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Category: The Business of Health Care

The Rebellion of the Buyers

By JOE FLOWER

Did you catch that headline a few weeks back?

An official of a health system in North Carolina sent an email to the entire board of the North Carolina State Health Plan calling them a bunch of “sorry SOBs” who would “burn in hell” after they “bankrupt every hospital in the state.”

Wow. He sounds rather upset. He sounds angry and afraid. He sounds surprised, gobsmacked, face-palming.

Bless his heart. I get it, I really do. Well, I get the fear and pain. Here’s what I don’t get: the surprise, the tone of, “This came out of nowhere! Why didn’t anyone tell us this was coming?”

Brother, we did. We have been. As loudly as we can. For years.

Two things to notice here:

  1. What is he so upset about? Under State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s leadership, the State Health Plan has pegged its payments to hospitals and other medical providers in the state to a range of roughly 200% of Medicare payments (with special help for rural hospitals and other exceptions). In an industry that routinely says that Medicare covers 90% of their costs, this actually sounds rather generous.
  2. What is the State Health Plan? It’s not a payer, that is, an insurer. It’s a buyer. Buyers play under a different set of rules and incentives than an insurer.
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Health Reform Job One: Stop the Gouging! | Part 1

By BOB HERTZ

We Need Legal Assaults On The Greediest Providers!

When a patient is hospitalized, or diagnosed with a deadly disease, they often have no choice about the cost of their treatment.

They are legally helpless, and vulnerable to price gouging.

Medicare offers decent protection — i.e. limits on balance billing, and no patient liability if a claim is denied.

But under age 65, it is a Wild West — especially for emergency care, and drugs and devices. The more they charge, the more they make. Even good health insurance does not offer complete financial insulation.

We need more legal protection of patients. In some cases we need price controls.

‘Charging what the market will bear’ is inadequate, even childish, when ‘the market’ consists of desperate patients. Where contracts are impossible and there is no chance for informed financial consent, government can and should step in.

This series describes the new laws that we need. Very little is required in tax dollars….but we do require a strong will to protect.

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Will Amazon Deliver a Single-Payer Health Care System for the U.S.?

By JOE GRACE

Amazon has quietly put together a syndicate including Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan to provide better and more affordable health care for their combined 1.2 million workers. 

The joint effort, called Haven, makes sense because many companies of size today are self-insured to provide health care at lower costs. But this is different. Jeff Bezos, Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett seem to be personally involved in the development of Haven. So, what could they possibility have up their sleeves?

At the same time, many Democrats running for president are promising single payer health care (Medicare For All) as the solution to controlling costs and providing quality health care for everyone. Republicans argue that this is socialism and will result in unacceptable increases in taxes that will ruin our economy.

While politicians debate, Amazon’s real objective may be to create a health care payer to rival all payers with tens of millions of Amazon Prime Members as health plan members.

With Amazon’s buying power, scale and capabilities, the ecommerce giant could create a health payer offering that could render the need for a single payer system moot.

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Price-Fixing Case Reveals Vulnerability of Generic Drug Policies

By ANDREW MULCAHY

A massive lawsuit filed in May by 44 states accuses 20 major drug makers of colluding for years to inflate prices on more than 100 generic drugs, including those to treat H.I.V., cancer and depression. If true, the alleged behavior is not just a violation of antitrust law, but also a betrayal of the government policies that created and defended the entire generic drug industry. 

Most prescriptions in the U.S. today — 9 in 10 — are filled with generics, which are just as safe and effective as their brand-name equivalent. And yet generics account for only 22 percent of U.S. prescription drug spending. These prices are so low because of competition between makers of different versions of the same generic drug. The more competing generic alternatives, the lower the price, theoretically right down to the marginal cost of manufacturing the pill. 

This success is the result of decades of careful federal and state policymaking, all geared towards introducing competition in prescription drug markets. The entire generic industry has its origins in the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984. Prior to Hatch-Waxman, a company that wanted to sell a competing version of a drug whose patents had expired had to conduct lengthy and expensive clinical trials to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hatch-Waxman established a quicker, less-expensive path to FDA approval that leans on the scientific research supporting the already approved brand-name drugs.  

Hatch-Waxman also created incentives for generic drug makers to challenge drug patents that prevent competition. Successful challengers win a 180-day period of exclusivity during which their generic is the only one allowed to compete with the brand-name drug. The floodgates open and additional competition pushes prices down further after the 180-day period.  

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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 2

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

In this two-part series, we examine several common misconceptions made by health tech start-up companies in working with Health Systems and offers advice on how to recognize and address each. From approaching systems with a solution-first mentality to not understanding the context in which health systems work, we look to provide constructive criticisms meant to support more effective partnerships between health systems and digital tech solutions.

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Understand the Current System Environment We Are Working In: In some cases, technology solutions are barricading healthcare systems inside.  In other cases, they are allowing us to seamlessly interact with other systems.  Typically, large healthcare systems have a combination of both. For outside solutions to be effective, start-ups need to be intimately familiar with the existing (and on-the-horizon) systems that healthcare organizations are using or contemplating.  Rarely will a solution not have to interact with existing software solutions – and this goes well beyond just the EMR. 

Advice

Have an Integration Plan: A stand-alone solution, which doesn’t tie to one or more of the healthcare institutions key systems of record (SoR) or systems of engagement (SoE) is a useless solution. Your solution should be able to stand alone in the first few weeks, as users begin to use it and get familiar with its capabilities. However, as soon as value is realized (not necessarily achieved), it’s crucial that your solution support either SMART on FHIR, FHIR, HL7v2.x, or all of the above. If you don’t have a believable integration story fully worked out, you’re not ready to launch into the health system market. Go back and do your homework.  

Having a Clinician Is Nice, But Not Enough: The physician, nurse, or other clinician on your team helps credibility but we also understand the incentives associated with selling solutions, and this takes away from the altruism you think we will blindly swallow. And they are rarely businessmen or women who understand both the complexities of solving a problem that isn’t theirs and starting, let alone, running a company. Pair an MD with an MBA? Now we’re talking.

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Perspectives on Working with Healthcare Systems for Digital Start Up Companies | Part 1

Brian Van Winkle
Shahid Shah

By SHAHID SHAH, MSc and BRIAN VAN WINKLE, MBA

Start-ups are an increasingly important “node” within the healthcare ecosystem.  They are challenging status quo concepts that have long been ingrained in the healthcare system, like questioning the value of traditional EMR systems, or shifting the power of information to patients, or breaking down cost and quality transparency barriers. They may be the future of the industry, but startups have a long way to go to truly transform the system. The reasons are many, from an incredibly convoluted and bureaucratic review process and rigid risk-controlling regulations and policies, to the large-scale organizational inertia most of our healthcare systems have.    

And while all of these hurdles can and will be overcome if we work together, there are still several lessons each “node” in the ecosystem can learn to more effectively work with each other.  

This article is directed at the emerging digital solutions trying resiliently to help transform this stubborn industry. It provides some critical lessons in dealing with healthcare systems and is accompanied by reactions from a digital solutions expert with serial digital health entrepreneurship experience. We hope to provide perspective from two people living and breathing, and surviving, from both sides of the equation every day.  

Perspectives and Reactions from the Industry

Healthcare Startups Must Understand how Provider Systems Operate: Most health systems are increasingly becoming rightfully skeptical about new solutions because they feel the solutions don’t understand the environment of their system. To help overcome the challenges of introducing your innovation into a complex business and clinical environment, startups must understand how health systems operate to include how they make decisions, contract and evaluate solutions. 

Advice

(1) Recognize that Decisions are Consensus-driven and Permissions-based: Unlike other industries, where “shadow IT” is rampant and there can be one or two “key decision makers,” in health systems you’re not likely to get very far without figuring out how to build consensus among an array of influencers and then figuring out how to get permissions from a group of key decision makers. You should seek a “Sherpa” that understands enough about your solution to champion the idea of change – which is really what you’re seeking when you’re selling a new solution (the solution is just the means to accomplish the change, it’s the change that’s hard). The first thing to focus on is to identify the group of decision makers and how you convince them that the status quo should be abandoned in favor of any change – then, once you know how to convince them of some change you’ll work with the group to get the right permissions to work on the change management process – which will then influence a purchase of your solution.

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Reducing Churn to Increase Value in Health Care: Solutions for Payers, Providers, and Policymakers

Saeed Aminzadeh
Niko Lehman-White

By NIKO LEHMAN-WHITE and SAEED AMINZADEH

Introduction
Every day and in every corner of the country, innovative health care leaders are conceiving of strategies and programs to manage their patients’ health, as an alternative to treating their sickness (see Figure 1).

The value-based contracts that have proliferated in this country over the past decade and which now account for about half of the money spent on healthcare allow these wellness investments to make good financial sense in addition to benefiting patient health.

However, a phenomenon in health coverage in the US is increasing costs, destabilizing care continuity and holding back the potential of value-based care. It prevents us from making the long-term investments we desperately need.

Understanding Churn

Churn refers to gaining, losing, or moving between sources of coverage. Every year, approximately a quarter of the US population switches out of their health plan. Reasons can be voluntary or involuntary from the perspective of the beneficiary (see Table 1) and vary from changes in job status, eligibility, insurance offerings, and preference, to non-payment of premiums, to unawareness of pending coverage termination.

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ONC & CMS Proposed Rules – Part 5: Business Models

Grant Barrick
Dave Levin

By DAVE LEVIN, MD and GRANT BARRICK

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) have proposed final rules on interoperability, data blocking, and other activities as part of implementing the 21st Century Cures Act. In this series, we will explore the ideas behind the rules, why they are necessary and the expected impact. Given that these are complex and controversial topics open to interpretation, we invite readers to respond with their own ideas, corrections, and opinions. In part five of this series, we look at how competition unlocks innovation, and how the proposed rules may disrupt the balance between innovation, intellectual property (IP), and supporting business models.  

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The recent publication of proposed rules by ONC and CMS set off a flurry of activity. In anticipation of their implementation, the health care industry is wrestling with many questions around business models. What practices inhibit competition and innovation? How do we balance the need for competition while protecting legitimate intellectual property rights? How can vendors ensure profit growth when pricing is heavily regulated? In this article, we will examine how competition unlocks innovation and the possible disruptions the proposed rules may bring for innovation, intellectual property (IP) and supporting business models.

Unlocking Innovation via Competition

In most markets, innovation is driven forward by competition. Businesses compete on equal footing, and their investment in R&D drives innovation forward. Innovation in health care has been dramatically outpaced by other markets, leading to an urgent need for both disruptive and evolutionary innovation.

What is inhibiting health care innovation? The rules identify a combination of tactics employed in health care that restrict the free flow of clinical data, such as:

  • NDAs
  • Confidentiality Clauses
  • Hold-harmless Agreements
  • Licensing Language

These tactics slow innovation by contributing to an environment where stakeholders resist pushing the boundaries — often because they are contractually obligated not to. The legislation and proposed rules are designed to address the ongoing failure of the market to resolve these conflicts.

As the rules are finalized, we will continue to monitor whether the ONC defines these practices as innovation stifling and how they will implement regulations — both carrot and stick — to move the industry forward.

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Pulling Care Out of Hospital—By Phone, Ambulance, and Good Ol’ House Calls.

By REBECCA FOGG

In the 20th century, hospitals completed their transformation from the hospice-like institutions of the Middle Ages, into large, gleaming centers of advanced medical expertise and technology that save and improve lives every day. But an unintended consequence of hospitals’ dazzling capabilities is a staggering cost burden that’s proving toxic to the American economy.

Today, hospital care accounts for approximately 33% of the US’ $3.5 trillion annual health care expenditures, according to CMS. The drivers of hospital costs are complex and hard to tackle, including (but not limited to) market consolidation that enables price hikes, heavy administrative burdens, expensive technology and patient usage patterns.

In The Innovator’s Prescription, Clayton Christensen et al. explained another important driver of high hospital care costs: conflation under one roof of business models designed to address very different needs—such as the need for diagnosis of unique, complex conditions and experimental treatments, versus that for highly standardized services (for instance, some surgical procedures). This common phenomenon makes optimization of either business model very difficult, and thus drives up overhead costs.

One solution to this seemingly intractable problem is to make home and community the default locations for care, where in many circumstances it can be provided less expensively, more conveniently, and more effectively than in a hospital. Fortunately, business model innovation toward this end is gaining traction.

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Patient-Directed Access for Competition to Bend the Cost Curve

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

Many of you have received the email: Microsoft HealthVault is shutting down. By some accounts, Microsoft has spent over $1 Billion on a valiant attempt to create a patient-centered health information system. They were not greedy. They adopted standards that I worked on for about a decade. They generously funded non-profit Patient Privacy Rights to create an innovative privacy policy in a green field situation. They invited trusted patient surrogates like the American Heart Association to participate in the launch. They stuck with it for almost a dozen years. They failed. The broken market and promise of HITECH is to blame and now a new administration has the opportunity and the tools to avoid the rent-seekers’ trap.

The 2016 21st Century CURES Act is the law. It is built around two phrases: “information blocking” and “without special effort” that give the administration tremendous power to regulate anti-competitive behavior in the health information sector. The resulting draft regulation, February’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is a breakthrough attempt to bend the healthcare cost curve through patient empowerment and competition. It could be the last best chance to avoid a $6 Trillion, 20% of GDP future without introducing strict price controls.

This post highlights patient-directed access as the essential pro-competition aspect of the NPRM which allows the patient’s data to follow the patient to any service, any physician, any caregiver, anywhere in the country or in the world.

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