As he ascends to the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden’s recent proposal to reform Medicare by improving care for the chronically ill has garnered significant attention and support. Its topline goal of incentivizing integration of care for high-risk patients is resonating with stakeholders across the health care continuum.
In light of its momentum and Senator Wyden’s imminently expanding authority over Federal healthcare programs, we thought it wise to take a closer look at his plan – the “Better Care, Lower Cost Act” (BCLA). What we found is more interesting, ambitious and – potentially – complex than the headlines suggest.
In essence, the BCLA would allow providers (and health plans) to form new entities – labeled Better Care Programs (BCPs) – that receive capitated payments for all Medicare-covered services delivered to their enrollees. The initiative would initially focus on regions of the country with disproportionately high rates of chronic illness and only medically complex patients would be allowed to enroll.
There are a variety of medical protocols that BCPs would be required to adopt, including development of personalized chronic care plans for each enrollee.
If you are hearing echoes of the Accountable Care “movement,” then you are in the right concert hall but listening to a very different symphony. While BCPs share some characteristics with ACOs, they would differ in important ways. A limited number of ACOs in Medicare currently take full(ish) financial risk, but all BCPs would do so, with some risk corridors instituted in the first few years.
Unlike most ACO programs, control groups would be established for purposes of measuring BCP performance. Also – and this is pivotal – BCPs would be required to proactively enroll Medicare beneficiaries, while patients are typically passively attributed to ACOs.
By taking a giant step down the shared savings path, which it travels alongside ACO programs, the BCLA further blurs the line between traditional fee for service and managed care. BCPs would actually be compensated in the same manner as Medicare Advantage plans, the private insurance option in Medicare.
Republican Vice Presidential pick Paul Ryan isn’t the only one Democrats are piling on this week. The knives have come out for Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat.
I guess that isn’t a surprise. If Ron Wyden is right on Medicare then so are Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney.
The fundamental problem here is that the Democrats have decided that their best path to victory in the November elections is to say that the Republicans want to destroy Medicare as we know it and that the Democrats can preserve it.
The truth is that no one can preserve Medicare as we know it. There isn’t a prayer that your father’s Medicare will be around in 10 years. There is a legitimate policy debate going on about the direction we will have to go with it.
There is just plain going to be less money to spend on senior health care than there would have been if we let the program continue on its present unsustainable track. Health care providers and patients are going to have less money.
The question is who will control that money.
House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) have embraced a Medicare reform plan that in concept borrows heavily from one championed by former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin.
Specifically, Wyden and Ryan are proposing to alter the earlier Ryan Medicare plan by:
- Continuing to offer the traditional Medicare plan—Ryan would have eliminated it—in addition to a range of private Medicare plans offered by health insurers.
- Tying federal Medicare premium support to an amount equal to the second lowest cost Medicare plan—public or private—available to seniors in each market. Ryan would have set a flat premium support amount in year-one and increased that only at the rate of inflation.
- Instituting a series of consumer protections and medical underwriting rules designed to protect seniors.
- Instituting an annual cap on what the federal government could pay for Medicare at an amount equal to the increase in the nation’s GDP + 1%—Ryan would have capped annual increases in the federal premium support amount at the increase in the consumer price index.
On this blog I have been arguing that the risk for health care costs rising too quickly should not be borne entirely by seniors–that the stakeholders who really run the system should be most accountable. And, that is what the Wyden-Ryan plan would do: “Any increase over that cap will be reflected in reduced support for the sectors most responsible for cost growth, including providers, drug companies, and means-tested premiums,” their plan states.