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Category: Health Policy

Pandemic Fears: What the AIDS Battle Should Teach Us About COVID-19

By ANISH KOKA, MD

As the globe faces a novel, highly transmissible, lethal virus, I am most struck by a medicine cabinet that is embarrassingly empty for doctors in this battle.  This means much of the debate centers on mitigation of spread of the virus.  Tempers flare over discussions on travel bans, social distancing, and self quarantines, yet the inescapable fact remains that the medical community can do little more than support the varying fractions of patients who progress from mild to severe and life threatening disease.  This isn’t meant to minimize the massive efforts brought to bear to keep patients alive by health care workers but those massive efforts to support failing organs in the severely ill are in large part because we lack any effective therapy to combat the virus.  It is akin to taking care of patients with bacterial infections in an era before antibiotics, or HIV/AIDS in an era before anti-retroviral therapy.  

It should be a familiar feeling for at least one of the leading physicians charged with managing the current crisis – Dr. Anthony Fauci.  Dr. Fauci started as an immunologist at the NIH in the 1960s and quickly made breakthroughs in previously fatal diseases marked by an overactive immune response.  Strange reports of a new disease that was sweeping through the gay community in the early 1980’s caused him to shift focus to join the great battle against the AIDS epidemic. 

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A Patient’s View of the Cures Regulations

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

How should we react to 1,718 pages of new regulation? Let’s start by stipulating the White House and HHS perspective

“Taken together, these reforms will deliver on the promise to put patients at their center of their own health care — you are empowered with control over your own health care choices.” 

Next, let’s stipulate the patient perspective via this video lovingly assembled by e-Patient Dave, Morgan Gleason, and the folks at the Society for Participatory Medicine. In less than 3 minutes, there are 15 patient stories, each with a slightly different take on success.

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Can the US health care system “pull an Italy?”

By MATTHEW HOLT

There has been a ton of analysis about COVID-19 and how bad it will get. Some like Joon Yun and Jeremy Faust say the panic is worse than the disease. Others have run the infection rate numbers and predicted that the US will run out of hospital capacity in early May and in Washington state much earlier (end of March).

But there’s no doubt that in the last week or so, sentiment has changed. This week I and 45,000 of my best friends are at home, not at HIMSS in Florida. Many big gatherings like SXSW, Comic-Con and Coachella have been cancelled. Most corporations that can are asking employees to work from home. Just this morning my local school district in California called off school plays and any gatherings with more than 100 people.

Part of this is the inevitable response to the ridiculous posing of Trump. He showed up at the CDC wearing a campaign hat and declared that he was a great doctor to be because his uncle was at MIT. The Director of the CDC and later the Surgeon-General made toadying remarks about how amazing he was. And neither Pence, Azar, Carson or anyone else allegedly in charge can give a straight answer to anything.

The nation has realized that there is no help or even basic honesty coming from the Federal government. This is after the CDC screwed up the creation of basic testing kits which put the US in a situation where it just can not know the extent of the outbreak. China denied the outbreak, then had to put Wuhan and much of their economy on lockdown. Iran may be in worse shape.

Meanwhile South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have managed their outbreaks with very rapid testing, quarantining of those infected, and extremely rapid response. The US is still blundering around. Now the private sector is trying to step in as the Feds misstep again and again.

But a likely scenario is that many regions in the US will become like Northern Italy.

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Still Fighting the Wrong Wars

By KIM BELLARD

What do the coronavirus and Navy ships have in common?  For that matter, what do our military spending and our healthcare spending have in common?  More than you might think, and it boils down to this: we spend too much for too little, in large part because we tend to always be fighting the wrong wars.  

Photo by STR/AFT via Getty Images

I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago due to a WSJ article about the U.S. Navy’s “aging and fragmented technology.”  An internal Navy strategy memo warned that the Navy is “under cyber siege” by foreign adversaries, leaking information “like a sieve.”  It grimly pointed out:

Our adversaries gain an advantage in cyberspace through guerrilla tactics within our defensive perimeters.  Once inside, malign actors steal, destroy and/or modify critical data and information. 

This is the Navy, after all, that proudly tried to modernize by installing touch screen technology on some of its ships, only to have the disaster that hit the USS McClain.  Its vaunted Integrated Bridge and Navigation System was, ProPublica found, “was a welter of buttons, gauges and software that, poorly understood and not surprisingly misused, helped guide 10 sailors to their deaths.”  And that wasn’t the only technology-enabled naval disaster in recent years.

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Hotspotting, Superutilizers, and Avoiding “RTM Traps”

Thomas Wilson
Vince Kuraitis

By THOMAS WILSON PhD, DrPH and VINCE KURAITIS JD, MBA

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on the results of a “hotspotting” program created by the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers (Camden Coalition). Hotspotting targets interventions at all or a subset of healthcare superutilizers – the 5% of patients that account for 50% of annual healthcare spending.

The results of the study were disappointing. While utilization (hospital readmissions) declined for the hotspotting group, the declines were almost identical in the control group.  At least three headlines implied that the conclusion of the study was that hotspotting care management approaches have been proven not to work:

“’Hot spotting’ doesn’t work. So what does?” Politico Pulse

“Reduce Health Costs By Nurturing The Sickest? A Much-Touted Idea Disappoints.” NPR

“Hotspotting” Apparently Doesn’t Reduce Superutilizers’ Readmissions” NEJM Journal Watch

NOT SO FAST!

As we’ll explain, we believe that much of what’s going on here can be explained by one or both of what we call “RTM Traps” (regression to the mean traps).

In this essay, we will:

  • Define RTM (regression to the mean)
  • Explain the RTM Traps and how many have fallen into the traps
  • Suggest how to avoid the RTM Traps

We believe our POV is relevant to clinical, technical, and executive staff in the many organizations focusing on the superutilizer population – hospitals, physicians, ACOs, health plans, community groups, etc.

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How eConsults Can Help PCPs Benefit From the Primary Cares Initiative

By CHRIS JAEGER MD, MBA

The Primary Cares Initiative provides new value-based payment models aiming to enhance the delivery of primary care to promote efficiency and quality while decreasing healthcare costs. In the second part of this two-part series, we explore how eConsults directly support this new initiative across several key metrics.

Introduction

The Primary Cares Initiative aims to enhance the delivery of primary care through value-based payment models. In Part One of this two-part series, we broke down the five payment models offered through this initiative, including two performance-based models (Primary Care First) and three risk-sharing plans (Direct Contracting). Alongside previous programs such as Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH), the Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC+) program, and the Medicare Advantage Value-based Insurance Design (VBID), the Primary Cares Initiative represents the most recent push for enhancing primary care within health care systems.

Yet, as programs such as these continue to emphasize primary care providers as a locus of optimal care, the question becomes: how can primary care providers (PCPs) best work within initiatives such as these to enhance care delivery efficiency and effectiveness, and what kinds of services and technologies can support this?

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Understanding #Medicare4All & the Democratic Primaries

By MATTHEW HOLT

Since Saturday’s Nevada primaries, confusion seems to be reigning about how Bernie Sanders seems to be winning. Time (and not a lot more of it) will tell who actually ends up as the Democratic nominee. But the progressive side (Bernie + Warren) is doing much better than the moderate side (Biden/Butt-edge-edge/Klobuchar) expected, while we wait to see how the  Republican side of the Democratic primary (Bloomberg) does in an actual vote. The key here is the main policy differential between the two sides, Medicare For All.

Don’t get too hung up in the details of the individual plans, especially as revealing said details may have hurt Elizabeth Warren. But do remember that there is one big difference between Sanders/Warren and the moderates. It comes down to whether everyone is in the same state-run single payer system (a modified and expanded version of Medicare) or whether the private employer system is left as it is, with expanded access to something that looks like Medicare (the public option) for everyone else. Note that no Democrat wants to stand pat on Obamacare “as is”. Everyone is way to the left of what Obama ran on in 2008 (or at least what he settled for in early 2009).

Why has this changed? Well there’s been a decade of horror stories. I’m not talking about the BS anti-Obamacare stories from people forced to give up their junk insurance, I’m talking about people with insurance being bankrupted or put through horrendous experiences, like this mother who was put through the ringer by various insurers when her 1 year old son was killed and husband injured in a road accident. Or this health tech CEO, who was an MD & JD and had to put $62,000 on his American Express card to get surgery

About 3 years ago as the dust was clearing from the Obamacare implementation, the impact of this started showing up in the polls.Continue reading…

Out of Network? Cigna, RICO and where’s the line?

By MATTHEW HOLT

Sometimes you wonder where the line is in health care. And perhaps more importantly, whether anyone in the system cares.

The last few months have been dominated by the issue of costs in health care, particularly the costs paid by consumers who thought they had coverage. It turns out that “surprise billing” isn’t that much of a surprise. Over the past few years several large medical groups, notably Team Health owned by Blackstone, have been aggressively opting out of insurers networks. They’ve figured out, probably by reading Elizabeth Rosenthal’s great story about the 2013 $117,000 assistant surgery bill that Aetna actually paid, that if they stay out of network and bill away, the chances are they’ll make more money.

On the surface this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t it be in the interests of the insurers to clamp down on this stuff and never pay up? Well not really. Veteran health insurance observer Robert Laszewski recently wrote that profits in health insurance and hospitals have never been better. Instead, the insurer, which is usually just handling the claims on behalf of the actual buyer, makes more money over time as the cost goes up.

The data is clear. Health care costs overall are going up because the speed at which providers, pharma et al. are increasing prices exceeds the reduction in volume that’s being seen in the use of most health services. Lots more on that is available from HCCI or any random tweet you read about the price of insulin. But the overall message is that as 90% of American health care is still a fee-for-service game, as the CEO of BCBS Arizona said at last year’s HLTH conference, the point of the game is generating as much revenue as possible. My old boss Ian Morrison used to joke about every hospital being in the race for the $1m hysterectomy, but in a world of falling volumes, it isn’t such a joke any more.

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Getting Ahead of Privacy and the CCPA – Healthcare Needs to Move Beyond HIPAA

By DAN LINTON

This piece is part of the series “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?” which explores whether it’s possible to advance interoperability while maintaining privacy. Check out other pieces in the series here.

Privacy concerns are on the rise. Over the last couple of years, survey after survey have clearly shown a dramatic rise in overall consumer privacy awareness and concern – driven primarily by the never-ending litany of ongoing data breaches that make the news.

The healthcare industry has been somewhat shielded from this, seemingly due to the trust that patients extend to their doctors and, by proxy, the organizations they work with. HITECH and HIPAA legislation have acted as a perceived layer of safety and protection.

But healthcare is not immune from privacy issues.

Most people aren’t even aware of the hundreds of data breaches of unsecured health information in the last 24 months which are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights. In fact, research indicates that consumers still trust healthcare organizations with their data more so than many other industries.

But for how much longer?

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The Primary Cares Initiative: How Value-Based Payment Models Aim to Strengthen Primary Care

By CHRIS JAEGER MD, MBA

In April 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the Primary Cares Initiative, which is expected to reduce administrative burdens and improve patient care while decreasing health care costs. Learn more about the Primary Cares Initiative and its proposed value-based payment models in part one of this two-part blog series. 

Introduction

While the health care landscape has never been static, rarely has it seen such radical changes as it has within recent decades. The population of the United States continues to age, and the prevalence of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and anxiety or depression contribute to a substantially increased demand for care. These factors are pushing a shift from a provider-centric model toward more efficient outcome-based models that put the patient at the center and heavily rely on primary care as the steward of patient care.

Primary care is a vital resource in dealing with the many factors altering the health care landscape. A 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that for every 10 additional primary care physicians (PCPs) per 100,000 people, patients saw a 51.5-day increased life expectancy.

To promote further adoption of primary care-based models, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced a set of payment models meant to further transform primary care through value-based options under the new Primary Cares Initiative. This voluntary initiative will test financial risk and payment arrangements for primary care physicians (PCPs) based on performance and efficiency, including five new payment models under two paths: Primary Care First (PCF) and Direct Contracting (DC). These models, slated to hit 20 states in 2020, seek to address the many difficulties in paying for, and incentivizing, valuable primary care within current payment models.

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