in a close reading of the 1,431-page document containing the Clinton Health Care Plan: Namely, that it would put every citizen in a single government-operated HMO. That one article shot down the entire blimp, and Betsy McCaughey became a 35-year-old Cinderella. One of the richest men in America chose her as his wife, and George Pataki made her lieutenant governor of New York.”

Ignoring the fact that McCaughey spent her time thereafter putting poor New Yorkers into those HMOs she so despised, and then went off the deep end en route to divorce from Pataki, the rich guy, and reality (not necessarily in that order), it’s not really true that one article in The New Republic can be quite that influential. (Sorry Jon!).  Even if the overly geeky Clintonistas in the White House did feel that they had to come out with a point by point rebuttal. And anyway, the article only came out in January 1994 by which time the die was more or less cast the other way. Again we have to look elsewhere for the explanation.

If you want to go back and spend a few minutes wallowing in the era of trial balloons and secret task forces, there’s a very interesting time line of the whole process on the NPR website, as well as a briefer information over at the Clinton Health Plan Wikipedia site.Continue reading…

Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 43

Jessica DaMassa cracks her whip and in just 2 minutes gets answers out of me about the bidding for #athenahealth, the new clinics at #Amazon, the #FDA approving #NaturalCycles as a contraceptive, and the tech giants getting on stage unprompted at ONC’s Blue Button 2.0 day to tell the world that they are going to fix the interoperability problem. Oh, and a shout out to THCB’s 15th birthday–Matthew Holt

As I’ve always suspected, Health Care = Communism + Frappuccinos

By MATTHEW HOLT

Happy 15th birthday THCB! Yes, 15 years ago today this little blog opened for business and changed my life (and at least impacted a few others). Later this week we are going to celebrate and tell you a bit more about what the next 15 years (really?) of THCB might look like. But for now, I’m rerunning a few of my favorite pieces from the mid-2000s, the golden age of blogging. Today I present “Health Care = Communism + Frappuccinos”, one of my favorites about the relationship between government and private sector originally published here on Jan7, 2005. And like the Medicare one from last week, it sure holds true today. Matthew Holt

Those of you who think I’m an unreconstructed commie will correctly suspect that I’ve always discussed Marxism in my health care talks. You’d be amazed at how many audiences of hospital administrators in the mid-west know nothing about the integral essentials of Marx’s theory of history. And I really enjoy bring the light to them, especially when I manage to reference Mongolia 1919, managed care and Communism in the same bullet point.

While I’ve always been very proud of that one (err.. maybe you have to be there, but you could always hire me to come tell it!), even if I am jesting, there’s a really loose use of the concept of Marxism in this 2005 piece (reprinted in 2009) called A Prescription for Marxism in Foreign Policy from (apparently) libertarian-leaning Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff. He opens with this little nugget:

“Karl Marx may have suffered a second death at the end of the last century, but look for a spirited comeback in this one. The next great battle between socialism and capitalism will be waged over human health and life expectancy. As rich countries grow richer, and as healthcare technology continues to improve, people will spend ever growing shares of their income on living longer and healthier lives.”

Actually he’s right that there will be a backlash against the (allegedly) market-based capitalism — which has actually been closer to all-out mercantilist booty capitalism — that we’re seen over the last couple of decades. History tends to be reactive and societies go through long periods of reaction to what’s been seen before. In fact the 1980-20?? (10-15?) period of “conservatism” is a reaction to the 1930-1980 period of social corporatism seen in most of the western world. And any period in which the inequality of wealth and income in one society continues to grow at the current rate will eventually invite a reaction–you can ask Louis XVI of France about that.

But when Rogoff is talking about Marxism in health care what he really means is that, because health care by definition will consume more and more of our societal resources, the arguments about the creation and distribution of health care products and services will look more like the arguments seen in the debates about how the government used to allocate resources for “guns versus butter” in the 1950s. These days we are supposed to believe that government blindly accepts letting “the market” rule, even if for vast sways of the economy the government clearly rules the market, which in turn means that those corporations with political influence set the rules and the budgets (quick now, it begins with an H…). Continue reading…

The First Post: What’s Wrong with Medicare?

By MATTHEW HOLT

So The Health Care Blog  (which I like to think of as the first proper health care blog whatever Jacob Reider says about his Docnotes which started in 1999!) is 15 yrs old this month.  This is the start of our little anniversary celebration. We are going to be running some of the earlier classic posts. The very first post on “What’s wrong with Medicare” still rings true- Matthew Holt

For the first post, don’t expect a big essay despite that subject line. It came up because while I was away from the US for the first part of this year, yet another incarnation of NME or HCA — the two original for profit hospital chains of the 1970s that amalgamated into Columbia (now calling itself HCA again!) and Tenet — got caught with its hand in the cookie jar.  You’ll remember NME getting bad press and worse in the 1980s for imposing unwanted inpatient stays on “psychiatric patients”. After that NME morphed into Tenet. Columbia of course said that “health care had never worked like this before” and they were right — to the extent of the upcoding and fraudulent billing going on in its hospitals in the mid 1990s.  I remember one cover of Modern Healthcare in which Tenet’s strategy was encapsulated as “We’re not Columbia”.  Apparently only slogan deep. Last week they settled with the state and feds in California due to massive amounts of upcoding and worse at Redding Medical Center. Several other settlements are pending.

The New York Times’ description (registration req’d) of the level of unnecessary surgery at the Redding Medical Center is quite shocking. But I do recall Alain Enthoven at Stanford telling me in 1991 that one third of carotid andarterectomies in California were found to be counter-indicated after chart review.  Why were they done?  Well everyone — surgeons, hospitals, supplier– made money by doing them. Given the imbalance in knowledge between a patient and a doctor, it’s not too surprising that a very aggressive surgeon can do way more than he or she should.  Medicare is still basically a fee-for-service program with very little oversight, and so this type of thing is going to go on and on. And it has been going on for a while, as this partial list of whistlebower suits shows. Enthoven’s view was that everyone should be put into competing managed care plans which would act as patient (and payer) sponsors, and look after the money better than the government could.  It didn’t happen that way, and the backlash against managed care’s ham-fisted attempts to do so ensured that most health plans gave up on trying to control what providers did.  Medicare never really ever tried, as all its internal review cases were co-opted by providers.  Its only weapons were inquisitions and indictments from the FBI and others well after the fact. Eventually Medicare will have to have more controls, but that will need reform as well as more money. I’ll talk more about this when I get to drug coverage later this week.  Suffice it to say, don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, Uwe Reinhardt says in the NY Times article that (despite Wall Street’s desires) hospitals “can’t be a growth industry like some Internet company”. Well maybe not a “growth” sector, Uwe, but look at Yahoo’s stock price in 2000, Tenet’s this year, and tell me that you’re not getting some of that Internet fever coming back!

Matthew Holt is the Founder of THCB.

Health in 2 Point 00, Episode 42

As I’m back from a week’s vacation, Jessica DaMassa is slowly pulling me back into the groove with questions about Walmart dumping Castlight, yet more money for telemedicine with MDLive adding $50m, and get.health sponsoring a few tickets to health2con. All in 2 minutes, with a bit of filler!–Matthew Holt

 

The Following is an Excerpt from the Book “Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner): An Invitation and Guide to Life’s Most Important Conversation”

By MICHAEL HEBB

The train sped along from Seattle to Portland on a spectacular summer morning, following the track along the waterways of the lower Puget Sound. One of my daughters lived in Portland at the time, so I found myself on the train frequently. Like most of us, I don’t seek out conversations with strangers while traveling, which is unfortunate, as I have had transformative moments when I decide to engage and treat fellow passengers as fellow humans.

That day the train was crowded, and I didn’t have the option of keeping my distance. I found myself at a table with two women—both physicians and both of whom had left the conventional healthcare system because the chaos had disgusted and beaten them down. They didn’t know one another before that crowded train ride but weren’t surprised when they’d so quickly found common ground.

I asked them what piece of our healthcare system was most broken? They both immediately answered, speaking at the same time: “How we die. End of Life.” This was in 2012, and how we die in America was not front-page news. (Atul Gawande’s Being

Mortal wasn’t published until two years later.) I was taken aback and asked for more information. I quickly learned two devastating statistics: that end-of-life care is the number-one factor in American bankruptcies and that although 80 percent of Americans want to die at home, only 20 percent do.

Continue reading…

Health Care’s Third Wave

By DAVID M. CORDANI

Change and American health care have become synonymous. “Change” can be exciting and life-altering when it refers to the innovative new therapies and treatments that improve or extend life, many of those originating in the United States. Change, though, can be a tremendous source of anxiety for families concerned with the affordability of care and stability in their health care coverage choices. It is the tension between these two definitions of change that the United States has struggled to solve over the past three decades.

As we have all witnessed, the health care marketplace has gone through two successive waves of change over the past 30 years, with the third wave now upon us.  The first wave was managed care, which sought to rein in cost and quality relative to “unmanaged care.” But while managed care made some gains, it still proved to be unsustainable in its constraint of choice and its focus on financing “sick care” rather than on optimization of health.

The second wave of “reforms” saw companies like Cigna evolve – or change – from “insurance” to a health services focus, with more engagement and support for the individual and partnerships with health care providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers predicated on the health outcomes achieved rather than the volume of services provided.  The second wave has seen the health care industry as a whole work together to improve health, lower health risks and improve the cost structure of the employer-sponsored market, which has in turn subsidized the entire system.

In that environment, Cigna has been able to deliver the best medical cost trend over the past five years – below 3 percent in 2017 or half that of the industry. So why risk disrupting a winning formula by acquiring the pharmacy services company Express Scripts?  Because the system still isn’t sustainable and maintaining the status quo of rising costs means you are effectively moving backwards.

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Susannah Fox on Teens & Digital Health Study

How are teens and young adults engaging with digital health? Results of a national survey asking just that were released today by Susannah Fox (Former CTO at US Dept of HHS) and her research partner, Victoria Rideout.

You can check out the full report of the findings here, but I spoke with Susannah in April, just as she and Victoria were starting to draw some insights from their work.

Hearing her talk about the survey at this stage of synthesis is not only unique (most researchers won’t talk until the findings are published) but more so because it adds a layer of understanding to the final results now that they’re here.

We get her candor about how teens and young adults are a wildly viable – yet very overlooked – market for digital health…

We see how she’s trying to formulate a much larger hypothesis about what healthcare can learn about social media from a generation that has never lived without it and, more importantly, view it as having a positive impact on their well-being…

And, probably most inspiring to me, we see an approach to health data that stands out for its warmth. For it’s love, really. In a world of big data and clinical trials, it’s endearing to hear from someone who is taking a more anthropological approach and who has fallen absolutely, head-over-heels in LOVE with the personal side of her dataset.

As we all clamor for a patient-centered end, we’d be remiss to underestimate the value of a human-centered starting point. Watch Susannah Fox for a strong model of how this can be done in health research.

Filmed at Health DataPalooza, Washington DC, April 2018. Find more interviews with the people pushing healthcare to better tomorrow at www.wtf.health

Digital Health and the Two-Canoe Problem

By DAN O’NEILL

Digital Health and the Two-Canoe Problem

As healthcare gradually tilts from volume to value, physicians and hospitals fear the instability of straddling “two canoes.” Value-based contracts demand very different business practices and clinical habits from those which maximize fee-for-service revenue, but with most income still anchored on volume, providers often cannot afford a wholesale pivot towards cost-conscious care.  That financial pressure shapes investment and procurement budgets, creating a downstream version of the two-canoe problem for digital health products geared toward outcomes or efficiency. Value-based care is still the much smaller canoe, so buyers de-prioritize these tools, or expect slim returns on such investment.  That, in turn, creates an odd disconnect.  Frustrated clinicians struggle to implement new care models while wrestling with outdated technology and processes built to capture codes and boost fee-for-service revenue. Meanwhile, products focused on cost-effectiveness and quality face unexpectedly weak demand and protracted sales cycles.  That can short-circuit further investment and ultimately slow the transition to value.

To skirt these shoals, most successful innovators have clustered around three primary strategies.  Each aims to establish a foothold in a predominantly fee-for-service ecosystem, while building technology and services suited for value-based care, as the latter expands.  A better understanding of these models – and how they address different payment incentives – could help clinicians shape implementation priorities within their organizations, and guide new ventures trying to craft a viable commercial strategy.

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Who Cares About the Doctor-Patient Relationship? A Review of “Next In Line: Lowered Care Expectations in the Age of Retail- and Value-Based Health”

By KIP SULLIVAN, JD

A mere two decades ago, the headlines were filled with stories about the “HMO backlash.” HMOs (which in the popular media meant most insurance companies) were the subject of cartoons, the butt of jokes by comedians, and the target of numerous critical stories in the media. They were even the bad guys in some movies and novels. Some defenders of the insurance industry claimed the cause of the backlash was the negative publicity and doctors whispering falsehoods about managed care into the ears of their patients. That was nonsense. The industry had itself to blame.

The primary cause of the backlash was the heavy-handed use of utilization review in all its forms –prior, concurrent, and retrospective. There were other irritants, including limitations on choice of doctor and hospital, the occasional killing or injuring of patients by forcing them to seek treatment from in-network hospitals, and attempts by insurance companies to get doctors not to tell patients about all available treatments. But utilization review was far and away the most visible irritant.

The insurance industry understood this and, in the early 2000s, with the encouragement of the health policy establishment, rolled out an ostensibly kinder and gentler version of managed care, a version I and a few others call Managed Care 2.0. What distinguished Managed Care 2.0 from Managed Care 1.0 was less reliance on utilization review and greater reliance on methods of controlling doctors and hospitals that patients and reporters couldn’t see. “Pay for performance” was the first of these methods out of the chute. By 2004 the phrase had become so ubiquitous in the health policy literature it had its own acronym – P4P. By the late 2000s, the invisible “accountable care organization” and “medical home” had replaced the HMO as the entities that were expected to achieve what HMOs had failed to achieve, and “value-based payment” had supplanted “managed care” as the managed care movement’s favorite label for MC 2.0.

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