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Tag: The ACA

The Melody Of Quality Measures: Harmonize And Standardize

With unsustainably high costs and tremendous gaps in quality and patient safety, the health care system is ripe with opportunities for improvement. For years, many have seen quality measurement as a means to drive needed change. Private and public payers, public health departments, and independent accreditation organizations have asked health care providers to report on quality measures, and quality measures have been publicly reported or tied to financial reimbursement or both.

Throughout the Affordable Care Act (ACA), quality measures are tied to reimbursements in multiple programs.  It is critical that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) move forward with a strategy for measure harmonization that will accommodate local and national needs to evaluate outcomes and value.  Additionally, a standard for calculation measures such as the use of a minimal data set for the universe of measures should be considered.

The field of quality measurement is at a critical juncture. The Affordable Care Act (ACA)—which mentions “quality measures,” “performance measures,” or “measures of quality,” 128 times—heightened an already growing emphasis on quality measurement. With so much focus on quality, the resource burden on health care providers of taking and reporting measures for multiple agencies and payers is significant.

Furthermore, the field itself is being transformed with the continued adoption of electronic health records (EHRs).  Traditional measures are largely based on administrative or claims data. The increased use of EHRs create the opportunity to develop sophisticated electronic clinical quality measures (eQMs) leveraging clinical data, which when linked with clinical decision support tools and payment policy, have the potential to improve quality and decrease costs more dramatically than traditional ones.   Innovative electronic measures on the horizon include “delta measures” calculating changes in patient health over time and care coordination measures for the electronic transfer of patient information (i.e., hospital discharge summary or consultant note successfully transmitted to the primary care physician). Additionally, traditional data abstraction methodologies for clinical data require labor intensive, chart review processes, which would be eliminated if data could be electronically extracted.

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No Free Lunch. No Free Contraception.

The otherworldy Obama Administration solution to the contraception firestorm might work politically but it makes no sense in the real world.

The President, hoping to quell a growing political firestorm, today announced a new policy that no longer requires religiously affiliated organizations to provide employees with contraception coverage in health-insurance plans.

Under the new policy, insurance companies will be required to offer free contraception for their employees and dependents. The administration’s idea is to shift the onus for the coverage from the employer to the insurer. Catholic leaders, and lots of other people, had objected to the requirement, which exempted churches but not hospitals, charities and universities with religious affiliations.

So, let’s just play a game here. The religious organization just pretends that it has nothing to do with it but the insurance company pays for it anyway. Hey, the insurance companies are rich.

Of course there is a cost. Today, contraception is almost universally covered in health insurance policies. The argument that forcing insurers to pay for it, without deductibles and copays, saves money because it avoids pregnancy costs is just plain silly.

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The Audacity of Dupe

Let me get this straight. Catholic institutions won’t have to pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance? Instead, their health insurers will provide it for free? Did I hear that right?

The President seems to have found the long elusive free lunch. If he has, hand him his Nobel Prize in Economics now; no economist will ever top that. (That would make him just the fifth person to win two Nobel Prizes. Such greatness inspires.) I am afraid that the Nobel Prize committee will have more work to do, as the free lunch will remain as scarce as the unicorn. Just bear in mind that health insurers charge different prices for all of their clients. How is anyone to know whether they are providing contraception to some Catholic institution for free? Will we have a federal agency auditing whether an insurer’s 6.743 percent price increase should have been 6.682 percent? And is this new rule even Constitutional? Since when can the government force private businesses to give away their products? I guess a government that believes it can mandate that consumers purchase contraception coverage regardless of the price also believes that it can mandate insurers set the price for contraception coverage to zero.

And suppose insurers really do provide contraception for free to Catholic institutions, but not for any others. This gives the Catholic institutions a competitive advantage in labor markets. Mr. President, may I suggest that as long as you are giving away stuff to employees at Catholic institutions, why not force Apple to give away iPads to Northwestern University employees? (Most of them voted for you and surely deserve it!) Apparently all it takes is an executive order. What did Mel Brooks say about this? Oh yeah, “It’s good to be the king.”

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Dismantling the Affordable Care Act

I have no idea which way the Supreme Court will rule this year on the Affordable Care Act. Let me go out on a limb and predict a 5-4 vote on the question of whether the individual mandate is Constitutional. Just don’t ask me which way the vote goes.

I found the recent Obama administration brief submitted to the Court on the mandate question somewhat ironic. Not surprisingly, the Obama Justice Department argued that a finding by the Court that the individual mandate is unconstitutional should not jeopardize the vast majority of the new health law.

But the Obama Justice Department did concede that there are two provisions of the Affordable Care Act that should also be declared invalid if the Court rules the individual mandate is unconstitutional—the health insurance guaranteed issue and community rating provisions.

Now, I know there are lots of other people, many of them filing briefs with the Court, that disagree arguing that the whole law needs to be found invalid because the mandate is the lynchpin for all of it. But I will suggest it is significant that the administration would appear to be building a firewall for the rest of the law as they concede these points.

But consider this potential scenario.

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The Political Economy of Health Information Technology

Healthcare reform is arguably the hot-button political issue of our time. And with the Supreme Court locked and loaded to decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act this summer, it’s a safe bet the controversial two-year-old legislation will have a huge impact on the 2012 election and beyond.

But what about health IT? If “Obamacare” has been a lightning rod, sparking historically nasty partisan bickering – Congress vs. President Obama, Republicans vs. Democrats, Fox News vs. MSNBC, the Tea Party vs. MoveOn.org – Washington’s efforts to spur healthcare information technology have enjoyed much broader support, on both sides of the aisle.

Just last week, a Washington think tank whose healthcare wing is led by two erstwhile rival Senate Majority Leaders put its weight behind smarter and more widespread use of technology and data exchange in healthcare organizations nationwide.

“To deliver high-quality, cost-effective care, a physician or hospital needs good information,” said former senator Bill Frist, MD, upon the release of a report, on Jan. 27, from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Delivery System Reform and Health IT. “Data about patients has to flow across primary care physicians, hospitals, labs, and anywhere that patients receive care.”

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Does Obamacare Limit Profits for Health Insurance Companies in Your State?

One of the provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a ACA, a.k.a. Health Reform, a.k.a. Obamacare) is that it limits the profits of health insurance companies. The ACA imposes a minimum medical loss ratio (MLR) on all insurers. The MLR is the amount of money spent on covered person medical care divided by the total revenue received through premiums. There is some debate of what constitutes ‘medical care’ (e.g., do investments in electronic health records count as medical care?), but insurer profits certainly are non-medical.

The ACA requires health insurers in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of their premiums (after subtracting taxes and regulatory fees) on medical costs. The corresponding figure for large groups is 85 percent. According to a recent Kaiser tracking poll, 60 percent of the public views the MLR concept favorably, although only 38 percent was aware that the provision is in the ACA. Insurance brokers may be getting squeezed for insurers to meet this amount.

Even though the MLR is a national law, it may not apply in your state. Continue reading…

Congressional Research Service: Courts Could Force HHS to Implement CLASS Act, Despite Its Insolvency

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 1173, the Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act of 2011, sponsored by Rep. Charles Boustany (R., La.). This two-page bill would repeal the fiscal disaster known as the CLASS Act, Obamacare’s new long-term care entitlement, which was “suspended” by the Obama Administration because Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could not certify that the entitlement was fiscally sustainable. Why, you might ask, should Congress bother to repeal CLASS, given that Sebelius has suspended its implementation? Because, according to the Congressional Research Service, courts could force her to implement the new entitlement, despite the fact that it will blow up the deficit.

According to the text of the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius is required to “designate a benefit plan as the CLASS Independence Benefit Plan” by October 1, 2012. Back in November, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked CRS to evaluate the question: based on this language, could advocacy groups file suit against HHS for failing to implement the program? Would a court be likely to side with these plaintiffs? According to CRS, it’s a real possibility.

“If the Secretary does not designate a plan by October 1, 2012,” write the CRS staffers, “this failure to act would appear to be the type of agency action that could be challenged under the judicial review provision for agency action unlawfully withheld.” A court could grant deference to Sebelius’ finding that the program was unsustainable, but it could also force implementation of CLASS by “declaring the Secretary in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706(1) or issuing a write of mandamus to compel agency action, thus requiring the Secretary to renew her efforts to create a plan that is consistent with the statutory requirements.”

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What Mitt Romney Should Say

Preface: In the past few weeks Governor Romney has received withering criticism for his support for the Massachusetts Health Plan and his seemingly hypocritical opposition to Obamacare. Frankly, his responses to this criticism have not been stellar. I sometimes wonder if he realizes that he is on firm ground here. So as a favor to the Governor, I offer this prepackaged statement:

My fellow Americans. Not a day goes by when some of my colleagues in the Republican Party accuse me of hypocrisy for supporting the Massachusetts Health Plan when I was governor of that great state, while opposing Obamacare. I cannot respond to this accusation in a simple sound bite. So please lend me your ears for five minutes while I explain my position.

My job as governor was to implement policies reflecting the wishes of the people of Massachusetts. By approving the Massachusetts Health Plan, I did what my constituency elected me to do. I am proud to have signed the legislation authorizing the Massachusetts Health Plan, but this does not mean that I support Obamacare.

My critics point out two similarities between the two plans. Both plans mandate health insurance purchase and both create health insurance exchanges. Both features were right for Massachusetts. Health insurance markets do not work perfectly; that is why there isn’t a single state, red or blue, that does not heavily regulate them! Many individuals are shut out from buying health insurance. If they get sick, they face financial ruin. And if they are unable to pay for their medical care, providers shift the costs onto the rest of us.

The health insurance exchange levels the insurance playing field and assures that everyone can purchase insurance at affordable rates. Every health economist with whom I have spoken tells me that the exchange will not work without a purchase mandate. Once everyone is buying insurance, the cost shift will end; this will hold down health insurance costs for everyone.

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Repealed, Replaced and Expanded

Last week’s State of the Union speech was notable because the President hardly mentioned the new health care reform law.

Avoiding what is supposed to be the centerpiece domestic accomplishment of President Obama’s first term stuck out like a sore thumb.

He said almost nothing because the Obama team simply doesn’t know what to say.

The fact is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is generally unpopular, and its best-known provision, the individual mandate, is wildly unpopular.

Two years after passage and, the implementation of the law’s first steps all designed to build support, the public’s opinion of the law is unchanged and not good. The just out January 2012 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll leaves no doubt:

  • Only 37% of those surveyed have a favorable view of the law.
  • 44% have an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act.
  • But even some of those who don’t like it don’t like it because it didn’t go far enough—31% of all of those surveyed want to expand the current law while 19% want to keep it in its current form. That’s a total of 50% that want to keep or expand it.
  • 22% want it repealed outright and another 18% want it replaced with a Republican alternative—a total of 40%, fewer than want to expand it or keep it as it is.
  • On the individual mandate, 67% have an unfavorable view of requiring everyone to buy coverage, while 30% have a favorable view of the requirement.
  • While a total of 50% of those surveyed think the law should be kept or expanded, 54% say the Supreme Court should throw the mandate out, while only 17% say they think the mandate should be upheld.

So, let’s summarize. Only 37% have a favorable view of the law and 67% don’t like the mandate. But 50% think the law should be kept as it is or even expanded.  No wonder Obama and his political team can’t figure out how to play this.Continue reading…

Medical Records Supporting San Francisco’s Universal Care Add Millions to Official Cost

The San Francisco Department of Public Health says it is ahead of the curve in rolling out databases that keep tabs on tens of thousands of patients across a citywide network of clinics and hospitals. The rollout is needed not just to make a local form of “universal health care” work, but also to meet a 2014 deadline under national health reform.

And the city says it spent just $3.4 million on new patient-tracking technology. Not bad for an unprecedented charity care initiative whose total budget has grown to $177 million just this past year.

But while clinics and hospitals across the city are now linked up to a common intake tool that eliminates overbilling and duplicated medical appointments, that is only the first step in making the Healthy San Francisco program successful, directors of local health centers and technology experts say.Continue reading…

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