Walmart partners with UnitedHealth Group (UHG) in its continued push into healthcare

https://mailchi.mp/6a3812741768/the-weekly-gist-september-9-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

The nation’s largest retailer and its largest insurer announced a 10-year partnership to bring together the collective expertise of both companies to provide affordable healthcare to potentially millions of Americans. Set to start next year with 15 Walmart Health locations in Georgia and Florida, the collaboration will initially focus on seniors and Medicare Advantage (MA) beneficiaries, and will include a co-branded MA plan in Georgia. Walmart Health Virtual Care will also be in-network for some UnitedHealthcare beneficiaries. Plans for future years involve expanding the collaboration across commercial and Medicaid plans, as well as including pharmacy, dental, and vision services. 

The Gist: We have long wondered if this powerhouse pairing was in the works, as this kind of partnership makes a lot of sense for both parties. While Walmart has reportedly been considering an insurance company acquisition for years, and more recently been dabbling in its own insurance efforts, partnering with UHG provides the retailer with a share of the upside potential of getting into the insurance market without having to fully commit to entering that complex business. And given that 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store, and more than half of Americans visit a store every week, Walmart provides UHG with low-cost healthcare access points all over the country, especially important in markets where United’s own Optum physician network is not (yet) present.

Amazon Care is shutting down at the end of 2022. Here’s why

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/health-tech/amazon-care-shutting-down-end-2022-tech-giant-said-virtual-primary-care-business-wasnt

Three years after it began piloting a primary care service for its employees that blended telehealth and in-person medical services, Amazon plans to cease operations of its Amazon Care service.

Amazon announced Wednesday afternoon that it would end Amazon Care operations after December 31. In an email to Amazon Health Services employees, Neil Lindsay, senior vice president of Amazon Health Services, said Amazon Care wasn’t a sustainable, long-term solution for its enterprise customers.

Amazon provided a copy of the email to Fierce Healthcare.

The decision only impacts Amazon Care and Care Medical teams and not Amazon’s other healthcare services. 

While operating Amazon Care, the company “gathered and listened to extensive feedback” from its enterprise customers and their employees and evolved the service to continuously improve the experience for customers.

“However, despite these efforts, we’ve determined that Amazon Care isn’t the right long-term solution for our enterprise customers, and have decided that we will no longer offer Amazon Care after December 31, 2022,” Lindsay wrote.

“This decision wasn’t made lightly and only became clear after many months of careful consideration. Although our enrolled members have loved many aspects of Amazon Care, it is not a complete enough offering for the large enterprise customers we have been targeting, and wasn’t going to work long-term,” he said.

The online retail company piloted virtual urgent care and primary care service with its employees and their families in the Seattle region in 2019.

Amazon Care has since expanded rapidly with telehealth services available in all 50 states and in-person services in at least seven cities, including Dallas, D.C. and Baltimore. As part of its ambitions in healthcare, Amazon then focused on ramping up partnerships with employers and signed on other companies as clients including Silicon Labs, TrueBlue, Whole Foods Market, Precor—a Washington-based fitness equipment company that was acquired by Peloton—and Hilton.

Some industry insiders have said that Amazon Care struggled to gain a foothold with employer clients.

The company was on track to rapidly expand its hybrid care model to more than 20 additional cities in 2022, including major metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and New York City.

CEO Andy Jassy has made health care a priority, naming Amazon Care as an example of “iterative innovation” in his first letter to shareholders earlier this year. In July, the company announced plans to buy concierge primary care provider One Medical in a deal valued at approximately $3.9 billion.

If the One Medical deal goes through, it would significantly expand Amazon’s foothold in the nearly $4 trillion healthcare market, specifically in the competitive primary care market.

One Medical markets itself as a membership-based, tech-integrated, consumer-focused primary care platform. The company operates 188 offices in 29 markets. At the end of March, One Medical had 767,000 members.

The deal also gives Amazon rapid access to the lucrative employer market as One Medical works with 8,000 companies.

The One Medical acquisition has not yet closed.

Lindsay said the company’s work building Amazon Care has deepened its understanding of “what’s needed long-term to deliver meaningful health care solutions for enterprise and individual customers.

“I believe the health care space is ripe for reinvention, and our efforts to help improve the health care experience can have an immensely positive impact on our quality of life and health outcomes. However, none of these reasons make this decision any easier for the teams that have helped to build Amazon Care, or for the customers our Care team serves,” he wrote.

The decision to cease Amazon Care’s operations will likely mean some employees will be laid off. Lindsay said in his email to employees that many Amazon Care employees will have an opportunity to join other parts of the Health Services organization or other teams at Amazon. “Well also support employees looking for roles outside of the company,” he said.

Emergency visits are down, so why does the ED feel so busy?

https://mailchi.mp/efa24453feeb/the-weekly-gist-july-22-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

We’ve been noticing a disconnect recently in our conversations with health system executives. When we share national data that shows that emergency department visits are still down substantially from pre-COVID levels, the reaction is often one of surprise.

As one CEO recently put it to us, “We’re seeing exactly the opposite. Our ED feels busier than ever.” It appears that, upon further examination, what’s going on is a shift in the mix of patients who are visiting the ED. The lower-acuity, urgent-care level cases do seem to have shifted away from traditional hospital settings toward virtual visits and urgent care centers. That’s good news from an overall cost of care perspective, but it means that hospital EDs are increasingly filled with sicker, more acute patients.

One sure sign the mix has shifted: many systems are now telling us that the percentage of ED visitors who end up getting admitted is rising. But staffing-driven capacity constraints mean that it’s taking longer to find an inpatient bed for those patients, or to discharge them from the ED to other settings (or back home)—so the average length of stay in the ED is going up.

On top of that, many EDs are now seeing an increase in psych patients, who stay longer and require greater staff attention. All of that, along with staff who are completely exhausted and demoralized after the pandemic, has combined to make many EDs feel swamped these days—despite what the national data are showing. 

Amazon to acquire One Medical in $3.9B deal

Amazon plans to acquire virtual and in-person primary care company One Medical, the online retailer said July 21.  

In a cash deal valued at $3.9 billion, the aim is to combine One Medical’s technology and team with Amazon, it said in a news release. The goal of the acquisition, according to the two companies, is to offer more convenient and affordable healthcare in-person and virtually.

“The opportunity to transform healthcare and improve outcomes by combining One Medical’s human-centered and technology-powered model and exceptional team with Amazon’s customer obsession, history of invention and willingness to invest in the long-term is so exciting,” said Amir Dan Rubin, CEO of One Medical, in a company news release. “There is an immense opportunity to make the healthcare experience more accessible, affordable, and even enjoyable, for patients, providers and payers. We look forward to innovating and expanding access to quality healthcare services together.”

Amazon will acquire One Medical for $18 per share.

Completion of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including approval by One Medical’s shareholders and regulatory approval. 

If the acquisition is approved, Mr. Rubin will remain CEO of One Medical. 

Setting the post-COVID agenda for health systems

https://mailchi.mp/9e0c56723d09/the-weekly-gist-july-8-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

As the economic situation has worsened over the past few months, we’ve been working with several health systems to recalibrate strategy. For many, the anticipated “post-COVID recovery” period has turned into a struggle to reverse declining (often negative) margins, while still scrambling to address mounting workforce shortages. All this amid continued pressure from disruptive competitors and ever-rising consumer expectations.

In the graphic above, we’ve pulled together some of the most important changes we believe health systems need to make. These range from improvements to the operating model (shifting to a team-based approach to staffing, greater use of automation where appropriate, and moving to asset-light capital strategies) to transformations of the clinical model (moving care into lower-cost outpatient and community settings, integrating virtual care into clinical delivery, and creating tighter alignment with key physicians).

In general, the goal is to deliver lower-cost care in less expensive settings, using less expensive staff. 

But those cost-saving strategies will need to be coupled with a new go-to-market approach, including new payment models that reward systems for shifting away from high-cost (and highly reimbursed) care models. 

Employers and consumers will expect more solution-based offerings, which integrate care across the continuum into coherent bundles of service. This will require a more deliberate focus on service line strategies, moving away from a fragmented, inpatient-centric model.

Contracting approaches must align payment with this shift, changing incentives to reward coordinated, cost-effective, outcomes-driven care. 

A key insight from our discussions with health system leaders: short-term cost-cutting initiatives to “stop the bleed” won’t suffice—instead, more permanent solutions will be required that address not only the core operating model, but also the approach to revenue generation. 

The post-COVID environment is turning out to be a lot tougher than many had expected, to say the least.

CVS Health to launch a virtual-first primary care platform

https://mailchi.mp/31b9e4f5100d/the-weekly-gist-june-03-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

The digital platform is designed to provide consumers with a coordinated healthcare experience across care settings. It’s being sold to Aetna’s fully insured and self-insured plan sponsors, as well as CVS Caremark clients, and is due to go live next year. According to CVS Health, the new offering “enables consumers to choose care when and where they want,” whether that’s virtually, in a retail setting (including at a MinuteClinic or HealthHUB), or through at-home services.

Patients will have access to primary care, on-demand care, medication management, chronic condition management, and mental health services, as well as help in identifying other in-network care providers. 

The Gist: CVS Health has been working to integrate its retail clinics, care delivery assets, and health insurance business. This new virtual-first care platform is aimed at coordinating care and experience across the portfolio, and streamlining how individuals access the range of services available to them.

CVS is not alone in focusing here: UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, and others have announced virtual-first health plans with a similar value proposition. Any payer or provider who aims to own the consumer relationship must field a similar digital care platform that streamlines and coordinates service offerings, lest they find themselves in a market where many patients turn first to CVS and other disruptors for their care needs. 

Hospital volume return remains uneven, while virtual care holds

https://mailchi.mp/df8b77a765df/the-weekly-gist-may-6-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

More than two years after the pandemic’s onset, some types of hospital volume still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. The graphic above uses recent data from analytics firm Strata Decision Technology to track monthly hospital volume across various care settings. 

While outpatient volume continues to exceed pre-COVID levels, inpatient, emergency department (ED), and observation volume is still below the 2019 baseline. The unpredictability of volume trends is likely to continue, as COVID continues to ebb and flow regionally, and care continues to shift outpatient.

By contrast, the volume of virtual care visits has remained consistent, even as consumers return to in-person outpatient visits, driving up the overall level above the pre-pandemic baseline. Some of this increase in outpatient visit volume has been driven by consumers turning to urgent care clinics or doctors’ offices—either in-person or virtually—for their lower-acuity care needs.

While temporary reimbursement and licensing policies for telehealth have been the main stumbling blocks for many organizations’ longer-term planning for virtual visits, about half of states have now implemented permanent payment parity for telemedicine. As such, provider organizations that are still taking a “wait and see approach” must develop an economically sustainable virtual care model to reduce costs and meet evolving consumer demands.

How the pandemic may fundamentally change the health-care system

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/11/how-pandemic-may-fundamentally-change-health-care-system/

Welcome to Friday’s Health 202, where today we have a special spotlight on the pandemic two years in.

🚨 The federal government is about to be funded. The Senate sent the long-term spending bill to President Biden’s desk last night after months of intense negotiations. 

Two years since the WHO declared a pandemic, what health-care system changes are here to stay?

Nurses screened patients at a drive-through testing site in March 2020. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Exactly two years ago, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic and much of American life began grinding to a halt. 

That’s when the health-care system, which has never been known for its quickness, sped up. The industry was forced to adapt, delivering virtual care and services outside of hospitals on the fly. Yet, the years-long pandemic has exposed decades-old cracks in the system, and galvanized efforts to fix them.

Today, as coronavirus cases plummet and President Biden says Americans can begin resuming their normal lives, we explore how the pandemic could fundamentally alter the health-care system for good. What changes are here to stay — and what barriers are standing in the way?

A telehealth boom

What happened: Telehealth services skyrocketed as doctors’ offices limited in-person visits amid the pandemic. The official declaration of a public health emergency eased long-standing restrictions on these virtual services, vastly expanding Medicare coverage. 

But will it stick? Some of these changes go away whenever the Biden administration decides not to renew the public health emergency (PHE). The government funding bill passed yesterday extends key services roughly five months after the PHE ends, such as letting those on Medicare access telehealth services even if they live outside a rural area.

But some lobbyists and lawmakers are pushing hard to make such changes permanent. Though the issue is bipartisan and popular, it could be challenging to pass unless the measures are attached to a must-pass piece of legislation. 

  • “Even just talking to colleagues, I used to have to spend three or four minutes while they were trying desperately not to stare at their phone and explain to them what telehealth was … remote patient monitoring, originating sites, and all this wonky stuff,”said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a longtime proponent of telehealth.
  • “Now I can go up to them and say, ‘So telehealth is great, right?’ And they say, ‘yes, it is.’ ”
A new spotlight on in-home care

What happened: The infectious virus tore through nursing homes, where often fragile residents share rooms and depend on caregivers for daily tasks. Ultimately, nearly 152,000 residents died from covid-19.

The devastation has sparked a rethinking of where older adults live and how they get the services they need — particularly inside their own homes. 

  • “That is clearly what people prefer,” said Gail Wilensky, an economist at Project HOPE who directed the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President George H.W. Bush. “The challenge is whether or not it’s economically feasible to have that happen.”

More money, please: Finding in-home care — and paying for it — is still a struggle for many Americans. Meanwhile, many states have lengthy waitlists for such services under Medicaid.

Experts say an infusion of federal funds is needed to give seniors and those with disabilities more options for care outside of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. 

For instance, Biden’s massive social spending bill included tens of billions of dollars for such services. But the effort has languished on Capitol Hill, making it unclear when and whether additional investments will come. 

A reckoning on racial disparities

What happened: Hispanic, Black, and American Indian and Alaska Native people are about twice as likely to die from covid-19 than White people. That’s according to age-adjusted data from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report

In short, the coronavirus exposed the glaring inequities in the health-care system. 

  • “The first thing to deal with any problem is awareness,” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Nobody can say that they’re not aware of it anymore, that it doesn’t exist.”

But will change come? Health experts say they hope the country has reached a tipping point in the last two years. And yet, any real systemic change will likely take time. But, Benjamin said, it can start with increasing the number of practitioners from diverse communities, making office practices more welcoming and understanding biases. 

We need to, as a matter of course, ask ourselves who’s advantaged and who’s disadvantaged” when crafting new initiatives, like drive-through testing sites, Benjamin said. “And then how do we create systems so that the people that are disadvantaged have the same opportunity.”

Amazon expands employer health solutions to 20+ new markets

Amazon Care Goes National With Hybrid Model | PYMNTS.com

Amazon Care, which contracts with employers, will now deliver its virtual care services nationwide. It also plans to expand its hybrid service offering—in which care is delivered by nurses dispatched to employees’ homes—to more than 20 new cities this year, including San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York City. The company also announced it has secured new contracts with its subsidiary Whole Foods Market, as well as Hilton Hotels, semiconductor manufacturing company Silicon Labs, and staffing and recruiting firm TrueBlue.

The Gist: Amazon Care is looking to differentiate itself with a virtual-first, asset-light, hybrid service offering. But given the slow-moving and complex nature of employee health benefit contracting, Amazon’s recent moves could displace employer-facing point solutions, but present less of a threat to incumbent providers, instead offering a partnership opportunity for downstream care. 

Ultimately, Amazon could combine its care delivery offerings with its pharmacy and diagnostics businesses to launch a robust direct-to-consumer offering—should the company find healthcare a lucrative and manageable market. 

Colorado Mom Hit With $847 Facility Fee for Son’s Virtual Doc Visit

A mother holding her unhappy looking son on her lap during a telemedicine video call.

A Colorado mom got quite the shock when she received a hefty “facility fee” bill for her toddler’s telehealth appointment.

Brittany Tesso said she had already paid a bill from Children’s Hospital Colorado for $676.86 for the 2-hour virtual visit for her 3-year-old son to determine if he required speech therapy, according to a report by KDVR, a Colorado TV station.

But 2 weeks later, she received a separate bill for an additional $847.35, leading Tesso to tell the station: “I would’ve gone elsewhere if they had told me there was an $850 fee, essentially for a Zoom call.”

Tesso said she was told the additional amount was for a “facility fee.”

“I was like, ‘Facility fee? I didn’t go to your facility,'” Tesso told the station. “I was at home and, as far as I could tell, some of the doctors were at home too.” Tesso said she was told by a hospital representative that it charges the same fee whether patients come to the facility or receive care via telehealth.

KDVR had reported an earlier story of a father who said he was charged a $503 facility fee after his son was seen at a medical practice in a building owned by Children’s Hospital Colorado, and roughly 20 viewers reached out to the news outlet about their similar experiences.

Tesso told KDVR that she believed the second bill was a surprise bill, and suggested that state lawmakers could do more to prevent such instances. An HHS rule banning surprise billing went into effect on January 1 of this year.

Adam Fox, deputy director at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, told KDVR that patients have little recourse because there are no regulations in the state regarding facility fees charged by hospitals.

In a statement provided to KDVR, Children’s Hospital Colorado said that the issue was not exclusive to the hospital, and that it continually looks at its own practices “to see where it can adjust and improve.”

The hospital added in the statement that it continues “to advocate for state and federal policies that address healthcare consumer cost concerns through more affordable and accessible insurance coverage and hospital and provider price transparency, while also defending children’s access to care and the unique needs of a pediatric hospital.”

In response to a MedPage Today request for comment, the hospital said it had no further information to share.

Telehealth is likely to remain a mainstay in healthcare delivery, according to a December Kaiser Health News (KHN) article, but experts also told KHN that it’s not yet clear how such appointments, and any accompanying facility fees, will be handled moving forward.