The Future of Hospitals in Post-COVID America (Part 1): The Market Response

Click to access CBC_72_08052020_Final.pdf

 

[Readers’ Note: This is the first of two articles on the Future of Hospitals in Post-COVID America. This article
examines how market forces are consolidating, rationalizing and redistributing acute care assets within the
broader industry movement to value-based care delivery. The second article, which will publish next month,
examines gaps in care delivery and the related public policy challenges of providing appropriate, accessible
and affordable healthcare services in medically-underserved communities.]

In her insightful 2016 book, The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore,
Michelle Wucker coins the term “Gray Rhinos” and contrasts them with “Black Swans.” That distinction is
highly relevant to the future of American hospitals.

Black Swans are high impact events that are highly improbable and difficult to predict. By contrast, Gray
Rhinos are foreseeable, high-impact events that we choose to ignore because they’re complex, inconvenient
and/or fortified by perverse incentives that encourage the status quo. Climate change is a powerful example
of a charging Gray Rhino.

In U.S. healthcare, we are now seeing what happens when a Gray Rhino and a Black Swan collide.
Arguably, the nation’s public health defenses should anticipate global pandemics and apply resources
systematically to limit disease spread. This did not happen with the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, COVID-19 hit the public healthcare infrastructure suddenly and hard. This forced hospitals and health systems to dramatically reduce elective surgeries, lay off thousands and significantly change care delivery with the adoption of new practices and services like telemedicine.

In comparison, many see the current American hospital business model as a Gray Rhino that has been charging toward
unsustainability for years with ever-building momentum.

Even with massive and increasing revenue flows, hospitals have long struggled with razor-thin margins, stagnant payment rates and costly technology adoptions. Changing utilization patterns, new and disruptive competitors, pro-market regulatory rules and consumerism make their traditional business models increasingly vulnerable and, perhaps, unsustainable.

Despite this intensifying pressure, many hospitals and health systems maintain business-as-usual practices because transformation is so difficult and costly. COVID-19 has made the imperative of change harder to ignore or delay addressing.

For a decade, the transition to value-based care has dominated debate within U.S. healthcare and absorbed massive strategic,
operational and financial resources with little progress toward improved care outcomes, lower costs and better customer service. The hospital-based delivery system remains largely oriented around Fee-for-Service reimbursement.

Hospitals’ collective response to COVID-19, driven by practical necessity and financial survival, may accelerate the shift to value-based care delivery. Time will tell.

This series explores the repositioning of hospitals during the next five years as the industry rationalizes an excess supply of acute care capacity and adapts to greater societal demands for more appropriate, accessible and affordable healthcare services.

It starts by exploring the role of the marketplace in driving hospital consolidation and the compelling need to transition to value-based care delivery and payment models.

COVID’s DUAL SHOCKS TO PATIENT VOLUME

Many American hospitals faced severe financial and operational challenges before COVID-19. The sector has struggled to manage ballooning costs, declining margins and waves of policy changes. A record 18 rural hospitals closed in 2019. Overall, hospitals saw a 21% decline in operating margins in 2018-2019.

COVID intensified those challenges by administering two shocks to the system that decreased the volume of hospital-based activities and decimated operating margins.

The first shock was immediate. To prepare for potential surges in COVID care, hospitals emptied beds and cancelled most clinic visits, outpatient treatments and elective surgeries. Simultaneously, they incurred heavy costs for COVID-related equipment (e.g. ventilators,PPE) and staffing. Overall, the sector experienced over $200 billion in financial losses between March and June 20204.

The second, extended shock has been a decrease in needed but not necessary care. Initially, many patients delayed seeking necessary care because of perceived infection risk. For example, Emergency Department visits declined 42% during the early phase of the pandemic.

Increasingly, patients are also delaying care because of affordability concerns and/or the loss of health insurance. Already, 5.4 million people have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. This will reduce incremental revenues associated with higher-paying commercial insurance claims across the industry. Additionally, avoided care reduces patient volumes and hospital revenues today even as it increases the risk and cost of future acute illness.

The infusion of emergency funding through the CARES Act helped offset some operating losses but it’s unclear when and even whether utilization patterns and revenues will return to normal pre-COVID levels. Shifts in consumer behavior, reductions in insurance coverage, and the emergence of new competitors ranging from Walmart to enhanced primary care providers will likely challenge the sector for years to come.

The disruption of COVID-19 will serve as a forcing function, driving meaningful changes to traditional hospital business models and the competitive landscape. Frankly, this is long past due. Since 1965, Fee-for-Service (FFS) payment has dominated U.S. healthcare and created pervasive economic incentives that can serve to discourage provider responsiveness in transitioning to value-based care delivery, even when aligned to market demand.

Telemedicine typifies this phenomenon. Before COVID, CMS and most health insurers paid very low rates for virtual care visits or did not cover them at all. This discouraged adoption of an efficient, high-value care modality until COVID.

Unable to conduct in-person clinical visits, providers embraced virtual care visits and accelerated its mass adoption. CMS and
commercial health insurers did their part by paying for virtual care visits at rates equivalent to in-person clinic visits. Accelerated innovation in care delivery resulted.

 

THE COMPLICATED TRANSITION TO VALUE

Broadly speaking, health systems and physician groups that rely almost exclusively on activity-based payment revenues have struggled the most during this pandemic. Vertically integrated providers that offer health insurance and those receiving capitated payments in risk-based contracts have better withstood volume losses.

Modern Healthcare notes that while provider data is not yet available, organizations such as Virginia Care Partners, an integrated network and commercial ACO; Optum Health (with two-thirds of its revenue risk-based); and MediSys Health Network, a New Yorkbased NFP system with 148,000 capitated and 15,000 shared risk patients, are among those navigating the turbulence successfully. As the article observes,

providers paid for value have had an easier time weathering the storm…. helped by a steady source of
income amid the chaos. Investments they made previously in care management, technology and social
determinants programs equipped them to pivot to new ways of providing care.

They were able to flip the switch on telehealth, use data and analytics to pinpoint patients at risk for
COVID-19 infection, and deploy care managers to meet the medical and nonclinical needs of patients even
when access to an office visit was limited.

Supporting this post-COVID push for value-based care delivery, six former leaders from CMS wrote to Congress in
June 2020 calling for providers, commercial insurers and states to expand their use of value-based payment models to
encourage stability and flexibility in care delivery.

If value-based payment models are the answer, however, adoption to date has been slow, limited and difficult. Ten
years after the Affordable Care Act, Fee-for-Service payment still dominates the payer landscape. The percentage of
overall provider revenue in risk-based capitated contracts has not exceeded 20%

Despite improvements in care quality and reductions in utilization rates, cost savings have been modest or negligible.
Accountable Care Organizations have only managed at best to save a “few percent of Medicare spending, [but] the
amount varies by program design.”

While most health systems accept some forms of risk-based payments, only 5% of providers expect to have a majority
(over 80%) of their patients in risk-based arrangements within 5 years.

The shift to value is challenging for numerous reasons. Commercial payers often have limited appetite or capacity for
risk-based contracting with providers. Concurrently, providers often have difficulty accessing the claims data they need
from payers to manage the care for targeted populations.

The current allocation of cost-savings between buyers (including government, employers and consumers), payers
(health insurance companies) and providers discourages the shift to value-based care delivery. Providers would
advance value-based models if they could capture a larger percentage of the savings generated from more effective
care management and delivery. Those financial benefits today flow disproportionately to buyers and payers.

This disconnection of payment from value creation slows industry transformation. Ultimately, U.S. healthcare will not
change the way it delivers care until it changes the way it pays for care. Fortunately, payment models are evolving to
incentivize value-based care delivery.

As payment reform unfolds, however, operational challenges pose significant challenges to hospitals and health
systems. They must adopt value-oriented new business models even as they continue to receive FFS payments. New
and old models of care delivery clash.

COVID makes this transition even more formidable as many health systems now lack the operating stamina and
balance sheet strength to make the financial, operational and cultural investments necessary to deliver better
outcomes, lower costs and enhanced customer service.

 

MARKET-DRIVEN CONSOLIDATION AND TRANSFORMATION

Full-risk payment models, such as bundled payments for episodic care and capitation for population health, are the
catalyst to value-based care delivery. Transition to value-based care occurs more easily in competitive markets with
many attributable lives, numerous provider options and the right mix of willing payers.

As increasing numbers of hospitals struggle financially, the larger and more profitable health systems are expanding
their networks, capabilities and service lines through acquisitions. This will increase their leverage with commercial
payers and give them more time to adapt to risk-based contracting and value-based care delivery.

COVID also will accelerate acquisition of physician practices. According to an April 2020 MGMA report, 97% of
physician practices have experienced a 55% decrease in revenue, forcing furloughs and layoffs15. It’s estimated the
sector could collectively lose as much as $15.1 billion in income by the end of September 2020.

Struggling health systems and physician groups that read the writing on the wall will pro-actively seek capital or
strategic partners that offer greater scale and operating stability. Aggregators can be selective in their acquisitions,
seeking providers that fuel growth, expand contiguous market positions and don’t dilute balance sheets.

Adding to the sector’s operating pressure, private equity, venture investors and payers are pouring record levels of
funding into asset-light and virtual delivery companies that are eager to take on risk, lower prices by routing procedures
and capture volume from traditional providers. With the right incentives, market-driven reforms will reallocate resources
to efficient companies that generate compelling value.

As this disruption continues to unfold, rural and marginal urban communities that lack robust market forces will
experience more facility and practice closures. Without government support to mitigate this trend, access and care gaps
that already riddle American healthcare will unfortunately increase.

 

WINNING AT VALUE

The average hospital generates around $11,000 per patient discharge. With ancillary services that can often add up to
more than $15,000 per average discharge. Success in a value-based system is predicated on reducing those
discharges and associated costs by managing acute care utilization more effectively for distinct populations (i.e.
attributed lives).

This changes the orientation of healthcare delivery toward appropriate and lower cost settings. It also places greater
emphasis on preventive, chronic and outpatient care as well as better patient engagement and care coordination.
Such a realignment of care delivery requires the following:

 A tight primary care network (either owned or affiliated) to feed referrals and reduce overall costs through
better preventive care.

 A gatekeeper or navigator function (increasingly technology-based) to manage / direct patients to the most
appropriate care settings and improve coordination, adherence and engagement.

 A carefully designed post-acute care network (including nursing homes, rehab centers, home care
services and behavioral health services, either owned or sufficiently controlled) to manage the 70% of
total episode-of-care costs that can occur outside the hospital setting.

 An IT infrastructure that can facilitate care coordination across all providers and settings.

Quality data and digital tools that enhance care, performance, payment and engagement.

Experience with managing risk-based contracts.

 A flexible approach to care delivery that includes digital and telemedicine platforms as well as nontraditional sites of care.

Aligned or incentivized physicians.

Payer partners willing to share data and offload risk through upside and downside risk contracts.

Engaged consumers who act on their preferences and best interests.

 

While none of these strategies is new or controversial, assembling them into cohesive and scalable business models is
something few health systems have accomplished. It requires appropriate market conditions, deep financial resources,
sophisticated business acumen, operational agility, broad stakeholder alignment, compelling vision, and robust
branding.

Providers that fail to embrace value-based care for their “attributed lives” risk losing market relevance. In their relentless pursuit of increasing treatment volumes and associated revenues, they will lose market share to organizations that
deliver consistent and high-value care outcomes.

CONCLUSION: THE CHARGING GRAY RHINO

America needs its hospitals to operate optimally in normal times, flex to manage surge capacity, sustain themselves
when demand falls, create adequate access and enhance overall quality while lowering total costs. That is a tall order
requiring realignment, evolution, and a balance between market and policy reform measures.

The status quo likely wasn’t sustainable before COVID. The nation has invested heavily for many decades in acute and
specialty care services while underinvesting, on a relative basis, in primary and chronic care services. It has excess
capacity in some markets, and insufficient access in others.

COVID has exposed deep flaws in the activity-based payment as well as the nation’s underinvestment in public health.
Disadvantaged communities have suffered disproportionately. Meanwhile, the costs for delivering healthcare services
consume an ever-larger share of national GDP.

Transformational change is hard for incumbent organizations. Every industry, from computer and auto manufacturing to
retailing and airline transportation, confronts gray rhino challenges. Many companies fail to adapt despite clear signals
that long-term viability is under threat. Often, new, nimble competitors emerge and thrive because they avoid the
inherent contradictions and service gaps embedded within legacy business models.

The healthcare industry has been actively engaged in value-driven care transformation for over ten years with little to
show for the reform effort. It is becoming clear that many hospitals and health systems lack the capacity to operate
profitably in competitive, risk-based market environments.

This dismal reality is driving hospital market valuations and closures. In contrast, customers and capital are flowing to
new, alternative care providers, such as OneMedical, Oak Street Health and Village MD. Each of these upstart
companies now have valuations in the $ billions. The market rewards innovation that delivers value.

Unfortunately, pure market-driven reforms often neglect a significant and growing portion of America’s people. This gap has been more apparent as COVID exacts a disproportionate toll on communities challenged by higher population
density, higher unemployment, and fewer medical care options (including inferior primary and preventive care infrastructure).

Absent fundamental change in our hospitals and health systems, and investment in more efficient care delivery and
payment models, the nation’s post-COVID healthcare infrastructure is likely to deteriorate in many American
communities, making them more vulnerable to chronic disease, pandemics and the vicissitudes of life.

Article 2 in our “Future of Hospitals” series will explore the public policy challenges of providing appropriate, affordable and accessible healthcare to all American communities.

 

 

 

Envisioning the future of health system strategy

https://mailchi.mp/0fa09872586c/the-weekly-gist-july-31-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

We’ve spent the past five months working with our health system members to develop a perspective on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on strategy, discussing what’s changed and what hasn’t, and where leaders should focus moving forward. The above graphic provides an overview of that perspective.

We think about the future across three time periods:

The “near future”, which will largely be dominated by concerns about reopening and recovering clinical operations and financial stability;

The “next future”, which we view as a period of strategic realignment during which we’ll see a “land grab” for advantage among payers, providers, and disruptors;

And the “far future”, in which the fundamental structure of the industry—how healthcare is organized, delivered, and paid for—will see more dramatic changes based on the evolution of economic and policy drivers.

Over time, “market uncertainty” caused by the uncertain course of the disease itself, along with societal and political shifts, will give way to “industry uncertainty”, under which a new competitive landscape will begin to develop.

Across those time horizons, health system strategy should focus on agile and decisive actions to respond to the environment—ensuring a safe and reliable return to normal clinical operations, taking best advantage of the opportunity to play new roles in the delivery of care (e.g., virtual and home-based services), and over time, building a full-scale, consumer-centric care ecosystem.

That’s a lot of rhetoric, but the hard work lies beneath—requiring systems to execute on several key fronts, from ensuring efficient, “systematized” operations, to building sustainable payment and pricing approaches, to adopting a relentless focus on services that earn and maintain consumer loyalty over time. We’ll have more to share on all of these ideas across the coming months, as our work with members continues. What’s clear now is that we’re not going back to the old way of doing things—we’re heading toward a “brave new world” of healthcare delivery.

 

 

 

 

Some providers face daunting repayment deadline for Medicare advance loans

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/some-providers-face-daunting-aug-1-repayment-deadline-for-medicare-advance-loans?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRReFlqRmpaamRtWVdabSIsInQiOiJFTEp3SjQ3NG01NXcwRTg3Z0hCZkdTRlwvOURSeEVlblwvRlFUWlZcL09ONjZGNVEybzl3ekl3VFd2ZEgxSjY2NGQ0TkFIRFdtQ0ZDWUx0ak96NU15d09qMWcrdm9BMFUxOSszcVI0T21rak5raEN0aE5Kb0VUUGFcL254QnBjMjdCbzkifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

Starting this month, some providers are facing the prospect of their Medicare payments garnished to repay COVID-19 loans.

The pressing Aug. 1 deadline has sparked concerns from some experts and hospital groups that worry providers couldn’t afford to lose out on Medicare revenue as they combat revenue losses caused by the pandemic. While the program was intended to be a short-term solution, COVID-19 surges are proving that is not the case for some hospitals.

At the onset of the pandemic in March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) extended the advance payment program, which has been used previously to help providers beset by disasters such as hurricanes. Providers and suppliers could apply for advance Medicare payments to offset massive losses sparked by declines in patient volumes due to COVID-19.

Most providers could get up to 100% of their Medicare payments for a three-month period, and inpatient acute care hospitals, children’s hospitals and some cancer hospitals can request up to 100% for a six-month period. Critical access hospitals could have gotten up to 125% over six months.

CMS had given out $100 billion of loans before suspending the program.

“It was very effective because the process was already in place,” said Denise Burke, a partner with the healthcare compliance and operations group for law firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis.

The goal behind the program is to help providers stay afloat and was meant to be a short-term solution, as repayment starts 120 days after a provider gets the first payment. But that is the problem, experts say.

“It was intended as a short-term bridge so they could get through the summer before everything returned to normal, only problem is nothing has returned to normal,” said Dan Mendelson, founder and former president of consulting firm Avalere Health.

Now, repayment for the first loans are due on Aug. 1 as more and more states are seeing massive surges of COVID-19. Some major hospital systems, such as HCA and CHS, have been able to offset massive declines in revenue thanks to the loans and money from a $175 billion provider relief fund passed by Congress.

Hospitals have one year from the date of the accelerated payment to repay the balance of the loan, but Medicare Part A providers and Part B suppliers have 210 days from the accelerated payment to repay.

“CMS should think about relative to financial position of the provider,” Mendelson said. “Some providers are doing just fine and can repay loans just like everybody else.”

After the 120-day period is up, CMS will take 100% of Medicare claims payments that would have gone to the provider to offset the balance of the loan.

But it remains unclear whether CMS can change the terms of the repayment to give providers and suppliers more time, especially if they are struggling.

“CMS moves deadlines all the time,” Mendelson said. “The question is whether they can or are willing to exercise this discretion in this case.”

It also is unlikely that CMS will resume the program, which some provider groups have also called for.

“It seems unlikely CMS will continue to allocate money through the advance payment program that has fewer terms and conditions than allocating through provider relief fund,” Burke said, referring to the $175 billion fund that Health and Human Services is still allocating.

CMS did not return a request for comment as of press time.

A major problem for some hospitals is they may not have the liquidity available to repay the loans.

“There are a lot of hospitals struggling right now because volumes are off,” Mendelson said. “This comes down to the fact that people are staying away from the hospital to the extent they possibly can.”

Provider groups such as the American Hospital Association are imploring Congress to forgive the loans, or at the very least change the repayment terms.

For instance, some groups want to lower the interest rates to 50 or 25% of a Medicare payment as opposed to 100%.

But talks on a new COVID-19 relief package have stalled so far no deal has emerged.

Senate Republicans released their own package earlier this week that includes another $25 billion for providers and gives liability protections for hospitals and other businesses. But the package doesn’t include changes to the loans.

 

 

 

Appeals court upholds nearly 30% payment cut to 340B hospitals

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/appeals-court-upholds-nearly-30-payment-cut-to-340b-hospitals?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRReFlqRmpaamRtWVdabSIsInQiOiJFTEp3SjQ3NG01NXcwRTg3Z0hCZkdTRlwvOURSeEVlblwvRlFUWlZcL09ONjZGNVEybzl3ekl3VFd2ZEgxSjY2NGQ0TkFIRFdtQ0ZDWUx0ak96NU15d09qMWcrdm9BMFUxOSszcVI0T21rak5raEN0aE5Kb0VUUGFcL254QnBjMjdCbzkifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

In court filing, AHA says HHS should make 340B hospitals 'whole ...

A federal appeals court has ruled the Trump administration can install nearly 30% cuts to the 340B drug discount program.

The ruling Friday is the latest legal setback for hospitals that have been vociferously fighting cuts the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced back in 2017.

340B requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to deliver discounts to safety net hospitals in exchange for participation in Medicaid. A hospital will pay typically between 20% and 50% below the average sales price for the covered drugs.

HHS sought to address a payment gap between 340B and Medicare Part B, which reimburses providers for drugs administered in a physician’s office such as chemotherapy. There was a 25% and 55% gap between the price for a 340B drug and on Medicare Part B.

So HHS administered a 28.5% cut in the 2018 hospital payment rule. The agency also included the cuts in the 2019 payment rule.

Three hospital groups sued to stop the cut, arguing that HHS exceeded its federal authority to adjust the rates to the program.

A lower court agreed with the hospitals and called for the agency to come up with a remedy for the cuts that already went into effect.

But HHS argued that when it sets 340B payment amounts, it has the authority to adjust the amounts to ensure they don’t reimburse hospitals at higher levels than the actual costs to acquire the drugs.

If the hospital acquisition cost data are not available, HHS could determine the amount of payment equal to the average drug price. HHS argued that hospital cost acquisition data was not available and so HHS needed to determine the payment rates based on the average drug price.

The court agreed with the agency’s interpretation.

“At a minimum, the statute does not clearly preclude HHS from adjusting the [340B] rate in a focused manner to address problems with reimbursement rates applicable only to certain types of hospitals,” the ruling said.

The court added that the $1.6 billion gleaned from the cuts would go to all providers as additional reimbursements for other services.

340B groups were disappointed with the decision.

“These cuts of nearly 30% have caused real and lasting pain to safety-net hospitals and the patients they serve,” said Maureen Testoni, president and CEO of advocacy group 340B Health, which represents more than 1,400 hospitals that participate in the program. “Keeping these cuts in place will only deepen the damage of forced cutbacks in patient services and cancellations of planned care expansions.”

This is the latest legal defeat for the hospital industry. A few weeks ago, the same appeals court ruled that HHS had the legal authority to institute cuts to off-campus clinics to bring Medicare payments in line with physician offices, reversing a lower court’s ruling.

The groups behind the lawsuit — American Hospital Association, American Association of Medical Colleges and America’s Essential Hospitals — slammed the decision as hurtful to hospitals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But the groups didn’t say if it would appeal the decision.

“Hospitals that rely on the savings from the 340B drug pricing program are also on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and today’s decision will result in the continued loss of resources at the worst possible time,” the groups said in a statement Friday.

 

 

 

How Many People in the U.S. Are Hospitalized With COVID-19? Who Knows?

https://www.propublica.org/article/how-many-people-in-the-us-are-hospitalized-with-covid-19-who-knows?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature

 

The Trump administration told hospitals to stop reporting data to the CDC, and report it to HHS instead. Vice President Mike Pence said the information would continue to be released publicly. It hasn’t worked out as promised.

In mid-July, the Trump administration instructed hospitals to change the way they reported data on their coronavirus patients, promising the new approach would provide better, more up-to-the-minute information about the virus’s toll and allow resources and supplies to be quickly dispatched across the country.

Instead, the move has created widespread confusion, leaving some states in the dark about their hospitals’ remaining bed and intensive care capacity and, at least temporarily, removing this information from public view. As a result, it has been unclear how many people are in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 at a time when the number of infected patients nationally has been soaring.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been seen as a key metric of both the coronavirus’s toll and the health care system’s ability to deal with it.

Since early in the pandemic, hospitals had been reporting data on COVID-19 patients to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through its National Healthcare Safety Network, which traditionally tracks hospital-acquired infections.

In a memo dated July 10, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told hospitals to abruptly change course — to stop reporting their data to the CDC and instead to submit it to HHS through a new portal run by a company called TeleTracking. The change took effect within days. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would continue releasing the data publicly, as the CDC had done.

Almost immediately, the CDC pulled its historical data offline, only to repost it under pressure a couple days later. Meanwhile the website for the administration’s new portal promised to update numbers on a daily basis, but, as of Friday morning, the site hadn’t been updated since July 23. (HHS is posting some data daily on a different federal website but not representative estimates for each state.)

“The most pernicious portion of it is that at the state level and at the regional level we lost our situational awareness,” said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. “At the end of this, we may have a fantastic data product out of HHS. I will not beat them up for trying to do something positive about the data, but the rollout of this has been absolutely a catastrophe.”

The Missouri Hospital Association had taken the daily data submitted by its hospitals to the CDC and created a state dashboard. The transition knocked that offline. The dashboard came back online this week, but Dillon said in a follow-up email, “the data is only as good as our ability to know that everyone is reporting the same data, in the correct way, for tracking and comparison purposes at the state level.”

Other states, including Idaho and South Carolina, also experienced temporary information blackouts. And The COVID Tracking Project, which has been following the pandemic’s toll across the country based on state data, noted issues with its figures. “These problems mean that our hospitalization data — a crucial metric of the COVID-19 pandemic — is, for now, unreliable, and likely an undercount. We do not think that either the state-level hospitalization data or the new federal data is reliable in isolation,” according to a blog post Tuesday on the group’s website.

Making matters more complicated, the administration has changed the information that it is requiring hospitals to report, adding many elements, such as the age range of admitted COVID-19 patients, and removing others. As of this week, for instance, HHS told hospitals to stop reporting the total number of deaths they’ve had since Jan. 1, the total number of COVID-19 deaths and the total number of COVID-19 admissions. (Hospitals still report daily figures, just not historical ones.)

“Massachusetts hospitals are continuing to navigate the dramatic increase of daily data requirements,” the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said in a newsletter on Monday. “MHA and other state health officials continue to raise concerns about the administrative burden and questionable usefulness of some of the data.”

“Hospitals across the country were given little time to adjust to the unnecessary and seismic changes put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which fundamentally shift both the volume of data and the platforms through which data is submitted,” the association’s CEO, Steve Walsh, said in the newsletter.

A number of state websites also noted problems with hospital data. For days, the Texas Department of State Health Services included a note on its dashboard that it was “reporting incomplete hospitalization numbers … due to a transition in reporting to comply with new federal requirements.” That came just as the state was experiencing a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

California likewise noted problems.

A spokesperson for HHS acknowledged some bumps in the transition but said in an email: “We are pleased with the progress we have made during this transition and the actionable data it is providing. We have had some states and hospital associations report difficulty with the new collection system. When HHS identifies errors in the data submissions, we work directly with the state or hospital association to quickly resolve them.

“Our objective with this new approach is to collaborate with the states and the healthcare system. The goal of full transparency is to acknowledge when we find discrepancies in the data and correct them.”

Last week, HHS noted, 93% of its prioritized list of hospitals, excluding psychiatric, rehabilitation and religious nonmedical facilities, reported data at least once during the week. (The guidance to hospitals asks them to report every day.)

Asked about the lack of timely data on its public website, HHS said it will update the site to “make it clear that the estimates are only updated weekly.” HHS is now posting a date file each day on healthdata.gov with aggregate information on hospitalizations by state.

But unlike the prior releases from CDC, which provided estimates on hospital capacity based on the responses, this file only gives totals for the hospitals that reported data. It’s unclear which hospitals did not report, how large they are, or whether the reported data is representative.

It’s also unclear if it’s accurate. New York state, for instance, reported that fewer than 600 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, as of Friday. Federal data released the same day pegged the number of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations at around 1,800.

Louisiana says more than 1,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The federal data puts the figure at fewer than 700.

Nationally, The COVID Tracking Project reports that more than 56,000 people were hospitalized around the country with the virus, as of Thursday.

The data released by HHS on Friday puts the figure at more than 70,000.

NPR reported this week that it had found irregularities in the process used by the Trump administration to award the contract to manage the hospital data. Among other things, HHS directly contacted TeleTracking about the contract and the agency used a process that is more often used for innovative scientific research, NPR reported.

An HHS spokesperson told NPR that the contract process it used is a “common mechanism … for areas of research interest,” and said that the system used by the CDC was “fraught with challenges.”

Ryan Panchadsaram, co-founder of the tracking website CovidExitStrategy.org, has been critical of the problems created by the hospital data changeover.

“Without real-time accurate monitoring, you can’t make quick and fast and accurate decisions in a crisis,” he said in an interview. “This is just so important. This indicator that’s gone shows how the health system in a state is doing.”

Dillon of the Missouri Hospital Association said the administration could have handled this differently. For big technology projects, he noted, there is often a well-publicized transition with information sessions, an educational program and, perhaps, running the old system and the new one in parallel.

This “was extremely abrupt,” he said. “That is not akin to anything you would expect from HHS about how you would implement a program.”

 

July ends on an uncertain note in the pandemic battle

https://mailchi.mp/0fa09872586c/the-weekly-gist-july-31-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Fighting a losing battle - post - Imgur

After a week that brought the most disastrous economic data in modern history, the death of a former Presidential candidate from COVID, and signs of an alarming surge in virus cases in the Midwest, Congress left Washington for the weekend without reaching a deal on a new recovery bill. That left millions of unemployed Americans without supplemental benefit payments, business owners wondering whether more financial assistance would be forthcoming, and hospitals facing the requirement to begin repaying billions of dollars of advance payments from Medicare.

Also remaining on the table was funding to bolster coronavirus testing, with the top health official in charge of the testing effort testifying on Friday that the system is not currently able to deliver COVID test results to patients in a timely manner. While the surge in cases appears to be shifting to the Midwest, there were early indications of positive news across the Sun Belt, as the daily new case count in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California continued to decline, while daily death counts (a lagging indicator) continued to hit new records.

Nationally, the daily case count appears to have reached a new plateau of around 65,000, with daily deaths rising to a 7-day average above 1,150, matching a level last seen in May.

Meanwhile, new clinical findings continued to refine our understanding of how the virus attacks its victims. Reporting in JAMA Cardiology, researchers used cardiac MRI to examine heart function among 100 coronavirus patients, 67 of whom recovered at home without hospitalization, finding that 78 percent demonstrated cardiac involvement and 60 percent had evidence of active heart muscle inflammation—concerning signs pointing to possible long-term complications, even in patients with relatively mild courses of COVID infection.

And yesterday in JAMA, investigators reported that while young children are typically less affected by COVID-19 than adults, children under 5 may harbor 100 times as much active virus in their nose and throat as infected adults. While the study does not confirm that kids spread the virus to adults, it is sure to raise concerns about reopening schools, which has generally been considered relatively safer for younger children.

US coronavirus update: 4.8M cases; 151K deaths; 52.9M tests conducted.

 

 

 

Hospitals lose legal challenge to 340B drug payment cut

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospitals-lose-legal-challenge-to-340b-drug-payment-cut/582717/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%20Weekly%20Roundup:%20Healthcare%20Dive:%20Daily%20Dive%2008-01-2020&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive%20Weekender

340B Program: Important, but Weaknesses Cited - Pharmacy Practice News

Dive Brief:

  • A significant rate cut for some medications for 340B hospitals was based on a “reasonable interpretation of the Medicare statute” and can stand, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Friday.
  • The 2-1 ruling overturns a district court decision that HHS overstepped its bounds when it cut the reimbursement rate for a certain category of outpatient drugs by 28.5% for hospitals enrolled in the 340B drug discount program.
  • The American Hospital Association, which challenged the rate cut along with three individual hospitals, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An advocacy group for 340B hospitals said in a statement it was disappointed in the ruling and that the rate change has “caused real and lasting pain to safety-net hospitals and the patients they serve.”

Dive Insight:

The decision is another major blow for hospitals, coming two weeks after the same court ruled HHS also acted within its authority when it reduced payments to off-campus hospital outpatient departments.

AHA said this week it is seeking to have that ruling overturned.

HHS made the cut to 340B hospital outpatient drug reimbursement in the 2018 Outpatient Prospective Payment System rule, arguing that those hospitals, which primarily serve low-income populations, get the drugs at a deep discount and thus could be incentivized to overuse them.

The cut was from 106% of the average sales price to 22.5% less than ASP. Hospitals immediately sued, but HHS retained the reduction in the 2019 OPPS. The department has said the change would save Medicare $1.6 billion in 2018.

Writing for the court, Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan said the department did indeed have the authority to make the reduction, “so as to avoid reimbursing those hospitals at much higher levels than their actual costs to acquire the drugs.”

He also called the cut “a fair, or even conservative, measure of the reduction needed to bring payments to those hospitals into parity with their costs to obtain the drugs.”

In a partially dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge Cornelia Pillard wrote that she believes the statute only allows HHS to make the change for a specific group of hospitals under a clause that requires the agency to use a certain data set it did not use.

 

 

 

 

8 hospitals closing departments, ending services

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/patient-flow/8-hospitals-closing-departments-ending-services.html?utm_medium=email

Several healthcare organizations recently closed medical units or terminated services to shore up finances, focus on more in-demand services or prevent patient care lapses. Here are eight that have announced or completed closures in the last three weeks:

1. As part of a systemwide strategy, Cleveland-based University Hospitals plans to consolidate its birthing services and its cardiac surgery program. University Hospitals Elyria (Ohio) Medical Center will end labor and delivery services in the next few months. University Hospitals St. John Medical Center in Westlake, Ohio, will end its heart surgery program.

2. St. Albans, Vt.-based Northwestern Medical Center will stop providing addiction treatment services by the end of the month in a cost-saving move. The hospital said that it will close the department because it was spending more on addiction treatment than it was making.

3. Kansas City, Mo.-based Saint Luke’s Health System ended inpatient care at Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital in Leavenworth, Kan., on July 17.

4. In an effort to consolidate services and cut costs, Jersey City, N.J.-based Christ Hospital said it will close its OB-GYN department by July 31.

5. WellSpan Waynesboro (Pa.) Hospital plans to close its birthing unit and end inpatient pediatric services on Sept. 18, the organization announced in July.

6. New York City-based Montefiore Health System is scaling back services at Mount Vernon (N.Y.) Hospital. In early July, Montefiore shut down the intensive care unit at the hospital and laid off 18 nurses. The ICU closure comes after the 121-bed hospital ended obstetrics, pediatrics, cardiology and oncology services.

7. In a cost-cutting move, Seattle Children’s said it will shut down its day care center that employees use for their kids.

8. Ashtabula (Ohio) County Medical Center plans to close its birthing unit by Aug. 1, according to the Star Beacon. The Ohio Nurses Association has filed a lawsuit to prevent the shutdown.