Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion

https://mailchi.mp/3390763e65bb/the-weekly-gist-june-24-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

 The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenging a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks, overturns the nearly 50-year precedent providing a constitutional right to abortion. The opinion was little changed from a draft that was leaked last month, returning most decision making on abortion to states. At least 13 states have so called ‘trigger laws’ in place that will almost immediately make abortion illegal, and another 13 states are likely to pass similar laws.

The GistIn over half of states, existing or new laws will likely prevent pregnant people from accessing critical and evidence-based reproductive healthcare services, including medically safe abortion, miscarriage care, pregnancy termination for severe fetal anomalies, and endangerment of the childbearing parent’s life.

Patients in Texas, which passed one of the strictest abortion laws last year, have already been facing challenges obtaining prescriptions for medications for miscarriage and abortion care. Many state laws which criminalize providing the procedure put physicians and other medical providers in legal jeopardy.

And as legal experts point out, most malpractice insurance doesn’t protect physicians from damages incurred from criminal charges. 

Moreover, most laws have been written by legislators with little or no medical expertise, leading to lack of clarity about which potentially life-threatening situations, in what circumstances, merit pregnancy termination—forcing physicians to delay lifesaving obstetric care. (Read this NEJM piece to understand what this looks like for doctors and patients in Texas today.) Regardless, today’s decision will lead to increased mortality for pregnant people and those unable to seek safe abortion care. 

Hospitals scooping up physician practices increases health care prices

https://mailchi.mp/tradeoffs/research-corner-5222129?e=ad91541e82

This week’s contributor is Aditi Sen, the Director of Research and Policy at the Health Care Cost Institute. Her work uses HCCI’s unique data resources to conduct analyses that inform policy to promote a sustainable, accessible and high-value health care system.

High health care prices in the U.S. make it hard for people to access care, difficult for employers to provide insurance, and challenging for policymakers to balance health care spending with other budgetary priorities. That’s why it’s important to understand what drives prices higher and identify policies to keep prices from getting so high.

In a new paper in Health Affairs, Vilsa Curto, Anna Sinaiko and Meredith Rosenthal examined whether hospital and health systems’ acquisition of and contracting with physician practices – two forms of what is often called vertical integration – has led to higher prices for physician services. The researchers combined four sets of data from Massachusetts from 2013-2017 for their analysis.

They found that: 

  • The percent of physicians who joined health systems grew meaningfully: The percent of primary care physicians who remained independent dropped from 42% in 2013 to 31.5% in 2017, and the percent of independent specialists fell from 26% to 17%.
  • Over this same period, prices for physician services rose. Price increases were especially large – 12% for primary care physicians and 6% for specialists – when physicians joined health systems that had a high share of admissions in their area. 

This study stands out for several reasons. First, it shows vertical integration drives up health care prices. Second, the authors highlight actions states can and are considering taking to monitor and curb vertical integration, including antitrust enforcement and enacting laws to promote competition.

Finally, the Massachusetts data allow the public to better appreciate what’s happening across the state. Many earlier studies on health care consolidation have been limited to a subset of insurers, physicians or patients. Massachusetts is a leader when it comes to creating and sharing its data thanks to its all-payer claims database, which pulls together all the health care bills from private insurers and public programs like Medicare and Medicaid in the state. This critical information helps to illuminate patterns of care and prices and connect them to issues like consolidation and competition. Neither the federal government nor most states track how vertical integration mergers influence health care prices.

As these findings demonstrate, acquisitions and other forms of vertical integration impact what people pay for health care services. Given that prices in this sector continue to climb, this paper underscores the need for more state and national data to understand the downstream effects on all of us who use and participate in the U.S. health care system.

When a Medicaid Card Isn’t Enough

tradeoffs.org/2022/05/17/medicaid-physician-access/

A certain segment of the health policy world spends a lot of time trying to get more states to expand Medicaid and reduce underinsurance.

But are we doing enough to make sure care is accessible once people enroll? One issue is access to physicians, who are less likely to treat patients on Medicaid than Medicare or private insurance because Medicaid payment rates are lower.

A new paper in Health Affairs by Avital Ludomirsky and colleagues looked at how well the networks of physicians supposedly participating in Medicaid reflect access to care. The researchers used claims data and provider directories from Medicaid managed care plans (the private insurers that most states contract with to run their Medicaid programs) in Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee from 2015 and 2017 to assess how the delivery of care to Medicaid patients was distributed among participating doctors. Their results were striking:

  • One-quarter of primary care physicians provided 86% of the care; one-quarter of specialists provided 75%.
  • One-third of both types of physicians saw fewer than 10 Medicaid patients per year, hardly contributing any “access” at all.
  • There was only one psychiatrist for every 8,834 Medicaid enrollees after excluding those seeing fewer than 10 Medicaid patients per year. This is especially concerning given that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened mental health in the U.S., particularly among children

The authors note that their study only covers primary care and mental health providers in four states, so it is not necessarily generalizable to other states or specialties. But these results are still concerning.   

States have so-called network adequacy standards for their Medicaid managed care plans that are supposed to make sure there are enough providers. These standards typically rely on either a radius (a certain number of providers for a geographic area) or ratio (number of providers per enrollee), but the authors’ findings show these methods fall short if they are based on directories alone.

The authors specifically recommend states use claims-based assessments like the ones in the study and “secret shopper” programs — like this recently published one from Maryland by Abigail Burman and Simon Haeder — to better evaluate whether plans are offering adequate access to physicians. We absolutely need people to have coverage, but it needs to be more than just a card in their wallet.

Stanford physicians vote to join union

Resident and fellow physicians at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Stanford Health Care have voted in favor of representation by the Committee of Interns and Residents, according to a May 3 news release.

Of the nearly 1,050 ballots counted, 835 were in favor of representation, the National Labor Relations Board website showed. 

The vote comes after resident physicians led a protest in December 2020 against Stanford’s COVID-19 vaccination plan that excluded house staff from the initial round of shots. The health system immediately revised the plan to prioritize resident physicians.

In February, physicians also demanded the health system voluntarily recognize the Committee of Interns and Residents as their exclusive representative for collective bargaining.

Now the union said its members are looking forward to negotiations. 

“Our doctors are united by our desire to provide the best possible patient care and strong worker protections,” said Ben Solomon, MD, a pediatric resident physician, said in the release. “One thing the pandemic has made abundantly clear, in addition to the widespread equity issues in our healthcare system, is that our needs as physicians cannot be separated from those of our patients.”

The National Labor Relations Board must certify the election results before they are final. Stanford does not plan to challenge the results, the health system said in a statement shared with Becker’s on May 3.

“As we begin the collective bargaining process, our goal remains unchanged: providing our residents and fellows with a world-class training experience,” Stanford said. “We will bring this same focus to negotiations as we strive to support their development as physician leaders.”

The Committee of Interns and Residents is a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union. The union represents more than 20,000 resident physicians and fellows, including University of Massachusetts physicians in training, who unionized in March 2021. 

Physician departures from Mission Health continue years after HCA Healthcare takeover

Since the for-profit system acquired six-hospital, Asheville, NC-based Mission Health in February 2019, there has been a series of reports about cascading community impacts, including a large physician exodus from the system. Local news outlet Asheville Watchdog counts 223 doctors who are no longer included in the system’s online directory, which currently lists about 1,600 physicians; HCA has also reportedly reduced health system staff by over 12 percent since the acquisition. Former Mission doctors say that patient care at the system is suffering, and that HCA doesn’t place the same value on primary care that Mission Health physicians historically did.

The Gist: The cultural shift from 130 years as a nonprofit community fixture to for-profit health system subsidiary has been rocky for Mission. Even before the HCA deal had been finalized, Mission physicians expressed concerns about how the company would implement its lean staffing and operational “playbook”. These expected changes were surely compounded by COVID-related staffing challenges. 

Physician stakeholders who feel uncertain about the impact of an impending merger can sometimes use their voice to stymie health system combinations (see Beaumont Health’s failed merger with Advocate Aurora Health), but may also vote with their feet when dissatisfied with new ownership, leaving critical gaps in patient care