Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding after 3 years

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/04/haven-the-amazon-berkshire-jpmorgan-venture-to-disrupt-healthcare-is-disbanding-after-3-years.html

Haven, the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan venture to disrupt health care, is disbanding  after 3 years

KEY POINTS

  • Haven began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
  • Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, the people said.
  • One key issue facing Haven was that each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Haven, the joint venture formed by three of America’s most powerful companies to lower costs and improve outcomes in health care, is disbanding after three years, CNBC has learned exclusively.

The company began informing employees Monday that it will shut down by the end of next month, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Many of the Boston-based firm’s 57 workers are expected to be placed at AmazonBerkshire Hathaway or JPMorgan Chase as the firms each individually push forward in their efforts, and the three companies are still expected to collaborate informally on health-care projects, the people said.

The announcement three years ago that the CEOs of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase had teamed up to tackle one of the biggest problems facing corporate America – high and rising costs for employee health care  – sent shock waves throughout the world of medicine. Shares of health-care companies tumbled on fears about how the combined might of leaders in technology and finance could wring costs out of the system.

The move to shutter Haven may be a sign of how difficult it is to radically improve American health care, a complicated and entrenched system of doctors, insurers, drugmakers and middlemen that costs the country $3.5 trillion every year. Last year, Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett seemed to indicate as much, saying that were was no guarantee that Haven would succeed in improving health care.

Shares of UnitedHealth GroupHumana and CVS Health each climbed more than 2% after the Haven news broke.

One key issue facing Haven was that while the firm came up with ideas, each of the three founding companies executed their own projects separately with their own employees, obviating the need for the joint venture to begin with, according to the people, who declined to be identified speaking about the matter.

Coming just three years after the initial rush of fanfare about the possibilities for what Haven could accomplish, its closure is a disappointment to some. But insiders claim that it will allow the founding companies to implement ideas from the project on their own, tailoring them to the specific needs of their employees, who are mostly concentrated in different cities.

The move comes after Haven’s CEO, Dr. Atul Gawande, stepped down from day-to-day management of the nonprofit in May, a change that sparked a search for his successor.

Brooke Thurston, a spokeswoman for Haven, confirmed the company’s plans to close and gave this statement:

The Haven team made good progress exploring a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloting new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” Thurston said in an email.

Moving forward, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will leverage these insights and continue to collaborate informally to design programs tailored to address the specific needs of our individual employee populations and locations,” she said.

Millions of Americans Are Calling In Sick, Stunting the Recovery

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-31/covid-keeps-millions-from-work-just-as-u-s-economy-loses-steam

Covid Keeps Millions From Work Just as U.S. Economy Loses Steam

Amid the surge in the ranks of the unemployed during the pandemic, another crucial problem in the labor market has gone mostly overlooked: Workers are calling out sick in record numbers this year.

Whether it’s because they have Covid-19 themselves, are worried about getting it or are taking care of someone who already has it, the number of workers who’ve missed days on the job has doubled in the pandemic.

What’s more, unlike the jobless rate, which has steadily declined from its April peak, the rate of abseenteism — as it is called by economists — has remained stubbornly high. Almost 1.8 million workers were absent in November because of illness, nearly matching the record 2 million set back in April, according to Labor Department data.

These lost days of work are sapping an economic recovery that’s been progressing in fits and starts for much of the past several months. While some indicators have improved markedly, others such as retail sales and consumer spending and incomes have weakened as the pandemic rages on and local governments impose fresh restrictions on businesses and travel.

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc, said that the vaccine could start driving down absenteeism by the second quarter. Until then, he said, the missed work is leading to supply chain disruptions.

Absenteeism “could lead to shortages, it could lead to higher prices and more restrained output,” Gapen said.

With about 1.5 million new cases per week and deaths at a record pace, employee absenteeism may remain elevated for some time, especially in early 2021 before vaccines are widely distributed and with the rollout in the U.S. moving slower than government officials expected.

Factory Workers

While the Labor Department data tracks people currently in the labor force who are out sick, a separate survey by the Census Bureau captures an even wider view of the challenge. Its latest Household Pulse Survey — based on responses in late November and early December — estimates that more than 11 million people weren’t working because of the virus. The figures also include those who refrained from working because they were worried about getting or spreading the virus, and those caring for someone with symptoms.

The effects of missing workers are especially concentrated in manufacturing. Absenteeism, combined with short-term shutdowns to sanitize facilities and difficulties in returning and hiring workers, limit the sector’s growth potential, according to Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee.

The group’s gauge of factory activity grew at a slower pace in November, with the employment component falling back to a level that indicates contraction.

“It’s not a lack of work,” Fiore said on a recent call with reporters, noting absenteeism especially for low- to medium-skill roles. “It’s a lack of people.”

In addition to temporarily absent workers, the manufacturing sector has 525,000 job openings, the most in Labor records back to 2000.

U.S. job openings in manufacturing are at their highest level on record

Auto plants are feeling the effects. General Motors Co. put white-collar employees on the production floor in August to cope with high absenteeism amid strong demand. Volkswagen AG Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter has said high levels of missing staff left the automaker “at times struggling to get all the cars built for customer orders.”

U.S. businesses have reported that surging cases precipitated plant closings and infection fears, adding to labor challenges including absenteeism and attrition, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book summary of economic conditions. Manufacturers in the Chicago region have used overtime to make up for staff shortages, the Dec. 2 report said.

Sick Leave

For office workers, 90% of professionals said before the pandemic they’d sometimes go to work sick, according to a 2019 study by staffing firm Accountemps. Covid changed the conversation, and more employees are staying home to protect themselves and others.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act earlier this year made the decision to stay home easier for some Americans by allowing two weeks of paid sick leave for certain employees. The law also allows leave for those unable to work because they must care for a child.

The latest stimulus bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, includes an extension of the act through March 31, but makes paid leave voluntary for employers rather than mandatory as it was in the first iteration. That may continue the trend of workers staying home depending on how many employers choose to grant the leave.

The act, however, excludes essential workers, which means those employed at facilities such as meatpacking plants can’t take advantage of the policy. That in turn can lead to workplace outbreaks and further disrupt production.

With fewer employees at work, slaughter rates at U.S. meat plants fell in the third quarter. Tyson Foods Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dean Banks said on a recent earnings call that absenteeism has “increased the cost and complexity of our operations” and that the company expects that to continue in 2021.

A growing number of Americans are going hungry

A growing number of Americans are going hungry – Washington Sources

26 million now say they don’t have enough to eat, as the pandemic worsens and holidays near.

It was 5 a.m., not a hint of sun in the Houston sky, as Randy Young and his mom pulled into the line for a free Thanksgiving meal. They were three hours early. Hundreds of cars and trucks already idled in front of them outside NRG Stadium. This was where Young worked before the pandemic. He was a stadium cook. Now, after losing his job and struggling to get by, he and his 80-year-old mother hoped to get enough food for a holiday meal.

“It’s a lot of people out here,” said Young, 58. “I was just telling my mom, ‘You look at people pulling up in Mercedes and stuff, come on.’ If a person driving a Mercedes is in need of food, you know it’s bad.”

More Americans are going hungry now than at any point during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to a Post analysis of new federal data — a problem created by an economic downturn that has tightened its grip on millions of Americans and compounded by government relief programs that expired or will terminate at the end of the year. Experts say it is likely that there’s more hunger in the United States today than at any point since 1998, when the Census Bureau began collecting comparable data about households’ ability to get enough food.

One in 8 Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week, hitting nearly 26 million American adults, an increase several times greater than the most comparable pre-pandemic figure, according to Census Bureau survey data collected in late October and early November. That number climbed to more than 1 in 6 adults in households with children.

“It’s been driven by the virus and the unpredictable government response,” said Jeremy K. Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty in Waco, Tex.

Nowhere has there been a hunger surge worse than in Houston, with a metro-area population of 7 million people. Houston was pulverized in summer when the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals, and the local economy was been particularly hard hit by weak oil prices, making matters worse.

More than 1 in 5 adults in Houston reported going hungry recently, including 3 in 10 adults in households with children. The growth in hunger rates has hit Hispanic and Black households harder than White ones, a devastating consequence of a weak economy that has left so many people trying to secure food even during dangerous conditions.

On Saturday, these statistics manifested themselves in the thousands of cars waiting in multiple lines outside NRG Stadium. The people in these cars represented much of the country. Old. Young. Black. White. Asian. Hispanic. Families. Neighbors. People all alone.

Inside a maroon Hyundai Santa Fe was Neicie Chatman, 68, who had been waiting since 6:20 a.m., listening to recordings of a minister’s sermon piped into large earphones.

“I’ve been feeding my spirit,” she said.

Her hours at her job as an administrator have been unsteady since the pandemic began. Her sister was laid off. They both live with their mother, who has been sick for the past year. She planned to take the food home to feed her family and share with her older neighbors.

“It’s been hard to survive. Money is low. No jobs. Hard to find work.”

— Randy Young

“I lost my business and I lost my dream.”

— Adriana Contreras

Now, a new wave of coronavirus infections threatens more economic pain.

Yet the hunger crisis seems to have escaped widespread notice in a nation where millions of households have weathered the pandemic relatively untouched. The stock market fell sharply in March before roaring back and has recovered all of its losses. This gave the White House and some lawmakers optimism about the economy’s condition. Congress left for its Thanksgiving break without making any progress on a new pandemic aid deal even as food banks across the country report a crush of demand heading into the holidays.

“The hardship is incredibly widespread. Large parts of America are saying, ‘I couldn’t afford food for my family,’ ” said Stacy Dean, who focuses on food-assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s disappointing this hasn’t broken through.”

No place has been spared. In one of the nation’s richest counties, not far from Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, Loudoun Hunger Relief provided food to a record 887 households in a single week recently. That’s three times the Leesburg, Va.-based group’s pre-pandemic normal.

“We are continuing to see people who have never used our services before,” said Jennifer Montgomery, the group’s executive director.

Hunger rates spiked nationwide after shutdowns in late March closed large chunks of the U.S. economy. The situation improved somewhat as businesses reopened and the benefits from a $2.2 trillion federal pandemic aid package flowed into people’s pockets, with beefed-up unemployment benefits, support for food programs and incentives for companies to keep workers on the payroll.

But those effects were short-lived. The bulk of the federal aid had faded by September. And more than 12 million workers stand to lose unemployment benefits before year’s end if Congress doesn’t extend key programs.

“Everything is a disaster,” said Northwestern University economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a leading expert on the economics of food insecurity. “I’m usually a pleasant person, but this is just crazy.”

Economic conditions are the main driver behind rising rates of hunger, but other factors play a role, Schanzenbach said. In the Great Recession that began in 2008, people received almost two years of unemployment aid — which helped reduce hunger rates. Some long-term unemployed workers qualified for even more help.

But the less-generous benefits from the pandemic unemployment assistance programs passed by Congress in March have already disappeared or soon will for millions of Americans.

Even programs that Congress agreed to extend have stumbled. A program giving families additional cash assistance to replace school meals missed by students learning at home was renewed for a year on Oct. 1. But the payments were delayed because many states still needed to get the U.S. Agriculture Department’s approval for their plans. The benefit works out to only about $6 per student for each missed school day. But experts say the program has been a lifeline for struggling families.

One program that has continued to provide expanded emergency benefits is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Agriculture Department issued an emergency order allowing states to provide more families the maximum benefit and to suspend the time limit on benefits for younger unemployed adults without children.

The sharpest rise in hunger was reported by groups who have long experienced the highest levels of it, particularly Black Americans. Twenty-two percent of Black U.S. households reported going hungry in the past week, nearly twice the rate faced by all American adults and more than two-and-a-half times the rate for White Americans.

The Houston area was posting some of its lowest hunger rates before the pandemic, thanks to a booming economy and a strong energy sector, Everett said. Then, the pandemic hit. Hunger surged, concentrated among the city’s sizable low-income population, in a state that still allows for the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Houston’s hunger rates — like those nationwide — fell significantly after the $1,200 stimulus checks were mailed out in April and other pandemic aid plans took effect, Everett said.

But most of the effects of that aid are gone.

“Without sustained aid at the federal level, we’ll be hard pressed to keep up,” said Celia Call, chief executive of Feeding Texas, which advocates for 21 food banks in the state. “We’re just bracing for the worst.”

Schools are one of the most important sources of food for low-income families in Houston. The Houston Independent School District has 210,000 students — many of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. But the pandemic closed schools in the spring. They reopened in the fall with less than half of the students choosing a hybrid model of in-school and at-home instruction. That has made feeding these children a difficult task.

“We’ve made an all-out effort to capture these kids and feed them,” said Betti Wiggins, the school district’s nutrition services officer.

The district provided curbside meal pickups outside schools. Anyone could come, not just schoolchildren. School staffers set up neighborhood distribution sites in the areas with the highest need. They started a program to serve meals to children living in apartment buildings. Sometimes the meal program required police escorts.

“I’m doing everything but serving in the gas station when they’re pumping the gas,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins said the normal school meals program she ran before the pandemic has been transformed into providing food for entire families far beyond a school’s walls. She has noticed unfamiliar faces in her meal lines. The “new poor,” she calls them, parents who might have worked in the airline or energy industries crushed by the pandemic.

“I’m seeing folks who don’t know how to handle the poverty thing,” she said, adding that it became her mission to make sure they had food.

The Houston Food Bank is the nation’s largest, serving 18 counties in Southeast Texas with help from 1,500 partner agencies. Last month, the food bank distributed 20.6 million pounds of food — down from the 27.8 million pounds handed out in May, but still 45 percent more than what it distributed in October 2019, with no end in sight.

The biggest worry for food banks right now is finding enough food, said Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank. Food banks buy bulk food with donations. They take in donated food items, too. Food banks also benefited from an Agriculture Department program that purchased excess food from U.S. farmers hurt by the ongoing trade war with China, typically apples, milk and pork products. But funding for that program ended in September. Other federal pandemic programs are still buying hundreds of millions of dollars in food and donating it to food banks. But Greene said he worries about facing “a commodity cliff” even as demand grows.

Teresa Croft, who volunteers at a food distribution site at a church in the Houston suburb of Manvel, said the need is still overwhelming. She handles the paperwork for people visiting the food bank for the first time. They’re often embarrassed, she said. They never expected to be there. Sometimes, Croft tries to make them feel better by telling her own story — how she started at the food bank as a client, but got back on her feet financially more than a decade ago and is now a food bank volunteer.

“They feel so bad they’re having to ask for help. I tell them they shouldn’t feel bad. We’re all in this together,” Croft said. “If you need it, you need it.”

The pandemic changed how the Houston Food Bank runs. Everything is drive-through and walk-up. Items are preselected and bagged. The food bank has held several food distribution events in the parking lots outside NRG Stadium — a $325 million, retractable-roof temple to sports and home to the National Football League’s Houston Texans.

Last weekend, instead of holding the 71st annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Houston, the city and H-E-B supermarkets decided to sponsor the food bank’s distribution event at NRG Stadium. The plan was to feed 5,000 families.

The first cars arrived at the stadium around 1 a.m. Saturday, long before the gates opened for the 8 a.m. event. By the time Young and his mother drove up, the line of vehicles stretched into the distance. Organizers opened the gates early. The cars and trucks began to slowly snake through the stadium’s parking lot toward a series of white tents, where the food was loaded into trunks by volunteers. The boxes contained enough food for multiple meals during the holiday week, with canned vegetables such as corn and sweet potatoes, a package of rolls, cranberry sauce and a box of masks. People picking up food were also given a bag of cereal and some resealable bags, a ham, a gallon of milk, and finally a turkey and pumpkin pie.

The food for 5,000 families ran out. The Houston Food Bank — knowing that would not be enough — was able to assemble more.

It provided food to 7,160 vehicles and 261 people who walked up to the event.

Troy Coakley, 56, came to the event looking for food to feed his family for the week. He still had his job breaking apart molds at a plant that makes parts for oil field and water companies. But his hours were cut when the economy took a hit in March. Coakley went from working overtime to three days a week.

He was struggling. Behind on rent. Unsure what was to come.

But for the moment, his trunk filled with food, he had one less thing to worry about.

“Other than [the pandemic], we were doing just fine,” Coakley said. “But now it’s getting worse and worse.”

Cartoon – Just Two on the Front Lines

health insurance

Healthcare executives fear for their organizations’ viability without a COVID-19 vaccine

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/healthcare-executives-fear-their-organizations-viability-without-covid-19-vaccine

A complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away, findings from Kaufman Hall indicate.

For the past three years, Kaufman Hall has released annual healthcare performance reports illustrating how hospitals and health systems are managing, both financially and operationally.

This year, however, with the pandemic altering the industry so broadly, the report took a different approach: to see how COVID-19 impacted hospitals and health systems across the country. The report’s findings deal with finances, patient volumes and recovery.

The report includes survey answers from respondents almost entirely (96%) from hospitals or health systems. Most of the respondents were in executive leadership (55%) or financial roles (39%). Survey responses were collected in August 2020.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

Findings from the report indicate that a complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they were either moderately or extremely concerned about their organization’s financial viability in 2021 without an effective vaccine or treatment.

Looking back on the operating margins for the second quarter of the year, 33% of respondents saw their operating margins decline by more than 100% compared to the same time last year.

Revenue cycles have taken a hit from COVID-19, according to the report. Survey respondents said they are seeing increases in bad debt and uncompensated care (48%), higher percentages of uninsured or self-pay patients (44%), more Medicaid patients (41%) and lower percentages of commercially insured patients (38%).

Organizations also noted that increases in expenses, especially for personal protective equipment and labor, have impacted their finances. For 22% of respondents, their expenses increased by more than 50%.

IMPACT ON PATIENT VOLUMES

Although volumes did increase over the summer, most of the improvement occurred in areas where it is difficult to delay care, such as oncology and cardiology. For example, oncology was the only field where more than half of respondents (60%) saw their volumes recover to more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

More than 40% of respondents said that cardiology volumes are operating at more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Only 37% of respondents can say the same for orthopedics, neurology and radiology, and 22% for pediatrics.

Emergency department usage is also down as a result of the pandemic, according to the report. The respondents expect that this trend will persist beyond COVID-19 and that systems may need to reshape their business model to account for a drop in emergency department utilization.

Most respondents also said they expect to see overall volumes remain low through the summer of 2021, with some planning for suppressed volumes for the next three years.

RECOVERY MEASURES

Hospitals and health systems have taken a number of approaches to reduce costs and mitigate future revenue declines. The most common practices implemented are supply reprocessing, furloughs and salary reductions, according to the report.

Executives are considering other tactics such as restructuring physician contracts, making permanent labor reductions, changing employee health plan benefits and retirement plan contributions, or merging with another health system as additional cost reduction measures.

THE LARGER TREND

Kaufman Hall has been documenting the impact of COVID-19 hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic. In its July report, hospital operating margins were down 96% since the start of the year.

As a result of these losses, hospitals, health systems and advocacy groups continue to push Congress to deliver another round of relief measures.

Earlier this month, the House passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill called the HEROES Act, 2.0. The bill has yet to pass the Senate, and the chances of that happening are slim, with Republicans in favor of a much smaller, $500 billion package. Nothing is expected to happen prior to the presidential election.

The Department of Health and Human Services also recently announced the third phase of general distribution for the Provider Relief Fund. Applications are currently open and will close on Friday, November 6.

Hartford HealthCare nurses begin strike

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/hartford-healthcare-nurses-begin-strike.html?utm_medium=email

Nurses strike begins at Backus Hospital in Norwich - Hartford Courant

Registered nurses at Hartford HealthCare’s Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., are launching a two-day strike Oct. 13 over alleged unfair labor practices, according to the union that represents them.

Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, which represents approximately 415 registered nurses at Backus Hospital and its partner medical facilities, and the hospital have been negotiating since June to resolve contract issues around patient care, workplace safety, and recruitment and retention, according to the union.

AFT Local says members want a fair contract that protects workers and patients, provides better access to personal protective equipment and allows the hospital to retain skilled registered nurses. However, the union contends the hospital has failed to bargain for a fair contract.

“We’d rather be at the bedside caring for our patients and hope a mutual resolution can be reached; but we cannot allow unfair labor practices to stand,” union President Sherri Dayton, RN, said in a statement shared earlier this month with Becker’s Hospital Review. “That’s why we marched on Hartford HealthCare’s executives to announce that we’re on strike if a settlement is not reached by Oct. 13.”

Nurses authorized a strike in September over these issues and issued a strike notice on Oct. 9.

Backus Hospital President Donna Handley, BSN, RN, said in a statement that the hospital has tried to avoid a strike and, over 23 bargaining sessions and using federal mediators, has continually addressed issues such as personal protective equipment, staffing and additional accommodations for breastfeeding.

The hospital’s offer includes wage increases for registered nurses amounting to 12.5 percent over three years, additional paid time off for 82 percent of registered nurses, and a 2 percent reduction to the cost of healthcare premiums.

Ms. Handley said the hospital has also offered to retain daily overtime for registered nurses and provided staff with additional paid time off during the pandemic and other support.

“In all of these and other ways, Backus Hospital has shown that we respect our nurses, we are prepared to find common ground, and we want to reach agreement on a fair contract,” she said. “The union, unfortunately, is prepared to strike, causing an unprecedented degree of disruption during an unprecedented health crisis.”

She said Backus Hospital will remain open during the strike and programs and services will remain accessible to community members.

America’s most prestigious medical journal makes a political statement

https://mailchi.mp/45f15de483b9/the-weekly-gist-october-9-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

In Rare Step, Esteemed Medical Journal Urges Voters To Oust Trump | KPCW

For its first 208 years, the New England Journal of Medicine has never endorsed a political candidate. But this week the journal published an editorial outlining its political position in the upcoming Presidential election, signed unanimously by all editors who are US citizens.

The editors did not explicitly endorse former Vice President Biden, but rather offered a scathing condemnation of the current administration’s performance during the COVID pandemic: “Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates.

But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.” (Formally endorsing Biden last month, Scientific American also made the first political endorsement in its 175-year history.)
 
Much of the media coverage of the NEJM statement has centered on the question of whether medicine should involve itself in politics, or “live above it”

Medicine has been drawn into political disputes before, but now the nature of the involvement has changed. In the past, debates largely centered around regulation, payment or policy—but now the science itself has become a fundamentally political issue. 

The very nature of the coronavirus has become a matter of political belief, not just an indisputable scientific fact.

Public trust in both scientific institutions and the government, and their ability to work together, has been damaged. We fear this will lead to poorer health outcomes regardless of who wins the upcoming election.

Los Angeles hospital can force Anthem to cover ER visits, court rules

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/los-angeles-hospital-can-force-anthem-to-cover-er-visits-court-rules.html?utm_medium=email

Innovating in Emergency Medicine: CMS Launches ET3 — A New Treatment Model  for EMS | by StartUp Health | StartUp Health

A federal appellate court recently ruled that Anthem is required to pay Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles for about 75 emergency room visits from covered patients, according to Bloomberg Law

The appeal centered on whether Anthem was required to cover services MLK Jr. Community Hospital rendered to employees of Budco Group, an Ohio company, when the hospital was assigned the patients’ benefit payments. Anthem is the administrator of Budco’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act plan, and the employees who received services at the hospital were beneficiaries of the plan. 

Between 2015 and 2017, Budco employees visited MLK Jr. Community Hospital’s emergency room at least 75 times and assigned their benefits under the company’s ERISA plan to the hospital as a condition of receiving care. Instead of paying MLK Jr. Community Hospital, which was out of Anthem’s network, the insurance company paid the beneficiaries, forcing the hospital to attempt to recover payment from the beneficiaries. The Budco employees deposited payment into their personal accounts and did not send any of the benefit payments to the hospital. 

The hospital sued Anthem and Budco in 2016, seeking benefit payments and declaratory relief. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the hospitals, and Anthem and Budco appealed. 

On appeal, Anthem argued the case was blocked by a provision in its health plan that prevented patients from assigning their rights to third parties such as MLK Jr. Community Hospital, according to Bloomberg Law. The hospital argued that the “anti-assignment” provision did not bar assignments in this case. 

In an unpublished split decision filed Oct. 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the hospital, holding that the language cited by Anthem allowed assignments to healthcare providers, including those that were out of network. 

“The provision lists three entities other than the beneficiary that Anthem may pay directly. Providers are included among those entities,” the court stated. “In the same paragraph, and only two sentences later, the anti-assignment provision forbids beneficiaries from assigning benefits to ‘anyone else.’ This sentence restricting assignment must be read consistently with the entire paragraph, which concerns benefit payments to entities other than the beneficiary. Thus, we interpret the anti-assignment provision’s reference to ‘anyone else’ to permit assignments to those entities, including ‘providers.'”

Alternatively, the appellate court held that the anti-assignment provision is not part of the health plan documents. 

“The anti-assignment provision is plainly not a benefit, and therefore the district court correctly determined it should not be incorporated as a description of the plan’s benefits,” the appellate court held. 

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Daniel Collins said the anti-assignment provision is an express term of the documents that govern the Budco plan. He also disagreed with the majority’s alternative conclusion that the language of the anti-assignment provision did not bar the assignments that plan beneficiaries made to MLK Jr. Hospital. 

Lee Health to freeze pay for 13,500 employees

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/lee-health-to-freeze-pay-for-13-500-employees.html?utm_medium=email

Tuesday's Headlines: Junior Bankers Watch Out—Pay Freeze May Be Imminent |  eFinancialCareers

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health is freezing salaries for its 13,500 employees next year to help offset financial losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Fort Myers News-Press

The pay freeze in 2021 will mark the first time in nine years that the publicly operated health system has not given employee raises. Salaries and benefits make up about half of the system’s nearly $2 billion in spending each year, according to the report.

Lee Health is facing a budget deficit for the first time in two decades due to financial strain linked to the pandemic. The salary freeze is one of several steps the system is taking to offset losses and avoid layoffs. 

The system has halted most capital projects, and its top executives took pay cuts earlier this year. Lee Health will also reduce the match for employee retirement plans from 5 percent to 4 percent next year, and health plan premiums and copays will also increase, according to the report.

Read the full Fort Myers News-Press article here