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Category: Health Policy

I Have a Strong Relationship with my Bank but I Almost Never Go There. How Could this Translate to Primary Care?

By HANS DUVEFELT, MD

Imagine if your bank handled all your online transactions for free but charged you only when you visited your local branch – and then kept pestering you to come in, pay money and chat with them every three months or at least once a year if you wanted to keep your accounts active.

Of course that’s not how banks operate. There are small ongoing charges (or margins off the interest they pay you) for keeping your money and for making it possible to do almost everything from your iPhone these days. Yes, there may be additional charges for things that can’t be done without the bank’s personalized assistance, but those things happen at your request, not by the bank’s insistence.

Compare that with primary care. The bulk of our income is “patient revenue”, what patients and their insurance companies pay us for services we provide “face to face”. We may also have grants if we are Federally Qualified Health Centers, mostly meant to cover sliding fee discounts and what we call “enabling services” – care coordination, loosely speaking.

Only a small fraction of our income comes from meeting quality or compliance “targets”, and those monies only come to us after we have reached those goals – they don’t help us create the needed infrastructure to get there.

Then look at how medical providers are scheduled and paid. We all have productivity targets, RVUs (Relative Value Units – number and complexity of visits combined) if our employer is paid that way and usually just straight visit counts in FQHCs (because all visits are reimbursed at the same rate there). Sometimes we have quality bonuses or incentives, which truthfully may be the combined result of both our own AND other staff members’ efforts.

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The Opportunity in Disruption, Part 2: The Shape of Today’s System

By JOE FLOWER

The system is unstable. We are already seeing the precursor waves of massive and multiple disturbances to come. Disruption at key leverage points, new entrants, shifting public awareness and serious political competition cast omens and signs of a highly changed future.

So what’s the frequency? What are the smart bets for a strategic chief financial officer at a payer or provider facing such a bumpy ride? They are radically different from today’s dominant consensus strategies. In this five-part series, Joe Flower lays out the argument, the nature of the instability, and the best-bet strategies.

Healthcare CFOs must look at the environment in which their system lives: Since 2007 the actual costs for the average middle-class family for many of the basics of life have decreased in real terms, while their actual costs for healthcare have risen 25%, or even more counting co-pays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses. This long, continuing rise in the costs along with the continuing and increasing unreliability of the healthcare system (“Will it actually be there for me when I need it? Will it bankrupt me?”) create unyielding disruption.

Instability: Omens

I am no fortune teller, but here are some things we can see right now that give us a sense of what’s coming.

  • Political shift: Public opinion has shifted. When polled about actual policies, healthcare has been cited repeatedly as the top concern of voters across the country. Voters’ top concerns are cost, the risk to patient protections in the ACA, and threats to “reform” Medicare by weakening it. The popularity of “single payer” proposals is a direct result of the cost and uncertainty of healthcare, a simple cry to “Do something!” Under this pressure we are more likely to see drastic solutions proposed and passed at the federal and state level or embodied in regulatory changes and lawsuits against industry practices.
  • Degradation of American life: With the opioid epidemic, the rise in suicides, the actual regression in life expectancy, and the increasing income and wealth divide, people increasingly feel that the healthcare industry is just not helping. They feel it is in fact part of the problem. The feeling that there is no one there to help us adds to the desperation of many parts of American society and heightens the political cost of the healthcare issue.
  • Public awareness: Healthcare is intensely personal, visceral. It’s crazy-making. Surprise bills, balance bills, other bills slipped through loopholes in the fine print or even in unwritten industry practices—what the industry considers standard operating procedure, the customers view as shocking, aggressive, and financially crushing.
  • The rebellion of the buyers: The percentage of buyers—such as employers, unions, and pension plans—telling various polls that healthcare costs represent a major problem for their business has more than doubled in the last five years and is now a majority. Buyers are pushing for choices to control costs and manage quality. They are beginning in greater numbers to demand reference pricing tied to Medicare rates, direct access to competitive bundled prices, and price transparency through centers of excellence, high performance networks and accountable care organizations. Some 65% of employers plan on implementing direct primary care in onsite or near-site clinics by 2020. Buyers are increasingly willing to take their beneficiaries elsewhere if your business can’t meet their demands.
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The Opportunity in Disruption, Part 1

By JOE FLOWER

The system is unstable. We are already seeing the precursor waves of massive and multiple disturbances to come. Disruption at key leverage points, new entrants, shifting public awareness and serious political competition cast omens and signs of a highly changed future.

So what’s the frequency? What are the smart bets for a strategic chief financial officer at a payer or provider facing such a bumpy ride? They are radically different from today’s dominant consensus strategies. In this five-part series, Joe Flower lays out the argument, the nature of the instability, and the best-bet strategies.

“It’s a buckdancer’s choice, my friend. Better take my advice. You know all the rules by now, and the fire from the ice.”

— Robert Hunter, “Uncle John’s Band”              

Chief Financial Officer: tough gig. Seriously. Whether for a payer or a healthcare provider, the CFO’s job is the exact point where the smiling faces on the billboards meet the double entry, the financing, the payer mix, the debt structure. And it all has to work out in the black. It has to do that sustainably, not only this year but next year and five years from now. Best guess? It’s going to get a lot tougher, with shifting revenue streams, market boundaries, new technologies, growing consumer expectations and uncertain politics. 

Raise your hand if you can tell me the significance of these names: Univac, Control Data, Burroughs, Digital, Honeywell, IBM, NCR.

These companies dominated the computer world in 1980. As of 1990, all but IBM were gone, bankrupt, subsumed into some other company, or just out of the computer business. The one that survived, IBM, is the one that said, “Maybe we should at least get a toehold in this new personal computer game, even though it is risky for our main revenue streams.” All the others went “poof.”

A number of factors—radical new technologies with vast potential, ramifying customer frustration, shifting user base—are coming together to put healthcare today at exactly the place the computing world was in 1980.

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Can Rah-Rah, Blah-Blah and Meh Accelerate Digital Health Innovation?

By MICHAEL MILLENSON

Can combining health tech “rah-rah,” health policy “blah-blah” and the “meh” of academic research accelerate the uptake of digital health innovation?

AcademyHealth, the health services research policy group, is co-locating its Health Datapalooza meeting, rooted in cheerleading for “Data Liberación,” with the National Health Policy Conference, rooted in endless debate about policy detail.

Sharing a hotel room, however, does not a marriage make. In order to get better digital health interventions to market faster, we need what I’m calling a Partnership for Innovators, Policymakers and Evidence-generators (PIPE). As someone who functions variously in the policy, tech and academic worlds, I believe PIPE needn’t be a dream.

The potential of digital health is obvious. Venture funding of digital health companies soared to $8.1 billion in 2018, up 40 percent from 2017, according to Rock Health, with another $4.2 billion invested during the first half of this year. Meanwhile, MedCityNews proclaimed 2019 “the year of the digital health IPO,” such as HealthCatalyst and Livongo.

Separately, Congress has sought to speed digital health innovation through bipartisan efforts such as the 21stCentury Cures Act and the formation last year of the Bipartisan Health Care Innovation Caucus. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also pursuing innovator and advocacy group input on regulatory relief.

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What’s Hitting “Escape Velocity” in Health Innovation & Technology? | Todd Park, Devoted Health

By JESSICA DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Todd Park is known for being excited, but THIS TIME the co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Devoted Health is excited that it’s the 10th Anniversary of Health Datapalooza, a gathering and initiative he had a hand in creating when he served Barack Obama as the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. What else is energizing Todd? How about value-based payment finally taking hold and the opportunities that’s opening up for payment model innovation and that will allow the disruption of healthcare to achieve ‘escape velocity.’

Filmed at Health Datapalooza in Washington DC, March 2019.

Jessica DaMassa is the host of the WTF Health show & stars in Health in 2 Point 00 with Matthew Holt.

Get a glimpse of the future of healthcare by meeting the people who are going to change it. Find more WTF Health interviews here or check out www.wtf.health

Thinking ‘oat’ of the box: Technology to resolve the ‘Goldilocks Data Dilemma’

Marielle Gross
Robert Miller

By ROBERT C. MILLER, JR. and MARIELLE S. GROSS, MD, MBE

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.

The problem with porridge

Today, we regularly hear stories of research teams using artificial intelligence to detect and diagnose diseases earlier with more accuracy and speed than a human would have ever dreamed of. Increasingly, we are called to contribute to these efforts by sharing our data with the teams crafting these algorithms, sometimes by healthcare organizations relying on altruistic motivations. A crop of startups have even appeared to let you monetize your data to that end. But given the sensitivity of your health data, you might be skeptical of this—doubly so when you take into account tech’s privacy track record. We have begun to recognize the flaws in our current privacy-protecting paradigm which relies on thin notions of “notice and consent” that inappropriately places the responsibility data stewardship on individuals who remain extremely limited in their ability to exercise meaningful control over their own data.

Emblematic of a broader trend, the “Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma” series calls attention to the tension and necessary tradeoffs between privacy and the goals of our modern healthcare technology systems. Not sharing our data at all would be “too cold,” but sharing freely would be “too hot.” We have been looking for policies “just right” to strike the balance between protecting individuals’ rights and interests while making it easier to learn from data to advance the rights and interests of society at large. 

What if there was a way for you to allow others to learn from your data without compromising your privacy?

To date, a major strategy for striking this balance has involved the practice of sharing and learning from deidentified data—by virtue of the belief that individuals’ only risks from sharing their data are a direct consequence of that data’s ability to identify them. However, artificial intelligence is rendering genuine deidentification obsolete, and we are increasingly recognizing a problematic lack of accountability to individuals whose deidentified data is being used for learning across various academic and commercial settings. In its present form, deidentification is little more than a sleight of hand to make us feel more comfortable about the unrestricted use of our data without truly protecting our interests. More of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, deidentification is not solving the Goldilocks dilemma.

Tech to the rescue!

Fortunately, there are a handful of exciting new technologies that may let us escape the Goldilocks Dilemma entirely by enabling us to gain the benefits of our collective data without giving up our privacy. This sounds too good to be true, so let me explain the three most revolutionary ones: zero knowledge proofs, federated learning, and blockchain technology.

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Barbarians at the Gate

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

US healthcare is exceptional among rich economies. Exceptional in cost. Exceptional in disparities. Exceptional in the political power hospitals and other incumbents have amassed over decades of runaway healthcare exceptionalism. 

The latest front in healthcare exceptionalism is over who profits from patient records. Parallel articles in the NYTimes and THCB frame the issue as “barbarians at the gate” when the real issue is an obsolete health IT infrastructure and how ill-suited it is for the coming age of BigData and machine learning. Just check out the breathless announcement of “frictionless exchange” by Microsoft, AWS, Google, IBM, Salesforce and Oracle. Facebook already offers frictionless exchange. Frictionless exchange has come to mean that one data broker, like Facebook, adds value by aggregating personal data from many sources and then uses machine learning to find a customer, like Cambridge Analytica, that will use the predictive model to manipulate your behavior. How will the six data brokers in the announcement be different from Facebook?

The NYTimes article and the THCB post imply that we will know the barbarians when we see them and then rush to talk about the solutions. Aside from calls for new laws in Washington (weaken behavioral health privacy protections, preempt state privacy laws, reduce surprise medical bills, allow a national patient ID, treat data brokers as HIPAA covered entities, and maybe more) our leaders have to work with regulations (OCR, information blocking, etc…), standards (FHIR, OAuth, UMA), and best practices (Argonaut, SMART, CARIN Alliance, Patient Privacy Rights, etc…). I’m not going to discuss new laws in this post and will focus on practices under existing law.

Patient-directed access to health data is the future. This was made clear at the recent ONC Interoperability Forum as opened by Don Rucker and closed with a panel about the future. CARIN Alliance and Patient Privacy Rights are working to define patient-directed access in what might or might not be different ways. CARIN and PPR have no obvious differences when it comes to the data models and semantics associated with a patient-directed interface (API). PPR appreciates HL7 and CARIN efforts on the data models and semantics for both clinics and payers.

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Providers Don’t Take Enough Risk to Bend the Cost Curve

By KEN TERRY

Back in 2015, 20 major health systems and payers pledged to convert 75% of their business to value-based arrangements by 2020. Today, more than two-thirds of payments from U.S. commercial health insurers are tied to some kind of value-based model. By 2021, the health plans expect three-quarters of their payments will be value-based.

However, a recent analysis of Change Healthcare data by Modern Healthcare found that the percentage of value-based revenue tied up in upside/downside risk contracts was in the single digits. Among the types of two-sided risk contracts that provider organizations had were capitation or global payment (7.3%), pay for performance (6.5%), prospective bundled payment (5%), population-based payment (5.8%), and retrospective bundled payment (4.1%).

An AMGA survey picked up signs of a recession in risk contracting in 2016. A year earlier, survey respondents—mostly large groups–had predicted their organizations would get 9 percent of revenue from capitated products. In 2016, the actual figure was 5 percent, according to a Health Affairs post by the AMGA’s Chet Speed and the late Donald Fisher.

The authors cited a number of obstacles to the spread of risk contracting, including “limited commercial value-based or risk-based products in their local markets; the inability to access administrative claims data from all payers; the massive administrative burden of submitting data in different formats to different payers; lack of access to investment capital; and inadequate infrastructure.”

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Patient Controlled Health Data: Balancing Regulated Protections with Patient Autonomy

By KENNETH D. MANDL, MD, MPH, DAN GOTTLIEB, MPA, and JOSHUA MANDEL, MD

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.

A patient can, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), request a copy of her medical records in a “form and format” of her choice “if it is readily producible.” However, patient advocates have long complained about a process which is onerous, inefficient, at times expensive, and almost always on paper. The patient-driven healthcare movement advocates for turnkey electronic provisioning of medical record data to improve care and accelerate cures.

There is recent progress. The 21st Century Cures Act requires that certified health information technology provide access to all data elements of a patient’s record, via published digital connection points, known as application programming interfaces (APIs), that enable healthcare information “to be accessed, exchanged, and used without special effort.”  The Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC) has proposed a rule that will facilitate a standard way for any patient to connect an app of her choice to her provider’s electronic health record (EHR).  With these easily added or deleted (“substitutable”) apps, she should be able to obtain a copy of her data, share it with health care providers and apps that help her make decisions and navigate her care journeys, or contribute data to research. Because the rule mandates the ”SMART on FHIR” API (an open standard for launching apps now part of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources ANSI Standard), these apps will run anywhere in the health system.

Apple recently advanced an apps-based information economy, by connecting its native “Health app” via SMART on FHIR, to hundreds of health systems, so patients can download copies of their data to their iPhones. The impending rule will no doubt spark the development of a substantial number of additional apps.

Policymakers are grappling with concerns that data crossing the API and leaving a HIPAA covered entity are no longer governed by HIPAA. Instead, consumer apps and the data therein fall under oversight of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). When a patient obtains her data via an app, she will likely have agreed to the terms and the privacy policy for that app, or at least clicked through an agreement no matter how lengthy or opaque the language.  For commercial apps in particular, these are often poorly protective. As with consumer behavior in the non-healthcare apps and services marketplace, we expect that many patients will broadly share their data with apps, unwittingly giving up control over the uses of those data by third parties.

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The Efficiency Mandate: To Achieve Coverage, the U.S. Must Address Cost

By MIKE MAGEE, MD

It is now well established that Americans, in large majorities, favor universal health coverage. As witnessed in the first two Democratic debates, how we get there (Single Payer vs. extension of Obamacare) is another matter altogether.

295 million Americans have some form of health coverage (though increasing numbers are under-insured and vulnerable to the crushing effects of medical debt). That leaves 28 million uninsured, an issue easily resolved, according to former Obama staffer, Ezekiel Emanuel MD, through auto-enrollment, that is changing some existing policies to “enable the government agencies, hospitals, insurers and other organizations to enroll people in health insurance automatically when they show up for care or other benefits like food stamps.”

If one accepts it’s as easy as that, does that really bring to heel a Medical-Industrial Complex that has systematically focused on profitability over planning, and cures over care, while expending twice as much as all other developed nations? In other words, can America successfully expand health care as a right to all of its citizens without focusing on cost efficiency? 

The simple answer is “no”, for two reasons. First, excess profitability = greed = waste = inequity = unacceptable variability and poor outcomes. Second, equitable expansion of universal, high quality access to care requires capturing and carefully reapplying existing resources.

 It is estimated that concrete policy changes could capture between $100 billion and $200 billion in waste in the short term primarily through three sources.

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