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Category: Health Policy

The Futility of Patient Matching

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

The original sin of health records interoperability was the loss of consent in HIPAA. In 2000, when HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) first became law, the Internet was hardly a thing in healthcare. The Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) was not a thing until 2004. 2009 brought us the HITECH Act and Meaningful Use and 2016 brought the 21st Century Cures Act with “information blocking” as clear evidence of bipartisan frustration. Cures,  in 2018, begat TEFCA, the draft Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. The next update to the draft TEFCA is expected before 2019 which is also the year that Meaningful Use Stage 3 goes into effect.

Over nearly two decades of intense computing growth, the one thing that has remained constant in healthcare interoperability is a strategy built on keeping patient consent out of the solution space. The 2018 TEFCA draft is still designed around HIPAA and ongoing legislative activity in Washington seeks further erosion of patient consent through the elimination of the 42CFR Part 2 protections that currently apply to sensitive health data like behavioral health.

The futility of patient matching without consent parallels the futility of large-scale interoperability without consent. The lack of progress in patient matching was most recently chronicled by Pew through a survey and a Pew-funded RAND report. The Pew survey was extensive and the references cite the significant prior efforts including a 100-expert review by ONC in 2014 and the $1 million CHIME challenge in 2017 that was suspended – clear evidence of futility.

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The November 6 Midterm Elections and Their Impact on Obamacare:Q&A

By ETIENNE DEFFARGES

1) What is the likelihood the ACA will be repealed?

This straightforward question has a very simple answer: It depends on the results of the upcoming November 6 U.S. congressional elections.

If the Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate, the probability that the ACA will be repealed is very high: The Republicans would be emboldened by such a victory and would most probably attempt in 2019 to repeal the health care law—again. It is worth remembering that in July of last year, the repeal of the ACA (a version of which had passed the House in May) was defeated in the Senate by the narrowest of margins, because three Republican Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and the late and much regretted John McCain, voted against the repeal. This is very unlikely to happen again, although one would also have to consider the margins by which the Republican would have gained control both Chambers after these November midterms. In July of 2017, the Republicans held a 52-48 advantage in the Senate. Given ever-increasing polarization, such a margin, plus Republican control of the House, would likely spell the end of the ACA in 2019.

If the Democrats gain control of either the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, then the ACA will remain the law of the land. The only issue in the horizon will be the lawsuit filed in February of this year by a coalition of 20 states, led by Texas and Wisconsin. This lawsuit claims that Obamacare is no longer constitutional after the Republicans eliminated in December of 2017 the tax penalty associated with the ACA’s individual mandate. The 20 Republican attorney generals argue that without the tax penalty, Congress has no constitutional authority to legislate the individual mandate. Even if this case reaches the Supreme Court, one has to remember that the Court affirmed twice the constitutionality of the ACA, in June of 2012 and then 2015, with Chief Justice John Roberts voting with the majority on both occasions.

2) What do recent congressional changes to the ACA mean for those who buy insurance on health care exchanges?

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Health in 2 Point 00 Episode 55

We missed our chance to do a Happy Hour Health in 2 Point 00 at Connected Health in Boston (but let’s be honest, those are usually not the most cogent pieces of information in health and technology). Join Jessica DaMassa as she gets my take on the conference starting with #S4PM’s event, where I met some incredible people, including Patty Brennan and Doug Lindsey, who spoke about their experiences with health care knowledge (deploying it and creating it!). Danny Sands and e-Patient Dave even had quite the musical performance there, singing about e-Patient blues. Susannah Fox, Don Berwick, Don Norman were at Connected Health 18, presenting their new initiative, L.A.U.N.C.H. I even interviewed Jesse Ehrenfeld, the chair elect of AMA, and his spoke to him about the digital health play book that the AMA just released. A company to take note of that wasn’t at #CHC is Devoted Health, who just raised $300m. Devoted is looking at building a better Medicare Advantage “payvider” for seniors. If you are interested in Guild Serendipity’s conference which empowers and engages female CEOs and Cofounders, come join us in San Francisco October 26-27, SMACK.health is sponsoring the women’s health houses – Matthew Holt

Ensuring that the 21st Century Cures Act Health IT Provisions Promotes Interoperability and Data Exchange

Dan Gottlieb MPA
Josh C. Mandel MD
Kenneth D. Mandl MD

By KENNETH D. MANDL, MD; DAN GOTTLIEB MPA;
JOSH C. MANDEL, MD

The opportunity has never been greater to, at long last, develop a flourishing health information economy based on apps which have full access to health system data–for both patients and populations–and liquid data that travels to where it is needed for care, management and population and public health. A provision in the 21st Century Cures Act could transform how patients and providers use health information technology. The 2016 law requires that certified health information technology products have an application programming interface (API) that allows health information to be accessed, exchanged, and used “without special effort” and that provides “access to all data elements of a patient’s electronic health record to the extent permissible under applicable privacy laws.”

After nearly two years of regulatory work, an important rule on this issue is now pending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), typically a late stop before a proposed rule is issued for public comment. It is our hope that this rule will contain provisions to create capabilities for patients to obtain complete copies of their EHR data and for providers and patients to easily integrate apps (web, iOS and Android) with EHRs and other clinical systems.

Modern software systems use APIs to interact with each other and exchange data. APIs are fundamental to software made familiar to all consumers by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. APIs could also offer turnkey access to population health data in a standard format, and interoperable approaches to exchange and aggregate data across sites of care.

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Please support Charles Gaba at ACASignups

By CHARLES GABA

It’s pretty rare that I ask THCB readers to go over to another blog and support that blog with money BUT, today is the day to do that. Charles Gaba has been THE leading source of information about exactly who is signing up for ACA plans on which exchange, and what impact on the ACA Trump et al have had. He’s not in academia, not on some big company or foundation payroll, just a one man band web designer who has basically torpedoed his own business to deliver what I think is a vital service. I support him and anyone interested in health policy could do a lot worse than shove a few bucks a year his way. Read on for his story & how you can helpMatthew Holt

On October 11th, 2013, I posted the following in a blog entry over at Daily Kos, where I’d been a regular contributor since 2003:

“Seriously, though, HHS should really start releasing the official (accurate) numbers of actual signups for all 50 states (or at the very least, the 36 states that they’re responsible for) on a daily–or at least, weekly–basis. I don’t care if it’s a pitifully small number. 100,000? 10,000? 100? 10? Even if it’s in single digits, release the damned numbers. Be upfront about it. Everyone knows by now how f***** up the website is, so be honest and just give out the accurate numbers as they come in.”

Two days later, on October 13th, I registered “ObamacareSignups.net” (which soon changed to ACASignups.net, not because I had a problem with “Obamacare” but because it was easier to type) and posted an announcement over at dKos, asking for some crowdsourcing assistance.

This was supposed to be just a lark…a six-month thing which would combine my passion for data analysis, politics and website development into one nerdy hobby.

Instead…well, if you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you know the rest of the story. ACASignups.net soon caught the attention of major media outlets, and it’s been cited and used as a resource ever since by media outlets spanning the ideological spectrum including the Washington Post, Forbes, Bloomberg News, Vox.com, MSNBC, the New Republic, USA Today, the CATO Institute, National Review Online and The New York Times among others, and has even received a mention (albeit an obscure one) in prominent medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet.

For awhile I pretended that this was still a “hobby”…I accepted donations, sure, and even slapped some banner ads on the site to drum up a few bucks, but in my mind, I was still officially a website developer…even though I was spending 90% of my time posting updates here instead of maintaining my business. In April 2014, at the peak of the media attention and insanity over the crazy first open enrollment period, I even came down with a nasty case of shingles whch laid me up for over a month. I was in denial for years even as the business suffered, constantly thinking that as soon as this Open Enrollment Period was over, I’d wrap things up…

My ass was effectively saved by Markos and the Daily Kos community that year, who collectively raised enough money to not only make up for my lost business in 2014, but also to allow me to keep the site operating through 2015 as well. I’m eternally grateful for that support.

In the fall of 2016, things came to a head and I realized that I could no longer continue living with one foot in each world: I had to either mothball this site and refocus my efforts on building my web development business back up…or I had to try and earn a living at it.

At the time–and I swear on my life this is true–I was planning on doing the former. My reasoning was simple: If Hillary Clinton had become President, there probably wouldn’t be that much interest in my work here going forward. There’d still be plenty of healthcare stuff to write about, but the ACA would be safely embedded into the American landscape and interest in the day to day minutiae of its developments would fade over time.Continue reading…

Part 2: Bypassing Prior Authorizations

By NIRAN AL-AGBA, MD

A few weeks ago, I saw a young patient who was suffering from an ear infection. It was his fourth visit in eight weeks, as the infection had proven resistant to an escalating series of antibiotics prescribed so far. It was time to bring out a heavier hitter. I prescribed Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic rarely used in pediatrics, yet effective for some drug-resistant pediatric infections.

The patient was on the state Medicaid insurance and required a so-called prior authorization, or PA, for Ciprofloxacin. Consisting of additional paperwork that physicians are required to fill out before pharmacists can fill prescriptions for certain drugs, PAs boil down to yet another cost-cutting measure implemented by insurers to stand between patients and certain costly drugs.

The PA process usually takes from 48-72 hours, and it’s not infrequent for requests to be denied, even when the physician has demonstrated an undeniable medical need for the drug in question.

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Does Free Medical School Decrease Social Justice?

BY ANISH KOKA, MD

The hottest medical school in the country right now is the New York University School of Medicine thanks to the gift of a generous benefactor that promises to make medical school free for all current and future medical students.  The news was met with elation from the medical community of physicians that groans frequently about student debt loads routinely north of $200,000 upon matriculation.  Not surprisingly, the technocrat class of public health experts and economists did not share in the jubilation.  The smarter-than-the-rest-of-us empiricists are, after all, trained to think in terms of social justice and net benefits to society.   The needs of medical students are far down the list of priorities when forming this social justice utopia.

Contemporary arguments for social justice in some form or the other trace their roots to the philosopher John Rawls and his 1971 magnum opus – “A Theory of Justice”.  In words that would infuse liberal thought for a generation, Rawls laid out a blueprint for a just society by proposing a thought experiment called “the original position”.  This was a hypothetical scenario where a group of people are asked to form the rules of a society which they will then occupy. The catch is that the people making the decision do so behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ not knowing the disadvantages conferred by any number of attributes (age, sex, gender, intelligence, beauty, etc. ) they may be reincarnated with. Rawls posited that under conditions in which there was a possibility of being born as a disadvantaged member of society, social and economic inequalities would be arranged to be of greatest benefit to the least advantaged members of society.

At first glance, it would seem that the objections to tuition-free medical school rest on a social justice framework that does not seem to comport with gifts to the soon-to-be-wealthy.  After all, the $200,000 investment for medical school pales in comparison to the lifetime earnings of the average physician who is assured at least a six-figure income in seeming perpetuity. But it is not entirely clear that one has to even combat Rawlsian ideals to rebut the social justice do-gooders with strong opinions on how other people should spend their money.  A Rawlsian framework never intended that everyone in society would be able to achieve the same outcome regardless of starting position.  Rawls actually went out of his way to argue that inequalities were justified in society as long as the operating rules served to raise the position of those worst off in society.  A rising tide should lift all boats – the rich may become richer, as long as the poor become richer as well.

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Can CMS’ Proposed ACO Changes Really Help Medicare Beneficiaries?

By REBECCA FOGG

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma proposed bold changes to Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), with the goal of accelerating America’s progress toward a value-based healthcare system—that is, one in which providers are paid for the quality and cost-effectiveness of care delivered, rather than volume delivered.

CMS has created a number of ACO programs over the last six years in an effort to improve care quality and reduce care costs across its Fee-for-Service Medicare population. In a Medicare ACO, hospital systems, physician practices and other voluntarily band together and assume responsibility for the quality and cost of care for beneficiaries assigned to them by Medicare. All ACOs meeting quality targets at the end of a given year receive a share of any savings generated relative to a predetermined cost benchmark; and depending on the type of ACO, some incur a financial penalty if they exceed the benchmark.

According to CMS’ recent analyses, ACOs that take on higher financial risk are more successful in improving quality and reducing costs over time. So one important objective of CMS’ proposed changes is to increase the rate at which ACOs assume financial risk for their beneficiaries’ care.

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A Cross-Party Win: Empowering Consumers Through Digital Health

By LYGEIA RICCIARDI

These days Americans are more politically divided than ever, disagreeing vehemently about everything from guns to the role of the press. Despite the distrust and inflammatory rhetoric, there are examples of cross-party, trans-Administration collaboration and success. Let’s celebrate them and be motivated by what happens we put differences aside and focus on shared long-term goals.

Using digital technology to empower healthcare consumers is one example of a cross-party win, a still-developing success story that has been cultivated for more than a decade by the efforts of public and private sector leaders from a wide variety of affiliations and political perspectives.

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Seema Verma Hyperventilates About Tiny Differences Between ACOs Exposed to One-and Two-Sided Risk

By KIP SULLIVAN, JD

There is no meaningful difference between the performance of Medicare ACOs that accept only upside risk (the chance to make money) and ACOs that accept both up- and downside risk (the risk of losing money). But CMS’s administrator, Seema Verma, thinks otherwise. According to her, one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs while two-sided ACOs are saving “significant” amounts of money. She is so sure of this that she is altering the rules of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). Currently only 18 percent of MSSP ACOs accept two-sided risk. That will change next year. According to a proposed rule CMS published on August 9, ACOs will have at most two years to participate in the MSSP exposed to upside risk only, and after that they must accept two-sided risk.

That same day, Verma published an essay on the Health Affairs blog in which she revealed, presumably unwittingly, how little evidence she has to support her decision. The data Verma published in that essay revealed that one-sided ACOs are raising Medicare’s costs by six-one-hundredths of a percent while two-sided ACOs are cutting Medicare’s costs by seven-tenths of a percent. [1] Because these figures do not consider the expenses ACOs incur, and because the algorithms CMS uses to assign patients to ACOs and to calculate ACO expenditure targets and actual performance are so complex, this microscopic difference is meaningless.

“Two beellion dawlers”

Even if the difference is not meaningless – even if two-sided ACOs actually save a few tenths of a percent for Medicare – the impact on Medicare spending will be barely noticeable. Verma assures us, without a hint of embarrassment, that her new rule will cut Medicare spending by $2.2 billion over ten years. “The projected impact of the proposal would be savings to Medicare of $2.2 billion over ten years,” she declares in her blog comment.

Dr. Evil from Austin Powers

I feel like we’re in a scene from the Austin Powers movie where Dr. Evil announces he will hold the world ransom for “one meellion dawlers.” Dr. Evil’s sidekick, Number Two, has to advise him that a million dollars is peanuts. Verma’s estimate of 2.2 “beellion dawlers” is essentially zero percent of the trillions of dollars CMS will spend on Medicare in the next decade.

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