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Category: Health Policy

Announcing The COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge

By FARZAD MOSTASHARI

In Partnership with the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Resolve to Save Lives, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Maryland, Catalyst @ Health 2.0 is excited to announce the launch of The COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge. The COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge is looking for novel analytic approaches that use COVID-19 Symptom Survey data to enable earlier detection and improved situational awareness of the outbreak by public health and the public. 

How the Challenge Works:

In Phase I, innovators submit a white paper (“digital poster”) summarizing the approach, methods, analysis, findings, relevant figures and graphs of their analytic approach using Symptom Survey public data (see challenge submission criteria for more). Judges will evaluate the entries based on Validity, Scientific Rigor, Impact, and User Experience and award five semi-finalists $5,000 each. Semi-finalists will present their analytic approaches to a judging panel and three semi-finalists will be selected to advance to Phase II. The semi-finalists will develop a prototype (simulation or visualization) using their analytic approach and present their prototype at a virtual unveiling event. Judges will select a grand prize winner and the runner up (2nd place). The grand prize winner will be awarded $50,000 and the runner up will be awarded $25,000.The winning analytic design will be featured on the Facebook Data For Good website and the winning team will have the opportunity to participate in a discussion forum with representatives from public health agencies. 

Phase I applications for the challenge are due Tuesday, September 29th, 2020 11:59:59 PM ET.

Learn more about the COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge HERE.

Challenge participants will leverage aggregated data from the COVID-19 symptom surveys conducted by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland, in partnership with Facebook Data for Good. Approaches can integrate publicly available anonymized datasets to validate and extend predictive utility of symptom data and should assess the impact of the integration of symptom data on identifying inflection points in state, local, or regional COVID outbreaks as well guiding individual and policy decision-making. 

These are the largest and most detailed surveys ever conducted during a public health emergency, with over 25M responses recorded to date, across 200+ countries and territories and 55+ languages. Challenge partners look forward to seeing participant’s proposed approaches leveraging this data, as well as welcome feedback on the data’s usefulness in modeling efforts. 

Indu Subaiya, co-founder of Catalyst @ Health 2.0 (“Catalyst”) met with Farzad Mostashari, Challenge Chair, to discuss the launch of the COVID-19 Symptom Data Challenge. Indu and Farzad walked through the movement around open data as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the challenge goals, partners, evaluation criteria, and prizes.

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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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Thriving in COVID Times

By KIM BELLARD

These are, no question, hard times, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the U.S., we’re closing in on 180,000 deaths in the U.S.  Some 40 million workers lost their jobs, and over 30 million are still receiving unemployment benefits.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of small businesses are believed to have closed, and many big companies are declaring bankruptcy.  Malls, retailers, and restaurants have been among the hardest hit. 

Yes, these are hard times.  But not for everyone. 

Last week Target announced what CNBC called a “monster quarter.”  Sales for online and stores open at least a year jumped 24% for the quarter ending August 1 – peak COVID-19 days – and profits were up an astonishing 80%.  Its CEO specifically referenced the pandemic, as shoppers sought safe and convenient shopping options.

It is not just Target doing well.  No one should be surprised that Amazon is doing well, as more turn to online shopping and Amazon’s quick delivery, but The Wall Street Journal reports that Bog Box stores generally are doing well, including not just Target but also Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, and Best Buy.  The efforts they were taking to compete with Amazon, such as increased online sales and curbside pickup, served to help them survive the pandemic’s effects. 

Similarly, if you’re a streaming service like Netflix or Disney+, the pandemic has been great for business.  Video conferencing services like Zoom are booming.  Car dealers are struggling, but not online car sales

And, of course, if you’re a cloud computing service supporting all these shifts to online, the world has become even more dependent on you.  “Many customers are scaling beyond their wildest projections,” Carrie Thorp of Google Cloud told WSJ

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Physicians Should Lead on Healthcare Reform

By KEN TERRY

(This is the first 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.)

Even before COVID-19, healthcare reform seemed to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but there is a rational way forward. This approach, which I call “physician-led healthcare reform,” would engage doctors in building a healthcare system that was safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable, to use the Institute of Medicine’s set of foundational goals in its landmark book, Crossing the Quality Chasm: a New Health System for the 21st Century.Primary care physicians, rather than hospitals, would be in charge of the system, and they’d work closely with specialists and other healthcare professionals to produce the best patient outcomes at the lowest cost.

It would take a decade or more to restructure the healthcare system so that this goal could be achieved. Similarly, the transition to a single-payer insurance system needs to be accomplished gradually—although the pandemic might accelerate that timetable. Most people are not yet ready to abandon employer-sponsored insurance, and there’s still a lot of distrust of the government. Providers are more likely to accept changes in how they’re paid over time than all of a sudden. Additional benefits can also be brought online slowly. Ideally, we could transform healthcare financing over a 10-year period while rebuilding the care delivery system at the same time.

That is why implementing Medicare for America—a reform plan devised by the Center for American Progress and embodied in a current House bill–makes more sense than going directly to Medicare for All: it changes the system incrementally while achieving universal coverage fairly quickly. Medicare for America would do this by enrolling the uninsured, people who purchase individual insurance, and those now in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). People would also be enrolled automatically at birth. Companies could enroll their employees in Medicare for America, and employees could opt out of employer-sponsored plans and enroll in the public plan.

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THCB’s Bookclub, August 2020 – UnHealthcare: A Manifesto for Health Assurance

By JESSICA DAMASSA & MATTHEW HOLT

The THCB Book Club is a discussion with leading health care authors, which will be released on the third Wednesday of every month. And this is the first one!

We kicked off with the new book from Hemant Teneja (VC at General Catalyst who has been writing many big checks lately) and Stephen Klasko (CEO at Jefferson Health System and one of the most unusual hospital system bosses in America). Their book is called UnHealthcare: A Manifesto for Health Assurance which is a how-to for creating a platform for a revolutionary future for health care. You can go buy the book here (eVersion only $6!) It’s an easy read (about 130 pages on your iPad “Books” app).

UnHealthcare is about a new concept called Health assurance– which Tenaja says is “an emerging category of consumer-centric, data-driven healthcare services that are designed to bend the cost curve of care and help us stay well.”

Sitting in on the interview because we can’t get rid of him was Glen Tullman from Livongo (Just kidding, Glen!). He weighed in on how this connects with his new idea of Consumer Directed Virtual Care and the Teladoc-Livongo merger.

This was a great discussion. We had them explain the concept, and pushed them pretty hard on how realistic it was! And you can see it in the video below (and the podcast version will be in our iTunes & Spotify channels very soon)

In September the THCB BookClub will feature Jane Metcalfe with her 2020 book NEO.LIFE

Health Insurers Ride High for Now, But Watch What’s Coming Next

By KEN TERRY

In the strangest healthcare business story of 2020, the major health insurance companies are thriving despite—or because of—the pandemic. As the second quarter reports of United, Anthem, Cigna and other insurers reveal, their COVID-19-related costs were outweighed by the sharp drop in claims for other healthcare services.

As a result, the second quarter operating gain for Anthem, one of the largest national carriers, jumped 65% from the prior-year period, while the portion of its premiums spent on member benefits dropped to 78%. The earnings of UnitedHealth, similarly, vaulted 98% as the percentage of its premiums spent on health care fell to 70.3%. Such a low “medical loss ratio” has probably not been seen since the 1990s.

At the same time, the big insurers’ membership has been rising, but not among workers covered by employer-sponsored plans. Commercial insurance members served by United, for example, fell by 270,000 to 26.8 million, following a drop of 720,000 in Q1. In contrast, the number of people in United’s Medicaid managed care plans rose by 330,000.

These trends track with the short-time fallout of the pandemic. Families USA reported that 5.4 million workers who lost their jobs from February to May also lost their health insurance. Another study predicted that by the end of 2020, 10.1 million people will lose employer-based insurance tied to someone in their household.

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Healthcare Sings The Non-Profit Blues

By MICHAEL TURPIN

Powers once assumed are never relinquished, just as bureaucracies, once created, never die.

Charley Reese

As we ponder the 100 day count down to the Presidential Elections, the rhetoric and ranting swirling around the best solution for our nation’s healthcare crisis, is hitting decibel levels not heard since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  As with any major entitlement legislation, there are commendable elements, inefficiencies, and a host of unintended consequences. The current administration’s obsession with repeal while the ranks of uninsured people grow, begs the question, “what is the blue-print for expanding coverage and reducing waste, fraud and abuse while increasing transparency, quality and overall public health.  Answer: There is no plan and if there was, it would fall well short of achieving many of these objectives given the deeply entrenched stakeholder who actually do not benefit if the cost of healthcare declines.  It a classic NIMBY response: “I’m all for reform as long as I maintain my role and revenue in whatever solution is proposed.”. 

The Affordable Care Act is a solid foundation to build a 2.0 version of a solution to solve for the uninsured and to act as a catalyst for market reforms that will either reshape the misaligned incentives and embedded inequities in our current system or it will lead to voters demanding the expansion the role of Medicare and Medicaid.  70M adults and children are covered under Medicaid – including those who benefited by the passage of the ACA.  Approximately 55M are covered under Medicare resulting in 125M covered under some form of state or federal aid. 155M receive coverage through employers. 

Its estimated by the Economic Policy Institute that 29.8M individuals who received coverage as a result of ACA expansion would lose coverage if no legislation replaced it.  Add in the severe economic dislocation arising from Covid-19 that could result in an additional 14M unemployed and you could see a worst case of uninsured swell from a current 27M to as high as 70M according to Policy Advice, a non-profit industry watch dog.

So how can you change the current market to drive reforms without a legislated intervention?  It starts by enforcing laws already in place and challenging regulators to do their jobs – ensuring that we minimize waste, fraud and abuse.  As of 2020, the average annual cost of family health coverage has eclipsed the cost of a mid-sized economy car. We must tackle the affordability problem by reducing the number of intermediaries who extract profits from the delivery system but do not play properly in the sand box of regulation that is often poorly monitored. We must demand transparency and deconstruct expensive bureaucracies only inflate the cost of care without improving it. It’s impossible to moderate the cost of healthcare without reducing the size of the pie and those feeding on it.

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The Story of an American Mask Distributor

By SAURABH JHA

Seven weeks before President Trump declared COVID-19 a federal emergency heralding the economic lockdown, Jesse’s customers began cutting their orders. Jesse sells garments and cotton, imported predominantly from India, to wholesalers and retailers, big and small, in malls across the North East corridor.  His business had a good January. December was like any December. But February was different.  His customers, reassuring him that it wasn’t personal, were predicting a falling demand for their products because of COVID-19. They may be over reacting, but better shortage than glut, they felt.

Jesse, who has no medical background, had heard of a virus which quarantined cruise ships, but nothing seemed foreboding back in February. He had tuned out the President, who was being his usual clownish self. It was business as usual in Manhattan, where he lives. He received reassuring messages from public health figures about the novel coronavirus. New York City’s mayor was particularly upbeat, urging New Yorkers to mingle with even more vigor.

Jesse didn’t know how to reassure his customers. A week later, more customers cancelled their orders. By middle of February, the orders halved. Being a businessman, not philosopher, it mattered not to him why his customers had seemingly overestimated COVID-19’s threat. What mattered is that they had. Since his business operated on small margins, the reverberations could be substantial. The first order of the day was reducing the output of his factory in India which was running on all cylinders.

The second order of the day was survival. If his customers’ fears came true, his business would be destroyed. Jesse had no qualms accepting government bailout. But this was long before the federal government announced relief for businesses. The virus had yet to strike Italy. COVID-19, like Chengiz Khan, seemed to prefer the eastern perimeters of the Silk Road.

In his culture, Jesse Singh is an American Sikh hailing from the Punjab – there’s a simple rule. When customers don’t want a certain product, find something else to sell. His family motto is that you should love the act of selling, not the product being sold (the motto sounds better when said by a Punjabi in Punjabi).  

Another Punjabi rule, technically not a rule but part of their cultural RNA, is that Punjabis don’t sit idle. During the partition of the subcontinent, thousands of Sikhs arrived at Delhi train station hungry, battered, penniless, and homeless, after losing their homes and families to the mobs. After feeling sorry for themselves for a couple of days, they started selling tea and biscuits on the railway platforms.

If the panic from coronavirus could shut old businesses it surely could open new ones, Jesse thought. A soaring demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) seemed obvious. Since N-95 supply was regulated, he threw his weight behind surgical masks, believing that they’d be demanded by healthcare workers and eventually the general public. He decided to import a small batch on a trial basis.

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Take Your Mom to Work

By KIM BELLARD

If you are a working mom, or married to one, or simply know one, you know that it is tough to balance a job and raising a child even under ideal circumstances.  Even if she has a supportive spouse, chances are that it is the mom who ends up providing the most child care, and whose career it impacts the most.

But, of course, these are not ideal circumstances.  Prior to the pandemic, women had made great strides in the workforce; more women had payroll jobs than men, for example (although they continued to be paid less for them).  Those gains quickly came crashing down once the pandemic hit.  It is believed to be the first time that job and incomes losses have hit women harder than men.  Some are calling our pandemic-driven economic downturn a “shecession” as a result.   

That’s bad enough, but the even bigger danger is that the pandemic could set back women’s careers for a generation. 

recent study by Collins, et. alia confirmed what most might have guessed: in the wake of the pandemic, women are more likely than men to have reduced their work hours to take on additional child care responsibilities due to school/daycare closing — four or five times as much.  

The study found that:

Scaling back work is part of a downward spiral that often leads to labor force exits—especially in cases where employers are inflexible with schedules or penalize employees unable to meet work expectations in the face of growing care demands.  

We are also concerned that many employers will be looking for ways to save money and it may be at the expense of mothers who have already weakened their labor market attachment.

Even more worrying, lead author Caitlyn Collins, a professor at Washington University, says: “Our findings indicate mothers are bearing the brunt of the pandemic and may face long-term employment penalties as a consequence.”  

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