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Category: Health Policy

The Art of the Deal: Coming
to Rx Prices Soon

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-2-21-40-pmDuring the campaign, President-elect Trump said “(w)hen it comes time to negotiate the cost of drugs, we are going to negotiate like crazy.”

While the President-elect’s pronouncements can’t always be taken at face value, this one should be.

In its December 7, 2016 prescription drug report to Congress, HHS reported Medicare (Parts B and D) and Medicaid Rx expenditures equaled $165.5 billion in 2014. Total 2014 retail and non-retail Rx spending was $424 billion.

HHS also reported that Rx spending “has been rising more quickly than overall health care spending . . . [and in] recent years, growth in prescription drug spending has accelerated considerably”.

If the reported annual rate of growth in 2014 (12%) holds for 2015 and 2016, Medicare/Medicaid’s Rx spending and total Rx costs in 2016 will exceed $200 billion and $500 billion, respectively.

As fiscal pressures to control healthcare costs build, Rx prices may be the ripest big ticket item on the table.

As the Trump Administration looks for bipartisan support for an ACA replacement, Rx prices could also provide some glue.

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Whether They Like It Or Not, The GOP Must Repair Obamacare

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It’s very possible that the pejorative “Obamacare” could become the even more pejorative “Trumpcare” in a very short period of time. That is because Trump’s and the GOP’s promise to repeal Obamacare — the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — has already hit a snag called reality.

Reports are now circulating that the much-promised repeal of the health care law (60 plus House and Senate votes since 2010) won’t take effect until at least 2019, after the mid-term elections. The excuse is that it’ll take that long to figure out an alternative and get it into place. But congressional calendars and political expedience have nothing to do with the health care market. And without action early in 2017, the health insurance exchanges could collapse in 2018 or sooner — leaving millions without insurance, millions more without protections from pre-existing conditions, and possibly millions more cursing Trumpcare. The only constructive solution is to repair the ACA before, ironically, repealing it and then replacing it with a brand new, untested experiment in 2019.

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Making the Physician-Patient Relationship Great Again

21st Century Cures is now law. Aside from its touted research and mental health provisions, it’s the most significant health information technology regulation since HITECH, now 8 years ago. A decent summary of the health IT provisions of the bill by John Halamka concludes with “That is just not realistic.” He’s almost certainly right to the extent your perspective is the hospital-centered mega-EHR model. You can’t get there from here.

Halamka and others who think that consolidated institutions will drive interoperability are in denial of the gap between financial integration and clinical integration. This recent post by Kip Sullivan describes some of the wishful thinking. But there’s another reason why HITECH’s institutional EHRs cannot get us to the Triple Aim, and it’s mostly about liability.

Halamka ignored one of the items in 21st Century Cures that could lead to clinical integration around a patient: a longitudinal health record. Section 4006 on page 149 includes:

“(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary shall use existing authorities to encourage partnerships between health information exchange organizations and networks and health care providers, health plans, and other appropriate entities with the goal of offering patients access to their electronic health information in a single, longitudinal format that is easy to understand, secure, and may be updated automatically.”

Useful longitudinal health records require curation and, almost by definition, the curators are not going to be affiliated with any single hospital or other institution operating a traditional EHR. Allowing licensed physicians, family caregivers, and the patient themselves to edit an institutional EHR is risky to the point of impossible. That’s why the current initiatives to introduce modern APIs into EHRs like SMART and Sync for Science are read-only.

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Unpacking the 21st Century Cures Act

President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law this week.  It’s the largest piece of health legislation since the Affordable Care Act.   No doubt you’ve heard or read that—and it’s true. 

But while the legislation was three years in the making and much hyped, it became the best recent example of that old saying that passing federal laws is akin to sausage making:  You don’t really want to watch what goes into it.

(An aside:  I made venison and bacon sausages from scratch for the first time this year and can attest to the “visceral” nature of that exercise.) 

There’s something for almost everybody in this new law.   That’s one reason it was the most lobbied health bill since the ACA.  In particular, the pharmaceutical and medical device industries were big winners.  Fifty-eight drug companies, 24 device companies and 26 biotech companies lobbied the bill, spending close to $200 million altogether, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

What they got:  a big nudge to the FDA to find ways to approve drugs and devices faster.

For example, one change in the law allows FDA to accept as proof of safety and effectiveness less rigorous clinical trials, as well as other types of studies and data—both for the initial approval of drugs and to authorize new uses for drugs already on the market. 

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Could Price Be Right?

If confirmed as Secretary of HHS, Tom Price will oversee a $1 trillion budget – roughly one-third of all health expenditures.  His proposed legislation “Empowering Patients First” seeks to control costs by giving patients more choices and providing the information required to make them. He calls for publicly available standardized information on the price and quality of physicians, hospitals and other health care institutions.

It sounds like Dr. Price is prescribing a single data system. 

Medicare has had a single data system on the over-65 population for decades.  Since 2005, these data have informed Hospital Compare, a consumer oriented website comparing the quality of over 4000 hospitals.  And while prices in Medicare are relatively fixed, these same data have shown substantial variation in costs because the quantity of service – the number of hospital admissions, procedures and physician visits – varies substantially from place to place.

But Medicare is only one piece of the data puzzle.  A National Bureau of Economic Research report[nber.org] added another piece last year with data from large insurance companies like Aetna and United.  For the under-65 commercially insured population, it’s not just the quantity of services that are all over the map – it’s also the prices. 

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Letter from Washington:
Don’t Jump … Yet

Washington, D.C. hardly seems like a town on suicide watch.

As November turned to December, from the venerable Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House, to Charlie Palmer Steak at 101 Constitution and over to The Capital Grille at 601 Pennsylvania, revelers abounded, in both food and drink.

At the Capitol Hyatt on New Jersey Avenue though, some contrasts were evident. While contestants from the Miss World 2016 pageant moved in and out of the upper lobby to awaiting buses, in the lower-level meeting rooms, also from November 30 to December 2, the mood was hopeful optimism meets whistling past the graveyard.

There the Jefferson College of Population Health summit brought forth Andy Slavitt, Michael Leavitt, Farzad Mostashari, NCQA President Peggy O’Kane, former advisors from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, officials from Johns Hopkins, the Henry Ford Health System, Brookings, Deloitte, AMA, AHA and the American College of Physicians and many more to dissect MACRA and ponder “population health strategy under the new administration.”

The consensus on where value-based care (VBC) is heading?

Wait and see.

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Keeping Medicare’s Promise

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-8-43-48-amSo, you decided to come to Washington to see what was new and how things might be changing… I am sure we did not disappoint.

I am honored to have been invited to address this summit, which I’m sure will be your first of many. It’s a certainty that making our delivery system work better for patients and spend money more wisely will always be in season no matter which party is in charge. And, while many new approaches and changes may come to bear, ultimately health is not a partisan issue.

However, I do hope you all think of a better name– the MACRA MIPS/APM summit sounds like the world’s hardest word scramble. We’ve tried to make MACRA more accessible by naming it the Quality Payment Program… something to think about.

Looking at your speakers today, you have gathered some of the most experienced people across the country focused on the most difficult health care problems we as a nation face. Simply put, how to complete the changes we have begun to make the system more patient centered and accountable. So today, I come here to add my perspective to this discussion and continue to ask for your valuable help.

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Trump State of the Union

New POTUS Donald Trump doesn’t like the White House, it is drafty and was occupied by black people, and so he and his family have decided to stay in New York to run the country on Twitter.   The State of the Union address will be a live Twitter event from Trump Tower at 3.00 AM.  THCB has received the secret first draft from an anonymous POTUS speechwriter.

TRUMP

Thank you.  We won.  We won big.  It was huge.  And we would have won popular vote except for all illegals voting.  Hillary poor loser. Sad.

State of the Union is not strong.  Weak.  We don’t win anymore, but we will make America Great again!

Priorities:  Jobs, Repeal and Replace Obamacare, Immigration and National Security.  Already working on them all.  I am doing this for you.

Jobs.  Will bully CEOs to keep manufacturing in US & throw tax breaks at them. Expect air conditioners to get expensive.  Sorry Florida.

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Something Not So Terrific

The brand new President Barack Obama, whether wittingly or not, invested his entire political capital in reforming health care in America. He gambled and he lost, not because he had nefarious intentions, but because he left the gory details to a corrupt Congress and a shady cadre of lying and conniving technocrats, ending up with something vastly different from what he campaigned on. From everything I’m reading now, Mr. Trump is about to walk in Mr. Obama’s footsteps, and if he does, the results will be unsurprisingly identical.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly stated that Bernie Sanders forfeited his place in history when he “made a deal with the devil” and embraced the corrupt Democratic Party establishment that fought his candidacy in most abject fashion. Guess what? Mr. Trump seems to be making the same deal with the red version of the same devil. Mr. Trump’s cabinet choices indicate that he is now embracing the ultra-conservative factions of the Republican Party, the same people who actively or passive-aggressively opposed his candidacy. Nowhere is this peculiar and completely unnecessary capitulation more evident than in the beleaguered health care sector.Continue reading…

The Price Is Basically Right

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Recently, President-Elect Trump selected Rep. Tom Price, MD to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.  Suffice it to say, this signals Mr. Trumps’ resolve and commitment to definitively repealing and replacing.  Dr. Price has already sunk his teeth into health care reform, having proposed alternative healthcare solutions in every Congressional session since 2009.  As a physician myself, I am delighted at the prospect of having another doctor at the helm of HHS. The last physician to lead HHS was Louis Sullivan, MD as part of the administration of George H.W. Bush.  Having a physician, who can understand the needs of physicians and patients, representing both in health policy decision making at the federal level gives everyone the best chance for meaningful and successful health care reform. 

Dr. Price is a third generation physician and a retired orthopedic surgeon with experience in clinical practice and academia before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  At his core, he has been a fierce critic of Obamacare.  Dr. Prices’ most frequent objection to the ACA is the fact it hinders the ability of patients and physicians to be in control of medical decision making and puts the government squarely between doctors and patients.  Amen! He understands the subtle distinction that while expanding coverage may provide insurance, it is in no way akin to delivering patients unfettered access to health care. Continue reading…

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