Tag: Health Plans

Without Patient-Centered Health Plans, It’s the Same Tired Script

As the next act of the Massachusetts health care drama plays out on Beacon Hill, the same characters return to the stage with a tired script. The ostensible hero of the production, the patient, is left to watch the tragedy from the back row.

Legislation being debated on Beacon Hill ignores patient-centered health plans and health savings accounts, or HSAs, which are lower-premium insurance plans that direct pre-tax dollars into a bank account to cover an individual’s current health care and save money for future medical expenses. An HSA is the most direct way to engage patients in the health system. They cover out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses, are fully portable, and owned by individuals for their entire lives.

Unlike the self-interested solutions of insurers, providers, and government, HSAs are a proven way to contain the cost of care.

Nationwide, 11.4 million people of all ages and income levels purchase patient-centered plans, up over 250 percent from 2006, when they were created. Among HSA account holders, fully half earn less than $60,000; almost three-quarters have children; and about half are over 40.

Safeway, one of America’s largest supermarket chains, rolled out a patient-centered plan in 2006; per capita health care spending shrank 13 percent, and costs remained flat for four consecutive years.

Safeway’s plans have reduced employee obesity and smoking rates to roughly 30 percent below national averages. This health dividend is priceless as 70 percent of health care costs are directly related to lifestyle decisions.

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Insurers Flat Foot Their Way Into the Social Media Era

A couple of related pieces caught my attention today: @HealthPlan: How insurers use social media and Insurers are scouring social media for evidence of fraud. Slowly but surely health plans and other insurers are stepping into the world of social media and it’s interesting to see how they are doing it.

Health plans seem to be following along the lines of other big, bureaucratic organizations that cause customers a lot of frustration through poor customer service. Here’s an example of a Twitter exchange between Humana and a customer:

Sept. 23, 2010
@MrAndrewDykstra: Dear Humana, you’ve ruined my day. Worse, my wife’s day. Way to CYA. I’m paying you to cover mine. #NotHappy

Sept. 24, 2010
@HumanaHelp: @MrAndrewDykstra I’m sorry to hear about your frustration, is there anything I can do to help out?

@MrAndrewDykstra: @HumanaHelp You were kind and didn’t give my wife the run around, I appreciate that. 3/3.

Sept. 27, 2010
@HumanaHelp: @MrAndrewDykstra Thank you, let me know if you need any customer care.

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Healthy Eats For Data-Hungry Doctors

Imagine that an innovative health plan – aware that half or more of health care cost is waste and that physician costs to obtain the identical outcome can vary by as much as eight fold – hopes to sweep market share by producing better quality health care for a dramatically lower cost. So it begins to evaluate its vast data stores. It’s goal is to identify the specialists, outpatient services and hospitals within each market that, for episodes of specific high-frequency or high value conditions, consistently produce the best outcomes at the lowest cost. Imagine that, because higher quality is typically produced at lower costs – there are generally fewer complications and lower incidences of revisiting treatment – the health plan will pay high performers more than low performers. Just as importantly, it will limit the network, steering more patients to high performers and away from low performers.

Suddenly, it will become very important for physicians and other providers to understand, in detail, how they compare to their peers within specialty, and how to provide the best care possible. And if they find the results aren’t so positive, they may want to figure out where their deficiencies lie, and how they can improve.

Now imagine that clinicians could easily view data about their patients and themselves.

  • Basic demographics: e.g. age, gender, length of time since last visit.
  • A problem list based on diagnoses within the past year.
  • A list of medications prescribed, including ordering physician, dates and fulfillment information.
  • A list of lab tests ordered, by physician and date.
  • A list of immunizations.

Suppose the clinician could review, revise or copy this information to create a lasting “patient profile,” saving it online and retrieving it for use at each subsequent visit as appropriate.

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Profit-seeking Health Insurers Seek Profits

Healthcare reform becomes official this week, as many of the provisions of the legislation kick in. One provision requires insurers to accept children with preexisting conditions while capping what they can charge, undoing a standard industry practice. Several insurers have indicated that they will stop selling child-only policies. Industry officials are having a field day criticizing insurance industry greed.

Maybe these officials haven’t noticed, but insurers are greedy and there is nothing anyone in the Obama administration can do about it. Maybe it needs repeating. Insurers are greedy, have always been greedy, and always will be greedy. So are all investor-owned companies. People don’t invest in health insurance companies (or any other investor-owned companies) for charity. They invest in them to make money. (Investors tend to be greedy too, and that includes the pension funds that most working Americans rely upon for their comfortable retirements.)Continue reading…

The Next Big Thing for Doctors


The Future Just Happened,
by Michael Lewis, 2001

As a consultant to the Physician Foundation, a not-for-profit 501 C-3 Organization representing physicians in state medical societies, as a sometime futurist, and as someone who has written extensively about innovation in Innovation-Driven Health Care (Jones and Bartlett, 2007) and in 1475 blogs in Medinnovation, I have been asked: What is the next big thing for doctors, and how should they react to it?

The next big thing for physicians will be Medicare fee cuts in the neighborhood of 50% by 2020 as mandated by the Affordable Care Act, and the next big clinical innovative response for doctors will be encouraging patients enter their own data, their own chief complaint, and their own medical histories before seeing the doctor to compensate for fee reductions.

Ceding a Traditional Physician Function to Survive Economically

Doctors will have to cede a traditional function – taking a history – to patients to become more efficient to survive. Payers – including Medicare, Medicaid, and private health plans- will demand standardization and restructuring of the medical history to achieve consistency in medical records. Patient-entered information may be disruptive. Doctors will have to change practice flow patterns to adjust to reality of lower pay. The need for greater productivity will drive this change.

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Andy Wiesenthal, Kaiser Permanente

Those of you with really long memories may remember that Kaiser had a little kerfuffle with a guy named Justen Deal. As part of that incident, I did a rather unorthodox interview with Andy Wiesenthal from The Permanente Group in 2006 which is still a hell of a read—mostly about the history of how KP got to the Epic decision and where it was in the middle of the installation process.

Fast forward the better part of 5 years. HealthConnect is done. And the pain and not inconsiderable expense is somewhat forgotten. But now it is done, what happens next? A long and somewhat philosophical interview. But a very interesting discussion.

A Bill of Rights for Health Care Reform

Our nation’s Founders created a pretty good system of government by starting from what they wanted to achieve, exemplified by the Bill of Rights, so perhaps we would be wise to base health care reform on a similar footing.  Instead, Congress is doing its usual muddled process to produce legislation that is likely to make no one very happy, but at least tries to minimize the number of people made very unhappy.  As is too often the case, it is easier to create straw men to attack than to address the real problems. Insurance companies seem to be everyone’s favorite target to demonize, but the “evil” health insurance industry is like the various other players in the health care system: responding to the numerous and often perverse incentives in the current system.  There are bad things done to people by insurance companies — as there are done by doctors, hospitals, government, and just about every other player in the health care system.  There are both angels and demons working in health care, but mostly it is just normal people.  Perhaps ninety-nine percent of the people working in the health care system try to do right by the people they serve, but “doing right” may not mean the same thing to different people.

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Consumer-Driven Health Care: Promise and Performance

I am always struck by the difference between the salesmanship of health plans offering consumer-driven health products and the reality of the data.

James Robinson and Paul Ginsburg have an article in the January 27th edition of Health Affairs with an objective review of the consumer-driven movement of recent years.

Here is the central point of the article:

The performance of consumer-driven health care has fallen short of both the aspirations of its proponents and the fears of its critics. Growth of the favored organizational forms, including HDHPs and individually purchased insurance, has been anemic. The forms of insurance and sponsorship originally embodied in the consumer-driven vision have mutated into forms far from those originally envisaged. This process is not unique to consumerism, but one well known to managed care, where the original group-/staff-model HMO was diluted into the loosely structured independent practice association (IPA)-model plan and the sponsorship framework of managed competition into the “total replacement” purchasing format of self-insured employers.

They also point out that:

  • Enrollment in HDHP/HSA plans grew from 400,000 in September 2004 to 6.1 million in January 2008–“a large absolute increase but still small in relation to overall enrollment in private insurance.” By comparison, HMOs continue to hold 20 percent of the employer market and POS plans 12 percent.
  • “The consumer-driven health care movement has been obliged to dilute its principles in light of the overuse of inappropriate services and underuse of appropriate services in the real world. HDHPs now incorporate elements of disease management for enrollees with chronic conditions; case management for enrollees with complex or comorbid conditions; and utilization management for patients using particularly costly drugs, devices, or procedures. Most of these medical management programs are obtained from the same diversified insurers that offer HMO and PPO products. Indeed, the potential for integration with claims databases is leading insurers to acquire many formerly independent medical management vendors.”
  • “The blind spot in the consumer-driven analysis of market performance concerns the importance of coordination in insurance, delivery, and sponsorship. The obdurate insistence on á la carte choice and retail purchasing pushed the theorists of consumerism into positing organizational and market dynamics that have not been observed in the real world.”

Consumer-driven principles have clearly impacted the design of mainstream health insurance plans for the better.

But consumer-driven principles have not changed the fundamental dynamics of our health insurance system nor have they turned out to be a silver-bullet solution.

In my mind, the fundamental fault with the logic that they would be was the belief that consumers could do what insurance companies, employer benefit managers, and even providers could not.

Robert Laszweski has been a fixture in Washington health policy circles for the better part of three decades. He currently serves as the president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates of Alexandria, Virginia. Before forming HPSA in 1992, Robert served as the COO, Group Markets, for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. You can read more of his thoughtful analysis of healthcare industry trends at Health Policy and Marketplace Blog, where this post first appeared.