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Ukraine’s Secret Weapon – “Moral Superiority”

BY MIKE MAGEE

Two hundred and ten years ago, on September 7, 1812, a Putinesque commander, narrowly won a battle, but lost a war and entered a downward cycle that ended his reign. The battle was the Battle of Borodino, a town on the river Moskva, 70 miles west of Moscow. The commander was Napoleon.

The facts are clear-cut: Napoleon arrived with 130,000 troops, including his 20,000 Imperial Guards, and 500 guns. Opposing him were 120,000 Russians with 600 guns. The battle engaged from 6 AM to Noon. The French took 30,000 casualties, while the Russians lost 45,000 men, but survived to fight another day.

As Leo Tolstoy describes the scene of carnage on page 818 of his epic novel, War and Peace, in 1867“Several tens of thousands of men lay dead in various positions and uniforms in the fields and meadows where for hundreds of years peasants of the villages…had at the same time gathered crops and pastured cattle. At the dressing stations, the grass and soil were soaked with blood over the space of three acres. Crowds of wounded and unwounded men of various units, with frightened faces, trudged on…Over the whole field, once so gaily beautiful with its gleaming bayonets and puffs of smoke in the morning sun, there now hung the murk of dampness and smoke and the strangely acidic smell of saltpeter and blood. Small clouds gathered and began to sprinkle on the dead…”

But in the next paragraphs, it becomes clear that Tolstoy’s intent and focus is not to describe why and how Napoleon had won the Battle of Borodino, but rather how this was the beginning of the end of his army and the Napoleonic reign.

Tolstoy writes: “For the French, with the memory of the previous fifteen years of victories, with their confidence in Napoleon’s invincibility, with the awareness that they had taken part of the battlefield, that they had lost only a quarter of their men, and that they still had the intact twenty-thousand-man guard, it would have been easy to make the effort (to advance and annihilate the Russians)….But the French did not make that effort….It is not that Napoleon did not send in his guard because he did not want to, but that it could not be done. All the generals, officers, and soldiers of the French army knew that it could not be done, because the army’s fallen spirits did not allow it….(They were) experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle. The moral strength of the attacking French was exhausted…(For the Russians, it was) a moral victory, the sort that convinces the adversary of the moral superiority of his enemy and of his own impotence, that was gained by the Russians at Borodino.”

The Russians not only retreated, but did not stop in Moscow, continuing another 80 miles beyond their beloved city. But as Tolstoy describes, “In the Russian army, as it retreats, the spirit of hostility towards the enemy flares up more and more; as it falls back, it concentrates and increases.” 

As for the French, they take Moscow but stop there. Again from Tolstoy, “During the five weeks after that, there is not a single battle. The French do not move. Like a mortally wounded beast, which, losing blood, licks its wounds, they remain in Moscow for five weeks without undertaking anything, and suddenly, with no cause, flee back…without entering a single serious battle…”

Putin’s aging dreams of conquest likely are Napoleonic in scale. But as his hesitant forces observe the Borodino-like human carnage that they have unleashed on Mariupol, at the estuary of the Kalmius and Kalchik rivers, and prepare to enter Kyiv, the first eastern Slavic state which, a Millennium ago, acquired the title “Mother of Rus Cities”, their vulnerability and lack of “moral strength” is already apparent. Lacking a rational stated goal other than dominance, the young Russian conscripted soldiers and their commanders must certainly grow more concerned day by day.  They too have become entrapped, and are “experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle.” 

As for Putin, like Napoleon, he may feel the winds of fate blowing heavily on his shoulders even now. Napoleon did make it back to Paris. But three years after the Battle of Borodino and the 5-week occupation of Moscow, he met his Waterloo on June 16, 1815, at the hands of the Duke of Wellington.  He died in exile on the island of Helena on May 5, 1821. In his last will, he wrote, “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people which I have loved so much.”

Putin likely feels a similar love for Mother Russia, but ultimately the Russian people may choose not to return the affection.

Mike Magee, MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist, and author of  “CodeBlue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.“

April Fools….Data Driven Analysis

By MATTHEW HOLT

I have always thought that THCB almost always had an April fools post. I mean never on the Epic scale–today they’re merging with the other Epic, the Fornite gang–but most years I’d have said we had one. So in an effort to avoid the work I should be doing I went back to to archives to look and find the truth.

THCB started in August 2003 and in April 2005 the “tradition” started with this very worthy & not very clever April Fool about how George W Bush had signed national health care into law. The nothing more April Foolish until 2009 when then TCHB editor John Irvine wrote a piece about me joining Cato.

I got going on the whole thing in 2010 when just after the ACA was passed I declared that THCB and all its various contributors were finding other stuff to do. (They’re all basically back on #THCBGang these days!). The theory was that health care was now solved and we were going to cover fly fishing and renewable energy. If I had just bought that Tesla stock…

So now we were getting into the swing of it and yet no more fools for 4 years! The next one was a goodie though. At the time I was railing against the term mHealth which was battling my preferred term Health 2.0 as the definitional term for the sector. Neither term realized that “digital health” was winning. I explained that we were renaming Health 2.0 “mHealth & Associates” and that employees were going to be referred to as mHealth Ass. and Indu thought I was the “biggest mHealth Ass”. The wonderful coda to this is about 3 weeks later Indu and I met our then most important client, Holly Potter at Kaiser Permanente. She asked us when the name change was happening!! I still tease her about that when I see her!

Then another 4 year gap. In 2018 I revealed that Trump had appointed me to run the VA. I also predicted war with Russia in 2021. So wasn’t too far off! Then we hit a roll, in 2019 I scooped the world with the news that Facebook was entering the EMR business….not too far from the truth.

Finally in 2020 Michael Millenson told us that Trump was urging Covid sufferers to only get care at for-profit facilities. As it turned out, given how well so many hospital systems have done in the pandemic, he may not have been joking.

So in 19 years we have run 7 April Fools. Which by my calculation suggests that THCB is about 35% foolish. Which I guess is lower than I thought.

Matthew Holt is the publisher and main fool at THCB

WTF Health: Why Aren’t You Part of The Advancement League?

BY JESS DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

For healthcare leaders who are “committed to community and career happiness” there is the Advancement League, a membership org dedicated to helping create the right circumstances and connections for both. Co-founders Alex Maiersperger and Antwan Williams tell us about the career development activities Advancement League has become known for, how they’re helping healthcare professionals at all levels of their career, and why their emphasis on community impact is important to anyone with a healthcare role. From ViVE 2022 in Miami, we also talk about getting together for Advancement League’s signature event, Young Health Leader Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina, on August 3-5, 2022.

#HealthTechDeals Episode 19: Brightline, Brightside, OssoVR, Podimetrics, AmplifyMD

This episode of Health Tech Deals is brought to you from the parking lot of a MacDonald’s in New Mexico. Yes, Jess is driving cross country from Florida! She and I hash out some health tech deals that happened this week: Brightline raises $105 million; Brightside raises $50 million; OssoVR raises $66 million; Podimetrics raises $41 million; and AmplifyMD raises $23 million.

-By Matthew Holt

Dibs on a RNA Computer

BY KIM BELLARD

I’ve given DNA a lot of love over the years — DNA as a storage medium, as a computing platform, as the basis for robots, as the tool for synthetic biology/biohacking, even used for the DNA-of-Things (DoT).   DNA is the basis for all life as we know it, in every category of life we’ve found anywhere on earth. That we are now using it to achieve technological goals seems like one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments.

But where’s the love for RNA, DNA’s putative ancestor and still-partner?  A few recent developments in RNA caught my eye that I wanted to give their due.

As you may remember from high school biology, RNA has a crucial role in how DNA transmits genetic information.  As one source explains it: “DNA holds information, but it generally does not actively apply that information. DNA does not make things.”  Instead, it transcribes the information onto RNA, which then actually makes things happen.  

Just last week researchers from Northwestern University were able to show RNA switching genes off and on, using a simulation model they “affectionately” call R2D2 (short for “reconstructing RNA dynamics from data”).  The researchers believe the “strand displacement” mechanism is what switches genes “on” or “off.”  

Professor Julius B. Lucks, who co-led the research, believes: “Many diseases are likely caused by something going awry at the RNA level.  The more we know about this, the better we can design RNA targeting drugs and RNA therapeutics.”  For example, genes could be “engineered to turn “on” in the presence of an environmental contaminant.”  

Amazing stuff.  But that’s not all.  

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#HealthTechDeals Episode 18: Huma, Afterlife, Timedoc Health Avive, Antidote Health

Exciting things are a-happening in the Medicaid space! Two new female CEOs are being announced today in City Block Health and in Centene! In this episode of Health Tech Deals, Jess and I discuss new leadership changes in the health tech space, as well as new deals: Huma buys Astra Zeneca Digital; Afterlife raises $22 million; Timedoc Health raises $48.5 million; Avive raises $22 million; Antidote Health raises $22 million.

Celebrating the 12th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act in a Pandemic: Where Would We Be Without It?

BY ROSEMARIE DAY

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law twelve years ago today, Joe Biden called it “a big f-ing deal.”  Little did he, or anyone else at that time, realize how big of a deal it was. Just ten years later, America was engulfed in a global pandemic, the magnitude of which hadn’t been seen in a century. Two years after that, the numbers are chilling: over 79 million people were infected, at least 878,613 were hospitalized, and 971,968 have died.

As bad as these numbers are, things would have been much worse if the ACA hadn’t come to pass. The ACA created an essential safety net that protected us from even more devastation. Covering over 20 million more people, it is the single largest health care program created since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Thanks to the ACA:

  • The estimated 9.6 million people who lost their jobs during the pandemic didn’t have to worry as much about finding health care coverage if they got sick from Covid (or anything else) – they could shop for subsidized insurance on the public exchanges or apply for Medicaid. This helped millions of people to stay covered, which saved thousands of lives. In fact, the overall rate of uninsured people has not increased significantly during the pandemic, thanks to the safety net of these public health care programs.
  • The 79 million people who got Covid didn’t have to worry about whether their infection’s aftermath would result in acquiring a pre-existing condition that would prohibit them from buying health insurance in the future (if they couldn’t get coverage through their jobs).
  • Those who were burnt out from the pandemic and joined the Great Resignation did not have to worry that they would be locked out of health insurance coverage while they took a break or looked for a new job. According to the Harvard Business Review, resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees (those between 30 and 45 years old), a stage of life when health insurance is critical, given the formation of families and the emerging health issues that come with age. 

The ACA’s remarkable safety net framework made it far easier for policy makers to deploy federal funds during this unprecedented emergency. The American Rescue Plan Act , a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, included provisions that built on the ACA, including more generous premium tax credit subsidies. Its predecessor, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) of 2020 enhanced Medicaid funding and required states to provide continuous Medicaid coverage.

  • For working- and middle-class people, the health insurance exchanges (both state and federal) provided one-stop shopping with enhanced federal subsidies which made health insurance more accessible for people who lost their employer-sponsored insurance. Many Americans who needed health insurance turned to the ACA marketplaces to find a plan. Amid the recent surge in resignations, the Biden administration announced that sign ups hit an all-time high of 14.5 million when open enrollment ended in January 2022.
  • For lower income people, the Medicaid program was there, stronger than ever, thanks to 38 states opting into the ACA’s expansion of the program. An increased federal matching contribution helped states to finance Medicaid enrollment during the worst of the economic downturn and prevented Medicaid disenrollments.
  • Additional benefits from these measures included reducing health disparities, ensuring mental health coverage, and helping new moms with more robust coverage.

Despite the ACA’s strong foundation and the many good things worth celebrating on its twelfth anniversary, there are difficulties ahead. The expanded premium subsidies and enhanced Medicaid funding are only temporary – both are set to expire this year. With that will come a loss of insurance coverage as people struggle to afford what’s on offer. On top of this, the public health emergency will be unwinding which will bring continuous Medicaid coverage to an end. And there are still too many uninsured people in this country (27.4 million). Retaining the expanded ACA benefits and finding other ways to build upon the ACA’s foundation are critical issues for the mid-term elections this fall.  

A recent study shows that support for the ACA and universal health care has increased during the pandemic. We shouldn’t “let a good crisis go to waste.” We need to make our voices heard and commit to building the future. We’ve had to expend far too much energy over the past decade defending the ACA and protecting it from repeal. The pain we’ve endured during this pandemic should not be for naught. Now is the time to assume an expansive posture of building toward universal health care. Retaining the expanded ACA benefits is an important incremental step. As difficult as the pandemic has been, it is providing a once-in-a-century opportunity to address America’s unfinished business in health care. The ACA is an excellent foundation. Let’s build on that so that we have a lasting cause for celebration.

Rosemarie Day is the Founder & CEO of Day Health Strategies and author of Marching Toward Coverage:  How Women Can Lead the Fight for Universal Healthcare (Beacon Press, 2020).  Follow her on Twitter:  @Rosemarie_Day1

#HealthTechDeals Episode 17: Cricket Health, Embold Health, Canopy, Vira Health, and Woebot

We’ve reViVEd from ViVE and the HIMMSanity is over! Jess and I are back to discuss more multimillion-dollar deals: Fresenius/Interwell/Cricket Health is merging to 2.4 billion valuation; Embold Health gets $26 million; Canopy gets $13 million; Vira Health gets $12 million; and Woebot gets $9 million.

-Matthew Holt

Jess DaMassa:

While we revived from Vive and the HIMSS-sanity is over and all that’s left is boring old Matthew Holt and I to pick up the pieces. It can only be the March 22nd episode of Health Tech Deals.

Matthew Holt:

So Jess, I had massive HIMSS FOMO. First time hadn’t been in like 428 years and everyone else was there. And did you care? No?

Jess DaMassa:

I’m two hours away and I’m like, “Nope. Not for me. Not right now.”

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ARPHA-H Needs to Think Bigger

BY KIM BELLARD

Everyone loves DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that is credited with such hits as the internet and GPS, but is also responsible for things like the Boston Dynamics back-flipping robots and even Siri.  DARPA’s mission is to make “pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security,” but, as the previous examples illustrate, we can’t always tell how those breakthrough technologies are going to get used.  

Healthcare is, at long last, getting its own DARPA, with ARPA-H (Advanced Research Project Agency for Health).  It’s been discussed for years, but just last week was finally funded; a billion dollars over three years.  But I fear it is already off on the wrong foot, even ignoring the fact that President Biden had requested $6.5b.  

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Hospital Systems: A Framework for Maximizing Social Benefit

By JEFF GOLDSMITH and IAN MORRISON

Hospital consolidation has risen to the top of the health policy stack. David Dranove and Lawton Burns argued in their recent Big Med:  Megaproviders and the High Cost of Health Care in America (Univ of Chicago Press, 2021) that hospital consolidation has produced neither cost savings from “economies of scale” nor measurable quality improvements expected from better care co-ordination. As a consequence, the Biden administration has targeted the health care industry for enhanced and more vigilant anti-trust enforcement.

However, as we discussed in a 2021 posting in Health Affairs, these large, complex health enterprises played a vital role in the societal response to the once-in-a-century COVID crisis. Multi-hospital health systems were one of the only pieces of societal infrastructure that actually exceeded expectations in the COVID crisis. These systems demonstrated that they are capable of producing, rapidly and on demand, demonstrable social benefit.

Exemplary health system performance during COVID begs an important question: how do we maximize the social benefits of these complex enterprises once the stubborn foe of COVID has been vanquished? How do we think conceptually about how systems produce those benefits and how should they fully achieve their potential for the society as a whole?

Origins of Hospital Consolidation

In 1980, the US hospital industry (excluding federal, psych and rehab facilities) was a $77 billion business comprised of roughly 5,900 community hospitals. It was already significantly consolidated at that time; roughly a third of hospitals were owned or managed by health systems, perhaps a half of those by investor-owned chains. Forty years later, there were 700 fewer facilities generating about $1.2 trillion in revenues (roughly a fourfold growth in real dollar revenues since 1980), and more than 70% of hospitals were part of systems. 

It is important to acknowledge here that hundreds more hospitals, many in rural health shortage areas or in inner cities, would have closed had they not been rescued by larger systems. Given that a large fraction of the hospitals that remain independent are tiny critical access facilities that are marginal candidates for mergers with larger enterprises, the bulk of hospital consolidation is likely behind us. Future consolidation is likely not to be of individual hospitals, but of smaller systems that are not certain they can remain independent. 

Today’s multi-billion dollar health systems like Intermountain Healthcare, Geisinger, Penn Medicine and Sentara are far more than merely roll-ups of formerly independent hospitals. They also employ directly or indirectly more than 40% of the nation’s practicing physicians, according to the AMA Physician Practice Benchmark Survey. They have also deployed 179 provider-sponsored health plans enrolling more than 13 million people (Milliman Torch Insight, personal communication 23 Sept, 2021). They operate extensive ambulatory facilities ranging from emergency and urgent care to surgical facilities to rehabilitation and physical therapy, in addition to psychiatric and long-term care facilities and programs.

Health Systems Didn’t Just “Happen”; Federal Health Policy Actively Catalyzed their Formation

Though many in the health policy world attribute hospital consolidation and integration to empire-building and positioning relative to health insurers, federal health policy played a catalytic role in fostering hospital consolidation and integration of physician practices and health insurance. In the fifty years since the HMO Act of 1973, hospitals and other providers have been actively encouraged by federal health policy to assume economic responsibility for the total cost of care, something they cannot do as isolated single hospitals.

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