President Trump’s budget cuts target Medicaid, Medicare

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/president-trumps-budget-cuts-target-medicaid-medicare?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWVRnM01UZzNaR0V6TTJFNSIsInQiOiJ6aXpsQnNCRjhHdCs4SnN0UytlZnJVUlZUeFdreEZyQ2V6RWE0YklvYmFMOGJnbWpXT3ZHeG0rOHMwNkJPcE9rMUlGb3NzVkpId3NrZHNkZmR2VlZISXZCVGgrbU94cFV3aVlNR1NYamlhazF1R1kzaXd3RXVISm9OSGJoYmVrVCJ9

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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.”

 

The growth of private equity investment in physician practice

https://mailchi.mp/192abb940510/the-weekly-gist-february-7-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Private equity (PE) investment in US healthcare has ballooned over the past decade—2018 and 2019 saw record numbers of deals, representing more than $100 billion in total value. As we show below, in 2018 just under a fifth of these transactions were in the physician practice space, with the largest number of deals in dermatology and ophthalmology.

While these two specialties remain active areas of PE investment, a growing number of recent deals have focused on women’s health, gastroenterology, and urology practices.

Across all these areas, PE firms see an opportunity to grow revenue from high-margin ancillary services, cash procedures, and retail products.

Physician groups are pursuing PE investment as an alternative to joining health systems or large payer-owned physician organizations to access capital and fund buyouts of legacy partners. Doctors’ heads are increasingly being turned by the current sky-high multiples PE firms are offering, often up to 10 or even 12 times EBITA.

Private equity roll-ups of physician practices are far from over. Recent activity suggests that the behavioral health market is heating up, as it remains very fragmented in a time of increasing consumer demand.

And we predict a rush for further investment in cardiology and orthopedic practices, as investors look to profit from the shift of lucrative joint and heart valve replacement procedures to outpatient facilities.

 

Every American family basically pays an $8,000 ‘poll tax’ under the U.S. health system, top economists say

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/01/07/every-american-family-basically-pays-an-poll-tax-under-us-health-system-top-economists-say/?utm_campaign=post_most&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

Princeton economist Anne Case speaks about “deaths of despair” in the United States at the American Economic Association's annual meeting in San Diego this past weekend. (Heather Long/The Washington Post)

America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system — Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay. (Most Americans think of a poll tax as money people once had to pay to register to vote, but “polle” was an archaic German word for “head.” The idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head.)

Despite paying $8,000 more a year than anyone else, American families do not have better health outcomes, the economists argue. Life expectancy in the United States is lower than in Europe.

“We can brag we have the most expensive health care. We can also now brag that it delivers the worst health of any rich country,” Case said.

Case and Deaton, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, made the critical remarks about U.S. health care during a talk at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting, where thousands of economists gather to discuss the health of the U.S. economy and their latest research on what’s working and what’s not.

The two economists have risen to prominence in recent years for their work on America’s “deaths of despair.” They discovered Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 have been committing suicide, overdosing on opioids or dying from alcohol-related problems like liver disease at skyrocketing rates since 2000. These “deaths of despair” have been especially large among white Americans without college degrees as job options have rapidly declined for them.

Their forthcoming book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” includes a scathing chapter examining how the U.S. health-care system has played a key role in these deaths. The authors call out pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, device manufacturers and doctors for their roles in driving up costs and creating the opioid epidemic.

In the research looking at the taxing nature of the U.S. health-care system compared with others, Deaton is especially critical of U.S. doctors, pointing out that 16 percent of people in the top 1 percent of income earners are physicians, according to research by Williams College professor Jon Bakija and others.

“We have half as many physicians per head as most European countries, yet they get paid two times as much, on average,” Deaton said in an interview on the sidelines of the AEA conference. “Physicians are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that’s taking money away from the rest of us, and yet everybody loves physicians. You can’t touch them.”

As calls grow among the 2020 presidential candidates to overhaul America’s health-care system, Case and Deaton have been careful not to endorse a particular policy.

“It’s the waste that we would really like to see disappear,” Deaton said.

After looking at other health systems around the world that deliver better health outcomes, the academics say it’s clear that two things need to happen in the United States: Everyone needs to be in the health system (via insurance or a government-run system like Medicare-for-all), and there must be cost controls, including price caps on drugs and government decisions not to cover some procedures.

The economists say they understand it will be difficult to alter the health-care system, with so many powerful interests lobbying to keep it intact. They pointed to the practice of “surprise billing,” where someone is taken to a hospital — even an “in network” hospital covered by their insurance — but they end up getting a large bill because a doctor or specialist who sees them at the hospital might be considered out of network.

Surprise billing has been widely criticized by people across the political spectrum, yet a bipartisan push in Congress to curb it was killed at the end of last year after lobbying pressure.

“We believe in capitalism, and we think it needs to be put back on the rails,” Case said.

 

 

 

When a chart speaks a thousand words…

When a chart speaks a thousand words…

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I happened to stumble across the above chart online the other day. It’s not new data, and was actually quoted in this major publication. I can write articles and parse the challenges we face till the cows come home, but nothing can really sum up what’s wrong with American healthcare more than this chart. It says everything and is quite obnoxious. What’s worse, it’s from 2009—and the curve has probably considerably diverged since then.

So that’s it, my blog post for the week. Just stare at this chart and take it all in. Feel free to comment below. I was going to write a long article on what these curves mean for healthcare. Then I thought to myself: absolutely nothing I write can possibly say more than the chart itself. It speaks not just a thousand words, but a million…..

 

 

California surgeon gets prison time for role in $580M billing fraud scheme

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/legal-regulatory-issues/california-surgeon-gets-prison-time-for-role-in-580m-billing-fraud-scheme.html?origin=cfoe&utm_source=cfoe

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An orthopedic surgeon was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison Nov. 22 for his role in a healthcare fraud scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $580 million in fraudulent claims, mostly to California’s worker compensation system, according to the Department of Justice.

Daniel Capen, MD, was sentenced more than a year after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and soliciting and receiving kickbacks for healthcare referrals. He was one of 17 defendants charged in relation to the government’s investigation into kickbacks physicians received for patient referrals for spinal surgeries performed at Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif.

Dr. Capen received at least $5 million in kickbacks for referring surgeries to Pacific Hospital and for referring services to organizations affiliated with the hospital. He allegedly accounted for $142 million of Pacific Hospital’s claims to insurers between 1998 and 2013, according to the Justice Department.

In addition to the prison term, Dr. Capen was ordered to forfeit $5 million to the federal government and pay a $500,000 fine.

 

 

 

 

The Role of Private Equity in Driving Up Health Care Prices

https://hbr.org/2019/10/the-role-of-private-equity-in-driving-up-health-care-prices

Private investment in U.S. health care has grown significantly over the past decade thanks to investors who have been keen on getting into a large, rapidly growing, and recession-proof market with historically high returns. Private equity and venture capital firms are investing in everything from health technology startups to addiction treatment facilities to physician practices. In 2018, the number of private equity deals alone reached  almost 800, which had a total value of more than $100 billion.

While private capital is bringing innovation to health care through new delivery models, technologies, and operational efficiencies, there is another side to investors entering health care. Their common business model of buying, growing through acquisition or “roll-up,” and selling for above-average returns is cause for concern.

Take the phenomenon of surprise bills: medical invoices that a patient unexpectedly receives because he or she was treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. These have been getting a lot of attention lately and are driven, at least in part, by investor-backed companies that remain out of network (without contracts with insurers) and can therefore charge high fees for services that are urgently or unexpectedly required by patients. Private equity firms have been buying and growing the specialties that generate a disproportionate share of surprise bills: emergency room physicians, hospitalists, anesthesiologists, and radiologists.

In other sectors of the economy, consumers can find out the price of a good or service and then choose not to buy it if they don’t believe it to be worth the cost. In surprise bill cases, they can’t. Patients are often unaware that they need these particular services in advance and have little choice of physician when they use them.

To blunt growing bi-partisan political support for protecting patients from surprise bills, various groups have lobbied against legislation that would limit the practice. They include Doctor Patient Unity, which has spent more than $28 million on ads and is primarily funded by large private-equity-backed companies that own physician practices and staff emergency rooms around the country. Their work seems to be having an impact: efforts to pass protections have stalled in Congress.

Physician practices have been a popular investment for private equity firms for years. According to an analysis published in Bloomberg Law, 45 physician practice transactions were announced or closed in the first quarter of 2019. At the current pace, the number of deals to buy physician and dental practices will surpass 250 this year, far exceeding 2018 totals. Yes, these investments can provide independent physicians and small practices with an alternative to selling themselves to hospitals and can help them deal with administrative overhead that takes them away from the job they were trained to perform: providing care. But, at least in some cases, the investors’ strategy appears to be to increase revenues by price-gouging patients when they are most vulnerable.

Surprise billing from investor-backed physician practices isn’t the only problem. Private-equity-owned freestanding emerging rooms (ERs) are garnering scrutiny because of their proliferation and high rates. The majority of freestanding ER visits are for non-emergency care, and their treatment can be 22 times more expensive than at a physician’s office.

However lucrative in the short run, private investor-backed companies that hurt consumers are not likely to perform well financially in the long term. Unlike many other markets, health care is both highly regulated and highly sensitive to the reality or appearance of victimizing the sick and vulnerable. Consumer outrage leads quickly to government intervention.

Investors will benefit most by solving the health care system’s legion of problems and by adding true value to our health system — delivering high-quality services at affordable prices and eliminating waste. Those that try to maximize their short-term profits by pushing up prices without adding real healthcare benefits are likely to find that those strategies are unsustainable. Lawmakers and regulators won’t let them get away with such practices for long.

 

 

 

Market Consolidation on Trial

Market Consolidation on Trial

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra alleges that Sutter Health used its pre-eminent market power to artificially inflate prices. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

As a jury trial draws near in a major class-action lawsuit alleging anticompetitive practices by Northern California’s largest health system (PDF), a new CHCF study shows the correlation between the prices consumers pay and the extensive consolidation in the state’s health care markets. Importantly, the researchers estimated the independent effect of several types of industry consolidation in California — such as health insurers buying other insurers and hospitals buying physician practices. The report, prepared by UC Berkeley researchers, also examines potential policy responses.

While other states have initiated antitrust complaints against large hospital systems and medical groups in the past, the case against Sutter Health is unique in both the expansive nature of the alleged conduct and in the scale of the potential monetary damages. The complaint goes beyond claims of explicit anticompetitive contract terms and argues that by virtue of its very size and structure, the Northern California system imposed implicit or “de facto” terms that led to artificially inflated prices. Sutter Health vigorously denies the allegations.

The formation of large health systems like Sutter is neither new (PDF) nor unique to California (PDF). Several factors seem to be encouraging their growth, including payment models that place health care providers at financial risk for the cost of care, increased expectations from policymakers and payers around the continuum of patient needs that must be managed, and economies of scale for investments in information technology and administrative services. Some market participants also point to consolidation in other parts of the health care system, such as health plans and physician groups, as encouragement for their own mergers.

Economic Consolidation in California

In general, economists study two major categories of market consolidation:

  • Horizontal consolidation: Entities of the same type merge, such as the merger of two hospitals or insurance companies, or the merger of providers into a physician network.
  • Vertical consolidation: Entities of different types merge, such as when a hospital purchases a physician practice or when a pharmacy buys an insurance company.

To measure market consolidation, the CHCF study relied on the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), a metric used by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. An HHI of between 1,500 and 2,500 is considered moderately concentrated, and 2,500 or above is considered highly concentrated. According to this measure, horizontal concentration is high in California among hospitals, insurance companies, and specialist providers (and moderately high among primary care physicians), even though the level of concentration in all but primary care has remained relatively flat from 2010 to 2018.

The percentage of physicians in practices owned by a hospital or health system increased dramatically in California between 2010 and 2018 — from 24% in 2010 to 42% in 2018. The percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital or health system rose even faster, from 25% in 2010 to 52% in 2018.

Consolidation Is Not Clinical Integration

While this study defined and quantified the extent of consolidation across several industry segments in California, it is important to note that it did not define, quantify, or evaluate clinical integration within the state. Clinical integration has been defined by others in many ways, but generally involves arrangements for coordinating and delivering a wide range of medical services across multiple settings.

As the CHCF study authors point out, other analysis has shown that various types of clinical integration can lead to broader adoption of health information technology and evidence-based care management processes. Data from the Integrated Healthcare Association suggests that certain patient benefit designs and provider risk-sharing arrangements associated with clinical integration can lead to higher quality and lower costs.

Crucially, an emerging body of law (PDF) suggests that clinical integration does not require formal ownership and joint bargaining with payers.

Relationship Between Consolidation and Health Insurance Premiums

Among the six variables analyzed in the CHCF study, three showed a positive and statistically significant association with higher premiums: insurance company mergers, hospital mergers, and the percentage of primary care physicians in practices owned by hospitals and health systems. The remaining three variables studied — specialist provider mergers, primary care provider mergers, and the percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital and health system — were statistically insignificant.

The figure below shows the independent relationship between market concentration and premiums for these three variables. As the lines move left to right, concentration increases — that is, fewer individual insurers, hospitals, or providers occupy the market. The vertical axis shows the average premiums associated with each level of market concentration. In short, regardless of the industry structure represented by the other variables, insurer consolidation, hospital consolidation, and hospital-physician mergers each lead to higher premiums.

Unexplained Price Variation and Growth

Health insurance premiums rise when the underlying cost of medical care increases. California ranks as the 16th most expensive state on average in terms of the seven common services the researchers studied, after adjusting for wage differences across states. Among all states, California has the eighth-highest prices for normal childbirth, defined as vaginal delivery without complications. Childbirth is the most common type of hospital admission, and the relatively standardized procedure is comparable across states.

Even within California, prices vary widely and are growing rapidly. For example, the 2016 average wage-adjusted price for a vaginal delivery was twice as high in Rating Area 9 (which has Monterey as its largest county) as it was in Rating Area 19 (San Diego) — $22,751 versus $11,387. (See next figure.) Prices for the service are increasing rapidly across counties — rising anywhere from 29% in San Francisco from 2012 to 2016 to 40% in Orange County over the same period.

The authors of the CHCF report investigated the impact of various types of consolidation on the prices of individual medical services in California. For cesarean births without complications, a 10% rise in hospital HHI is associated with a 1.3% increase in price.

Potential Policy Responses to Consolidation

While the study shows significant associations between various types of market concentration and the prices consumers pay, policymakers should carefully consider implementing steps that restrain the inflationary impact of consolidation while allowing the benefits of clinical integration to proliferate. To that end, the authors of the CHCF report offered a series of recommendations, which include:

Enforce antitrust laws. Federal and state governments should scrutinize proposed mergers and acquisitions to evaluate whether the net result is procompetitive or anticompetitive.

Restrict anticompetitive behaviors. Anticompetitive behaviors, such as all-or-nothing and anti-incentive contract terms, should be addressed through legislation or the courts in markets where providers are highly concentrated.

Revise anticompetitive reimbursement incentives. Reimbursement policies that reduce competition, such as Medicare rules that implicitly reward hospital-owned physician groups, should be adjusted.

Reduce barriers to market entry. Policies that restrict who can participate in the health care market, such as laws prohibiting nurse practitioners from practicing independently from a physician, should be changed when markets are concentrated.

Regulate provider and insurer rates. If antitrust enforcement is not successful and significant barriers to market entry exist — including those in small markets unable to support a competitive number of hospitals and specialists — regulating provider and insurer rates should be considered.

Encouraging meaningful competition in health care markets is an exceedingly difficult task for policymakers. It is no easier to promote the benefits of clinical integration while restraining the inflationary aspects of economic consolidation through public policy. Despite these challenges, the rapid rise in health care premiums and prices in the state require a fresh look at the consequences of widespread horizontal and vertical consolidation in California.