In blow to hospitals, judge rules for HHS in price transparency case

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/in-blow-to-hospitals-judge-rules-for-hhs-in-price-transparency-case/580395/

UPDATE: June 24, 2020: The American Hospital Association said it will appeal Tuesday’s ruling  that upholds the Trump administration’s mandate to force hospitals to disclose negotiated rates with insurers. The hospital lobby said it was disappointed in the ruling and will seek expedited review. AHA said the mandate “imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care.”

If AHA seeks to have the rule stayed pending an appellate ruling, the decision on such a request “is likely to be almost as significant as this ruling is, since absent a stay, the rule will likely go into effect before the appellate court rules,” James Burns, a law partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive.

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge ruled against the American Hospital Association on Tuesday in its lawsuit attempting to block an HHS rule pushing for price transparency. The judge ruled in favor of the department, which requires hospitals to reveal private, negotiated rates with insurers beginning Jan. 1.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, an appointee of President Donald Trump, was swayed neither by AHA’s argument that forcing hospitals to publicly disclose rates violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to reveal proprietary information nor by the claim that it would chill negotiations between providers and payers. The judge characterized the First Amendment argument as “half-hearted.”
  • Nichols seem convinced that the requirement will empower patients, noting in Tuesday’s summary judgment in favor of the administration that “all of the information required to be published by the Final Rule can allow patients to make pricing comparisons between hospitals.”

Dive Insight:

The ruling is a blow for hospitals, which have been adamantly opposed to disclosing their privately negotiated rates since HHS first unveiled its proposal in July 2019. AHA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether it planned to appeal.

The legal debate hinges on the definition of “standard charges”, which is mentioned in the Affordable Care Act, though it was left largely undefined in the text. Trump issued an executive order last year that included negotiated rates as part of that definition.

Cynthia Fisher, founder of patienrightsadvocate.com, which filed an amicus brief in support of HHS, told Healthcare Dive on Tuesday the ruling could make shopping for health services more like buying groceries or retail.

“For the first time we will be able to know prices before we get care,” she said. “This court ruling rejects every claim to keep the secret hidden prices from consumers until after we get care.”

 

 

 

 

Hospitals tell court price transparency laws violate 1st Amendment

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/AHA-HHS-price-transparency-oral-arguments/577613/

Dive Brief:

  • In the first round of oral arguments in their lawsuit against HHS over a rule requiring hospitals to reveal the secret rates they negotiate with insurers for services, hospital groups argued the requirement exceeds the government’s authority and violates the First Amendment by compelling hospitals to publicly post confidential and proprietary information​.
  • The American Hospital Association, along with other industry groups and health systems that brought the lawsuit, argued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday that medical bills aren’t considered commercial speech and don’t fall under the same regulations that traditional advertisements, flyers and other forms of commercial speech offering or promoting services do.
  • “There’s not another market that looks like the market for hospital services,” said U.S. Department of Justice Attorney Michael Baer, who was representing HHS. A majority of patients final bills’ include the negotiated rate, information that should be available to patients, acting as consumers, prior to receiving care, he said.

Dive Insight:

Thursday’s hearing was the first step in what’s likely to be a drawn out legal fight. Negotiated rates between hospitals and insurers have long been private, and hospitals want to keep it that way. 

When HHS passed the final price transparency rule last year, the hospital groups filed a lawsuit in December, warning that requiring disclosure of negotiated rates will confuse patients, overwhelm hospitals and thwart competition. The rule would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

According to the lawsuit, the rule creates undue burden on hospitals and health systems, which can have more than 100 contracts with insurers. There can even be multiple contracts with an individual carrier to account for the various product lines, including Medicare Advantage, HMO or PPO.

The rule would require various pricing information, including gross charges, payer-specific rates, minimum and maximum negotiated charges and the amount the hospital is willing to accept in cash from a patient.

Some payers and employer groups have also protested the new rule, calling it wrong-headed.

When the rule initially passed last year, HHS argued that patients already see this pricing data when they receive their explanation of benefits, pushing back against the idea that it’s proprietary business information. They said this information needs to come before a procedure, not after.​

HHS maintains that the rule is intended to give patients better access to payment information so they can make informed decisions as consumers. 

“Patients deserve to know how much it’s going to cost when they get hospital care,” Baer said. “They deserve to know before they open a medical bill or before they choose where they want to receive care.”

 

 

 

 

A Scalpel Instead Of A Sledgehammer: The Potential Of Value-Based Deductible Exemptions In High-Deductible Health Plans

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200615.238552/full/?utm_campaign=HASU+6-21-20&utm_medium=email&utm_content=COVID-19%3A+Face+Mask+Mandates%2C+Immigration+Detention+Facilities%2C+Symptom+Monitoring%3B+Treatment+Of+Opioid+Use+Disorder%3B+Supreme+Court+LGBT+Decision%3A+Implications+For+The+ACA&utm_source=Newsletter

UM V-BID Center (@UM_VBID) | Twitter

High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) covered more than 30 percent of enrollees in employer-sponsored plans in the United States in 2019, up from 4 percent in 2006. In 2020, the Internal Revenue Service defines HDHP as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. An HDHP’s total yearly out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) cannot be more than $6,900 for an individual or $13,800 for a family. However, this limit does not apply to out-of-network services.

The growth of HDHPs is driven by the pursuit of reduced health care spending and premiums for both employees and employers through channeling elements of consumerism and managed care. Often, HDHPs are offered along with a savings option (health savings account or health reimbursement arrangement) in a consumer-directed health plan.

Recently, however, there have been concerns about the out-of-pocket cost burdens imposed on patients by HDHPs and other plans. Reducing these costs has been the focus of major policy proposals, including prescription drug bills from both the House and the Senate; forthcoming plans for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to test value-based insurance models following the president’s executive order 13890 on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors; and H.R. 2774, the Primary Care Patient Protection Act of 2019, which would create a primary care benefit for all HDHP holders, allowing for up to two deductible-free primary care office visits each year.

It is becoming increasingly clear that HDHPs’ indiscriminate reductions in care usage may not be the best way to contain health care costs. In this post, we suggest that combining the principles of HDHPs and value-based insurance design (VBID), by offering deductible exemptions for high-value services, could provide nuanced incentives with potential to preserve access to the most important services while reducing use of only more wasteful care.

Why Did HDHPs Fail To Deliver Their Intended Consequences?

The intended premise of HDHPs is that beneficiaries facing the full costs of health care services during the deductible phase will engage in price shopping and subsequently choose care commensurate with expected benefits of that care. The hope is that the combination of lower prices and a different mix of services could increase the value of health care used while also reducing costs. Unfortunately, evaluations of HDHPs suggest that consumers neither price shop nor can they discriminate between high- and low-value care when facing high deductibles; accordingly, they reduce use of both essential and inessential services. Not only is this behavior likely to lead to worse health for beneficiaries, but short-term savings for both the beneficiary and the insurer may be offset by increased long-term spending associated with preventable adverse health events. The lack of the hoped-for response to HDHPs (price shopping and reduction in unnecessary care only) may stem from a lack of price transparency, inability to pay for essential care during the deductible phase, or inadequate information about the value of alternate health care services and technologies.

The evidence on HDHPs should not be surprising. It matches older evidence from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment, where cost sharing caused people to reduce consumption of both appropriate and inappropriate care. The RAND experiment demonstrated that consumers may not have enough information available freely to them to address uncertainty and make rational choices about which services to purchase and which to forgo. For this reason, we suggest a variation on VBID, in which deductible exemptions for established high-value services would inform and incentivize beneficiaries to use the most valuable care, while disincentivizing low-value options. Such recommendations have been made in different forms in the literature but have not been widely adopted.

Tying-In Value Conversations Within HDHPs

VBIDs have developed over the past 15 years on the premise that when everyone is required to pay the same out-of-pocket amount for health care services whose benefits depend on patient characteristics, there is enormous potential for both underuse and overuse of care. It is also true that health services can be underused and overused when there are differential health-related returns across services, but patients are unaware of the differences. VBIDs have been used by insurers as a mechanism to address this information problem, by signaling the value of alternative health care technologies to consumers through variable cost sharing.

To date, most applications of VBID have focused on applying such designs to copays but not to deductibles. Moreover, most applications have applied reduced cost sharing for targeted high-value drugs, and only a few have also implemented concomitant increased cost sharing for low-value drugs. This means that the cost differences that the consumers faced between high- and low-value products continued to be small. Consequently, results of such applications show the promise of VBID, but to a limited scale, owing to the relative inelasticity of demand for care related to small copay variation. Tying value-based cost sharing within deductibles could generate a bigger “nudge” to align use with value.  

Only one study evaluated the application of VBID on cost sharing within an HDHP plan. This research analyzed Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, where patients were switched to HDHPs, but some of them were offered free chronic disease medications. Resulting improvements in adherence due to zero cost sharing for chronic disease medications were shown to offset the HDHP-associated adherence reduction, especially for patients with poor adherence at the start. Importantly, adherence improvements did not occur for more clinically complex patients, or patients living in poorer neighborhoods. The inclusion of active counseling in VBID plans has potential to address these limitations.

In another example of VBID, a not-for-profit health plan in the Pacific Northwest implemented a formulary that tied drug copays to cost-effectiveness. Researchers found larger shifts in demand within drug classes in which copays were simultaneously reduced for high-value treatments and increased for low-value treatments, compared to drug classes in which the copays only moved in one direction. The overall effect of the VBID implementation was welfare-increasing but small, perhaps because the price dispersion faced by the patient between high-value and low-value alternatives was still too low to alter demand.

Other applications of VBID, where cost sharing was removed for primary care visits, were found to reduce total spending, mainly due to reductions in use of emergency department (ED) and other outpatient services. A plan that bundled copays for back pain physical therapy found reductions in ED use, in addition to eventual reductions in primary care use, and better adherence to care guidelines.

Value-Based High-Deductible Plans

We suggest that value-based high-deductible plans (VHDP), which combine the principles of HDHPs and VBID, and have been suggested as “a natural evolution of health plans,” could provide a robust alternative in insurance markets and achieve the goals of both low costs and high value of health care delivery. Our enthusiasm for such designs stems from the dispersion of price-elasticities observed when a value-based system was implemented on copayments. We expect such dispersion can be expanded substantially when VBID is applied to develop VHDPs. Specifically, VHDPs would nudge consumers toward high-value technologies (for example, preventive medications) by exempting their costs from the deductibles, while also providing consumers with transparency on the full costs of low-value services (for example, MRI for back pain or headache), and disincentivizing their use. This would generate a more elastic demand for low-value services, which in turn could move the markets for insured health care services toward more efficient outcomes.

In health care, where we know that both quality and value are at least partially unobservable to the patient, efficient outcomes are typically not attainable, especially when cost sharing indiscriminately alters prices. A VHDP would provide nuanced cost sharing to influence behavior in a manner similar to prices in traditional markets, therefore resolving information asymmetries for low-value services, reducing distortions, and increasing social welfare. In addition, such a policy could improve equity by ensuring that all beneficiaries have access to the highest-value services, even in the deductible phase of a benefit package. Such plans are certainly in line with the spirit of the recent bipartisan legislation (signed by President Donald Trump under executive order 13877) that allows health savings account eligible high-deductible health plans the flexibility to cover essential medications and services used to treat chronic diseases prior to meeting the plan deductible.

Challenges To Adoption Of Value-Based HDHPs

While value-based pricing improves beneficiaries’ ability to observe value, and therefore reduces the information asymmetries inherent in health care markets, the definition of “value” is an open question. Current legislative options being considered by both political parties in Congress aim to regulate and reduce drug pricing. While these efforts are important, and reduced prices would likely factor into premiums and out-of-pocket costs for consumers, these policy proposals do not necessarily tie price reductions to the value of drugs. That is, they are not tied to any specifically desired outcome of care. As mentioned, earlier VBID applications have been designed to impact health outcomes by using cost-effectiveness in formulary design to signal value. However, many other attributes of care, in addition to cost-effectiveness, should be considered by payers (both public and private) in determination of deductible-exemption status in a VHDP. These attributes include if a service has positive externalities (such as vaccinations) and if a service is unlikely to have moral hazard consumption (such as trauma care or chemotherapy). These, and other elements of value, could be included in decisions about which services should be exempt from the deductible. The decision of which elements to consider in this decision will depend on the stakeholders and perspectives (for example, payer, health system, employer, societal).

A potential downside of VHDPs is plan complexity, but improved communication (perhaps through health plan stewards) could address this limitation; active counseling has already been effective for this purpose in VBID. It would be relatively straightforward to incorporate the cost-sharing design of VHDPs to a value-based tiering system, now widely used in cost sharing.

Qualitative studies of VBID have identified additional barriers to VBID implementation. For example, patients are skeptical of value-based tradeoffs, do not necessarily trust the information provided by their plan, and may resist changes in care delivery. Payers tend to be skeptical of the clinical significance of adherence improvements from VBID and have expressed concern over low return on investment and administrative and information technology hurdles. Finally, providers are concerned about changes to patient behavior that puts their practice at financial risk.

These concerns are important, but potentially addressable with education and carefully planned implementation, to allow VHDPs to strike a nuanced balance between reducing moral hazard consumption of care and adequate risk protection. Such a balance is critical to controlling health spending while maintaining access to the highest-value services and reducing financial uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

Navigating a Post-Covid Path to the New Normal with Gist Healthcare CEO, Chas Roades

https://www.lrvhealth.com/podcast/?single_podcast=2203

Covid-19, Regulatory Changes and Election Implications: An Inside ...Chas Roades (@ChasRoades) | Twitter

Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders; June 11, 2020

Over the course of nearly 20 years as Chief Research Officer at The Advisory Board Company, Chas Roades became a trusted advisor for CEOs, leadership teams and boards of directors at health systems across the country. When The Advisory Board was acquired by Optum in 2017, Chas left the company with Chief Medical Officer, Lisa Bielamowicz. Together they founded Gist Healthcare, where they play a similar role, but take an even deeper and more focused look at the issues health systems are facing.

As Chas explains, Gist Healthcare has members from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Beverly Hills, California and everywhere in between. Most of the organizations Gist works with are regional health systems in the $2 to $5 billion range, where Chas and his colleagues become adjunct members of the executive team and board. In this role, Chas is typically hopscotching the country for in-person meetings and strategy sessions, but Covid-19 has brought many changes.

“Almost overnight, Chas went from in-depth sessions about long-term five-year strategy, to discussions about how health systems will make it through the next six weeks and after that, adapt to the new normal. He spoke to Keith Figlioli about many of the issues impacting these discussions including:

  • Corporate Governance. The decisions health systems will be forced to make over the next two to five years are staggeringly big, according to Chas. As a result, Gist is spending a lot of time thinking about governance right now and how to help health systems supercharge governance processes to lay a foundation for the making these difficult choices.
  • Health Systems Acting Like Systems. As health systems struggle to maintain revenue and margins, they’ll be forced to streamline operations in a way that finally takes advantage of system value. As providers consolidated in recent years, they successfully met the goal of gaining size and negotiating leverage, but paid much less attention to the harder part – controlling cost and creating value. That’s about to change. It will be a lasting impact of Covid-19, and an opportunity for innovators.
  • The Telehealth Land Grab. Providers have quickly ramped-up telehealth services as a necessity to survive during lockdowns. But as telehealth plays a larger role in the new standard of care, payers will not sit idly by and are preparing to double-down on their own virtual care capabilities. They’re looking to take over the virtual space and own the digital front door in an effort to gain coveted customer loyalty. Chas talks about how it would be foolish for providers to expect that payers will continue reimburse at high rates or at parity for physical visits.
  • The Battleground Over Physicians. This is the other area to watch as payers and providers clash over the hearts and minds of consumers. The years-long trend of physician practices being acquired and rolled-up into larger organizations will significantly accelerate due to Covid-19. The financial pain the pandemic has caused will force some practices out of business and many others looking for an exit. And as health systems deal with their own financial hardships, payers with deep pockets are the more likely suitor.”

 

 

 

 

Now Is the Time to Address Surprise Billing

https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/marty-makary/86455?xid=fb_o&trw=no&fbclid=IwAR1boFFgBZuSqJ9-1728UdSFeIK790TTXNeoJJ9mky9jCKbGyQ_G4jqwrfk

Tips to avoid surprise medical bills

The doctor-patient relationship is being undermined.

Private equity companies have spent millions in dark money to stall and effectively kill all versions of surprise billing reform. But this week, the issue will come before Congress again. Legislation was introduced Tuesday in the House that, among other things, would further assist hospitals with more relief funds. With this potential third disbursement of federal dollars comes an opportunity to finally address the embarrassing problem of surprise billing that has eroded the public trust in our great medical profession.

Physicians across the country are now signing a letter urging leaders of Congress to address surprise billing once and for all. I have already signed this letter and encourage you to consider doing so as well.

One reason the medical profession is the greatest profession in the world is that patients put their faith and trust in us. But 64% of Americans now say they have avoided or delayed medical care for fear of the bill. As more and more patients lose faith in the system, the doctor-patient relationship is being undermined by surprise billing and the modern-day business practices of price gouging and predatory billing. In fact, these egregious practices have become part of the business model of some private equity groups, which seek to replace physician autonomy with corporate medicine.

Our system today is unnecessarily complicated and works against patients’ interests by putting them in the middle of a finger-pointing blame game, which leaves them holding the bag. It doesn’t make sense for us to accept people with open arms, treat their ailment, and then ruin their lives financially. Medical science is a bastion of scientific and intellectual genius. We can fix this problem. Already, some efforts are advancing price transparency by creating a transparent marketplace for patients.

I’ve spent many years looking at the systematic cost issues that face our health system and patients. Simply put, the lack of fairness and transparency in pricing and billing practices has created financial toxicity and increased the general mistrust of the medical system for millions of Americans. No one designed it to be this bad. In fact, we have good people working in a bad system. When I explain details of pricing, billing, and collections with doctors and hospital leaders, they are invariably shocked and furious to learn how out of control their billing offices have gotten in overcharging patients and shaking people down for more than a reasonable amount for a service.

The current COVID-19 crisis is a stark reminder of the gaps in our health system that exacerbate the pressures facing providers and patients. Many Americans are getting crushed right now. Despite many years of debate in Washington and bipartisan agreement that something must be done, there is still no federal protection in place to safeguard consumers from an egregious surprise medical bill if they need emergency care or have limited options. The reality is that special interests — including the very private equity firms that stand to benefit financially from these exploitative business practices — continue to spend millions to maintain the status quo.

It’s time for a bipartisan compromise to end the non-transparent game of surprise medical billing. It’s time that Congress takes meaningful action to protect patients during this COVID-19 crisis and finally address this issue. Congress has solutions on the table that would bring much greater fairness and transparency to the healthcare system, protect patients from these predatory charges, and ensure that physicians are paid fairly for our services, as we deserve. It’s time we put an end to the cycle of financial toxicity and rebuild the great public trust in the medical profession.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the ACA: Healthcare legal fights to watch in 2020

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/beyond-the-aca-healthcare-legal-fights-to-watch-in-2020/569793/

All eyes were on the legal drama over the Affordable Care Act as 2019 drew to a close — and while that case remains a focus for this year — a lot more is also at stake.

Payers and providers are fiercely contesting a price transparency push from the Trump administration that would force privately negotiated rates out into the open. The administration is also being challenged over regulations regarding risk corridor payments to payers and the expansion of association health plans.

Antitrust concerns are also front and center, as payers clash over exclusive broker policies in Florida.

As policy debates rage on this year through presidential debates and on Capitol Hill, courthouses will also be a key battleground for the industry in 2020.  Below are the big cases to watch.

ACA and the high court

The most consequential case still making its way through the court system is the challenge to the Affordable Care Act. At the end of last year, an appeals court notched a win for the red states fighting the law by declaring the individual mandate was no longer constitutional after the penalty was zeroed out by a Republican-controlled Congress.

The three-judge panel, however, stopped short of declaring the entire ACA void, instead asking the lower court that made the argument that the rest of the law is not severable from the individual mandate to revisit and clarify its ruling.

Supporters of the ACA are trying to speed up what is almost certainly the next major step for the court case by petitioning the Supreme Court on Friday to hear the case before the November presidential election.

“States, health insurers, and millions of Americans rely on those provisions when making important — indeed, life-changing — decisions. The remand proceedings contemplated by the panel majority would only prolong and exacerbate the uncertainty already caused by this litigation,” according to the Jan. 3 petition filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of 19 other states and D.C.

Five justices are needed to approve the suggested expedited timeline while four are needed to agree to hear the case at all. More will be clear in the next couple of months as justices make their decisions. The ultimate decision — whether it comes in months or years — will have huge ramifications across the healthcare landscape.

Price transparency pushback

The legal clash between hospitals and the administration over forcing providers to reveal negotiated rates is set to heat up quickly in the new year.

The federal judge overseeing the case recently released a timeline for how it is expected to proceed in the coming months. Hospitals are seeking a swift ruling and summary judgment. HHS faces a Feb. 4 deadline to file its opposition motion to the summary judgment, while deadlines for motions extend through March 10.

“That is an extremely accelerated schedule,” James Burns, a partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive. “My strong suspicion is that we’ll get a ruling from the judge late spring or earlier summer at the latest, which is obviously all before the election.”

Hospital groups including the American Hospital Association and health systems have alleged that the administration’s push to force negotiated rates out into the open exceeds the government’s authority and violates the First Amendment because it compels hospitals to reveal confidential and proprietary information. Legal experts say the principal argument will center around whether the government exceeded its authority, not the First Amendment.

Risk corridor payments

On last month’s Supreme Court docket was a case regarding an ACA risk adjustment program. At issue are $12 billion in payments insurers say they are owed from losses on state exchanges.

Early participants in the marketplaces were hit hard in some cases as they attempted to adjust to people gaining coverage under the ACA. A few nonprofit co-ops were driven to close when CMS declared the program had to be budget neutral and therefore only about one-eighth of the expected risk corridor amount could be paid out.

A number of justices seemed to lean toward ruling in favor of the insurers during arguments in front of the high court, Tim Jost, health law expert and professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University School of Law, told Healthcare Dive​. “Only a couple of the justices that spoke seemed inclined to support the government, but we’ll see what happens there,” he said.

If the payers do prevail, there’s still the question of exactly how much they are owed and how the money will be distributed. It could ultimately affect medical loss ratio rebates or premiums down the road, he said.

CSR fight in court this week

The legal fight over canceled payments to insurers​ under the ACA drags on as oral arguments begin this week in a federal appeals court.

A number of insurers including Maine Community Health Options and Sanford Health claim they’re owed millions in cost-sharing reduction payments that the government failed to pay out after the Trump administration said Congress failed to appropriate the funds. The payments were intended to repay insurers for lowering the cost of care to make coverage affordable for those with low incomes.

Health Options and Sanford both won in the lower courts after judges ruled they were entitled to the unpaid CSR payments. The cases have been consolidated within the appeals court and oral arguments start Thursday.

A ruling in favor of insurers in the risk corridor case could be a good sign for their fight to be reimbursed for CSRs as well, Jost said.

Oscar antitrust argument

Health insurer Oscar has alleged that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida is enforcing a broker policy that is impeding Oscar’s ability to sell individual exchange plans and undermines competition in Florida.

The key question in this case is whether Florida Blue, a dominant insurer in the sunshine state, can lawfully bar independent brokers from working with other carriers like Oscar by threatening to cut off their ability to sell all other Florida Blue plans if they sell Oscar’s individual plans.

A lower court ruled against Oscar and found that such arrangements are shielded from antitrust scrutiny. A federal law excludes the “business of insurance” from antitrust scrutiny in some cases, legal experts say this case shouldn’t be exempt from antitrust enforcement.

A group of 10 antitrust scholars called the ruling “dangerous” and “plainly incorrect,” in an amicus brief Dec. 23 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District.

“The practice at issue here — forming exclusive deals with industry gatekeepers to box out potential entry by competitors — is a quotidian business strategy that appears across many industries and raises well-recognized antitrust concerns,” according to the amicus brief.

Oscar alleges that consumers are harmed if brokers are barred from discussing other plan options outside Florida Blue.

The Department of Justice also intends to file an amicus brief, according to a recent filing in the appeals case.

Association, short-term health plans

The federal court of appeals in D.C. heard arguments late last year to review a judge’s decision in March 2019 declaring association health plans an “end-run” around the ACA. AHPs are offered by business or professional associations and aren’t bound by ACA requirements protecting pre-existing conditions and mandating essential benefits.

U.S. District Judge John Bates had strong language in March for the Trump administration, which is being challenged for loosening restrictions on what groups can offer AHPs — and therefore expanding their presence in the marketplace.

The D.C. appeals court is expected to rule on the case in the coming months. Jost’s take from the oral arguments is that the court seem inclined to reverse Bates’ decision, though he warned the outcome is not certain. “It’s a technical case that really has more to do with interpreting ERISA than the Affordable Care Act, though both are relevant,” he said.

A similar challenge has risen on short-term health plans, which were originally meant as stopgap coverage but have been expanded by the Trump administration to offer up to three years worth of coverage.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in favor of the administration in July, saying the plans did not undermine the ACA. The plaintiffs, including the Association for Community Affiliated Plans, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and AIDS United, quickly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C.

Briefs are due this month and argument is likely in the spring, Jost said.

If AHPs and short-term plans are allowed to continue as the Trump administration has pushed for, it presents a concern for the viability of ACA risk pools. Consumer warnings against short-term plans, however, may be working, he said.

“There’s been a lot of publicity about how risky these plans are and I think they probably have not been achieving the same market strength they were hoping for,” he said.

 

 

 

Despite provider claims, hospital M&A not associated with improved care, NEJM finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/despite-provider-claims-hospital-ma-not-associated-with-improved-care-ne/569671/

Dive Brief:

  • Hospital consolidation is associated with poorer patient experiences and doesn’t improve care, according to a study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, refuting a common provider justification for rampant mergers and acquisitions.
  • The study funded by HHS’ health quality research division, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, found that acquired hospitals saw moderately worse patient experience, along with no change in 30-day mortality or readmission rates. ​Acquired hospitals did improve slightly in clinical process, though that can’t be directly chalked up to the results of an acquisition, researchers found.
  • It’s further evidence that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to hospitals, and adds onto a heap of previous studies showing provider mergers lead to higher prices for commercially insured patients.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals continue to turn to M&A to navigate tricky industry headwinds, including lowering reimbursement and flatlining admissions as patients increasingly turn to alternate, cheaper sites of care. Provider trade associations maintain consolidation lowers costs and improves operations, which trickles down to better care for patients.

Though volume of deals has ebbed and flowed, hospital M&A overall has steadily increased over the past decade. The hospital sector in 2018 saw 90 deals, according to consultancy Kaufman Hall, up 80% from just 50 such transactions in 2009.

Thursday’s study analyzed CMS data on hospital quality and Medicare claims from 2007 through 2016 and data on hospital M&A from 2009 to 2013 to look at hospital performance before and after acquisition, compared with a control group that didn’t see a change in ownership.

American Hospital Association General Counsel Melinda Hatton took aim at the study’s methods to refute its findings, especially its reliance on a common measure of patient experience called HCAHPS.

“Using data collected from patients to make claims about quality fails to recognize that it is often incomplete, as patients are not required to and do not always respond comprehensively,” Hatton told Healthcare Dive in a statement. “The survey does not capture information on the critical aspects of care as it is delivered today.”

The results contradict a widely decried AHA-funded study last year conducted by Charles River Associates that found consolidation improves quality and lowers revenue per admission in the first year prior to integration. The research came quickly under fire by academics and patient advocates over potential cherrypicked results.

A spate of previous studies found hospital tie-ups raise the price tag of care on payers and patients. Congressional advisory group MedPAC found both vertical and horizontal provider consolidation are correlated with higher healthcare costs, the brunt of which is often borne by consumers in the form of higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

A 2018 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics found prices rose 6% after hospitals were acquired, partially due to limiting market competition. Groups like the left-leaning Center for American Progress have called for increased scrutiny from antitrust regulators as a result, but — despite snowballing M&A — there’s been little change in antitrust regulation since the 1980s. The Federal Trade Commission won several challenges to hospital consolidation in the 2010s, but the agency only contests 2% to 3% of mergers annually, according to MedPAC analysts.

Providers, like most actors across the healthcare ecosystem, are increasingly under fire for high prices and predatory billing practices. President Donald Trump’s administration finalized a rule late last year that would force hospitals to reveal secret negotiated rates with insurers, relying on the assumption that transparency would shame both actors into lowering prices.

A cadre of provider groups led by the AHA sued HHS over the regulation, arguing it violates the First Amendment and would place undue burden on hospitals, while potentially stifling competition. The lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

 

 

 

The Chart that Could Undo the US Healthcare System

https://fee.org/articles/the-chart-that-could-undo-the-us-healthcare-system/

Image result for The Chart that Could Undo the US Healthcare System

Skyrocketing costs are being driven by bureaucracy.

This chart looks remarkably similar to a chart that tracks the growth of the administrative class in higher education. And that’s no accident. As the physician who shared the chart writes:

[The chart] outlines the growth of administrators in healthcare compared to physicians over the last forty years. And, it includes an overlay of America’s healthcare spending over that same time. Take a look at the yellow color. A picture is worth a thousand words, isn’t it?

You see, when you have that much administration, what you really have is a bunch of meetings. Lots of folks carrying their coffee from place to place. They are meeting about more policies, more protocols to satisfy government-created nonsense. But, this type of thing in healthcare isn’t fixing things. It’s not moving the needle.

What moves things is innovation.

Innovation, indeed. But it’s not easy to innovate in stagnant, hyper-regulated, captured sectors.

In Tyler Cowen’s 2011 book the Great Stagnation, he argued that the areas that were stagnating the most are education, healthcare, and government. Writing about Cowen’s book in his Wall Street Journal blog, Kelly Evans says:

A particular challenge we confront is that our progress as a society — chiefly, in extending and improving lives — is now at a point in which it appears to be undercutting our potential for further advancement. Part of this, Mr. Cowen observes, stems from well-meaning efforts to do more with education, government, and health care that instead seem to have backfired and left us with noncompetitive institutions closer to failing us than to serving us well.

With respect to healthcare, this chart gives us an indication of why these efforts are backfiring: The more an industry becomes like a regulated utility, the more administrators are required to enforce the regulations and administer the programs. And they, as well as the programs they administer, are expensive. All manner of distortions follow, and the costs of healthcare go up proportionally.

There also seems to be perverse incentives associated with subsidy: The more resources you dump in, the more expensive that industry becomes. You might shift the costs around on unsuspecting groups (like taxpayers), but in almost every case we see premium hikes and tuition increases in both of these industries, despite (or rather because of) the truckloads of federal largesse.

But they will have to stop at some point — one way or the other.

The US healthcare system has become something of a Frankenstein monster, with pieces stitched together ad hoc by regulators and special interests. The ACA seems to have ignored most of what really needed fixing and doubled down on the worst aspects of our system. Price transparency, affordability, innovation and competitive entrepreneurship have all gotten worse, not better. And the beast has grown to take over more than 17 percent of GDP.

(And if you think 17 percent is about right, consider that in Singapore healthcare takes up less than 3 percent of GDP.)

The trouble with any further healthcare reform is that a massive coalition of special interests in multiple sectors has formed as a husk around the entire industry — a care-tel, if you will — and they will be very difficult to dislodge.

 

 

5 trends and issues to watch in the insurance industry in 2020

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/top-5-trends-and-issues-to-watch-insurance-industry-2020

Image result for 5 trends and issues to watch in the insurance industry in 2020

The insurance industry appears likely to have another big year in 2020, as growth in government and commercial markets is expected to continue.

But a presidential election and new transparency initiatives could throw some major curveballs to payers.

Here are the top five issues and trends to watch out for in the next year:

Medicare Advantage diversifies

Enrollment growth in Medicare Advantage is likely to continue next year, as more than 22 million Medicare beneficiaries already have a plan. But what will be different is diversification into new populations, especially as insurers pursue dually eligible beneficiaries on both Medicare and Medicaid.

“This is being made possible because of strong support from government,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of consulting firm Avalere Health.

Support for Medicare Advantage “transcends partisanship and that has been true under Trump and Obama,” he added.

New benefit designs, such as paying for food or transportation to address social determinants of health, are also going to increase in popularity. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has made it easier for plans to offer such supplemental benefits.

Get ready for transparency, whether you like it or not

This past year saw CMS release a major rule on transparency that forces hospitals to post payer-negotiated rates starting in 2021 for more than 300 “shoppable” hospital services.

The rule, which is being contested in court, could fundamentally change how insurers negotiate with hospitals on how to cover those services. The rule brings up questions about revealing “private information for the sake of transparency,” said Monica Hon, vice president for consulting firm Advis.

But it remains unclear how the court battle over the rule, which has garnered opposition from not just hospitals but also insurers, will play out. Hospital groups behind the lawsuit challenging the rule have had success getting favorable rulings that struck down payment cuts.

“I think there is going to be a lot of back and forth,” Hon said. “Whatever the result is that will impact how payers and providers negotiate rates with this transparency rule.”

Don’t expect major rules in 2020

2020 is a presidential and congressional election year, and traditionally few major initiatives get going in Congress. But experts say the same goes for regulations as administrations tend not to issue major regulations in the run-up to the vote in November, said Ben Isgur, leader of PwC’s Health Research Institute.

“What we will end up with is much more change on regulations on the state side,” Isgur said.

But new regulations on proposals that have been floated could be released. Chief among them could be a final rule to halt information blocking at hospitals and a new regulation on tying Medicare Part B prices for certain drugs to the prices paid in certain countries.

Congressional lawmakers are still hoping to reach a compromise on surprise billing, but they don’t have much time before campaigning for reelection in November.

A lot of the healthcare direction will be set after the presidential election in November. If a Democrat defeats President Donald Trump, then waivers for items like Medicaid work requirements and block grants will likely go by the wayside.

“Depending on who takes the White House and Congress, are we going to further repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it or will we have Medicare for All,” Isgur said.

Insurers continue to go vertical in dealmaking

Insurers certainly weren’t shy about engaging in mergers and acquisitions in 2019, and that trend doesn’t appear likely to dissipate next year.

But the types of mergers might be different. Insurers and providers are increasingly looking at deals that would offer a vertical integration, such as acquiring more pharmacy services or a technology company to enhance the patient experience. Plenty of big-ticket vertical deals, such as CVS’ acquisition of Aetna and Cigna’s purchase of Express Scripts, have changed the industry landscape significantly.

“Deals in 2020 are going to be much more around the identity,” Isgur said. “Five years ago we had a lot of horizontal deals where health systems got bigger and regional payers got bigger.”

Payers continue to push patients away from hospitals

Insurers are going to try to find new ways to push patients toward outpatient services to avoid higher costs from going to a hospital.

For instance, “we are seeing a lot of payers not going to honor hospital imaging,” said Hon. “A lot of payers are saying we want you to go outside the hospital and that is a lot cheaper for us,” she said.

Instead, payers will try to steer patients toward imaging centers or physicians’ offices.

“We are seeing that with imaging and free-standing surgical centers now being able to do a lot more,” she added.

Insurers are also starting to use primary care more proactively to “ensure that they understand the needs of the patient, their needs are being addressed,” Mendelson said.

 

 

 

A look at what lies under the (high) deductible

https://mailchi.mp/f3434dd2ba5d/the-weekly-gist-december-20-2019?e=d1e747d2d8

 

With the continued growth in high deductible health plans (HDHPs) in both employer- and exchange-based insurance markets, a larger number of services are falling “under the deductible”, leaving patients responsible for the full cost of care

The graphic above illustrates the national cost ranges of ten common outpatient services, based on data from a publicly-available commercial claims databaseIt’s not just minor services like lab tests or diagnostic imaging that are falling under the deductible—many consumers are now paying full freight for a growing list of outpatient procedures like cataract or carpal tunnel surgery, or even knee arthroscopy.

Shopping can pay off: for any service, the highest-priced provider can be over three times the lowest-priced, translating into thousands of dollars of savings for patients with high-deductible plans.

Outpatient services now account for over half the revenue of many health systems. As deductibles climb, more and more of the (profitable) health system services are becoming “shoppable” for consumers—creating an imperative for systems to both lower costs and pursue rational pricing as scrutiny becomes more intense.