The Burdens Grow Heavier for COVID-19 Health Care Providers

Dr. Christine Choi, a second year medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center
Dr. Christine Choi, 32, a medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, prepares to enter an isolation area for COVID-19 inpatients. Health care providers must face daily patient death and suffering.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, Christine Choi, DO, a second-year medical resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, volunteered to enter COVID-19 patient rooms. Since then, she has worked countless nights in the intensive care unit in full protective gear, often tasked with giving the sickest patients and their families the grim choice between intubation or near-certain death.

Essential Coverage

I’m offering this guy two terrible options, and that’s how I feel about work: I can’t fix this for you and it sucks, and I’m sorry that the choices I’m giving you are both terrible,” Choi told the Los Angeles Times’ Soumya Karlamangla about one patient encounter.

While Choi exhibits an “almost startlingly positive attitude” in her work, it’s no match for the psychological burdens placed on her shoulders by the global pandemic, Karlamangla wrote. When an older female COVID-19 patient died in the hospital recently, her husband — in the same hospital with the same diagnosis — soon began struggling to breathe. Sensing that he had little time left, Choi held a mobile phone at his bedside so that each of his children could come on screen to tell him they loved him. “I was just bawling in my [personal protective equipment],” Choi said. “The sound of the family members crying — I probably will never forget that,” she said.

It was not the first time the young doctor helped family members say goodbye to a loved one, and it would not be the last. Health care providers like Choi have had to work through unimaginable tragedies and unprecedented circumstances because of COVID-19, with little time to dedicate to their own mental health or well-being.

It has been nearly a year since the US reported what was believed at the time to be its first coronavirus death in Washington State. Since then, the pandemic death toll has mushroomed to nearly 500,000 nationwide, including 49,000 Californians. These numbers are shocking, and yet they do not capture the immeasurable emotional weight that falls on the health care providers with the most intimate view of COVID-19’s deadly progression. “The horror of the pandemic has unfolded largely outside public view and inside hospitals, piling a disproportionate share of the trauma on the people whose work takes them inside their walls,” Karlamangla wrote.

Experts are deeply concerned about the psychological and physical burdens that providers must bear, and the fact that there is still no end in sight. “At least with a natural disaster, it happens, people get scattered all over the place, property gets damaged or flooded, but then we begin to rebuild,” Lawrence Palinkas, PhD, MA, a medical anthropologist at USC, told Karlamangla. “We’re not there yet, and we don’t know when that will actually occur.”

Burned Out and Exhausted

A new CHCF survey of 1,202 California doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and behavioral health specialists confirms that levels of burnout and exhaustion are rising as the pandemic wears on. The survey, conducted January 4 to 14, 2021, is the second in a three-part series assessing COVID-19-related effects on health care providers.

Sixty-eight percent of providers said they feel emotionally drained from their work, 59% feel burned out, 57% feel overworked, and 50% feel frustrated. The poll asked providers who say they feel burned out what contributes most to that viewpoint. One doctor from the Central Valley wrote:

“Short staffed due to people out with COVID. I’m seeing three times as many patients, with no time to chart or catch up. Little appreciation or contact from my bosses. I have never had an N95 [mask]. The emotional toll this pandemic is taking. Being sick myself and spreading it to my wife and young kids. Still not fully recovered but needing to be at work due to physician shortages. Lack of professional growth, and a sense of lack of appreciation at work and feeling overworked. The sadness of the COVID-related deaths and the stories that go along with the disease. That’s a lot of stuff to unpack.”

Safety-net providers and health care workers with larger populations of patients of color are more likely to experience emotional hardships at work. As we know well by now, COVID-19 exacerbates the health disparities that have long burdened people of color and disproportionately harms communities with fewer health care and economic resources.

Women Bear the Brunt

The pandemic has been especially challenging for female health providers, who compose 77% of health care workers with direct patient contact. “The pandemic exacerbated gender inequities in formal and informal work, and in the distribution of home responsibilities, and increased the risk of unemployment and domestic violence,” an international group of experts wrote in the Lancet. “While trying to fulfill their professional responsibilities, women had to meet their families’ needs, including childcare, home schooling, care for older people, and home care.”

For one female doctor from the Bay Area who responded to the CHCF survey, the extra burdens of the pandemic have been unrelenting: “Having to work more, lack of safe, affordable, available childcare while I’m working. As a single mother, working 15 hours straight, then having to care for my daughter when I get home. Just exhausted with no days off. So many Zoom meetings all day long. Miss my family and friends.”

It is unclear how the pandemic will affect the health care workforce in the long term. For now, the damage “can be measured in part by a surge of early retirements and the desperation of community hospitals struggling to hire enough workers to keep their emergency rooms running,” Andrew Jacobs reported in the New York Times.

One of the early retirements Jacobs cited was Sheetal Khedkar Rao, MD, a 42-year-old internist in suburban Chicago. Last October, she decided to stop practicing medicine after “the emotional burden and moral injury became too much to bear,” she said. Two of the main factors driving her decision were a 30% pay cut to compensate for the decline in revenue from primary care visits and the need to spend more time at home after her two preteen children switched to remote learning.

“Everyone says doctors are heroes and they put us on a pedestal, but we also have kids and aging parents to worry about,” Rao said.

Working Through Unremitting Sickness and Death

In addition to the psychological burden, health care providers must cope with a harsh physical toll. People of color account for most COVID-19 cases and deaths among health care workers, according to a KFF issue brief. Some studies show that health care workers of color “are more likely to report reuse of or inadequate access to [personal protective equipment] and to work in clinical settings with greater exposure to patients with COVID-19.”

“Lost on the Frontline,” a collaboration of Kaiser Health News and the Guardian, has counted more than 3,400 deaths among US health care workers from COVID-19. Eighty-six percent of the workers who died were under age 60, and nurses accounted for roughly one-third of the deaths.

“Lost on the Frontline” provides the most comprehensive picture available of health care worker deaths, because the US still lacks a uniform system to collect COVID-19 morbidity and mortality data among health care workers. A year into the project, the federal government has decided to take action. Officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services cited the project when asking the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for a rapid expert consultation to understand the causes of deaths among health care workers during the pandemic.

The National Academies’ report, published December 10, recommends the “adoption and use of a uniform national framework for collecting, recording, and reporting mortality and morbidity data” along with the development of national reporting standards for a core set of morbidity impacts, including mental well-being and psychological effects related to working through public health crises. Some health care experts said the data gathering could be modeled on the federal government’s World Trade Center Health Program, which provides no-cost medical monitoring and treatment for workers who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago.

“We have a great obligation to people who put their lives on the line for the nation,” Victor J. Dzau, MD, president of the National Academy of Medicine, told Jacobs.

The No. 1 lesson from the 2021 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference: Healthcare is ‘too vital to fail’

Chronic Conditions | HENRY KOTULA

The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference is one of the best ways to diagnose the financial condition of the healthcare industry. Every January, every key stakeholder — providers, payers, pharmaceutical companies, tech companies, medical device and supply companies as well as bankers, venture capital and private equity firms — comes together in one exam room, even when it is virtual, for their annual check-up. But as we all know, this January is unlike any other as this past year has been unlike any other year.

You would have to go back to the banking crisis of 2008 to find a similar moment from an economic perspective. At the time, we were asking, “Are banks too big to fail?” The concern behind the question was that if they did fail, the economic chaos that would follow would lead to a collapse with the consumer ultimately picking up the tab. The rest is history.

Healthcare is “Too Vital to Fail” 

2020 was historic in too many ways to count. But in a year when healthcare providers faced the worst financial crisis in the history of healthcare, the headline is that they are still standing. And what they proved is that in contrast to banks in 2008 that were seen by many as “too big to fail,” healthcare providers in 2020 proved that they were “too vital to fail.” 

One of the many unique things about the COVID-19 pandemic is we are simultaneously experiencing a health crisis, where healthcare providers are the front line in the battle, and an economic crisis, felt in a big way in healthcare given the unique role hospitals play as the largest employer in most communities. Hospitals and health systems have done the vast majority of testing, treating, monitoring, counseling, educating and vaccinating all while searching for PPE and ventilators, and conducting clinical trials. And that’s just the beginning of the list.

Stop and think about that for a minute. What would we have done without them? Thinking through that question will give you some appreciation for the critical, challenging and central role that healthcare providers have had to play over the past year.

Simply stated, healthcare providers are the heart of healthcare, both clinically (essentially 100 percent of the care) and financially (over 50 percent of the $4 trillion annual spend on U.S. healthcare). Over the last year they stepped up and they stepped in at the moment where we needed them the most. This was despite the fact that, like most businesses, they were experiencing calamitous losses with no assurances of any assistance. 

Healthcare is “Pandemic-Proof”

This was absolutely the worst-case scenario and the biggest test possible for our nation’s healthcare delivery system. Patient volume and therefore revenue dropped by over 50 percent when the panic of the pandemic was at its peak, driving over $60 billion in losses per month across hospitals and healthcare providers. At the same time, they were dramatically increasing their expenses with PPE, ventilators and additional staff. This was not heading in a good direction. While failure may not have been seen as an option, it was clearly a possibility. 

The CARES Act clearly provided a temporary lifeline, providing funding for our nation’s hospitals to weather the storm. While there are more challenging times ahead, it is now clear that most are going to make it to the other side. The system of care in our country is often criticized, but when faced with perhaps the most challenging moment in the history of healthcare, our nation’s hospitals and health systems stepped up heroically and performed miraculously. The work of our healthcare providers on the front line and those who supported them was and is one thing that we all should be exceptionally proud of and thankful for. In 2020, they proved that not only is our nation’s healthcare system too vital to fail, but also that it is “pandemic proof.” 

Listening to Front Line at the 2021 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference 

There has never been a more important year to listen to the lessons from healthcare providers. They are and were the front line of our fight against COVID-19. If there was a class given about how to deal with a pandemic at an institutional level, this conference is where those lessons were being taught.  

This year at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, CEOs, and CFOs from many of the most prestigious and most well-respected health systems in the world presented including AdventHealth, Advocate Aurora Health, Ascension, Baylor Scott & White Health, CommonSpirit Health, Henry Ford Health System, Intermountain Healthcare, Jefferson Health, Mass General Brigham, Northwell Health, OhioHealth, Prisma Health, ProMedica Health System, Providence, Spectrum Health and SSM Health.

I’ve been in healthcare for 30 years and this is my fifth year of writing up the summary of the non-profit provider track of the conference for Becker’s Healthcare to help share the wisdom of the crowd of provider organizations that share their stories. Clearly, this year was different and not because the presentations were virtual, but because they were inspirational. 

What did we learn? The good news is that they have made many changes that have the potential to move healthcare in a much better direction and to get to a better place much faster. So, this year instead of providing you a nugget from each presentation, I am going to take a shot at summarizing what they collectively have in motion to stay vital after COVID.

10 Moves Healthcare Providers are Making to Stay Vital After-COVID

As a leader in healthcare, you will never have a bigger opportunity to drive change than right now. Smart leaders are framing this as essentially “before-COVID (BC)” and “after-COVID (AC)” and using this moment as their burning platform to drive change. Credit to the team at Providence for the acronym, but every CEO talked about this concept. As the saying goes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Well, we’ve certainly had a crisis, so here is a list of what the top health systems are doing to ensure that they don’t waste it and that they stay vital after-COVID:

1. Take Care of Your Team and They’ll Take Care of You: In a crisis, you can either come together as a team or fall apart. Clearly there has been a significant and stunning amount of pressure on healthcare providers. Many are fearing that mental health might be our nation’s next pandemic in the near future because they are seeing it right now with their own team. Perhaps one of their biggest lessons from this crisis has been the need to address the mental, physical and spiritual health of both team members as well as providers. They have put programs in place to help and have also built a tremendous amount of trust with their team by, in many cases, not laying off and/or furloughing employees. While they have made cuts in other areas such as benefits, this collective approach proved incredibly beneficial. And the last point here that relates to thinking differently about their team is that similar to other businesses, many health systems are making remote arrangements permanent for certain administrative roles and moving to a flexible approach regarding their team and their space in the future. 

2. Focus on Health Equity, Not Just Health Care: This was perhaps the most notable and encouraging change from presentations in past years at J.P. Morgan. I have been going to the conference for over a decade, and I’ve never heard someone mention this term or outline their efforts on “health equity” — this year, nearly everyone did. In the past, they have outlined many wonderful programs on “social determinants of health,” but this year they have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID on low-income communities bringing the ongoing issue of racial disparities in access to care and outcomes to light. As the bedrock of employment in their community, this provides an opportunity to not just provide health care, but also health equity, taking an active role to help make progress on issues like hunger, homelessness, and housing. Many are making significant investments in a number of these and other areas. 

3. Take the Lead in Public Health — the Message is the Medicine: One of the greatest failings of COVID, perhaps the greatest lesson learned, is the need for clear and consistent messaging from a public health perspective. That is a role that healthcare providers can and should play. In the pandemic, it represented the greatest opportunity to save lives as the essence of public health is communication — the message is the medicine. A number of health systems stepped into this opportunity to build trust and to build their brand, which are essentially one in the same. Some organizations have created a new role — a Chief Community Health Officer — which is a good way to capture the work that is in motion relative to social determinants of health as well as health equity. Many understand the opportunity here and will take the lead relative to vaccine distribution as clear messaging to build confidence is clearly needed.

4. Make the Home and Everywhere a Venue of Care: A number of presenters stated that “COVID didn’t change our strategy, it accelerated it.” For the most part, they were referring to virtual visits, which increased dramatically now representing around 10 percent of their visits vs. 1 percent before-COVID. One presenter said, “Digital has been tested and perfected during COVID,” but that is only considering the role we see digital playing in this moment. It is clear some organizations have a very narrow tactical lens while others are looking at the opportunity much more strategically. For many, they are looking at a “care anywhere and everywhere” strategy. From a full “hospital in the home” approach to remote monitoring devices, it is clear that your home will be seen as a venue of care and an access point moving forward. The pandemic of 2020 may have sparked a new era of “post-hospital healthcare” — stay tuned.

5. Bury Your Budget and Pivot to Planning: The budget process has been a source of incredible distrust, dissatisfaction and distraction for every health system for decades. The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic forced every organization to bury their budget last year. With that said, many of the organizations that presented are now making a permanent shift away from a “budget-based culture” where the focus is on hitting a now irrelevant target set that was set six to nine months ago to a “performance-based culture” where the focus is on making progress every day, week, month and quarter. Given that the traditional annual operating budget process has been the core of how health systems have operated, this shift to a rolling forecast and a more dynamic planning process is likely the single most substantial and permanent change in how hospitals and health systems operate due to COVID. In other words, it is arguably a much bigger headline than what’s happened with virtual visits.

6. Get Your M&A Machine in Motion: It was clear from the presentations that activity around acquisitions is going to return, perhaps significantly. These organizations have strong balance sheets and while the strong have gotten stronger during COVID, the weak have in many cases gotten weaker. Many are going to be opportunistic to acquire hospitals, but at the same time they have concluded that they can’t just be a system of care delivery. They are also focused on acquiring and investing in other types of entities as well as forming more robust partnerships to create new revenue streams. Organizations that already had diversified revenue streams in place came through this pandemic the best. Most hospitals are overly reliant on the ED and surgical volume. Trying to drive that volume in a value-based world, with the end of site of service differentials and the inpatient only list, will be an even bigger challenge in the future as new niche players enter the market. As I wrote in the headline of my summary two years ago,It’s the platform, stupid.” There are better ways to create a financial path forward that involve leveraging their assets — their platform — in new and creative ways. 

7. Hey, You, Get into the Cloud: With apologies for wrapping a Rolling Stones song into a conference summary, one of the main things touted during presentations was “the cloud” and their ability to pull clinical, operational and financial dashboards together to monitor the impact of COVID on their organization and organize their actions. Focus over the last decade has been on the clinical (implementing EHRs), but it is now shifting to “digitizing operations” with a focus on finance and operations (planning, cost accounting, ERPs, etc.) as well as advanced analytics and data science capabilities to automate, gather insight, manage and predict. It is clear that the cloud has moved from a curiosity to a necessity for health systems, making this one of the biggest areas of investment for every health system over the next decade.

8. Make Price Transparency a Key Differentiator: One of the great lessons from Amazon (and others) is that you can make a lot of money when you make something easy to buy. While many health systems are skeptical of the value of the price transparency requirements, those that have a deep understanding of both their true cost of care and margins are using this as an opportunity to prove their value and accelerate their strategy to become consumer-centric. While there is certainly a level of risk, no business has ever been unsuccessful because they made their product easier to understand and access. Because healthcare is so opaque, there is an opening for healthcare providers to build trust, which is their main asset, and volume, which is their main source of revenue, by becoming stunningly easy to do business with. This may be tough sledding for some as this isn’t something healthcare providers are known for. To understand this, spend a few minutes on Tesla’s website vs. Ford’s. The concept of making something easy, or hard, to buy will become crystal clear as fast as a battery-driven car can go from zero to 60.

9. Make Care More Affordable: This represents the biggest challenge for hospitals and health systems as they ultimately need to be on the right side of this issue or the trust that they have will disappear and they will remain very vulnerable to outside players. All are investing in advanced cost accounting systems (time-driven costing, physician costing, supply, and drug costing) to truly understand their cost and use that as a basis to price more strategically in the market. Some are dropping prices for shoppable services and using loss leader strategies to build their brand. The incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services has a strong belief regarding the accountability of health systems to be consumer centric. The health systems that understand this are working to get ahead of this issue as it is likely one of their most significant threats (or opportunities) over the next decade. This means getting all care to the right site of care, evaluating every opportunity to improve, and getting serious about eliminating the need for expensive care through building healthy communities. If you’re worried about Wal-Mart or Amazon, this is your secret weapon to keep them on the sideline.

10. Scale = Survival: One of the big lessons here is that the strong got stronger, the weak got weaker. For the strong, many have been able to “snapback” in financial performance because they were resilient. They were able to designate COVID-only facilities, while keeping others running at a higher capacity. To be clear, while most health systems are going to get to the other side and are positioned better than ever, there are many others that will continue to struggle for years to come. According to our data at Strata, we see 25 percent operating at negative margins right now and another 50 percent just above breakeven. They key to survival moving forward, for those that don’t have a captive market, will be scale. If this pandemic proved one thing relative to the future of health systems it is this — scale equals survival. 

When Will We Return to Normal?

Based on what the projections that these health systems shared, the “new normal” for health systems for the first half of 2021 will be roughly 95 percent of prior year inpatient volume with a 20 percent year-over-year drop in ED volume and a drop of 10-15 percent in observation visits. So, the pain will continue, but given the adjustments that were already made in 2020, it looks like they will be able to manage through COVID effectively. While there will be a pickup in the second half of 2021, the safe bet is that a “return to normal” pre-COVID volumes likely won’t occur until 2022. And there are some who believe that some of the volume should have never been there to begin with and we might see a permanent shift downward in ED volume as well as in some other areas.

With that said, I’ll steal a quote from Bert Zimmerli, the CFO of Intermountain Healthcare, who said, “Normal wasn’t ever nearly good enough in healthcare.” In that spirit, the goal should be to not return to normal, but rather to use this moment as an opportunity to take the positive changes driven by COVID — from technology to processes to areas of focus to a sense of responsibility — and make them permanent.

Thanking Our “Healthcare Heroes”

We’ll never see another 2020 again, hopefully. With that said, one of the silver linings of the year is everything we learned in healthcare. The most important lesson was this — in healthcare there are literally heroes everywhere. To each of them, I just want to say “thank you” for being there for us when we needed you the most. We should all be writing love letters to those on the front line who risked their lives to save others. Our nation’s healthcare system has taken a lot of criticism through the years from those on the outside, often with a blind eye to how things work in practice vs. in concept. But this year we all got to see first-hand what’s happening inside of healthcare — the heroic work of our healthcare providers and those who support them. 

They faced the worst crisis in the history of healthcare. They responded heroically and were there for our families and friends.

They proved that healthcare is too vital to fail. They proved that healthcare is pandemic-proof.

Thank you to our healthcare heroes.

Notes for the 39th Annual J.P Morgan Healthcare Conference, 2021

https://www.sheppardhealthlaw.com/articles/healthcare-industry-news/

2021 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference | Zoetis

Sitting in the dark before 6 am in my Los Angeles house with my face lit up by yet another Zoom screen, wearing a stylish combination of sweatpants, dress shirt and last year’s JPM conference badge dangling around my neck for old times’ sake, I wonder at the fact that it’s J.P. Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference week again and we are where we are. Quite a year for all of us – the pandemic, the healthcare system’s response to the public health emergency, the ongoing fight for racial justice, the elections, the storming of the Capital – and the subject of healthcare winds its way through all of it – public health, our healthcare system’s stability, strengths and weaknesses, the highly noticeable healthcare inequities, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and vaccines, healthcare politics and what the new administration will bring as healthcare initiatives.

I will miss seeing you all in person this year at the J.P. Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference and our annual Sheppard Mullin reception – previously referred to as “standing room only” events and now as “possible superspreader events.” What a difference a year makes. I admit that I will miss the feeling of excitement in the rooms and hallways of the Westin St. Francis and all of the many hotel lobbies and meeting rooms surrounding it. Somehow the virtual conference this year lacks that je ne sais quoi of being stampeded by rushing New York-style street traffic while in an antiquated San Francisco hotel hallway and watching the words spoken on stage transform immediately into sharp stock price increases and drops. There also is the excitement of sitting in the room listening to paradigm shifting ideas (teaser – read the last paragraph of this post for something truly fascinating). Perhaps next year, depending on the vaccine…

So, let’s start there. Today was vaccine day at the JPM Conference, with BioNTech, Moderna, Novovax and Johnson & Johnson all presenting. Lots of progress reported by all of the companies working on vaccines, but the best news of the day was the comment from BioNTech that the UK and South Africa coronavirus variants likely are still covered by the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. BioNTech’s CEO, Prof. Uğur Şahin, M.D., promised more data and analysis to be published shortly on that.

We also saw continued excitement for mRNA vaccines, not only for COVID-19 but also for other diseases. There is a growing focus (following COVID-19 of course) on vaccines for cancer through use of neoantigen targets, and for a long list of infectious disease targets.  For cancer, though, there continues to be a growing debate over whether the best focus is on “personalized” vaccines or “off the shelf” vaccines – personalized vaccines can take longer to make and have much, much higher costs and infrastructure requirements. We expect, however, to see very exciting news on the use of mRNA and other novel technologies in the next year or two that, when approved and put into commercialization, could radically change the game, not only as to mortality, but also by eliminating or significantly reducing the cost of care with chronic conditions (which some cancers have become, thanks to technological advancement). We are fortunate to be in that gap now between “care” and “cure,” where we have been able with modern medical advances to convert many more disease states into manageable chronic care conditions. Together with today’s longer lifespans, that, however, carries a much higher price tag for our healthcare system. Now, with some of these recent announcements, we look forward to moving from “care” to “cure” and substantially dropping the cost of care to our healthcare system.

Continuing consolidation also was a steady drumbeat underlying the multiple presentations today on the healthcare services side of the conference – health plans, health systems, physician organizations, home health. The drive to scale continues, as we have seen from the accelerated pace of mergers and acquisitions in the second half of 2020, which continues unabated in January 2021. There was today’s announcement of the acquisition by Amerisource Bergen of Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Alliance Healthcare wholesale business (making Walgreens Boots Alliance the largest single shareholder of Amerisource Bergen at nearly 30% ownership), following the announcement last week of Centene’s acquisition of Magellan Health (coming fast on the heels of Molina Healthcare’s purchase of Magellan’s Complete Care line of business).

On the mental health side – a core focus area for Magellan Health – Centene’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Neidorff, expressed the common theme that we have been seeing in the past year that mental health care should be integrated and coordinated with primary and specialty care. He also saw value in Magellan’s strong provider network, as access to mental health providers can be a challenge in some markets and populations. The behavioral/mental health sector likely will see increased attention and consolidation in the coming year, especially given its critical role during the COVID-19 crisis and also with the growing Medicaid and Medicare populations. There are not a lot of large assets left independent in the mental health sector (aside from inpatient providers, autism/developmental disorder treatment programs, and substance abuse residential and outpatient centers), so we may see more roll-up focus (such as we have seen recently with the autism/ABA therapy sector) and technology-focused solutions (text-based or virtual therapy).

There was strong agreement among the presenting health plans and capitated providers (Humana, Centene, Oak Street and multiple health systems) today that we will continue to see movement toward value-based care (VBC) and risk-based reimbursement systems, such as Medicare Advantage, Medicare direct contracting and other CMS Innovation Center (CMMI) programs and managed Medicaid. Humana’s Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Broussard, said that the size of the MA program has grown so much since 2010 that it now represents an important voting bloc and one of the few ways in which the federal government currently is addressing healthcare inequities – e.g., through Over-the-Counter (OTC) pharmacy benefits, benefits focused on social determinants of health (SDOH), and healthcare quality improvements driven by the STARS rating program. Broussard also didn’t think Medicare Advantage would be a negative target for the Biden administration and expected more foreseeable and ordinary-course regulatory adjustments, rather than wholesale legislative change for Medicare Advantage.

There also was agreement on the exciting possibility of direct contracting for Medicare lives at risk under the CMMI direct contracting initiative. Humana expressed possible interest in both this year’s DCE program models and in the GEO regional risk-based Medicare program model that will be rolling out in the next year. Humana sees this as both a learning experience and as a way to apply their chronic care management skills and proprietary groups and systems to a broader range of applicable populations and markets. There is, however, a need for greater clarity and transparency from CMMI on program details which can substantially affect success and profitability of these initiatives.

Humana, Centene and Oak Street all sang the praises of capitated medical groups for Medicare Advantage and, per Michael Neidorff, the possibility of utilizing traditional capitated provider models for Medicaid membership as well. The problem, as noted by the speakers, is that there is a scarcity of independent capitated medical groups and a lack of physician familiarity and training. We may see a more committed effort by health plans to move their network provider groups more effectively into VBC and risk, much like we have seen Optum do with their acquired fee for service groups. Privia Health also presented today and noted that, while the market focus and high valuations today are accorded to Medicare lives, attention needs to be paid to the “age in” pipeline, as commercial patients who enroll in original Medicare and Medicare Advantage still would like to keep their doctors who saw them under commercial insurance. Privia’s thesis in part is to align with patients early on and retain them and their physicians, so as to create a “farm system” for accelerated Medicare population growth. Privia’s Chief Executive Officer, Shawn Morris, also touted Privia’s rapid growth, in part attributable to partnering with health systems.

As written in our notes from prior JPM healthcare conferences, health systems are continuing to look outside to third parties to gain knowledge base, infrastructure and management skills for physician VBC and risk arrangements. Privia cited their recent opening of their Central Florida market in partnership with Health First and rapid growth in providers by more than 25% in their first year of operations.

That being said, the real market sizzle remains with Medicare Advantage and capitation, percent of premium arrangements and global risk. The problem for many buyers, though, is that there are very few assets of size in this line of business. The HealthCare Partners/DaVita Medical Group acquisition by Optum removed that from the market, creating a high level of strategic and private equity demand and a low level of supply for physician organizations with that expertise. That created a focus on groups growing rapidly in this risk paradigm and afforded them strong valuation, like with Oak Street Health this past year as it completed its August 2020 initial public offering. Oak Street takes on both professional and institutional (hospital) risk and receives a percent of premium from its contracting health plans. As Oak Street’s CEO Mike Pykosz noted, only about 3% of Medicare dollars are spent on primary care, while approximately two-thirds are spent on hospital services. If more intensive management occurs at the primary care level and, as a result, hospitalizations can be prevented or reduced, that’s an easy win that’s good for the patient and the entire healthcare system (other than a fee for service based hospital). Pykosz touted his model of building out new centers from scratch as allowing greater conformity, control and efficacy than buying existing groups and trying to conform them both physically and through practice approaches to the Oak Street model. He doesn’t rule out some acquisitions, but he noted as an example that Oak Street was able to swiftly role out COVID-19 protocols rapidly and effectively throughout his centers because they all have the same physical configuration, the same staffing ratio and the same staffing profiles. Think of it as a “franchise” model where each Subway store, for example, will have generally the same look, feel, size and staffing. He also noted that while telehealth was very helpful during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and will continue as long as the doctors and patients wish, Oak Street believes that an in-person care management model is much more effective and telehealth is better for quick follow-ups or when in-person visits can’t occur.

Oak Street also spoke to the topic of Medicare Advantage member acquisition, which has been one of the more difficult areas to master for many health plans and groups, resulting in many cases with mergers and acquisitions becoming a favored growth vehicle due to the difficulties of organic membership growth. Interestingly, both Oak Street and Humana reported improvements in membership acquisition during the COVID-19 crisis. Oak Street credited digital marketing and direct response television, among other factors. Humana found that online direct-to-consumer brokers became an effective pathway during the COVID-19 crisis and focused its energy on enhancing those relationships and improving hand-offs during the membership enrollment process. Humana also noted the importance of brand in Medicare Advantage membership marketing.

Staying with Medicare Advantage, there is an expectation of a decrease in Medicare risk adjustment revenue in 2021, in large part due to the lower healthcare utilization during the COVID crisis and the lesser number of in-person visits during which HCC-RAF Medicare risk adjustment coding typically occurs. That revenue drop however likely will not significantly decrease Medicare Advantage profitability though, given the concomitant drop in healthcare expenses due to lower utilization, and per conference reports, is supposed to return to normal trend in 2022 (unless we see utilization numbers fall back below 90% again). Other interesting economic notes from several presentations, when taken together, suggest that while many health systems have lost out on elective surgery revenue in 2020, their case mix index (CMI) in many cases has been much higher due to the COVID patient cases. We also saw a number of health systems with much lower cash days on hand numbers than other larger health systems (both in gross and after adjusting for federal one-time stimulus cash payments), as a direct result of COVID. This supports the thesis we are hearing that, with the second wave of COVID being higher than expected, in the absence of further federal government financial support to hospitals, we likely will see an acceleration of partnering and acquisition transactions in the hospital sector.

Zoetis, one of the largest animal health companies, gave an interesting presentation today on its products and service lines. In addition to some exciting developments re: monoclonal antibody treatments coming on line for dogs with pain from arthritis, Zoetis also discussed its growing laboratory and diagnostics line of business. The animal health market, sometime overshadowed by the human healthcare market, is seeing some interesting developments as new revenue opportunities and chronic care management paradigms (such as for renal care) are shifting in the animal health sector. This is definitely a sector worth watching.

We also saw continuing interest, even in the face of Congressional focus this past year, on growing pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies, which are designed to help manage the pharmacy spend. Humana listed growth of its PBM and specialty pharmacy lines of business as a focus for 2021, along with at-home care. In its presentation today,  SSM Health, a health system in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Missouri, spotlighted Navitus, its PBM, which services 7 million covered lives in 50 states.

One of the most different, interesting and unexpected presentations of the day came from Paul Markovich, Chief Executive Officer of Blue Shield of California. He put forth the thesis that we need to address the flat or negative productivity in healthcare today in order to both reduce total cost of care, improve outcomes and to help physicians, as well as to rescue the United States from the overbearing economic burden of the current healthcare spending. Likening the transformation in healthcare to that which occurred in the last two decades with financial services (remember before ATMs and banking apps, there were banker’s hours and travelers cheques – remember those?), he described exciting pilot projects that reimagine healthcare today. One project is a real-time claims adjudication and payment program that uses smart watches to record physician/patient interactions, natural language processing (NLP) to populate the electronic medical record, transform the information concurrently into a claim, adjudicate it and authorize payment. That would massively speed up cash flow to physician practices, reduce paperwork and many hours of physician EMR and billing time and reduce the billing and collection overhead and burden. It also could substantially reduce healthcare fraud.

Paul Markovich also spoke to the need for real-time quality information that can result in real-time feedback and incentivization to physicians and other providers, rather than the costly and slow HEDIS pursuits we see today. One health plan noted that it spends about $500 million a year going into physician offices looking at medical records for HEDIS pursuits, but the information is totally “in the rearview mirror” as it is too old when finally received and digested to allow for real-time treatment changes, improvement or planning. Markovich suggested four initiatives (including the above, pay for value and shared decision making through better, more open data access) that he thought could save $100 billion per year for the country. Markovich stressed that all of these four initiatives required a digital ecosystem and asked for help and partnership in creating one. He also noted that the State of California is close to creating a digital mandate and statewide health information exchange that could be the launching point for this exciting vision of data sharing and a digital ecosystem where the electronic health record is the beginning, but not the end of the healthcare data journey.

2 men shot up a California strip club with an AK-47 after refusing to wear masks, authorities say. Now they face life in prison.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/12/22/california-shooting-mask-stripclub-ak47/?fbclid=IwAR0N7ndu2quPQlB4N61ZT6FEyyS6roIJsk9SI9-I_KH-bogHzEGsWyfHHtc

Economics of the AK-47 | Global Risk Insights

When a group of friends rebuffed multiple demands to wear masks inside the Sahara Theater in Anaheim, they were kicked out of the strip club in the early-morning hours of Halloween for not following the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

The men returned to the gentleman’s club in their Honda sedan shortly thereafter, but they were not looking to reenter and keep the party going. Instead of masks, they brought with them an AK-47 to shoot at the outside of the establishment, according to authorities, firing 15 rounds from the car and hospitalizing three people with gunshot wounds.

Nearly two months later, the Anaheim residents were arrested in what police described to The Washington Post as the most extreme anti-mask incident in the city to date.

On Monday, Edgar Nava-Ayala, 34, and Daniel Juvenal Ocampo, 22, were charged with three felony counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, three felony counts of assault with an assault weapon, and one felony count of shooting into an occupied building. A third man, Juan Jose Acosta-Soto, 20, was charged with three felony counts of assault with an assault weapon and one felony count of shooting into an occupied building.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to a news release from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

If convicted on all charges, Nava-Ayala and Ocampo face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Acosta-Soto faces a maximum prison sentence of more than 17 years.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Shane Carringer told The Post that the men were arrested Thursday, adding that the city avoided a near-tragedy with the dozens of people inside the club at the time of the Halloween shooting.

“It is nothing short of a miracle that no one was killed,” Carringer said. “There were over 30 people in there and these guys are suspected of indiscriminately firing at innocent bystanders with a high-powered rifle.”

The strip club shooting is just one example in a long line of mask disputes that have led to gunfire since the start of the pandemic. In May, a Family Dollar security guard in Flint, Mich., was killed after telling a customer that her child had to wear a mask to enter the store. That same month, a maskless San Antonio man who was denied entry on a bus proceeded to shoot and critically injure a passenger who had confronted him for not wearing a face covering, authorities said. In August, a Pennsylvania man was charged after allegedly opening fire outside a cigar shop that had asked him to wear a mask.

The district attorney’s office said Nava-Ayala and Ocampo were “escorted out of the club because they refused to wear face coverings.” When the three men came back in their car at about 1:35 a.m. on Oct. 31, police say Nava-Ayala ripped off 15 rounds from an AK-47 into the Sahara Theater.

Three people — two employees and a customer — were hospitalized and suffered minor to moderate injuries to their upper body that were not life-threatening. A fourth person was wounded, but refused medical attention, Carringer said.

In California, gentlemen’s clubs like the Sahara Theater are allowed to operate if they provide food, which would classify them as a restaurant instead of a bar or live entertainment venue.

A manager with the club declined to comment to The Post, saying, “All the info is out there.”

Carringer said Anaheim police had worked “nonstop” for about six weeks as part of the investigation to track down the three men, arresting them in different locations Thursday. None of them had a significant previous record before the shooting, he said.

“In Anaheim, this is as close as we’ve gotten to a mass shooting,” Carringer said.

Nava-Ayala, Ocampo and Acosta-Soto are being held at the Orange County Jail on $5 million bail each. Their attorneys did not immediately return a request for comment early Tuesday.

Health Care in the 2020 Presidential Election — A Commonwealth Fund Blog Series

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2020/introducing-health-care-2020-presidential-election-series

Comparing the Candidates' Health Care Plans

Before each presidential election, the Commonwealth Fund analyzes the major health policy positions of the Democratic and Republican candidates to assist Americans in making informed choices. In 2020, with health care rising to the top of the electorate’s concerns for myriad reasons, this information has never been more important.

In the next week, we will be publishing a series of analyses that compare the positions of President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, on topics like:

prescription drug policy;

the affordability and availability of health care and insurance, including the issue of preexisting conditions;

questions concerning older adults, like Medicare; how best to control the costs of health care;

addressing mental and behavioral health concerns;

and strategies for advancing health care equity.

In most previous presidential election years, we have had the opportunity to compare fairly well-delineated party and candidate programs. In 2020, President Trump and the Republican party have chosen not to issue any party platform or formal policy positions. Therefore, we have derived our description of President Trump’s program from the policies he espoused, and decisions made during his first term. Vice President Biden’s information comes from his campaign platform.

We hope you find these summaries helpful as you weigh your choices for Election Day.

New Laws Strengthen California’s Response to Mental Health Crises

Governor Newsom signs legislation expanding access to quality behavioral health care.

Governor Newsom signs into law four bills expanding access to quality behavioral health care at a ceremony in Sacramento on September 25, 2020. Photo: Paula Ginsborg via YouTube

Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law four bills intended to improve Californians’ access to mental health and substance use disorder services.

I pledged to put these critical services within reach of more Californians,” Newsom said in a September 25 statement. “The bills I am signing today will help Californians access the behavioral health services they need to recover.”

Essential Coverage

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn have persuaded Americans of the importance of behavioral health care services. In the last half of August, a National Council for Behavioral Health poll (PDF) found that the gap has widened considerably between demand for mental health and addiction treatment services and the financial viability of organizations that provide them. Over half of NCBH member organizations reported that in the three months before the survey, more Americans sought their services even as these providers lost, on average, 23% of their annual revenue.

A different survey, conducted in the last week of June, showed that one in four people age 18 to 24 seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. That troubling finding was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, where the wildfire season got off to an early and destructive start, the converging crises are expected to worsen residents’ mental health. “We are very concerned about the layering of multiple stresses on the people of California,” Jim Kooler, DrPH, assistant deputy director of behavioral health in the California Department of Health Care Services, told Jocelyn Wiener in CalMatters.

Newsom, who signaled his commitment to mental health during his campaign for governor, became visibly emotional at the end of the September 25 virtual bill-signing ceremony. “Thanks for leading, thanks for making a difference,” he said to the legislators and mental health advocates on the video call. “This is making a difference in real people’s lives.”

Here are the four behavioral health bills that the governor approved:

Strengthening California’s Mental Health Parity Law

Gaps in California’s mental health parity law will be bridged under SB 855 by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). “Current state law requires health plans to cover medically necessary treatment of just nine serious mental illnesses,” Jocelyn Wiener reported in an article about SB 855.

Mental health parity laws “have existed in both state and federal law for years, but insurers have used a complex determination of ‘medical necessity’ to deny care” for mental health issues and substance use disorders, Sigrid Bathen wrote in Capitol Weekly. (A recently published CHCF paper by researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms assessed California’s progress in enforcing the 2008 federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.)

The new state law requires commercial health plans and insurers outside of Medi-Cal (which is regulated by different standards) to provide full coverage for treatment of all mental health conditions and substance use disorders. This includes treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and opioid use disorder, Sophia Bollag wrote in the Sacramento Bee. The new law also establishes specific standards for what constitutes medically necessary treatment and criteria for the use of clinical guidelines.

Creating a Certification Process for Peer Support Specialists

Under SB 803 by State Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), California will create a system to certify peer support specialists, define their roles, and help to scale up the Medi-Cal workforce.

In 2019, CHCF’s Lisa Aliferis visited Washington State to learn about its innovative statewide peer support program. A certified peer support specialist “identifies as having a significant life-altering mental health [or substance use] challenge and has been in recovery for at least a year,” Aliferis was told by Patti Marshall, the peer support program administrator for the Washington Health Care Authority’s behavioral health and recovery division.

Last year, California had not adopted a similar program — even though the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued Medicaid reimbursement guidelines for peer providers in 2007. Now, research has shown that peer support for those with co-occurring mental health and substance use diagnoses prevents rehospitalizations and facilitates their ability to live in the community. “When we say [peer support] saves lives, it’s not hyperbole,” Michelle Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, told Jocelyn Wiener in an article about peer support specialists. “It really is a linchpin in moving people [with mental health and substance use disorder issues] into recovery and stabilizing them long-term.”

Expanding Community Paramedicine

Community paramedicine is a locally designed, community-based, collaborative model of care that leverages the skills of paramedics and emergency medical services (EMS) systems to take advantage of collaborations between EMS and other health care and social service providers. Among other expanded roles, community paramedics are trained to handle behavioral health needs and, depending on the locally designed program, can transport intoxicated patients to sobering centers or mental health treatment, and help frequent 911 callers to obtain behavioral health, medical, housing, and social services. All of these protocols take pressure off hospital emergency departments that traditionally have been the only permitted destinations for patients cared for by EMS agencies.

In 2015, California began testing the model of care through 13 community paramedicine pilot projects across the state. An external evaluation conducted by the Healthforce Center at UCSF found that “community paramedics are collaborating successfully with physicians, nurses, behavioral health professionals, social workers, and outreach workers to fill gaps in the health and social services safety net.”

AB 1544 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson) will expand the pilot projects by authorizing local EMS agencies to develop alternative destination programs.

Learn how community paramedics in San Francisco and San Diego have been deployed by their local jurisdictions to help people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

Making Substance Use Disorder Treatment More Accessible

One-third of adults who receive county services for serious mental illnesses have a co-occurring substance or alcohol use disorder, according to Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton). She authored AB 2265, which will authorize counties to use Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funds — historically limited to mental health services — to treat Californians with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

By removing barriers to using MHSA-funded services for such conditions, AB 2265 will “[increase] access to substance use disorder treatment, [improve] care coordination, and [lead] to a more integrated behavioral health care system,” according to the governor’s office.

Survey: Health plans to cost $15,500 per employee next year

https://www.cfodive.com/news/health-plans-employee-cost/583816/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-08-21%20CFO%20Dive%20%5Bissue:29224%5D&utm_term=CFO%20Dive

Is Trump's debate claim about health care costs rising true? | PBS ...

More plans are expected to cover virtual office visits and expanded mental health and well-being offerings.

Dive Brief:

  • Large employers are projecting their health care benefit costs to surpass $15,500 per employee in 2021, Business Group on Health’s annual survey finds.
  • That would represent a 5.3% increase in costs, estimated at $14,769 this year.
  • The health plans are also expected to expand virtual care, mental health and emotional well-being offerings to employees.

Dive Insight:

The 5.3% increase is slightly higher than the 5% increases employers projected in each of the last five years, according to the 2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey.

In line with recent years, employers will cover nearly 70% of costs while employees will bear about 30%, or nearly $4,500, in 2021. 

“Health care costs are a moving target and one that employers continue to keep a close eye on,” said Ellen Kelsay, president and CEO of Business Group on Health. “The pandemic has triggered delays in both preventive and elective care, which could mean the projected trend for this year may turn out to be too high. If care returns to normal levels in 2021, the projected trend for next year may prove to be too low. It’s difficult to know where cost increases will land.”

The growth in virtual care is one of the trends identified in the survey. Eight in 10 health plan executives said virtual health will play a significant role in how care is delivered, up from 64% last year and 52% in 2018. More than half (52%) will offer more virtual care options next year.

Nearly all employers will offer telehealth services for minor, acute services while 91% will offer telemental health, and that could grow to 96% by 2023.

Virtual care for musculoskeletal management shows the greatest potential for growth. While 29% will offer musculoskeletal management virtually next year, another 39% are considering adding it by 2023. Employers are also expanding other virtual services including the delivery of health coaching and emotional well-being support. These offerings are expected to increase in the next few years.

“Virtual care is here to stay,” said Kelsay. “The pandemic caused the pace to accelerate at an astronomical rate. And virtual care is now garnering growing interest and receptivity from both employees and providers who increasingly see its benefit.”

Another key trend for employer plans in 2021 is the expansion of access to virtual mental health and emotional well-being services. More than two-thirds (69%) said they provide access to online mental health support resources such as apps, videos, and articles. That number is expected to jump to 88% in 2021.

Other findings:

  • More employers are linking health care with workforce strategy: The number of employers who view their health care strategy as an integral part of their workforce strategy increased from 36% in 2019 to 45% this year.
  • On-site clinics continue to grow: Nearly three in four respondents (72%) either have a clinic in place or will by 2023. Some employers are expanding services — 34% offer primary care services at the worksite, and an additional 26% plan to have this service available by 2023.
  • Growing interest in advanced primary care strategies: Over half of respondents (51%) will have at least one advanced primary care strategy next year up from 46% in 2020. These primary care arrangements, which move toward patient-centered population health management emphasizing prevention, chronic disease management, mental health and whole person care are key focus areas for employers.
  • Employers remain concerned about high-cost drug therapies. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) cited the impact of new million-dollar treatments as their top pharmacy benefits management concern.

 

 

 

 

How will Covid-19 affect employers’ healthcare costs? It depends, says PwC report

https://medcitynews.com/2020/06/how-will-covid-19-affect-employers-healthcare-costs-it-depends-says-pwc-report/?utm_campaign=MCN%20Daily%20Top%20Stories&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=90212485&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_yxVYJ-KPqLWePqF49EqIVP4Ca8AfsO5zVEzr3oseXQAZKeZI4EpC67d02dlcVim6PhZfM–3Kbpb8tmDBXhD-xatSIQ&utm_content=90212485&utm_source=hs_email

How will Covid-19 affect employers' healthcare costs? It depends ...

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers said employer spending on healthcare could increase anywhere from 4% to 10% next year. The report highlighted three potential scenarios depending on what happens with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic slowdown strain company budgets, employers are trying to calculate how much they will spend on healthcare next year. Soon, they will be picking health plans for 2021, and the pandemic will certainly go into that calculus.

A new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers attempts to forecast healthcare costs for next year. But there are still lots of unknowns. According to the report, the medical cost trend could increase between 4% and 10% in 2021.

Researchers with PwC’s Health Research Institute interviewed health plan actuaries from 12 national and regional payers over the past three months. The consensus? They were still unsure about the pandemic’s effect on spending now and what it will mean for 2021.

PwC considered three potential scenarios:

  • If healthcare spending remains down in 2021, PwC expects a 4% medical cost trend
  • If spending continues to grow at the same rate that it has from 2014 to 2019, PwC forecasts a 6% medical cost trend
  • If spending increases significantly next year in part due to pent-up demand from delayed care during the pandemic, PwC forecasts a 10% medical cost trend.

Employers are already considering measures to reduce their costs next year. For instance, a growing number are looking at narrow-network plans as a way of negotiating down prices.

“As the pandemic continues and the economic pressures increase, the shift towards narrow network will likely continue and accelerate,” PwC Health Research Institute Leader Ben Isgur wrote in an email.

In particular, large companies with more than 5,000 employees are more likely to consider this strategy, with 25% offering narrow-network plans, according to a 2019 survey by PwC.

Walmart is a recent example. The company began offering “curated physician networks” in Arkansas, Florida and Texas in 2020. In March, the company indicated it would expand on its network strategies.

More companies are also expanding their telehealth services, in part a direct result of the pandemic. While this may not save them money in the short-term — most insurers are currently reimbursing the same for telehealth visits as in-office visits — in the long term, it is expected to reduce costs.

“Employers understand the benefits of telehealth including lower costs, easier access, less time away from work and a good consumer experience,” Isgur wrote. “89 percent of employers surveyed by PwC in spring 2019 offered telemedicine either through their medical vendor or a carve-out vendor, up from 56 percent in 2016. Over the past few months, we have seen telehealth accelerate even faster.”

A couple of ongoing factors could increase spending next year. Employers are adding mental health services to their health plans, and have seen increased demand for those services, especially in light of the pandemic. According to a recent survey by the Health Research Institute, 12% of individuals on employer plans said they had sought mental health services, and another 18% planned to do so.

Specialty drug spending is also expected to drive up costs, as the majority of pharmaceuticals planned for release next year are specialty drugs. This is not a new trend; of companies’ total drug spending, specialty drugs grew from 21% of the total in 2010 to 58% in 2017.

Many patients have delayed care as a result of the pandemic. Even as medical offices begin to offer in-person visits again, volumes are still down. It’s still too early to tell whether that will lead to a surge in spending next year due to postponed — but needed — procedures.

According to PwC, 22% of patients with employer-sponsored insurance have delayed care since March.

“We could see the population risk increase for 2021 if members with chronic conditions are not able to manage their health as effectively in 2020 due to Covid-19,” Amy Yao, senior vice president and chief actuary at Blue Shield of California, told PwC’s Health Research Institute.

 

 

 

 

Californians increasingly concerned about access to mental healthcare and rising cost of care

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139807?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldNMllXTmpNVEJpTVRNMSIsInQiOiI1MVlQdys0d2FHbVZESVVjMDNFS2tnQVNJSlNjS2xsT1BCXC9FdGFZbWI2TDZQcnBJZHZIU2p4Qm9GNEw1K1ZsM1M5SVVPYU51OGxxOVJNRndtTlY1UXFkaFNueDVXbTlWbHRmSHF2YWhhVVdZdkthc0FzOHBIWFN3ZTNXdHVoVTkifQ%3D%3D

For the second year in a row, residents say making sure people with mental health problems can get treatment is their top healthcare priority.

Mental healthcare access remains a top priority for nine in 10 Californians, while the rising cost of physical and mental healthcare is causing increasing numbers of Californians to struggle to pay for prescription drugs, medical bills, and healthcare premiums, finds a new poll from the California Health Care Foundation.

The poll, Health Care Priorities and Experiences of California Residents, offers detailed insight into Californians’ views on a range of critical health issues, including healthcare affordability and access, perceptions on homelessness, the healthcare workforce, Medi-Cal, and the experiences of the uninsured. Results from the survey are also compared to a 2019 CHCF poll on the same topics to identify emerging trends.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

For the second year in a row, California residents say making sure people with mental health problems can get treatment is their top healthcare priority. Nine in 10 said this was extremely or very important, and 52% said it was “extremely” important — topping all other health issues.

More than one in four Californians (27%) say that they or a family member received treatment for a mental health condition in the past 12 months; 7% say they or a family member received treatment for an alcohol or drug use problem.

Among those with insurance who tried to make an appointment for mental healthcare in the past 12 months, almost half (48%) found it very or somewhat difficult to find a provider who took their insurance. More than half (52%) of those who tried to make an appointment (with or without insurance) believe they waited longer than was reasonable to get one.

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) respondents are in favor of increasing the number of mental healthcare providers in parts of the state where providers are in short supply. And 89% favor enforcing rules requiring health insurance companies to provide mental healthcare at the same level as physical health care.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

Meanwhile, a little more than half of Californians (51%) have skipped or postponed physical or mental healthcare due to cost — up from 44% last year. Of those who took this step, 42% said it made their condition worse.

Compared to last year’s survey, Californians are more worried about paying for unexpected medical bills (63% last year; 69% today), out-of-pocket healthcare costs (55% vs. 66%), prescription drugs (42% vs. 50%), and health insurance premiums (39% vs. 44%).

Nearly a quarter of residents said they or someone in their family had problems paying, or an inability to pay medical bills in the past 12 months, while almost one-third of those with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level report having problems paying their medical bills, compared to 19% of those with higher incomes. Uninsured adults report trouble paying their medical bills (45%) at twice the rate of those with employer-sponsored health insurance (20%).

More than eight in 10 (82%) respondents say it is important to lower the price of prescription drugs — up from 75% last year.

When compared to other issues facing the state, Californians rank healthcare affordability as their top priority among a range of public challenges presented in the poll — with 84% of respondents citing it as extremely or very important.

Improving public education received the same response (84%), closely followed by addressing homelessness (83%), attracting and retaining businesses and jobs (78%), and making housing more affordable (76%). Support for making healthcare more affordable cut across party identification, race, and income lines.

THE LARGER TREND

Ninety-six percent of employers believe improving mental health in the workplace is good for their business, but only 65% indicate their company provides adequate mental health services, according to findings from a December survey released by national nonprofit Transamerica Center for Health Studies.

Generally, there’s awareness that an employee’s physical health has an impact on absenteeism and productivity. But mental health, formerly a taboo subject, is garnering increasing recognition as well, and for the same reasons.

While almost all employers believe improving mental health in the workplace is good for their business, 17% of employers acknowledge not offering any resources at all. The most common mental health resources offered by employers are stress management classes (39%) and mental health awareness training (39%).
 

California Health Policy Poll Released

https://elink.clickdimensions.com/m/1/52313696/02-b20044-0c24a5f919b04c9baf7a61e0f9656ec6/6/989/a24990fd-e009-4b4b-be17-ea9b7c8eef0e

Increases in Worry Over Health Care Costs and Skipping/ Postponing Treatment Due to Cost Over the Last Year

PERCENTAGE WHO SAY THEY ARE VERY OR SOMEWHAT WORRIED ABOUT…