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Category: Health Policy

No Names, Please

By KIM BELLARD

Feeling good about your holiday spending?  You’ve made it through most of this mostly horrible 2020, maybe lost a job or even a loved one, but still probably found a way to buy presents for your loved ones and maybe even to give some money to charity.  Indeed, charitable giving was up 7.5% for the first half of 2020, despite the economic headwinds.

Then there’s MacKenzie Scott.

Ms. Scott, as you may recall, is the former wife of Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos.  She got Amazon stock worth some $38b in their 2019 divorce, which is now estimated to be worth around $62b.  She just gave away $4.2b – and that’s on top of $1.7b she gave away in July

In case your math skills are impaired, that’s $6b in six months, which Melissa Berman, chief executive officer of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors told Bloomberg: “has to be one of the biggest annual distributions by a living individual.”   Ms. Scott has vowed: “I will keep at it until the safe is empty.”

Kenzie Bryant, writing in Vanity Fair, marveled: “It gives a whole new meaning to “fuck-you money.” 

Private foundations are required to distribute at least 5% of their endowments each year; Ms. Scott not only has given away 10% of her net worth this year alone, but she hasn’t even used a foundation to do so.  As The New York Times reported: “Ms. Scott’s operation has no known address — or even website. She refers to a “team of advisers” rather than a large dedicated staff.”

She doesn’t make recipients plead for money through grant applications.  She doesn’t specify how the money is to be used, or require reports on how it is spent.  She doesn’t expect her name on anything.  She doesn’t even make public how much she is giving each recipient (although some choose to do so).

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The “Right” to Health Care in America

By MIKE MAGEE

I’ve been working on a Spring lecture for President’s College at the University of Hartford titled, “The Constitution and Your ‘Right to Health Care’ in America.” 

My description reads, “This lecture explores the recent political history and legal controversy surrounding attempts to establish universal health coverage in America. “Is health care a right?” viewed within the context of the Bill of Rights and especially the 9th and 10th Amendments?”

Self-described libertarian-conservative John R. Graham, a health policy analyst in the Trump administration’s HHS, writing on the topic in 2010 stated that, “As a non-lawyer, my understanding is very simple: The Ninth Amendment states that ‘the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.’ So, if you claim a ‘right to health care,’ there’s nothing in the Constitution that denies your claim. Indeed, libertarians and conservatives should be more willing to concede a ‘right to health care,’ because once it’s defined as a right, the entire weight of the Constitution comes down against federal (and perhaps even state) control.”

This bit of semantics crash-lands with common sense, as it did in my own state in 1965 when the Supreme Court in a 7 to 2 decision (Griswold v. Connecticut) dismantled an 1873 Comstock Law that prohibited married couples from buying and using contraceptives. Writing for the Court, Justice William O. Douglas declared that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Though marital privacy was not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, legal analysts have suggested that Douglas was asserting that logic dictated that marital privacy “is one of the values served and protected by the First Amendment through its protection of associational rights, and by the Third, the Fourth, and the Fifth Amendments as well.”

Justice Goldberg concurred at the time, writing: “The language and history of the Ninth Amendment reveal that the Framers of the Constitution believed that there are additional fundamental rights, protected from governmental infringement, which exist alongside those fundamental rights specifically mentioned in the first eight constitutional amendments. . . . To hold that a right so basic and fundamental and so deep-rooted in our society as the right of privacy in marriage may be infringed because that right is not guaranteed in so many words by the first eight amendments to the Constitution is to ignore the Ninth Amendment and to give it no effect whatsoever.”

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A Cure at Any Cost? Time to Shine a Light on Drug Pricing

By CECI CONNOLLY and BOBBY CLARK

We are all are anxiously awaiting the approval and delivery of a cure to the novel coronavirus – or better yet, a vaccine.

Amid the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine, some may be inclined to give drug companies a pass on their well-established bad behavior related to pricing and market competition.

But that would be an awfully expensive mistake.

As the COVID-19 pandemic claims more lives and families’ livelihood, policymakers and the public must press drug makers for more information on the products they are developing. The country must be protected against price-gouging for therapies that could bring the pandemic to a halt.

Yes, we need America’s biopharmaceutical companies to develop a cure or vaccine so we can resume our normal lives. And yes, they should be compensated for their work.

But no, a cure should not come at any cost.

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New Technologies Drive Cost Growth Over Time

By KEN TERRY

(This is the eighth and final installment in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

Medical technologies include drugs, devices, tests, and procedures. Considered as a whole, these technologies are the key driver of growth in health costs, according to Georgetown University professor Gregg Bloche and his associates.

Bloche, et al., view insurance coverage as the chief enabler of these technological innovations. In a 2017 Health Affairs Blog post, they said,Drug and device developers, clinical researchers, and their financial backers anticipate coverage for new tests and treatments with little concern for whether they add substantial therapeutic value, and they make research and development decisions accordingly.”

In an interview, Bloche further explained, “If you’re a technology developer, you can reasonably anticipate that if your product achieves a low but significant health gain, insurers are going to be under pressure to pay for it.”

Insurers do cover most new drugs, although they may make it difficult for patients to access the ones that they deem to be low-value, notes Peter Neumann, director of the Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

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Congress Is Getting the Transition to Alternative Payment Models Wrong

By TAYLOR CHRISTENSEN

Alternative payment models (APMs) are a hot topic these days, and everyone seems to agree that we need to transition toward them and away from fee for service (FFS). But how should we do it?

First, let’s think about this task as government policy makers would think about it.

They would probably start by saying, “We need to find a way to give incentives to providers and payers to try out these different APMs.” This would be fairly easy to do through Medicare, so they would create some Medicare APM programs and structure them in a way that makes the benefits of joining large enough that lots of providers will want to participate.

And for the sake of uniform provider incentives, they would also want to encourage private insurer-provider diads to start using APMs, preferably ones as similar to the Medicare APM programs as possible. And so they would probably have to offer private insurers and/or providers money to do so.

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Hospitals Must Give Up Power to Save Healthcare

By KEN TERRY

(This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

As hospital systems become larger and employ more physicians, healthcare prices will continue to rise and independent doctors will find it harder to remain independent. Hospitals will never fully embrace value-based care as long as it threatens their primary business model, which is to fill beds and generate outpatient revenues. To create a viable, sustainable healthcare system, the market power of hospitals must be eliminated.

Federal antitrust policy is not adequate to handle this task. Even if the Federal Trade Commission had more latitude to deal with mergers among not-for-profit entities, the industry is already so consolidated that the FTC would have to break up health systems involving thousands of hospitals. Such a gargantuan effort would be practically and legally unfeasible.

All-payer Systems

 The government could curtail health systems’ market power without breaking them up. For example, either states or the federal government could adopt “all-payer” models similar to those in Maryland and West Virginia. Under the Maryland model introduced 40 years ago, every insurer, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private health plans, pays uniform hospital rates negotiated between the state and the hospitals.

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THCB Gang Episode 24!

Episode 24 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, September 10th! Watch it below!

Joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) were some of our regulars: WTF Health Host Jessica DaMassa (@jessdamassa), patient & entrepreneur Robin Farmanfarmaian (@Robinff3), writer Kim Bellard (@kimbbellard), policy & tech expert Vince Kuraitis (@VinceKuraitis), and guest Mike Magee, a medical historian & health economist (@drmikemagee). The conversation was incredibly wide-ranging and one of the best we’ve had in a while–not the least because Mike Magee gave us a great base with how our non -health system somehow did actually act as a cohesive force in society before tech, then COVID19 broke it up!

If you’d rather listen to the episode, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels — Zoya Khan

To Avoid Pay Cuts, Doctors Must Reduce Waste

By KEN TERRY

(This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

Real healthcare reform depends on an effective plan to reduce cost growth. To achieve this goal, it makes a whole lot more sense to cut waste than to limit access to necessary services or slash provider payments to the bone, noted Donald Berwick, MD, a former acting CMS administrator, and Andrew D. Hackbarth, a RAND Corp. researcher, in a 2012 JAMA article. In their telling, a significant reduction in waste would allow us to bend the cost curve without hurting healthcare quality or access.

Berwick shared with me that he doesn’t know how much unnecessary care physicians or hospitals could safely eliminate. “Some of it is marbled into the daily activities of healthcare organizations,” he said. “There would have to be systemic changes to get it done. But it’s a matter of will. With enough will, a lot of it could be eliminated. And when you’re talking about $1 trillion [worth of waste], even if you get 10% of it, that’s a tremendous amount that could be applied to other activities.”

Risk-based contracts, whether shared savings or capitation, can incentivize physicians to reduce waste. From the viewpoint of long-suffering primary care physicians, value-based-care agreements that let them share in the savings they generate are a godsend. Of course, not all primary care doctors are willing to take financial risk or change their practice patterns. But if maintaining their current income depends on it, most physicians will embrace change.

Specialists, too, can benefit by embracing the new paradigm. If they’re mainly being paid fee for service, they’ll have to forgo a lot of lucrative tests and procedures. But they can still keep their incomes up by delivering more-appropriate procedures and tests to a larger patient population.

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Why Health Systems Employ Doctors: Money and Control

By KEN TERRY

(This is the third in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

The American Medical Association (AMA) last year announced that, for the first time, more physicians were employed than were independent. While many of these doctors were employed by private practices, the AMA said, about 35% of them worked directly for a hospital or for a hospital-owned practice.25

This estimate was lower than that of other surveys. According to research conducted by the Physicians Advocacy Institute (PAI) and Avalere Health, a consulting firm, 44% of physicians were employed by hospitals in January 2018, compared to 25% in July 2012. More than half of U.S. physicians now work for or contract with fewer than 700 healthcare systems across the country, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

Many of the physicians employed by hospitals and health systems formerly were in private practice. They sold their practices to hospitals because of increasing overhead, dwindling reimbursement, and the rising administrative burdens of ownership, according to Jackson Healthcare, a physician recruiting firm.

The many negative factors affecting primary care also have impelled a growing number of primary care physicians to seek employment in recent years. In 2018, 47% of general internists, 57% of family physicians and 56% of pediatricians were employed. There is evidence that this trend may be exacerbating the primary care shortage because employed doctors see fewer patients per day, on average, than do those in private practice.

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Slow Walking to Value Based Care: Why Fee for Service Still Rules

By KEN TERRY

(This is the second in a series of excerpts from Terry’s new book, Physician-Led Healthcare Reform: a New Approach to Medicare for All, published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.)

In January 2015, then Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced lofty goals for the government’s value-based payment program. By the end of 2016, she said, 85% of all payments in the traditional Medicare program would be tied to quality or value, and 90% would be value-based by the end of 2018.

The government planned to tie 30% of Medicare payments to alternative payment models by 2017, according to Burwell, and hoped to reach the 50% mark by 2018. In March 2016, HHS said it had reached the 30% goal a year ahead of schedule, mainly because of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

More recent data on the value-based-care movement comes from the Health Care Payment & Learning Action Network (LAN), a public-private partnership launched in 2015 by the Department of Health and Human Services. The LAN reported in October 2018 that public and private payers covering 226 million lives, or 77% of insured Americans, had tied 34% of their payments to value-based care. According to the organization, only 23% of total payments had been value-based in 2016.A deeper analysis of the LAN data, however, shows that the vast majority of value-based payments—both in Medicare and in the larger healthcare system—were still limited to pay for performance, upside-only shared savings, and care management fees paid to patient-centered medical homes.

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