Rate of uninsured people increases for first time since ACA rolled out

https://www.axios.com/uninsured-rate-increases-first-time-since-obamacare-ec6dbd6d-fffc-446d-be4c-02bed0d3ea3e.html

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Roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the U.S. population, had no health insurance at some point in 2018, according to new figures from the Census Bureau.

Why it matters: Last year’s uninsured rate increased from 7.9% in 2017 — the first time the uninsured rate has gone up since the Affordable Care Act has been in effect.

Between the lines: The uninsured population does not include the “underinsured,” or people who have medical coverage but face prohibitively high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

  • The figure also does not include people who have short-term plans, association plans and religious-based sharing ministries — policies the Trump administration has promoted, but that have holes in coverage that could leave people on the hook for high costs.

The intrigue: The type of coverage that witnessed the largest decline in 2018 was Medicaid, which fell 0.7 percentage points.

  • 4 states where the uninsured rate had a statistically significant increase were Alabama, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas, all of which have not fully expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

The bottom line: The uninsured rate is still markedly lower before the ACA became law, but it’s an odd paradox to see more people lose health coverage even though the economy created more jobs.

 

 

Insurers often shrug off fraud

https://www.axios.com/health-insurance-fraud-costs-enrollees-employers-74ad83f1-39d7-461e-9485-726676fd327f.html

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Fighting fraud “is not a top priority” for major insurers, ProPublica reports, because they can just pass along the cost of wasteful spending to enrollees and employers.

Why it matters: Experts say fraud likely accounts for 10% of U.S. health costs. However, “private health insurers, who preside over some $1.2 trillion in spending each year, exhibit a puzzling lack of ambition when it comes to bringing fraudsters to justice,” ProPublica’s Marshall Allen writes.

Case in point: In California’s 14 largest counties, which cover 80% of the state’s population, prosecutors filed charges in only 22 fraud cases referred by a commercial insurer in 2017 and 2018 combined.

  • Investigating fraud can be costly for insurers — both financially and in terms of their relationships with providers.

Go deeper, via ProPublica: How to Make Health Insurers Take Fraud Seriously

 

 

The U.S. has fantastic health care, the problem is….

https://www.optum.com/content/dam/optum3/optum/en/resources/articles-blog-posts/wf1341834-cmo-campaign-wyatt-decker-article-part1.pdf

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In part 1 of an executive interview series, CEO and physician Wyatt Decker discusses his perspectives on today’s challenges and opportunities for reinventing health care.

IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO: there are 200 people in a room and each person has a serious health condition. Cost is not a barrier to each of these people receiving their prescribed treatment. A question is asked — how many of you would book a flight to a different country to get your care? You guessed it. No hands go up.

Dr. Wyatt Decker is chief executive officer of OptumHealth and an emergency medicine physician who brings more than two decades of service within the Mayo Clinic. He held dual roles as chief medical information officer for Mayo Clinic and CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Dr. Decker often conducts this experiment with audiences to underscore the quality of care delivered in the United States. We often hear about the problems of health care. No doubt, there are deep and serious problems. However, in scenarios like the one above, we understand that the quality of care delivered by our nation’s physicians is among the finest available. So why do we hear so much about what’s wrong?

According to Dr. Decker, the real opportunities for reinventing health care lie in improving system access, increasing affordability and meeting consumer preferences. “ All of these things really require us to think deeply about how health care is delivered and how can we do it better,” he says.  In part 1 of a recent conversation, Dr. Decker shares lessons learned and offers his perspective on where today’s health care executives and clinical leaders should focus.


What is your take on the state of the health care industry today? What challenges are driving the need to rethink health care systems and delivery?


THE CHALLENGE OF HEALTH CARE ACCESS:  “ People want to get to a doctor or a health care team and they can’t. Either because they are underinsured or they don’t have the financial resources. They don’t know where to go or sometimes there just aren’t enough doctors or the right type of doctor, whether it’s primary care or a specialist available in their area to see.”

THE CHALLENGE OF HEALTH CARE AFFORDABILITY:
“ We hear a lot about affordability of health care and outof-pocket cost can be very high, but also the health care system itself is very expensive. So how do we make it more affordable for large employers, individuals, consumers and even the government itself? Can we get on a more sustainable path?”

THE CHALLENGE OF CONSUMER PREFERENCES:  “ Most people who’ve experienced the health care system feel that it isn’t focused around their needs, schedules or preferences. We’re entering an era where in most other industries there’s lots of personalization and consumer focus. Health care has been very slow to evolve. We need to make it an experience where people feel appreciated, valued and respected. Not just that they’re getting great quality care, but also that their preferences and needs are being met.”

“ Our nation’s care providers are deeply committed and among the best-trained in the world. But I also see them in a system that is struggling. Emergency departments are, at times, the last resort for people who lack resources and access to care. I’ve seen patients struggle to manage chronic conditions without the right support and how the absence of good guidance can create confusion.”

Clearly, the need to reinvent in all aspects of health care is top of mind for many. But it can be difficult to figure out where to start. Can you discuss where you think it’s smart for leaders to focus?


“ We should all be thinking about how we drive towards a health care system that really creates and adds value to people’s lives,” says Dr. Decker. Here’s his advice on key areas of focus.


PAYMENT MODELS:  “ Move towards payment models that actually reward the correct behaviors in health care. What do I mean by that? The pay-per-value model — rewarding groups of providers to keep people well and healthy — is far more powerful than the traditional fee-for-service model.”


LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS:  “ Recognize that health care is local. It’s important to create ecosystems that deliver great, connected care for individuals throughout the health spectrum. This means the patient and their health data move seamlessly between specialists, hospitals, ambulatory care centers, and so on. These kinds of networks and interoperability of data is crucial to create a successful health care system.”

SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH:  “ Health care outcomes are driven not only by the quality and capabilities of the health care provider, but also by social determinants of health. Good health care addresses things like access to good nutrition, social connections, transportation and more that can limit the ability for a person to get and stay healthy. For example, in-home health visits to help patients who have difficulty traveling or easily obtained referrals to social and community services can really enable success.”


From your perspective, what could health  care reinvention mean to a patient, provider  or health plan?


TO PATIENTS:  “ It means a health care system where instead of waiting for something to go wrong, there is a team helping you proactively flourish and be healthy. It means a simple phone call or an app or a video chat could advise you on when you might be at risk of developing a serious condition before you develop it. It means a system that  is always there for you, almost like a guardian angel. It helps you navigate the system and your journey towards health and wellness. It means all of this in a health care system that is easy to access, affordable, high-quality  and compassionate.”


TO PROVIDERS:  “ Providers have high rates of frustration and even burnout with their own profession. Reinvention looks to reduce the very heavy clerical burden driving these trends. Doctors today spend about two hours of clerical and non-visit care for every hour of direct patient care that they provide. However, when you talk to doctors, they find the most fulfillment in engaging directly with patients and making a difference in their care. Reinvention means relieving exhausted providers of administrative and clerical duties that don’t bring enjoyment or result in improved care  and outcomes.”


TO HEALTH PLANS:  “ Health plans are frustrated because they pay for a lot of care that evidence shows doesn’t improve outcomes or help patients on their journey to health and wellness. Payers are happy to pay for health care if it’s necessary. But it doesn’t make sense to pay for care that doesn’t add value. Reinvention means reducing this financial waste to bring down the cost of coverage for everyone.”

“ We have an opportunity now to make the health care system work better for everyone. Improve access and affordability for patients, allow doctors to spend more time with patients, and increase efficiencies within health plans. There’s an opportunity to help people connect the dots and get everyone working together.”

You’ve been a practicing physician and a business leader. Tell us the lessons learned from this unique vantage point.
“ I have spent most of my career as a practicing physician in busy, level 1 trauma centers and emergency departments. In that environment, you see health care at its finest and also how the health system can be challenging. I think in amazement of the times I’ve seen teams of people —  multiple physicians, nurses and technicians — come together as one unit to save someone from a major trauma. I also have great admiration for the persistence of doctors who save lives by diagnosing life-threatening conditions through nuanced symptoms.
I’m a deep believer that in health care, we need to place the patient at the center of everything we do. I always remind young doctors and medical students…imagine for a moment that your patient is you or a loved one. You’d want the doctor to listen and explain things in a compassionate and thoughtful manner. You’d want them to be focused. You’d want them to recognize your unique history and what’s important to you. The notion of putting the patient at the center of everything is something that I have carried with me throughout my career. I have also dedicated myself to developing better models of care and systems that allow doctors and care teams to function seamlessly, be high-performing and deliver great outcomes for patients.”

“ I have an appreciation for how powerful it can be when you work to reduce waste, create care that’s efficient and care that is patient-focused. Today I’m focused on an interesting juxtaposition — creating the right mix of scalable innovations that help our whole nation succeed in health care while also improving the personal and individual patient health care experience.”

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2  of this executive interview series to learn more about Dr. Wyatt Decker’s perspectives on the intersection of technology and health care, the human impact of transformation and physician burn-out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is healthcare so expensive? This Johns Hopkins surgeon might have the answers

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/why-healthcare-so-expensive-johns-hopkins-surgeon-might-have-answers?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTTJNMVpURTNNelJpTVRBeiIsInQiOiJEYTZVeG1LN2VxWEMzUXRTb3dQWWkrbDNKdHBnSzQ5NUpuZVZoXC9US1QzQVwvcUVDSU9mMHZLR2pwZWFcLzNkbk9XYTdPRUtTM2tRVU5oOXhhMXRhSFd5STFZY2VzVlo2UTl0cGxOZjdSMUROVjhZVFZNeXFrMWRZdEdIRVBFS0M2VyJ9&mrkid=959610

For a small group of vascular surgery centers in metropolitan Washington, D.C., it was local churches that turned out to be surprisingly lucrative.

It was at health screening fairs hosted by these houses of worship where Marty Makary, M.D., found surgeons drumming up business for pricey—and often unnecessary—leg stents. It’s among the collection of systemic and human examples Makary examines in his new book “The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care—and How to Fix It” as driving forces behind rising U.S. health costs.

Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins and New York Times best-selling author, hits every segment of the market, from a health system in New Mexico that has sued 1 in 5 residents in town to a health insurance conference where brokers described over drinks why they usually aren’t helping employers get the best deal.

“Healthcare has adopted a business model that uses middlemen, price gouging and sometimes delivers care that can be inappropriate, and this bloated economy has a tremendous amount of waste,” Makary said. “So our research really asks the question: ‘What is the experience of the everyday American interfacing with our healthcare system?’”

I caught up with Makary recently to discuss some of the problems he highlights in his new book, which is being released Sept. 10, and some of his ideas on how we solve them.

FierceHealthcare: Why did you write this book?

Marty Makary: Hospitals are amazing places and there is a tremendous amount of public trust in hospitals. But I’ve been seriously concerned about the erosion of public trust by the price gouging and predatory billing practices that patients are describing all over America. Our research team found bills are marked up as much as 23 times higher than what hospitals will accept from Medicare. We kept hearing over and over again that, ‘No one is expected to pay these bills. Hospital CEOs assured me when I showed them inflated bills that nobody is expected to pay the sticker price.’ But that didn’t seem to match the stories we were hearing on the ground.

FH: One of the hospitals you highlight in this book in Carlsbad, New Mexico, had a practice of hiking prices and suing patients who were unable to pay. What did you find there?

MM: We decided to shift our research into the question: “Are Americans asked to pay the sticker price and if so, what happens when they can’t afford it?”

A woman sent me a message where not only was the bill inflated, but the care was—in her opinion, unnecessary—and the hospital had sued her. When I reached out, she said, “They’ve sued all my friends as well and garnished our paychecks.” I couldn’t believe this, and so I flew out to Carlsbad. The driver of the Chamber of Commerce taxi service that picked us up from the airport, the receptionist at the hotel, the waitress at the breakfast place, the clerk’s office staff, families in the courthouse: You couldn’t believe it. Everywhere you turned, people had been terrorized financially by this local community hospital. I thought: “Where is the spirit of medicine? Do these executives even know the consequences on the ground of these billing practices?”

FH: In the book, you mention many hospital executives don’t even know they’re suing patients.

MM: Oftentimes, there’s detachment. And when we’re detached from the consequences or problems, that’s when horrible things happen in societies historically. I found sometimes hospital executives, board members and certainly our research supports doctors not knowing about this practice. And when they find out, the clinicians are outraged. By and large, board members want it to stop … I think if you look at any major issue in the United States, whether it be race, poverty or healthcare, if we are not proximate to the problem, we tend to rationalize financial systems that enable the problem. In healthcare, what I’ve noticed is, when I would share these stories at conferences, other healthcare experts argued it was not a problem that was diabolical, they just weren’t proximate to the issue.

FH:  You also document that many hospitals are doing the right thing.

MM: Most hospitals try to do the right thing. But I think it tells us a lot about the practice of suing patients and that it’s unnecessary. When all the revenue generated from suing patients amounts to less than the amount of the CEO pay increase in one year, which is something we’ve seen, the argument that it’s essential to sue patients in order for the hospital to be sustainable melts away.

FH: But obviously, the problem is not just about hospitals, right?

MM: A lot of people are getting rich in healthcare. We’ve created tens of thousands of millionaires that are not patient-facing. If you look at the earnings on Wall Street of some of these healthcare companies, for example, UnitedHealth Group reported a 25% increase in earnings in a recent earnings report. How do earnings go up 25% in an actuarial insurance business? They said on their call it was in part due to their pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), a well-known middleman that profits from spread pricing and money games. Hospitals are on target this year for their highest margin in history—5.1% based on early 2019 data. At the same time rural hospitals are closing, large hospitals are making barrels of money. Although they are claiming razor-thin margins, the cost shift accounting is so sophisticated, that they can use their profit to buy new buildings, pay down debt, buy more real estate, increase executive pay. What we have right now is an arms race of profiteering in healthcare where all the stakeholders are making a lot of money except for one, and that’s the patient.

FH: In the book, you talk about efforts to address practice outliers like those vascular surgeons through the use of big data, which led to the creation of the “Improving Wisely” initiative. What did you do?

MM:  Most doctors do the right thing or always try to. But the fraction that are responding to the consumerist culture or the perverse incentives or are just not practicing state of the art care can cost the system a lot more money than those who aren’t … Instead of hammering doctors that do the right thing with reporting burdens and other hassles, we can shunt those resources to address outliers identified in the data using metrics endorsed by the experts in each specialty, and gold card the good doctors so they don’t have to deal with reporting hassles and the expense of the reporting hassles.

In studying the issue of inappropriate care and delivering measures of the appropriateness of care, we’ve been meeting with individual specialists around the country and many of these doctors are telling us about the practice pattern that a fraction of specialists in their field are doing that represents overuse. Our work called “Improving Wisely” partners with associations to send outlier physicians their data around a specialty-endorsed measure of overuse. What we’ve seen is, among doctors, among outlier physicians who see their data with a confidential dear doctor letter, that 83% reduce their pattern of overuse. The initial project two years ago that cost $150,000 has resulted in $27 million worth of savings. This is an example of a high consensus approach that results in real savings that you just don’t see in other areas. By and large, politicians are talking about different ways to fund the broken healthcare system and not ways to fix it. We need to talk about how to fix it.

FH: In the book, you really seem to try to take on everyone: doctors, hospitals, air ambulances, workplace wellness companies, PBMs.

MM:  Almost all the voices in healthcare are beholden to some special interest or stakeholder. We desperately need a global critique of how this system has gone awry and there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on right now, especially at the insurance companies and pharma. But the reality is, we all have a piece of this pie. I don’t think there’s really any one villain in the healthcare system. I don’t even think there’s much deliberate malfeasance that goes on. I think we have a system that’s largely run by people doing what they are told to do and they are doing it in a place where they may not be proximate to the hardship the system creates.

FH: So the big question: How do we fix the problems?

MM: For every problem I described, I tried to describe one of the most exciting disrupters in this space. With the pricing failure problem, I highlight the Free Market Medical Association and the individuals who are saying they are going to make all prices transparent and fair regardless of who’s paying whether it’s a patient or an insurance company. There’s one fair price. Keith Smith of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma is offering one fair true price. Not a sticker price but a true price, regardless of who’s paying. You look at MDsave and Clear Health Costs. They are offering ways for people to shop. If the government does nothing on healthcare, I’m still optimistic we are moving in the right direction because businesses in American are realizing that they’re getting ripped off on their healthcare and pharmacy plans. They’re increasingly doing direct contracting and looking closely at their health insurance benefits and pharmacy design and realizing there is a lot of money wasted.

One of the root issues in healthcare is the way we physicians are educated. It uses a model that’s highly flawed, relying highly on rote memorization of things that are easily available on the Internet today and omits training in effective communication, public policy and healthcare literacy. It turns out that many doctors feel paralyzed in fixing this broken system even as they’re suspicious of the waste in it. One of the goals of writing the book was creating healthcare literacy because we in the field are taught medical literacy but we’re never taught healthcare literacy. One of the exciting disrupters I had the privilege of spending time was the Sidney Kimmel Medical College (in Philadelphia). They have an academic standard in the admissions process. Once people meet that academic standard, everybody is considered based on their empathy, self-awareness and communication skills. It’s revolutionary as simple as it sounds. But they’re focusing on what matters.

 

 

 

 

Health Plan Merger: Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts Pursue Tie-Up

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/health-plan-merger-harvard-pilgrim-tufts-pursue-tie

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The organizations expect their combined strengths will enable them to improve affordability, increase access, improve quality, and streamline the customer experience.

Two major nonprofit health plan companies in New England are looking to join forces.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan announced Wednesday that they intend to combine their two nonprofit organizations. 

“Our communities and consumers today face four major hurdles in health care: affordability, access, quality of health and a fragmented health care experience across various stakeholders and health systems,” said Tufts Health Plan President and CEO Tom Croswell in a statement. “Through our shared vision, we believe we can tackle these issues and bring more value to the communities we serve.”

Croswell is expected to serve as CEO of the combined organization, while Harvard Pilgrim Health Care President and CEO Michael Carson serves as president, overseeing the combined business lines and subsidiary, according to the announcement.

Joyce Murphy, board chair for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, is expected to chair the combined board of directors, which will have equal representation from each legacy organization.

“Through the combination of two strong organizations with a commitment to non-profit health care in New England, we will be able to provide even greater value to consumers, as well as improve access to care throughout the region,” Murphy said in the statement.

The two organizations said they expect their combined strengths will enable them to improve affordability “through scale and administrative cost efficiencies,” increase healthcare access, improve healthcare quality, and streamline the customer experience.

The combined organization, which has yet to be named, would serve nearly 2.4 million plan members in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticuit, and Rhode Island.

Both boards approved the agreement, but the organizations will remain separate pending regulatory approvals, according to the announcement.