American patients can’t shop their way to a low cost healthcare system

American patients can’t shop their way to a low cost healthcare system

Hospital price transparency is a distraction from policies that could reduce costs without burdening patients, say Jamie Daw and Adam Sacarny.

 

The prices that hospitals charge privately insured patients in the US have long been shrouded in secrecy. These prices—which are negotiated between hospitals and private insurers—vary widely: the price for the same blood test could vary 39-fold within Tampa, Florida and the cost of a cesarean delivery varies by up to $24 000 in San Francisco, California.

A recent federal court decision stands to shine a light on opaque hospital pricing in the US. In a lawsuit brought forward by the American Hospital Association, a federal judge upheld a regulation issued by the Trump administration that will soon require hospitals to post a wealth of information on payment rates online.

This policy seems intuitive: in other sectors of the economy, consumers usually know the price of a service or product before they purchase it. By comparing prices, consumers can shop around and save money. In turn, sellers anticipate that behavior and are incentivized to keep prices low. Who wouldn’t want a virtuous circle like that in healthcare? 

The Trump administration argues that hospital price transparency will encourage value in healthcare by helping patients and employers find lower prices, while pressuring hospitals to cut them further. However, the potential effects—and who stands to benefit—are not so straightforward.

 

Firstly, giving consumers information on prices doesn’t necessarily mean that they will respond by seeking lower cost services. Studies have consistently found that patients tend not to use price transparency tools, and their effects on healthcare spending are small or nonexistent. Why? Shopping for healthcare services is often complicated or impossible. 

 

Many of the most expensive services are for emergencies where there is little scope for patients to shop.

Even when a patient has time to compare prices for non-urgent procedures or tests, the complexity of healthcare payment systems and insurance products makes it next to impossible for a patient to preemptively calculate what they would personally pay for an encounter. Establishing that amount requires patients to know the cost-sharing parameters of their insurance plan, the set of services they will use during the encounter, and how aggressively the hospital will bill for those services.

Insurance also obscures patients’ incentives to shop by insulating them from healthcare prices.

While patients can be given strong incentives to shop—and an increasing number of American workers are enrolled in high deductible health plans with this aim—these incentives are created by hoisting financial risk on patients. This financially burdens American families and can result in patients forgoing appropriate care.

 

Beyond the challenges posed by patient shopping, the empirical evidence supporting price transparency is weak.

It could even backfire. Economists have pointed out that in sectors with low competition, price transparency can facilitate collusion and lead to higher prices. This fear was borne out in Denmark when authorities began publishing the prices of ready-mixed cement. Prices proceeded to converge and rise, and the authorities eventually abandoned the idea. The most hopeful evidence in the US healthcare system comes from New Hampshire, where prices for medical imaging fell by 3% after the state established a price transparency website. But even effects of this magnitude, while beneficial, would only make a tiny dent in lowering US healthcare costs. 

 

Price transparency efforts reflect a broad trend for American policy makers to turn to consumer-driven strategies to reduce healthcare costs.

These strategies are built on the assumption that patients ought to be responsible for navigating their way to high quality, low cost healthcare. However, the challenges faced by patients in assessing the complex cost-quality tradeoffs in healthcare limit the potential for price transparency to have the impact that the administration advertises.

Perhaps more troubling is that these efforts could distract policy makers from addressing the main drivers of US healthcare prices, such as rapid and ongoing consolidation. Concentrated hospital markets are becoming the norm in the US and are strongly associated with higher prices. Antitrust actions, such as preventing hospital mergers, could reduce and reverse consolidation, likely leading to lower prices.

Another option for policy makers is to assume a greater regulatory role over healthcare prices, including introducing price caps and an all-payer rate setting. A Supreme Court decision made it much more difficult for state governments to collect the data that would undergird these efforts. As a result, the information released under the transparency rule may end up being more useful for states considering new price regulations than for patients shopping for healthcare services.

 

If we want to reduce prices without burdening patients with financial risk, then policy makers need to address the emerging causes of rising healthcare costs directly. Efforts to control costs are most likely to succeed when policy makers tackle the structural drivers behind the most expensive health system in the world.

 

 

 

 

Pre And Post Coronavirus Unemployment Rates By State, Industry, Age Group, And Race

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2020/06/28/pre-and-post-coronavirus-unemployment-rates-by-state-industry-age-group-and-race/#65c42c6555eb

Unemployment by State-May 2019 to May 2020

The coronavirus has decimated the U.S. economy and benched nearly 40 million American workers. In the past several days, the U.S. has logged its highest number of new Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. These combined with other factors, which we will discuss, is jeopardizing the future employment of millions of workers and the viability of thousands of businesses. Here’s how unemployment has increased for every state, industry, age group, and race, and why.

Unemployment by State

The coronavirus and subsequent stay at home orders hit the labor force especially hard. As states attempted to reopen, a resurgence in the virus is causing many businesses to close again, some by choice, others by government mandate.

Nevada has been hit the hardest as the unemployment rate in the Silver State rose from 4.0% in May 2019 to a whopping 25.3% in May 2020. Nevada’s economy is heavily reliant on leisure and hospitality, which had the brunt of the job losses. Hawaii, the second hardest hit state saw unemployment rise from 2.7% in May 2019 to 22.6% in May 2020. Which is the only other state with unemployment above 20% in May 2020? Michigan, where unemployment rose from 4.2% to 21.2% year over year. What state has fared best? Nebraska, which also has one of the most diverse economies of all states. Deriving nearly 50% of its total GDP from five different industries, unemployment in the Cornhusker State rose from 3.1% to a modest 5.2% from May 2019 to May 2020. Unemployment numbers for all states are shown in the following chart.

Unemployment by Industry

As mentioned in the previous section, the states that have fared best either have a more diverse economy or do not rely heavily on industries that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus. The most negatively affected is the leisure and hospitality industry where unemployment rose 618% from a low of 5.0% in May 2019 to a staggering 35.9% in May 2020. At a distant second, but still reeling, is the wholesale and retail trade industry, which saw unemployment rise from 4.2% to 15.1% during the same period. The rest of the industries are listed in the following chart.

Unemployment by Industry-May 2019 to May 2020

Unemployment by Age Group

Businesses need two things to exist: workers and customers. Without customers, there is no need for workers or the business for that matter. Some businesses require highly skilled workers while others operate well using unskilled labor. It is this unskilled labor group that has been hardest hit.

The greatest rise in unemployment is among workers under age 25. This is likely due to three factors. Younger workers typically have fewer marketable skills, less work experience, and less seniority. Many of these workers are in industries that have felt the greatest pain. Unemployment rates by age group are contained in the following chart.

Unemployment by Age Group-May 2019 to May 2020

Unemployment by Race/Ethnicity

Question: Prior to Covid-19, was unemployment among blacks / African Americans at a record low as President Trump has claimed? Using the available data, which extends back to January 1972, the answer is yes. This new record low was achieved in October and November of 2019 when unemployment among black or African American workers fell to 5.1%. The previous record low was 5.2% in December 1973. The current rate is 16.8%, which is less than the highest rate of 20.7% logged in December 1982. The most recent high in unemployment for this group was 19.3% in March 2010. It has been steadily declining since then. Numbers for White, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino and black or African American workers are listed in the following chart.

Unemployment by Race or Ethnicity-May 2019 to May 2020

Businesses need workers, workers need businesses, and both depend on customers. Since the pandemic began, consumer demand has fallen sharply. With the probability that a vaccine will not be available until early 2021 at the soonest, plus a disregard for recommended safety protocols by many individuals, namely wearing masks and social distancing, it is highly unlikely that the economy will return to normal for several years.

Will the president continue to hold rallies? Will he set an example by wearing a mask? Will the protests and violence continue? Will other large gatherings continue? Unless Americans make a collective and conscious choice to mask up and social distance, we will be forced to live in a depressed economy for longer than necessary. The choice is up to us.

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity Health expects $2B revenue plunge as it cuts, furloughs more staff

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/trinity-health-cutting-cost-cutting-2-billion-revenue-shortfall/580738/

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Dive Brief:

  • Trinity Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, said Monday it will take more measures to cut costs due to the downturn spurred by the novel coronavirus. The restructuring plan includes eliminating positions, extending furloughs, severances and reductions in schedules. The decisions are being “customized” across the system based on factors that include volume projections and the cost and revenue challenges in each market.
  • The Livonia, Michigan-based hospital operator said it continues to treat COVID-19 patients, however, it has “for now seen declining numbers of very sick patients with COVID-19.”
  • The system said it expects revenue to be depressed or “below historical levels” for the remainder of this fiscal year and much of the next. It projects revenue to drop by $2 billion to $17.3 billion for fiscal year 2021, which starts after its June 30 year end.

Dive Insight:

In May, Trinity said it planned to furlough nearly 12% of its workforce — or 15,000 employees out of the 125,000 nationally.  

Trinity, one of the nation’s largest hospital operators with 92 facilities and operations across 22 states, is now broadening that restructuring, extending and adding new furloughs.

In a Monday bond filing, Trinity said its operations were “significantly” impacted by the effects of the pandemic as many operators saw depressed volumes due to shelter-in-place orders, which started in most of Trinity’s markets during the last two weeks of March.

“The effect of COVID-19 on the operating margins and financial results of Trinity Health is adverse and significant and, at this point, the duration of the pandemic and the length of time until Trinity Health returns to normal operations is unknown,” according to Monday’s bond filing.

The system said relief funds provided by the federal government have not been enough to cover its operating losses. Trinity has received $600 million in relief funds that do not have to be repaid and more in loans through the advanced Medicare payment program, according to a previous analysis by Healthcare Dive.

Still, the system said it has drawn on credit facilities totaling $1 billion to provide adequate liquidity during the pandemic. Trinity reported having 178 days cash on hand as of March 30.

Some nonprofits are faring better than Trinity and pulling back on earlier staffing cuts.

Mayo Clinic said last week it will call back its furloughed workers by the end of August and restore pay that had been cut due to the pandemic.

Mayo has some of the most cash on hand in terms of days when comparing other major nonprofit systems. Mayo had 252 days of cash on hand as of March 30, more than the other 20 largest nonprofits except Cleveland Clinic and New York-Presbyterian.

 

 

U.S. Healthcare System vs. Socialized Medicine during the Pandemic

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/25/why-socialized-system-medicare-all-beats-profit-healthcare-one-chart-covid-19?fbclid=IwAR1qT_AI5KFreoEKOqQfvdWUHPyW80fa2Iefxb5Ul5wJQtf8rSvZXkL8RHM

 

“All countries successfully combatting this virus have robust public health systems, which provide for coordination of effort.”

A recent rise in cases of Covid-19 and the overt failure of the for-profit healthcare system throughout the pandemic in the U.S. are making the case for Medicare for All, advocacy groups and activists say, as countries with socialized systems see their infection rates decline.

“All countries successfully combatting this virus have robust public health systems, which provide for coordination of effort,” remarked a popular healthcare advocate who uses the @AllOnMedicare handle on Twitter.

Calls for the U.S. to adopt a single-payer heathcare system have increased as the pandemic has raged around the country. Cases and deaths in the U.S are now the highest in the world, a result critics blame on both the private healthcare system and the mismanagement of the crisis by President Donald Trump.

Public Citizen’s health care policy advocate Eagan Kemp told Common Dreams that the current for-profit healthcare system that has driven millions of Americans in to bankruptcy and leaves millions more without care will only continue to exacerbate the pain of the outbreak. 

“While no health care system can completely protect a country from Covid-19, the U.S. has failed to respond for a number of reasons, not least of which is a for-profit health care system where Americans are too afraid to go to the doctors for fear of the cost,” said Kemp. “Far too many Americans will face medical debt and even bankruptcy if they are lucky enough to survive getting Covid-19, something unheard of in all other comparably wealth countries.”

As University of Massachusetts professor Dean E. Robinson wrote in a piece that appeared at Common Dreams earlier this month, the coronavirus is impacting people of color at a disproportionate rate in cities and communities nationwide—a dynamic that bolsters the call for a universal Medicare for All program to help close those gaps.

“The obvious and immediate need of Black and other working class populations caught in the teeth of the pandemic is the right to health care treatment without the burden of cost,” wrote Robinson. “Even before the pandemic, lower-income, Latino, and younger workers were more likely to be uninsured. Undocumented workers had the highest rates of uninsurance.”

On June 18, Ralph Nader in an opinion piece for Common Dreams expressed his hope that the ongoing pandemic would make essential workers in the health field “the force that can overcome decades of commercial obstruction to full Medicare for All.”

 

 

 

 

Credit downgrades aren’t attributable to COVID-19 but cash flow will be a challenge

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/credit-downgrades-arent-attributable-covid-19-cash-flow-will-be-ongoing-challenge?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTUdSbVptVmhaR0ZpT0RJMyIsInQiOiJ2TVwvb3g5VWF4R05DeWFScVJ4U0lXeW9xWG1cL0pVMWo1RE1cL24rd21ySEErbk9kZWNIXC9hdmZYYmJBcGU1RDQ5MDVDNXVyZ2RZSWo2djRRSXhSOVFVQk1yNjFWOTVoVjlkTXVxXC95QXU1SU8yMEhJcEtHZXJ3ZDhDc2RMb2RcLzlMcSJ9

Just How Bad Is My Bad Credit Score? | Credit.com

The coronavirus is mainly affecting the credit outlook for the rest of the year and beyond as hospitals adapt to new financial realities.

While the COVID-19 coronavirus is likely to cause cash flow and liquidity issues for hospitals through the end of the year and into 2021, the credit outlook for the healthcare industry isn’t as dire as some had feared. While there have been some downgrades this year, most of those are attributable to healthcare financial performance at the end of 2019.

At a virtual session of the Healthcare Financial Management Association on Wednesday, Lisa Goldstein, associate managing director at Moody’s Investors Service, said the agency is taking a measured approach to issuing credit ratings and will “triage” these ratings based on factors such as liquidity and cash flow.

“Changes are happening daily, and sometimes hourly with funding coming from the federal government,” said Goldstein, “so we’re taking a very measured approach.”

Healthcare is among the most volatile industries being affected by the coronavirus due to the fact that it operates like a business, with a general lack of government support to pay off debt.

Credit downgrades are on the rise, but there’s historical precedent at play. Looking at data beginning with the 2008 financial crisis, there were consistently more downgrades than upgrades in the healthcare industry, owing to its inherent volatility. It was and has generally been subject to public policy and competitive forces. In any given year, downgrades exceed upgrades.

After passage of the Affordable Care Act, however, the number of uninsured Americans hit an all-time low. Hospitals grew in occupancy and revenues improved. The situation started to worsen once more when it became clear that there was a national nursing shortage, as well as top-line revenue pressure from government and commercial payers lowering their rates, but credit downgrades didn’t truly explode until this year. There have been 24 downgrades so far this year, already exceeding the 13 downgrades in all of 2019.

The rub is that it’s not the coronavirus’s fault.

“Most downgrades were in the first quarter of the year,” said Goldstein. “We did have a lot of downgrades in March, which is when the pandemic really started – when it became a pandemic – but even though there were 11 downgrades in March, it was based on what we’d seen through the end of 2019. There were problems that were appearing that had nothing to do with the pandemic.”

Basic fundamental operating challenges were becoming more pronounced during that time. A decline in inpatient cases, a rapid rise in observation stays, a decline in outpatient cases to competing clinics and health centers, and staffing and productivity challenges all contributed to material increases in debt.

COVID-19’s effects on hospital credit ratings are in the outlook for the rest of the year and beyond. Interestingly, in March, Moody’s changed its outlook from negative to stable.

“We haven’t seen anything like this,” said Goldstein. “The industry has been through shocks, but something this long in duration has been something we think will have an impact on financial performance going forward.”

Moody’s anticipates cash flow will remain low into 2021, mostly from the suspension of elective surgeries, rising staffing expenses and uncertainty around securing enough personal protective equipment. Liquidity is still a concern, but is more of a side issue due to Medicare funding providing a Band-Aid of sorts. The CARES act will help to fill some of that gap, but not all of it, said Goldstein.

She added that the $175 billion in stimulus funding is favorable, but modestly so, since it is estimated to cover only about two months’ worth of spending. The good news is that the opportunity to apply for grant money, which doesn’t have to be repaid, can help to fill some of the gap.

Some hospital leaders are concerned that if they violate covenants – also known as a technical default – their credit outlook will be downgraded. Goldstein sought to assuage those concerns.

“Debt service covenants are expected to rise, but an expected covenant breach or violation won’t have an impact on credit quality because it’s driven by an unusual event happening,” she said. “It doesn’t speak to your fundamental history as an operating entity.”

 

 

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19

https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/502851-examining-the-delivery-of-high-value-care-through-covid-19#bottom-story-socials

Re-examining the delivery of high-value care through COVID-19 ...

Over the past months, the country and the economy have radically shifted to unchartered territory. Now more than ever, we must reexamine how we spend health care dollars. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed challenges with health care in America, we see two overarching opportunities for change:

1) the under-delivery of evidence-based care that materially improves the lives and well-being of Americans and

2) the over-delivery of unnecessary and, sometimes, harmful care.

The implications of reallocating our health care spending to high-value services are far-ranging, from improving health to economic recovery. 

To prepare for coronavirus patients and preserve protective equipment, clinicians and hospitals across the country halted non-urgent visits and procedures. This has led to a substantial reduction in high-value care: emergency care for strokes or heart attacks, childhood vaccinations, and routine chronic disease management. However, one silver lining to this near shutdown is that a similarly dramatic reduction in the use of low-value services has also ensued.

As offices and hospitals re-open, we have a once in a century opportunity to align incentives for providers and consumers, so patients get more high-value services in high-value settings, while minimizing the resurgence of low-value care. For example, the use of pre-operative testing in low-risk patients should not accompany the return of elective procedures such as cataract removal. Conversely, benefit designs should permanently remove barriers to high-value settings and services, like patients receiving dialysis at home or phone calls with mental health providers.   

People with low incomes and multiple chronic conditions are of particular concern as unemployment rises and more Americans lose their health care coverage. Suboptimal access and affordability to high-value chronic disease care prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was well documented  As financially distressed providers re-open to a new normal, hopeful to regain their financial footing, highly profitable services are likely to be prioritized.

Unfortunately, clinical impact and profitability are frequently not linked. The post-COVID reopening should build on existing quality-driven payment models and increase reimbursement for high-value care to ensure that compensation better aligns with patient-centered outcomes.

At the same time, the dramatic fall in “non-essential care” included a significant reduction in services that we know to be harmful or useless. Billions are spent annually in the US on routinely delivered care that does not improve health; a recent study from 4 states reports that patients pay a substantial proportion (>10 percent) of this tab out-of-pocket. This type of low-value care can lead to direct harm to patients — physically or financially or both — as well as cascading iatrogenic harm, which can amplify the total cost of just one low-value service by up to 10 fold. Health care leaders, through the Smarter Health Care Coalition, have hence called on the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Azar to halt Medicare payments for services deemed low-value or harmful by the USPSTF. 

As offices and hospitals reopen with unprecedented clinical unmet needs, we have a unique opportunity to rebuild a flawed system. Payment policies should drive incentives to improve individual and population health, not the volume of services delivered. We emphasize that no given service is inherently high- or low-value, but that it depends heavily on the individual context. Thus, the implementation of new financial incentives for providers and patients needs to be nuanced and flexible to allow for patient-level variability. The added expenditures required for higher reimbursement rates for highly valuable services can be fully paid for by reducing the use of and reimbursement for low-value services.  

The delivery of evidence-based care should be the foundation of the new normal. We all agree that there is more than enough money in U.S. health care; it’s time that we start spending it on services that will make us a healthier nation.

 

 

 

A Scalpel Instead Of A Sledgehammer: The Potential Of Value-Based Deductible Exemptions In High-Deductible Health Plans

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200615.238552/full/?utm_campaign=HASU+6-21-20&utm_medium=email&utm_content=COVID-19%3A+Face+Mask+Mandates%2C+Immigration+Detention+Facilities%2C+Symptom+Monitoring%3B+Treatment+Of+Opioid+Use+Disorder%3B+Supreme+Court+LGBT+Decision%3A+Implications+For+The+ACA&utm_source=Newsletter

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High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) covered more than 30 percent of enrollees in employer-sponsored plans in the United States in 2019, up from 4 percent in 2006. In 2020, the Internal Revenue Service defines HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. An HDHP’s total yearly out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) cannot be more than $6,900 for an individual or $13,800 for a family. However, this limit does not apply to out-of-network services.

The growth of HDHPs is driven by the pursuit of reduced health care spending and premiums for both employees and employers through channeling elements of consumerism and managed care. Often, HDHPs are offered along with a savings option (health savings account or health reimbursement arrangement) in a consumer-directed health plan.

Recently, however, there have been concerns about the out-of-pocket cost burdens imposed on patients by HDHPs and other plans. Reducing these costs has been the focus of major policy proposals, including prescription drug bills from both the House and the Senate; forthcoming plans for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test value-based insurance models following the president’s executive order 13890 on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors; and H.R. 2774, the Primary Care Patient Protection Act of 2019, which would create a primary care benefit for all HDHP holders, allowing for up to two deductible-free primary care office visits each year.

It is becoming increasingly clear that HDHPs’ indiscriminate reductions in care usage may not be the best way to contain health care costs. In this post, we suggest that combining the principles of HDHPs and value-based insurance design (VBID), by offering deductible exemptions for high-value services, could provide nuanced incentives with potential to preserve access to the most important services while reducing use of only more wasteful care.

Why Did HDHPs Fail To Deliver Their Intended Consequences?

The intended premise of HDHPs is that beneficiaries facing the full costs of health care services during the deductible phase will engage in price shopping and subsequently choose care commensurate with expected benefits of that care. The hope is that the combination of lower prices and a different mix of services could increase the value of health care used while also reducing costs. Unfortunately, evaluations of HDHPs suggest that consumers neither price shop nor can they discriminate between high- and low-value care when facing high deductibles; accordingly, they reduce use of both essential and inessential services. Not only is this behavior likely to lead to worse health for beneficiaries, but short-term savings for both the beneficiary and the insurer may be offset by increased long-term spending associated with preventable adverse health events. The lack of the hoped-for response to HDHPs (price shopping and reduction in unnecessary care only) may stem from a lack of price transparency, inability to pay for essential care during the deductible phase, or inadequate information about the value of alternate health care services and technologies.

The evidence on HDHPs should not be surprising. It matches older evidence from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment, where cost sharing caused people to reduce consumption of both appropriate and inappropriate care. The RAND experiment demonstrated that consumers may not have enough information available freely to them to address uncertainty and make rational choices about which services to purchase and which to forgo. For this reason, we suggest a variation on VBID, in which deductible exemptions for established high-value services would inform and incentivize beneficiaries to use the most valuable care, while disincentivizing low-value options. Such recommendations have been made in different forms in the literature but have not been widely adopted.

Tying-In Value Conversations Within HDHPs

VBIDs have developed over the past 15 years on the premise that when everyone is required to pay the same out-of-pocket amount for health care services whose benefits depend on patient characteristics, there is enormous potential for both underuse and overuse of care. It is also true that health services can be underused and overused when there are differential health-related returns across services, but patients are unaware of the differences. VBIDs have been used by insurers as a mechanism to address this information problem, by signaling the value of alternative health care technologies to consumers through variable cost sharing.

To date, most applications of VBID have focused on applying such designs to copays but not to deductibles. Moreover, most applications have applied reduced cost sharing for targeted high-value drugs, and only a few have also implemented concomitant increased cost sharing for low-value drugs. This means that the cost differences that the consumers faced between high- and low-value products continued to be small. Consequently, results of such applications show the promise of VBID, but to a limited scale, owing to the relative inelasticity of demand for care related to small copay variation. Tying value-based cost sharing within deductibles could generate a bigger “nudge” to align use with value.  

Only one study evaluated the application of VBID on cost sharing within an HDHP plan. This research analyzed Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, where patients were switched to HDHPs, but some of them were offered free chronic disease medications. Resulting improvements in adherence due to zero cost sharing for chronic disease medications were shown to offset the HDHP-associated adherence reduction, especially for patients with poor adherence at the start. Importantly, adherence improvements did not occur for more clinically complex patients, or patients living in poorer neighborhoods. The inclusion of active counseling in VBID plans has potential to address these limitations.

In another example of VBID, a not-for-profit health plan in the Pacific Northwest implemented a formulary that tied drug copays to cost-effectiveness. Researchers found larger shifts in demand within drug classes in which copays were simultaneously reduced for high-value treatments and increased for low-value treatments, compared to drug classes in which the copays only moved in one direction. The overall effect of the VBID implementation was welfare-increasing but small, perhaps because the price dispersion faced by the patient between high-value and low-value alternatives was still too low to alter demand.

Other applications of VBID, where cost sharing was removed for primary care visits, were found to reduce total spending, mainly due to reductions in use of emergency department (ED) and other outpatient services. A plan that bundled copays for back pain physical therapy found reductions in ED use, in addition to eventual reductions in primary care use, and better adherence to care guidelines.

Value-Based High-Deductible Plans

We suggest that value-based high-deductible plans (VHDP), which combine the principles of HDHPs and VBID, and have been suggested as “a natural evolution of health plans,” could provide a robust alternative in insurance markets and achieve the goals of both low costs and high value of health care delivery. Our enthusiasm for such designs stems from the dispersion of price-elasticities observed when a value-based system was implemented on copayments. We expect such dispersion can be expanded substantially when VBID is applied to develop VHDPs. Specifically, VHDPs would nudge consumers toward high-value technologies (for example, preventive medications) by exempting their costs from the deductibles, while also providing consumers with transparency on the full costs of low-value services (for example, MRI for back pain or headache), and disincentivizing their use. This would generate a more elastic demand for low-value services, which in turn could move the markets for insured health care services toward more efficient outcomes.

In health care, where we know that both quality and value are at least partially unobservable to the patient, efficient outcomes are typically not attainable, especially when cost sharing indiscriminately alters prices. A VHDP would provide nuanced cost sharing to influence behavior in a manner similar to prices in traditional markets, therefore resolving information asymmetries for low-value services, reducing distortions, and increasing social welfare. In addition, such a policy could improve equity by ensuring that all beneficiaries have access to the highest-value services, even in the deductible phase of a benefit package. Such plans are certainly in line with the spirit of the recent bipartisan legislation (signed by President Donald Trump under executive order 13877) that allows health savings account eligible high-deductible health plans the flexibility to cover essential medications and services used to treat chronic diseases prior to meeting the plan deductible.

Challenges To Adoption Of Value-Based HDHPs

While value-based pricing improves beneficiaries’ ability to observe value, and therefore reduces the information asymmetries inherent in health care markets, the definition of “value” is an open question. Current legislative options being considered by both political parties in Congress aim to regulate and reduce drug pricing. While these efforts are important, and reduced prices would likely factor into premiums and out-of-pocket costs for consumers, these policy proposals do not necessarily tie price reductions to the value of drugs. That is, they are not tied to any specifically desired outcome of care. As mentioned, earlier VBID applications have been designed to impact health outcomes by using cost-effectiveness in formulary design to signal value. However, many other attributes of care, in addition to cost-effectiveness, should be considered by payers (both public and private) in determination of deductible-exemption status in a VHDP. These attributes include if a service has positive externalities (such as vaccinations) and if a service is unlikely to have moral hazard consumption (such as trauma care or chemotherapy). These, and other elements of value, could be included in decisions about which services should be exempt from the deductible. The decision of which elements to consider in this decision will depend on the stakeholders and perspectives (for example, payer, health system, employer, societal).

A potential downside of VHDPs is plan complexity, but improved communication (perhaps through health plan stewards) could address this limitation; active counseling has already been effective for this purpose in VBID. It would be relatively straightforward to incorporate the cost-sharing design of VHDPs to a value-based tiering system, now widely used in cost sharing.

Qualitative studies of VBID have identified additional barriers to VBID implementation. For example, patients are skeptical of value-based tradeoffs, do not necessarily trust the information provided by their plan, and may resist changes in care delivery. Payers tend to be skeptical of the clinical significance of adherence improvements from VBID and have expressed concern over low return on investment and administrative and information technology hurdles. Finally, providers are concerned about changes to patient behavior that puts their practice at financial risk.

These concerns are important, but potentially addressable with education and carefully planned implementation, to allow VHDPs to strike a nuanced balance between reducing moral hazard consumption of care and adequate risk protection. Such a balance is critical to controlling health spending while maintaining access to the highest-value services and reducing financial uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

Navigating a Post-Covid Path to the New Normal with Gist Healthcare CEO, Chas Roades

https://www.lrvhealth.com/podcast/?single_podcast=2203

Covid-19, Regulatory Changes and Election Implications: An Inside ...Chas Roades (@ChasRoades) | Twitter

Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders; June 11, 2020

Over the course of nearly 20 years as Chief Research Officer at The Advisory Board Company, Chas Roades became a trusted advisor for CEOs, leadership teams and boards of directors at health systems across the country. When The Advisory Board was acquired by Optum in 2017, Chas left the company with Chief Medical Officer, Lisa Bielamowicz. Together they founded Gist Healthcare, where they play a similar role, but take an even deeper and more focused look at the issues health systems are facing.

As Chas explains, Gist Healthcare has members from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Beverly Hills, California and everywhere in between. Most of the organizations Gist works with are regional health systems in the $2 to $5 billion range, where Chas and his colleagues become adjunct members of the executive team and board. In this role, Chas is typically hopscotching the country for in-person meetings and strategy sessions, but Covid-19 has brought many changes.

“Almost overnight, Chas went from in-depth sessions about long-term five-year strategy, to discussions about how health systems will make it through the next six weeks and after that, adapt to the new normal. He spoke to Keith Figlioli about many of the issues impacting these discussions including:

  • Corporate Governance. The decisions health systems will be forced to make over the next two to five years are staggeringly big, according to Chas. As a result, Gist is spending a lot of time thinking about governance right now and how to help health systems supercharge governance processes to lay a foundation for the making these difficult choices.
  • Health Systems Acting Like Systems. As health systems struggle to maintain revenue and margins, they’ll be forced to streamline operations in a way that finally takes advantage of system value. As providers consolidated in recent years, they successfully met the goal of gaining size and negotiating leverage, but paid much less attention to the harder part – controlling cost and creating value. That’s about to change. It will be a lasting impact of Covid-19, and an opportunity for innovators.
  • The Telehealth Land Grab. Providers have quickly ramped-up telehealth services as a necessity to survive during lockdowns. But as telehealth plays a larger role in the new standard of care, payers will not sit idly by and are preparing to double-down on their own virtual care capabilities. They’re looking to take over the virtual space and own the digital front door in an effort to gain coveted customer loyalty. Chas talks about how it would be foolish for providers to expect that payers will continue reimburse at high rates or at parity for physical visits.
  • The Battleground Over Physicians. This is the other area to watch as payers and providers clash over the hearts and minds of consumers. The years-long trend of physician practices being acquired and rolled-up into larger organizations will significantly accelerate due to Covid-19. The financial pain the pandemic has caused will force some practices out of business and many others looking for an exit. And as health systems deal with their own financial hardships, payers with deep pockets are the more likely suitor.”

 

 

 

 

Why People Are Still Avoiding the Doctor (It’s Not the Virus)

Why People Are Still Avoiding the Doctor (It's Not the Virus ...

At first, people delayed medical care for fear of catching Covid. But as the pandemic caused staggering unemployment, medical care has become unaffordable for many.

At first, Kristina Hartman put off getting medical care out of concern about the coronavirus. But then she lost her job as an administrator at a truck manufacturer in McKinney, Texas.

While she still has health insurance, she worries about whether she will have coverage beyond July, when her unemployment is expected to run out.

“It started out as a total fear of going to the doctor,” she said.

“I definitely am avoiding appointments.”

Ms. Hartman, who is 58, skipped a regular visit with her kidney doctor, and has delayed going to the endocrinologist to follow up on some abnormal lab results.

While hospitals and doctors across the country say many patients are still shunning their services out of fear of contagion — especially with new cases spiking — Americans who lost their jobs or have a significant drop in income during the pandemic are now citing costs as the overriding reason they do not seek the health care they need.

“We are seeing the financial pressure hit,” said Dr. Bijoy Telivala, a cancer specialist in Jacksonville, Fla. “This is a real worry,” he added, explaining that people are weighing putting food on the table against their need for care. “You don’t want a 5-year-old going hungry.”

Among those delaying care, he said, was a patient with metastatic cancer who was laid off while undergoing chemotherapy. He plans to stop treatments while he sorts out what to do when his health insurance coverage ends in a month.

The twin risks in this crisis — potential infection and the cost of medical care — have become daunting realities for the millions of workers who were furloughed, laid off or caught in the economic downturn. It echoes the scenarios that played out after the 2008 recession, when millions of Americans were unemployed and unable to afford even routine visits to the doctor for themselves or their children.

Almon Castor’s hours were cut at the steel distribution warehouse in Houston where he works about a month ago. Worried that a dentist might not take all the precautions necessary, he had been avoiding a root canal.

But the expense has become more pressing. He also works as a musician. “It’s not feasible to be able to pay for procedures with the lack of hours,” he said.

Nearly half of all Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed care since the onslaught of coronavirus, according to a survey last month from the Kaiser Family Foundation. While most of those individuals expected to receive care within the next three months, about a third said they planned to wait longer or not seek it at all.

While the survey didn’t ask people why they were putting off care, there is ample evidence that medical bills can be a powerful deterrent. “We know historically we have always seen large shares of people who have put off care for cost reasons,” said Liz Hamel, the director of public opinion and survey research at Kaiser.

And, just as the Great Recession led people to seek less hospital care, the current downturn is likely to have a significant impact, said Sara Collins, an executive at the Commonwealth Fund, who studies access to care. “This is a major economic recession,” she said. “It’s going to have an effect on people’s demand for health care.”

The inability to afford care is “going to be a bigger and bigger issue moving forward,” said Chas Roades, the co-founder of Gist Healthcare, which advises hospitals and doctors. Hospital executives say their patient volumes will remain at about 20 percent lower than before the pandemic.

“It’s going to be a jerky start back,” said Dr. Gary LeRoy, a physician in Dayton, Ohio, who is the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. While some of his patients have returned, others are staying away.

But the consequences of these delays can be troubling. In a recent analysis of the sharp decline in emergency room visits during the pandemic, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were worrisome signs that people who had heart attacks waited until their conditions worsened before going to the hospital.

Without income, many people feel they have no choice. Thomas Chapman stopped getting paid in March and ultimately lost his job as a director of sales. Even though he has high blood pressure and diabetes, Mr. Chapman, 64, didn’t refill any prescriptions for two months. “I stopped taking everything when I just couldn’t pay anymore,” he said.

After his legs began to swell, and he felt “very, very lethargic,” he contacted his doctor at Catalyst Health Network, a Texas group of primary care doctors, to ask about less expensive alternatives. A pharmacist helped, but Mr. Chapman no longer has insurance, and is not sure what he will do until he is eligible for Medicare later this year.

“We’re all having those conversations on a daily basis,” said Dr. Christopher Crow, the president of Catalyst, who said it was particularly tough in states, like Texas, that did not expand Medicaid. While some of those who are unemployed qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, they may fall in the coverage gap where they do not receive subsidies to help them afford coverage.

Even those who are not concerned about losing their insurance are fearful of large medical bills, given how aggressively hospitals and doctors pursue people through debt collections, said Elisabeth Benjamin, a vice president at Community Service Society of New York, which works with people to get care.

“Americans are really very aware that their health care coverage is not as comprehensive as it should be, and it’s gotten worse over the past decade,” Ms. Benjamin said. After the last recession, they learned to forgo care rather than incur bills they can’t pay.

Geralyn Cerveny, who runs a day care in Kansas City, Mo., said she had Covid-19 in early April and is recovering. But her income has dropped as some families withdrew their children. Although her daughter is urging her to get some follow-up testing because she has some lingering symptoms from the virus, she is holding off because she does not want to end up with more medical bills if her health plan will not cover all of the care she needs. She said she would dread “a fight with the insurance company if you don’t meet their guidelines.”

Others are weighing what illness or condition merits the expense of a doctor or tests and other services. Eli Fels, a swim instructor and personal trainer who is pregnant, has been careful to stay up-to-date with her prenatal appointments in Cambridge, Mass. She and her doctor have relied on telemedicine appointments to reduce the risk of infection.

But Ms. Fels, who also lost her jobs but remains insured, has chosen not to receive care for her injured wrist in spite of concern over lasting damage. “I’ve put off medical care that doesn’t involve the baby,” she said, noting that her out-of-pocket cost for an M.R.I. to find out what was wrong “is not insubstantial.”

At Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, doctors have already seen the impact of delaying care. During the height of the pandemic, people who had heart attacks and serious fractures avoided the emergency room. “It was as if they disappeared, but they didn’t disappear,” said Dr. Jack Choueka, the chair of orthopedics. “People were dying in home; they just weren’t coming into the hospital.”

In recent weeks, people have begun to return, but with conditions worsened because of the time they had avoided care. A baby with a club foot will now need a more complicated treatment because it was not addressed immediately after birth.

Another child who did not have imaging promptly was found to have a tumor. “That tumor may have been growing for months unchecked,” Dr. Choueka said.

 

 

 

 

Moody’s: US healthcare system rebounds from COVID-19 in May, but a bumpy road lies ahead

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/moodys-us-healthcare-system-rebounds-from-covid-19-in-may-but-a-bumpy-ro/580152/

Banks rating downgrade: Moody's changes outlook on Indian banks to ...

Dive Brief:

  • A Moody’s Investors Service report on Thursday suggests that the U.S. healthcare industry is on the rebound from COVID-19, but recovery will likely to slow and uneven. Moreover, the report expressed concerns that regional flareups of coronavirus could majorly set back the return to normal volumes.
  • Investment firm Jefferies affirmed those worries in hospital traffic data shared Friday, noting “a sharp reversal” in hotspot state Arizona. Analysts tracked “record lows” in Arizona’s hospital traffic last week, down from what was thought to be the trough in April and sagging below May recovery amid a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases and protests.
  • “Whether states can continue their recovery even as cases increase, as we’ve seen in [Texas] and others, or if the recent reversals in [Arizona, Illinois,] etc. become more widespread is a trend to watch in coming weeks,” Jefferies analysts wrote.

Dive Insight:

Large sections of the healthcare sector all but shut down during the spring as the coronavirus led to nationwide shelter-in-place orders. However, as states and municipalities slowly reopen, so are the doors for hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, clinics and other integral components of healthcare delivery.

As a result, Moody’s reported “considerable sequential improvement” during May. For example, while for-profit hospitals saw surgery volumes drop as much as 70% in April compared to the same period in 2019, May volumes were down about 20% to 40% compared to last year’s. Hospital-operated ambulatory surgical centers saw an 80% to 90% drop in April volumes, but only a 30% to 40% drop in May.

However, Moody’s noted that the “path to normalized volumes are not linear.” It also pointed out that emergency room care volumes, which dropped as much as 60% in April, have yet to really rebound, as they still appeared depressed as much as 50% in May.

“This could reflect the prevalence of working-from-home arrangements and people generally staying home, which is leading to a decrease in automobile and other accidents outside the home. Weak ER volumes also suggest that many people remain apprehensive to enter a hospital, particularly for lower acuity care,” the Moody’s report said.

The firm also noted that “the shape of recovery will vary by state, region and service line, reinforcing the importance of diversification for credit quality among healthcare service providers.”

However, Moody’s believes that the darkest days of March and April are behind much of the healthcare sector. It noted that most providers have stockpiled appropriate personal protective equipment and have reconfigured their offices, waiting rooms and other infrastructure to protect the health of both patients and employees.

Traffic data from 3,300 U.S. hospitals, tracked by Jefferies via mobile device pings, indicates that compared to January 2019 levels, national traffic lows of 43.7% in mid-April improved to 63.3% by early June.

But state-by-state analysis reveals some parts of the country are trending backwards. Arizona fell to a new low of 28.5% last week after hitting 51.5% on May 20. The analysts also reported Illinois hit its own new low on June 7.

While Moody’s did express some concern about regional outbreaks, it concluded that the precautions already taken “make it less likely that the U.S. would once again shut down all non-elective care across the nation if there is a second wave of coronavirus infections.”

Moody’s did express some concerns about hospital finances, but noted that for-profit hospitals “have unusually strong liquidity” due to payouts from the CARES Act and other government-sponsored financial relief programs.

Medical device firms should be prepared for a long and uneven recovery, according to Moody’s. The dental and orthopaedic sectors “will see a greater than average impact from consumers’ inability to pay for procedures or their unwillingness to engage with the healthcare system.” Moody’s forecast “a gradual, uneven pace of recovery,” with pre-tax earnings to decline as much as 30% in 2020 compared to 2019, while revenues will shrink around 10%. It expects that earnings will rebound in 2021 to 2019 levels.

Companies that operate in discretionary sectors will be hit harder as they rely on patients able to meet large deductibles or co-payments or to pay for related procedures entirely on their own. Moody’s noted that a large number of these procedures are performed in acute care hospitals with the assistance of robotics, but hospitals may be more conservative in their robotics investments given new budget constraints.