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Tag: Dan Diamond

Is Walgreens the Future? What a Big Pharmacy Chain’s Moves Tell Us About Obamacare

Two-hundred-and-fifty-nine organizations have been named Medicare accountable care organizations. Most were formed by hospitals. Some were launched by physician groups.

And three were created by a pharmacy chain.

Walgreens’ move into shared savings is many things: unusual, eye-catching, a sign of the times.

But it’s not surprising, observers say, as the pharmacy chain has been cultivating a broader strategy to ramp up its role in frontline care. And through a handful of new programs, Walgreens already has “demonstrated … the valuable role our pharmacists can play working with physicians to meet the triple aim” of improving patient outcomes and satisfaction while cutting health costs, spokesperson Jim Cohn told me.

“ACOs are the next step.”

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About Time? Smokers Face Tough New Rules Under Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act contains a number of provisions intended to incent “personal responsibility,” or the notion that health care isn’t just a right — it’s an obligation. None of these measures is more prominent than the law’s individual mandate, designed to ensure that every American obtains health coverage or pays a fine for choosing to go uninsured.

But one provision that’s gotten much less attention — until recently — relates to smoking; specifically, the ACA allows payers to treat tobacco users very differently by opening the door to much higher premiums for this population.

That measure has some health policy analysts cheering, suggesting that higher premiums are necessary to raise revenue for the law and (hopefully) deter smokers’ bad habits. But other observers have warned that the ACA takes a heavy-handed stick to smokers who may be unhappily addicted to tobacco, rather than enticing them with a carrot to quit.

Under proposed rules, HHS would allow insurers to charge a smoker seeking health coverage in the individual market as much as 50% more in premiums than a non-smoker.

That difference in premiums may rapidly add up for smokers, given the expectation that Obamacare’s new medical-loss ratios already will lead to major cost hikes in the individual market. “For many people, in the years after the law, premiums aren’t just going to [go] up a little,” Peter Suderman predicts at Reason. “They’re going to rise a lot.”

Meanwhile, Ann Marie Marciarille, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,¬†adds that insurers have “considerable flexibility” in how to set up a potential surcharge for tobacco use. For example, insurers could apply a high surcharge for tobacco use in older smokers — perhaps several hundred dollars per month — further hitting a population that tends to be poorer.

Is this cost-shifting fair? The average American tends to think so.

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Inside Three ACOs: Why California Providers Are Opting for the Model

Visit SDIndyACO.com, and you’re greeted by a Hawaiian shirt hanging in an otherwise empty closet. “Future home of something quite cool,” the page’s headline reads.

Forget unicorns, camels and all the other metaphors used to describe accountable care organizations these past few years.

The website — the homepage of the newly formed San Diego Independent ACO, which was one of 106 organizations named last week to Medicare’s Shared Savings Program — could sum up where we stand now on ACOs.

While we’re close enough to see their outline, some ACOs are still just teasing their promise. Many organizations have yet to launch a Web presence (or in San Diego Independent ACO’s case, are waiting to get CMS approval). And more health care providers are rushing to build the ACO structure in hopes of winning federal contracts — and filling out the details later.

Understanding the Medicare ACO Model

The ACO model is loosely defined as having integrated teams of providers share responsibility for caring for a select population of patients. (That isn’t a new idea — and based on that definition, California’s had dozens of physician-led groups and integrated networks essentially operating as ACOs for years.)

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What the Rick Scott Decision Says About the Future of Health Care in the U.S.

In 2009, Rick Scott founded Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a health care pressure group opposed to President Obama’s health reforms.

In 2010, Scott ran for governor of Florida on a mission to repeal Obamacare.

In 2012, Scott … will work to implement Obamacare.

For some conservatives, it’s a shocking reversal. Leaders of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization backed by the influential Koch brothers, were publicly disappointed in the Florida governor — who not so long ago said the Affordable Care Act was “the biggest job killer in the history of the country.”

Now, it will be Scott’s job to help implement it.

Changing Tune

Given his prominence, Scott’s move from Obamacare opponent to grudging supporter may be the biggest symbolic shift on the law since its passage.

The Florida governor was reportedly pressured by state legislators to negotiate with federal officials over the ACA, once November’s election made clear that Obamacare was here to stay.

But Scott won’t be the last GOP official to change his tune. More health care groups in other Republican-led states are putting similar pressure on their leaders to opt into the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, in hopes of securing additional dollars for providers.

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How Health Care Changed While You Were Watching the Election

After a seemingly endless presidential campaign, we’re just days away from the Nov. 6 election. And to be sure, health care issues remain at the forefront.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tried to claim the high ground as Medicare’s number one defender. In his latest column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman argues that next week’s vote “is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid.” And writing on Bloomberg View, columnist Ezra Klein takes an even broader stance, concluding that “this election is all about health care.”

But health care isn’t all about the election, despite politics’ seeming ability to draw every sector into its gravitational pull.

In fact, many of the most significant stories in health care from the past two months haven’t come from the campaign trail — where candidates have mostly rehashed their existing policies — but from the private sector, as employers and providers have made aggressive, and sometimes unexpected, deals and changes. Reforms that will continue regardless of who’s sitting in the Oval Office next year.

Here are some of those stories.

Top Employers Move to Defined Contribution

As previously discussed in “Road to Reform,” Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants have made plans to shift away from their current “defined benefits” — where they choose a set of health insurance benefits on behalf of their workers — and roll out “defined contribution” instead.

Under that model, firms pay a fixed amount for employees’ health benefits and allow workers to choose their coverage from an online marketplace, such as the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or the emerging number of privately run exchanges.

In theory, the model would slow employers’ health costs while allowing employees to have more control over their own health care spending. And Sears and Darden’s announcements aren’t wholly unexpected, given that many employers have signaled their interest in making a similar shift.

But given the long-entrenched employer-sponsored health coverage model, some employers needed to be the first movers before the rest would be ready to follow.

Will they? That will be a major industry issue to watch across the next months.

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What HHS Might Look Like Under President Romney

The world may not be ready for a Romney presidency.

Or more specifically: world leaders may not have done enough homework.

An interesting Washington Post story this week suggested that because the foreign polls have been so bullish on President Obama — 82% of Germans in one survey expected Obama to be re-elected — lawmakers around the world may be scrambling to adjust to a new team of U.S. diplomats and set of policies.

Is the health sector better prepared?

Given the close race — as of press time on Wednesday, most polls had the presidential race neck and neck — there’s been growing scrutiny of Republican health proposals. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute on Tuesday released another report on the GOP House Budget Committee’s Medicaid plan.

But there’s been much less examination of the people who would steer Romney’s Department of Health and Human Services and the policies they’d carry out.

Possible, if Unlikely Contenders

A handful of names — all veterans of the George W. Bush administration — have been repeatedly floated as potential HHS secretaries under Romney. National Journal suggested that former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt could return to the role. Meanwhile, ex-FDA and CMS head Mark McClellan is “the first name that comes to mind for many Republican health policy folks,” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn wrote earlier this year.

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To Gauge ObamaCare Impact, Ignore CBO and Focus on AQC

The big health care story in Washington, D.C this week comes down to three letters: CBO. The Congressional Budget Office released its latest projections about the Affordable Care Act’s cost and coverage, concluding that the Supreme Court’s changes to the ACA will lead to some states to opt out of its Medicaid reform. As a result, the ACA’s cost would fall by $84 billion over 11 years but lead to about three million fewer people receiving health insurance.

The CBO numbers are incredibly important in one sense: They reframe the debate over the ACA yet again. As I noted last week, more than two-thirds of states are waffling on whether to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion, and the new CBO numbers will offer new targets for supporters and opponents of ObamaCare to make their case.

But the CBO score is also more of a political story than policy news. And as both parties continue to haggle over the ACA’s price and impact, keep in mind that the CBO’s projections about health law costs are often wrong.

So rather than focus on estimates of future reforms, we’ll focus on results from a current one: the Alternative Quality Contract. It’s an important payment pilot developed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts — and a key forerunner of the ACA’s accountable care organizations.

AQC Offers Template for ACO

Under¬†the AQC, which Blue Cross launched in January 2009, a hospital or physician group negotiates a budget — or global payment — that covers the cost of care for all patients in their practice. If participating providers stay under budget, they receive bonuses; if they overspend, they pay the difference.

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