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You Lose a Child, You Lose Your Job

By LEO LOPEZ III, MD

I’m a physician, born in McAllen, Texas. In June 2018, I returned home to demand that immigrant children who had been torn from their families as a result of the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, be safely and immediately reunited. I demonstrated at a federal detention center in McAllen at the Free the Children Protest. I marched alongside other concerned citizens, and we confronted a bus carrying the children.

With my palms pressed against the bus, I demanded that the government free them. I could not have imagined that just a few months later, I’d demand that the government find them. 

Back then, the Office and Refugee and Resettlement had just certified that over 2,600 children had been separated from their families. 

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services recently released an updated account. They actually weren’t sure how many children were separated. Turns out they didn’t count them. According to the report, HHS doesn’t know exactly if, when, or how they’ll find the lost children.

I grew up right there, along the south-Texas border, and I know that cattle are better accounted for than these infants and children.

So whose fault is it? In my opinion, the blame falls on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, both of whom are ultimately responsible for executing the President’s policy agenda through their respective departments. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systematically separated families. The Department of Health and Human Services failed to identify the children who were separated. 

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Why go to Health Datapalooza? Ask Bruce Greenstein, CTO of HHS

Health Datapalooza is coming up quick at the end of April, so I sat down with Bruce Greenstein, CTO of HHS about why all of THCB’s health tech friends should attend. Plus, we get into what’s happening with the open data movement and how Bruce’s past-life at Microsoft is going to shape how he and HHS work with those consumer tech companies that are pushing harder and harder into healthcare.

Is Obamacare Working? Show us the Data

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As President Obama’s healthcare reform unfolds in the last years of his administration, critics and supporters alike are looking for objective data. Meaningful Use is a funding program designed to create health IT systems that, when used in combination, are capable of reporting objective data about the healthcare system as a whole. But the program is floundering. The digital systems created by Meaningful Use are mostly incompatible, and it is unclear whether they will be able to provide the needed insights to evaluate Obamacare.

Recent data releases from HHS, however, have made it possible to objectively evaluate the overall performance of Meaningful Use itself. In turn we can better evaluate whether the Meaningful Use program is providing the needed structure to Obamacare. This article seeks to make the current state of the Meaningful Use program clear. Subsequent articles will consider what the newly released data implies about Meaningful Use specifically, and about Obamacare generally.

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Health 2.0: Exclusive Interview with Susannah Fox, CTO of HHS

Susannah Fox, CTO of HHS, shares how she is fostering patient empowerment and engagement through technology. Matthew Holt, Co-Chairman of Health 2.0, had the opportunity to personally chat with Susannah and learn more about the democratization of healthcare!

Don’t miss Susannah Fox at the 9th Annual Health 2.0 Fall Conference. Purchase your tickets here!

Matthew Holt: Matthew Holt here, delighted to be on with a really wonderful amazing person in healthcare who is not only my friend but also the CTO of HHS, Susannah Fox.  Susannah, thanks so much for joining us.

Susannah Fox: I am thrilled to be talking with you.

Matthew Holt: Well, so those of you who don’t know — Susannah originally was a journalist at U.S. News and World Report and spent many, many years at Pew Research, and is basically leading the survey research understanding the patient experience — probably in healthcare as a whole but studying the patient experience with the use of technology.  She happens to be the first proper keynote speaker we ever had at a Health 2.0 conference back in 2008, attended Health 2.0 in many different places with us, and has been a great friend and colleague.

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The Blocking of Health Information Undermines Interoperability and Delivery Reform

The secure, appropriate, and efficient sharing of electronic health information is the foundation of an interoperable learning health system—one that uses information and technology to deliver better care, spend health dollars more wisely, and advance the health of everyone.

Today we delivered a new Report to Congress on Health Information Blocking that examines allegations that some health care providers and health IT developers are engaging in “information blocking”—a practice that frustrates this national information sharing goal.

Health information blocking occurs when persons or entities knowingly and unreasonably interfere with the exchange or use of electronic health information. Our report examines the known extent of information blocking, provides criteria for identifying and distinguishing it from other barriers to interoperability, and describes steps the federal government and the private sector can take to deter this conduct.

This report is important and comes at a crucial time in the evolution of our nation’s health IT infrastructure. We recently released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020 and the Draft Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap. These documents describe challenges to achieving an interoperable learning health system and chart a course towards unlocking electronic health information so that it flows where and when it matters most for individual consumers, health care providers, and the public health community.

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What Do Women Know About Obamacare That Men Don’t?

Susan DentzerFor the second year running, more women than men have signed up for coverage in health insurance marketplaces during open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, enrollment ran 56 percent female, 44 percent male, during last year’s open enrollment season; preliminary data from this year shows enrollment at 55 percent female, 45 percent male – a 10 percentage point difference.

What gives? An HHS spokeswoman says the department can’t explain most of the differential. Females make up about 51 percent of the U.S. population, but there is no real evidence that, prior to ACA implementation, they were disproportionately more likely to be uninsured than men – and in fact, some evidence indicates that they were less likely to be uninsured than males .

What is clear that many women were highly motivated to obtain coverage under the health reform law – most likely because they want it, and need it.

It’s widely accepted that women tend to be highly concerned about health and health care; they use more of it than men, in part due to reproductive services, and make 80 percent of health care decisions for their families . The early evidence also suggests that women who obtained coverage during open enrollment season last year actively used it.  Continue reading…

A Courageous First Step

Farzad MostashariEarlier today, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced that HHS is doubling down on the historic shift taking place across the health care industry towards value-based care, and is setting a target of having 50 percent of Medicare payments under value-based care arrangements by 2018.

 This would mean that in less than three years, around a quarter of a trillion dollars of health care spending would be made to providers who are being compensated not for ordering more tests and more procedures, but for delivering better outcomes – keeping patients healthier, keeping them out of the hospital, and keeping their chronic conditions in check.

This shift will address a central problem of the US health care system, one that lawmakers and policy experts on all sides of the issue agree is a key contributor to runaway medical inflation.

The logic is straightforward: by simply paying for the volume of services delivered, every provider has a strong incentive to do more — more tests, more procedures, more surgeries. And under this system, there is no financial incentive to maintain a comprehensive overview of patient care – to succeed by keeping the patient healthy, and health care costs down.

In making this announcement, Secretary Burwell took a step that many within HHS had been advocating quietly for years, and which many outside it have advocated more loudly.

Skeptics may ask: what does this accomplish? And why announce it now, when health care costs are already rising at the slowest rate in decades?

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Let’s Have APIs for Those Provider Directories!

This was a comment I submitted submitted to this proposed set of regulations on health plans participating in the ACA. (Use ctrl-F to search “provider directory” within the page). HHS is proposing forcing insurers to make their provider directories more accurate and machine readable, and it would be great for consumers if that was made the case–especially if APIs (which means basically giving access for other computers to read them) were mandated–here’s why:

Subject–Immediately updated  provider directories machine readable via APIs should be mandated for health insurers.

Finding accurate information about providers is one of the hardest things for consumers to do while interacting with the health care system. While regulation cannot fix all of these issues, these proposed regulations in section  156.230 can greatly help, But they should be strengthened by requiring (under subsection 2) that health insurers immediately add new information about providers in their networks to a publicly available machine readable database accessible via a freely available API.

Currently companies trying to aid consumers in provider search and selection tell us that the information pertaining to which providers are in a particular network is the least accurate of all data they can receive. For consumers the biggest question for plan selection is trying to find out which provider is in their plan, and at the least this requires searching multiple websites. Worse, particular insurer’s plans can even have the same name but can have different networks (in one instance in our personal experience Aetna in New York state had two different plans with effectively the same name but different networks). This is essentially impenetrable for consumers and that is assuming that the information on the websites is accurate or timely–which it is often not.

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Health Data Outside the Doctor’s Office

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 7.01.42 AMHealth primarily happens outside the doctor’s office—playing out in the arenas where we live, learn, work and play. In fact, a minority of our overall health is the result of the health care we receive.  If we’re to have an accurate picture of health, we need more than what is currently captured in the electronic health record.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asked the distinguished JASON group to bring its considerable analytical power to bear on this problem: how to create a health information system that focuses on the health of individuals, not just the care they receive. JASON is an independent group of scientists and academics that has been advising the Federal government on matters of science and technology for over 50 years.

Why is it important to pursue this ambitious goal? There has been an explosion of data that could help with all kinds of decisions about health. Right now, though, we do not have the capability to capture and share that data with those who make decisions that impact health—including individuals, health care providers and communities.

The new report, called Data for Individual Health, builds upon the 2013 JASON report, A Robust Health Data Infrastructure.  It lays out recommendations for an infrastructure that could not only achieve interoperability among electronic health records (EHRs), but could also integrate data from all walks of life—including data from personal health devices, patient collaborative networks, social media, environmental and demographic data and genomic and other “omics” data.

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Expecting the Unexpected

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 7.44.07 AMThe question isn’t whether or not we will have another disaster – it is just a matter of when, where and how severe it will be.  The recent earthquake in Northern California, centered near Napa, serves as a reminder that we must be prepared for the unexpected no matter where we live.

Northern California’s largest quake since 1989 happened in a large state where ONC has been working for the past year to ensure health data access every day and especially during disasters. In fact, in April of this year, we issued an assessment on available opportunities to address potential disasters in California and along the Gulf Coast.

Based on those assessments and our expectations of a catastrophic event in California, ONC started working with state emergency medical services officials last year to begin connecting the state’s 35 health information exchange organizations (HIEs) and EMS organizations. This effort was launched to help ensure health data access during emergencies.

The program is working on a pilot project involving several counties in California.  However, the Northern California earthquake reminds us that there is much work to do, and it must happen faster statewide and nationwide. We simply cannot make assumptions about how best to prepare for emergencies. In recognition of the importance of this initiative, the HHS Idea Lab awarded a joint ONC/ASPR proposal for the inaugural HHS Ventures Program.  The team has been actively engaged in this project as well as other ways technology can improve the routine delivery of care and disaster response – all in an effort to create more resilient communities.

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