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Category: Health Policy

The Story of an American Mask Distributor

By SAURABH JHA

Seven weeks before President Trump declared COVID-19 a federal emergency heralding the economic lockdown, Jesse’s customers began cutting their orders. Jesse sells garments and cotton, imported predominantly from India, to wholesalers and retailers, big and small, in malls across the North East corridor.  His business had a good January. December was like any December. But February was different.  His customers, reassuring him that it wasn’t personal, were predicting a falling demand for their products because of COVID-19. They may be over reacting, but better shortage than glut, they felt.

Jesse, who has no medical background, had heard of a virus which quarantined cruise ships, but nothing seemed foreboding back in February. He had tuned out the President, who was being his usual clownish self. It was business as usual in Manhattan, where he lives. He received reassuring messages from public health figures about the novel coronavirus. New York City’s mayor was particularly upbeat, urging New Yorkers to mingle with even more vigor.

Jesse didn’t know how to reassure his customers. A week later, more customers cancelled their orders. By middle of February, the orders halved. Being a businessman, not philosopher, it mattered not to him why his customers had seemingly overestimated COVID-19’s threat. What mattered is that they had. Since his business operated on small margins, the reverberations could be substantial. The first order of the day was reducing the output of his factory in India which was running on all cylinders.

The second order of the day was survival. If his customers’ fears came true, his business would be destroyed. Jesse had no qualms accepting government bailout. But this was long before the federal government announced relief for businesses. The virus had yet to strike Italy. COVID-19, like Chengiz Khan, seemed to prefer the eastern perimeters of the Silk Road.

In his culture, Jesse Singh is an American Sikh hailing from the Punjab – there’s a simple rule. When customers don’t want a certain product, find something else to sell. His family motto is that you should love the act of selling, not the product being sold (the motto sounds better when said by a Punjabi in Punjabi).  

Another Punjabi rule, technically not a rule but part of their cultural RNA, is that Punjabis don’t sit idle. During the partition of the subcontinent, thousands of Sikhs arrived at Delhi train station hungry, battered, penniless, and homeless, after losing their homes and families to the mobs. After feeling sorry for themselves for a couple of days, they started selling tea and biscuits on the railway platforms.

If the panic from coronavirus could shut old businesses it surely could open new ones, Jesse thought. A soaring demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) seemed obvious. Since N-95 supply was regulated, he threw his weight behind surgical masks, believing that they’d be demanded by healthcare workers and eventually the general public. He decided to import a small batch on a trial basis.

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Take Your Mom to Work

By KIM BELLARD

If you are a working mom, or married to one, or simply know one, you know that it is tough to balance a job and raising a child even under ideal circumstances.  Even if she has a supportive spouse, chances are that it is the mom who ends up providing the most child care, and whose career it impacts the most.

But, of course, these are not ideal circumstances.  Prior to the pandemic, women had made great strides in the workforce; more women had payroll jobs than men, for example (although they continued to be paid less for them).  Those gains quickly came crashing down once the pandemic hit.  It is believed to be the first time that job and incomes losses have hit women harder than men.  Some are calling our pandemic-driven economic downturn a “shecession” as a result.   

That’s bad enough, but the even bigger danger is that the pandemic could set back women’s careers for a generation. 

recent study by Collins, et. alia confirmed what most might have guessed: in the wake of the pandemic, women are more likely than men to have reduced their work hours to take on additional child care responsibilities due to school/daycare closing — four or five times as much.  

The study found that:

Scaling back work is part of a downward spiral that often leads to labor force exits—especially in cases where employers are inflexible with schedules or penalize employees unable to meet work expectations in the face of growing care demands.  

We are also concerned that many employers will be looking for ways to save money and it may be at the expense of mothers who have already weakened their labor market attachment.

Even more worrying, lead author Caitlyn Collins, a professor at Washington University, says: “Our findings indicate mothers are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and may face long-term employment penalties as a consequence.”  

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The Need for Measuring Clinician-Patient Cost-of-Care Conversations

By MORENIKE AYOVAUGHAN, NELLY GANESAN, EMMY GANOS, and JOSH SEIDMAN

It is no surprise that beyond COVID-19 health risks, the pandemic has also caused significant disruption to the lives of everyone in America. It has caused exacerbating financial pressures and ongoing job losses. An estimated 42 million people have lost their job since March 2020, which has increased the number of uninsured. The loss of coverage has the potential to yield catastrophic healthcare costs for those seeking care during the period.

It is no surprise that beyond COVID-19 health risks, the pandemic has also caused significant disruption to the lives of everyone in America. It has caused exacerbating financial pressures and ongoing job losses. An estimated 42 million people have lost their job since March 2020, which has increased the number of uninsured. The loss of coverage has the potential to yield catastrophic healthcare costs for those seeking care during the period.

While the pandemic has exacerbated coverage challenges, it also highlights gaps that existed long before the outbreak. Prior to COVID-19, average out-of-pocket costs were on the rise with an estimated 24% of Americans spending over $1,000 per year on direct medical care and surprise medical billing. The pandemic-induced economic disruption reinforces the need for physicians and patients to embrace conversations regarding cost in the clinical setting; avoiding such discussion may result in patients foregoing care and not realizing their options.

Patients should be able to rely on their clinicians to help them understand the costs of their care, including losses associated with the time away from work and transportation expenses for visits. Our past research, and the research of others, has demonstrated that these conversations are valued and can be impactful in helping patients understand their options to address concerns upfront. And yet, the concept of having a Cost-of-Care (CoC) conversation is merely optional. These conversations are not typically supported with access to price information, nor are they consistently viewed as a routine part of practice. Cost conversations are not consistently documented, lack standardization, and structure. Furthermore, physicians have not adequately been trained to address CoC conversations with their patients.  

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How to Pandemic-Proof Our Health Care Payment System

By AISHA PITTMAN and SETH EDWARDS

The pandemic has focused many policymakers’ attention  on strategies to make the healthcare system better. The obvious answer is one that we know is efficacious, if perhaps not the sexiest: value-based care.

The current healthcare payment system – built around the fee-for-service (FFS) model in which healthcare providers are reimbursed for the quantity versus quality of care – required $175 billion in bailouts and temporary modifications to remain whole during the crisis, a stance that’s unsustainable for both providers and payers.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) admitted as much with its renewed national commitment to value-based care in late June: The movement to value is happening now.

The worth of value-based care models has long been detailed, from more coordinated care to lower costs. In fact, a recent survey conducted by our organization Premier Inc. found that healthcare providers in alternative payment models (APMs) were better positioned to respond to COVID-19 and support reopening plans through the rapid deployment of telehealth, care management and data analytics. These are the types of population health capabilities the industry must focus on spreading – and incenting – in the near future.

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Redefining Values in American Health Care

By RICHARD HOEHN, MD

Experts claim we could have been better prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. With an annual budget of $400-700 million, the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is designed to respond to chemical, biological, and other disasters. Its $8 billion inventory included 13,000 ventilators and a limited supply of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and medical supplies. This left state and local governments scrambling as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated and the capacity of many hospitals was overwhelmed.

Faced with immediate and visible death and suffering, leaders took drastic steps to contain the virus, “flatten the curve,” and mitigate economic consequences. Trillions of dollars were allocated to recovery and stimulus packages.

This scenario mirrors our general approach to health care: chronic underfunding of public health followed by high costs and loss of life.

While not as shocking as a sudden pandemic, millions of Americans struggle daily with medical and socioeconomic challenges. Our health care system is designed to care for these patients when they have a problem, not to keep them well. This creates a dichotomy where a minority of the population spends most of the health care dollars and little is invested in the remaining majority

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Post Covid Healthcare is Becoming Like Buying from Amazon Instead of Going to the Mall or Reading an eBook Instead of a Paperback

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

Now that we are seeing patients via telemedicine or even getting reimbursed for handling their issues over the phone, our existing healthcare institutions are more and more starting to look like shopping malls. 

They were once traffic magnets, so large that they created new developments far away from where people lived or worked and big and complex enough that going there became an all day affair for many people. 

What this pandemic has brought us is a shift in our view of where you have to be in order to get things done. If you can earn your wage remotely and still buy things online when offices and physical stores are shut down, it seemed logical to try to offer healthcare the same way. And most of us have found that it works surprisingly well. 

The analogy with Amazon runs deeper than that. Amazon isn’t just one megaprovider, but also a funnel for many small merchants who sell their products through Amazon. Consumers take advantage of the convenience of this centralized ordering or point of contact with a vast supply network of almost any product that money can buy. But they only give their credit card number to one central contact. 

I don’t follow business literature enough to know if Jeff Bezos chose the name Amazon partly (yes, I know he went through the dictionary) because of a vision of many small contributories coming together into the second largest river in the world. But that is certainly a visual representation of what his business looks like. And “Amazon” ranks higher in the alphabet and sounds a lot catchier than “The Nile”. 

Enter healthcare: Imagine the trusted brand names of our “industry” but without their traditional complete reliance on bricks and mortar places that patients have to visit. 

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The THCB Book Club!

By JESSICA DAMASSA & MATTHEW HOLT

We are launching a new THCB program! The THCB Book Club (TM) is going to be a discussion with leading health care authors, which will be released on the third Wednesday of every month.

We are kicking off with the new book from Hemant Teneja (VC at General Catalyst who has been writing many big checks lately) and Stephen Klasko (CEO at Jefferson Health System and one of the most unusual hospital system bosses in America). Their book is called UnHealthcare: A Manifesto for Health Assurance which is a how-to for creating a platform for a revolutionary future for healthcare, Taneja said. “Health assurance is an emerging category of consumer-centric, data-driven healthcare services that are designed to bend the cost curve of care and help us stay well.” Sitting in on the interview because we can’t get rid of him we will also have Glen Tullman from Livongo (Just kidding, Glen!). He will weigh in on how this connects with his new idea of Consumer Directed Virtual Care. Matthew may say something about the Continuous Clinic too, and Jessica will keep score of all the crises, Tsunamis, the many ways the health care is broken, and how many zingers Glen & Matthew get in on each other!

We want YOU to read the book in advance and email us questions or comments for us to ask the author(s) before the show. (We record a day or two in advance so please email us or put question in the comments here or on Twitter by the 17th). 

Please go buy the book here (eVersion only $6!)

It should be a lot of fun and very educational! This will be up on THCB on August 19.

In September the author will be Jane Metcalfe with her 2020 book NEO.LIFE

Health Insurance Needs to Grow Up

By KIM BELLARD

I’ve been covered by private insurance my entire life.  Even more telling, I worked in the health insurance industry for — gasp! — some thirty years.  It’s not just paid for my healthcare, it’s financed my life.

Today, though, for the first time in my life, I’m covered by public insurance — and I couldn’t be more relieved.  

Now, I’m not going to go all Wendell Potter.  I know many people have their health insurance horror stories, but, sadly, people have them about pretty much every part of the healthcare industry.  I believe most people working in health insurance, like most people working in healthcare generally, sympathize with the people they serve and are just trying to do a good job.  

The problem is that the health insurance model has outgrown the times.  I’ll try to explain some ways how.

Premiums

Once upon a time, most people had employer coverage, and those employers paid all or most of its cost.  Those days are gone.  Employer coverage is still the predominant form of private health insurance, and employers still pay the majority of its cost, but percentage of people with employer coverage continues to drop and the amount they pay for it continues to increase.  

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COVID herd immunity: At hand or forever elusive?

By MICHEL ACCAD, MD

With cases of COVID-19 either disappeared or rapidly diminishing from places like Wuhan, Italy, New York, and Sweden, many voices are speculating that herd immunity may have been reached in those areas and that it may be at hand in the remaining parts of the world that are still struggling with the pandemic.  Lockdowns should end—or may not have been needed to begin with, they conclude. Adding plausibility to their speculation is the discovery of biological evidence suggesting that prior exposure to other coronaviruses may confer some degree of immunity against SARS-CoV2, an immunity not apparent on the basis of antibody seroprevalence studies.

Opposing those viewpoints are those who dismiss the recent immunological claims and insist that rates of infections are far below those expected to confer immunity on a community. They believe that the main reason for the declining numbers are the behavioral changes that have occurred either under force of government edict or, in the case of Sweden, more voluntarily. What’s more, they remind us that the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 occurred in 3 distinct waves. In the summer of 1918 influenza seemed overcome until a second wave hit in the fall. Herd immunity could not possibly have accounted for the end of the first wave.

The alarmists may have a point.  However, recent history offers a more instructive example.

Until early 2015, epidemiologists considered Mongolia to be exemplary in how it kept measles under control. In the mid-1990s, the country instituted a robust vaccination program with low incidences of outbreaks, even by the standards of developed countries. In the early 2000s, it adopted a 2-step MMR immunization schedule and, after 2005, its vaccination rates were upwards of 95%. From 2011 through 2014, not a single case of the virus was recorded, leading the WHO to declare measles “eradicated” from Mongolia in November 2014.  

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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Innovation Challenges Blog Post Announcing Semi-Finalists

SPONSORED POST

By CATALYST @ HEALTH 2.0

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has underscored the need for efficient and innovative emergency response. Major health organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, have provided resources that can be utilized for organizational preparedness, caring for patients, and enabling the workforce during the pandemic.

As COVID-19 brought to light the lack of emergency response preparedness in the health care system, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Catalyst saw an opportunity to highlight digital health’s potential to support health care stakeholders and the general public. RWJF and Catalyst partnered to launch two Innovation Challenges on Emergency Response for the General Public and Emergency Response for the Health Care System. 

The Emergency Response Innovation Challenges asked innovators to develop a health technology tool to support the needs of individuals as well as health care systems affected by a large-scale health crisis, such as a pandemic or natural disaster. The Challenges saw a record number of applications— nearly 125 applications were submitted to the General Public Challenge and over 130 applications were submitted to the Health Care System Challenge. 

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