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Healthcare Suffers from Patient Bias

By KIM BELLARD

If you went to business school, or perhaps did graduate work in statistics, you may have heard of survivor bias (AKA, survivorship bias or survival bias).  To grossly simplify, we know about the things that we know about, the things that survived long enough for us to learn from.  Failures tend to be ignored — if we are even aware of them. 

This, of course, makes me think of healthcare.  Not so much about the patients who survive versus those who do not, but about the people who come to the healthcare system to be patients versus those who don’t. It has a “patient bias.”

Survivor bias has a great origin story, even if it may not be entirely true and probably gives too much credit to one person.  It goes back to World War II, to mathematician Abraham Wald, who was working in a high-powered classified program called the Statistical Research Group (SRG).

One of the hard questions SRG was asked was how best to armor airplanes.  It’s a trade-off: the more armor, the better the protection against anti-aircraft weapons, but the more armor, slower the plane and the fewer bombs it can carry. They had reams of data about bullet holes in returning airplanes, so they (thought they) knew which parts of the airplanes were the most vulnerable.

Dr. Wald’s great insight was, wait — what about all the planes that aren’t returning?  The ones whose data we’re looking at are the ones that survived long enough to make it back.  The real question was: where are the “missing holes”?  E.g., what was the data from the planes that did not return?

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CEO Kuldeep Singh Rajput on Biofourmis’ huge Series D raise

You may have thought the days of huge digital health rounds were over. Not quite yet! CEO Kuldeep Singh Rajput talks with Matthew Holt about Biofourmis’ $300m Series D raise. They’re in the business of sensors, digital therapeutics and chronic specialty care (cardiology/oncology) and hospital at home. And as if that wasn’t enough, they have a solid plan for both organic & “inorganic” growth!

Dara’s “Hero Quest”: How About Embracing Universal Health Care in America?

By MIKE MAGEE

Joseph Campbell, who died in 1987 at the age 83, was a professor of literature and comparative mythology at Sarah Lawrence College. His famous 1949 book, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” made the case that, despite varying cultures and religions, the hero’s story of departure, initiation, and return, is remarkably consistent and defines “the hero’s quest.” Bottom line: Refusing the call is a bad idea.

George Lucas was a close friend and has said that Star Wars was largely influenced by Campbell’s scholarship. On June 21, 1988, Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell and began with a clip from Star Wars where Darth Vader says to Luke, “Join me, and I will complete your training.” And Luke replies, “I’ll never join you!” Darth Vader then laments, “If you only knew the power of the dark side.”

Asked to comment, Campbell said, “He (Darth Vader) isn’t thinking, or living in terms of humanity, he’s living in terms of a system. And this is the threat to our lives; we all face it, we all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now, is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes.”

Systems gone awry? Think Putinesque Russia, or Psycho-pernicious Trumpism, or Ultra-predatory Capitalism.

Dara Kharowshaki, the CEO at Uber, who took over the company from uber-bro, Travis Kalanick, is a fan of Campbell’s and understands the journey of a hero – departure, initiation, return. Perhaps that is why he defines “movement” as fundamental to life…adding deliberately the qualifier “movement in the right direction.” In an interview in December, 2021, with Brian Nowak, Equity Analyst, U.S. Internet Industry, for Morgan Stanley, he pushed for corporate engagement in a range of issues including “sustainability, safety, equity, and anti-racism – these are all issues that go to the core of who we are, and our identity.”

How did health care escape that list, especially considering the companies investment in “Uber Health” – a health care delivery service promoting speed, care coordination, privacy, and cost-effective and reliable transport to and from care-giving brick and mortar?

It may have something to do with the fact that Uber has fought tooth and nail to avoid providing health care as a benefit to its drivers. In 2020, the company joined Lyft, DoorDash and other gig companies in throwing $205 million into a lobbying effort in California titled “Yes on 22”.

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Has Virgin Pulse’s Acquisition of Welltok Created a New Kind of Care Navigator?

By JESS DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Virgin Pulse has been a big name in workplace wellness for a long time – working with health plans and employers (including 25% of the Fortune 500) to provide care navigation, well-being services, health coaching and access to digital health point solutions for years. Yet, it raised some eyebrows at the end of last year when it announced its acquisition of data-driven wellness company, Welltok. So, what happens when one of the biggest names in worker wellbeing suddenly has access to a dataset of 250M healthcare consumers? Virgin Pulse’s CEO Chris Michalak stops by to talk about the value of that data, which he believes will not only turbo-charge Virgin Pulse’s engagement rates, but also provide new ways for the business to serve as a “full-on navigation capability” for employers, plans, and health systems.

As Chris puts it, Virgin Pulse has always been an “engagement company” but the addition of Welltok’s data turns it into an “activation company.” As Virgin Pulse continues to partner up with digital health point solutions, bring digital therapeutics into the fold, and build-out primary care relationships as a lead stream, the platform Chris describes starts to sound more and more like a navigation business that competes with the likes of Accolade or Included Health. Will Virgin Pulse one-day dip into primary care themselves and add their own virtual care providers? Will they build their own digital therapeutics with data derived from that rich Welltok database? We get into the ‘what’s next’ for the business as it integrates its latest acquisition and seeks to win more C-suite attention from employers seeking to better manage their employees’ access to healthcare benefits.

#HealthTechDeals Episode 23; Real, Iris Telehealth, 9am Health, Eko & Duos

In this episode of Health Tech Deals, Jess thinks the music has stopped as Rock Health reports Q1’s funding total being below Q4 2022! No $100m rounds today! But still $37m for Real; $40m for Iris Telehealth; only $16m for 9am Health but lots of Livongo connections; $30m for Eko and $15m for Papa-lookalike Duos

-Matthew Holt

Matthew’s health care tidbits: Hospital System Concentration is a Money Machine

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

For today’s health care tidbits, there’s an old chestnut that I can’t seem to stay away from. I was triggered by three articles this week. Merril Goozner on GoozNews looked at the hospital building boom. Meanwhile perennial favorite Sutter Health and its price-making ability came up in a report showing that 11 of the 19 most expensive hospital markets were in N. Cal where it’s dominant. Finally the Gist newsletter pointed out that almost all the actual profits of the big health systems came from their investing activities rather than their operations.

None of this is any great surprise. Over the past three decades, the big hospital systems have become more concentrated in their markets. They’ve acquired smaller community hospitals and, more importantly, feeder systems of primary care doctors. Meanwhile they’ve cut deals with and acquired specialty practices. For more than two decades now, owned-physicians have been the loss leader and hospitals have made money on their high cost inpatient services, and increasingly on what used to be inpatient services which are now delivered in outpatient settings at essentially inpatient rates. Prices, though, have not fallen – as the HCCI report shows.

Source: HCCI

The overall cost of care, now more and more delivered in these increasingly oligopolistic health systems, continues to increase. Consequently so do overall insurance premiums, costs for self insured employers and employees, and out of pocket costs. And as a by-product, the reserves of those health systems, invested like and by hedge funds, are increasing–enabling them to buy more feeder systems.

Wendell Potter, former Cigna PR guy and now overall heath insurer critic, wrote a piece this week on how much bigger and more concentrated the health plans have become in the last decade. But the bigger story is the growth of hospital systems, and their cost and clout. Dave Chase likes to say that America has gone to war for less than what hospitals have done to the American economy. That may be a tad hyperbolic, but no one would rationally design a health care environment where non-profit hospitals are getting bigger and richer, and don’t seem to be able to restrain any aspect of their growth.

#HealthTechDeals Episode 21: IntelyCare, Avi Medical, Eleos Health, Evernow & Vivosense

Well at least my hair is under control today. What’s not under control is the chatter about Olive from Erin Brodwin at Axios, even if I don’t get Jess’ joke about the internet of Health Care. Meanwhile deals in nursing recruitment for IntelyCare ($115m), Avi Medical (50M Euros), Eleos Health ($20m), Evernow ($20m) and $25m for Vivosense–note my total inability to say their investor’s name!–Matthew Holt

Breaking down Optum’s $6.4 Billion Acquisition of LHC Group

I’m delighted to have a new contributor on THCB today. Blake Madden writes an excellent health care business newsletter called The Healthy Muse, which I highly suggest you subscribe to. Recently he gave his take on Optum’s latest big acquisition and it’s the first of I hope many pieces of his we’ll run on THCB–Matthew Holt

by BLAKE MADDEN

On March 29, UnitedHealthcare’s Optum announced its acquisition of LHC Group for $170/share. The transaction values LHC at about $6.4 billion including debt.

I know we all joke about working for UnitedHealthcare one day, but it’s terrifying when you think about their sheer scale. Even scarier when you look at Optum’s growth:

  • Optum Revenue in 2012: $29.4 billion
  • Optum Revenue in 2021: $155.6 billion. Like. What.

LHC Group is an important acquisition for Optum. Payors are continuing to morph into ‘payviders’ and UHG / Optum has a huge competitive advantage given its 60k aligned physician base. Acquiring LHC Group accelerates this payvider trend but also allows UHG to catch up to Humana, who now owns all of Kindred, in the post-acute sphere.

Meanwhile, Optum is deploying its grand vision of integrated care delivery right before our eyes. It’s happening whether you like it or not.

Even though I provided a first-impressions breakdown on Twitter related to the deal, I had to break this deal down into more detail and give you guys my thoughts on why the LHC acquisition is so significant.

Let’s dive in.


Investment and Deal Thesis.

LHC Group is well-positioned on a few fronts in the fast-growing home health sector:

  • They’re partnered with 435 health systems, giving Optum access to hundreds of hospital joint ventures.
  • Home health and at-home care is a MUCH more desirable care setting for Medicare beneficiaries. Comfort and patient experience is a huge factor.
  • Of all post-acute care settings, home health is the most cost-effective. Home health costs way less than skilled nursing. Lower costs = lower medical loss ratio for United. By keeping patients out of SNFs and hospitals, these programs could disrupt facility-based care delivery in the coming years.
  • From a demographics standpoint, home health benefits from an aging baby boomer population. Medicare will cover 79 million people by 2030 a major secular trend for healthcare. I’m sure you’re all WELL aware of that!
  • PDGM and other headwinds for smaller agencies will run out of relief funding, resulting in consolidation. This consolidation will benefit larger home health platforms.

In summary, LHC Group is a great operator in a high-growth industry: Home Health.

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#HealthTechDeals Episode 20: Clarify Health, Season, Altoida, nirvanaHealth, and Pluto

What’s with my baseball hat? Find out in this episode! Apparently, someone thinks my hair is a bit out of control and needs some trimming. In this episode of Health Tech Deals, Jess and I review Clarify Health raising $150 million; Season raising $34 million; Altoida grabbing $20 million; nirvanaHealth getting $60 million; and Pluto Health raising $9 million–Matthew Holt

MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 3)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the third part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

Risk status and RAF

What is on the MedPac radar screen and what keeps their attention and what actually takes up several long portions of the annual report this year is the other factor that changes the payment levels to the plans — the risk status of their enrollees.

The capitation levels that are paid to the plans are affected very directly by the health status levels of the actual enrollees.

Risk levels for the members set and change the payment levels for the plans. The very first capitation programs didn’t factor in relative risk status for the members, and it was possible for some care sites to make major profits on capitation just by enrolling healthier than average people and by being paid an average cost level for each area for the people they enrolled.

That initial payment process has evolved very intentionally into having diagnosis-based cost factors that attempt to link the health status of the members and a fair payment level for the plans. The plans identify for the risk filing process the diagnosis levels for the members and their payment levels as plans are directly affected by the risk levels they report for their members.

People have had some concern about whether some parts of that coding process have been done badly, incorrectly or with purely avaricious intent.

There have been significant levels of concern expressed about whether the plans might be able and willing to produce and present inaccurate and distorted information in the process. That alarm was triggered in part by the fact that some of the plans made getting that information into their annual filings a high priority and some were more successful than others in that process.

It is good to have accurate diagnosis information.

We actually should as a nation and a health care macro system want to see an expansion of our data base and our medical records on basic levels of diagnostic information.

As a nation and as a macro care system we should definitely want to have full diagnosis information for each patient. Care can be better when caregivers have the right diagnosis for all of their patients.

How CMS  has changed Risk Adjustment

CMS just did a brilliant thing and completely eliminated the filing system and process for risk coding and data.

The CMS Hierarchical Conditions Categories Risk Adjustment Model was just killed. CMS just took the system that has created the vast majority of concerns and churn about the issues of coding intensity and shut it down.

It no longer is a factor for any risk scores. CMS will still look at the relative risk levels of patients but will get that information completely from patient encounter filings and direct patient information and not from any plan filings or reports.

An entire industry of organizations working to enhance risk scores just became obsolete and irrelevant.

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