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Category: The Business of Health Care

MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 2)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the second part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage.Part 1 is here. The final part will be published on THCB later this week. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

We clearly do have significant levels of quality data about the MA plans because we have extensive levels of quality programs and recognitions that exist in MA . Those programs get better every year — and MedPac should be reporting and even celebrating each year how many additional plans are achieving high scores in those areas as part of their report.

MedPac should be describing and celebrating progress that is being made in that five-star space and the members of the Commission don’t seem to know that information exists.

In fact, they sink lower than that pure denial in their report this year. They actually say in this year’s report that they have deep concerns about the quality of care for MA and they say clearly that they have no useful data to use for thinking about how MA is doing relative to quality issues.

Saying that there is no quality data about the plans is another MedPac falsehood (MPF) and, as they so often are, that particular falsehood is disproved quickly and easily by their own documents. In the final section of this year’s report where they were asked by Congress to do a report on the quality of care in the Special Needs Plans. The MedPac writers achieve that explicit goal in large part by using the easily available HEDIS quality data for those patients and for the other patients in the plans and by comparing both sets of numbers to relevant populations.

So this year’s report has that set of NCQA quality data for the MA plans included in it. MedPac is using it now even though they say no data exists and that means that’s another falsehood to say it doesn’t exist.

We know what the quality data of the five-star program is and we know what the HEDIS Scores are for the MA plans, and we also know how much MA costs us in every county because the bids give us that information.

We know that the plans bid below the average county fee-for-service Medicare costs in every county and we know what the total costs are by person for each county.

We need to know what the real costs are and we need to look at how we get the very best use of the Medicare dollar. MedPac should make it a priority to figure out how to get the best use of the Medicare dollar using both bids, capitation, and various kinds of ACO-related payment processes. ACOs all create better care than traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and the people who are critical of ACOs for not saving enough money should rethink their priorities. They should be happy with any use of the Medicare dollar that gives more for the member and patient

If an ACO that has team care and patient centered data flows just breaks even on costs relative to fee-for-service Medicare, that should be celebrated and supported as being a much better use of the Medicare dollar.

We should make patients our top priority. ACOs make patients their priority. MA Plans clearly set up benefits and care practices around the patient’s the top priority. Only fee-for-service Medicare completely lets the patient down by being rigid on benefits, rigid on service, and making costs a higher priority than people’s lives and doing that badly and inefficiently. We should be working through MedPac each year to see which approach to buying care actually gives us the very best use of our Medicare dollar.

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MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 1)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the first part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage. The rest will be published on THCB later this week. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

MedPac just did their annual report on Medicare Advantage (MA) and they were extremely wrong on several key points.

The MedPac staff has a long tradition of being critical of MA, and they also, unfortunately, have a long tradition of being inaccurate, misleading, and consistently negative on some key points for no explicable or easily understood reason.

They achieved a new low this year by spending more than 20 pages of the report warning us all in detail about the upcoming cash flow distortions and coding abuses that they say are coming from a risk adjustment model and system that actually no longer exists in 2022 as a functioning system for our Medicare program — and they are also continued their distortion about Medicare overpayment of the plans by running an artificial cost number that functions only to deceive and not to inform and by using what is essentially a fake news number several times in the report.

Coding and Risk Adjustment

CMS has now officially canceled and retired the CMS Hierarchical Conditions Categories Risk Adjustment Model that has been used for almost two decades to calculate risk for plans. It is dead and completely gone for 2022 — and MedPac explained bitterly for more than 20 pages why it was a damaging approach and they somehow did not mention that it was now gone.

CMS has some very good thinking people who brilliantly took that whole set of coding linked issues off the table by making the system that was being potentially abused simply disappear.

MedPac wrote more than 20 pages in this year’s official report about MA complaining about that exact process and system and they didn’t mention that it was gone or explain why it was important to not have that data flow create the risk level information that we will now be using to get diagnostic information into the system.

The new approach for determining patient risk levels is fraud proof. There is no way to put wrong data into the information flow that they are now going to use to see and determine which patients are diabetic and which have heart disease or who has drug abuse issues for the risk discernment processes.

The impact on low income Medicare patients & union members

MedPac also had a major content deficit in their report and managed to leave the most important aspects of the work being done now by the plans to help offset some of the damage done to too many Americans who have been damaged by social determinants of health issues for far too long in their lives. MedPac also completely failed to report and discuss the important reality of the fact that we have now reached the point where two-thirds of our lowest income Medicare beneficiaries are all voluntarily in the MA plans.

They also left out of their report the fact that a significant number of union trust funds and a significant number of employer retirement programs that had made significant promises of retirement health care benefits to their retirees over the past decades are actually having those commitments kept, met, and even enhanced with the relatively new employer-sponsored MA plans that work directly with employer settings.

Five million people who might have had their retirement health care programs bankrupt, underfunded, or at serious risk have found a very strong safety net in the MA program — and MedPac does not think that development was important to understand and probably celebrate.

Anyone looking at the future politics and funding of the MA program will find both that overwhelming support for MA from our lowest income people and from our most well-connected employer retirement funds to be good and important to understand.

MedPac missed every bit of that agenda and set of accomplishments in this year’s report.

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Simple Bills are Not So Simple

By MATTHEW HOLT

I went for an annual physical with my doctor at One Medical in December. OK it wasn’t actually annual as the last time I went was 2 & 1/2 years ago, but it was covered under the ACA, and my doc Andrew Diamond was bugging me because I’m old & fat. So in I went.

I had a general exam and great chat for about 45 minutes. Then I had blood work & labs (cholesterol, A1C, etc) and a TDAP vaccination as it had been more than 10 years since I’d had one.

Today, about one month later, I got an email asking me to pay One Medical. So being a difficult human, I thought I would go through the process and see how much a consumer can be expected to understand about what they should pay.

Here’s the email from One Medical saying, “you owe us money.”

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Money and Values: For Healthcare Workers, It’s Time They Align

By WYNNE ARMAND and CHRISTIAN MEWALDT

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that promoting the well-being of patients and our community should be at the core of our decisions in health care — even when competing factors exist. Yet we have grown increasingly uncomfortable to realize that we’ve been investing in companies whose products — including fossil fuels — are at the crux of diseases we treat.

In 2018 alone, fossil fuel combustion-produced particulate matter was responsible for an estimated 9 million deaths worldwide, according to a recent publication by researchers from Harvard University and the Universities of Birmingham and Leicester in the United Kingdom. Other health effects are extensive, including increased cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses, especially in small children. Fossil fuels are also widely considered a primary driver of climate change, and their combustion contributes to the increased numbers of record heat waves and heat-related deaths, as many US communities are facing this summer.

Our hospitals, as tax-exempt nonprofits, provide us retirement plans in the form of 403(b)s, financial accounts similar to 401(k)s that are offered by for-profit companies. As employees who are eligible for benefits, we are typically automatically enrolled in the retirement savings plan, with contribution limits determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Recently, we learned that by the end of 2020, of the $35 trillion in US retirement assets, $1.2 trillion were invested in these 403(b) plans, according to Investment Company Institute, the trade association for investment companies.

With healthcare representing the largest sector of employers in the US, with nearly 7 million employees at hospitals alone, our employers should provide us with options for retirement funds that do not contain fossil fuel investments that ultimately undermine our duty to patients.  While retirement finances aren’t our focus during our workdays, the effects of our collective $1.2 trillion investment do appear in clinical settings.

The default choice at our institution, like many, is a target-date fund composed of “passive investments”, i.e. indexed stocks and bonds that rebalance as the employee’s retirement date nears. Most also offer pre-screened mutual funds chosen by the employer’s investment committee, or allow participants to transition retirement funds into a brokerage account to self-manage investments. To choose an alternative investment strategy requires financial know-how and effort, so, unsurprisingly, most of us invest in the default. The largest, most-used are the Vanguard Target Retirement Index Funds, which have an estimated $292 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.

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Why the Centene and WellCare Merger is the Biggest Deal in 2020

By ANDY MYCHKOVSKY

I feel like the healthcare world just skipped over the $17.3 billion mega-merger between Centene and Wellcare, which just received final regulatory approval last Wednesday. With their powers combined, this new company will create the Thanos of government-focused health plans, hopefully without any of the deranged plans to take over the world. I do get it, 181 million lives are covered by employer-sponsored insurance, between full-risk and self-insured plans. These employer populations have the most disposable income and their HR departments are willing to provide supplemental benefits. However, in my opinion, the future growth of health insurance will be governmental programs like Medicare Advantage (MA), Medicaid managed care, and ACA exchanges. But instead of me telling you this, here is exactly what Centene and WellCare said in a press release to defend the merger:

“The combined company would be the leader in government-sponsored healthcare with increased scale and diversification both geographically and in its managed care service offerings, and enhance access to high-quality services for members. It will offer affordable and high-quality products to its more than 12 million Medicaid and approximately 5 million Medicare members (including Medicare Prescription Drug Plan), as well as individuals served in the Health Insurance Marketplace and the TRICARE program. The combined company will operate 31 NCQA accredited health plans across the country and will have increased exposure to government-sponsored healthcare solutions through WellCare’s Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. It will also benefit from leveraging Centene’s growing position in the Health Insurance Marketplace to new markets. The transaction creates a company with the size and scale to better serve members through enhanced healthcare programs, expanded capabilities and increased investment in technology.”

Simply put, here’s some of quick stats provided at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference presentation on January 13, 2020:

  • National footprint now serving 1 in 15 Americans
  • Clear market leader in Medicaid managed care and ACA exchange marketplace
  • Dominance serving most complex populations, #1 leader in LTSS and #2 in dual eligible
  • Competitiveness in the Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollment wars
  • $500 million in proposed savings due to annual cost synergies
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9 Things Every Healthcare Startup Should Know About Business Development

By ANDY MYCHKOVSKY

In this post, I write down all my strategy and business development knowledge in healthcare and organize it into the top 9 commandments for selling as a healthcare startup. I think everyone from the founder to the most junior person on the team should know these pillars because all startups must grow. I should also note these tenets are most applicable for selling into large enterprise healthcare incumbents (e.g., payers, providers, medical device, drug companies). Although I appreciate the direct-to-consumer game, these slices are less applicable for that domain. If your startup needs help developing or implementing your business development strategy, shoot me an email and we can discuss a potential partnership. Enjoy!

1. Understand Everything About the Product and Market

You must also understand the competitive landscape, who else is in the marketplace and how they appear differentiated? What has been their preferred go-to-market approach and is your startup capable of replicating a similar strategy with your current team members? Also, do you understand the federal and state policy that most affects your vertical, whether that be pharmaceutical or medical device (e.g., FDA), health plans (e.g., state insurance commissioners), or providers (e.g., CMS)? For example, if your company is focused on “value-based care” and shifting payment structures of physicians to downside risk, do you intimately understand The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) and the requisite CMS Demonstration Models from the Innovation Center (e.g., MSSP, BPCI-A, etc.)? Make sure you do or at least hire someone to explain what is important now and in the future.

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The Lynne Chou O’Keefe Fallacy

By MATTHEW HOLT

Rob Coppedge and Bryony Winn wrote an interesting article in Xconomy yesterday. I told Rob (& the world) on Twitter yesterday that it was good but wrong. Why was it wrong? Well it encompasses something I’m going to call the Lynne Chou O’Keefe Fallacy. And yes, I’ll get to that in a minute. But first. What did Rob and Bryony say?

Having walked the halls and corridors and been deafened by the DJs at HLTH, Rob & Bryony determined why many digital health companies have failed (or will fail) and a few have succeeded. They’ve dubbed the winners “Digital Health Survivors.” And they go on to say that many of the failures have been backed by VCs who don’t know health care while the companies they’ve invested in have “product-market fit problems, sales traction hiccups, or lack of credible proof points.”

What did the ” Survivors” do? They have:  

“hired health care experts, partnered effectively, and have even co-developed their models alongside legacy players. Many raised venture capital from strategic corporate investors who have helped them refine their product, accelerate channel access, and get past the risk of “death by pilot.”

Now it won’t totally shock you to discover that Rob heads Echo Health Ventures, the joint VC fund from Cambia Heath Solutions (Blues of Oregon) & BCBS of N. Carolina, and Bryony runs innovation at BCBS of N. Carolina. So they may be a tad biased towards the strategic venture = success model. But they do have a point. Many but not all of their portfolio are selling tools and services to the incumbents in health care, which mostly includes health plans, hospitals and pharma.

And now we get to the Lynne Chou O’Keefe fallacy. (You might argue that fallacy is the wrong term, but bear with me).

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What a Sock Business Can Teach Health Care Companies

By KOUSIK KRISHNAN, MD

As recent events in northeastern Syria make clear, the number of displaced people in the world is rising — as are their health needs. 

In 2018 I went with a team of other doctors to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. At one stop, a woman offered us homemade bread as we examined her husband, although the couple had very little money and not enough food for themselves. As we ate the bread, she asked if we could leave them extra medications since they didn’t know when the next humanitarian mission would come through their camp.

Her request was reasonable in the situation – indeed, many other refugee families we treated asked us the same thing. Their host countries’ healthcare systems are simply not equipped to handle their needs. Lebanon alone has almost 1.5 million refugees, an increase of 1/4 of their population.  

But expecting vulnerable and displaced people to hoard needed medicine is neither sustainable nor humane. Instead, we must make it part of the social contract for healthcare corporations to use some of their massive wealth to help reduce disparities in global access to healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies and the retail industry have already created efficient models healthcare corporations could follow. 

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Consumerism, washing machines, big data & health care

“all your stuff works together” Really!

By MATTHEW HOLT

Those of you who remember my BestBuy washer & dryer installation saga from a couple of weeks back may want to gird your loins. Because the saga continues. And it has even more relevance for consumerism in health care. So catch up on the prequel and come back.

When you left the story your hero had just arranged for Best Buy to attempt delivery on Tuesday afternoon last week. I was in SF for the “can’t miss” Rock Health Summit. I was waiting at the apartment when I got about 4 calls from the same random number in 3 minutes but when I answered no one was there. I called back, no answer. Then I got a voicemail saying the delivery team was outside. I ran outside! No they weren’t! At that point I gave up and had lunch. But then for now the 5th time I called Best Buy and lined up a new delivery. I stressed about 10 times that the delivery team could NOT leave next time without seeing me. There may have been some shouting…..

Monday was the next available day for delivery and it was day that Best Buy was going to finally get it right. I got an email saying they’d be there at 1.30pm

I was across town in a meeting at 12.30 and noticed 4 missed calls from the same number. Being of a very suspicious nature, I called the number, and yes it’s the delivery team. They were outside the apartment, and they were 60 mins early!  Thankfully the delivery crew agreed to wait, and I went over to meet them. So at 6th time of asking, the crew was there, the equipment was there, I was there, and we all went into the apartment.

What could possibly go wrong!?

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The Opportunity in Disruption, Part 3: The Shape of Things to Come

By JOE FLOWER

Picture, if you will, a healthcare sector that costs less, whose share of the national economy is more like it is in other advanced economies—let’s imagine 9% or 10% rather than 18% or 19%.

A big part of this drop is a vast reduction in overtreatment because non-fee-for-service payment systems are far less likely to pay for things that don’t help the patient. Another part of this drop is the greater efficiency of every procedure and process as providers get better at knowing their true costs and cutting out waste. The third major factor is that new payment systems and business models actually drive toward true value for the buyers and healthcare consumers. This includes giving a return on the investment for prevention, population health management, and building healthier communities. This incentive would reduce the large percentage of healthcare costs due to preventable and manageable diseases, trauma, and addictions.

Picture, if you will, a healthcare sector in which prices are real, known, and reliable. Price outliers that today may be two, three, five times the industry median have rapidly disappeared. Prices for comparable procedures have normalized in a narrower range well below today’s median prices. Most prices are bundled, a single price for an entire procedure or process, in ways that can be compared across the entire industry. Prices are guaranteed. There are no circumstances under which a healthcare provider can decide after the fact how much to charge, or a health insurer can decide after the fact that the procedure was not covered, or that the unconscious heart attack victim should have been taken to a different emergency department farther away.

Picture a well-informed, savvy healthcare consumer, with active support and incentives from their employers and payors, who is far more willing and eager to find out what their choices are and exercise that choice. They want the same level of service, quality, and financial choices they get from almost every other industry. And as their financial burden increases, so do their demands.

Picture a reversing of consolidation, ending a providers’ ability to demand full-network contracting with opaque price agreements—and encouraging new market entrants capable of facilitating a yeasty market for competition. Picture growing disintermediation and decentralization of healthcare, with buyers increasingly able to act like real customers, picking and choosing particular services based on price and quality.

Picture an industry whose processes are as revolutionized by new technologies as the news industry has been, or gaming, or energy. Picture a healthcare industry in which you simply cannot compete using yesterday’s technologies—not just clinical technologies but data, communications, and transaction technologies.

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