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Category: The Business of Health Care

State Insurance Exchange Blind Spots: Unknown Risks and Unintended Consequences

October 1st marks the first ever public exchange open enrollment season.  This means some of the speculation around consumer awareness and understanding, enrollment/uptake, premiums, and payer participation (not to mention the technical readiness of the exchanges) will finally subside and give way to a clearer picture of the PPACA’s initial success in mandating individual health coverage.

Despite this approaching level of clarity, however, several very significant “blind-spots” will continue to persist, principally for the health insurance carriers that choose to participate by offering PPACA compliant plans in the exchange.

This is due to the law’s guaranteed issue mandate prohibiting health carriers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.  As a result, the traditional enrollment process which consists of a comprehensive assessment of each applicant’s health status and risk cast against the backdrop of time-tested underwriting guidelines is completely thrown out.

What takes its place is an extremely limited data set (i.e., the member’s age, tobacco/smoking status, geographic region, and family size) from which carriers can determine pre-approved premiums and variability therein.  To use an analogy, health insurance companies no longer have a “bouncer at the door” turning people away, or a sign reading No shirt, No shoes, No service at the entrance.

In other words, everyone, regardless of their risk profile, must now be welcomed in with open arms and with very limited risk-adjusted rates.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the enrolling population comprised a well understood risk pool representing a true cross-section of the population.  The reality, however, is that a predominantly unknown and potentially unhealthy population will flood the individual health insurance marketplace in a two weeks just as most states quickly phase out their high-risk pre-existing condition pools and shift them into the exchanges.

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Blood Pressure Monitoring, Telemedicine, and Automated Hovering: A Future Model for Disease Management?

Use of an at-home telemonitoring blood pressure device significantly reduced out-of-control high blood pressure, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It’s another data point showing the potential of telemedicine to have a profound effect on American medicine, by positively modifying health behaviors, providing real-time data to clinicians through “automated hovering,” and helping Americans get and stay healthy – all of which holds the promise of bending the cost curve.

Led by Karen Margolis, MD, MPH, a Senior Investigator at Health Partners Institute for Education and Research, the cluster-randomized study investigated whether using a cloud-connected, at-home blood pressure monitor paired with pharmacist and case manager support would lead to controlled blood pressure more than typical care, which involved check-ups with a physician.

Those using the telemonitoring device were 90% more likely to have controlled blood pressure at both the six and twelve-month checkups than the control group (57.2% and 30%, respectively), and had, on average, statistically significant lower systolic and diastolic readings.
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What Happens In New York Stays In New York

While sitting in the crowded waiting room of a medical specialist’s office I was forced to listen to the television set directly over my head. Cranked up so that everyone could listen above the din of conversation, Wolf Blitzer introduced a video clip of the President hailing the latest news from New York about health insurance exchanges.

Speaking as if he was still on the campaign trail, the President’s words came through loud and clear over the television: thanks to his health reform, premiums in the New York exchange would be half that of premiums in the individual market. This was a model the entire nation should embrace.

No one heard me mutter under my breath that this was a model for New York and a small handful of other states that previously regulated their individual insurance markets effectively out of existence.

What the President undoubtedly knows, but dared not say, is that New York’s individual insurance market is unlike any other state. In New York, insurers cannot charge higher premiums to high risk enrollees.

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As a result of this aggressive community rating, high risk individuals are disproportionately represented in New York’s individual policy risk pools. This drives up premiums, which drives away low risks, driving premiums even higher. Insurers in New York are counting on the purchase mandate, combined with purchase subsidies, to lure low risks into the pool.

This is why they have lowered premiums.

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The Father of Microlending Takes on U.S. Health Costs

What can a microlending bank in Bangladesh teach us about trimming healthcare costs in New York City? Perhaps much more than we think.

Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank, revolutionizing the fight against poverty by handing out “micro” loans of less than $30 to Bangladeshi women during the mid 1970s.  He went on to spread microfinance around the world, including to Queen’s, New York, where the flagship Grameen America office serves 12,000 women.

Now, he’s piloting a breakthrough health program aimed at dramatically cutting costs while improving the health of those borrowers in Queens. It’s a tall order, given that these women are mainly immigrants, single working mothers, and living on $20,000 a year or less.

What’s more, the program is designed to become self-sustaining. The borrowers will pay for some of the services from the start. Over time, their payments will cover more of the costs. That, Yunus argues, is the only way programs for the poor can be long lasting and deliver the quality of service people want.  Even the wealthiest nations, Yunus says, are starting to realize that their “free” health systems are still too expensive to pay for.

Healthcare insiders will be incredulous. How in the world will the priciest healthcare system serve people living below poverty without relying mainly on charity? Yunus answers that question, and explains why he’s going into health care in the first place, in a recent Financial Times op-ed [i].

In his work with the world’s poor, Yunus has been continually rankled by the fact that health care costs are such a burden to so many and are continually rising. For the poor, health costs are an especially serious threat, because even small bills can cause financial ruin.  To someone living on $25 per day, for example, a $300 prescription represents weeks of food and transportation.
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What’s Changed Since the Obamacare Verdict

Ever since its controversial passage in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has been plastered with a range of polemic labels. Critics say Obamacare is job-killing; supporters herald it as life-saving.

Here’s another, perhaps unexpected label: personally profitable.

If you were among the true believers in the law a year ago today, there was easy money to be made. Nearly 80% of bettors on InTrade expected the law to be found unconstitutional; strategically spending about $25 in favor of the ACA could’ve netted you $800, based on how InTrade’s short-selling rules worked.

Much has changed, certainly, since Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the law. (Beyond those bettors’ account balances, and the existence of InTrade itself, which mysteriously shut down in March.)

Here’s a look at how the Supreme Court’s decision on June 28, 2012, affected five hot-button issues related to the health law.

States’ decisions on Medicaid expansion

As of June 27, 2012: Several states with progressive governors and legislatures, like California, had moved to expand Medicaid ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Golden State’s leaders also had pledged to pursue universal coverage if the ACA was ruled unconstitutional.

But most states were waiting on the resolution of the constitutionality battle.

Since June 28, 2012: After the Court’s decision that the mandate was constitutional but that the Medicaid expansion was optional for states — which “took everyone by surprise,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medical Directors — governors were suddenly forced to decide whether the expansion made financial, and political, sense. Within a week, about ten states had signaled they’d expand Medicaid under the ACA.

However, many wary governors chose to wait for the November elections, and the knowledge of who would hold the White House, before announcing their plans; following President Obama’s reelection, a flurry of governors clarified their Medicaid stances throughout the winter and spring.

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What Health Reform Can Learn from the Environmental Movement

Over past few years, we’ve seen numerous articles about impact of the environment changes on the health of our population.  They range from increased rates and severity of respiratory disease to the resurgence of infectious diseases due to increasing temperatures.   However, it hadn’t really occurred to me until this weekend while attending a film festival in Colorado (name undisclosed because I don’t want it to get more crowded!) that there were interesting parallels between the environmental and health care reform movements.

And while this should probably not be a surprise given that healthcare and the environment are two of the most “wicked problems” facing our country – tough to describe, multiple causes and not easily solved with one answer – I nevertheless was intrigued by the similarities.

1)      Local, local, local– The environmental movement has finally figured out that change will only occur if you make the issues local – it’s not just about the planet but about your backyard.  (My father who could not hear me utter the word climate change without breaking into hives or leaving the room, recently told me he thinks “something may be happening because the fish in the river he spends half his days on are starting to die”)   Those of us in healthcare have known forever that the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare is local.  And while the biggest changes over the past few years have been driven by government policy, the tough part lies ahead and will only be successful because of the actions at the local level.

2)      Show me the money- Whether it’s the environment or healthcare – until it impacts the consumer’s bottom line (property damage, rising gas prices, higher out of pocket expenses), it can be tough to get a majority of people to devote their time and energy to change.   In healthcare we are still in the early days but are starting to see the impact of people having to pay more out of pocket for their medical care.  Time will tell whether the impact is all positive, but at least we are recognizing that financial incentives can play a key role in changing behavior.

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What if Google Does It?

I’m a nerd. Instead of watching Hollywood movies, I watched the entirety of Google’s 3.5 hour keynote from their recent developer conference, Google IO. I really appreciate watching and learning from technology companies operating at spectacular scale. They put on quite a show (at least for geeks like me).

One hour and eighteen minutes (the link should take you the right spot in the video) into the keynote, Google executives unveiled new discovery and curation features for the Android Play Store for apps for teachers to use in class. Google hired a team of educational content experts to review and curate in-class apps. Google will release certified apps to a special section of the Android Play Store that educational IT staff and teachers can peruse.

Google will also provide tools for educational IT admins to centrally manage and distribute those apps throughout the school per teacher, class, grade level, and more. Google is dramatically simplifying IT management in large bureaucratic organizations that can’t attract top IT talent. This is a godsend for teachers who have wanted to deploy apps in class, but who haven’t had the necessary IT support.

This is a brilliant concept. In highly regulated, slow changing industries such as healthcare and education, the biggest barriers to adopting and integrating third-party apps into the core workflows are fear of inaccurate information and IT distribution and management challenges. Google is doing a tremendous favor for the educational system. This move will materially improve the uptake of in-class apps.

Obviously, this begs the question, “Why doesn’t Google do the same thing for healthcare?” Happtique and Healthtap recognized this need some time ago. They’re curating apps and providing IT infrastructure services to help manage and distribute those apps to employees along different job functions, roles, locations, etc.

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Driving Front Line Innovation In Health Care

Jennifer Stinson was a nurse at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto who enjoyed brainstorming new ideas for improving care, especially for the kids with cancer she treats. But even as she gained status by getting her PhD and becoming a clinician scientist, she came up against persistent bureaucratic and organizational barriers to innovation.

Stinson’s challenge is common at big organizations, but overcoming bureaucracy and breaking down silos is especially critical in healthcare. To tackle these obstacles at SickKids, CEO Mary Jo Haddad in 2010 elevated innovation to a “strategic direction,” and engaged Innosight to help devise a full system needed to spur innovation. The resulting system has three major components:

  1. An Innovation blueprint detailing the types of innovations the organization wants to encourage. SickKids prioritized encouraging doctors, nurses and clinicians to look for unmet needs they could address, rather than wait for solutions from IT or top management. That required creating a focus group with 25 front-line healthcare workers to discover and catalog key “jobs to be done” (like reducing the length of hospital visits), surveying all 5,000 employees, and training most of them on how to integrate the innovation system into their daily practices.
  2. An innovation pipeline to reliably take ideas from concept to reality. This involved establishing a new 18-member Central Innovation Group of leaders from different areas of the hospital, a team that was tasked with prioritizing and advancing ideas and projects through various stages. The team helped innovators test prototypes, make adjustments, and then scale to a wider population.
  3. An innovation culture that features the right people, in the right roles, speaking a common language of innovation. A key enabler of this culture was the establishment of a $250,000 Innovation Fund to provide seed money for promising ideas. Now, instead of being stalled by permission hurdles that suppress initiative, promising new ideas could be funded, fast-tracked and prototyped.

Consider how the new system helped Stinson bring a transformative innovation to life. Every year at SickKids, thousands of children are battling various forms of cancer. It’s vital that they keep accurate diaries tracking their pain, but if it’s not done daily the data are virtually worthless. Typically these diaries must be filled out by hand, an annoying task that children with cancer aren’t motivated to do. The result is poor reporting and suboptimal pain management.

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The Affordable Care Act: Like It Or Not, It’s Catalyzing a Golden Age In Health Care Investing

Now that President Obama has been re-elected and the Supreme Court has upheld the Accountable Care Act, healthcare reform is here to stay. So what does reform mean for healthcare investors? I believe it will usher in a new fertile period for innovative,venture‐backed companies that can navigate the brave new world of healthcare delivery and management.

The Accountable Care Act impact on healthcare IT investing is already being felt.Venture investment in 2013 is showing significant growth from last year. In 2012,according to PWC, a global accounting firm,the life sciences sector which includes healthcare IT accounted for 25 percent of all venture capital dollars invested which totaled nearly $1.2 billion in 163 deals,more than double the $480 million in 49 deals in 2011 and almost six‐times the $211 million in 22 deals in 2010.

Now is the time to make order out of chaos and to set the stage for a next‐generation healthcare system that can effectively service our nation. At Psilos Group, we have just released our fifth Healthcare Economics and Innovation Outlook and identified the following four areas as the most promising opportunities for healthcare investors in 2013 and beyond: Private health exchanges, consumer‐focused insurance programs, 21st century healthcare technologies, and innovations that reduce error and waste.

Investing In Exchanges

The healthcare insurance marketplace—and the way insurance is bought and sold—is facing massive change.Healthcare insurance exchanges, both public and private,promise to create a more organized and competitive market for buying healthcare insurance, which could moderate price increases that are currently spiraling out of control.

From our perspective, exchanges are an intelligent place to invest. Software and services will power the exchanges. Psilos envisions massive opportunities for technologies that enable operators of both public and private exchanges to build high functioning platforms, including the shopping software and back‐end administrative technology and service products needed to serve tens of millions of people efficiently.

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Why Disease Management Won’t Be Going Away Any Time Soon

We’re all aware of the past criticisms of “disease management.” According to the critics, these for-profit vendors were in collusion with commercial insurers, relying robo-calls to blanket unsuspecting patients with dubious advice. Their claims of “outcomes” were based on flawed research that was never intended to be science; it was really intended to market their wares.

But suppose this correspondent alerted you to:

1. A company that had developed a patient registry to identify at-risk patients who had not received an evidence-based care recommendation? Software created mailings to those patients that not only informed them of the recommendation but offered them a toll-free number to call if there were questions. Patients who remained non-compliant were then called by coordinators, who made three attempts to contact the patient and assist in any scheduling needs. If necessary, a nurse was available to telephonically engage patients and develop alternative care options.

If you think that sounds like typical vendor-driven telephonic disease management, you’d be right.  You’d also be describing an approach to care that was studied by Group Health Cooperative using their electronic record, medical assistants and nurses.  When it was applied to colon cancer screening, a randomized study revealed each additional level of support progressively resulted in statistically significant screening rates.

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