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Tag: consumer driven health

An Urgent Request

“‘Let’s go.’ ‘We can’t.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘We’re waiting for Godot.’” ― Samuel Beckett

For the economists in our midst, demand is a critical but pretty dry idea: the quantity of a good or service a buyer is willing to purchase at a given price. It’s presumed to be part of working health care markets.

It’s one of the first things an undergraduate might learn in Econ 100.

There’s no urgency in this demand; it just is.

Of course, nothing—even general economic principles—is simple in health care.  Still, you can look longingly at a few nice supply and demand curves and dream about how things might be—if only.

If only health care consumers picked up their role and skittered up and down those demand curves.

If only they helped us find those elusive market equilibriums for this health care service or that. For some time, lots of people have seen that enormous and powerful potential—and drooled over it.

We’ve been waiting a long time for our consumer to show up in health care. We’ve been waiting for the consumer to obtain and use the information she needs to demand great care.

We’ve been waiting for lots of consumers to do that over and over to help us out of our unfortunate health care jam.

It’s that jam where we pay too much for lots of care of marginal quality riddled with safety problems and delivered by a bunch of dissatisfied, demoralized health professionals.

Indeed we have been waiting a long time for our health care consumer.  Certainly, there have been and continue to be countless reasons why consumers haven’t arrived to help save us.

“Health care is different!”

“There’s no evidence that consumers will behave like normal consumers in health care!”

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Why Transparency Doesn’t Work.

The Cleveland Clinic is by far the best provider of cardiac care in the nation. If you have cancer there is no better place to be than Texas. Johns Hopkins is the greatest hospital in the America.

Why? Because US News and World Report suggests as much in its hospital rankings.

But which doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have the highest success rates in aortic valve repair surgeries? What are the standardized mortality rates due to cancer at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center? Why exactly is Johns Hopkins the best?

We don’t have answers to these types of questions because in the United States, unlike in the United Kingdom, data is not readily available to healthcare consumers.

The truth is, the rankings with which most patients are familiar provide users with little. Instead, hospitals are evaluated largely by “reputation” while details that would actually be useful to patients seeking to maximize their healthcare experiences are omitted.

Of course, the lack of data available about US healthcare is not US News and World Report’s fault – it is indicative of a much larger issue. Lacking a centralized healthcare system, patients, news sources, and policy makers are left without the information necessary for proper decision-making.

While the United Kingdom’s National Health Service may have its own issues, one benefit of a system overseen by a single governmental entity is proper data gathering and reporting. If you’re a patient in the United Kingdom, you can look up everything from waiting times for both diagnostic procedures and referral-to-treatment all the way to mortality and outcome data by individual physician.

This is juxtaposed to the US healthcare system, where the best sources of data rely on voluntary reporting of information from one private entity to another.

Besides being riddled with issues, including a lack of standardization and oversight, the availability of data to patients becomes limited, manifesting itself in profit-driven endeavors like US News and World Report or initiatives like The Leap Frog Group that are far less well-known and contain too few indicators to be of real use.

The availability of data in the United Kingdom pays dividends. For example, greater understanding of performance has allowed policy makers to consolidate care centers that perform well and close those that hemorrhage money, cutting costs while improving outcomes.  Even at the individual hospital level, the availability of patient data keeps groups on their toes.

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Five Questions Journalists Should Be Asking About the Affordable Care Act

I’m hearing a lot of the lazy “but what are the political implication” perpetual horse race questions from the media about recent developments surrounding the Affordable Care Act. That’s fun Inside-the-Beltway stuff, but in the mean time there are real people who are likely to be helped and hurt with matters as essential as their health.  So, what I am not hearing enough of yet, however, are tough, substantive questions that get to the heart of whether the Affordable Care Act is going to be stillborn.

Here are some questions that I think intelligent journalists and blogger ought to be asking in light of recent developments with the Affordable Care Act.  Getting answers in many cases may take persistent questioning and closer scrutiny of existing documents. In others, FOIA requests may be needed.

1. Actual v. Anticipated Age Distributions in the Exchanges

What is the age distribution by state and in the aggregate of persons who it is claimed have enrolled in Exchange-based plans under the Affordable Care Act? Once we have this data, we can compare it to (a) census data on the age distributions in the various states and (b) any prior estimates on what the age distribution of Exchange enrollees would be such as those described in this government document.

If there is a significant difference between the age distribution encountered thus far and the anticipated age distribution, that increases the probability of the ACA succumbing to an adverse selection death spiral.

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I Have No Kids. Why Do I Have to Pay More For My Coverage Than People With Children? This Seems Really Unfair!

A THCB Reader from California writes:

“I finally decided to go to the “Covered California” website to see how much a potential premium for my partner and myself would be given several different income scenarios.

First of all, the plan differences are so vast it appears to be a further seperation of classes through healthcare.  I wonder who decided that a $40 doctor co-payments is affordable!  Then you take a look at how the tax credits work and the antiquated undertones that others should pay for children.
I
It is amazing to me that people with kids are going to pay LESS than the coverage my partner and I will.  This isn’t just for one child, it is up to 3 or more! I do not have children but I understand that in a universal healthcare system the larger the pool, the cheaper the cost.  Those savings should also go to those whom have decided not to add additional risk to the system by adding children.  Why is a single persons insurance more than that of a family?  Why are the subsadies so large that it makes it cheaper?

At least charge as much as a single person, not less. Healthcare for all is something that everyone should pay into and the largest economy in the world should offer, but the distribution of costs need to equal the risk.  Kids are expensive choices that people make, why should people who have chosen to not bear the costs pay for others that have?”

Have a question about the Affordable Care Act? Drop us a note. We’ll publish the good ideas.

CIGNA and Me

I have a challenge for CIGNA CEO David Cordani.  Sometime this week, pick up the phone and be a secret shopper.  Call your customer service team and ask them the same thing I asked them on a Friday not long ago: does my plan cover and reimburse for flu shots, and at which participating providers in my area?  This is managed care and wellness 101.  Just not at CIGNA.

Customer service rep A says shots are covered and reimbursed, but she cannot confirm any place in St. Louis as a par provider that would bill the plan directly for payment.  Her stubborn refusal to grasp the meaning of “par provider” was infuriating.  She repeatedly reads a list of potential providers (all national companies, such as Walgreens) and then tells me I must call each location to discern its billing practices.

Wrong.  Just plainly and simply wrong because they’re all signed to national contracts.  Then, while both my German Shepherds headed for cover in another room, she hung up on me.  (I was angry but never profane or malevolent.)

Undaunted and now even more frustrated, I call customer service again.  Customer service rep B says: shots covered fully and each location noted previously is a par provider that will accept assignment.  Done, right?  Not yet.  Customer service rep A calls me back.

She has not, however, learned anything in the intervening 15 minutes, as she returns to her home base of ignorance with the accuracy of a GPS.  Finally, I demand a supervisor.  With the supervisor comes enlightenment and lower blood pressure.

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.Gov Prices May Not Add Up

A THCB Reader in Michigan writes:

“The rates listed on the Healthcare.gov/Michigan site are inaccurate “estimates.”  Being unable to apply on the website due to glitches, I simply go on the site to view plans for my husband and me.  Based on our locality, “estimates” shown are about $250 – $600 for bronze and silver plans.  We even see some gold plans for about $460.

But when I telephone the insurance companies (Aetna, Humana, BCBSM, HAP) for details and quotes, suddenly the costs of the same plans are $950 – $1750!  Obviously, the “estimates” are disingenuous, probably reflecting prices that are available only to very young adults with no medical history.

An estimate is not an estimate unless it is close to what the final price is expected to be, not one-half or one-third the final price. Insurance companies need to list the estimates on the .gov website by range, rather than a single rate.  For example, if a policy can be sold for as little as $250 or as much as $950 depending on the particulars of each insured, that policy estimate needs to read $250 – $950.  Until insurance companies do this, they are, effectively using a bait-and-switch sales technique, which is illegal.”

If you’ve had a bad or good experience attempting to buy health insurance on the state or federal exchanges, we’d like to know about it. E-mail us at editor@thehealthcareblog.com.

My Personal Affordable Care Act–A Manifesto

The Founding Fathers had one.  Karl Marx had one.  Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein had one.  And, now I have one: a manifesto, declaring my intent to live my life with as little interaction as possible with the US health care system by doing what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tells me by omission I do not need to do: take responsibility for myself.

This is my Personal Affordable Care Act.

My manifesto is an algorithm for thriving in spite of the government’s naked and absurd attempt to define health as something that begins in the clinic.  My goal is to make myself and my family as scarce as possible within the health care system.

The ACA is a collective solution to the mass failure of individual will.  Our transformation into an information culture actually worsened the malady.  We are so conditioned to success at the speed of a search engine that, like the person who aspires to retire early, but refuses to save, we’ve forgotten to manage the fundamentals.

First, that every healthy lifestyle decision you make today, from diet and exercise to outlook and mood, requires thought and an exertion of will.  Even in the age of Google, volition matters, and choosing not just wisely, but strategically, is an option available to most people.

Second, despite revolutionary democratization of medical information, we still don’t do our homework.  Americans visit physicians 3 times per year on average, and the number one reason for the visits is “cough.”  Really?  You need to go to the doctor for a cough?  Unless you have a fever, chest discomfort, bloody sputum, or the cough lasts for weeks and keeps you up at night, it is almost certainly viral or related to an allergen and self-limited.

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Why Explaining the Affordable Care Act Turns Out To Be A Lot Harder Than We Thought It Would Be.

One of the chief aims of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the expansion of insurance coverage to individuals who at present either cannot afford it or choose not to purchase it. Unfortunately, many Americans lack the financial literacy needed to navigate the numerous and complex options thrust upon them by the ACA.

The ACA contains a number of mechanisms through which coverage will be expanded, including the individual mandate, the state insurance exchanges, and the expansion of Medicaid.

Yet, while many more Americans will be able to obtain health insurance under the law, the new policies present a complex new choice environment for consumers, one that contains new penalties, new subsidies, and a potentially vast number of plans to choose from.  Successfully navigating these choices requires consumers to be financially literate.

As recognized in research on related areas of financial decision-making – such as retirement planning, investing, and debt – consumers often lack the understanding, ability and confidence to make financial choices that are in their best interest.

To shed light on consumers’ ability to navigate the ACA, we recently examined the distribution of financial literacy by household income.  Our findings were recently posted on the Health Affairs Blog and in a working paper by RAND’s Bing Center for Health Economics.

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In the Eleventh Hour

The stories you’re hearing about lamp-lit, midnight pow-wows taking place in state offices are true. The states are working around the clock at a feverish pace to meet the Health Insurance Marketplace go-live date of Oct. 1, 2013. From conversations with my counterparts who are leading the marketplaces, I understand that some of the most significant concerns include:

  • System of Record: For states building their own marketplaces, the first design decision is around the system of record. Some states are electing to use the HIX itself as their eligibility system of record, funneling all eligibility determinations – tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Basic Health Plan – through one platform. Other states are designing their marketplaces as entry points, from which eligibility decisions flow to a legacy system for determination decisions. Either way, states are finding that the project is akin to remodeling a 747 while it’s in the air. The legacy systems need to be updated so they can coordinate and speak to the HIX. That’s a massive undertaking on its own, but it also has to be done while the HIX is still being designed.
  • The Federal Hub: State marketplace leaders are also considering the readiness and functionality of the federal hub. States will be required to check in with the federal hub for applicants’ immigration status, income level, etc. The federal hub is being built and rolled out at the same time that states are designing the rules for how their marketplaces will speak to and integrate with it. Again, it’s a bit like remodeling an airplane mid-flight.

In Defense of Narrow Networks

It wasn’t long ago that the newly established health exchanges were being celebrated. Before the ongoing website catastrophe, politicians and policymakers were lauding the low premiums in these new health insurance market places. On September 24, President Obama said, “And the premiums are significantly lower than what they were able to previously get … California — it’s about 33 percent lower. In my home state of Illinois, they just announced it’s about 25 percent lower.”

How times have changed! Even supporters of the exchanges have rightly criticized the technical problems that have prevented millions of Americans from signing up. However, many critics are also complaining about the large number of health plan offerings with “narrow networks” of physicians that enrollees can visit for medical services. The Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance expressed “major concern” when Anthem excluded BJC HealthCare from its narrow network. Seattle Children’s Hospital, which was excluded from several exchange plans, has sued the Washington State Office of Insurance for “failing to ensure adequate network coverage.”

Criticism of narrow networks is misguided and counterproductive. As we explain below, narrow networks will be of little consequence to most of the individuals who sign up for the exchanges, and the elimination of narrow networks could eliminate our single best opportunity to harness market forces to reduce costs and improve quality. Indeed, narrow networks are largely responsible for the low premiums that were being celebrated just one month ago.

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