I’ve seen a number of responses to the news that the Medicare demonstration projects were not successful. Some have claimed that they were only demonstration projects, and the fact that some succeeded means we should look into those further. Others asserted that this once again proves that the government is incapable of making the health care system better.
As to the first point, it’s hard to get excited about this. By chance alone, a couple of programs were likely to save money. Four out of 34 reducing hospitalizations (when the best of them might have had inadequate data)? Hardly something to get excited about. Remember that two out of the 34 actually saw increased hospitalizations, too. I think it’s totally reasonable to think hard before just assuming there was something special about those four programs, and throwing more money at them.
But I think the latter point, made by Peter Suderman, is a bit of an over-reach as well. It’s important to remember that these were attempts by private hospitals and private physicians to change the way they care for patients. Granted, government was paying the insurance bills through Medicare, but this would have looked awfully similar if a private company had footed the bill. And, yes, private insurance companies have tried to use care coordination and disease management to reduce costs as well.
Perhaps Newt Gingrich’s book Saving Lives & Saving Money has been quietly redacted of a few lines since its original 2003 printing, because otherwise a simple read of the copies now in circulation would find a blueprint for Obamacare just like the first printing did. I dusted off my old, autographed, copy and re-read it, and am providing some highlights for THCB readers.
Much of the book does propose market-based solutions, such as the use of disease management programs to “dramatically improve outcomes.” However, the book also calls for bigger government, in the form of (1) drug coverage for seniors (since passed) and (2) a “tripling” of the National Science Foundation budget.
In addition to those two specific calls for increased government spending, the first printing contains language that might comfort Don Berwick more than Fox News, and not just because Dr. Berwick gets favorably mentioned twice.
P. 31: “The number of uninsured in America is a threat to our civilization.”
P. 54 “Don Berwick[has] pioneered the translation of the teachings of quality experts such as Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran to the healthcare profession.”
P 59 “It is justified to mandate the use of electronic systems to drag the medical system into the 21st century.”
I will suggest that most of us believe the way to control health care costs, and at the same time maintain or improve quality, is to both use the managed care tools we have developed over the years, and perhaps more importantly, change the payment incentives so that both cost control and quality are upper most in the minds of providers and payers.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just released an important review of Medicare’s results in testing those ideas. The news is not good.
From the CBO’s blog post:
In the past two decades, Medicare’s administrators have conducted demonstrations to test two broad approaches to enhancing the quality of health care and improving the efficiency of health care delivery in Medicare’s fee-for-service program. Disease management and care coordination demonstrations have sought to improve the quality of care of beneficiaries with chronic illnesses and those whose health care is expected to be particularly costly. Value-based payment demonstrations have given health care providers financial incentives to improve the quality and efficiency of care rather than payments based strictly on the volume and intensity of services delivered.
In an issue brief released today, CBO reviewed the outcomes of 10 major demonstrations—6 in the first category and 4 in the second—that have been evaluated by independent researchers. CBO finds that most programs tested in those demonstrations have not reduced federal spending on Medicare.
There have been unsavory rumors flying around the internet that disease management as practiced today may not be all that effective. I’m not going to reveal who started these rumors but her name rhymes with Archelle Georgiou. This person says disease management is “dead.” Since there are still many disease management departments operating around the country apparently oblivious to their demise (and disease management departments are people too, you know), I suspect this commentator was using the word “dead” figuratively, as in: “The second he forgot the third cabinet department, Rick Perry was dead.” (Another example of presumably figurative speech in the death category would be: “After he denounced gays while wearing the Brokeback Mountain jacket, you could stick a fork in him.”)
And if the rhymes-with-Archelle commentator intends “dead” as a synonym for “not in very good shape,” she certainly has a point. Not only does she have a point, but I would add more items to her list of reasons for the field’s current troubles:
(1) The interval between diagnosis (the point where readiness to change is usually greatest) and successful patient contact can exceed three months;
(2) Predictive modeling “risk scores” that tell you only how sick someone was, dressed up as a “risk score,” not how sick they will be, even though they aren’t already high utilizers;
(3) Some interventions are so expensive that they exceed the cost of the disease;
Stephen J. Motew writes:
Surgical specialists practice under a slightly more regimented reimbursement model predominantly due to the global period payment for surgical procedures. The total care of the surgical patient for any procedure, including pre-op evaluation, the procedure itself, and all related care post-operatively including most complications is covered under a 90 day global pay period. This system has worked relatively well by containing costs to a specific 'disease' (or procedure) state. In addition, many surgical sub-specialties such as vascular surgery and oncologic surgery for example invest a large amount of time in overall disease-state management that may not even include a procedure. I believe this has allowed many surgeons to understand the concept of cost-containment and efficiency, disease management as well as outcomes-based practices.
A recent experience with a referral patient however, highlights the incredible gaps in cost-containment and disease management that can occur prior to surgical intervention. I have annotated each step in the process to demonstrate points where potential intervention may have occurred. I will leave it to the comments to discuss the reasons and realities of such a case!