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Tag: Don Berwick

Medicare Advantage Has Saved Medicare

By GEORGE HALVORSON

The Program has also Helped Millions of Low-Income Retirees with Better Retirement Benefits and Needed Support Services

Medicare Advantage (MA) has saved Medicare. Half of those in Medicare are in MA and their care costs less on average. This means the Medicare Trust Fund is protected against future deterioration because MA’s cost increases continuously run below the average increase in Medicare Trust Fund revenue each year.

The capitation paid to MA plans for each member is based each year on the actual average cost of fee-for-service Medicare in every county. Payments to the plans are now running about 11% below that average cost.

The plans bid capitation levels that are below the average cost of fee-for-service Medicare every year because the plans deliver much better care. The functional truth that most policy people do not know or understand is that better care costs less money, when you design the system and the processes to achieve that result.

Fee-for-service Medicare is expensive and too often is poorly delivered. The fee-based payment model pays more for bad and failed care because when the caregivers are paid only by the piece, they have more pieces to deliver when care fails. They deliver and bill for even more pieces when the health of a member deteriorates. When inferior care creates complications and mishaps more pieces of care are needed for that patient.

Diabetic Blindness Reduced By 60% With Blood Sugar Control

MA plans bid capitation levels every year based on the financial opportunity created by that bad care in FFS. The plans know that diabetic blindness can be reduced by 60% or more if the patients have their blood sugar controlled. The plans set their capitation levels knowing that the average cost of care in every county includes the high level of blindness that happens when FFS providers do not help their patients achieve their blood sugar control goals and thus incur extra expenses for those patients.

The Medicare Advantage program has blood sugar control as a key focus point. That is important and relevant, because the plans can collect the capitation money that was created by no blood sugar controls, and then can and do reduce blindness significantly by achieving that goal. They spend significantly less money on those patients.

The MA payment program is set up to have the plans create financial surpluses from better care and then to have the plans use those surpluses to improve the benefits of their members. The plans create those surpluses and use them to pay for additional benefits–so the Medicare Advantage members have vision benefits, dental benefits, hearing benefits, and various social support benefits that do not exist in the traditional Medicare benefit package.

Those expanded benefits do not increase the cost of Medicare because they are created by the capitation cash flow that runs about 11%–17% below the actual average cost for fee-for-service Medicare in each county. That is a far better use of the Medicare dollar and it is not an additional expense for the program.

The plans identify which patients have congestive heart failure or asthma and then they work with those patients to significantly reduce their crisis levels and improve care for those patients. The MA members with those conditions have much better lives and they have less physical pain, stress, anxiety and damage because they avoid those crises. The better care results in 40% fewer days in the hospital for both of those conditions. Plans save money by having significantly better care for those patients.

Amputation Five-Year Mortality Rate is Over 40%

A major expense for the Medicare program is amputations. We have some of the highest amputation rates in the world for our lower income patients.

MA plans know that 90% of amputations are caused by foot ulcers. You can reduce foot ulcers by more than 60% just by having dry feet and clean socks. So the plans save billions of dollars that create surpluses in their capitation cash flow and they significantly improve the life expectancy of those patients just by providing those services consistently and intentionally to their diabetic members.

The five-year mortality rate for the people who have amputations ranges from 40%–80%. In their attacks on the program MA’s critics never mention those amputation numbers and those important and real death rates .

Special Needs Plans Now Serve Over 6 Million People

MA Special Needs Plans (SNP) just had their enrollment grow to 6.5 million members in January of this year. SNP enrollees are eligible for both Medicare coverage and Medicaid coverage. They have some of the highest health care needs in the country and too often have some of the lowest levels of resources to deal with basic aspects of their lives and their care.

The critics also don’t mention that the SNPs do life changing and extremely beneficial work for the lowest-income and highest-need people in the Medicare program.

Millions of people enrolled in SMP plans have been badly impacted by various social determinants of health issues, as well as by care delivery failures for their entire lives. SNPs are often the first organized care related support that millions of those patients have had for their personal care.

People With Weak Retirement Plans Need the Additional Benefits

Those who look at the Medicare program need to understand and appreciate the fact that the expanded benefit package from the plans is often extremely important and directly relevant to the daily lives of millions of people. They are retired but have few assets and low levels of financial support for their retirement years.

We are no longer at the point where retirees in America can rely on a pension plan and basic retirement benefits after they retire. Fewer than half of retirees today have a pension payment or a deferred compensation plan of any kind. Most retirees have a low cash reserves to use to purchase needed services and benefits in their retirement years.

There is a solid set of reasons why almost 90% of our lowest income Medicare beneficiaries are now enrolled in MA plans. There are also obvious reasons why those numbers include more than 70% of African-Americans and more than 80% of Hispanics. Additionally, MA has language competency requirements for Hispanic enrollees that do not exist for fee-for-service Medicare.

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Has Sensemaking Collapsed When It Comes To U.S. Healthcare?

By MIKE MAGEE

This past week my wife and I were at a family event to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 70th birthday. Our extended family has more than a few doctors. A physician nephew who had read CODE BLUE and had a strong interest in health policy asked if I felt I (and others) were too hard on doctors. My response was yes, but that it was intentional and came with the territory. Combining scientific, sometimes life and death expertise, with high-touch compassion, understanding and partnership has always been a “big ask” but that was what we and others had signed up for as “health professionals.”

But can a health professional be “professional” in a fundamentally misaligned health system? And, if not, does a health professional have a responsibility to engage in an effort to reform and transform the system to behave professionally?

Professionals are generally members of a vocation with special training, highly educated, enjoy special trust and work autonomy, abide by strict moral and ethical obligations, and in return are generally self-regulating. Their academic training is expected to reliably provide those they serve with special skills, judgement, and services. When they deliver, society responds with confidence and trust and durable long-term relationships.

My nephew and many of his contemporaries have come to believe that this is neigh impossible under the current heavily corporatized, profit driven, inequitable, under-insured, and widely inaccessible system. They have begun to voice that being an ethical and competent professional in an unprofessional system is not possible, and not their fault.

System redesign guru, W. Edward Deming, the father of Quality Control Management, and the man credited with assisting the Japanese in transforming their auto industry, had this to say about transformation in 1993: “The prevailing style of management must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside…The individual, once transformed, will: set an example; be a good listener, but will not compromise; continually teach other people; and help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.”

Six years later Don Berwick MD, Emeritus President of the Institute For Healthcare Improvement and now Harvard Health Policy professor, delivered a classic speech, “Escape Fire: Lessons for the Future of Health Care”,  sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation. In it Don recounted the events surrounding the tragic fire at Mann Gulch, Montana which claimed the lives of 13 “smokejumpers” on August 5, 1949. He reviewed the lessons learned in a system analysis by Professor Karl E. Weick of the University of Michigan, in his paper titled,“The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations: The Mann Gulch Disaster.”

Berwick explained, “Sensemaking is the process through which the fluid, multilayered world is given order, within which people can orient themselves, find purpose, and take effective action. Weick is a postmodern thinker. He believes that there is little or no preexisting sense of organization in the world—that is, no order that comes before the definition of order. Organizations don’t discover sense, they create it…In groups of interdependent people, organizations create sense out of possible chaos. Organizations unravel when sensemaking collapses, when they can no longer supply meaning, when they cling to interpretations that no longer work.”

Now roughly a quarter century ago, Berwick concluded, “I love medicine. I love the purpose of our work. But we are unraveling, I think…Sense is collapsing… We need to face reality…Why did it take the Mann Gulch crew so long to realize they were in trouble? The soundest explanation is not that the threat was too small to see; it is that it was too big. Some problems are too overwhelming to name. I now think that that is where we have come in health care; I have been radicalized.”

Clearly the visions we have been using are under-powered, and we seem to be heading in the wrong direction with information technology and AI fully prepared to make permanent a system that is moving patients to despair and doctors to early retirement. What are the questions my nephew and his health policy colleagues should be asking now?

1. How do we make America and all Americans healthy?

2. What is our national health care plan, and who is in charge?

3. How do we balance national and state responsibilities?

4. How do we maintain balanced humanistic and scientific care, and preserve patient and health professional autonomy over complex life and death decision making?

5. How do we advance healthy behaviors while providing high touch access to health professionals for acute and moderate issues?

6. How do we use information technology and AI to expand human and social, rather than just financial, capital?

7. How do we prioritize investment in human contact between patients and health professionals over wealth enhancement and brick and mortar expansions?

8. How do we put a smile (independent of money) back on the faces of doctors, nurses and patients?

9. How do we separate hospital and physician profit driven research from direct patient care?

10. How do we move to geographic annual budgeting of comprehensive care and eliminate individual billing/reimbursement operations?

Mike Magee M.D. is a Medical Historian and regular contributor to THCB. He is the author of CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical-Industrial Complex (Grove/2020).

Medicare Advantage Is a Superior Program (Part two)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

Former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson has written on THCB on and off over the years, most notably with his proposal for Medicare Advantage for All post-COVID. He wrote a piece in Health Affairs last week arguing with the stance of Medicare Advantage of Don Berwick and Rick Gilfillan (Here’s their piece pt1, pt2). Here’s a longer exposition of his argument. We published part one last week so please read that first. This is part two – Matthew Holt

Medicare Advantage is better for the underserved

The African American and Hispanic communities who were particularly hard hit by those conditions and by the Covid death rates have been enrolling in significant numbers in Medicare Advantage plans.

The sets of people who were most damaged by Covid have chosen in disproportional numbers to be Medicare Advantage members. Currently 51 percent of the African Americans on Medicare are in Medicare Advantage plans and more than 60 percent of the Hispanic Medicare members will be on Medicare Advantage this year.

That disproportionate enrollment in Medicare Advantage surprises some people, but it really should not surprise anyone because the Plans have made special,  direct, and inclusive efforts to be attractive to people with those sets of care needs and have delivered better care and service than many of the new enrollees have ever had in their lives. 

The Medicare Advantage plans have language proficiency support competencies, and language requirements and capabilities that clearly do not exist anywhere for fee-for-service Medicare care sites. A combination of team care,  language proficiency, and significantly lower direct health care costs for each member has encouraged that pattern of enrollment as well.

The $1600 savings per person has been a highly relevant factor as more than twice as many of the lowest income Medicare members — people who make less than $30,000 a year — are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Advantage’s critics tend to explicitly avoid discussing those enrollment patterns, and some of the most basic critics actually shamelessly say, with what must be at least unconscious malicious intent in various publications and settings, that the Medicare Advantage demographics for both ethnicity and income levels are a clone for standard Medicare membership. Those critics have said that  there is nothing for us to learn or see from any enrollment patterns or care practices based on those sets of issues.

Many people who discuss Medicare Advantage in media and policy settings generally do not focus on or even mention the people in our population who most need Medicare Advantage — the 4 million people who are now enrolled in the Special Needs Plans.

Special Needs Plans for Dual Eligibles

The Special Needs Plans take care of low-income people who have problematic levels of care needs and who very much need better care.

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Medicare Advantage Is a Superior Program (Part one)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

Former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson has written on THCB on and off over the years, most notably with his proposal for Medicare Advantage for All post-COVID. He wrote a piece in Health Affairs last week arguing with the stance of Medicare Advantage of Don Berwick and Rick Gilfillan (Here’s their piece pt1, pt2). Here’s a longer exposition of his argument. We are publishing part one today with part two coming soon – Matthew Holt

The evidence for Medicare Advantage being a superior program compared to standard fee-for-service Medicare is so overwhelming that anyone who cares about actual Medicare Patients or who cares about the financial future of Medicare should be strongly supporting having as many people as possible enrolled in that program as soon as we can effectively make that happen.

Compared to fee-for-service Medicare, Medicare Advantage has better benefits.

Compared to fee-for-service Medicare, Medicare Advantage has a better tool kit at multiple levels.

Medicare Advantage has team care, connected care, and electronically supported care processes — and we know beyond any debate or dispute that those advantages exist for Medicare Advantage over standard fee-for-service Medicare because fee-for-service Medicare does not pay for those sets of services and literally labels it billing fraud if a caregiver who provides team care in a patients home to prevent a congestive heart failure crisis or to keep a life threatening and function impairing asthma attack from happening sends a bill to standard Medicare for those services.

The superiority of Medicare Advantage is beyond question.

Standard fee-for-service Medicare has no quality care processes, no quality reports and no quality standards or expectations at all. Standard Medicare actually has absolutely no quality data and does not hold any provider accountable for the quality of the care they deliver.

Medicare Advantage has an extensive quality agenda and tracks more than 40 categories of quality and service at the plan level. Medicare Advantage plans build continuously improving programs around those Five-Star priorities and measures, and we know from our current reporting that even during Covid, the percentage of Medicare Advantage patients with cardiovascular disease who are currently on statin therapy went up from 80.86% of patients a year ago to 83.36% this year.

The ratings by the Medicare Advantage members for customer service by their plans went from 90.56% a year ago to 90.87% this year.

That is not a big improvement but having satisfaction numbers that start out that high actually go up during Covid days is an accomplishment and it is one of the reasons why we should be encouraging people to join the plans and its why fee-for-service Medicare is a measurably inferior approach for so many people.

Standard Medicare does not have a clue about who is getting their statin Medications and they officially don’t care.

In fact, some of the fee-for-service Medicare doctors and care sites who are paid only by the piece for care from the standard Medicare program actually often make more money when care fails, because when a patient has a major asthma crisis or a congestive heart failure crisis, that negative outcome for a patient can generate multiple medical fees and it can too often trigger a $10,000–$20,000 total additional cash flow to the caregivers whose care sites failed that patient by not helping improve the health of the patient before the crisis was triggered.

Why is Medicare Advantage’s purchasing system better?

Medicare Advantage plans are paid by Medicare by the month for each patient and they are not by the piece for each item of care.

Because Medicare Advantage plans are paid by the month for each patient, and must, by contract, provide complete care to each patient, it makes extremely good sense for the plans to help patients in ways that prevent asthma attacks and that prevent congestive heart failure crisis, and that avoid and help reduce the levels of blindness and amputations for their diabetic patients that can too easily happen to those patients if you don’t manage and guide that care.

The Medicare Advantage approach for all of those categories of care is obviously far better for the patients than the fee-for-service Medicare inadequacies in care.

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Don Berwick, Martyr for Socialized Medicine

I have a piece up at National Review in which I reflect upon Don Berwick’s controversial tenure as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the 800-billion-dollar federal agency that dominates the American health-care landscape. Despite White House rhetoric to the contrary, I write, Berwick “wasn’t done in by Republican intransigence. He was done in by presidential cowardice. And therein lies a microcosm of everything that’s been wrong with Obamacare.”

The thing to understand about Don Berwick is that there are really two Don Berwicks. There’s the Don Berwick who, through the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has focused on apolitical aspects of health delivery reform. Here’s what I wrote about Berwick in April 2010:

First, the good. Berwick is a serious and credible health-care analyst. In his capacities both as a Harvard professor and as founder and CEO of a Cambridge-based think-tank called the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, he has written extensively about health-care policy in all of the leading scholarly journals. His focus, in most of these writings, is on the quality and efficiency of health care: things like avoiding medical errors and unnecessary spending. He was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth for his role in shaping Tony Blair’s (mostly futile) attempts to modernize Britain’s National Health Service.

While he was a big supporter of Obamacare, Sir Donald acknowledges its core failing; in an October lecture, he said, “Health-care reform without attention to the nature and nurture of health care as a system is doomed. It will at best simply feed the beast, pouring precious resources into the overdevelopment of parts and never attending to the whole — that is, care as our patients, their families, and their communities experience it.” Indeed, if you put Berwick in a room with a leading market-oriented health-care analyst, the two would find broad areas of agreement as to where our health-care system fails patients.

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Health in 2 Point 00 Episode 55

We missed our chance to do a Happy Hour Health in 2 Point 00 at Connected Health in Boston (but let’s be honest, those are usually not the most cogent pieces of information in health and technology). Join Jessica DaMassa as she gets my take on the conference starting with #S4PM’s event, where I met some incredible people, including Patty Brennan and Doug Lindsey, who spoke about their experiences with health care knowledge (deploying it and creating it!). Danny Sands and e-Patient Dave even had quite the musical performance there, singing about e-Patient blues. Susannah Fox, Don Berwick, Don Norman were at Connected Health 18, presenting their new initiative, L.A.U.N.C.H. I even interviewed Jesse Ehrenfeld, the chair elect of AMA, and his spoke to him about the digital health play book that the AMA just released. A company to take note of that wasn’t at #CHC is Devoted Health, who just raised $300m. Devoted is looking at building a better Medicare Advantage “payvider” for seniors. If you are interested in Guild Serendipity’s conference which empowers and engages female CEOs and Cofounders, come join us in San Francisco October 26-27, SMACK.health is sponsoring the women’s health houses – Matthew Holt

Would a Single Payer System Be Good for America?

Brian-KlepperOn Vox, the vivacious new topical news site, staffed in part by former writers at the Washington Post Wonk Blog, Sarah Kliff writes how Donald Berwick, MD, the recent former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Founder of the prestigious Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has concluded that a single payer health system would answer many of the US’ health care woes.

Dr. Berwick is running for Governor of Massachusetts and this is an important plank of his platform. Of course, it is easy to show that single payer systems in other developed nations provide comparable or better quality care at about half the cost that we do in the US.

All else being equal, I might be inclined to agree with Dr. Berwick’s assessment. But the US is special in two ways that make a single payer system unlikely to produce anything but even higher health care costs than we already have.

First, it is very clear that the health care industry dominates our regulatory environment, so that nearlyevery law and rule is spun to the special rather than the common interest. In 2009, the year the ACA was formulated, health care organizations deployed 8 lobbyists for every member of Congress, and contributed an unprecedented $1.2 billion in campaign contributions in exchange for influence over the shape of the law.

This is largely why, while it sets out the path to some important goals, the ACA is so flawed.

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Criminal Charges for Providers Won’t Fix the NHS, Dr. Berwick

One of US President Barack Obama’s key health advisers has just published a review in the aftermath of the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal. Don Berwick’s review is both thoughtful and reflective but one of his key recommendations – to create criminal sanctions against health staff – will not make the NHS safer for patients.

Many patients, particularly elderly ones, suffered unnecessary indignities and avoidable harm at Mid Staffordshire.

The Francis report into the crisis concluded that patients were routinely neglected by a health trust more preoccupied with cutting costs and meeting targets rather than its responsibility to provide safe care. Patients’ calls for help to use the bathroom were ignored and some were left lying in soiled sheeting or sitting on commodes for hours. Events and failings there will probably go down in history as the blackest and bleakest moment for the NHS.

When the report was published in February, the government committed to appointing a advisory group of patients to consider the various accounts of what happened and the recommendations made by Robert Francis and others. The idea was that they would distill for the government and the NHS what lessons should be learned and what changes needed to be made.

Don Berwick, who worked on the long fought for Obamacare provisions in the US, is director and co-founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston. He was called in by the government to reflect on the Francis report and on patient safety.

Berwick’s review makes ten recommendations including that sufficient staff are available to meet the NHS’s needs now and in the future – staff should be well-supported and able to ensure safe care at all times; quality and safety sciences and practices should be a part of the initial preparation and lifelong education of all health care professionals, including managers and executives; and leaders should create and support learning and subsequently change, at scale, within the NHS.

But most controversial is his final recommendation:

We support responsive regulation of organizations, with a hierarchy of responses. Recourse to criminal sanctions should be extremely rare, and should function primarily as a deterrent to willful or reckless neglect or mistreatment.

Berwick proposes the government creates a new general offence of “willful or reckless neglect”, applicable both to organisations and individuals. Organizational sanctions might involve removing leaders and disqualifying them from future leadership roles, public reprimand of the organization and, in extreme cases, financial sanctions – but only where that will not compromise patient care.

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Should Your Review of Your Doctor Be Taken Seriously?

Recent articles highlight challenges with holding providers accountable for the care they deliver. One of the major thrusts of efforts to transform the American healthcare delivery system has been to become more patient-centered and to allow patients to provide feedback that matters.

Emblematic of this is the emphasis on patient involvement in the final rules for the Shared Savings Program accountable care organizations (ACO).

Echoing former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Director Don Berwick’s plea on the behalf of patients (“Nothing about us without us”), the ACO final rules emphasize patient engagement in governance, quality improvement and the individual doctor/patient interaction.

Michael Millenson’s white paper provides a summary of the patient empowerment movement.

The development of the patient activation measure (PAM) and the Center for Advancing Health’s 43 engagement behaviors has allowed us to study patient-centeredness with more specificity. Studies have shown that activated patients are less likely to choose surgical interventions, have better functional status and satisfaction, are more likely to perform self-management behaviors, and report higher medication adherence rates.

Healthcare policy experts and payers have embraced the argument outlined above, and patients’ reports of their satisfaction with both physicians and hospitals have increasingly been used to calculate financial rewards.

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The New New Medicine

As both the private and public sector aggressively shift healthcare incentives from a “do more, bill more” to a value and outcome based model, healthcare providers ignore patients role in driving outcomes at their own peril. It is generally understood that patients forget 80-90% of what they are told at the doctor’s office. As incentives no longer reward outcome over activity, this is a disaster financially for health professionals. This will require healthcare leaders to think in a different way. One has to be in denial to think that healthcare reimbursement isn’t entering a deflationary period yet it’s not all doom and gloom for forward-looking healthcare organizations. In fact, it’s a massive opportunity to leapfrog competitors.

As the founder of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Dr. Don Berwick stated in an earlier piece:

“The health care encounter as a face-to-face visit is a dinosaur. More exactly, it is a form of relationship of immense and irreplaceable value to a few of the people we seek to help, and these few have their access severely curtailed by the use of visits to meet the needs of many, whose needs could be better met through other kinds of encounters.”

Smart Doctors Recognize Their Inefficiency

If one were to observe a doctor for a month, you would find that doctors have their own FAQ for various conditions, diseases, prescriptions, etc. They are essentially hitting the Replay button hundreds of times a month. Smart doctors are recognizing that there is a better way. The patient and family benefits greatly when the doctor has a mini package of curated content (video, articles, etc.) that is developed for the patients. This is predominantly a manual process today (e.g., writing down web addresses in an appointment or emailing them afterwards).

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