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Ukraine’s Secret Weapon – “Moral Superiority”

BY MIKE MAGEE

Two hundred and ten years ago, on September 7, 1812, a Putinesque commander, narrowly won a battle, but lost a war and entered a downward cycle that ended his reign. The battle was the Battle of Borodino, a town on the river Moskva, 70 miles west of Moscow. The commander was Napoleon.

The facts are clear-cut: Napoleon arrived with 130,000 troops, including his 20,000 Imperial Guards, and 500 guns. Opposing him were 120,000 Russians with 600 guns. The battle engaged from 6 AM to Noon. The French took 30,000 casualties, while the Russians lost 45,000 men, but survived to fight another day.

As Leo Tolstoy describes the scene of carnage on page 818 of his epic novel, War and Peace, in 1867“Several tens of thousands of men lay dead in various positions and uniforms in the fields and meadows where for hundreds of years peasants of the villages…had at the same time gathered crops and pastured cattle. At the dressing stations, the grass and soil were soaked with blood over the space of three acres. Crowds of wounded and unwounded men of various units, with frightened faces, trudged on…Over the whole field, once so gaily beautiful with its gleaming bayonets and puffs of smoke in the morning sun, there now hung the murk of dampness and smoke and the strangely acidic smell of saltpeter and blood. Small clouds gathered and began to sprinkle on the dead…”

But in the next paragraphs, it becomes clear that Tolstoy’s intent and focus is not to describe why and how Napoleon had won the Battle of Borodino, but rather how this was the beginning of the end of his army and the Napoleonic reign.

Tolstoy writes: “For the French, with the memory of the previous fifteen years of victories, with their confidence in Napoleon’s invincibility, with the awareness that they had taken part of the battlefield, that they had lost only a quarter of their men, and that they still had the intact twenty-thousand-man guard, it would have been easy to make the effort (to advance and annihilate the Russians)….But the French did not make that effort….It is not that Napoleon did not send in his guard because he did not want to, but that it could not be done. All the generals, officers, and soldiers of the French army knew that it could not be done, because the army’s fallen spirits did not allow it….(They were) experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle. The moral strength of the attacking French was exhausted…(For the Russians, it was) a moral victory, the sort that convinces the adversary of the moral superiority of his enemy and of his own impotence, that was gained by the Russians at Borodino.”

The Russians not only retreated, but did not stop in Moscow, continuing another 80 miles beyond their beloved city. But as Tolstoy describes, “In the Russian army, as it retreats, the spirit of hostility towards the enemy flares up more and more; as it falls back, it concentrates and increases.” 

As for the French, they take Moscow but stop there. Again from Tolstoy, “During the five weeks after that, there is not a single battle. The French do not move. Like a mortally wounded beast, which, losing blood, licks its wounds, they remain in Moscow for five weeks without undertaking anything, and suddenly, with no cause, flee back…without entering a single serious battle…”

Putin’s aging dreams of conquest likely are Napoleonic in scale. But as his hesitant forces observe the Borodino-like human carnage that they have unleashed on Mariupol, at the estuary of the Kalmius and Kalchik rivers, and prepare to enter Kyiv, the first eastern Slavic state which, a Millennium ago, acquired the title “Mother of Rus Cities”, their vulnerability and lack of “moral strength” is already apparent. Lacking a rational stated goal other than dominance, the young Russian conscripted soldiers and their commanders must certainly grow more concerned day by day.  They too have become entrapped, and are “experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle.” 

As for Putin, like Napoleon, he may feel the winds of fate blowing heavily on his shoulders even now. Napoleon did make it back to Paris. But three years after the Battle of Borodino and the 5-week occupation of Moscow, he met his Waterloo on June 16, 1815, at the hands of the Duke of Wellington.  He died in exile on the island of Helena on May 5, 1821. In his last will, he wrote, “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people which I have loved so much.”

Putin likely feels a similar love for Mother Russia, but ultimately the Russian people may choose not to return the affection.

Mike Magee, MD is a Medical Historian and Health Economist, and author of  “CodeBlue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.“

MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 3)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the third part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

Risk status and RAF

What is on the MedPac radar screen and what keeps their attention and what actually takes up several long portions of the annual report this year is the other factor that changes the payment levels to the plans — the risk status of their enrollees.

The capitation levels that are paid to the plans are affected very directly by the health status levels of the actual enrollees.

Risk levels for the members set and change the payment levels for the plans. The very first capitation programs didn’t factor in relative risk status for the members, and it was possible for some care sites to make major profits on capitation just by enrolling healthier than average people and by being paid an average cost level for each area for the people they enrolled.

That initial payment process has evolved very intentionally into having diagnosis-based cost factors that attempt to link the health status of the members and a fair payment level for the plans. The plans identify for the risk filing process the diagnosis levels for the members and their payment levels as plans are directly affected by the risk levels they report for their members.

People have had some concern about whether some parts of that coding process have been done badly, incorrectly or with purely avaricious intent.

There have been significant levels of concern expressed about whether the plans might be able and willing to produce and present inaccurate and distorted information in the process. That alarm was triggered in part by the fact that some of the plans made getting that information into their annual filings a high priority and some were more successful than others in that process.

It is good to have accurate diagnosis information.

We actually should as a nation and a health care macro system want to see an expansion of our data base and our medical records on basic levels of diagnostic information.

As a nation and as a macro care system we should definitely want to have full diagnosis information for each patient. Care can be better when caregivers have the right diagnosis for all of their patients.

How CMS  has changed Risk Adjustment

CMS just did a brilliant thing and completely eliminated the filing system and process for risk coding and data.

The CMS Hierarchical Conditions Categories Risk Adjustment Model was just killed. CMS just took the system that has created the vast majority of concerns and churn about the issues of coding intensity and shut it down.

It no longer is a factor for any risk scores. CMS will still look at the relative risk levels of patients but will get that information completely from patient encounter filings and direct patient information and not from any plan filings or reports.

An entire industry of organizations working to enhance risk scores just became obsolete and irrelevant.

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Well Health Wants To Stay Unknown: The White Label Platform Behind Provider-to-Patient Text Messages

BY JESS DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

Well Health is flying under-the-radar as a white-label patient communications platform that lets more than 400 healthcare providers text message their patients via their hospital’s EMR. In the “is it a feature or is it a company?” debate that often surrounds digital front door startups, I ask CEO Guillaume de Zwirek why Well Health has decided to go out as an infrastructure play rather than own the patient relationship itself. How does he see this strategy lending itself to long-term growth?

One of the best-funded startups that I’ve never heard of (they’ve quietly raised $97 million from the likes of Dragoneer, Lead Edge Capital, Twilio Ventures and others) we get into the details behind the business model, the tech that’s supporting their patient comms platform, and why I haven’t heard about these big fundraises.

988 and 911: Justice System Involvement in Mental Health Crises

BY BEN WHEATLEY

A woman was walking in the crosswalk of a busy intersection as the rain started to come down. She looked cold, but more than that, she looked off. She had no shoes on her feet and her countenance was in disarray. It seemed to me that she was in the midst of a mental health crisis. 

The woman approached where I was standing and I suggested that she go into the Starbucks on the corner to look for her shoes. At least in there, it would be warm. She didn’t go inside, but instead went to the entrance and sat down on the ground. 

Someone must have called 911 because a policeman and an ambulance with an emergency medical technician showed up. The EMT brought a stretcher down from the ambulance as the policeman watched over the situation. The woman got on the stretcher and the EMT placed a blanket over her. As this played out, the policeman stood in the background, allowing the EMT to take primary responsibility for the interaction. Since the woman seemed to pose little risk to herself or others, the response seemed to be the appropriate one. 

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April Fools….Data Driven Analysis

By MATTHEW HOLT

I have always thought that THCB almost always had an April fools post. I mean never on the Epic scale–today they’re merging with the other Epic, the Fornite gang–but most years I’d have said we had one. So in an effort to avoid the work I should be doing I went back to to archives to look and find the truth.

THCB started in August 2003 and in April 2005 the “tradition” started with this very worthy & not very clever April Fool about how George W Bush had signed national health care into law. The nothing more April Foolish until 2009 when then TCHB editor John Irvine wrote a piece about me joining Cato.

I got going on the whole thing in 2010 when just after the ACA was passed I declared that THCB and all its various contributors were finding other stuff to do. (They’re all basically back on #THCBGang these days!). The theory was that health care was now solved and we were going to cover fly fishing and renewable energy. If I had just bought that Tesla stock…

So now we were getting into the swing of it and yet no more fools for 4 years! The next one was a goodie though. At the time I was railing against the term mHealth which was battling my preferred term Health 2.0 as the definitional term for the sector. Neither term realized that “digital health” was winning. I explained that we were renaming Health 2.0 “mHealth & Associates” and that employees were going to be referred to as mHealth Ass. and Indu thought I was the “biggest mHealth Ass”. The wonderful coda to this is about 3 weeks later Indu and I met our then most important client, Holly Potter at Kaiser Permanente. She asked us when the name change was happening!! I still tease her about that when I see her!

Then another 4 year gap. In 2018 I revealed that Trump had appointed me to run the VA. I also predicted war with Russia in 2021. So wasn’t too far off! Then we hit a roll, in 2019 I scooped the world with the news that Facebook was entering the EMR business….not too far from the truth.

Finally in 2020 Michael Millenson told us that Trump was urging Covid sufferers to only get care at for-profit facilities. As it turned out, given how well so many hospital systems have done in the pandemic, he may not have been joking.

So in 19 years we have run 7 April Fools. Which by my calculation suggests that THCB is about 35% foolish. Which I guess is lower than I thought.

Matthew Holt is the publisher and main fool at THCB

Health Care Organizations Must Prioritize Cybersecurity Before Undergoing Digital Transformation

By TRAVIS GOOD

The health care industry is rapidly embracing new technologies. Covid-19 changed the way many industries operate, and healthcare is one industry that was particularly affected by the pandemic. Many health care organizations were already undergoing digital transformations, but Covid exponentially sped up those processes. Health care providers and health-tech companies were forced to adapt to the new normal and change the way they operate. Here are 3 major ways health care has changed in recent times. 

1. Increased popularity of telehealth services:

Covid made telehealth appointments a necessity, but even in a post-Covid world virtual visits are likely to remain a core component of modern healthcare. According to McKinsey, telehealth utilization was 78 times higher in April 2020 than in February 2020. It remained nearly 40 times as popular in 2021 as compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Research shows that both patients and physicians are fans of telehealth. Many patients prefer the convenience of being able to speak to their doctor from home and physicians feel that offering telemedicine allows them to operate more efficiently. Phone and video-based medical appointments became mainstream in 2020, and they are unlikely to go away anytime soon. 

2. More wearable medical devices with connected ecosystems:

The number of wearable medical devices in use has skyrocketed over the past 5 years. The wearable medical device market is expected to reach $23 million in 2023, a major increase from $8 million in 2017. Gadgets like heart rate sensors, oxygen meters, and exercise trackers are all becoming increasingly popular. Many popular consumer products such as cell phones and smartwatches ship with built-in medical tracking technology.

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WTF Health: Why Aren’t You Part of The Advancement League?

BY JESS DaMASSA, WTF HEALTH

For healthcare leaders who are “committed to community and career happiness” there is the Advancement League, a membership org dedicated to helping create the right circumstances and connections for both. Co-founders Alex Maiersperger and Antwan Williams tell us about the career development activities Advancement League has become known for, how they’re helping healthcare professionals at all levels of their career, and why their emphasis on community impact is important to anyone with a healthcare role. From ViVE 2022 in Miami, we also talk about getting together for Advancement League’s signature event, Young Health Leader Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina, on August 3-5, 2022.

#HealthTechDeals Episode 19: Brightline, Brightside, OssoVR, Podimetrics, AmplifyMD

This episode of Health Tech Deals is brought to you from the parking lot of a MacDonald’s in New Mexico. Yes, Jess is driving cross country from Florida! She and I hash out some health tech deals that happened this week: Brightline raises $105 million; Brightside raises $50 million; OssoVR raises $66 million; Podimetrics raises $41 million; and AmplifyMD raises $23 million.

-By Matthew Holt

MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 2)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the second part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage.Part 1 is here. The final part will be published on THCB later this week. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

We clearly do have significant levels of quality data about the MA plans because we have extensive levels of quality programs and recognitions that exist in MA . Those programs get better every year — and MedPac should be reporting and even celebrating each year how many additional plans are achieving high scores in those areas as part of their report.

MedPac should be describing and celebrating progress that is being made in that five-star space and the members of the Commission don’t seem to know that information exists.

In fact, they sink lower than that pure denial in their report this year. They actually say in this year’s report that they have deep concerns about the quality of care for MA and they say clearly that they have no useful data to use for thinking about how MA is doing relative to quality issues.

Saying that there is no quality data about the plans is another MedPac falsehood (MPF) and, as they so often are, that particular falsehood is disproved quickly and easily by their own documents. In the final section of this year’s report where they were asked by Congress to do a report on the quality of care in the Special Needs Plans. The MedPac writers achieve that explicit goal in large part by using the easily available HEDIS quality data for those patients and for the other patients in the plans and by comparing both sets of numbers to relevant populations.

So this year’s report has that set of NCQA quality data for the MA plans included in it. MedPac is using it now even though they say no data exists and that means that’s another falsehood to say it doesn’t exist.

We know what the quality data of the five-star program is and we know what the HEDIS Scores are for the MA plans, and we also know how much MA costs us in every county because the bids give us that information.

We know that the plans bid below the average county fee-for-service Medicare costs in every county and we know what the total costs are by person for each county.

We need to know what the real costs are and we need to look at how we get the very best use of the Medicare dollar. MedPac should make it a priority to figure out how to get the best use of the Medicare dollar using both bids, capitation, and various kinds of ACO-related payment processes. ACOs all create better care than traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and the people who are critical of ACOs for not saving enough money should rethink their priorities. They should be happy with any use of the Medicare dollar that gives more for the member and patient

If an ACO that has team care and patient centered data flows just breaks even on costs relative to fee-for-service Medicare, that should be celebrated and supported as being a much better use of the Medicare dollar.

We should make patients our top priority. ACOs make patients their priority. MA Plans clearly set up benefits and care practices around the patient’s the top priority. Only fee-for-service Medicare completely lets the patient down by being rigid on benefits, rigid on service, and making costs a higher priority than people’s lives and doing that badly and inefficiently. We should be working through MedPac each year to see which approach to buying care actually gives us the very best use of our Medicare dollar.

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MedPAC Got It Wrong (pt 1)

By GEORGE HALVORSON

This is the first part of former Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson’s critique of Medpac’s new analysis of Medicare Advantage. The rest will be published on THCB later this week. Eventually I’ll be doing a summary article about all the back and forth about what Medicare Advantage really costs!-Matthew Holt

MedPac just did their annual report on Medicare Advantage (MA) and they were extremely wrong on several key points.

The MedPac staff has a long tradition of being critical of MA, and they also, unfortunately, have a long tradition of being inaccurate, misleading, and consistently negative on some key points for no explicable or easily understood reason.

They achieved a new low this year by spending more than 20 pages of the report warning us all in detail about the upcoming cash flow distortions and coding abuses that they say are coming from a risk adjustment model and system that actually no longer exists in 2022 as a functioning system for our Medicare program — and they are also continued their distortion about Medicare overpayment of the plans by running an artificial cost number that functions only to deceive and not to inform and by using what is essentially a fake news number several times in the report.

Coding and Risk Adjustment

CMS has now officially canceled and retired the CMS Hierarchical Conditions Categories Risk Adjustment Model that has been used for almost two decades to calculate risk for plans. It is dead and completely gone for 2022 — and MedPac explained bitterly for more than 20 pages why it was a damaging approach and they somehow did not mention that it was now gone.

CMS has some very good thinking people who brilliantly took that whole set of coding linked issues off the table by making the system that was being potentially abused simply disappear.

MedPac wrote more than 20 pages in this year’s official report about MA complaining about that exact process and system and they didn’t mention that it was gone or explain why it was important to not have that data flow create the risk level information that we will now be using to get diagnostic information into the system.

The new approach for determining patient risk levels is fraud proof. There is no way to put wrong data into the information flow that they are now going to use to see and determine which patients are diabetic and which have heart disease or who has drug abuse issues for the risk discernment processes.

The impact on low income Medicare patients & union members

MedPac also had a major content deficit in their report and managed to leave the most important aspects of the work being done now by the plans to help offset some of the damage done to too many Americans who have been damaged by social determinants of health issues for far too long in their lives. MedPac also completely failed to report and discuss the important reality of the fact that we have now reached the point where two-thirds of our lowest income Medicare beneficiaries are all voluntarily in the MA plans.

They also left out of their report the fact that a significant number of union trust funds and a significant number of employer retirement programs that had made significant promises of retirement health care benefits to their retirees over the past decades are actually having those commitments kept, met, and even enhanced with the relatively new employer-sponsored MA plans that work directly with employer settings.

Five million people who might have had their retirement health care programs bankrupt, underfunded, or at serious risk have found a very strong safety net in the MA program — and MedPac does not think that development was important to understand and probably celebrate.

Anyone looking at the future politics and funding of the MA program will find both that overwhelming support for MA from our lowest income people and from our most well-connected employer retirement funds to be good and important to understand.

MedPac missed every bit of that agenda and set of accomplishments in this year’s report.

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