Federal Reserve announces 2nd consecutive rate cut

https://www.axios.com/federal-reserve-rate-cut-77c504c1-1bed-4336-9c37-490a3452a54f.html?stream=top&utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alerts_all

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The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday, bringing the target range for the benchmark Fed Funds rate to 1.75%–2%.

Why it matters: The Fed’s 2nd consecutive rate cut reflects worries about the U.S. economy. The trade war and slowing growth around the world have made corporate executives more worried than they’ve been in years.

  • The move prompted a near-immediate response from President Trump, who called chair Powell a “terrible communicator.” The president has demanded in a series of tweets that the Fed cut interest rates more aggressively.

The big picture: Speaking at a press conference, Powell again cited the trade war as a key risk to the economic outlook. “Our business contacts around the country have been telling us that uncertainty about trade policy has discouraged them from investing in their businesses,” Powell said.

  • Still, new projections showed a division among Fed officials about whether more rate cuts are warranted this year.
  • Powell did note that if “the economy does turn down, then a more extensive sequence of rate cuts could be appropriate.”

Powell also acknowledged the liquidity shortfall in money markets that has forced the Fed to intervene — something that before this week hadn’t happened since the financial crisis.

  • In response to the drama in the short-term funding markets, Powell suggested that the Fed may increase the size of its balance sheet through “organic growth” earlier than expected.

 

 

 

 

Healthcare’s number one financial issue is cybersecurity

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/node/139027?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTURRMk1tVTFaVE15TkRjMiIsInQiOiJPNUYydDU5cFVodjB4bnlnb2M0eVhDNjg2YU53NDl6MWFRQlVpUEpmTzV5cEcrVVZMWldhd1AzbHNlckIwUWJHczlhOVRMZUxxSngyWk02VVhXTktXRjN1OE9mbkQ2V2FhQlBqVFIzOWpMS0pNUEdCYWh0SUQyZWZHRmpBQjRFWiJ9

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The cost of a healthcare breach is about $408 per patient record and that doesn’t include the loss of business, productivity and reputation.

Cyber attacks affect the finances of every hospital and insurer like no other.

“I’ve seen estimates of over $5 billion in costs to the healthcare industry annually,” said Lisa Rivera, a partner at Bass, Berry and Sims who focuses on healthcare security. “That’s enormous and is not going away.”

Beyond the cost to find a solution to fix breaches and to settle any civil complaints are fines from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. In 2018, OCR issued 10 resolutions that totalled $28 million.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights is stepping up breach enforcement of private health information, according to Rivera, who is a former assistant U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor handling civil and criminal investigations for the Department of Justice.

What officials want to see is that the hospital or insurer has taken reasonable efforts to avoid a breach.

“There is no perfect cybersecurity,” Rivera said. “They say it’s not perfection, it’s reasonable efforts. That’s going to require an investment up-front to see where data is located, and educating the workforce on phishing incidents.”

Also, hospital finance professionals who are relying more on contractors for revenue cycle management and analytics should take note on the security issues involved in sharing this information.

“Every sector of business has attacks, but healthcare is experiencing the largest growth of cyber attacks because of the nature of its information,” Rivera said. “It’s more valuable on the dark web.”

It’s also not easily fixed.

If an individual’s credit card is stolen, the consumer can cancel his or her credit card. But in health records, the damage is permanent.

THE IMPACT

Despite the number of breaches, healthcare has been behind other sectors in taking security measures. Four to seven percent of a health system’s IT budget is in cybersecurity, compared to about 15% for other sectors such as the financial industry, according to Rivera.

Hospitals are behind because first, it’s a challenge to keep up with the move to more information being in electronic form.

“There’s no hospital that doesn’t have mobile EHR information,” Rivera said. “Then there was this transition with incentives from the government to go to electronic medical records. There were vast routes to doing that without a lot of experience involved in doing it. The push to become electronic began happening with this enormous uptick in cyber attacks.”

Also, the focus of healthcare has always been patient care. The population health explosion also involves the sharing of information.

And consolidation across the healthcare industry can potentially make covered entities more vulnerable to lapses in security during the transition and integration phases.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The number one way to cut costs is to prevent a breach. Once one has happened, hospitals must be able to identify it as soon as possible and then be able to respond to it.

Hospitals should be able to determine where certain data goes off the rail, Rivera said. For instance, large systems doing research have outcome information that may not be within the system of protection.

“You don’t want to learn about a data breach because the FBI saw it on the dark web,” Rivera said. And some hospitals have.

It’s a constant battle of software updates and checks. Criminals are pinging systems thousands of times a day. It’s like locking down doors and windows.

The first thing that’s needed for systems large and small is a risk assessment. This is the first thing the OCR wants to see, she said. Many hospitals use an outside vendor to do the job.

Prices for other cybersecurity measures vary from a software purchase that could be in the millions, to having vendor monitoring.

But the cost of a healthcare breach is about $408 per patient record and that doesn’t include the loss of business, productivity, reputation and the service disruption.

Hospitals can also purchase cyber insurance, which varies in cost and coverage. Some obtain it for purposes of class action lawsuits.

THE LARGER TREND

OCR enforcement activity during 2018 demonstrates the agency’s continued emphasis on enforcing violations of the security risk assessment and risk management requirements, Rivera said.

Covered entities and business associates are required to: conduct a thorough assessment of the threats and vulnerabilities across the enterprise;    implement measures to reduce known threats and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level; and ensure that any vendor or other organization accessing or storing private health information is security compliant.
The OCR concluded 2018 with an all-time record year for HIPAA enforcement  activity. The OCR settled 10 cases and secured one judgment, together totaling $28.7 million. This surpassed the previous record of $23.5 million from 2016.

In addition, OCR also achieved the single largest individual HIPAA settlement  of $16 million with Anthem, representing a nearly three-fold increase over the previous record settlement of $5.5 million in 2016. Anthem was held responsible for cyber attacks that stole the protected health information of close to 79 million people.

 

Accountable Care Organizations: The case for “embracing” down-side risk

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accountable-care-organizations-case-embracing-risk-thomas-campanella/

The picture above is not exactly on point, but who can resist a little boy “embracing” a bear.

Per the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who come together voluntarily to give coordinated high quality care to the Medicare patients they serve (and hopefully saves money in the process).

ACOs are a product of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). The theory behind ACOs was based on the recognition that we have a fragmented healthcare system that contributes to poor quality and higher healthcare costs.

Hospital-based health systems aggressively jumped on the ACO bandwagon starting with the passage of the ACA and, in the process, established relationships with physicians, ancillary providers, long-term care organizations, etc. Many times these Health Systems acquired (especially physicians) rather than established collaborative agreements with these community providers.

As a result of these acquisitions and collaborations, the hospital-based ACO and, in turn, the parent health systems became an even greater force in their communities. They were also in a better position to negotiate with payers because of the increased leverage they had as a result of their enhanced local provider presence. 

This also had a negative impact on health systems, since it did increase their fixed costs and made them less flexible to respond to competitors of different forms, especially in the outpatient and home setting.

Have ACOs lived up to their promise?

There have been many articles and research studies on the value of ACOs to determine if they have lived up to their promise of increased quality and cost-efficiencies. The consensus of research seems to be that ACOs have had a positive impact on quality, especially with regard to continuity of care for individuals with chronic diseases.

The jury is still out on the cost savings side, especially for hospital-based ACOs. 

Recently CMS has required that hospital-based ACOs to take on both up-side and downside risk.

Historically, ACOs have had the ability to take on only upside risk (or rewards), but at a lower percentage of potential gain vs. what they would have received if they were also willing to take on downside risk.

As I have noted in prior blogs, I am believer in risk/value-based contracting with downside financial exposure for hospital systems. I support this approach, not in a vindictive way, but because I want hospitals to survive and prosper in this new world of healthcare.

I also believe that if we are to successfully evolve from a “sick-care” system to a true “health” system, hospitals need to enter into the appropriate payer contracts that reward them for keeping patients healthy, not just for providing additional services.

Breaking down the silos inside and outside the walls of the hospital

I have worked in the healthcare industry in a variety of sectors since the early 1980s and during that period of time, I constantly heard the refrain about the need to break down the silos of healthcare both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.

The fee-for-service payment methodologies that exist today “the more you do the more you make” creates no “real” incentives to break down these silos. ACOs that have downside risk exposure along with payment methodologies such at capitation and bundled payments have the real ability to break down these silos.

As long as the majority of payments from payers is based on the fee-for-service payment methodologies, hospitals will have no “real” incentives to break down the silos that prevent value-based care from being provided. It also does not provide any “real” incentives to keep people healthy.

Per the dictionary, “Accountability refers to an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. … When roles are clear and people are held accountable, work is accomplished efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, constructive change and learning is possible when accountability is the norm.”

While this definition was not met for ACOs, it really does apply and was ultimately the goal of the original drafters of the ACO concept. ACOs must be held accountable, and only through downside risk along with appropriate rewards will that occur.

If we want to achieve our goals of a value-base healthcare system as well as an overall healthier society, we need to create the proper incentives in our payment methodologies. As I have stated repeatedly in past healthcare blogs, “a healthcare system is shaped by what you pay for and how you pay for it.” The “how you pay for it” gets to the heart of the “risk” linkage with regard to hospital-based ACOs.

All of this is not to say that physician-led ACOs should not have risk but, given their size, these independent practices are much more financially vulnerable. Payment models for physician-led ACOs need to recognize the current value they are bringing to the ACO world, and consider ways to gradually add a risk component.

Hospital-based ACOs are looking to exit (or walk away from) Medicare Shared Savings Programs if required to take on downside risk

Per a recent article (April 26, 2019), “Just over half of accountable care organizations (ACOs) said they would consider leaving (or walking away from) the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) if required to take on more downside risk, revealed a study published in Health Affairs.

Thirty-two percent of ACOs said they are extremely or very likely to leave, and 19 percent believe they are moderately likely to leave.

The results also showed that there were significant differences in responses from physician-based ACOs and hospital-based ACOs.

“Approximately two-thirds of physician-based ACO respondents reported that they were likely to remain in the program if required to accept downside risk, compared with only about one-third of hospital-based ACOs,” the team said.

“This reflects the fact that physician-based ACOs have performed better, and a higher proportion of these ACOs have earned shared savings, than hospital-based ACOs. Physician-based ACOs have generated substantial savings by reducing spending for both inpatient and outpatient hospital services, which has not been true for hospital-based ACOs.”

Hospital based ACOs and well as hospital systems in general are doing themselves “no favors” by not accepting risk. 

By entering into “risk-based” contracts, hospital systems will create the appropriate incentives to address their supply-chain costs. Hospitals would also find it easier to engage physicians in addressing the cost side of the equation if physicians also understood and embraced the risk-based payment methodologies.

Under risk arrangements, hospitals would also have even more motivation to develop strategic relations with their vendors (medical device, etc.), such as what the auto industry does with their suppliers.

These risk arrangements will also allow hospital systems to be better prepared for the new world of healthcare. In this new world there will be winners and losers and different types of competitors, especially in the outpatient and home setting.

As we have also noted in prior blogs, hospital inpatient admissions are decreasing and patients have a higher acuity. Hospital inpatient care has been evolving to some form of a center of excellence. As hospitals look to find ways to expand their revenue opportunities they should be looking to bundle services for prospective patients and employers. These bundled services would and should have a risk-component tied to them.

Accepting risk-based contractual arrangements with payers is also better than competing in the retail marketplace where hospitals are much more vulnerable to lower priced regional and national competitors, especially as the result of the increased push for transparency.

Payers: Medicaid Managed Care, Medicare Advantage, Commercial Carriers, Self-insured employers should be pushing risk contracts. 

As noted in this article in Health Affairs, there are two ways employers should push ACO arrangements to evolve:

Financial Risk

“As experts jest, if ACO providers don’t take on the financial risk of caring for their population of patients (for example, only shared savings), it is like “vegan barbeque…or gin and tonic without the gin.” Payers’ ability to change provider behavior is likely to be negligible if they only reward providers with small bonuses for effective care a year after the fact. Greater financial accountability would encourage providers to promote preventive care and look for ways to cut waste.

In fact, without downside risk, health systems may take advantage of the ACO model. Experts argue that health systems may take on the practice of “ACO squatting” (that is, they form ACOs, take on patients, but avoid looking for ways to cut waste, reduce total cost of care, and improve quality) and that “a migration to two-sided risk for ACOs…after a certain number of years, so that there is a cost [downside financial risk]…would help to address this issue.”

Alignment of Patient Incentives

“Providers would be loath to assume financial risk for a patient population without the ability to manage their care. Commercial payers can modify patients’ out-of-pocket spending to encourage them to seek care only within the ACO. For example, by treating the ACO as a narrow network, the payer could pair it with a benefit design that offers lower premiums and minimal out-of-pocket spending for care from an ACO provider but little to no coverage for care sought outside of the ACO.

If the vast majority of patient visits occur within the ACO, it might be more likely to stay within budget because those providers can coordinate care and reduce redundancies. In addition, the ACO leadership can communicate with ACO providers about the cost and quality implications of their care decisions.”

If Medicare Advantage and Medicaid Managed Care Plans are not pushing for risk arrangements with Hospital-based ACOs or health systems, and these Plans continue to rely on some form of fee-for-service, then the true payers, Medicare and the individual states, should be reevaluating their own payment formulas with these entities. The payment formulas maybe too rich and do not provide enough incentives for these Plans to enter into risk arrangements with the above providers.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

If you have been a reader of my blogs, you know I like sprinkling in health economic concepts into them. It is natural for individuals and other entities to make decisions based on their own self-interest.By not embracing risk in a manageable, but continuous fashion, hospital-based ACOs as well as hospital systems are sacrificing their long-term self-interest for immediate gain.

Active purchasers of healthcare services will continue to demand value in the marketplace, and for hospital-based ACOs and hospital system to meet this demand they need to break down the silos which can only be done effectively by embracing risk-based contracting tied to appropriate rewards.

Finally, we, as a society, are recognizing the need to focus our attention on population health, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also represents the best uses of our resources. We will not be able to achieve our goal of population health unless hospitals fully embrace it. One true way to expedite the transition to population health is for hospitals and ACOs payment methodologies to incorporate in their reimbursement contracts the appropriate risk/rewards that incent them to keep people healthy both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.

 

 

 

Healthcare Industry Consolidation Raises New Workforce Challenges

https://www.amnhealthcare.com/healthcare-industry-consolidation-raises-new-workforce-challenges/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=pardot&utm_campaign=story-3

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When health systems consolidate, one of the major challenges they face is integrating, managing, and optimizing their much larger workforce. The newly integrated workforce must deliver on the value promised by the consolidated enterprise, which is why healthcare industry consolidations need the most advanced workforce solutions available.

The mission of every sector in the consolidation — whether it’s in enhancing the patient experience, improving care quality, realizing economies of scale, expediting the shift from volume- to value-based care, implementing new population health strategies, improving revenue cycle management, or launching new technology — is dependent on the effectiveness of its workforce.

Most healthcare organizations already face workforce problems in the form of shortages of nurses, physicians, technicians and technologists, coders, leaders, and others. Consolidation doesn’t relieve shortage problems, because most organizations’ workforces are already stretched very thin. The paramount challenge may be that the new organization must integrate workforces that have entrenched and often widely different quality standards, procedures, training, values, and cultures. Consistency across the newly consolidated organization must be attained through standardization and adoption of best practices.

Consolidation is producing sophisticated regional enterprises of vertical services and facilities stretching across multiple states, including some emerging as Fortune 500 companies. Solutions to workforce challenges need to become more sophisticated to match this growing organizational complexity. A continuum of effective workforce innovations, many of which have been in use in other industries, are now available in the healthcare industry, though they have been largely untapped until recently.

The talent imperative in healthcare can be effectively addressed through these innovations. Comprehensive managed services programs that optimize the contingent workforce are becoming mainstream. Radical new credentialing innovations can be leveraged to improve time-to-revenue and productivity for physicians and other clinicians. Predictive labor analytics can accurately forecast patient volume months in advance and then match scheduling and staffing practices to the forecasts. Workforce solutions also are available to help find the best talent for leadership roles, which are critically important to guide an industry undergoing fundamental change to revenue based on value instead of volume. The vital realm of health information management is another area where workforce solutions can raise performance in quality, efficiency, and revenue generation.

However, when it comes to workforce solutions, many healthcare organizations remain in a reactive mode, with managers scrambling to fill holes in staffing needs on a daily basis. And many still rely on inadequate paper-based and other outdated systems to manage workforce challenges. Such practices do not fulfill the needs of the sophisticated healthcare organizations emerging from the wave of consolidations. Modern healthcare workforce solutions are needed, but many healthcare organizations don’t have the resources, capacity, or bandwidth to develop and operate these solutions on their own. Or, they are unaware that advanced, technology-enabled workforce solutions are available.

The bright spot is that new entities emerging from consolidations can often leverage combined resources to invest in advanced workforce solutions that will ensure that their enterprise-wide workforce is optimized and performing at its highest level.

Expert workforce partners who are entirely focused on solving healthcare workforce problems hold the key. Such partners are found outside the walls of hospitals and healthcare systems, and the best ones can quickly integrate with patient-care organizations to customize solutions. Since the healthcare workforce is the greatest differentiator in the success of a healthcare enterprise, the services of an expert workforce solutions partner are critical during and after consolidation.