THCB readers may recall last year in early June when the Trump administration announced it would withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord and earlier this January when the World Economic Forum met to discuss its global risk report that included the chapter, “Our Planet on the Brink,” I discussed in part (here and here) the health care industry’s indifference to global warming (See also my related 3 Quarks Daily essay.) Now comes the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate and Change’s (IPCC’s ) latest report. Once again overwhelming scientific evidence that confirms life as we know it on this planet will soon cease to exist is received with apathetic insouciance.
Created in 1988 the IPCC is considered the world’s definitive scientific body on climate change and co-winner with Al Gore of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, finalized in early October its report, “Global Warming of 1.5°C.” The 2015 Paris accord called for the report. It was prepared by nearly one hundred scientists who analyzed thousands of the most recent scientific evidence. The report’s summary was accepted by over 180 countries including the American and Saudi Arabia delegation during the IPCC’s meeting recently concluded in South Korea.
What is newsworthy about the IPCC report is its conclusion that keeping or holding temperature increases below 2°C, the goal of the Paris agreement, would not avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming. At 1.5°C life on this planet would suffer serious or dire harm, at 2°C catastrophic harm. Specifically, the report compared the impact between a 1.5°C (2.7°F) increase in temperature with a 2°C (3.6°F) increase (The earth has already warmed by 1°C since the pre-industrial era). Among numerous other findings, should temperatures increase to 1.5°C, the report found of 105,000 species studied, four percent of vertebrates (that include us), eight percent of plants and six percent of insects would lose half of their climatically-determined geographic range. At 2°C, the percents double to triple. Global crop yields will decline significantly. At 1.5°C we will lose 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs, at 2°C there will be a 99 percent loss. At 1.5°C Marine fishery losses or the global annual catch loss would be 1.5 million tons, at 2°C they double.
THCB readers are well aware this coming week Senate Republicans plan to begin debate on passing their amended version of the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA), titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As of today, June 23rd, immediate reactions by Republican senators to the June 22ndreleased discussion draft have been limited largely because members immediately left town after the draft’s release. The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) score, that will again be influential, is expected this Monday or Tuesday. Senate debate on the legislation will likely begin next Wednesday with a vote expected late Friday or early Saturday morning, or just prior to their week-long July 4th recess. Here is an assessment of the legislation’s prospects:
Nearly a year ago President Obama signed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) into law. MACRA, among other things, repeals the 1997 Balanced Budget Act’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula for calculating annual updates to Medicare Part B physician and other eligible professionals’ payment rates.1 The bill received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate, only 45 out of 529 total votes cast opposed the bill despite the fact the legislation is estimated to add $141 billion to the federal deficit by 2025.2 Support for the legislation can, in part, be attributed to the Congress having grown tired of rescinding SGR mandated payment cuts or passing nearly 20 “doc fix” “patches,” over 18 years. Presently, Medicare physicians are awaiting CMS’s proposed rule that will define how the agency intends to implement the six sections of MACRA Title I, or how the agency will annually update physician performance beginning in 2019 based on the use of the law’s Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and its Alternative Payment Models (APMs) pathway. The proposed rule, expected to be published in the next few weeks, is highly anticipated because the rewards and penalties under either MIPS and APMs can be significant.
In his THCB essay, “Why We Have So Little Useful Research on ACOs,” Kip Sullivan correctly notes we know surprisingly little about the ACO program. (While he identifies Medicare, Medicaid and commercial plan ACOs, here I’m referring specifically to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs that account for two-thirds of all ACOs.) Why there is little useful research is however not due to the two reasons Mr. Sullivan proposes. To understand why we lack useful ACO research look no further than the agency that manages the MSSP.
Mr. Sullivan’s explanations are: since ACOs have been defined amorphously or aspirationally they cannot be assessed based on a prescribed set of activities or services; and, policy analysts have been “cavalier” program performance-related evidence. Neither explanation is correct. Medicare ACOs are defined regulatorily in great detail. This fact is made obvious by the, to date, 430-relevant Federal Register pages. Generally defined MSSP ACOs are a model of care delivery that increasingly shifts financial risk from the payer to the provider in order to reduce spending growth and, though less definitively determined, improve care quality and patient health outcomes. An MSSP ACO’s “prescribed activities” are simply to provide beneficiaries all necessary Medicare Part A and B services. To define them beyond that or to expect the same precision or efficacy in delivering timely, comprehensive, population-based health care as administering a single prescription drug, as Mr. Sullivan would like, is impossible. Arguing ACO researchers or stakeholders are “cavalier” about how best to define and measure the program ignores, among other things, the fact CMS received over 1,670 comment letters in response to the agency’s 2011 and 2014 proposed MSSP rules.
This past December after eight months of formal work the Senate Finance Committee’s “Bipartisan Chronic Care Working Group” released for comment a 30-page memo outlining 23 policy options to improve chronic care quality, patient outcomes and cost efficiency. While the Committee is not endorsing any of the options identified members will likely not stray far from this list when they move to drafting legislative language next month at least in part because members insist the bill must be cost neutral. Committee members and staff should be applauded for their effort to date since both political parties have been disinterested in adding policies to improve the Medicare program. (Last year’s MACRA bill was largely unpaid for and aptly described by Henry Aaron in the New England Journal of Medicine as a log rolling exercise.) On balance, the Committee’s effort should leave Medicare stakeholders cautiously hopeful. While some of the proposed options are obvious and incrementally beneficial, others might aid in innovating care delivery and in advancing CMS’s efforts to improve quality and value payment.