Does Beneficiary Switching Create Adverse Selection For Hospital-Based ACOs?

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20190410.832542/full/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Beneficiary+Switching+And+Hospital-Based+ACOs%3B+Biologics+Are+Natural+Monopolies%3B+An+Average+Lifetime+Earnings+Standard+For+Drug+Prices&utm_campaign=HAT+4-15-19&

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Despite the many uncertainties in the current health care delivery environment, payers and providers continue to demonstrate considerable interest in alternative payment models, including Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) accountable care organizations (ACOs). At the same time, concerns persist about the ability of the MSSP to provide a sustainable pathway toward transformation for health care providers and to generate savings to the Medicare program, a key outcome measure. In fact, an August 2018 Health Affairs blog post by Seema Verma, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), concludes that the net financial impact of the program is negative to taxpayers, and that hospital-based ACOs tend to be the drivers of this overall negative performance.

This analysis has influenced recent changes to the MSSP under the “Pathways to Success” rule, with major policy implications for participants and the program’s long-term sustainability. In particular, CMS’s analysis describes physician-led ACOS as low revenue and hospital-based ACOs as high revenue, concluding that the former had net savings of $0.182 billion, while the latter had net losses of $0.231 billion. Similarly, J. Michael McWilliams and colleagues conclude that physician-group ACOs had significantly larger savings than hospital-integrated ACOs. It has been suggested that these differences are due to hospitals continuing to pursue the high-cost activities that physician-led ACOs do not pursue, due to differing reimbursement incentives (for example, hospital revenue is more dependent on admissions, and so care management activities that avoid admissions are less robust in hospital-based ACOs). This finding has influenced new program rules allowing physician-led ACOs to stay in a lower-risk track of the MSSP longer than hospital-based ACOs.

Our MSSP experience at University of Wisconsin (UW) Health—the academic health system partner of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health—leads us to believe that there is an alternative explanation for hospital-based ACOs’ seemingly poorer financial performance. Specifically, as Medicare beneficiaries develop new and more complex diseases, the increased utilization they require leads them to facilities that have more specialized care, which may more likely be part of a hospital-based ACO than a physician-led one. 

A Closer Look At The Research

Several recent analyses have countered that the CMS analysis, which assesses program financial performance by comparing ACO spending to a benchmark target below which the ACO may share in savings, does not use a valid counterfactual. A more valid counterfactual would instead compare ACO actual spending to what the same providers’ Medicare spending would have been had they not participated in the ACO program. Analyses using this counterfactual have found that the MSSP has in fact produced savings for the taxpayers overall, although some have also concluded, such as CMS, that hospital-based ACOs perform worse than physician-led ACOs.

More recently, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission analyzed spending at the individual beneficiary level, rather than the ACO level. The analysts found that individuals who were continuously attributed to the same ACO year after year had lower spending growth compared to those whose attribution was switched to a different, existing ACO from one year to the next. At UW Health, our experience as an MSSP ACO from 2013 through 2017 supports this finding and illustrates some of the potential pitfalls in the recent policy changes for MSSP ACOs. 

UW’s Analysis: Adverse Selection Among “Switchers”

UW Health participated in the MSSP Track 1 from 2013 through 2017, before switching to the Next Generation ACO program. We compared patient characteristics and use for the cohort of our attributed beneficiaries older than age 65 for whom we had 12 months of claims data in 2015 and who, in 2016, continued to be attributed to us, versus beneficiaries who were newly attributed to us in 2016 (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1: Spending And Use of Continuously And Newly Attributed Medicare Beneficiaries, UW Health ACO, 2015–16

Source: Authors’ analysis. Notes: HCC is Hierarchical Condition Category. PBPY is per beneficiary per year. aHCC scores are calculated to assess patient complexity and risk. A higher score is associated with increased complexity and increased expected cost. Under 2016 MSSP rules, PBPY costs are adjusted based on beneficiary HCC scores calculated from the prior year, adjusted up only for demographic changes. Therefore, the 2016 PBPY average costs in the exhibit reflect risk adjustment using 2015 HCC scores. 

While 96 percent of continuing beneficiaries in 2016 were attributed to us through services from a primary care provider, only 73 percent of those new to the ACO in 2016 received their attribution this way. In other words, more than one in four of the “switchers” were assigned to the ACO due to services from a specialty care provider. Costs for these two populations (calculated from data CMS provides to ACOs as part of program participation) were very different. The average per-beneficiary-per-year (PBPY) cost in 2015 for continuously attributed beneficiaries was $8,123, or $1,380 higher than the newly attributed population’s PBPY cost of $6,743. However, in 2016, the average PBPY cost for continuously attributed beneficiaries was $723 lower than the 2016 average PBPY cost for newly attributed beneficiaries, and costs for the newly attributed cohort rose by 49.3 percent, compared with 15.1 percent for the continuously attributed group. This suggests that the newly attributed beneficiaries experienced a significant change in their health status after being attributed to our ACO, resulting in a dramatic rise in use, and also potentially explaining their high degree of specialty care attribution.

Our findings suggest that adverse selection among individuals whose attribution “switched” into hospital-based ACOs may at least partly explain the differential financial performance of physician-based versus hospital-based ACOs. As noted previously, it is possible that the increased use these patients require leads them to facilities that have more specialized care, which may more likely be part of a hospital-based ACO than a physician-led one. For example, our ACO, made up of not only the faculty physician group but also the hospital and clinics and school of medicine and public health, includes a comprehensive cancer center. Beneficiaries newly attributed to our ACO in 2016 were almost twice as likely to have a new diagnosis of cancer in 2016 compared with continuously attributed beneficiaries (6.1 percent versus 3.3 percent—not shown).

Current MSSP Risk Adjustment May Not Adequately Address The High Complexity Of “Switchers”

Because many of the newly attributed beneficiaries were both high cost during the performance year and low cost during the prior year, they entered our program with low Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) scores, under the system used by CMS to adjust for risk. In fact, almost 10 percent of newly attributed beneficiaries in 2016 had no health care use at all in 2015 (Exhibit 1). Prior to the Pathways to Success program, negative health status changes for continuously enrolled beneficiaries were not included in risk adjustment. For continuously attributed beneficiaries, CMS adjusted risk scores down from the previous year if the HCC score decreased but used only demographic changes to adjust up. Those beneficiaries who were healthy with little to no health care use in 2015 but with a significant change in health status in 2016 had low HCC scores coming into 2016, despite both high risk and use during the 2016 performance year. As a result, a cohort of relatively high-cost beneficiaries in 2016 would not be accounted for in that year’s risk score, resulting in an unfavorable assessment of an ACO’s true financial performance.

New program rules attempt to address concerns about adequate risk adjustment in the MSSP, allowing for a one-time benchmark increase of up to 3 percent to account for unexpected higher use due to increased complexity and health care needs among all attributed beneficiaries. While this change is generally welcomed by the MSSP community, our experience suggests it may be inadequate to account for the added complexities of switchers. The average HCC score for newly attributed beneficiaries to our ACO was 1.01 (Exhibit 1). These scores are based on the group’s health care use in 2015, when the newly attributed cohort was still “healthy,” but they were used during the 2016 performance year. However, calculated scores from the actual experience of the patients during 2016 reveals an average HCC score of 1.34, again indicating that they experienced significant changes in health status. While the new policy of allowing for an increase helps account for these changes, 3 percent may not be adequate.

Prospective Attribution May Mitigate Some Of The Impact Of Adverse Selection

The methodology for attribution of Medicare beneficiaries to ACOs has been a topic of debate since the inception of the MSSP. Under the original model, individuals were assigned to an ACO based on retrospective attribution, meaning that they received a plurality of their services from primary care providers throughout the performance year. If they received no services from a primary care provider, they could be attributed based on services from a specialty care provider. Over the years, CMS has refined the process to increase the likelihood that attribution is based on services from a primary care provider. This results in an ACO not knowing until after the year is over who exactly are their ACO beneficiaries, making it possible for individuals who were in a different ACO the previous year (or not in an ACO at all) to become part of an ACO without that ACO becoming aware until after the fact.

Some of the newer ACO models, notably the Next Generation ACO program, use prospective attribution, whereby only those beneficiaries who received care from the ACO providers in the prior year can be included in the performance year. This method allows for removal of beneficiaries throughout the year but no additions. Under the previous regulations, beneficiaries in MSSP Track 1 were attributed retrospectively, potentially resulting in ACOs becoming responsible for previously healthy individuals who were not part of the ACO in the prior year but whose health status deteriorated during the performance year, thereby driving up average costs without the ACO having meaningful opportunity to intervene. Under the new MSSP regulations, ACOs annually choose whether beneficiaries are assigned through retrospective or prospective attribution, potentially mitigating some of the adverse selection concern.

Looking Ahead

Going forward, it will be important for policy makers and evaluators alike to consider unique program elements that may result in adverse selection or other untoward consequences that are beyond the control of an individual ACO. In the meantime, CMS and ACO leaders can make some choices that help ameliorate some of the unintended or undesirable consequences. CMS can continue to look for ways to evolve program rules, including consideration of additional risk-adjustment methodologies. ACO leaders can choose prospective attribution to avoid adverse selection, especially if their ACO includes hospitals or large specialty groups. CMS can also eliminate the disparities in the program rules between hospital-based and physician-led ACOs, at least until there is increased clarity around differential performance. Ultimately, continued evaluation and program refinement, allowing for successful participation by all different types of ACOs, will be necessary to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries receive the highest-quality, affordable care and that the program is a good steward of taxpayer funds.

 

 

Scale: blessing or burden for statewide ACOs?

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/scale-blessing-or-burden-for-statewide-acos/551206/

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Scale can smooth out quality variation and assuage providers’ fears of taking on risk. But it’s not a catch-all solution.

A handful of accountable care organizations are moving to cover an entire state, but not everyone thinks bigger is better when it comes to population health management.

Caravan Health, a company that works with ACOs, last week announced the launch of its second statewide program, this time in Florida. In the model, any of the 200-some Florida Hospital Association facilities that want to participate can join together to provide coordinated care.

The bid is meant to bolster care quality for Medicare beneficiaries while lowering costs and risk for participating facilities. But some experts say the larger scale, like rampant consolidation, could be more like an anchor weighing down an ACO instead of a beam propping it up.

“At the end of the day, success or failure is based on success in managing the quality of care,” Michael Abrams, partner at Numerof & Associates told Healthcare Dive. “While there may be some bigger numbers involved, I think the safety angle that they’re selling may not be all it’s cracked up to be.”

Caravan has no plans to back down on the model, however, and plans to roll out two more statewide ACOs in the next couple of weeks.

ACOs existed before the Affordable Care Act, but in 2011 HHS released new rules under the landmark law aimed at helping providers coordinate care through the population health management programs. Since then, the number of ACOs have grown dramatically, from an estimated 32 to more than 1,000 in 2018, according to Leavitt Partners.

A statewide all-payer ACO in Vermont has seen some success, but Caravan’s model and its efforts are some of the first to leverage the programs over a much larger population.

The business model

The Florida ACO, created in partnership with the FHA, is the second from Kansas City-based Caravan. The first, in Mississippi, was launched in January. Under the program, hospitals have access to Caravan’s population health management model to build primary care capacity and monitor quality results.

Mississippi currently has 29 providers participating in the program, managing care for roughly 130,000 Medicare patients in 22 locations. Its operations include hiring and training population health nurses throughout the state, annual wellness visits, chronic care management and more.

It’s potentially a good business playbook for both parties. The hospital association captures a revenue stream that’s not dependent on their membership — increasingly important in these days of sharp provider headwinds — and Caravan is granted access to the Medicare lives of a couple hundred hospitals in the state.

The need for population health management is especially acute in Mississippi, which ranks last or close to last in every leading health outcome, according to the state Department of Health. Florida and Mississippi couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to their primary care infrastructure, a factor linked to ACO success. According to the NCQA database, Florida has 894 patient-centered medical homes. Mississippi has 74.

“With population health, we improve the health of our state so it’s a win-win all the way around,” Paul Gardner, the director of rural health at the Mississippi Hospital Association told Healthcare Dive.

And Caravan, which currently works with more than 225 health systems and 14,000 providers, touts its track record with its programs. In 2017, its ACOs beat nationwide ACO performance with savings of $54 million and quality scores of 94%, a spokesperson said.

By comparison, studies have yielded mixed results when it comes to ACO success elsewhere.

An April report from Avalere found the Medicare Shared Savings Program, a CMS model to foster ACOs in Medicare, missed federal cost-savings projections from 2010 by a wide margin and raised federal spend by $384 million.

But a National Association of ACOs analysis retorted that MSSP ACOs saved $849 million in 2016 alone, and a whopping $2.66 billion since 2013 (higher than CMS’ $1.6 billion estimate). And an early 2017 JAMA Internal Medicine analysis found ACO savings only increase with time.

Scale: protection or illusion?

The threat of financial loss is a leading obstacle to participation in ACOs. Smaller ACOs are more likely to experience widely variable savings and losses simply due to change, Caravan representatives say, while larger ACOs deliver more predictable and sustainable results.

“The only way we can create certainty around our income is to have processes and accountability and the infrastructure, but you’ve also got to have to scale,” Caravan CEO Lynn Barr told Healthcare Dive. Barr said that since Caravan’s 2014 inception, the company has found having 100,000 Medicare lives or more in an ACO yields larger savings than the roughly 80-85% of ACOs with only 20,000 lives or fewer.

As the owner of the ACOs, Caravan assumes 75% of the financial risk for providers. Barr said that evens out to a maximum risk of $100 per patient.

By comparison, in the basic track of the Medicare Shared Savings Program, the maximum risk for providers is $400 per patient. In the enhanced model it’s $1,500. “With our model, if people follow it and have 100,000 lives, there’s no reason they would ever write a check,” Barr said.

That is one of the selling features of the statewide ACO: It can be a mitigating factor for hospitals that might feel too exposed on their own, Abrams said.

But the threat of risk could still prove too much. CMS finalized new rules for shared savings ACOs in December, shaving down the amount of time they had before they were forced to assume downside risk from six year to two years for new ACO participants or three years for new, low-revenue ACOs.

And some critics say it’s a safe bet that the losses incurred by any one organization are not going to be spread across the other parties in the ACO, especially given the shortened timeline. As the deadline for assuming more risk approaches, Caravan could see attrition among providers who don’t feel ready.

“I think this is very, very, very challenging,” nonprofit primary care advocacy Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative Director Ann Greiner told Healthcare Dive. “Most of the hospital leadership has not been working under these kinds of conditions.”

And ACOs are all about a connection to the community, which might prove difficult to foster across an entire state.

“You’ve got to leverage people at the community level and have those relationships with the patient and, in the ideal world, know where to refer,” Greiner said. “At the state level, that’s pretty far removed.”

Unified governance, heterogeneity pose problems

The scale of large ACOs makes them much more difficult to manage, experts say. ACOs have a single set of policies that, in an organization involving more parties, needs to be adopted in one form or another that’s acceptable to all participating providers.

That’s done by majority, Barr said. Each participating provider has a single vote and the overall vote binds the ACO board’s decision on waiver approval, discharge standards, shared savings distribution plans and more.

But in an ACO with a lot of differently cultured and structured providers — academic hospitals, teaching hospitals, acute care, research, small, medium, large etc. — it can get a lot more complicated, Abrams said. For example, if 100 FHA hospitals opt into the new Caravan Health model, that’s 100 variations in acute care policy, physician compensation and all else involved in managing cost and quality operations, and 100 different voices strongly advocating to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them.

“Some issues are just working through the details,” Gardner from the Mississippi Hospital Association said. “In some of your larger systems, that’s getting the medical staff all pulled together and singing off the same sheet of music.”

The more homogeneous the ACO organizations are, the easier it will be to get them to buy in to the various policies and procedures that need to be put in place for operations to flow smoothly. “You can’t outsource that,” Abrams said. “The most you can do is get guidance from someone who’s perhaps been around this block about how to handle it.”

Barr maintains Caravan standardizes the most important factors.

“Nurses are critical to this model,” Barr said. “That’s what everyone’s doing the same.” Caravan has found that after nurses are trained in population health management over three to six months, each dollar the company spends on that provider produces two dollars in savings.

And, after Caravan puts the population health management infrastructure in place, the providers themselves helm the ship with a steering committee, leveraging data to see what differentiates them from the next community and making slight adjustments to course-correct.

Challenges for hospitals

Hospitals will face two challenges: taking in the coordinated framework given to them by Caravan and translating it into behavioral change, Abrams said. The success of the overall ACO will depend on the latter as “those who can’t do that successfully will probably self-select out when it comes time to take on risk.”

The question is whether Caravan can really deliver on some of the promises it’s explicitly making.

“The truth is that hospitals who haven’t had the infrastructure to manage their cost and quality are not better off in terms of consolidation and a position in a larger ACO,” Abrams said. “So an ACO comprised of multiple small hospitals and independent hospitals can’t expect savings proportionate to their aggregate size.”

With more statewide ACOs on the way, it’s important Caravan (and partnering providers) work out any kinks in the model sooner rather than later.

“This is not like bringing in a plumber to fix your faucet,” Abrams said. “At the end of the day, an organization stands on its own.”

 

 

HOW EMPLOYERS ARE FIXING HEALTHCARE

https://hbr.org/cover-story/2019/03/how-employers-are-fixing-health-care

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/how-employers-are-fixing-healthcare?utm_source=silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ENL_190314_LDR_FIN_resend%20(1)&spMailingID=15292235&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1601132792&spReportId=MTYwMTEzMjc5MgS2

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A 56-year-old man who works at Walmart — we’ll call him Bill — had been suffering from mild neck pain for years. Recently the pain had worsened, and his wife noticed a subtle tremor in his hands. An MRI showed some narrowing of the spinal column along with disc degeneration. A local surgeon explained that Bill’s best option was spine surgery.

 

The noble aim of being a great subcontractor

https://gisthealthcare.com/weekly-gist/

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Earlier this month I was at a health system board meeting in which we were discussing the transition from volume to value, and the shift to a population health model. One board member had the courage to ask a tough question: “What if we never get there?” Covering just a small slice of a large metropolitan area, this system has consistently ranked third in market share behind two larger competitors—and now they feel they are lagging those systems in moving toward risk. The most recent challenge: a large—and until recently, loyal—independent primary care group had just been acquired by one of their competitors. Yet the system prides itself, justifiably, on delivering low-cost hospital care and outstanding quality.

I raised a heretical notion: suppose the system pursued a strategy focused solely on being the highest-performing inpatient and specialty care provider in the market, and abandoned the goal of bearing population risk? Could the system shift their focus to simply being the best “subcontractor” to other risk-bearing networks in the market?

The ensuing conversation was uncomfortable, to say the least. The notion challenged the system’s assumptions of the role they wanted to play in the market, and whether they could be a leader in population health. I encouraged them to think of being a “subcontractor” to other risk-bearing organizations not as a defeat, but as fulfillment of a vital role—healthcare in their community would be better if more hospital care were delivered at their level of cost and quality.

Our view: for many smaller systems who are driven by a desire to remain independent, becoming a high-performing care subcontractor may be the best path forward, and the most realistic. (It will be interesting to watch the successful investor-owned chains on this front—organizations whose strategic advantage lies in running highly-efficient, low-cost hospitals.) It’s not as sexy as “population health”, but as any builder will tell you, there’s no substitute for a great subcontractor.

Duke, UNC Health among health systems to join value-based program with Blue Cross NC

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/duke-wake-forest-among-health-systems-to-join-value-based-arrangement-blue-cross-nc

Duke Medical

Five major health systems are teaming up with one of North Carolina’s largest insurers to launch a new value-based care program.

Duke University Medical Center, University of North Carolina Health Care, Wake Forest Baptist Health, WakeMed Health and Hospitals, Cone Health and their respective accountable care organizations (ACOs) will join the new program led by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC).

Under the new program, called Blue Premier, Blue Cross NC and the health systems will be jointly responsible for better health outcomes and patient experiences while lowering costs. The idea is to make providers share risk for higher costs and inefficiencies in the healthcare system in exchange for reaping the rewards of the savings.

The total payments to the health system under Blue Premier will be based on the health systems’ ability to manage the total cost of care and their overall performance.

“Historically, our healthcare system pays for services that may or may not improve a patient’s health, and our customers simply cannot afford this approach,” said Patrick Conway, M.D., Blue Cross NC president and CEO and the former head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), in a statement. “Moving forward, insurers, doctors and hospitals must work together, and hold each other accountable for improving care and reducing costs.”

The news comes just a month after Blue Cross NC announced a partnership with Aledade, a well-funded startup that partners with primary care physicians to build and lead ACOs, to launch a new initiative that will support hundreds of independently owned and operated primary care physician clinics in the state in value-based care.

The insurer has an established history of working with the health systems to find ways to drive down costs. In August, Blue Cross NC worked out a deal with UNC Health in a move that reduced premiums on the ACA exchange. However, at the same time, the insurer cut ties with WakeMed and Duke Health by discontinuing its Blue Local exchange.

Blue Cross NC has said that by 2020, it plans to have at least half of its members with a provider who is working under a value-based contract. 

 

 

Loosening Up Stark and Anti-Kickback Laws: What Would It Look Like?

https://mailchi.mp/burroughshealthcare/pc9ctbv4ft-1611881?e=7d3f834d2f

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The Department of Health and Human Services under the Trump administration has taken a deregulatory approach toward healthcare delivery. Its efforts on the payer side includes expanding the availability of individual health insurance policies that don’t conform to the rules of the Affordable Care Act, and more recently liberalizing the use of tax credits to purchase them.

However, the HHS has made one of its boldest proposals on the provider side. Over the summer, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a request for information (RFI) regarding potentially loosening up the Stark and anti-kickback laws.

Originally signed into law in 1972, the Anti-Kickback Statute barred any sort of renumeration to a provider to induce the referral of a patient. The Stark Law, enacted in 1990, bars doctors from referring Medicare or Medicaid patients to any ‘designated facility’ in which they have any form of a financial relationship. Both laws have been updated – and strengthened – numerous times in the intervening years. The HHS’ proposed changes would signal a shift away from how those laws are interpreted.

According to Mark Hardiman, partner with the Nelson Hardiman healthcare law firm in Los Angeles, the move represents a desire by HHS “to move all payments away from fee-for-service and make the providers at risk on both the upside and downside.”

Although the proportion of fee-for-service payments made to Medicare providers has shrunk in recent years, it still comprises the majority. A total of $392 billion in Medicare fee-for-service payments were made in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56 percent of all payments made from the program. Although that’s down from 70 percent of all Medicare payments made a decade prior, the continuing aging of the Baby Boomer population and healthcare cost inflation is putting pressure on CMS and HHS to find ways to continue to pare back costs. Coordinated care initiatives such as accountable care organizations comprise just a small fraction of all Medicare payments, and many providers are balking about taking on too much downside financial risk when forming accountable care organizations.

 According to HHS, the intent is to make it easier for providers to implement value-based care initiatives. “Removing unnecessary government obstacles to care coordination is a key priority for this administration,” said HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan of the rationale behind the regulatory review. “We need to change the healthcare system so that it puts value and results at the forefront of care, and coordinated care plays a vital role in this transformation.”

Nonetheless, the hospital sector has been generally supportive of regulatory changes. In testimony to a U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee over the summer, Michael Lappin, chief integration officer at Advocate Aurora Health, observed that strict liability rules discourage value-based arrangements.

So, what would the healthcare delivery environment resemble with looser regulations governing both laws?

   According to Hardiman, the changes HHS is seeking to the regulations are far from sweeping.
“They are really on the margins, and they are not signaling a fundamental shift in the enforcement of the Stark and  Anti-Kickback Law,” he said. 

Why would there not be a major regulatory unraveling? Hardiman notes that doing so would create chaos in healthcare delivery. Moreover, qui tam(whistleblower) lawsuits in healthcare have become a major source of income for attorneys, and they would object to too much of an unwinding. Data from the non-profit watchdog organization Taxpayers Against Fraud bears that out: Of the more than $3.7 billion in False Claims Act settlements reached in 2017, $2.4 billion involved litigation involving healthcare enterprises. It was the eighth consecutive year that healthcare case settlements topped $2 billion. Hardiman also noted that more and more litigation is being settled for large sums even when the U.S. Justice Department declines to intervene in a case.

Hardiman believes that if the regs are loosened, they would likeliest be in the form of a “series of fraud and abuse waivers.” They would cover initiatives such as managed care ventures or ACOs, making it easier for hospitals and physicians to collaborate on care coordination, as well create models to more equitably share expenses and profits and encourage cross-referrals.

“You are going to see a much more comprehensive definition as to what types of risk-sharing arrangements will not be reviewed as renumeration under the kickback statute,” Hardiman said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see safe harbors around Medicare Advantages, ACOs, and participants in other innovative risk-sharing arrangements.”

Individual physicians and medical groups may also have the opportunity to pay inducements to patients to lose weight or engage in another health-enhancing activity – something they are currently barred from doing under most circumstances.

“Everybody knows we’re heading toward a value-based coordinated care model,” Hardiman said. “And promoting and incentivizing it is still a risky business. You want at least some practical guideposts.” 

 

Report Looks at ACO Management Alliances

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A new paper published in Milbank Quarterly examines the up and coming industry seeking to manage accountable care organizations and what these companies do and why certain ACOs have choosen to partner with them.

Trust, Money, and Power: Life Cycle Dynamics in Alliances Between Management Partners and Accountable Care Organizations focused on two Medicaid ACOs, finding that tensions typically emerged over power and financial issues.

Using data collected between 2012 and 2017, revealed that management partners brought specific skills and services and also gave providers confidence in pursuing an ACO but, difficulties generally emerged over decision‐making authority, distribution of shared savings, and conflicting goals and values.

To read the report, click here.

 

Five Worrisome Trends in Healthcare

https://www.medpagetoday.com/publichealthpolicy/healthpolicy/72001?pop=0&ba=1&xid=fb-md-pcp&trw=no

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A reckoning is coming, outgoing BlueCross executive says.

A reckoning is coming to American healthcare, said Chester Burrell, outgoing CEO of the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health plan, here at the annual meeting of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Burrell, speaking on Friday, told the audience there are five things physicians should worry about, “because they worry me”:

1. The effects of the recently passed tax bill. “If the full effect of this tax cut is experienced, then the federal debt will go above 100% of GDP [gross domestic product] and will become the highest it’s been since World War II,” said Burrell. That may be OK while the economy is strong, “but we’ve got a huge problem if it ever turns and goes back into recession mode,” he said. “This will stimulate higher interest rates, and higher interest rates will crowd out funding in the federal government for initiatives that are needed,” including those in healthcare.

Burrell noted that 74 million people are currently covered by Medicaid, 60 million by Medicare, and 10 million by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while another 10 million people are getting federally subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance exchanges. “What happens when interest’s demand on federal revenue starts to crowd out future investment in these government programs that provide healthcare for tens of millions of Americans?”

2. The increasing obesity problem. “Thirty percent of the U.S. population is obese; 70% of the total population are either obese or overweight,” said Burrell. “There is an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and coronary artery disease coming from those demographics, and Baby Boomers will see these things in full flower in the next 10 years as they move fully into Medicare.”

3. The “congealing” of the U.S. healthcare system. This is occurring in two ways, Burrell said. First, “you’ll see large integrated delivery systems [being] built around academic medical centers — very good quality care [but] 50%-100% more expensive than the community average.”

To see how this affects patients, take a family of four — a 40-year-old dad, 33-year-old mom, and two teenage kids — who are buying a health insurance policy from CareFirst via the ACA exchange, with no subsidy. “The cost for their premium and deductibles, copays, and coinsurance [would be] $33,000,” he said. But if all of the care were provided by academic medical centers? “$60,000,” he said. “What these big systems are doing is consolidating community hospitals and independent physician groups, and creating oligopolies.”

Another way the system is “congealing” is the emergence of specialty practices that are backed by private equity companies, said Burrell. “The largest urology group in our area was bought by a private equity firm. How do they make money? They increase fees. There is not an issue on quality but there is a profound issue on costs.”

4. The undermining of the private healthcare market. “Just recently, we have gotten rid of the individual mandate, and the [cost-sharing reduction] subsidies that were [expected to be] in the omnibus bill … were taken out of the bill,” he said. And state governments are now developing alternatives to the ACA such as short-term duration insurance policies — originally designed to last only 3 months but now being pushed up to a year, with the possibility of renewal — that don’t have to adhere to ACA coverage requirements, said Burrell.

5. The lackluster performance of new payment models. “Despite the innovation fostering under [Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation] programs — the whole idea was to create a series of initiatives that might show the wave of the future — ACOs [accountable care organizations] and the like don’t show the promise intended for them, and there is no new model one could say is demonstrably more successful,” he said.

“So beware — there’s a reckoning coming,” Burrell said. “Maybe change occurs only when there is a rip-roaring crisis; we’re coming to it.” Part of the issue is cost: “As carbon dioxide is to global warming, cost is to healthcare. We deal with it every day … We face a future where cutbacks in funding could dramatically affect accessibility of care.”

“Does that mean we move to move single-payer, some major repositioning?” he said. “I don’t know, but in 35 years in this field, I’ve never experienced a time quite like this … Be vigilant, be involved, be committed to serving these populations.”

 

 

What’s Driving Health Care Costs?

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180625.872430/full/?utm_term=Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B&utm_campaign=Health%20Affairs%20Sunday%20Update&utm_content=email&utm_source=2018-06-24&utm_medium=email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-ACA%20Round-Up%3B%20Health%20Care%20Costs%3B%20Medicaid%20Expansion%3B%20Prescription%20Drug%20Monitoring%20Programs-_-Read%20More%20%2526gt%3B%2526gt%3B

Value-based payment (VBP) models are an effort to rein in the growth of health care costs and improve quality. However, it’s unclear what overall impact VBP models are having on health care costs. Even though health care is provided at the local level, most evaluations examine health care spending at the national level. To address this disconnect, we conducted quantitative and qualitative market-level assessments. Our goals were to examine the impact of population-based, value-based care within a market; identify what measurable factors were associated with differing costs; and understand how business leaders are thinking about value-based care and cost reduction.

Leavitt Partners, the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), and McManis Consulting, with participation from Mark McClellan at Duke University, conducted three mixed-methods studies:

  1. Growth of Population-Based Payments Is Not Associated with a Decrease in Market-Level Cost Growth, Yet” examined the impact of population-based VBP on per-beneficiary-per-year (PBPY) health care spending and quality of care. The study used growth curve modeling and fixed-effects regression analyses of Medicare and commercial claims data.
  2. Market Factors Associated with Medicare Costs and Cost Growth” examined which market factors are correlated with PBPY health care costs and cost growth within a market using growth curve modeling. The study used and aggregated multiple data sets from public and private sources.
  3. What Is Driving Total Cost of Care? An Analysis of Factors Influencing Total Cost of Care in U.S. Health Care Markets” combined qualitative interviews conducted during site visits of nine markets and the quantitative findings from the studies above to understand factors that may be influencing total cost of care in US health care markets.

Key findings from the studies include:

  • Based on data from 2015, there was no association between an increase in population-based VBP and slowing of health care costs in a given market. Our study did not include episode-based payments.
  • Health care leaders across markets believe further changes to payment and delivery models are coming. Less clear is what, or who, will be the catalyst to push further change.
  • Some stakeholders expressed stronger support for other types of VBP models, including episode-based models and models that address the needs of specific patient groups.
  • The question of “what type of competition” in a market may be more important than “how much” competition. Lower-cost markets featured competition among a few health systems with well-aligned physician practices and geographic coverage across their market.
  • Lower-cost markets appear to benefit from organized mechanisms, including state-sponsored or endorsed reporting agencies, for more transparent sharing of information on provider quality and costs.Based on quantitative and qualitative evidence, the studies contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of competition, integration, and transparency on health care costs in a market. Below, we summarize findings from the three mixed-method studies and provide some policy implications.

Population-Based VBP Models Are Not Lowering Market-Level Health Care Costs … Yet

VBP dates back to 2005 with the Physician Group Practice Demonstration. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) significantly accelerated the proliferation of VBP models with the creation of the Medicare Shared Savings Program(MSSP) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which was tasked with developing and testing innovative new models. Commercial VBP arrangements have also taken hold in the years since the ACA’s passage.

Given the growth of VBP, we wanted to examine whether, in the first few years following the ACA, these models were influencing the total cost of care. We used Medicare data from 2012 to 2015 and commercial data from 2012 to 2014 to assess the early impact of these models. We restricted our study to population-based VBPs, which included models with upside risk only (shared savings), both upside and downside risk, and global budgets, but excluded episode-based (bundled) payments.

We did not find a statistical relationship between the level of penetration of population-based VBPs in a market and a decline in health care costs for Medicare or commercial payers. Nor did we find an improvement in quality. When we limited our analysis to just those markets with higher levels of population-based VBP penetration (at least 30 percent), our results suggested a very modest, not statistically significant, market-level decrease in cost growth. Despite this null finding, our results provide an important baseline for future research.

Possible Explanations

There are several potential explanations for the null findings. For one, our study period (2012–15) may simply have been too early to see signs of population-based VBP lowering health care costs. Although today 561 MSSP accountable care organizations (ACOs) (the largest of Medicare’s ACO programs) cover 10.5 million beneficiaries, at the beginning of our study period in 2012 and 2013, only 220 MSSP ACOs covered 3.2 million beneficiaries. Many interviewees told us not enough lives were covered under VBP. Indeed, in some markets, less than 1 percent of lives were part of a VBP arrangement.

Second, although participation in population-based VBP models is growing, few models involve the provider taking on downside risk. As of 2018, the majority (82 percent) of MSSP ACOs were in the non-risk-bearing Track 1, which means they share in savings if they spend less money than their assigned benchmark, but they will not incur financial losses if they spend more than the benchmark. Our site visits found that although different markets had varying levels of population-based VBP activity, no market had significant numbers of providers participating in downside risk. Several interviewees stressed the need to take incremental steps to more risk.

Fee-for-service payment remains quite profitable for many providers and health systems. Even for those that have begun to take on risk-based contracts, fee-for-service payment represents the majority of total revenue. As long as the status quo remains lucrative, it’s difficult to make the business case for why a provider should undertake the effort to switch to a value-based focus that may lead to a reduction in use and total revenue.

Still, several interviewees said they believed the move toward paying for value would continue, even if there’s some uncertainty over whether Medicare or private payers will lead the movement. It’s possible that when VBP models outweigh fee-for-service payments in a market, we’ll reach a “tipping point” and health care cost growth will decline. Many interviewees expressed enthusiasm for other VBP models, such as those based on episodes of care (bundled payments) and those designed for specific populations (for example, the frail elderly). These models may make more sense for specialty providers who perform a certain type of procedure or care for a certain type of patient.

Other Market Factors

If these initial population-based VBPs results don’t show a relationship to health care cost growth, then which market-level factors do correlate? For our second quantitative analysis, we used a variety of public and private data sources to examine the relationship among several market-level factors beyond value-based payment and Medicare costs and cost growth between 2007 and 2015. All the factors together explained 82 percent of variation in baseline Medicare costs (Exhibit 1). 

The prevalence of chronic diseases was the most influential predictor of market costs, accounting for 41.5 percent of the variance. Hospital quality metrics, market socioeconomic status, and the concentration of hospitals and insurers also helped explain market-level costs.

Using these same factors to predict Medicare cost growth was less fruitful, explaining only 27 percent of the variation in Medicare cost growth—substantially less than the 82 percent of baseline costs. As Exhibit 2 shows, a much weaker association exists between chronic disease prevalence and Medicare cost growth. Significant additional research should be done to identify factors that predict cost growth.

These findings matter for several reasons. First, they reinforce efforts currently underway to contain costs, including strategies to prevent and better manage chronic conditions, reduce hospital readmissions, and reduce the number of individuals without insurance. Second, although we know less about what drives health care cost growth in a market, meaningfully reducing spending in a market relies on developing strategies that target cost growth, instead of baseline costs. More research that focuses on what’s driving cost growth is needed.

The Role Of Competition And Transparency On Costs

The interviews we conducted add insights into these market-level findings. We identified two distinguishing characteristics of higher- and lower-cost markets: type of competition in the market and degree of transparency in the market. We recognize that while there are some common lessons, health care markets differ significantly and their approaches to care, costs, and VBP models will vary.

Competition

We know competition can help drive down costs and increase quality in health care markets. However, how much competition, and what type, seems to make a difference. For example, we found that the lower-cost markets in our nine site visits had at least one integrated delivery system. Consolidation in these markets had resulted in two to four health systems with geographic coverage across the market. In these markets, physicians were generally employed by the health system or worked in close alignment with it. Health plan competition matters as well, particularly with respect to innovation in new payment and care delivery models. Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two of the lowest-cost markets, both had competitive health plan landscapes.

Conversely, the markets we visited with less integration and seemingly more provider competition actually had higher costs. These included Los Angeles, California (which had higher Medicare costs only), Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. One reason for this may be that there is less focus on addressing unnecessary use in these markets.

Transparency

Transparency is often cited as a strategy that will help contain costs. Similar to competition, the type of transparency effort matters. We found that some lower-cost markets seemed to benefit from organized transparency mechanisms, including state-sponsored or endorsed reporting agencies and employer coalitions that made information on provider quality and costs publicly available. For example, in 2005, the Minnesota Medical Association and health plans in the state together formed MN Community Measure, a nonprofit organization tasked with the collection and dissemination of data on the quality and cost of providers across the state. Today, providers are required to submit data to the organization. Our interviewees expressed optimism but acknowledged more work is needed to optimize consumer-oriented transparency tools, which research has so far shown to have had only minimal use.

Policy Recommendations

Our research led us to three primary policy recommendations to help improve health care quality and lower costs (for additional ones, see the fullstudies).

  1. Continue movement toward payment models that increase financial incentives to manage total cost of care and closely monitor the impact of doing so because our findings show that the majority of payments in a market continue to flow through fee-for-service, instead of value-based arrangements. Experiments should continue with population-based VBP models but should not be confined exclusively to these models. Episode-based payment models, for example, may be better suited to certain types of providers who perform a certain procedure (for example, a knee replacement) instead of care for a general population of patients.
  2. Balance the benefits of competition with the benefits of integration. The lower-cost markets we studied had competition among two and four systems with well-organized provider networks that had been developed through vertical integration or strong alignment of physician practices. Most of the lower-cost markets also had an integrated delivery system—with vertically integrated health plan, hospital, and physician capabilities—as a competitor in the market.
  3. Support more transparent sharing of information on health care cost and quality within markets. Lower-cost markets in the qualitative study had organized mechanisms for the sharing of information on health care cost and quality, whether through employer coalitions, statewide reporting agencies, or both.

Although differences exist among each health care market, all markets can act to improve quality and reduce costs. Our studies suggest several actions different stakeholders in each market can take to improve care for their populations.

 

 

Five Worrisome Trends in Healthcare

https://www.medpagetoday.com/publichealthpolicy/healthpolicy/72001?xid=fb_o_

healthcare; insurance; drugs; drug companies; Government-run Insurance Program Sure to Backfire | iHaveNet.com

A reckoning is coming, outgoing BlueCross executive says.

A reckoning is coming to American healthcare, said Chester Burrell, outgoing CEO of the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health plan, here at the annual meeting of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Burrell, speaking on Friday, told the audience there are five things physicians should worry about, “because they worry me”:

1. The effects of the recently passed tax bill. “If the full effect of this tax cut is experienced, then the federal debt will go above 100% of GDP [gross domestic product] and will become the highest it’s been since World War II,” said Burrell. That may be OK while the economy is strong, “but we’ve got a huge problem if it ever turns and goes back into recession mode,” he said. “This will stimulate higher interest rates, and higher interest rates will crowd out funding in the federal government for initiatives that are needed,” including those in healthcare.

Burrell noted that 74 million people are currently covered by Medicaid, 60 million by Medicare, and 10 million by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), while another 10 million people are getting federally subsidized health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) insurance exchanges. “What happens when interest’s demand on federal revenue starts to crowd out future investment in these government programs that provide healthcare for tens of millions of Americans?”

2. The increasing obesity problem. “Thirty percent of the U.S. population is obese; 70% of the total population are either obese or overweight,” said Burrell. “There is an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, and coronary artery disease coming from those demographics, and Baby Boomers will see these things in full flower in the next 10 years as they move fully into Medicare.”

3. The “congealing” of the U.S. healthcare system. This is occurring in two ways, Burrell said. First, “you’ll see large integrated delivery systems [being] built around academic medical centers — very good quality care [but] 50%-100% more expensive than the community average.”

To see how this affects patients, take a family of four — a 40-year-old dad, 33-year-old mom, and two teenage kids — who are buying a health insurance policy from CareFirst via the ACA exchange, with no subsidy. “The cost for their premium and deductibles, copays, and coinsurance [would be] $33,000,” he said. But if all of the care were provided by academic medical centers? “$60,000,” he said. “What these big systems are doing is consolidating community hospitals and independent physician groups, and creating oligopolies.”

Another way the system is “congealing” is the emergence of specialty practices that are backed by private equity companies, said Burrell. “The largest urology group in our area was bought by a private equity firm. How do they make money? They increase fees. There is not an issue on quality but there is a profound issue on costs.”

4. The undermining of the private healthcare market. “Just recently, we have gotten rid of the individual mandate, and the [cost-sharing reduction] subsidies that were [expected to be] in the omnibus bill … were taken out of the bill,” he said. And state governments are now developing alternatives to the ACA such as short-term duration insurance policies — originally designed to last only 3 months but now being pushed up to a year, with the possibility of renewal — that don’t have to adhere to ACA coverage requirements, said Burrell.

5. The lackluster performance of new payment models. “Despite the innovation fostering under [Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation] programs — the whole idea was to create a series of initiatives that might show the wave of the future — ACOs [accountable care organizations] and the like don’t show the promise intended for them, and there is no new model one could say is demonstrably more successful,” he said.

“So beware — there’s a reckoning coming,” Burrell said. “Maybe change occurs only when there is a rip-roaring crisis; we’re coming to it.” Part of the issue is cost: “As carbon dioxide is to global warming, cost is to healthcare. We deal with it every day … We face a future where cutbacks in funding could dramatically affect accessibility of care.”

“Does that mean we move to move single-payer, some major repositioning?” he said. “I don’t know, but in 35 years in this field, I’ve never experienced a time quite like this … Be vigilant, be involved, be committed to serving these populations.”