Posted in Accountable Care, health innovation challenges, HealthIT, population health

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?

 

 

 

Posted in Accountable Care, ACO, Affordable Care Act

The NextGen ACO: Another Round Opens

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has announced the results of its ‘continuous learning‘ commitment model wherein ‘field reports‘ including provider comments and open door inputs are materially incorporated into tweaks of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) as risk is progressively adopted by participating ACOs. This ‘new round’ iteration no doubt includes ‘lessons learned‘ from the Pioneer ACO Program including the many ‘exits’ and risk downgrades opted to date.

In summary, this round is:

‘..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.’

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For complete information, see: ‘Next Generation ACO Model | Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation‘.

 

 

Posted in Accountable Care, ACO, Affordable Care Act, TrumpCare

TrumpCare: As the Puzzle Emerges…

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

As the Trump administration takes form via the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to ‘steward’ (or decimate) the massive bureaucracy of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with Seema Verma nominated as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administration (CMS) the structural touch-points to manifest the ‘repeal and replace‘ agenda of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be materializing before our eyes.

medscape_physician_survey2016Dr. Tom Price a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon (Editor’s note: the highest paid specialty per Medpage 2016 physician compensation survey and according the the Georgia Combined Board of Medical Examiners a ‘non participant’ in Georgia’s Medicaid program, with zero reported hospital appointments, publications or settled professional liability claims) and a vocal opponent of the ACA with several bills sponsored to enable ACA’s repeal and replacement is no friend of Medicare, Medicaid nor the broader ecosystem enabling the fulfillment obligations of the U.S. healthcare ‘[non]system‘.

Much of this likely health policy directional pivot can be reasonably visioned though the lens of what’s emerging as indicia of ‘TrumpCare‘ – the probable repeal and replacement option for ‘ObamaCare‘ aka the ACA.

In order to drill into what we can expect from President-elect Trump and the leadership team he’s proposed to assemble in order to drive his presumptive health reform vision we need focus on Rep. Tom Price’s historical positions and statements as potential replacement options.

The umbrella policy framework for for what may emerge as ‘Trumpcare’ begins at ‘Great Again‘ the .gov website dedicated to the President-elect’s agenda, and informed viaA Better Way (aka RyanCare) the Republican version to substitute ‘Government controlled‘ healthcare with so-called ‘free market‘ alternatives.

[Editor’s Note: At the bottom of this post we list a series of recent links associated with relevant health reform conversations].

Perhaps the most useful insights as to what is likely to survive the political consideration process is sourced from the collection of Republican authored repeal and replace proposals sourced from the historical work of Representative Tom Price.

At a June symposium organized by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Rep. Price, who serves as Chair of the House Budget Committee previewed his vision of healthcare reform with the following summary statements:

‘the ACA violates all of the principles that all of us hold dear…. accessible, affordable, a system of the highest quality and a system that provides choices for the American people – for patients.’

‘What we have put together is a patient centered plan that respects those principles. That allows everybody to have access to the coverage that they want not what the government forces them to buy.’

‘To solve the insurance challenges of portability and pre-existing and to save hundreds of billions of dollars.’

‘A few specific examples I’d like to share with you…

‘the individual and small group market – those of you who recognize or are in that area [Editor’s Note: code-speak for special interest groups including brokers, agents, MGAs and underwriters] you appreciate that its been ‘destroyed’ [Editor’s Note via essential health benefits, no preexisting conditions, mandatory MLR ceilings, removal of lifetime caps and the individual mandate] and so we want to re-constitute that market and make it responsive to patients and allow them to purchase the kind of coverage that they want [Editor’s Note: via a return to ‘junk insurance’ and ‘mini-med’ policies] not what the government forces them to buy [Editor’s Note: on the exchanges or via ACA sanctioned group health policies].’

‘Second we waste hundreds of billions of dollars [Editor’s note: estimated at a $55.6 Billion Price Tag Large, But Not a Key Driver of Total Health Care Spending] …due to lawsuit abuse in this country, the practice of defensive medicine and instead of just putting a band-aid on it, we propose a bold and robust solution that would allow physicians through practice guidelines [Editor’s note: Evidence Based Medicine, or so-called “cookbook medicine” by the AMA] to basically have a “safe harbor” [Editor’s note legal CYA] if your doctor does the right thing for a given diagnosis or given set of symptoms then they ought to be able to use that as an affirmative defense in a court of law – that’s the kind of proposal that we put forward.’

‘And third in addition the healthcare system that works for patients is one the must respect the physician patient relationship [Editor’s note: typically third party disintermediated practice, i.e. direct practice, concierge medicine, retainer or membership models] and so what we do is incentivize the highest quality of care without bureaucratic intervention. This better way, this plan right here that puts forward positive commonsense solutions for Medicare, Medicaid and for the larger healthcare arena so that we respect the principles of accessibility, of affordability of quality and of choices…’

There is so much fluff here we decided to do a deep dive on ‘PopHealth Week‘ with healthcare thought leaders and former health system and JV enterprise operators Fred Goldstein, Douglas Goldstein and Gregg Masters. We weighed in on some of the provisions of Representative Price’s tantalizing offers to the American people to deliver a viable alternative to the ACA that:

‘allows everybody to have access to the coverage that they want not what the government forces them to buy;

solves the insurance challenges of portability and pre-existing; and

saves hundreds of billions of dollars.’

You be the judge! Or as some may be recently awakening to: ‘Republicans suddenly discover that Obamacare repeal might not be so awesome, after all‘ or ‘Senate GOP Tips Its Hand: An Obamacare Replacement Could Be A Long Way Off‘.

If like me you are interested in how this unfolds I encourage you to follow the conversation on twitter via #PriceWatch and #TrumpCare hashtags.

More will no doubt be revealed! Some earlier context here and here.

Let’s drain the swamp, after all we now what works!

==##==

Trumpcare Resources c/o Fred Goldstein:

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/healthcare-reform

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-will-trump-do-about-obamacare/

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/obamacare-defenders-vow-total-war-231164

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr3762/summary

http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2016/11/09/day-one-and-beyond-what-trumps-election-means-for-the-aca/

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2016/nov/challenges-for-president-elect-trump-and-congress?omnicid=EALERT1125198&mid=fgoldstein@accountablehealthllc.com

https://www.greatagain.gov/policy/healthcare.html

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/10/23/1584745/-Paul-Ryan-has-three-great-ideas-to-improve-Obamacare

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/our-bodies-our-trump/507131/

https://www.greatagain.gov/policy/healthcare.html

http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/blog/2016/nov/challenges-for-president-elect-trump-and-congress?omnicid=EALERT1125198&mid=fgoldstein@accountablehealthllc.com

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/10/23/1584745/-Paul-Ryan-has-three-great-ideas-to-improve-Obamacare

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/12/donald-trump-is-beginning-to-face-a-rude-awakening-over-obamacare/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442120/obamacare-repeal-republicans-should-ensure-health-care-reform-bipartisan

http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2016/11/10/5-questions-about-affordable-care-act-coverage-after-donald-trumps-election/

http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/News/2016/11/13/What-would-health-care-look-like-under-Trump.html?ci=stream&lp=1&p=1

http://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trump-willing-to-keep-parts-of-health-law-1478895339

http://www.healthcaredive.com/news/speculations-swirl-around-trump-hhs-leadership-pick/430301/

https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/medical-science-policy-in-the-u-s-under-donald-trump/

http://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2016/11/13/dear-mr-president-elect-about-that-ryan-plan-thing/

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20161111/NEWS/161119989?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20161111-NEWS-161119989&utm_campaign=mh-alert

http://www.hhnmag.com/articles/7843-health-reform-and-the-trump-white-house-implications-for-key-stakeholders?utm_campaign=111516&utm_medium=email&utm_source=hhndaily&eid=254508792&bid=1588113#.WCsKPQk6jpM.twitter

http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/politico-pulse/2016/11/obama-dares-gop-on-obamacare-do-it-better-than-me-217419

http://www.vox.com/2016/11/17/13626438/obamacare-replacement-plans-comparison

http://www.wnd.com/2016/11/7-keys-to-effective-health-care-overhaul/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442529/obamacare-donald-trump-repeal-replace-tax-cuts

 

Posted in Accountable Care, Affordable Care Act, health reform

TrumpCare: What We ‘Know’?

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

You’ve no doubt heard the expression: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words‘.

Well courtesy of Oliver Wyman Health we have an infographic that segments key provisions of ‘TrumpCare’s‘ impact on providers. For original graphic, click here, and timely commentary, see:Special Election Coverage: What Now? The Impact of a Trump Presidency‘ via Partner Sam Glick.
TrumpCare Impact on providers

Oliver Wyman breaks down the identifiable components of TrumpCare’s impact on providers as follows:

TrumpCare screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-06-48-am screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-07-00-am

 

So much ‘meat’ remains to be put on the bone. Assuming anything whether ‘substantiated’ by previous campaign rhetoric or more recent ‘indicia‘ of what will emerge post ‘repeal and replace‘ or now ‘amend’ intentions relative to the ACA (see: ‘As the TrumpCare Pivots Begins‘) is without a doubt ‘faith based‘ reliance on what remains essentially an aggregate ‘hologram‘ of President-Elect Trump’s health reform agenda.

Stay tuned!

 

Posted in Accountable Care, ACO, Affordable Care Act

Day One: You’re Covered!

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

August 1st, 2016 marked the first day that I’ve been covered by health insurance since leaving the W2 workforce in 2000 as Vice President of Payor and Provider Contracting at Wellspan Health Network a ‘Super PHO’ launched by Texas Health Resources, post combination of Presbyterian Healthcare System, Harris Methodist Health Services and Arlington Memorial Hospital.IMAG2725

Granted the choice to ‘go bare‘ (i.e., self funding my acute, elective or urgent healthcare needs and exposure for accident or injury risk) and incur the tax (shared responsibility) penalty associated with the post ACA era was a conscious choice. The calculus was derived via a cost/benefit analysis of sorts taking into consideration premium costs, plus deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance of principally the ‘silver metal‘ plans offered via Covered California – the State health insurance exchange operating in California.

Going Bare

My decision to remain bare was in part supported by my history as a low utilizer of physician and hospital services, i.e, as a healthcare insider who rarely used his health plan coverage while insured, and saw the consequences and risks of medical errors and hospitalization ‘up close and personal‘, I reasoned though older and therefore at greater relative risk than when I was in my 40s and 50s, if I continued to eat well, stay physically active (running, cycling and surfing) and refrain from avoidable risks (smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, etc.), the decision to self fund the exposure was somewhat of a ‘reasonable’ if not calculated gamble.

But make no mistake, the decision to bear the tax penalty and retain the health risk was principally a matter of economics. As a self-employed small business operator (I am the founder of Health Innovation Media, a boutique digital media agency) with the typical unpredictable start-up income stream and thus low earnings visibility, I chose to preserve cash and remain uninsured. Unfortunately, the ‘affordable nature’ of ACA related health insurance offerings in the exchange marketplace were neither affordable nor of sufficient value for me to dig into my pocket and pull the trigger on coverage.

That I was three years away from Medicare eligibility was also another consideration in my decision to remain bare. Fortunately that chapter in my life ended today. And other than the tax penalties paid, I have remained in relatively good health while still a card carrying member of ‘the worried well‘ club, i.e., I typically though temporarily obsess over this pain, or that bump or lump as signs of my impending demise. For example, though approaching 65 this month, I have NOT had that colonoscopy recommended for men starting in their 50s. So since I don’t know what’s going on down there, I often wonder about the potential for colorectal disease though I have no classical symptoms per se.

Choosing a Health PlanIMAG2724

As one of the estimated 10,000 baby boomers per day turning 65 and thus qualifying for a ‘public option’ aka ‘Medicare’ one of the first decisions to make is the selection of health plan coverage options via Medicare. There are basically four key considerations:

  • Stay in the traditional Medicare program (Parts A and B); and
  • Optionally purchase a ‘Medicare Supplement‘ plan; or
  • Elect a Medicare Advantage participating health plan (Part C)
  • If principally staying in traditional Medicare, add an optional Prescription Drug Plan (Part D)

Medicare Part A covers ‘hospital services’, while Part B which is optional and requires the payment of a monthly premium covers ‘physician services’. Medicare Supplement insurance typically covers the co-payments and co-insurance present in traditional fee-for-services Medicare. While Medicare Advantage is a private health insurance option that contracts with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and offers typically HMO plan options to Medicare beneficiaries often with little to no premium payment required, and some plans even add drug benefits without having to elect a Part D Prescription Drug plan. Part D is typically purchased when electing to stay in the traditional Medicare program and layer into your benefits prescription drug coverage.

As you approach your 65th birthday be prepared for the tsunami of marketing materials you will receive from health insurance companies, their participating broker/agents and Medicare Advantage plans participating in your service area.

The Choice

Having made my decision, I can see why the typical senior who is not a ‘insider’ in the ways of healthcare operations and finance might need help working through all the plan options presented. This is a potentially confusing experience with a series of questions and plan options to sort through. Yet, for me the choice was relatively easy. I know the pros and cons of Medicare Advantage, the limits of traditional Medicare (with or without a Supplement) and have written about the limits of the Prescription Drug Program off and on over the years. Further, I am almost within walking distance to a Kaiser Permanente Ambulatory Care Center and Kaiser San Diego offers in my service area a no premium Medicare Advantage program that provides additional benefits including drug coverage and health club participation via the Silver Sneakers program.

When I added the maturity of KP San Diego as a quality operator in the integrated delivery space with a reasonably extensive and accessible ambulatory and inpatient facilities network vs. other options that relied upon ‘IDNINOs’ (integrated delivery networks in name only) commonly associated with name plate hospital/health system operators in San Diego (Scripps Health, UC San Diego Health System, Sharp Healthcare) county in partnership with the likes of Humana, Anthem or United Healthcare, the decision was a relatively easy one.

I reasoned if I get seriously sick, I will be cared for by a coordinated team of health professionals who’s incentives are to keep me healthy and out of the inpatient theater (a literal fail moment). Further, as a real IDN, KP San Diego is more likely to operate in a seamless care coordination manner vs. many of the aforementioned players who have to more or less degrees grafted an IDN culture on top of a traditional, silo-ed fee-for-services network of providers.

Finally, I have watched my mother spend hours on the phone dealing with toxic and dated (in excess of a year) billing matters from UC San Diego associated with her membership in Humana’s Medicare Advantage program. Try as they might, the non KP players in this market have yet to achieve the level of IDN operational excellence demonstrated by KP San Diego (and its sister regions in both Southern and Northern California) from point of care services to any billing and collections infrastructure associated with ‘revenue cycle management’ (RCM) purposes.

So a new chapter has begun. We shall see if I reasoned correctly, and KP San Diego is what I assume it to be. More to be revealed!

 

Posted in Accountable Care, ACO, Affordable Care Act

POTUS: The De Facto Health Wonk-in-Chief of the US?

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

United States Health Care Reform

 

Love him or hate him President Barack Obama continues to demonstrate depth, insight, tenacity and a firm grip on the state of the U.S. Healthcare ecosystem dysfunction (and remedies) well beyond his formal training as a Constitutional scholar. Now as arguably one of the most legislatively accomplished President’s in U.S. history, particularly in light of the catastrophic train wreck he inherited from his predecessor and fueled by the nonstop ‘hell no‘ chorus of his disingenuous (often health policy clueless) political opposition he weighs in to set the record straight and for legacy purposes.

On July 11, 2016, JAMA released ‘United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps‘ a rather scholarly construed unbundling of the state of healthcare then and now (pre and post ACA implementation). As a rather complex piece of legislation with many moving parts, and staggered implementation timelines (some as a result of political accommodation, some merely in tune with operational and prevailing healthcare delivery and financing legacy inertia) he steps up and in classic barrister narrative fashion lays out his case, and simultaneously calls out the next steps to remedy the U.S. healthcare conundrum.

POTUS aka ‘Health Wonk-in-Chief‘ Barack Obama concludes:

Policy makers should build on progress made by the Affordable Care Act by continuing to implement the Health Insurance Marketplaces and delivery system reform, increasing federal financial assistance for Marketplace enrollees, introducing a public plan option in areas lacking individual market competition, and taking actions to reduce prescription drug costs. Although partisanship and special interest opposition remain, experience with the Affordable Care Act demonstrates that positive change is achievable on some of the nation’s most complex challenges.

I strongly encourage you to click on and read the entire piece. It is well worth your time and wholly consistent with the ‘accountable care’ narrative (the subject of this blog) driving Medicare ACOs, their commercial derivatives and large portions of the moving parts of the ACA including the entire spectrum of ‘value based’ healthcare initiatives.

For this piece, I want to focus on four areas of the ‘next steps‘ called out by POTUS, namely: the ‘Health Insurance Marketplaces’, associated ‘delivery system reform’, AND the introduction of ‘a public plan option in areas lacking individual market competition, and finally ‘taking actions to reduce prescription drug costs’.

Health insurance marketplaces

So much of the ACA oppositional cheerleading liked to stress the ‘buying across state lines‘, and ‘malpractice reform‘ as ‘freedom and choice‘ enabled solutions to the health insurance quagmire. Never mind the rampant marketing, churn, double digit premium increases, retrospective rescissions or opportunistic denial rates, coverage limits and lifetime caps so endemic in the space. Not to mention ‘mini-meds‘ or ‘junk insurance’ so prevalent in the market before some baseline notions of what constitutes ‘insurance‘ in the face of typical health, illness or accident challenges one may experience in life. Here again, coverage baselines and the need for consistency to shop, compare and ultimately purchase real health insurance seemed like too much regulatory over-reach in a market where choice absent basic ground rules somehow seemed like a more attractive solution – at least to the often clueless opposition. The entire over-reach narrative was wrapped up, sold and bought as a ‘Government controlled healthcare takeover‘ per the vacuous talking points proffered by ACA oppositional research.

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Yet, the value proposition of an ‘insurance market place‘ whether Federally run, ‘facilitated’ or state delegated exchange option makes total sense if a transparent consumer market is to emerge from the chaos that is principally the individual market (non employer sponsored health insurance), though the group, or self funded ASO market ain’t much to cheer about either. Yet such a model was/is a proven way (witness the explosive growth of private exchanges) to introduce orderly competition in an otherwise opaque industry.

If you’ve ever run a health plan, built a managed care organization or contracted for hospital, physician, ancillary and pharmaceutical services (I presided over several employer sponsored health plan initiatives, MSOs, PHOs and IPAs tackling both capitated and discounted fee for service plan launch and operational issues in for-profit, voluntary and academic health systems) you will know that prudent (empowered, informed, etc.) purchasing of health insurance options requires clear apples-to-apples covered services comparisons, exclusions and non-covered item disclosures coupled with understandable pricing transparency and the cost sharing burden associated with your election. Absent this comprehensive clarity, listing guidance and/or requirements that an exchange imposes to ‘qualify’ eligible participants as candidates to choose from is virtually impossible. Standing up the infrastructure (people,  process, culture, etc.) to enable informed choice requires such an exchange environment whether public, private or some combination thereof to transparently market their services to the consuming public.

Delivery system reform

This is clearly the ACA’s ‘achilles heel‘ as there ain’t much there, there other than aggregate ‘on the come‘ efforts to tip toe into the waters of ‘clinical integration‘, measured risk assumption and a range of payment reforms collectively recognizing fee-for-service (i.e., do more to earn more) medicine as a burning platform. The most tangible form of this commitment is represented by Secretary Burwell’s call to migrate increasing shares of Medicare beneficiaries (including me, as I turn 65 in August and have elected Kaiser Permanente Senior Plan in San Diego) into Medicare Advantage, ACOs and a broadly cast series of ‘value based‘ healthcare arrangements by certain dates.

Standing Up the ACOFor the most part, ACA focused on insurance market place reforms. While delivery system reform was principally invested in ‘nascent’ ACOs (which are mutating as we speak amidst some 5 and 1/2 years of operating experience under the Medicare Shared Savings Program (one I like to call ‘HMO-lite’ which incidentally and inevitably is morphing into its more traditional gatekeeper HMO predecessor vs. the retrospective attribution methodology that undermines successful ACO risk assumption performance).

Additional delivery system reform was to come from pilots, demonstrations and other ‘innovations’ the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) funded via the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) – who’s budget the Republican controlled Congress is determined to cut.  Here, I might add at the ACO Summit circa 2012 one of the most seasoned and successful risk savvy players I had the opportunity to work for and with in Dallas, Texas Richard Merkin, MD, the founder and owner of Heritage Medical Systems and Heritage Provider Network described as the ‘hidden jewel’ in the ACA.

As much as we’ve progressed into ‘managed care‘ whether discounted, bundled, case rates, per diems or global or partial per member per month (PMPM) capitation or percent of premium the majority (estimated at 80-90%) of healthcare payments are still of the fee for services variety. Back in the 80s when American Medical International (AMI) retained me to develop and preside over their managed care strategy for the California Region’s 19 hospitals I elected ‘Director of Health System Development‘ vs. Regional Director of Managed Care as a title, since I saw the strategic imperative of building and operating a hospital system as a partnership with payors, health plans and employer groups, in order to create value. Since ‘payors’ (as a group) were our customers to grow market share we needed ‘dots on the map‘ to effectively service their employees, members or insureds. That vision and strategy collapsed before taking root since quarterly earnings per share incentives of the hospital CEOs precluded the longer term strategy of acquisitions and divestitures consistent with a dots on the map game-plan could take hold.

Today, many years later health systems are ‘getting [payor/provider partnership] religion’ at least rhetorically, yet the prevailing provider/payor mindset remains ‘your revenues are my expenses‘ – not much progress! So don’t hold your breath on material delivery system reform other than the equivalent of re-arranging furniture on the deck of the Titanic while the ship sinks. Mergers, acquisitions, the ‘death of independent‘ medicine and rise of mega institutionally led health systems more or less ‘clinically integrated‘ notwithstanding.

A public plan option in areas lacking individual market competition

While POTUS stresses the individual market as the target ‘book of business‘ most at risk and dysfunctional absent effective reform the need for a ‘public option‘ across the board (group, self funded/ASO, fully insured, etc) is rather compelling, in my view. The recent failures of the ACA enabled ‘CO-OPs‘ notwithstanding (i.e., startup insurance companies or health plans rarely if ever achieve profitability in such a short timeline given the threshold need for ‘the law of large numbers‘ for actuarial credibility and the inherent volatility of the underwriting profit/loss cycle) do nothing to undermine the argument and need for a public option writ large.

I’ll go one step further and say ultimately our worshipping of ‘pluralism‘ in healthcare delivery and finance will ultimately give way to a ‘Medicare E‘ version as in Medicare for everyone. If public/private partnerships and business models could successfully manage clinical risk and meet the health and healthcare needs of their constituents we would have solved the problem in the 80s and 90s. Who remembers the ‘Harry and Louise‘ narrative battles (‘if the Government choses, we lose‘) on the Clinton Health Security Act aka ‘HillaryCare‘? So perhaps we’ll get there once we exhaust every other option to avoid ‘single payor‘?

Actions to reduce prescription drug costs

This seems to me the segment the easiest to resolve. Here I’d empower Medicare to negotiate direct and on behalf of it’s entire pool of beneficiaries, rather than dilute the market power via a tapestry of variably (under) performing ‘PDPs’. The political compromise that birthed Medicare Part D (the Prescription Drug Plan) materially undermines the market power of the ‘law of large numbers’ to extract best price from vendors, suppliers or providers of services. This make NO sense, and we’re paying the price! Here, politicos assured Medicare could NOT intervene with such market clout instead they routed the business upside to a pool private participants.

Add to this macro market efficiency undermining the challenges of orphan or rare disease market segments and the egregious and unaccountable pricing practices most recently popularized by ‘bad boy’ Martin Shkreli of Turning Pharma and more recently Valeant‘s abusive pricing admissions.

Yes, specialty pharma is at risk and a major source of heartburn for AHIP and it’s employer allies, yet PHRMA has a point. The drug discovery and commercialization process/pathways to market are unpredictable and fraught will high failure rates. Coupled with the long development runways and high costs, but absent a ‘ceiling’ or ‘pricing accountability framework’ pharma’s management credo will remain ‘whatever the market can bear‘ strategy lest ProPublica‘s (et al) investigational journalism (see their guide to investigating non-profit health systems) marshals sufficient public attention and shame forces reconsideration or retraction of Pharma’s lazy over-reliance on raising ‘P’ (Price) vs. the more complex market challenge of driving ‘U’ (units via share gains) becomes their duty and ultimate measure and basis of ‘success’.

So thanks BO! Despite all odds, you (and Max Baucus et al) pulled it off. And yes, it’s only a beginning and there’s lots of work to do. In the words of then Acting CMS Administrator, Don Berwick, who was wrongly blocked (by you know who) for permanent appointment [I paraphrase below]:

This will require no less than an all hands of deck, full court press to make happen [i.e., the triple aim].

 

Posted in Accountable Care, Affordable Care Act, health reform

The 2016 Medicare Trustees Report: One year closer to IPAB cuts?

by Gregg A. Masters, MPH

From the relentless drone of ‘where are the jobs, Mr. President?’ to the misguided fear mongering of ‘death panels for Grandma’ administered by un-elected, faceless bureaucrats to the de facto death of American Democracy itself the attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), flawed indeed as it is, is starting to log results, some of them are quite impressive as noted by a recent piece at Morning Consult titled: ‘Trustees: Medicare Savings Recommendations Forestalled’.

View more details on Brookings.edu
View more details on Brookings.edu

This morning Brookings in association with the American Enterprise Institute and the Schaeffer Initiative for Innovation in Health Policy at the University of Southern California hosted ‘The 2016 Medicare Trustees Report: One year closer to IPAB cuts?‘.

The event is summarized by its organizers as:

For most of the last five decades, the most-discussed finding by the Medicare trustees has been the insolvency date, when Medicare’s trust fund would no longer be able to pay all of the program’s costs. Last year’s report projected that the hospital insurance trust fund would be depleted by 2030 – just 14 years from now. The report also predicted a more immediate and controversial event: the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), famously nicknamed “death panels,” would be required to submit proposals to reduce Medicare spending in 2018, with the reductions taking place in 2019. Do we remain on this path to automatic Medicare cuts next year?

The American Enterprise Institute and the Schaeffer Initiative for Innovation in Health Policy, a collaboration between the USC Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and the Brookings Institution, hosted a discussion of the new 2016 trustees report on June 23. Medicare’s Chief Actuary Paul Spitalnic summarized the key findings followed by a panel of experts who discussed the potential consequences of the report for policy actions that might be taken to improve the program’s fiscal condition. You can join the conversation at #MedicareReport.

In the tsunami of misrepresentation and outright deception of the many moving parts of the ACA the ultimate barometer of success – at least from the health policy perspective – is the forecasted effect the law was to have on the U.S. Treasury, i.e., it will bankrupt the country and undermine the roots of our pluralistic healthcare ecosystem, replacing it with a ‘top down’ Government run Federal quagmire.

EDITOR’s NOTE: for the Acting CMS Administrator’s take on the Federally Faciliated and State Run ‘Marketplace’, check out Andy Slavitt’s recap via ‘Marketplace Year 3: Issuer Insights and Innovation (Part 3).

Well the ACA results are in and the truth be told, while not a sealed trend (there are both headwinds and macroeconomic wildcards in the mix), the data is ‘encouraging‘.

Enjoy the audio!