I attended a Population Health conference this summer where a number of representatives from large health systems and physician organizations convened to discuss common challenges. Many of my healthcare colleagues assume that anything that carries the label “Population Health” must relate to health disparities and food deserts. While we do address these topics, the vast majority of sessions and conversations had one underlying theme: lowering the total cost of care.
In rebuttal to any charges that our group is far too corporate to be considered a fair example of Population Health advocates, even the Institute for Healthcare Improvement addresses the importance of managing costs with the third part of the Triple Aim stated as “reducing the per capita cost of health care”.
Whether it is from Medicare or commercial ACOs, the Efficiency metric in CMS’s Value-Based Purchasing program, or the continued push from commercial payors for bundled payment programs, health systems and provider groups are beset by demands regarding cost. Unfortunately, at this conference, and in most groups trying to meet the demands of Population Health, one key stakeholder group is often absent: Specialists.
If cardiologists, spine surgeons, and hospitalists cannot become engaged with Population Health principles, moving the cost needle will be very challenging, if not impossible. I believe there are ways, however, to engage specialists in providing efficient care.
The toxic polarization of Washington politics might lead even the most stubborn optimist to abandon any hope for bipartisanship on healthcare. Despite endemic pessimism, the flagging efforts to forge a Republican consensus on “repeal and replace” might set the stage for overdue efforts at compromise. Congress will be tempted to move on to more promising areas such as tax reform and infrastructure funding. That temptation should be resisted. The threat to the nation posed by the current state of American healthcare calls for Congress to resurrect the long lost spirit of bold bipartisanship.
Before considering opportunities for compromise, the obstacles confronting the GOP reform efforts are worth considering. Republicans face the same stubborn reality that confronted the framers of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Expensive services cannot be covered by cheap insurance. The cost of U.S. healthcare has simply priced low income and even middle income individuals out of health insurance. Without subsides, they get left behind. The Congressional Budget Office’s estimated that the Ryan plan would result in 24 million losing coverage underscored the political divide: Confronted with unmanageable healthcare costs, most Republicans would opt to reduce public expense whereas Democrats plus a handful of Republican moderates prefer more extensive coverage. The effort of the GOP leadership to split the difference by preserving some residual subsidies and the structures supporting them—“Obamacare light”—remains unacceptable to many on the right. No clear middle ground has yet emerged.
Today, we are finalizing policies to implement the new Medicare Quality Payment Program. Part of the bipartisan Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), the Quality Payment Program aims to create a more modern, patient-centered Medicare program by promoting quality patient care while controlling escalating costs through the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and incentive payments for Advanced Alternative Payment Models (Advanced APMs).
After issuing our proposal for how to implement the new program earlier this spring, we held a listening tour across the country to hear your thoughts and concerns first-hand about the Quality Payment Program. Whether you formally submitted one of the over 4,000 comments we received, or were one of the nearly 100,000 attendees at our outreach sessions, there have been record levels of clinician engagement. The interactions reflect the importance you place on serving the more than 55 million individuals that have Medicare coverage.
We found an eagerness to help the Medicare program improve and an interest in being engaged in how we address the challenges and opportunities ahead. We also heard concerns, which is not surprising, given the challenge of changing something as large and important as the Medicare program. But, we found that there is near-universal support for moving towards a future focused on patient care that pays for what works, reduces clinician burden, and better supports and engages the medical community.
Recently, Anish Koka, MD, a Cardiologist from Pennsylvania, posted his anti-Accountable Care Organization (ACO) manifesto here on The Health Care Blog.  Koka argues that ACOs don’t work and are doomed to fail because they were designed by non-practicing physician policymakers and academics in ivory towers. He appears to be basing his judgment on a commercial ACO contract that only pays him $4 per month extra for care coordination and requires that he meet specific quality measures. He is also conflating his experience in a commercial ACO with Medicare ACOs, and interprets the initial results of one Medicare ACO program to mean that all ACOs are a failure. Finally, he relays an anecdote of caring for one of his patients, Mrs. K, a patient with chronic illness who doesn’t want to take her medication.
In his post, Dr. Koka calls out “well-meaning, hard-working folks that own a Harvard Crimson sweater…[whose] intent is to fundamentally change how health care is provided.” As luck would have it, I do own a Harvard Crimson sweater, and I’d like to respond.
It is possible that in a few months from now, only Nate Silver’s prediction models will stand between Donald Trump and the White House. I will leave it to future anthropologists to write about the significance of that moment. For now, the question “What will President Trump be doing when he is not building a wall?” has assumed salience.
This is relatively easy to answer when it comes to health policy. Just ask what people want. Seniors don’t want Medicare rescinded. Even the free market fundamentalist group, the Tea Party, wants Medicare benefits as they stand. At one of their demonstrations against Obamacare a protester warned, without leaving a trace of irony, “Government, hands off my Medicare.”
Rest assured, Trump will protect Medicare. Even raising the eligibility age for Medicare may be off the cards as far as he is concerned. He has promised that no one will be left dying on the streets. That people no longer die on the streets, but in hospitals, because emergency rooms must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, is irrelevant. The point is that Mr. Trump knows that the public values their healthcare. Trumpcare will show that Trump cares.
It’s done. Congress on April 14 passed and the president signed into law a bill that terminates one of the most egregious and silliest examples of dysfunctional government in recent years—the so-called “sustainable growth rate” (SGR) formula for doctors’ fees under Medicare.
First, a round of applause for bipartisan agreement—however obvious it was that had to happen in this case. The vote in the house was 392-37. In the Senate, it was 92-8.
Praise is also in order for enacting two more years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and $7.2 billion in new funding over two years for community health centers, a program that was expanded under the Affordable Care Act and serves low-income families. There’s also welcome help for low-income Medicare beneficiaries and rural hospitals.
But the main thrust of the law is to kill one (failed) program that adjusted doctors’ fees under Medicare and create a new and hopefully better one.
There are dozens of ways to take stock of the Affordable Care Act as it turns 5 years old today. According to HHS statistics:
16.4 million more people with health insurance, lowering the uninsured rate by 35 percent.
$9 billion saved because of the law’s requirement that insurance companies spend at least 80 cents of every dollar on actual care instead of overhead, marketing, and profits
$15 billion less spent on prescription drugs by some 10 million Medicare beneficiaries because of expanded drug coverage under Medicare Part D
Significantly more labor market flexibility as consumers gained access to good coverage outside the workplace
Impressive. But the real surprise after five years is that the ACA may actually be helping to substantially lower the trajectory of healthcare spending. That was far from a certain outcome. Dubbed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for public relations purposes, there were, in fact, no iron clad, accountable provisions that would in the long run assure that health insurance or care overall would become “affordable.”
ACA supporters appear to have lucked out—so far. Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t luck at all but a well-placed faith that the balance of regulation and marketplace competition that the law wove together was the right way to go.
To be sure, other forces such as the recession were in play—accounting for as much as half of the reduction in spending growth since 2010. But as the ACA is once again under threat in the Supreme Court and as relentless Republican opposition continues, it’s worth paying close attention to new forecasts from the likes of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS).
The ACA is driving changes in 17 percent of the U.S. economy that, if reversed or interrupted, would have profound impact on federal, state, business, and family budgets. A quick look at some important numbers follows:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recent announcement to move the Medicare program toward value-based payments is among the most promising recent developments in health care.
While changing the way we pay for care will not be easy, we believe that shifting away from fee-for-service to value-based payments could be a catalyst to a better, more affordable health care system in our country.
Three Benefits of Paying for Quality
There are numerous potential benefits to paying for quality rather than quantity, including the three we want to focus on today.
We believe this payment shift has the potential to accelerate progress toward achieving the Triple Aim – defined as better individual care, better population care, and lower cost.
We believe the payment shift by Medicare will accelerate the transition to value-based payments among commercial insurers – a major benefit to employers in terms of improved health for employees and greater affordability.
We believe value-based payments have the potential to help slow – and possibly reverse – the epidemic of physician burnout in the United States, particularly among primary care doctors.Continue reading…
In Washington, sometimes the most significant developments quietly creep up on you. No epic debate or triumphant bill-signing ceremony, but rather a collection of seemingly small events begin to tip the scales.
That’s what is happening today with telehealth. Almost under the radar, federal and state officials have been giving a much-needed push in support of virtual care. Though the technology has long existed, until recently the money had not followed. And sadly in our current fee-for-service healthcare system, little gets done without a payment code, even if it makes eminent medical and economic sense.
Consider some of the recent action. In November, the Department of Agriculture released more than $8.5 million in health-related grants to 31 recipients in rural communities. Many are using the money to purchase telehealth equipment such as high-quality cameras and broadband Internet.
The previous month the federal government issued rules expanding Medicare payment for a range of telehealth services. Caregivers can earn about $42 per month for chronic care management under the new regulations. Seven new procedure codes were also added, covering such services as annual wellness visits and psychotherapy.
And the end-of-year spending bill approved by Congress designates more than $26 million for telemedicine programs largely in rural communities and through the Veteran’s Administration.Continue reading…
Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed the House-sponsored Omnibus Appropriation Bill that funds the federal government through September 2015. In all likelihood, all eyes weren’t glued to these proceedings, perhaps otherwise attentive to holiday shopping or the events around nationwide protests about policing in our cities.
Healthcare is a huge part of the federal budget: combining spending for Medicare, Medicaid, Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP), military and veterans’ health, Indian Health Services and federal employee health benefits, it represents 35% of the total $3.9 trillion budget. For the decade prior to the economic downturn, total health spending increased 7.2% annually. During the downturn, it slowed to less than 4% but is expected to increase to 6% annually for the decade ahead. That means healthcare spending will be an even bigger part of federal budgets going forward.