CBO Weighs in on Trumpcare 3.0

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

The non-partisan Congressional Office weighed in today on the impact of the Better Care Reconciliation of of 2017 as amended and rebranded as the ‘Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act’.

Their summary notes the coverage impact as follows:

  • The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 17 million in 2018, compared with the number under current law. That number would increase to 27 million in 2020, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of eligibility for Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces established by the ACA, and then to 32 million in 2026.
  • Average premiums in the non-group market (for individual policies purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers) would increase by roughly 25 percent—relative to projections under current law—in 2018. The increase would reach about 50 percent in 2020, and premiums would about double by 2026.

On the fiscal impact the graphic lays it out below:  For a complete CBO report, click here

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Senate GOP Health Reform Fail: Many Knew This Day Was Coming

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Unlike many in the conversation on social media including the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs such as ACO Watch, I have been active in the health reform exchange of ideas since registering my twitter handle @2healthguru in August of 2008. My participation has been of the ‘sweat equity’ variety vs. those who are compensated for their content, curation or advocacy.

Many of us in the healthcare space (both clinical and administrative) are addicted to the industry and find it difficult if not impossible to exit whether physically or emotionally. Some commit out of a sense of missiongiving back or being of service, while others for the economic upside this vast ecosystem (which I have labeled the healthcare borg resisting any attempt to materially restrain its appetite) affords to exploit low hanging fruit from a fragmented, inefficient and unwieldy financing and delivery system. Many have personally enriched themselves via the frequent churn of asset ownership (hospitals, nursing homes, imaging centers, ambulatory surgery centers, etc.) or via niche solutions with little to no sustainable value followed by quick exits and generous investor returns.

This timing of my entry into social media was co-incident with the deliberative process that ultimately rendered unto the American public what was merged as the Affordable Care Act (ACA),

In the early days of twitter those of us active in the community spoke of the ‘addictive’ nature of twitter engagement, some even referred to this virtual community as ‘the matrix’. Bonds were formed, some of which remain intact to this day.

The ‘Fictional’ Obamacare ‘Disaster’

This morning Donald J, Trump aka the POTUS weighed in on the failed efforts of Senate GOP leadership to advance the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 as amended by Senator Ted Cruz to the Senate floor. He said:

By the way Obamacare isn’t failing, it’s failed

That this man continues to minimally misrepresent and worse intentionally lie to the American public is beyond the capacity for many to comprehend. From the American Academy of Actuaries to the Non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and multiple authorities in the underwriting to delivery space including risk bearing provider organizations and integrated delivery systems the narrative is quite to the contrary.

And where there is evidence of market instability or ‘failure‘ there is explanation including serial GOP initiatives to undermine the Affordable Care Act specifically with respect to ‘qualified health plans‘ (QHPs) listed on State run or Federally Facilitated Marketplaces (FFM) aka ‘Exchanges.’

The ‘death spiral‘ or ‘disaster‘ narrative is principally vested in the following argument:

  • Major health plans and regional players who initially developed individual market product(s), i.e., benefit plans, and associated provider networks including premiums) for these exchanges are withdrawing participation from select markets.
  • Premiums for some QHPs have increased by 100% or more on select exchanges; and
  • In some states and select counties there are no participating health plans with QHPs offered

On the face of this narrative, yes it makes sense. This market instability is unacceptable. No one can celebrate a law who’s principal intent is to expand coverage can applaud the absence of health plan participation at the state or county level.

But let’s peel back the curtain and look at the reasons for this ‘instability‘ claim. From day one of the Obama Administration, the GOP agenda was to make him a ‘one term President‘.

On the ACA given it’s passage was a straight line party vote with no support from GOP even though the health reform consideration process was an open and lengthy affair, Senator McConnell et al’s agenda was to remain the ‘party of no‘ and criticize the very model of health reform they had not long ago proffered as a public/private solution,  See: ‘GOP ACA Myths‘ where I’ve posted links to credible voices and JD Kleinke’s classic: ‘Why There Is No Obamacare Replacement — In One Picture‘. 

The bottomline is any ‘fails’ or under performance of the ACA whether enrollment projections, premium sticker shock, exchange exits or regulatory burdens have been engineered by a relentless series of sabotage efforts from defunding risk corridors, to current (see: This Blame Game Driving Up Health Insurance Costs) threats to not fund the subsidies that make QHP listed plans ‘affordable‘. And let’s not forget the big SCOTUS decision on Medicaid expansion which gave Red State Governors the ‘option’ whether to expand coverage for their citizens.

Karma?

So the ‘who knew healthcare was so complex’ remark offered by POTUS earlier this year was pure BS. I buy his ignorance of health policy and the complexity inherent in a cottage industry with a $3+ trillion spend, but what about those GOP ‘health wonks’ engaged in this process – from the ‘Senate Quackers’ (my term), i.e., Tom Coburn and John Barrasso – both politicians playing the doc card during ACA markup in 2009, or even worse one half of the GOP ‘young guns’ now Speaker Ryan who’s a budget [and by declaration health] wonk. What’s their excuse for this ‘surprisingly epic fail’?

This is a HUGE squander of the public trust!  And contrary to POTUS assertions, the GOP now has complete ownership of the chaos they’ve stoked from the beginning to this gross mis-management of the legislative process. It’s laughable that GOP are trying to pin this one on the Democratic party.

My god, wake up GOP. You ‘own’ healthcare. Fix the ACA.

A Day in the Life of an ACO Chief Executive

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Transforming a $3.2+ trillion dollar economy where approximately 1 in 5 dollars of GDP finds its way into the healthcare financing and delivery ecosystem is no small challenge. Decades of variably branded health policy initiatives from HMOs and PPOs to their arguably derivative reincarnated ‘brethren’ ACOs all presented with the promise of taming what remains a rather rapacious appetite for ‘more‘ in a complex do more to earn more web of financial incentives.

The most recent addition to this effort was delivered via the Affordable Care Act courtesy of President Obama in March of 2010. Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s) are defined as follows:

ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who come together voluntarily to give coordinated high quality care to their Medicare patients.

The goal of coordinated care is to ensure that patients, especially the chronically ill, get the right care at the right time, while avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors.

When an ACO succeeds both in delivering high-quality care and spending health care dollars more wisely, it will share in the savings it achieves for the Medicare program.  –  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid

Meet Dr. Andre Berger

Andre Berger, MD is a busy man committed to move the needle towards the seemingly conflicting goals of the ‘tripe aim’ – better experience of care, with improved outcomes at lower per capita costs.

This multi-board certified physician has a lot on his plate – a busy cosmetic surgery and anti-aging medical practice as well as the chief executive officer of a primary care physician led and governed next generation accountable care organization (ACO) with a successful five year operating history.

I first learned of  Dr. Berger as a result of my interest following and reporting on Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) for ACO Watch. Dr. Berger was listed as the CEO of National ACO admitted to the first class of participating ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) as an advanced payment model. Then I noticed the office for National ACO was headquartered in Beverly Hills, California on the very street I called ‘home’ while serving as Director of Managed Care for American Medical International (now operating as Tenet Healthcare) California Region –  I thought to myself what a coincidence! I need to learn more about this enterprising physician and wondered why a surgeon specializing in a direct pay (non 3rd party reimbursed) specialty for often ‘non-covered’ services from a typical group or individual health benefit point of view, be leading such an effort?

This co-mingling of seemingly divergent interests convinced me there is a deeper story to uncover possibly with an important message for physicians, hospitals, and patients given the current instability of our volume driven healthcare delivery and financing model.

Fast forward some four years + later, and I’ve been invited to advise National ACO on their social media presence and to develop a portfolio of digital assets for a growing thought leadership library.

On recent trip from South Lake Tahoe to cover BIO 2017 the global annual go-to gathering of the best and brightest minds in the biotech sector in San Diego, I was invited in to ‘shadow’ Dr. Berger and get a feel for a typical day in his life at the helm of National ACO.

Tuesday 8:30 AM

While Dr. Berger is CEO of National ACO (NACO) a growing enterprise with lean staffing he maintains his clinical practice so balancing workflow is a challenge addressed by having dedicated NACO days, and in office or surgery patient days. Today was an NACO day.

Dr. Berger arrives at the office equipped with briefcase including his accessorized iPhone, MacAir, iPad. AppleWatch, associated peripherals and a series of file folders. What follows is a series back-to-back phone calls, tech-enabled virtual staff meetings and seemingly non-stop text messaging.

The first call is with the Medical Director of NACO’s PET (provider engagement team) and the subject is physician performance (both quality and financial) reviews.

Next up is executive staff meeting with a long list of action items finalizing a progress report due to CMS.

Key themes include overall and regional performance of  on annual wellness visits (AWV) and chronic care management (CCM) programs.

Given growth in NACO there’s considerable discussion on staffing needs, particularly acute is recruiting a Director of Care Management given a tight market and low supply of candidates, NACO may need to retain search firm. Finding qualified case managers and care management staffs sound equally challenging.

The ‘mobile physician’ waiver (allowing physician access to patient’s homes to provide transitions of care consults) is delegated to the chief medical officer, NACO plans to deploy in Q3. Will help with CM staffing and population management.

Provider Network Managers to inventory ‘at risk’ patients to put on care managers’ priority screening. Is vendor a reliable source? May need to vet further for accuracy and then prioritize.

Other agenda items included: contracting with nursing homes, hospice providers, reviewing stop loss policy, discussion of ESRD patient mix, and possibility of contracting with key nephrologist or nephrology group(s).

All with intent to ID ‘preferred providers’ and ultimately tag for population based payments.

9:30 AM GOTO Meeting Conference Call (to review performance results)

Reviewing IT vendor dashboard detailing physician performance by ACO, region, etc. Considerable discussion on the need to manually design custom reports and the duty of that burden falling on the physician or whomever is pulling the data have to input the requested parameters.

Further discussion topics include: evidencing completion events for quality metrics reporting, the status of hospital real time ‘ping system‘ alerting ACO physicians of admits, discharges or transfers. It was affirmed that efficacy of the notification program requires two pings: one to admitting physician, the second to NACO medical director.

Considerable discussion on vendor performance and opportunities for workflow improvement.

HR issues (mostly need for additional staff).

Dilution agreement (issues associated with NACO capital raise via PPM to participating physicians, medical groups or IPAs.

10:10 Management Meeting – Agenda

Routine conversation on travel policy and company preference to avoid ‘non refundable’ airline ticket purchases. Recommended leveraging tools available via concierge support services as often as practical.

Balance of meeting agenda deferred to NACO operations manager. On tap is IRR review of ’Project Plan Requirements’.

Define compliance reporting to NGACO Governing Body members. What does this include? In the minutes. All needs to line up with contracting obligations.

Definition of ‘beneficiary representative’ who is this? Definition of ‘Certified Participants’? Quest was submitted by NACO as ‘preferred provider’.

Same (COI) issue for ‘consumer advocate’.

Key issue is defining ‘joint venture’ (JV)? For purposes of disclosure requirements. Are lab vendor relationships a JV? What about PBMs?

Training and Education program need be developed. Need to source CMS requirements NGACOs.

Need project format with due dates and compliance checks.

Letter re: advantages of joining NACO. Details calculations and benefits of affiliation.

Need fine tune the ‘marketing materials’ for physician recruitment and any special considerations for appeal via IPAs.

Physician outreach need stay away from ‘guarantees’, but stipulate shared savings participation on an ongoing performance basis.

Next Generation ACO Deadlines and Calendar: Webinar schedule, voluntary alignment dates, provider risk stratification meeting, the need for executive breakout session to review tier assignment, engagement level and appropriate notice and cure periods. Deadline is 9/29 for removal from NACO panels. Report period 2017 or rolling 12 months.

Recent submission to CMS certified. Break out by physicians, TINs and preferred providers.

Population Based Payment: what’s plan, deadline and status?

PBP Agreements are just now being sent out to target physicians.

Follow-up planned one week post mailing.

Senior staff query: how are we engaging our medical directors to facilitate recruitment and participation PBP program? May need to develop video on PBP program directed to target physicians with outreach via NACO medical directors.

Chronic Care Management program update included number of care plans completed, outbound call volumes, number of patients in program, sorted by minutes to meet marks.

Care Manager recruitment status report.

Revenue pro-forma review, including ‘consent’ status and whether ‘on plan’ or not.

Group recruitment update: Signs two agreements to perfect NACO/Group relationships: TIN affiliation agreement, and group participation agreements.

Channel partner initiative. Vetting potential IPAs for outreach purposes.

When recruiting multiple docs, NACO assists with formation of ‘POD’. How defined? Filing required. Maybe role for regional PODs or eve ’super PODS’.

When they get participation letter, who do they call? No specific name listed. Now only directed to general phone number.

SNF Rollout. Primary scope is 3 day SNF waiver portion. Tracking referrals and performance needs improvement.

Remainder of agenda included: Referral tracking and management vendor options, telehealth update, AWV proposal plan given 27.8% completed 2017 v. 21% in 2016 performance and target at 70-80%.

ACOs that incentivize AWVs show shared savings. Need see ROI on internal vs. outsourced AWVs.

1:20 PM Meeting with Operations Manager for update

Status of group recruitments in California, Colorado and other regions.

Worked on letter on ’physician recruitment’ upsides of participation.

Review responses to RFP for IT vendor replacement.

Review of marketing and communication efforts including social media activities.

3:30 PM

Conference call with IT vendor RFP consultant, with status vendor submission ratings.

4;30 PM

Free flowing debrief with Dr. Berger on day’s wide ranging and non-stop series of activities. Included question of whether or not to re-do a previous broadcast of This Week in Accountable Care which experienced some audio quality issues due to the moderator originating the broadcast from BIO International Conventions media center.

5:30 PM

Calling it a day, Dr. Berger drops me off at my car.

Comment

It’s very clear to me that managing an institutionally ‘untethered’ and physician led ACO – while more agile, if you will – is none-the-less a complex and challenging affair. There are many moving parts and with multiple parties coming into and out of key management decisions – both virtually and ‘IRL” – with all the attendant people and systems’ challenges, keeping focused and moving the enterprise forward takes constant vigilance.

When you add the complexity of the volume-to-value transformational imperative into the successful operation and scaled growth into the enterprise agenda, you begin to get a picture of what Dr. Berger, his physician colleagues and administrative staff face on a daily basis.

When you add the advantages (and associated duty to leverage them in support of the elusive triple aim) afforded by CMS specific to Next Generation Models such as National ACO, that complexity takes on an additional duty of care to manifest the ambitious but worthwhile mission of transforming U.S. Healthcare from a volume driven system to one that materially embraces a value based and outcomes oriented future.

My hat is off to this ambitious physician enterprise!

 

 

 

What, What? ACOs Not ‘DOA’?

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

When the Affordable Care Act passed in March of 2010 and the law’s many moving parts analyzed by the ecosystem stakeholders including operators, health wonks and patient advocates many weighed in that ACOs were doomed to fail. They were just too ‘tepid’ to make a material contribution to the volume to value transformational journey. Complaints included little control over patients who ‘voted with their feet’ while ACOs bore the liability of their choices whether in upside only track vs. the downside of exposure of track two, flawed retrospective attribution methodologies and data dumps and reporting lags from CMS all handicapped the proactive management of ‘risk’ assumed by participating ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

Noted futurist Jeff Goldsmith captured the spirit in Pioneer ACOs: Anatomy Of A ‘Victory’ post in Health Affairs:

With over 17 million Medicare beneficiaries voluntarily choosing MA thus far, and enrollment growing at more than 10 percent annually despite three years of CMS payment reductions in real dollars, it is increasingly clear the future of managed Medicare lies in the MA program, not with directly contracted shared savings models.

Co-incident with the ramp up of the Medicare ACO cohort the private sector jumped on the bandwagon, operating with higher degrees of contractual terms and conditions freedom than promulgated by CMS to participating MSSP’s. Aetna, the Blues, United et al negotiated their version of ‘accountable care’ arrangements with participation IPAs, PHOs, IDNs, health systems, medical groups or physician networks.

Five years later, we have some important data recently reported by Health Affairs that suggests ACOs are far from the neutered enterprises many suggested and while mixed in terms of results reported ACOs have found their place in the managed competition ecosystem and are not likely to disappear any time soon.

The headline at Health Affairs is as follows: Growth Of ACOs And Alternative Payment Models In 2017.

As of the end of the first quarter of 2017, our inventory included 923 active public and private ACOs across the United States, covering more than 32 million lives (Figure 1). The increase of 2.2 million covered lives in the past year means that more than 10 percent of the U.S. population is now covered by an accountable care contract (Note 1).

As the ACO model matures, there is now some turnover, with organizations joining and leaving the model. Since the first quarter of 2016, 138 new ACOs began operation, and 46 ACOs dropped their accountable care contracts, representing a net increase of 92 organizations becoming ACOs, or an 11 percent growth.

From the nominal ACO count basis to the number of lives associated with the aggregate arrangements, this is an impressive tally for such an allegedly ‘anemic‘ model!

Now enter the Next Generation ACO Model. For details, see: Next Generation ACOs: A Deep Dive Series and Meet the Next Generation ACO Cohort.

 

 

 

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Meet the Next Generation ACO Cohort

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

As announced in ‘Next Generation ACOs: A Deep Dive Serieswe’re launching a multimedia (blog, internet radio, social media and community tweetchats) programming schedule that will focus on the accountable care industry with specific deep dives into select participants in the cohort admitted by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Next Generation ACO Model

Written versions of those interviews will post on ACO Watch, with audio versions featured on This Week in Accountable Care’ on the BlogTalk Radio and Affiliate Networks.

If you are interested in the Next Generation ACO Model, see: The Next Generation ACO: Accelerating the Transformation from Volume to Value and the CMS Webinar: Next Generation ACO Model – Overview and LOI Information with key webinar dates and application deadlines.

For those interested in learning more about the rather ‘eclectic’ (academic, physician led, hospital system sponsored and venture backed) class of 44 ACOs in the NextGen Cohort, I’ve listed them below: 

We intend to host monthly moderated ‘tweetchats’ to engage the community of stakeholders via #ACOchat and welcome your input on the preference of the participating ACOs you’d like us to profile.

Please post in the comments section.

Cheers!

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*Editor’s Note: This post including This Week in Accountable Care broadcasts, periodic tweetchats via #ACOchat and blog posts in this series) are sponsored by National ACO, a Next Generation ACO. For more information on National ACO, click here.

Next Generation ACOs: A Deep Dive Series

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH*

Since ACOs arrived in 2012 courtesy of the Section 3022: Medicare shared savings program, under Title III, Subtitle A, Part 3 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the ‘new, new thing’ layered into a complex healthcare ecosystem peppered with more or less successful public/private efforts to restrain healthcare inflation, promote greater patient/member access, provide seamless coordinated care at lower per capita costs with better documented quality (the triple aim), ACOs have booked modest, variable but increasingly scalable impact via sponsored hosts from institutional health systems to physician driven enterprises.

A Brief Timeline

                                The evolution of manage care initiatives

In 1973 President Richard Nixon signed into law the ‘HMO Act‘ officially launching ‘managed care‘ principally via closed ‘staff‘ and ‘group‘ model HMOs catering to niche (vs. ‘mainstream’) segments of key industry stakeholders, i.e., members (patients), employers, participating physicians and hospitals.

In the early to mid 80’s we witnessed the accelerated migration from narrow market penetration to mainstream medicine validation of the HMO model via the emergence of network models typically enabled by then emerging ‘Independent Practice Associations’ (IPAs).

Most IPAs emerged as a loose confederation of participating physicians as many physicians engaged out of a sense of curiosity or defensive hedging to not lose patients. First generation IPA’s featured at best tepid economic bonds, thus alignment of member physicians with the entity ‘leadership‘ (i.e., the Management Services Organization) goals were often ‘incidental considerations’ to many participating physicians. There just wasn’t enough ‘skin in the game‘ or economic integration, i.e., losing a withhold against a fee-for-service schedule just didn’t make that much of a difference from a total compensation point of view.

In the mid 80s principally in California Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) emerged and launched the era of discounted fee-for-services contracting for hospital, physician and ancillary services. PPOs were an HMO-lite version as members/beneficiaries voted with their feet within the network based on ‘in network’ benefit plan incentives vs. the closed loop (gatekeeper) HMO model.

In the 90s as mainstream initiatives continued to evolve and mature we witnessed the emergence of Physician/Hospital Organizations (PHOs) more often than not a joint venture between a host hospital (or parent health system) and a member physician organization (typically one or more IPAs or multi-specialty medical groups). PHOs were contracting vehicles and typically supported by an affiliate or owned MSO. Few PHOs entered into full risk arrangements with payors.

For prior comment and context on the evolving market, check out ‘Hey, Remember IPAs, PPOs and TPAs?’

Enter the ACO

While an ‘alphabet soup‘ of healthcare cost containment and quality improvement acronyms enshrined themselves into US healthcare delivery and financing lexicon (HMO, IPA, PPO, PHO, MSO, EPO, DPA, OWAs [other weird arrangements]), healthcare consumption of GDP continued it’s relentless upward growth – though somewhat moderated post passage of ACA.

In 2012 27 ACOs officially launched under the terms and provisions of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) via a cohort sourced from 18 states serving an estimated 375,000 beneficiaries. Approximately half of the participating ACOs were physician-led, per the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) – the administering agency.

Amidst ‘mixed results‘ considerable provider input to CMMI via open door forums and NPRM comments the ensuing years witnessed many tweaks to the rules associated with both the MSSP and Pioneer programs. In January of 2015 then Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell set goals for migration of payments from volume to valued based arrangements, see: ‘HHS Sets Specific Targets and Timelines for Alternative Payment Models and Value-Based Payment‘:

By the end of 2016, HHS plans to make 30 percent of FFS payments through APMs, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and bundled payments, and tie 85 percent of all FFS payments to quality or value. By the end of 2018, HHS intends to pay 50 percent of FFS payments through APMs, and tie 90 percent of FFS payments to quality or value. 

This represents the first time in my 30+ years in healthcare delivery and financing innovation space that the Federal government has explicitly benchmarked industry migration away from its prevailing fee for services DNA.

While many pronounced ACOs as ‘DOA’ (dead on arrival) for many reasons, truth be told they’ve found their way into the managed competition ecosystem and are not going away anytime soon. In fact as is the case with most innovation, the ACO formula has been tweaked both in terms of its Government DNA (MSSP, Pioneer models, etc), and it’s private pay or commercial derivatives.

Meet the ‘Next Generation ACO Model’

The de facto amalgam of much of the lessons learned and serial tweaks imposed since the first class of ACOs launched in 2012 can be found in the Next Generation ACO Model, see: ‘The Next Generation ACO: Accelerating the Transformation from Volume to Value‘.

Per CMS, the model is defined as:

The Next Generation ACO Model is an initiative for ACOs that are experienced in coordinating care for populations of patients. It will allow these provider groups to assume higher levels of financial risk and reward than are available under the current Pioneer Model and Shared Savings Program (MSSP). The goal of the Model is to test whether strong financial incentives for ACOs, coupled with tools to support better patient engagement and care management, can improve health outcomes and lower expenditures for Original Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries.

Included in the Next Generation ACO Model are strong patient protections to ensure that patients have access to and receive high-quality care. Like other Medicare ACO initiatives, this Model will be evaluated on its ability to deliver better care for individuals, better health for populations, and lower growth in expenditures. This is in accordance with the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Better, Smarter, Healthier” approach to improving our nation’s health care and setting clear, measurable goals and a timeline to move the Medicare program — and the health care system at large — toward paying providers based on the quality rather than the quantity of care they provide to patients. In addition, CMS will publicly report the performance of the Next Generation Pioneer ACOs on quality metrics, including patient experience ratings, on its website.

A thorough application vetting process by CMS will assure participating ACOs admitted to the ‘NextGen’ cohort will present with the track record and capabilities to assume and manage the risk inherent in the model. Rather than bolt a new model on a legacy fee-for-services platform, CMS is fueling the necessary innovation to achieve the triple aim via a network of risk savvy ACOs.

Next Generations ACOs will deploy three (3) powerful ‘benefit enhancement‘ tools as they re-engineer clinical workflows and the prudent utilization of acute and sub-acute healthcare resources. This includes:

Featuring the ‘NextGen’ ACO Cohort

First up as we cycle through and profile best in class Next Generation ACOs is National ACO, led by industry pioneers and co-founders Andre Berger, MD, CEO and Alex Foxman, MD, FACP, President and Chief Medical Officer who serve as co-hosts of this series.

The series launches May 23, 2017 from 5PM – 5:30 PM Pacific/8PM – 8:30 PM Eastern. You can listen both live or on demand via This Week in Accountable Care.

We’ll discuss the model, their backgrounds and history in managed care and why they were drawn to form National ACO. We’ll close with comments from Alex Fair, CEO of the equity crowd funding platform Medstartr who will detail the recent listing of National ACO.

Join us!

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*Editor’s Note: This post including This Week in Accountable Care broadcasts, periodic tweetchats via #ACOchat and blog posts in this series) are sponsored by National ACO, a Next Generation ACO. For more information on National ACO, click here.

 

The Next Generation ACO: Accelerating the Transformation from Volume to Value

In January 2015, then Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Sylvia Burwell outlined ‘Federal policy‘ and for the first time put a measurable stake in the ground to scale the pivot from fee-for-service to value based healthcare with concrete milestones and an associated timeline. The policy outlined seemingly scalable goals via linking 30% of traditional fee-for-service Medicare payments to quality or value through ‘alternative payment models‘ (APMs) including Patient Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs), ACOs or ‘bundled payment arrangements‘ (BPHCI) year end 2016, scaled up to 50% of payments year end 2018. For details see: ‘HHS Sets Specific Targets and Timelines for Alternative Payment Models and Value-Based Payment‘.

Now fast forward to 2017. First introduced in 2016 we’re approaching the start date of a ‘new and improved‘ ACO tagged the ‘next generation ACO model‘ now embracing an ‘all in population based payment‘ (AIPBP) option that ZERO’s out fee-for-service payments.

Between ACO operating results, significant provider community feedback via several Notice of Proposed Regulations‘ (NPRMs) and what some may say is simple commonsense, this latest iteration of the Next Generation ACO model is looking more and more like their predecessor risk bearing operators in the 80s and 90s.

As CMS notes:

Building upon experience from the Pioneer ACO Model and the Medicare Shared Savings Program (Shared Savings Program), the Next Generation ACO Model offers a new opportunity in accountable care—one that sets predictable financial targets, enables providers and beneficiaries greater opportunities to coordinate care, and aims to attain the highest quality standards of care.

The Next Generation ACO Model is an initiative for ACOs that are experienced in coordinating care for populations of patients. It will allow these provider groups to assume higher levels of financial risk and reward than are available under the current Pioneer Model and Shared Savings Program (MSSP). The goal of the Model is to test whether strong financial incentives for ACOs, coupled with tools to support better patient engagement and care management, can improve health outcomes and lower expenditures for Original Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries.

The Bottom Line

We (i.e., ACO industry operators, associated management companies’ including venture financiers, CMS and supplier stakeholders) are tweaking the ACO formula via a range of models that materially engage the provider AND payor communities as co-creators of a sustainable healthcare ecosystem embracing value and outcomes as the ‘dependent variable’.

With the uncertainty surrounding the future of the ACA and it’s likely ‘Trumpcare’ or ‘RyanCare’ replacement options, some argue ACOs are in an unspoken ‘safe harbor’ of sorts. Yet, much detail remains to be added before that picture is functionally revealed. Here at ACO Watch we’re proceeding on the assumption that ACOs or the accountable care industry collectively, are not likely to disappear anytime soon. So we’re posting some resources below:

For a deep dive into the AIPBP option CMS is hosting an Open Door Forum: Next Generation ACO Model – Overview of Population-Based Payments on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 from 4:00PM – 5:00 P.M. EDT.

For those pondering their 2018 ACO participation options, CMS‘s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) issued an RFA (request for applications) and activated the application portal here.  

Finally to complete the picture CMS is hosting a series of open forums to provide an overview into the Next Generation ACO model offering information on the required letter of intent and on-boarding process in general on these dates as follows:

  • March 14 from 4 – 5 pm ET — Application Overview and Participating Provider Lists
  • March 28 from 3 – 4 pm ET — Benefit Enhancements Overview
  • April 11 from 4 – 5 pm ET — Overview of Population-Based Payments & All-Inclusive Population-Based Payments;and
  • April 15 — Deep Dive: Completing Your Next Generation ACO Model Participant List

For the complete list of available CMS ACO resources, click here.

And finally for those who desire an overview of the ACO theater, check out the dated but informative: ‘Accountable Care Organization (ACO) 101: A Brief Course by Neil Kirschner, Ph.D. Director, Regulatory and Insurer Affairs, American College of Physicians (ACP).

 

 

 

Webinar: Next Generation ACO Model – Overview and LOI Information

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Webinar: Next Generation ACO Model - Overview and LOI Information Select link to open options forShare
Click to register!

Today marks the end to the eight year reign of President Barack Obama and the birth of the Trump Administration tenure.  Yet, so much in the health policy and reform domain remains unclear and on the come.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in March of 2010 the implementation of the delivery system side of the reform to restrain if not reduce healthcare spending has been vested primarily in a range of variably sophisticated ACOs and other participants in a tapestry of value based healthcare arrangements from bundled payments to patient centered medical homes and even the more risk savvy cohort of Medicare Advantage operators.

What is clear is change is on the horizon; yet just what the nature of that change will look like will probably reveal itself over the next several months and perhaps even years. For our discussion of what appears to be the emerging indicia of a ‘TrumpCare‘ chassis, Health Innovation Media principals share insights via: ‘On @PopHealthWeek: #Trumpcare What We Know @fsgoldstein @efuturist @2healthguru‘ and ‘A #TrumpCare Roundtable with @efuturist, @fsgoldstein and @2healthguru‘.

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-1-52-24-pmClearly the era of ‘accountable care‘ and the provider organizations designed to explore and implement their local market vision of an entity that delivers accountability is not likely to come to an end as President Trump occupies the White House. In fact, though I have been deeply skeptical of the rather hollow ‘repeal and replace‘ mantra absent a material Republican replacement option, I am somewhat encouraged by the tempered optimism proffered by Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., Former Chief Health Policy Advisor to the Obama Administration, to an informed audience at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco earlier this month.

Meanwhile, I doubt the Trump Administration and his HHS and CMS appointees (Rep Tom Price and Seema Verma, respectively) once confirmed will advocate for an era of ‘unaccountable care‘ with a return to unbridled to fee-for-services medicine. Thus, I bank on the continued evolution and deployment of ACOs as progressive risk bearing entities and continuing clinical integration plays. However, we shall see!

We do indeed live in interesting times!

 

 

 

The Quality Payment Program

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

In our healthcare innovation economy from the private sector to material modifications of public programs including Medicare and Medicaid there is a massive effort to identify and enable sustainable delivery and financing schema to stem the treasury bleeding and inch however incrementally towards ‘universal coverage’.CMS QPP 2

Ideological talking points opposing ‘Obamacare‘ aka the Affordable Care Act (ACA) notwithstanding, there are tangible efforts to move the needle in play while the uncertainty of a successor to the ACA remains largely ‘on the come’.

Continuing on this post ACA momentum, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid recently weighed in on the ‘Quality Payment Program‘. Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt provides introductory remarks and is followed by his CMS colleagues who provide deeper dives into the QPPs two track choices: the Merit Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APM).

To listen to the complete call we’re rebroadcasting it on ‘This Week in Health Innovation.‘ It is archived for on demand replay.

The associated deck is here, and the session transcript is here.

Original link to CMS QPP is here.

 

 

On the ‘N of 1’ As a Standard for ‘Accountable Care’

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

When I penned the post, ‘CTE on the Accountable Care Agenda? Junior Seau it’s latest victim?‘ in 2012 my intention was to draw a circle around seemingly unrelated events now finding increasing conversational gravity in the emerging ‘population health‘ zeitgeist where social determinants of health are valued as strategic grist for the mill of health systems and especially their ‘integrated‘ bretheren’s leadership.

It was also my hope that the commentary might generate some sober conversation in the healthcare social media, healthtech and healthIT social media communities. Much to my dismay, there was none.

The causes of this silo-ed, episodic, ‘we’re not concerned with life or health related events that occur beyond the walls of our cathedrals of medicine‘ sick care focus are well known and documented. Though mitigated somewhat by select provisions in the Affordable Care Act with emphasis on transitions of care, avoidance of 30 day re-admissions and continuum of care coordination particularly in the long term, post acute care (LTPAC) space, it’s mostly ‘modified” business as usual in U.S. Healthcare operations.

Oft referred to as the ‘burning [fee for services] platform‘ now clearly in the crosshairs of regulators, health industry leadership, payors, employers and even patients as the source of the problem, everyone is now focused on ‘value based healthcare‘ as the ecosystem’s likely successor footprint.

Yet, we do have a long way to go.

Case in Point

As someone who’s been in the belly of the beast of the ‘healthcare borg’ dating back to the mid 70s, I have witnessed and been to more or less degrees both a strategist (‘disruptor’) and implementation principal to successor waves of ‘innovation’ – ALL intended to tame the rapacious appetite of our ‘do more to earn more‘ healthcare financing and delivery ecosystem.

Decades later the bottomline is we’ve failed, writ large and collectively as an industry. The healthcare spend run rate as a percentage of GDP (then 8%) is now approaching 18-20%., where one out of every five dollars spent in the U.S. finds its way into the coffers of the silo-ed sick-care system we’ve collectively co-created. And while the change or re-engineering imperative was then limited and contained behind mostly closed door board rooms of health systems, health plans and large self funded employers or multiple employer trusts, today that ‘conversation’ is top of mind for our nation. Then, only corporation’s and government’s financial stability were ‘at risk’, today it’s entire nation states at peril.

So clearly something must be done. It must be bold (all inclusive), truly innovative and impactful. No mere tweaks at the margin will do and this may be the last hurrah for a public/private partnership to succeed before the Government has to intervene and solve the problem from the ‘top down’.

Enter the Triple Aim, Value Based Healthcare and the Population Health Mandate

There is non-stop discussion at meetings, conferences, webinars and expositions on the subject of a structural and scaleable pivot of ‘U.S. Healthcare Inc.’, from it’s Fee For Services (FFS) roots and incentives to a successor, sustainable version. Perhaps best framed by Don Berwick and the Institute Healthcare Improvement (IHI) as the ‘triple aim’, the charge to healthcare industry leadership is for a better experience of care, with better outcomes at lower per capita costs.

This ambitious tasking rightly shifts the focus of health system leadership from that which is customarily provided within the walls of the acute – and now subacute – delivery system operating units, to the ‘upstream‘ arguably ‘roots’ of the social determinants of health as discerned by proactive risk stratification coupled with outreach to defined populations.

Technology As Enabler?

Concurrent with the pre-occupation on value based healthcare and emerging focus on population health management, we’ve been discussing and evidencing the value of ‘mhealth’ or ‘digital health‘ apps, platforms and technologies to nest inside current clinical workflows (and beyond?) and fuel delivery of the triple aim. Yet, closing in on a decade later (the iPhone launched in 2007) there is sparse and limited evidence of the salutary benefit of digital health apps to make a dent in the aggregate quality, cost and access challenges we face as an industry.

Whether we’re in collective denial, have all drunk the ‘kool-aid’ thinking this time will be different or simply point to some evidence based believe or faith that technology can serve the greater good of the triple aim’s goals, the expectations and stakes are high – very high in fact. Much talk about contributions from AI, Big Data, Gamification, VR, the Internet of Things and even the Internet of Medical Things, all get woven into often lofty forward looking tech-speak and even policy solutions of how we’re going to make this happen. Yet is this warranted?

A Long Way to Go

A recent experience of mine suggests much work remains ahead. As indicated in the Junior Seau (RIP) post there is a grand canyon divide between the ad copy and rhetoric of population health initiatives and current healthcare operations and financing.

In November I moved to South Lake Tahoe for the ski season. I am 65, in general good health and reasonably active (I surf in San Diego) and recently qualified for Medicare and chose to enroll (i.e., assign my benefits) to a private sector alternative operating under Part C as the ‘Medicare Advantage’ (NOTE: which is a misnomer, since it isn’t Medicare but rather a private and in some markets ‘enhanced version’ when when the health plan is profitable) program organized by Kaiser Permanente in San Diego California. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is a trophy IDS (integrated delivery system) and is often and rightfully acknowledged as ‘best in class‘ in their approach to the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare services. I agree, and thus elected to enroll via their ‘Senior Health Plan‘.

KP has made enormous investments in HealthIT having adapted EPIC to serve their regions’ individual operating units. KP has also embraced technology and innovation via their Garfield Innovation Center and present with a well staffed and focused social media enterprise that seems linked to its member services group.

The Event

On Friday, I headed up to the summit at Heavenly Mountain with my girlfriend Lori. Upon exiting the Gondola and traversing up to the Ski lift to the Summit I started to feel light headed, stopped, looked up and collapsed backwards. According to Lori:

‘your eyes rolled up, your face went pale and you looked expressionless. I was alarmed.’

None-the-less, determined to get to the top for the first run of the season I elected to proceed and we entered the lift to the Summit. On the way up, we had cross winds gusting between 20-30 MPH. The temperature hovered in the low 20s to teens and the air was thin and dry.

I was wearing a ski dickey and found it difficult to speak and breath. Clearly this was not normal. Yet, we exited (9500 foot elevation) and began our decent down to Tamarack Lodge. Midway through the run I stopped, began to feel light headed and very dizzy. Gasping for air, I leaned onto my poles and then everything went dark. I collapsed again.

Lori took charge, summoned the ski patrol via a passing skier. Ski Patrol arrived, placed me on oxygen, suggested I was experiencing altitude sickness and STRONGLY recommended immediate descent to the Heavenly Center for hydration and rest (65oo foot elevation).

The Social Stream – More than What I Had for Lunch

Once the fog lifted and I began to feel better, I decided to tweet my experience in the public square and tag my health plan (KP San Diego, the Heavenly Ski Center and my Twitter ‘friends’) to alert them about my experience. For both my twitter colleagues and the Heavenly Center it was an FYI with a Ski Patrol shout out to Nathan (the EMT).

For KP San Diego it was a ‘heads-up’ as in hey, this happened to me today and ‘I think you should know.’ Now I know KP has a patient portal via MyChart and one I’ve been in and out of a few times, in addition to a ‘go to the emergency department‘ when in need advisory. Yet, we’re in the age of population health, risk assessment, prevention and ‘patient generated health data’ (PGHD) including massive investments in ‘listening’ technology for the rich streams of content posted to social networks.

Now add the fact that healthcare is a litigious and thus risk averse environment. Therefore sitting on the sidelines and at best ‘listening’ is probably less risky than realtime or ‘asynchronous’ attempts to ‘intervene’. I’m sure a bevy of corporate lawyers counsel against ill advised engagement outside the normal ‘theater of operations’. Yet, I am old enough to remember when the Darling and Nork cases began to peck away at the immunity from liability traditionally argued by many hospital administrators that ‘we’re just the doctor’s workshop’ and have no control (and by extension no liability) for their actions. Yup, that once was the standard of practice a few decades ago.

The Messaging

Here are the series of tweets posted related to this narrative.

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The Health Plan’s Response

Several days later… and in ‘async’ fashion KP weighed in via Direct Message on Twitter. I previously tweeted about my inability to reschedule a colonoscopy from a San Diego location to the Sacramento area since I am in South Lake Tahoe for the ski season. I learned that I could NOT opt for a local option as the health plan didn’t operate that way [paraphrased]. The tweets below pertain specifically to the incident on the mountain.

9:19am
@KPMemberService
Hi, Gregg. I noticed your recent tweets and wanted to follow back up with you. If you’ve already sent your email, we have not received it. Can you please resend it? Thank you! ^Jamison

9:49am
Gregg Masters MPH @2healthguru

No point in sending log to you. After DM, spoke to my PCP. She advised I can not schedule colonoscopy in NorCal (Sacramento) w/o changing PCPs. Suggested we delay until I return to Oceanside in April. Really bad form for KP. If true, you are NOT an IDN, but a federation of providers under a common marketing banner with discrete regional accounting, but worse clinical operations. I am VERY disappointed, since I am and have been a fan of KP. I am 65. I’ve been self employed since 2000, and un-insured by choice since. My health plan is my health. If KP is committed to my health, then a simple risk profile of these facts would expedite the colonoscopy as a preventive tool. I shouldn’t have to point this out to my health plan. Then add my fainting on mountain at Heavenly (9500 foot elevation) with minimally hypoxia if not cerebral edema, AND ZERO recognition or comment from @KPsandiego who I tagged [in tweet]. I mean seriously, with the investment made in tech, how can you not leverage proactively on behalf of your members? I am shocked. If this is M-F brand listening tool only and not deployed as adjunctive to KPs clinical risk management surveillance program, you are clearly missing the boat of the PGHD wave that is sweeping the ecosystem under the banner of ‘digital health’ tools. Again, I am a KP fan and believe you need be held to a higher standard given all the accolades received via others in the industry. Please pass this concern in its entirety to both Robert Pearl and Bernard Tyson who I personally hold responsible for these systemic (x2) ‘fails’. I am blogging about this experience (including this response) as a N of 1 example of ‘accountable care’ in the new age of population health contextualized via social [i.e, lifestyles of] determinants of health plan members (including their known risk profiles). Thanks for asking. My concerns go considerably beyond the usual scope of member services, and I do hope you pass on my comments in their entirety to senior leadership. My blog comments will be posted to @ACOwatch as my N of 1 version of ‘accountable care’ to this post: acowatch.me/2012/05/02/cte… Thanks Gregg

@KPMemberService
Thank you for your detailed reply, Gregg. I will definitely make sure to pass along your experience and concerns to our senior management staff. ^Jamison

Much To Do About Nothing or Reflexive Provider vs. Patient Centric Response?

One can argue,  hey dude work within the system, i.e., call/alert KP via member services, enter a note to your PCP in the MyChart portal or head to an Urgent/Emergent Care Center – quit whining.

Yet, am I wrong to think that in an era of ubiquitous, real time and ‘asynchronous’ tech stacks afforded by major social networks where participants are ‘tagged’ as in a ‘headsUP’ fashion, need be viewed solely as a forum for posted images of cats or what’s on the menu today?

When and where do we walk the talk of the upside of digital health tools, the value of patient generated data and the big data and massive analytics engines that routinely data-mine these streams for population health insights and actionable ‘intelligence’?

So maybe this is just too much to expect even from best in class performers – the likes of KP. Maybe the residual ‘resistance ifs futile’ legacy inertia is just too powerful to overcome systemically and we’ll just have to be happy with at best tweaks at the margins.

I for one think we need to up the ante and hold both the providers and financiers accountable to this dysfunctional ecosystem we’re so often powerless to influence or change.

I am committed to make a difference. Where are  you?