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The Boys From Silicon Valley

A few weeks ago one man, named @jack, decided that millions of people will be allowed to use up to 280 characters when expressing themselves on Jack’s public square platform. One man decides how many letters each and every one of us, including the “leader of the free world”, can use when we talk to each other. Just like that. Nobody seemed the least bit perturbed by this notion. Another dude, named Mark, decided to ask people for nude pictures of themselves, so he can better protect them from the bad guys. We shrugged that off too. Then, in a most embarrassing exercise in public humiliation, our democratically elected representatives begged three slick lawyers representing these platforms to effectively regulate what people can say or see on “their” platforms.

So here we are, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where Jack and Mark decide what you can or cannot say, and what you can or cannot hear or see. This, my friend, is the power of “platforms”. In the old days, it used to be that he who pays the piper calls the tune. In the artificially intelligent technology age there are no pipers. He who owns the pipe makes it play whatever the hell he wants it to play. And as Sean Parker, a Facebook founder, elegantly put it, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”. Perhaps God knows, but he is certainly not the only one who knows, because these platforms are built with the explicit intent to get people addicted to and dependent on the platform.

Funded with cash from sexist pigs and harassers, a startup, whose business model is to help other startups “hook” people on trashy little apps, is calling itself Dopamine Labs. “Dopamine makes your app addictive” is their promise. According to the website, they use AI and neuroscience to deliver jolts of dopamine that “don’t just feel good: they rewire the brain’s habit centers” of users to “boost usage, loyalty, and revenue”. “Your users will crave it. And they’ll crave you”.

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See What You Missed At The Tech For Precision Health Summit

Health 2.0 just wrapped up its inaugural Technology For Precision Health Summit. A collective group of investors, entrepreneurs, and precision health workers gathered for a day of sharing, charged discussion, and live technology demos; all with the goal of pushing hard to advance an industry that is often a matter of live or death.

Some major themes emerged throughout the day including:

>Consumer Fear
>Bridging Data Silos
>Identifying Federal Policies that are either stifling or catalyzing innovation

Check out the full recap here!

Will CVS-Aetna Merger Lead to “Separate But Unequal” Healthcare?

Last week, pharmacy giant CVS agreed to purchase Aetna this week for an astounding $69 billion dollar sum. The company allegedly plans to reduce health spending by developing an integrated system touted as “a new front door for health care in America.” This merger is actually an acquisition, entailing transfer of ownership. The central aim of an acquisition is to increase market share, expand the scope of services provided, and improve financial stability. CVS hit the jackpot on all three objectives. While Wall Street investors celebrate, many of us knowledgeable in the delivery of healthcare services are wondering who will bear the responsibility for the patients harmed by this experiment?

Aetna has compiled vast amounts of data from 22 million health plan members. CVS provides pharmacy benefits management to nearly 90 million consumers. Together, with 10,000 stores and 1,100-minute clinics already in the CVS network, this acquisition will create a ‘Walmart for Healthcare’. Applying bulk-purchase business strategies to the sale of merchandise is one thing, while providing healthcare services by ‘trial and error’ to human beings is another matter entirely. Bypassing physicians to deliver healthcare by protocol categorically jeopardizes patient safety.

Executives at Aetna-CVS plan to utilize pharmacists and nurses in the evaluation of acute illness and management of chronic disease. If an insurer, drugstore, and pharmacy benefit manager unite as one, it will usher in an era of medical “segregation,” with segregation defined as the isolation or separation of a race, class, or group by enforced or voluntary restriction, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means.

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On the Morality of Insurance Premiums

As CVS-Aetna merger talks fill the air this Christmas season and experts weigh in on the impact this will have on the economy and consumers alike, I’m sitting at a little desk in a little office contemplating health insurance.

I run a little shop that’s about as far from CVS-Aetna as you can get in the health care space : a solo practice doctor with four full time employees and revenues a little south of $65 billion dollars.  I shouldn’t feel too alone.  Small businesses account for 99% of US firms and employ almost half of all private sector employees.  But knowing my problem is one shared by many provides only partial solace.

Prior to arrival of the ACA, I provided health insurance to everyone through the company.  At the time I had 3 full time employees and the insurance broker I worked with got me a quote for $1300 / month.  Now, I really didn’t want to be in the providing healthcare business, so when the ACA arrived with its individual market I was happy to facilitate buying health insurance from the exchanges.  So initially, I chose to pay for my employees plans on the individual market.  I was quickly told by my accountant that paying for my employees insurance in this manner was running afoul of a three letter entity of the federal government called the IRS.

Apparently the individual ACA market premiums were allergic to being deducted in this pre-tax manner.   Fine.  So I went ahead and paid each employee $6000 per year extra with the understanding that they would use that money to buy health insurance on the individual market.

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Secure your seat for live demos on precision medicine delivery at next week’s Tech Summit

Imagine if you will, a future in which a cancer diagnosis will be treated with a lifestyle change, like a chronic condition. Survivable. Manageable. Like Diabetes. Sure, to receive a cancer diagnosis today does not mean what it meant twenty years ago, but we are also unlikely to reach a point of ever acting casual about the term or the treatment plan.

In the meantime though, the increasing prevalence of personal data collection is driving new approaches in care plans that have a real shot at improving quality of life. The narrative of one’s life can be seen in the data – everything from where you live, what you eat, how you workout, even what you search for on the internet. The sources of such personal data come from places like clinical trials, biosensors, and wearables and is being stored in your Electronic Medical Record.

The sticking point though is the advancement of technological tools to view, aggregate, extract, and analyze relevant data to derive a meaningful plan of attack (er, treatment plan). One interoperable tool that plugs right into the EMR is Cota Healthcare. Pair this with omics data and genome sequencing technology, like 2bPrecise, and physicians are gaining insight into what makes you, you. And thus are better able to customize a bespoke cancer treatment plan, designed for you and only you.

Learn more about how omics data is driving new care plans, and see a live demo from Cota Healthcare andothers at the Technology for Precision Health Summit next week in San Francisco.

The P.A. Problem: Who You See and What You Get

Recently, the New York Times published an article on excessive costs incurred by mid-level providers over-treating benign skin lesions. According to the piece, more than 15% of biopsies billed to Medicare in 2015 were done by unsupervised PA’s or Nurse Practitioners. Physicians across the country are becoming concerned mid-levels working independently without proper specialty training. Dr. Coldiron, a dermatologist, was interviewed by the Times and said, “What’s really going on is these practices…hire a bunch of P.A.’s and nurses and stick them out in clinics on their own. And they’re acting like doctors.”

They are working “like” doctors, yet do not have training equivalent to physicians. As a pediatrician, I have written about a missed diagnosis of an infant by an unscrupulous midlevel provider who embellished his pediatric expertise. This past summer, astute physician colleagues came across an independent physician assistant, Christie Kidd, PA-C, boldly referring to herself as a “dermatologist.” Her receptionist answers the phone by saying “Kidd Dermatology.”

The Doctors, a daytime talk show, accurately referred to Ms. Kidd on a May 7, 2015 segment as a “skin care specialist.” However, beauty magazines are not held to the same high standard; the dailymail.com, a publication in the UK, captioned a picture of “Dr. Christie Kidd”, as the “go-to MD practicing in Beverly Hills.”

The article shared how Ms. Kidd treats the Kardashian-Jenner family, “helping them to look luminous in their no-make-up selfies.”

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What investors are saying about the state of digital health

Health 2.0 caught up with some of our favorite investors who have a strong pulse on what’s happening in digital health care both past and present. We talked about company evaluation, unmet needs in health care, and their biggest surprises yet.

Read the full interview featuring Lisa Suennen of GE Ventures, Bryan Roberts of Venrock, Rich Roth ofDignity Health, and Brent Stackhouse of Mount Sinai Ventures.

Here’s a preview…

“Pretty much all of my investments are in first time CEOs, which is not particularly what the venture capital playbook tells you to go do. But I find those people to be very hungry and largely underappreciated by the rest of the world. They’re also very willing to bash their head against a brick wall with me for a while, in order to try to succeed at something that is hard to do.”
 – Bryan Roberts, Venrock on what he looks for in an investment.

“There are so “many tech people who want to work their way into health care venture capital. When I started in health care venture in 1998 you couldn’t give it away. I wonder how long it will be before the cycle ends?”
– Lisa Suennen, GE Ventures on what surprises her about the industry right now.

Catch up with Lisa Suennen, Bryan Roberts, and others at Health 2.0’s WinterTech event on January 10, 2018 in San Francisco where you’ll hear more on investment trends, IPO, and the rise in consumer choices. Register today for WinterTech before the early price ends.

Purging Healthcare of Unnatural Acts

In tribute to Uwe we are re-running this instant classic from THCB’s archives. Originally published on Jan 31, 2017.

Everyone knows (or should know) that forcing a commercial health insurer to write for an individual a health insurance policy at a premium that falls short of the insurer’s best ex ante estimate of the cost of health care that individual will require is to force that insurer into what economists might call an unnatural act.

Remarkably, countries that rely on competing private health insurers to operate their universal, national health insurance systems all do just that. They allow each insurer to set the premium for a government-mandated , comprehensive benefit package, but require that each insurer “community-rate” that premium by charging the company’s individual customers that same premium, regardless of their health status and even age (with the exception of children).

American economists wonder why these countries do that, given that in the economist’s eyes community-rated health insurance premiums are “inefficient,” as economists define that term in their intra-professional dictionary. 

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA, otherwise known as “ObamaCare”) also mandates private insurers to quote community-rated premiums on the electronic market places created by the ACA, allowing adjustments only for age and whether or not an applicant smokes. But within age bands and smoker-status, insurers must charge the same premium to individual applicants regardless of their health status.

As fellow economist Mark V. Pauly points out in an illuminating two-part interview with Saurabh Jha, M.D., published earlier on this blog, aside from the “inefficiency” of that policy, it has some untoward but eminently predictable consequences. It happens when healthier people disobey the mandate to purchase insurance, leaving the risk pools of those insured in the ACA market places with sicker and sicker individuals, thus driving up the community-rated premiums. As Pauly points out at length, a weakly enforced mandate on individuals to be insured can become the Achilles heel of community rating.   

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The Great American Hypertension Epidemic of 2017

On November 15, 2017, an epidemic of hypertension broke out and could rapidly affect tens of millions of Americans.  The epicenter of the outbreak was traced back to the meeting of the American Heart Association in Anaheim, CA.

The pathogen was released in a special 488-page document labeled “Hypertension Guidelines.”  The document’s suspicious content was apparently noted by meeting personnel, but initial attempts to contain it with an embargo failed and the virus was leaked to the press.  Within minutes, the entire healthcare ecosystem was contaminated.

At this point, strong measures are necessary to stem the epidemic.  Everyone is advised not to click on any document or any link connected to this virus.  Instead, we are offering the following code that will serve both as a decoy and as an antidote for the virulent trojan horse.

Only a strong dose of common sense packed in a few lines of text can possibly save us from an otherwise lethal epidemic of nonsense.  Please save the following text on your EHR cloud or hard-drive, commit it to memory or to a dot phrase, and copy and paste it on all relevant quality and pay-for-performance reports you are asked to submit.

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A Brief History of Price Controls by Annoyed Republican Administrations

Although, unlike most other nations, the U.S. has only two parties worth the name, their professed doctrines compared with their actions strikes me as more confusing than the well-known Slutsky Decomposition which, as everyone knows, can be derived simply from a straightforward application of Kramer’s rule to a matrix of second partial derivatives of a multivariable demand function.

The leaders of the drug industry, for example, probably are now breaking out the champagne in the soothing belief that their aggressive pricing policies for even old drugs are safe for at least the next eight years from the allegedly fearsome, regulation-prone, price-controlling Democrats. My advice to them is: Cool it! Follow me through a brief history of Republican health policy, to learn what Republicans will do to the health-care sector when it ticks them off.

Republicans like to tar Democrats over allegedly socialist policy instruments such as price controls, global budgets and deficit-financed government spending. Democrats usually roll over to take that abuse, almost like hanging onto their posteriors signs that says “Kick me.”  I say “abuse,” because Republicans have never shied away from using the Democrats’ allegedly left-wing tactics when health care chews up their budgets or turns voters against them.

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