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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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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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The Olympics, Doctors, NHS, Transformation, and Heroes: Why the Difference between USA and UK?

I was surprised when the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics in London honored two of my favorite institutions:  the National Health Service and the World Wide Web.  I was not surprised when LA Times sports writer Diane Pucin posted the following tweet: “For the life of me, though, am still baffled by NHS tribute at opening ceremonies.  Like a tribute to United Health Care or something in US.” @swaldman responded to the sports writer with “Well, maybe, if United Health Care were government-run and a source of national pride.”

I was not surprised when Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer of NBC admitted they had no idea why Tim Berners-Lee was being honored by sending out a tweet.  Ever since I read his book Weaving the Web:  The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), Berners-Lee has been one of my heroes.  Finally locating my hard copy of the book in the guest bedroom where my son Colin used to sleep, I quickly located the marked passage I was looking for:

“People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web.  In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change…. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some.

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The British Primary Care System and Its Lessons for America

I’ve heard a lot of shocking things since arriving in England five months ago on my sabbatical. But nothing has had me more gobsmacked than when, earlier this month, I was chatting with James Morrow, a Cambridge-area general practitioner. We were talking about physicians’ salaries in the UK and he casually mentioned that he was the primary breadwinner in his family.

His wife, you see, is a surgeon.

This more than any other factoid captures the Alice in Wonderland world of GPs here in England. Yes—and it’s a good thing you’re sitting down—the average GP makes about 20% more than the average subspecialist (though the specialists sometimes earn more through private practice—more on this in a later blog). This is important in and of itself, but the pay is also a metaphor for a well-considered decision by the National Health Service (NHS) nearly a decade ago to nurture a contented, surprisingly independent primary care workforce with strong incentives to improve quality.

Appreciating the enormity of this decision and its relevance to the US healthcare system requires a little historical perspective.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the British system cleaves the world of primary care and everything else much more starkly than we do in the States. All the specialists (the “ologists,” as they like to call them) are based in hospitals, where they have their outpatient practices, perform their procedures, and staff their specialty wards. Primary care in the community is delivered by GPs, who resemble our family practitioners in training and disposition, but also differ from them in many ways.

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The Partnership for Patients: The Inside Scoop on a Game Changing Safety Initiative

Earlier today, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Don Berwick announced the “Partnership for Patients,” a far-reaching federal initiative designed to take a big bite out of adverse events in American hospitals. The program – which aims to decrease preventable harm in U.S. hospitals by 40 percent and preventable readmissions by 20 percent by 2013 – marks a watershed moment in the patient safety movement. Here’s the scoop, along with a bit of back story (which includes a gratifying bit part for yours truly).

Last July, I attended the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Summer Forum in Vancouver. This confab has turned into medicine’s version of Davos, drawing a who’s who in healthcare policy. One of the attendees was an old friend, Peter Lee, a San Francisco lawyer and healthcare consumer advocate who had just been asked to lead a new Office of Delivery System Reform within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Peter’s charge was to figure out how to transform the delivery of healthcare in America, challenging under any circumstances but Sisyphean given that he’d be pushing the rock up a mountain chock full of landmines comprised of endless legal and political threats to the recently-passed Affordable Care Act.

Fueled by the enthusiasm of being a new guy with a crucial task, Peter took advantage of some conference downtime to convene a small group – about 20 of us – to advise him on what he should focus on in his new role. After soliciting ideas from many of the participants around the table, he turned to me. I decided not to be shy.Continue reading…

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