Historically, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) stance on the influence that social determinants of health (SDOH) have on health outcomes has been equal parts signal and noise. In April 2016, the agency announced it would begin adjusting the Medicare Advantage star ratings for dual-eligibility and other social factors. This was amid calls for increased equity in the performance determinations from the managed care industry. At the same time, CMS continued to refuse risk-adjustment for SDOH in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) despite the research supporting the influence of these factors on the HRRP.
It wasn’t until Congress interceded with the 21st Century Cures Act that CMS conceded to adjusting for dual-eligibility under the new stratified approach to determining HRRP penalties beginning in fiscal year 2019. The new methodology compares hospital readmission performance to peers within the same quintile of dual-eligible payer mix. The debate surrounding the adjustment of incentive-based performance metrics for SDOH likely is to continue, as many feel stratification is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. And importantly, the Cures Act includes the option of direct risk-adjustment for SDOH, as deemed necessary by the Secretary of Health and Humans Services.
SDOH are defined as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” The multidimensional nature of SDOH reach far beyond poverty, requiring a systemic approach to effectively moderate their effects on health outcomes. The criteria used to identify SDOH include factors that have a defined association with health, exist before the delivery of care, are not determined by the quality of care received and are not readily modifiable by health care providers.
The question of modifiability is central to the debate. In the absence of reimbursement for treating SDOH, providers lack the resources to modify health outcomes attributable to social complexities. Therefore, statistical adjustments are needed to account for differences in these complexities to ensure risk-adjusted performance comparisons of hospitals are accurate.
Today’s health care providers face the formidable challenge of delivering better, more affordable and more convenient care in the face of spiraling care costs and an epidemic of chronic disease. But the most innovative among them are making encouraging progress by “integrating”—which in this context means working across traditional boundaries between patients and clinicians, health care specialties, care sites and sectors.
The impulse to do so is shrewd, according to our innovation research in sectors from computer manufacturing to education. We’ve found that when a product isn’t yet good enough to address the needs of a particular customer segment, a company must control the entire product design and production process in order to improve it. This is necessary because in a “not-good-enough” product, unpredictable and complex interdependencies exist between components, so each component’s design depends on that of all the others.
Given this, managers responsible for the individual components must collaborate—or integrate—in order to align components’ design and assembly toward optimal performance. IBM employed an integrated strategy to improve performance of its early mainframe computers, and this enabled the firm to dominate the early computer industry when mainframes weren’t yet meeting customers’ needs.
In health care delivery, such integration is analogous to, but something more than, coordinated care. It means assembling and aligning resources and processes to deliver the right care, in the right place, at the right time. This type of integration is a core aspiration of innovative providers leading hot-spotting and aging-in-place programs, capitated primary care practices, initiatives addressing health-related social needs, and other care models that depart from America’s traditional, episodic, acute-care model. How are they tackling it? They’re leveraging very specific tools to facilitate work across boundaries. Here are six of the most common we uncovered in our research:
The United States ranks number one in the world for health care spending as a percentage of GDP. That sounds great… but, for instance, Texas ranks only 11th worldwide when it comes to performance. That’s because of access to care.
The country’s health care rankings are likely to get worse as 673 rural hospitals in the U.S. are at risk of closing. Here’s what has happened: the need for care greatly outpaces available funding, especially for public hospitals. Something must be done.
If public funding is no longer available, alternative funding can be secured in numerous ways. The simplest way to access alternative funding is through a public-private partnership (P3) engagement. However, alternative funding for public hospitals, health care clinics and university medical centers can be found from other sources as well. Finding funding is not a problem when private-sector investors, large equity funds, pension programs, asset recycling and EB5 programs all stand ready to invest in public-sector projects.
Moving to a P3 health care model would allow hospitals to secure immediate funding and utilize private-sector expertise and best practices while transferring all risks. The launch of health care P3s would also ensure new construction, new jobs and hundreds of additional health care options for people. Continue reading…
Seema Verma, the Trump appointee who runs Medicare, has had an active week. The problem facing much-beloved Medicare is one that faces every other government-funded healthcare extravaganza: it’s always projected to be running out of money. Medicare makes up 15% of the total federal budget. That’s almost $600 billion dollars out of a total federal outlay of $4 Trillion dollars. The only problem here is that revenues are around $3.6 trillion. We are spending money we don’t have, and thus there there is constant pressure to reduce federal outlays.
This is a feat that appears to be legislatively impossible. The country barely is able to defund bridges to nowhere let alone try to reduce health care spending because, as everyone knows, any reduction in health care spending will spawn a death toll that would shame the black plague. The prior administration’s health policy wonk certified approach was to change the equation in health care from paying for volume to paying for value. This, we were assured, would allow us to get better healthcare for cheaper! And so we got MACRA, The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, that introduced penalties for doctors unable to provide ‘good’ care. Never mind that in some years good care means you treat everyone with a statin, and in others it means treat no one with a statin. When in Rome, live like the Romans. In 2018 parlance, that roughly translates to “check every box you can and everything will be all right.”Continue reading…
In an effort to help women make informed decisions about where to deliver their babies, we set out to collect a comprehensive, nationwide database of hospitals’ C-section rates. Knowing that the federal government mandates surveillance and reporting of vital statistics through the National Vital Statistics System, we contacted all 50 states’ (+Washington D.C.) Departments of Public Health (DPH) asking for access to de-identified birth data from all of their hospitals. What we learned might not surprise you — the lack of transparency in the United States healthcare system extends to quality information, and specifically C-section data. Continue reading…
Last week, Facebook’s unprecedented stock price collapse triggered by concerns over personal data privacy, as well as same-day commentary regarding GlaxoSmithKline’s investment in 23andMe to gain access to its customers’ genomic data, reignited a national dialogue vis-à-vis our rights to our data, especially our health data. Three years ago, our nation’s first National Coordinator for Health IT foresaw an impending “gold rush” for valuable personal health data. Myriad headlines such as Bloomberg’s “IBM Buying Truven for $2.6 Billion to Amass More Health Data” proved him right and fueled this national dialogue.
However, there has been far less discussion about the flip-side of this coin: accessibility of knowledge gleaned from people’s data, by the people whose experiences contributed to its development and the people who need it to save lives. Policymakers have noted that, “We must develop a communications system so that the miraculous triumphs of modern science can be taken from the laboratory and transmitted to all in need.” Unfortunately, that statement, attributed to Senator Lister Hill and inscribed on a wall inside the U.S. National Library of Medicine (the world’s largest biomedical library), was made in 1965! That predates by a year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.” Indeed, inequitable access to knowledge, resulting from society’s failure to realize Senator Hill’s vision over half a century later, exacerbates such injustices while costing lives.
Change and American health care have become synonymous. “Change” can be exciting and life-altering when it refers to the innovative new therapies and treatments that improve or extend life, many of those originating in the United States. Change, though, can be a tremendous source of anxiety for families concerned with the affordability of care and stability in their health care coverage choices. It is the tension between these two definitions of change that the United States has struggled to solve over the past three decades.
As we have all witnessed, the health care marketplace has gone through two successive waves of change over the past 30 years, with the third wave now upon us. The first wave was managed care, which sought to rein in cost and quality relative to “unmanaged care.” But while managed care made some gains, it still proved to be unsustainable in its constraint of choice and its focus on financing “sick care” rather than on optimization of health.
The second wave of “reforms” saw companies like Cigna evolve – or change – from “insurance” to a health services focus, with more engagement and support for the individual and partnerships with health care providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers predicated on the health outcomes achieved rather than the volume of services provided. The second wave has seen the health care industry as a whole work together to improve health, lower health risks and improve the cost structure of the employer-sponsored market, which has in turn subsidized the entire system.
In that environment, Cigna has been able to deliver the best medical cost trend over the past five years – below 3 percent in 2017 or half that of the industry. So why risk disrupting a winning formula by acquiring the pharmacy services company Express Scripts? Because the system still isn’t sustainable and maintaining the status quo of rising costs means you are effectively moving backwards.
In the past 12 months, there has been a raft of multi-billion-dollar mergers in health care. What do these deals tell us about the emerging health care landscape, and what will they mean for patients/consumers and the incumbent actors in the health system?
There have been a few large health system mergers in the past year, notably the $11 billion multi-market combinations of Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care Network in Milwaukee and suburban Chicago, as well as the proposed (but not yet consummated) $28 billion merger of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. However, the bigger news may be the several mega-mergers that failed to happen, notably Atrium (Carolinas) and UNC Health Care and Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension. In the latter case, which would have created a $45 billion colossus the size of HCA, both parties (and Ascension publicly) seemed to disavow their intention to grow further in hospital operations. Ascension has been quietly pruning back their operations in markets where their hospital is isolated, or the market is too small. Providence St. Joseph has been gradually working its way back from a $500 million drop in its net operating income from 2015 to 2016.
Another notable instance of caution flags flying was the combination of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and PinnacleHealth, in central PA, which was completed in 2017. Moody’s downgraded UPMC’s debt on the grounds of UPMC’s deteriorating core market performance and integration risks with PinnacleHealth. As Moody’s action indicates, investor skepticism about hospital mega-mergers is escalating. Federal regulators remain vigilant about anti-competitive effects, having scotched an earlier Advocate combination with NorthShore University HealthSystem in suburban Chicago. The seemingly inevitable post-Obamacare march to hospital consolidation seems to have slowed markedly.
However, the most noteworthy hospital deal of the last five years was a much smaller one: this spring’s acquisition of $1.7 billion non-profit Mission Health of Asheville, NC, by HCA. This was remarkable in several respects. First, it was the first significant non-profit acquisition by HCA in 15 years (since Kansas City’s Health Midwest in 2003) and HCA’s first holdings in North Carolina. While Mission’s search for partnerships may have been catalyzed by a fear of being isolated in North Carolina by the Atrium/UNC combination, Mission Health certainly controlled its own destiny in its core market, with a 50% share of western North Carolina. Mission was not only well managed, clinically strong and solidly profitable, but its profits rose from 2016 to 2017, both from operations and in total.
Executive Summary of PPR Comments on Information Blocking
Information blocking is a multi-faceted problem that has proved resistant to over a decade of regulatory and market-based intervention. As Dr. Rucker said on June 19, “Health care providers and technology developers may have powerful economic incentives not to share electronic health information and to slow progress towards greater data liquidity.” Because it involves technology standards controlled by industry incumbents, solving this problem cannot be done by regulation alone. It will require the coordinated application of the “power of the purse” held by CMS, VA, and NIH.
PPR believes that the 21st Century Cures Act and HIPAA provide sufficient authority to solve interoperability on a meaningful scale as long as we avoid framing the problem in ways that have already been shown to fail such as “patient matching” and “trust federations”. These wicked problems are an institutional framing of the interoperability issue. The new, patient-centered framing is now being championed by CMS Administrator Verma and ONC Coordinator Rucker is a welcome path forward and a foundation to build upon.
To help understand the detailed comments below, consider the Application Programming Interface (API) policy and technology options according to two dimensions:
API Content and Security
Institution is Accountable
Patient is Accountable
API Security and Privacy
Broad, prior consent
Known to the practice
API Content / Data Model
Designated record set
Bulk (multi-patient) data
Designated record set
Wearables and monitors
This table highlights the features and benefits of interoperability based on institutional or individual accountability. This is not an either-or choice. The main point of our comments is that a patient-centered vision by HHS must put patient accountability on an equal footing with institutional accountability and ensure that Open APIs are accessible to patient-directed interoperability “without special effort” first, even as we continue to struggle with wicked problems of national-scale patient matching and national-scale trust federations.
Here are our detailed comments inline with the CMS questions in bold:Continue reading…
As you may have noticed, we are picking up the focus on new tech companies here on THCB. Much of this is happening as I have a little more time to examine and work with startups as I’m no longer running the Health 2.0 conference day to day. Some of it comes from our new partnership with Jessica DaMassa and her WTF.Health series. But don’t worry, we are continuing to be the place to find great opinion pieces about the health care system as a home (This is an “add” not an “instead”)
Today I have an interview about an interesting new company I’m getting to know called Bluestream Health which is essentially a second generation telehealth video platform. Brian Yarnell is the President and I spoke with him about his company, and what makes their technology different. Brian will be at the ATA conference net week (while I’ll be at Dev4Health!) — Matthew Holt
Op-eds. Crossposts. Columns. Great ideas for improving the health care system. Pitches for healthcare-focused startups and business.Write-ups of original research. Reviews of new health care products and startups. Data driven analysis of health care trends. Policy proposals. E-mail us a copy of your piece in the body of your email or as a Google Doc.