Each time I send out the THCB Reader, our newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB (Sign up here!) I include a brief tidbits section. Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
Yes it’s time to talk Medicare Advantage (MA). It’s been a huge couple of weeks for the world of MA. On the commercial side, CVS bought the biggest pure play MA provider, Oak Street Health for $10bn. This pissed me off as if they paid $2 a share more I’d have made a profit on the stock I foolishly bought “on a dip” in 2021.
But this amazed many of us on THCB Gang, as they paid a huge premium and it works out to some $60k per patient. Now health care organizations have been overpaying for patient “lives” as long as I can remember–going at least as far back as Aetna nearly going out of business when it bought US Healthcare in 1996. So why is today’s incarnation of Aetna buying providers?
Well that’s to do with the regulatory side of MA. I have been on record since the very first post of THCB that Medicare FFS is an inefficient and expensive program–even if 80% of American hospitals say they lose money on it and have to charge commercial insurers more to make up for it. But while it’s possible to agree with George Halvorson that MA delivers better care at a lower cost than FFS Medicare, it is simultaneously possible to believe that MA costs more than it should. That’s because of aggressive RAF upcoding that’s been built both into home visits from companies like Signify and also into the EMRs doctors have been using to code MA members’ health status.
There are lots of proposals on how to fix this–including this one from Chenmed on how to change MA from paying for inputs (i.e how sick people are when they join MA) to outputs (how much better they got while in MA). But it’s clear that CMS is now officially coming after upcoding including full cross plan audits back to 2018. Even if not back to 2011. The MA plans will grumble about those past audits and tie CMS up in court but they know going forward the game is up
To make more money in MA they need to get hold and shake loose or frack some of the 85% of the premium that goes to provider organizations. Hence they are all getting into bed with them or buying them outright. UHG, Humana & now Aetna/CVS have been buying physician groups that serve MA populations at a quickening rate, and their goal is to put more of the 50% of seniors already into MA into those groups.
Will this save any money? Well probably not, at least not yet. Humana has been reporting on the costs in its full risk capitated MA groups versus its FFS ones for a couple of years, and the difference is a rounding error. But the point is that the next war in Medicare Advantage is going to be what happens inside these plan-owned medical groups. So expect a lot more scrutiny of both costs, outcomes and patient experience within MA focused medical groups starting about now.
“Next-gen” healthcare might just be getting its start in primary care. So says Crossover Health’s CEO, Scott Shreeve, who laughingly channels Justin Timberlake and says he’s “bringing sexy back” to it too. With Walmart launching its own Healthcare Super Centers, Walgreens partnering with VillageMD in a $1-billion-dollar three-year deal, and some soaring post-IPO stock prices for OneMedical and Oak Street Health — it appears he’s onto something. And, hopefully, it’s something big that’s borne from Crossover’s recent partnership deal with Amazon. Will this be the tech giant’s next foray into healthcare? We’ve got the analysis on Amazon, Scott’s insider insights on what’s next for the primary care market, AND some phenomenal perspective on the “rise of the ‘Health Activist Employer’” as healthcare’s “most innovative payer.”
Today on Episode 134 of Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I cover Livongo’s stock price swinging, Brian Dolan’s PPP “Black List” for Health Tech Startups, and Oak Street Health & GoHealth filing their S-1’s. We also get Matthew’s take on Walgreen’s deal with Village MD to become a primary care center, and Doctor on Demand closing a $75M round, bringing its total to $235M in funding —Matthew Holt
Today, primary care is considered the bee’s knees of value-based care delivery. Instead of being viewed as the punter of the football team, the primary care physician (PCP) has become the quarterback of the patient’s care team, calling plays for both clinical and social services. The entire concept of the accountable care organization (ACO) or patient-centered medical home (PCMH) crumbles without financially- and clinically-aligned PCPs. This sea change has resulted in rapid employment or alignment to health systems, as well as a surge in venture capital being invested into the primary care space.
Before we get too far in the weeds, let’s first begin with the definition of primary care. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) defines a primary care physician as a specialist typically trained in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, or Pediatrics. Some women do use their OB/GYN as their PCP, but these specialists are not traditionally considered PCPs. Now if you’ve gone to your local PCP and noticed that your care provider is not wearing a white coat with the “MD” or “DO” credentials, you are either receiving treatment from a hipster physician, nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA). Two of the three professionals are trained in family medicine and can provide primary care services under the responsibility of an associated PCP. At least one of the three has a beard.
The crazy thing is, despite the industries heightened focus on the importance of PCPs, we’re still expecting a shortage of primary care providers. In April 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report estimating a shortage of between 21,100 and 55,200 PCPs by 2032. Given we just passed 2020, this not that far off. The primary reason for the shortage is the growing and aging population. Thanks mom and dad. Digging into the numbers will really knock your socks off, with the U.S. Census estimating that individuals over the age of 65 will increase 48% over that same time period. Like a double-edged sword, the issue is not just on the patient demand side though. One-third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade and could begin to retire. Many of these individuals are independent PCPs who have resisted employment by large health systems.
Today’s health care providers face the formidable challenge of delivering better, more affordable and more convenient care in the face of spiraling care costs and an epidemic of chronic disease. But the most innovative among them are making encouraging progress by “integrating”—which in this context means working across traditional boundaries between patients and clinicians, health care specialties, care sites and sectors.
The impulse to do so is shrewd, according to our innovation research in sectors from computer manufacturing to education. We’ve found that when a product isn’t yet good enough to address the needs of a particular customer segment, a company must control the entire product design and production process in order to improve it. This is necessary because in a “not-good-enough” product, unpredictable and complex interdependencies exist between components, so each component’s design depends on that of all the others.
Given this, managers responsible for the individual components must collaborate—or integrate—in order to align components’ design and assembly toward optimal performance. IBM employed an integrated strategy to improve performance of its early mainframe computers, and this enabled the firm to dominate the early computer industry when mainframes weren’t yet meeting customers’ needs.
In health care delivery, such integration is analogous to, but something more than, coordinated care. It means assembling and aligning resources and processes to deliver the right care, in the right place, at the right time. This type of integration is a core aspiration of innovative providers leading hot-spotting and aging-in-place programs, capitated primary care practices, initiatives addressing health-related social needs, and other care models that depart from America’s traditional, episodic, acute-care model. How are they tackling it? They’re leveraging very specific tools to facilitate work across boundaries. Here are six of the most common we uncovered in our research: