EVERY HOSPITAL BOARD NEEDS A CEO SUCCESSION PLAN. HALF ARE FAILING.

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/every-hospital-board-needs-ceo-succession-plan-half-are-failing

The organization needs to have a strong sense for who will lead next. That’s ultimately the responsibility of the board, not the incumbent. This article appears in the July/August 2019 edition of HealthLeaders magazine.

The departure of a CEO can severely disrupt an organization’s progress, especially when the leader leaves suddenly without a clear successor. Despite the well-known need for succession planning, an alarming number of healthcare provider organizations are chugging along without a plan in place, just hoping that their top executives stick around for the foreseeable future.

Forty-nine percent of hospital and health system boards lack a formal CEO succession plan, according to the American Hospital Association Trustee Services 2019 national healthcare governance survey report. That leaves them vulnerable to the disruptive gusts of a CEO’s sudden departure, and it can inhibit their ability to pursue longer-term strategies by leaving them overly dependent on one leader’s vision.

The failure of these boards to formalize CEO succession plans is outrageous and unacceptable, says Jamie Orlikoff, president of the Chicago-based healthcare governance and leadership consulting firm Orlikoff & Associates Inc. and board member of St. Charles Health System in Bend, Oregon. “Whatever the reasons are, it’s just a fundamental and inexcusable abrogation of a basic governance responsibility, so I am nothing less than shocked that the figure is almost 50%,” Orlikoff says.

Why Plans Aren’t Made There are typically a few basic reasons why an organization may be slow to finalize a CEO succession plan. Perhaps the current CEO just doesn’t want to talk about it, Orlikoff says. Some executives are more comfortable talking to their families about their own life insurance plans than they are talking to the board about what to do in the event of their sudden departure, he says. Or perhaps it’s the board members who don’t want to talk about it. Orlikoff says at least four board chairpersons for various organizations have told him in the past seven years that they don’t want their current CEOs to leave and that they don’t want to think about succession planning because the recruitment process is too burdensome. Or there could be an unhealthy power dynamic between the CEO and the board, with the CEO asserting control over tasks that should be handled by the board members, Orlikoff says.

What makes the relationship between the CEO and the board so tricky is how it ties together two distinct relationships. On the one hand, the CEO and the board are strategic partners defining and executing a shared vision. On the other, they are an employee and an employer. “Those are two very, very different and very important functions,” Orlikoff says.

“Some boards have great difficulty envisioning the distinction between those two roles.” A board should lean on the CEO as a strategic partner because the CEO is likely to know more about the industry and more about the local market than the board members do, Orlikoff says. But when the board neglects to assert its proper place in the employer-employee relationship, the CEO may be given free rein over a broader scope of issues than is appropriate, and that can impede the CEO succession planning process, he adds.

In other words, while it’s perfectly appropriate for a CEO to groom a potential successor, the board should not defer to the CEO’s selection, and the CEO should not insist that the board do so. How to Fix This The existence or nonexistence of a formal CEO succession plan is often a symptom of whether the relationship between a CEO and the board is healthy, Orlikoff says.

Notably, the task of devising a succession plan is one exercise that can improve that relationship, he adds. While the detailed steps each organization should take will vary from one situation to another, there are two specific items that Orlikoff recommends: 1. Ask about the mundane threat of a bus.

Whether you’re a CEO or board member for an organization without a formal succession plan in place, there’s one straightforward question you can ask to kickstart productive dialogue on the topic: What do we do if our CEO gets hit by a bus tonight? The question is nonthreatening. It doesn’t signal a CEO’s possible intent to resign or retire. It doesn’t suggest the board members are thinking about giving him or her the boot.

It simply asks, as a matter of fact, how the organization will maintain continuity in the event of an unplanned CEO departure, just as parents would speak with their families about life insurance, Orlikoff says. The CEO should tell the board, without any other senior leaders present, whom the CEO would pick to step into the interim CEO role, Orlikoff says. That will inevitably prompt follow-up questions: Would the interim CEO be a good permanent replacement? Which of the requisite skills do they lack? How well do they align with our long-term needs and vision?

The conversations about an unplanned CEO departure will flow naturally into questions about a planned departure. Where are we in the current CEO’s contract cycle? When does the CEO want to retire? What skills and traits will our next CEO need to lead the organization into the future of healthcare?

Conversations about an unplanned departure should begin on the very first day of a new CEO’s contract, Orlikoff says. Conversations about a planned departure should begin at the end of the CEO’s first year, he says. For a CEO with a five-year contract, the board should start asking halfway through contract whether the CEO wishes to renew a contract or leave the organization, and the board should know three years into the five-year contract whether the CEO wants to stay, he says.

Hold executive sessions without the CEO present. An increasing number of hospital and health system boards are routinely listing executive sessions on their meeting agendas, and that’s a good thing, according to the AHA Trustee Services survey. A slight majority, 52%, of all respondents routinely included an executive session in the agenda of every board meeting, according to the survey report. But 26% of system boards, 59% of subsidiary boards, and 48% of freestanding boards still don’t.

Even if a board has an executive session, though, that doesn’t mean members are able to fully discuss the topics in their purview. The survey found that CEOs participate in the entire executive session for a majority, 54%, of all boards. That includes 41% of system boards and 57% for both subsidiary and freestanding boards. That deprives trustees of an opportunity to discuss the CEO in his or her absence and might impede the CEO succession planning process, Orlikoff says.

Related: 4 Steps for Planning CEO Succession Boards should think of their meetings in three stages, Orlikoff says. The first stage includes everyone in the room, including board members, the CEO, senior executives, and invited guests. The second stage is a modified executive session that includes the board members and CEO only, which is where the majority of the meeting should take place. The third stage should be an executive session with the board members only. “Confident, secure CEOs know that their boards need to go into executive session without them present occasionally in order to perform certain governance functions. They encourage it,” Orlikoff says. “Insecure CEOs or those who are attempting to control and manipulate the board are very uncomfortable with executive sessions and don’t want the board going into an executive session.”

It’s Mutually Beneficial While it may be difficult to prompt board members to think about a future under different leadership, CEOs who do so are not only investing in the organization’s long-term success but also signaling that they are the sort of leader willing to make investments in the organization’s long-term success. “When a CEO goes to the board and says, ‘You guys need to do this,’ … it demonstrates an incredibly high degree of confidence.

It also demonstrates an incredibly high degree of commitment to the organization,” Orlikoff says. “It shows that you’re thinking beyond yourself,” he adds. “You’re thinking about the best interests of the organization, that you’re willing to have difficult conversations for the good of the organization.”

“INSECURE CEOS OR THOSE WHO ARE ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL AND MANIPULATE THE BOARD ARE VERY UNCOMFORTABLE WITH EXECUTIVE SESSIONS AND DON’T WANT THE BOARD GOING INTO AN EXECUTIVE SESSION.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Not having a formal succession plan may be a symptom of an unhealthy relationship between the CEO and the board.

When CEOs prompt the board to think about who will lead next, it demonstrates self-confidence and commitment to the organization.

 

 

 

Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/483564-trump-medicaid-proposal-sparks-bipartisan-warnings?utm_source=The+Fiscal+Times&utm_campaign=59b997dc59-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_02_19_10_03&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_714147a9cf-59b997dc59-390702969

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Republicans and Democrats alike are warning that a recent proposal from the Trump administration could lead to billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, forcing states to eliminate benefits, reduce enrollment or cut payments to health providers.

In a rare sign of unity, hospitals, insurers, patient advocates and members of both political parties are on the same page in their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan, and most have urged the administration to withdraw a proposal they say would “cripple” Medicaid, the federal-state partnership that provides health care for the poor.

The proposal hasn’t received as much attention as the administration’s other efforts to reform Medicaid, such as implementing work requirements, but it could have the most damaging effect because of how far-reaching it is, experts argue.

“This is high stakes,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, whose board urged the administration to completely withdraw the proposal.

Trump allies have also voiced their concerns.

“The Medicaid fiscal accountability rule is a concern to my governor, and the stakeholders are worried the rule as proposed could lead to hospital closures, problems with access to care and threaten the safety net,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last week during a hearing on the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget request.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) warned during the same hearing that the proposal could “dramatically affect Medicaid eligibility” and “wreak havoc on budgets in red states and blue states all across the country.”

The proposal would overhaul the complex payment arrangements states use to raise money for their Medicaid programs — funding that is then matched by the federal government.

The administration argues some states use questionable methods of raising funds so they can leverage more money from Washington. One approach used by states consists of taxing providers who stand to benefit from more Medicaid funds flowing into the state.

But governors and state Medicaid directors argue those long-standing arrangements are both legal and necessary as states look for ways to keep up with escalating health care costs.

The proposal would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to limit the extra payments from states to providers serving high numbers of uninsured patients or Medicaid patients. Opponents say such changes could result in providers deciding not to accept Medicaid patients.

Dozens of states wrote public comments to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, urging her to withdraw the proposal, including conservative states that are typically supportive of her work.

“If the rule is finalized as proposed, it will immediately disrupt the Medicaid program in Alabama and we believe across the country,” wrote Stephanie McGee Azar, commissioner of the Alabama Medicaid Agency, who is not related to Alex Azar. She added that it would have “unintended consequences that will affect access to care in Alabama to our most vulnerable populations.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) administration warned the effect of the proposal would be “immediate and crippling.”

Meanwhile, a letter signed by state Medicaid officials in Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Louisiana, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington argued the proposal would likely “force states to cut Medicaid eligibility, benefits and/or provider payments, which would have the effect of decreasing low-income individuals’ access to important health care services.”

The public comment period closed Jan. 31. CMS now needs to go through the 4,000 comments before deciding whether to finalize the rule.

Verma and her supporters argue the proposal is not intended to cut Medicaid but instead aims to improve transparency and accountability in the $600 billion a year program.

“It’s not surprising providers and the states are objecting when they are getting federal money for free,” argued Brian Blase, who previously served on President Trump’s National Economic Council, where he worked on health care issues. “They don’t want transparency and they don’t want their financing gimmicks checked.”

Blase predicted the rule, if implemented as proposed, would reduce Medicaid spending by a “very small amount.”

Verma also pushed back on opponents, criticizing a study commissioned by the American Hospital Association that estimated the rule could reduce Medicaid funding by as much as $49 billion annually.

“This proposed rule is not intended to reduce Medicaid payments, and alarmist estimates that this rule, if finalized, will suddenly remove billions of dollars from the program and threaten beneficiary access are overblown and without credibility,” she wrote in a blog post last week.

Some experts disagree with her, pointing to other actions the administration has taken on Medicaid, including work requirements.

“I think one should view this rule not in isolation, but in combination with the broader agenda of this administration on Medicaid,” said Edwin Park, a research professor at Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. “Their ultimate agenda is about cutting the Medicaid program, changing the Medicaid program as it currently stands.”

State officials have complained that they were not asked for their input before the proposal was released, nor did CMS conduct a regulatory analysis of potential effects.

A nonpartisan agency that advises Congress on Medicaid policy wrote to Alex Azar advising he not implement the rule because CMS has not fully assessed the possible effects.

“The Commission is concerned that the proposed changes could reduce payments to providers in ways that could jeopardize access to care for Medicaid enrollees,” the advisory group wrote.

For example, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has planned to make $86 million in supplemental payments to hospitals in fiscal 2020, which began July 1.

The rule “would require significant changes to MaineCare and could force the State to cut back on eligibility or services,” Jeanne Lambrew wrote in the department’s public comment.

The administration hasn’t given any signals that it plans to back down from the proposal, despite considerable pushback from stakeholders, states and bipartisan members of Congress.

“We will work with states to help them recreate their practices in ways that are in conformity with the statute and try to be fair and equitable in all our dealings with states,” Alex Azar told lawmakers last week on Capitol Hill.

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Just Hospitals That Are Quick To Sue Patients Who Can’t Pay

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/19/798894062/its-not-just-hospitals-that-are-quick-to-sue-patients-who-cant-pay?utm_source=The+Fiscal+Times&utm_campaign=59b997dc59-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_02_19_10_03&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_714147a9cf-59b997dc59-390702969

Social worker Sonya Johnson received a civil warrant to appear in court when the company that runs Nashville General Hospital’s emergency room threatened to sue her over a $2,700 ER bill — long after she’d already negotiated a reduced payment schedule for the rest of her hospital stay.

Nashville General Hospital is a safety net facility funded by the city. For a patient without insurance, this is supposed to be the best place to go in a city with many hospitals. But for those who are uninsured, it may have been the worst choice in 2019.

Its emergency room was taking more patients to court for unpaid medical bills than any other hospital or practice in town. A WPLN investigation finds the physician-staffing firm that runs the ER sued 700 patients in Davidson County during 2019.

They include patients such as Sonya Johnson, a 52-year-old social worker and single mother.

By juggling her care between a nonprofit clinic and Nashville General, Johnson had figured out how to manage her health problems, even though she was, until recently, uninsured. In 2018, she went in to see her doctor, who charges patients on a sliding scale. Her tongue was swollen and she was feeling weak. The diagnosis? She was severely anemic.

“He called me back that Halloween day and said, ‘I need you to get to the emergency [room], stat — and they’re waiting on you when you get there,’ ” she recalls.

Nashville General kept her overnight and gave her a blood transfusion. They wanted to keep her a second night — but she was worried about the mounting cost, so asked to be sent home.

Staying overnight even the one night meant she was admitted to the hospital itself, and the bill for that part of her care wasn’t so bad, Johnson says. The institution’s financial counselors offered a 75% discount, because of her strained finances and because her job didn’t offer health insurance at the time.

But emergency rooms are often run by an entirely separate entity. In Nashville General’s case, the proprietor was a company called Southeastern Emergency Physicians. And that’s the name on a bill that showed up in Johnson’s mailbox months later for $2,700.

“How in the world can I pay this company, when I couldn’t even pay for health care [insurance]?” Johnson asks.

Johnson didn’t recognize the name of the physician practice. A Google search doesn’t help much. There’s no particular website, though a list of Web pages that do turn up in such a search suggest the company staffs a number of emergency departments in the region.

Johnson says she tried calling the number listed on her bill to see if she could get the same charity-care discount the hospital gave her, but she could only leave messages.

And then came a knock at her apartment door over the summer. It was a Davidson County sheriff’s deputy with a summons requiring Johnson to appear in court.

“It’s very scary,” she says. “I mean, [I’m] thinking, what have I done? And for a medical bill?”

Nashville General Hospital was no longer suing patients

Being sued over medical debt can be a big deal because it means the business can get a court-ordered judgment to garnish the patient’s wages, taking money directly from their paycheck. The strategy is meant to make sure patients don’t blow off their medical debts. But this is not good for the health of people who are uninsured, says Bruce Naremore, the chief financial officer at Nashville General.

“When patients owe money, and they feel like they’re being dunned all the time, they don’t come back to the hospital to get what they might need,” he says.

Under Naremore’s direction in the past few years, Nashville General had stopped suing patients for hospital fees. He says it was rarely worth the court costs.

But Southeastern Emergency Physicians — which, since 2016, has been contracted by the hospital to run and staff its emergency department — went the other way, filing more lawsuits against patients than ever in 2019.

Naremore says the decision on whether to sue over emergency care falls to the company that staffs the ER, not Nashville General Hospital.

“It’s a private entity that runs the emergency room, and it’s the cost of doing business,” he says. “If I restrict them from collecting dollars, then my cost is going to very likely go up, or I’m going to have to find another provider to do it.”

This is a common refrain, says Robert Goff. He’s a retired hospital executive and board member of RIP Medical Debt. The nonprofit helps patients who are trapped under a mountain of medical bills, which are the No. 1 cause of personal bankruptcy.

“So the hospital sits there and says, ‘Not my problem.’ That’s irresponsible in every sense of the word,” Goff says.

The practice of suing patients isn’t new for Southeastern Emergency Physicians or its parent company, Knoxville-based TeamHealth. But such lawsuits have picked up in recent years, even as the company has stopped its practice of balance billing patients.

TeamHealth is one of the two dominant ER staffing firms in the nation, running nearly 1 in 10 emergency departments in the United States. And its strategy of taking patients to court ramped up after it was purchased by the private equity giant Blackstone, according to an investigation by the journalism project MLK50 in Memphis.

Under pressure from journalists, TeamHealth ultimately pledged to stop suing patients and to offer generous discounts to uninsured patients.

Officials from TeamHealth declined WPLN’s request for an interview to answer questions about how widespread its practice of suing patients for ER doctors’ services and fees has been.

“We will work with patients on a case by case basis to reach a resolution,” TeamHealth said in an email.

According to court records obtained by WPLN, the firm filed about 700 lawsuits against patients in Nashville in 2019. That’s up from 120 in 2018 and just seven in 2017. Its only contract in the city is with Nashville General’s ER, and the patients reached by WPLN say they were uninsured when they were sued.

What’s surprising to Mandy Pellegrinwho has been researching medical billing in Tennessee at the nonpartisan Sycamore Institute, is that it was all happening at Nashville General — where treating uninsured patients is part of the hospital’s mission.

“It is curious that a company that works for a hospital like that might resort to those sorts of actions,” Pellegrin says.

TeamHealth halts suits, pledges to drop cases

As for Sonya Johnson — she eventually went to court and worked out a payment plan of $70 a month over three years.

And now TeamHealth tells WPLN that its intent is to drop pending cases.

“We will not file additional cases naming patients as defendants and will not seek further judgments,” a TeamHealth spokesperson says in an emailed statement. “Our intent is not to have these pending cases proceed. We’re working as expeditiously as possible on resolving individual outstanding cases.”

Johnson says she’s been told that the lawsuit Southeastern Emergency Physicians filed against her will be dropped — but that she still owes the $2,700 bill.

 

 

 

A slightly less bad year for CHS

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-35da8519-cdfe-4d19-bd99-7befbe4bbbea.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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After the stock market closed yesterday, Community Health Systems disclosed it lost $675 million in 2019, still has $13.4 billion of long-term debt and will sell even more hospitals than it already has, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The intrigue: The company’s stock was up 12% in after-hours trading.

  • That’s because CHS expects 2020 to be better — but still lose upwards of $150 million.

The bottom line: CHS owns a lot of hospitals in rural and small communities. Putting aside CHS’ specific business flops, it’s become tougher to operate hospitals in areas where the population is stagnating or declining because hospitals still rely on filling their clinics and beds.

 

 

 

Healthcare spending is higher over 5 years, mostly due to a rise in prices, says new report

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139806?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldNMllXTmpNVEJpTVRNMSIsInQiOiI1MVlQdys0d2FHbVZESVVjMDNFS2tnQVNJSlNjS2xsT1BCXC9FdGFZbWI2TDZQcnBJZHZIU2p4Qm9GNEw1K1ZsM1M5SVVPYU51OGxxOVJNRndtTlY1UXFkaFNueDVXbTlWbHRmSHF2YWhhVVdZdkthc0FzOHBIWFN3ZTNXdHVoVTkifQ%3D%3D

Between 2014 and 2018, per-person yearly spending, for those with employer-sponsored insurance, climbed 18.4%.

A new report confirms concerns about healthcare costs, as it shows per-person spending is increasing faster than per-capita gross domestic product.

Between 2014 and 2018, per-person yearly spending, for those with employer-sponsored insurance, climbed  from $4,987 to $5,892, an 18.4% increase, according to the 2018 Health Care Cost and Utilization Report released Thursday.  The average annual rate of 4.3% outpaced growth in per-capita GDP, which increased at an average 3.4% over the same period.

There’s an exception from 2017 to 2018, when per-capita GDP grew slightly faster than healthcare spending per person.

The $5,892 total includes amounts paid for medical and pharmacy claims but does not subtract manufacturer rebates for prescription drugs.

Healthcare spending grew 4.4% in 2018, slightly above growth in 2017 of 4.2%, and the third consecutive year of growth above 4%.

After adjusting for inflation, spending rose by $610 per person between
2014 and 2018.

The cost estimates are consistent with National Health Expenditure data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the report said.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

Higher prices for medical services were responsible for about three-quarters, 74%, of the spending increase above inflation. These increases were across all categories of outpatient and professional services.

Average prices grew 2.6% in 2018. While that is the lowest rate of growth over the period, consistent year-over-year increases mean that prices were 15% higher in 2018 than 2014.

The increase for outpatient visits and procedures was $87 in 2018, the largest annual increase between 2014 and 2018.

Average out-of-pocket price for ER visits increased more sharply than other subcategories of outpatient visits, though all saw an increase in the average amount for which patients were responsible

Professional service spending per person rose $86 in 2018, reflecting an acceleration in spending growth consistent with previous years’ trends, according to the report.

Inpatient services and prescription drugs also saw an increase in spending per person.

Inpatient admissions increased $24 in 2018, a smaller annual increase than in 2016 or 2017, but above the rise in 2015.

Per-person spending on prescription drugs rose $50, similar to increases in 2016 and 2017, but smaller than the rise in 2015. The total does not reflect manufacturer rebates.

On average, Americans with employer-sponsored insurance spent
$155 out-of-pocket on prescription drugs in 2018.

Prices rose, as did utilization, which grew 1.8% from 2017 to 2018, the fastest pace during the five-year period. And because of the higher price levels, the effect of the increase in utilization in 2018 on total spending was higher than it would have been in 2014.

Higher utilization may be the result of a population that got slightly older between 2014 and 2018. The population also became slightly more female.

People with job-based insurance saw their out-of-pocket costs rise by an average of 14.5%, or $114, between 2014 and 2018.

THE LARGER TREND

As most Americans have job-based health insurance, this data is critical for understanding overall health costs in the United States, the report said.

An estimated 49% of the U.S. population, about 160 million people, had employer-based health insurance in 2018, based on Census data.

The report combined data from large insurers, using 4,000 distinct
age/gender/geography combinations. It contains previously unreported information drawn from 2.5 billion insurance claims.

Claims data is the most comprehensive source of real-world evidence available to researchers as databases collect information on millions of doctors’ visits, healthcare procedures, prescriptions, and payments by insurers and patients, giving researchers large sample sizes, the report said.

 

Budget Cuts Target Medicaid, Medicare

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/president-trumps-budget-cuts-target-medicaid-medicare?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTW1JMFptSmhNR1F4WVRNeSIsInQiOiJOK3RWYTlrV0djQ1JEYWcyRlhqZDlHVGF2ejRRWXE3UDdHaGpcL2R5bVwvMHlHOUgyY0V0d1wvUE8rK3pMRlFFSXJsZGEzTVwvRVZRVHh3OGdLT0pOWG5LVDZaNFNadTVmYVFWdkFTamFcL2JhZUpPd3lia1hySCtzVlhROXpmWTh1Zm1mIn0%3D

Image result for medicare and medicaid budget cuts

Blueprint includes cuts for care in hospital outpatient departments, teaching hospitals and post-acute care providers, AHA says.

President Trump’s proposed $4.8 trillion budget slashes billions of dollars from Medicaid, food stamps and other safety net programs in an attempt to shrink the federal deficit.

Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act see about $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, according to The Hill. The budget eliminates the enhanced federal match for Medicaid expansion enrollees. An additional $150 billion is expected to be shaved off of Medicaid from the implementation of work requirements, which is expected to result in people losing their healthcare coverage.

The “President’s health reform vision” to ax the Affordable Care Act takes $844 billion over 10 years from the ACA, the report said.

The decrease in federal spending on Medicare would total about $750 billion over 10 years, but that includes shifting two programs out of the budget. After accounting for those changes, the reduction is just over $500 billion, according to CNN. Much of that cut comes from reducing payments to providers.

The budget needs Congressional approval and is not expected to get past a Democratic-controlled House without changes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted: “The budget is a statement of values. Once again, the #TrumpBudget makes it painfully clear how little the President values the good health, financial security and well-being of America’s hard-working families.”

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-MA, said, “When I saw the President’s proposed budget today, I felt an immense sense of relief – relief that there is absolutely no chance of his ruthless cuts to critical programs ever becoming law. Slashing billions from Medicare and Medicaid will only make it harder for Americans to access the healthcare they need.

Cutting nutrition assistance and Social Security benefits for the disabled won’t enable people to get back on their feet financially.”

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn said, “Under the Constitution, it is Congress’ job to set spending priorities and pass appropriations bills, and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, my priorities will continue to be making sure our national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks have the resources they need. I am encouraged to see the president is calling to end surprise medical billing.”

The budget adds money to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH will invest $50 million for new research on chronic diseases, using AI and related approaches, according to the White House briefing. It adds $7 billion over 10 years to fight opioid abuse and for mental health in the Medicaid program.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid mean uncompensated care to providers, or a reduction in the government payments.

The American Hospital Association said, “The budget request, which is not binding, proposes hundreds of billions of dollars in reductions to Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years.”

AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said, “Every year, we adapt to a constantly changing environment, but every year, the Administration aims to gut our nation’s healthcare infrastructure. The proposals in this budget would result in hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts that sacrifice the health of seniors, the uninsured and low-income individuals. This includes the one in five Americans who depend on Medicaid, of which 43% of enrollees are children.

“In addition to the hundreds of billions in proposed reductions to Medicare, the blueprint includes cuts we strongly oppose for care in hospital outpatient departments, teaching hospitals and post-acute care providers.

These cuts fail to recognize the crucial role hospitals serve for their communities, such as providing 24/7 emergency services. Post-acute cuts threaten care for patients with the most medically complex conditions.”

 

 

Learning to live on Medicare margins

https://mailchi.mp/0ee433170414/the-weekly-gist-february-14-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

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“If Democrats take back the Senate and win the White House, there’s a good chance they’ll implement some version of a public option or Medicare buy-in, and that would be devastating for the fragile economics of our health system.” That was the message delivered by the CEO of a system we were visiting recently, in her report to the board of directors.

That kind of alarmist message might seem career-limiting, but given the way the politics of healthcare are playing out at both the national and state levels (see Colorado and Washington State), it’s past time for executives to get beyond the rhetoric and begin to prepare for the real financial consequences of public option proposals.

That’s what this CEO had done—what followed the dire warning was a detailed analysis (which we helped assemble) of what would happen in various scenarios—what if one percent of our revenue shifted from commercial rates (around 250 percent of Medicare) to possible public option rates (somewhere between 140 and 180 percent of Medicare)? That’s a knowable number, and you can begin to make assumptions about how much business would shift under different scenarios, and how quickly.

The reality for health systems is that most of the margin comes from the 55-to-65-year-old population—who use more healthcare services but whose care is reimbursed at commercial rates. That cohort cross-subsidizes much of the rest of a typical hospital’s business.

The presentation to the board laid those economic realities out in concise detail—and provided a bracing wake-up call that the system needs to be prepared to live on a different level of margin than they enjoyed in the past.

That means radical cost controls, sharp reductions in “system bloat”, and a laser-like focus on shifting care to lower-cost settings. For years, hospital leaders have tossed around the notion that “we have to learn to live on Medicare margins”.

Given the rising popularity of public option policies (67 percent of Americans support the idea according to a recent poll, as do 42 percent of Republicans), that lesson may need to be learned sooner rather than later.