Hospital cost containment plateaus, Kaufman Hall reports

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospital-cost-containment-plateaus-kaufman-hall-reports/551173/

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Dive Brief:

  • Hospitals are having a harder time controlling costs through labor and efficiencies and improvement efforts plateaued last year, according to Kaufman Hall’s 2018 National Flash Report. Profitability indicators show that operating margin improved by about 5% compared to 2017.
  • Kaufman Hall, which analyzed more than 600 hospitals, found that volume trends underperformed compared to the previous year. Higher-acuity patients resulted in higher reimbursement per adjusted discharge and adjusted patient day.
  • Drug expenses are one reason for the cost issues. Drug costs increased by about 4% from 2017. Also, bad debt and charity care grew, though at a slower pace at the end of the year. One piece of good news for hospitals is that revenue increased in 2018.

Dive Insight:

Kaufman Hall found that 2018 was generally a year of improvement in regards to profitability. However, volume indicators showed underperformance as discharges continue to drop.

Revenue indicators showed promise, but an ongoing problem is expenses. Hospitals are trying to contain costs by reducing full-time equivalents and bed numbers. However, those savings only go so far and hospitals expect they’ll need to add staff in the coming years. A recent Healthcare Financial Management Association/Navigant survey reported that 78% of hospital CFOs said their organizations’ labor budgets will grow in the coming years, with 18% expecting an increase of more than 5%.

Another factor working against hospitals is drug costs. A recent InCrowd survey found that physicians are pessimistic that those prices will change, with 82% saying it’s unlikely the situation will improve next year.

The Trump administration backs cutting prescription prices as a way to reduce costs. HHS released a proposal in January to end safe harbor protections for drug rebates through pharmacy benefit managers in Medicare Part D and Medicaid managed care plans. Those savings would instead go directly to consumers.

Hospitals have implemented cost-containment strategies, but the report shows there comes a point when hospitals can’t cut anymore. It appears the industry may have reached that point. “Hospitals will need to think more innovatively on how to manage expense,” according to the report.

Kaufman Hall pointed specifically to the West, which experienced “worsening labor efficiency.” Hospitals in this region “need to consider how to employ more advanced approaches to labor management,” the authors wrote.

There are other ways to squeeze dollars out of hospital costs, according to a recent McKinsey & Company report. It estimated that between $1.2 trillion and $2.3 trillion could be saved over the next decade on productivity gains and not expanding the workforce. The report highlighted potential opportunities to improve productivity through efficiency and care coordination.

 

 

How Medicare Advantage steers the Silver Tsunami into coordinated, value-based care

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/how-medicareadvantage-steers-silver-tsunami-coordinated-value-based-care

CMS and other health insurers are using the program to deliver innovative and unique value to customers, both in terms of cost and quality.

Today’s Medicare Advantage plans are flourishing and the Silver Tsunami is among the reasons.

“Over the last four years, Medicare Advantage enrollment increased by more than 30 percent, while the number of people eligible for Medicare grew by about 18 percent,” said Steve Warner, vice president of Medicare Advantage Product for UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement.

Other reasons for the growth: Innovative models from big insurers and upstarts alike that improve care for health plan members and drive revenue for payers as they look beyond fee-for-service.

IT STARTS WITH THE CONSUMER

Consumers are finding unique value in MA, both in terms of the quality of care and in the financial value.

Medicare Advantage, in fact, makes it easier for consumers to navigate the healthcare system and choose providers, in a way that traditional Medicare does not, said those interviewed.

“Actually it’s pretty hard to navigate the healthcare system on your own,” said Tip Kim, chief market development officer at Stanford Health Care. “Most Medicare Advantage plans have some sort of care navigation.”

Warner of UnitedHealth’s Warner added that Medicare Advantage also offers value and simplicity.

“It provides the convenience of combining all your coverage into one plan so you have just one card to carry in your wallet and one company to work with,” Warner said. “Most plans also offer prescription drug coverage and additional benefits and services not available through original Medicare, including dental, vision and fitness.”

REBRANDING FOR THE NEW ERA

MA plans did not emerge out of thin air. By another name, Medicare Advantage is managed care, a term that was the bane of healthcare during the height of HMOs in the 1980s.

“Medicare Advantage has rebranded ‘managed care’ to ‘care coordination,'” said consultant Paul Keckley of The Keckley Report. “Humana and a lot of these folks have done a pretty good job. Coordinating care is a core competence. Managed care seems to be working in this population.”

MA came along at the right time for CMS’s push to value-based care.

“I would suggest on the providers’ side, embracing Medicare Advantage is an opportunity to get off the fee-for-service mill,” said Jeff Carroll, senior vice president of Health Plans for Lumeris, which recently paired with Stanford Health Care on the Medicare Advantage plan, Stanford Health Care Advantage.

“Provider-sponsored Medicare Advantage plans are a way to put teeth into an accountable care organization,” Keckley added. “Medicare Advantage success is a silver tsunami among major tsunamis. Obviously it’s a profitable plan for seniors and profitable for underwriters. The winners in the process will get this to scale.”

MA is an innovative model that is not a government-run system, but a privately-run system essentially funded by the government.

PAYERS IN THE MA GAME

UnitedHealthcare has the largest MA market share of any one insurer.  Twenty-five percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees are in a UnitedHealthcare MA plan, followed by 17 percent in Humana, 13 percent in a Blue Cross Blue Shield and 8 percent in Aetna, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Numerous insurers, in fact, have gotten into the MA market, including Clover Health in San Francisco, a five-year-old startup which has Medicare Advantage as its only business.

Clover is a tech-oriented company that boasts machine learning models that can accurately predict and identify members at risk of hospitalization.

Because Clover focuses only on MA, it can do a better job at problem solving the needs of an older population, said Andrew Toy, president and CTO of Clover Health.

“The problems we face in Medicare Advantage are very different from a younger generation,” Toy said.

Forty percent of the older population is diabetic. Most seniors will be dealing with a chronic disease as they get older.

In other insurance, whether its individual or commercial, the lower cost of the healthier population offsets the cost of the sicker population. MA has no way to offset these costs. Plans can’t cherry-pick consumers or raise premiums for a percentage of the population.

What MA plans can do is design plans that fit the varying needs of the population. A plan can be designed for diabetics. For younger seniors or those not dealing with a chronic disease, a plan can be designed that includes a gym membership.

“All these plans are regulated,” Toy said. “We have the flexibility to move dollars around. We can offer a higher deductible plan, or a nutrition plan. The incentives for us in Medicare Advantage are different than the incentives in Medicare. CMS has explored giving us more leeway for benefits. Consumers have a choice while still having the guarantees of Medicare.”

Toy believes regular Medicare is more expensive because MA offers a more affordable plan based on what an individual needs.

“When you need it, we get more involved in that care,” Toy said, such as “weight control issues for diabetics.”

The drawbacks are narrower networks, though Toy said Clover offers an out-of-network cost sharing that is pretty much in line with being in-network.

UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare Advantage LPPO plans offer out-of-network access to any provider who accepts Medicare, Warner said.

UnitedHealthcare also offers a wide variety of low and even zero-dollar premium Medicare Advantage plans and annual out-of-pocket maximums, Warner said. By contrast, original Medicare generally covers about 80 percent of beneficiaries’ healthcare costs, leaving them to cover the remaining 20 percent out-of-pocket with no annual limit.

“From a consumer value proposition, it makes Medicare Advantage a better deal,” Kim said. “One is Part B, 20 percent of an unknown number. Knowing what the cost will be in a predictable manner is a preferable manner.”

Stanford Health Care launched a Medicare Advantage plan in 2013. Lumeris owned and operated its own plan, Essence Healthcare, for more than eight years. Stanford and Lumeris partnered on Stanford Health Care Advantage in northern California, using Lumeris technology to help manage value-based reimbursementand new approaches to care delivery through artificial intelligence-enabled diagnostic tools and other methods.

“We are not a traditional insurance company,” Kim said. “We’re thinking about benefits from a provider perspective. It’s a different outlook than an insurance company. By definition we’re local.”

MA MARKET STILL HAS ROOM TO GROW

While the Medicare Advantage market is competitive, it is also under-penetrated, Brian Thompson, CEO for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, said during a 2018 earnings report.

Currently, about 33 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries are in an MA plan, he added, but UnitedHealth sees a path to over 50 percent market concentration in the next 5-10 years.

It’s a path not so subtly promoted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As a way to encourage insurers to take risk and get in the market, around 2009, CMS gave MA insurers 114 percent of what it paid for fee-for-service Medicare. The agency began decreasing those payments so that by 2017, traditional Medicare and MA became about even.

MA insurers instead thrive on their ability to tailor benefits toward wellness, coordinate care and contain costs within the confines of capitated payments, the essence of value-based care.

They have received CMS support in recent rate notices that gives them the ability to offer supplemental benefits, such as being able to target care that addresses the social determinants of health. Starting in 2020, telehealth is being added to new flexibility for these plans.

WHAT THE FUTURE MAY HOLD FOR MA

Medicare Advantage plans have expanded and, in so doing, opened innovative new options for plans and their customers alike at the same time that the ranks of people eligible for Medicare continues to swell.

So where is it all going?

Medicare Advantage is changing the way healthcare is paid and delivered to the point that Keckley and Toy agreed the future may not lie in Medicare for All, but in Medicare Advantage for all.

“I think a reasonable place to end, is in some combination where the government is involved in price control, combined with the flexibility of Medicare Advantage,” Toy said. “That’s really powerful.”

 

 

A review of health care costs: deck chairs and the Titanic, part 1

https://stateofreform.com/news/federal/2019/02/deck-chairs-and-the-titanic-part1/?utm_source=State+of+Reform&utm_campaign=ccf3275364-5+Things+CA+July+2_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_37897a186e-ccf3275364-272256165

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This article is Part I of a two-part series on the cost of health care and its component parts. Part I explores the recent growth of health care costs in the United States as well as the utilization inputs in the cost equation.

Part II will break down the pricing component of cost, determined by market leverage and the cost of delivering services. 


 

If you ask policymakers, industry leaders, and health care consumers, many will tell you that their number one concern with health care today is the cost.

For the most part, as a society we’ve moved past the days when access or quality were of primary concern to stakeholders. I would wager it’s not because those issues aren’t important.  Everyone knows we have wild challenges still with access and quality.

Rather, the acuity of the cost problem has risen so much, so quickly, that cost as an issue overshadows everything else.

This is a big topic, but it’s not really that hard to understand. Health care costs are actually a simple story.

There are only two categories of health care costs in America today. There are the deck chairs, and there is the Titanic.

Context matters, so let’s start there

Here’s one data point, but it’s largely the same point everywhere you look in health care.

These are average annual premiums for single and family coverage in the employer-based market. Those costs have doubled in the last 14 years, reflecting an average annual growth rate of roughly 5 percent since 2004.

 

 

Here’s another data point. According to CMS in an article in Health Affairs, “health care spending growth averaged 4.3 percent per year during 2008–17, compared to an average annual rate of 7.3 percent over the 1998–2007 period.” That might seem like costs are slowing, but it’s not the whole story.

Remember the “Great Recession?” It was the period of time when the economy almost fell apart. So, measuring health care spending growth should be done within some context of the overall economy.

For this, we can use a standard inflation calculator of the overall economy to compare its growth to the growth of health care costs. When viewed this way, health care inflation grew at a multiple of 2.7x the broader economy’s inflation rate between 1998-2007 and a multiple of 3.0x during 2008-2017.

So, not only are costs high in health care today, but they are growing faster than ever compared to overall inflation in the US economy.

 

Moving around the Titanic’s deck chairs

Let’s explore this metaphor a bit.

The Titanic is a big ship with a big deck. And so there are lots and lots of deck chairs to move around. And moving them around can cause authentic improvement to the quality of the experience.

A view out over the bow at a setting sun is a much better view than the one provided by a chair facing the steam funnel. Sometimes, chairs facing other chairs can foster comity and community through conversation. Sometimes, having alone time to ponder the stars in the night sky from the ship deck is nice.

How the chairs are deployed has a meaningful impact on the user’s experience of sailing on the Titanic.

I run with this analogy because there are a lot of things we do in health care today that meaningfully improve the experience, outcome and cost of health care.

You can probably name 10 such efforts without blinking an eye: improved care coordination, tele-health, community health workers, shared risk payment methods, integration of behavioral health, access to oral health, strong vaccination standards, online forums for shared patient experiences, good bedside manners, etc., etc.

All of these initiatives, as well as others, improve care and the user experience. They all can address cost in various ways, too. They can reduce hospital utilization, allow patients to access care remotely, reduce re-admissions or complications from drug interactions. There is a lot to like here that is meaningful and worth our time as a society to implement.

Put differently, in the cost equation where total health care cost equals utilization times prices (THC = U x P), I would categorize these initiatives as part of the utilization input of the cost equation. All of these initiatives address how we access and use health care in our system today.

But, at the end of the day, these are deck chairs.

 

 

Reforming Stark/Anti-Kickback Policies

https://www.brookings.edu/events/reforming-stark-anti-kickback-policies/?utm_campaign=Economic%20Studies&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=69407322

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An event from the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy

In recent years, the health care system has accelerated experimentation into new payment and delivery models that reward care coordination, integration, and value.  However, observers and market participants have expressed concerns that long-standing anti-fraud rules in Medicare and Medicaid prevent innovation and hold back potentially promising new arrangements.  In 2018, the Trump administration sought stakeholder feedback on how the regulations implementing those laws might be modified to promote value-based, coordinated, integrated care delivery while protecting taxpayers and beneficiaries from fraud.

On January 30, 2019 the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy will host Eric Hargan, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, for a discussion about this effort. Following his presentation, experts in health care payment and delivery system reform will discuss the issue and the path forward.

 

 

 

Two key areas hospitals are planning major tech investments in the immediate future

http://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/two-key-areas-hospitals-are-planning-major-tech-investments-immediate-future?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkRsaU5HTTJNVEV5WldaaSIsInQiOiJFSTVVaHdzRmdQTGVCSXZORmhReEkrbVVWNjZOdzhlOWRuRUwxeUVXNktOa2FyNVpQWkc1dXk5SGNTQjc0YndcL3BuUTkrV2xkWEVLd01qWnd2UGNrWTBFTFFzRWxWaGM3bVFOclwvYjNlbXBPSjA2d1prU0tyMmNpQ0Qwdlg4TGhUIn0%3D

 

Providers are ramping up to focus on urgent care centers and population health initiatives.

Hospitals are gearing up to spend more on population health and urgent care centers in the coming years, according to new research from two different firms.

The market for population health technologies is expected to reach $69 billion by 2025 while the urgent care center space is forecasted to grow by roughly $8 billion in 2018 to $25.93 billion by 2023.

The global population health management market was worth $118.5 million in 2016 and is slated to grow at a CAGR of roughly 16 percent from 2017 to 2025, with the rise in demand for innovative technologies and adoption of healthcare IT tools fueling the growth, Transparency Market Research said in a new report.

In terms of end-users, it’s the healthcare provider segment of the market that is expected to account for the largest share of the global market thanks to rising use of PHM tools. Insurers, pharma and “others” follow in terms of segments.

The benefits of PHM tools like data integration, data analysis, care coordination, and lowering care costs have driven an increase in their adoption, especially in the case of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases which require identifying high-risk patients and disease management measures.

“This is one of the factors projected to drive the global population health management market during the forecast period,” the report authors wrote. “Developed healthcare IT infrastructure and increase in healthcare IT spending are the other factors anticipated to propel the global market during the forecast period.”

Geographically, North America and Europe are expected to dominate the market thanks to the Affordable Care Act and a rise in healthcare IT spending, owing largely to providers.

“Well-established healthcare infrastructure and strong support from public and private sectors in terms of reimbursement are attributed to the largest market share of North America,” the firm said. “A rise in awareness about population health and government initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act are anticipated to drive the market during the forecast period.”

Urgent Care Centers, meanwhile, will represent a $26 billion market by 2023, and in this year will reach just over $20 billion, ReportsnReports projected. Health systems and corporations with a stake in the healthcare industry know the model is flourishing thanks to affordable pricing, shorter wait times, an increasing elderly population, and the market is seeing more investment activity as well as strategic development partnerships between urgent care providers and hospitals. Corporate-owned urgent care centers, however, are expected to occupy the largest share of this market in 2018.

Concentra, MedExpress, American Family Care, NextCare Holdings, and FastMed Urgent Care are already major market players with CareNow Urgent Care, GoHealth Urgent Care starting to gain more of a presence as well in the United States.

Health systems looking to diversify their portfolios might do well to look at both urgent care centers and population health programs when considering how to expand their footprints. With a reputation for faster service and better pricing, both things that the rising millennial population smile at, they could be a beacon for both primary and specialty care for younger consumers as opposed to traditional practices. Additionally, with the high-deductible health plans, reasonably priced care will be especially attractive to patients who will bear a greater portion of the financial responsibility related to their care.

As these facilities grow in popularity, including them could boost not only your reputation but also your bottom line.

 

Healthcare execs say EHRs don’t do enough to manage value-based contracts

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/healthcare-execs-say-ehrs-dont-do-enough-to-manage-value-based-contracts/518330/

Dive Brief:

  • A survey of 100 healthcare executives found that most of them are seeing ROI on value-based contracts, but investments in EHRs are not sufficient to manage those contracts.
  • The Sage Growth Partners study found most respondents were not satisfied with their EHRs’ “ability to help them manage core functions necessary to succeed in (value-based care) — such as care coordination, risk stratification, decision support and patient engagement.”
  • About two-thirds of respondents said EHRs are not delivering promises concerning lower costs, better population health management and improved patient and physician satisfaction.

Healthcare providers are increasingly looking to EHRs and third-party population health management solutions to help them with value-based care.

A recent Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) survey found that value-based payment programs doubled since 2015. Nearly three-quarters of executives in the HFMA survey said their organizations achieved positive financial results, including return on investment, from value-based payment programs.

Although providers expect value-based programs to continue to increase, the new Sage Growth Partners survey found dissatisfaction with EHRs and concern they are not helping enough in value-based care. The report found 64% of respondents said EHRs haven’t delivered many critical value-based tools. At least 60% of respondents said they are looking for value-based solutions beyond EHRs.

The survey included a finding that will likely get the attention of EHR and population health management vendors — half of respondents said they are somewhat or highly likely to switch population health management vendors over the next three years.

Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents have had an EHR for at least three years. About half also have third-party population health management solutions. These findings offer a glimpse into the dissatisfaction as well as opportunity in population health management.

The executives surveyed said there are issues with interoperability, addressing social determinants of health, patient engagement, stakeholder coordination and risk analytics. They also spoke of health systems having trouble aggregating and using data from numerous EHR systems and other data sources.

These issues have led half to two-thirds of healthcare executives turning to population health management or do-it-yourself solutions beyond EHRs “to compensate for the lack of these capabilities within their EHRs.” Many of those executives said population health management solutions enabled their value-based success. Those successes are also coming at a lower cost than the investments in EHRs.

The study authors predicted more healthcare executives will look beyond EHRs in the coming years to help with value-based contracting. They said “suboptimal tools” that manage care and costs for populations won’t be enough in coming years.

“As (value-based care) reaches the tipping point, and as they take on programs with greater risk and greater complexity, they will need to continue looking beyond their EHRs to get the functionality they need,” the authors wrote.

 

Longitudinal Patient Care Remains a Challenge Despite Commitment to Value-Based Care Delivery Competencies

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/quality/longitudinal-patient-care-remains-challenge-despite-commitment-value-based-care-delivery?spMailingID=11171271&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1180162832&spReportId=MTE4MDE2MjgzMgS2#

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Provider organizations’ ability to deliver longitudinal value-based care for patients remains a work in progress.

Survey results from the 2017 HealthLeaders Media Value-Based Readiness: Setting the Right Pace survey reveal that the majority of respondents currently demonstrate a broad commitment to developing care delivery competencies to prepare for value-based care.

For example, the top three care delivery areas that respondents say that their organization has committed to developing or has already developed competencies to prepare for value-base care are care coordination/guiding patients to appropriate care (79%), clinical integration (73%), and broader access to care (68%), and the top five areas all receive a response greater than 65%.

On the other hand, longitudinal patient care (40%) is low on the list of responses and is the only area below a 50% response, although its result is up nine points over last year’s survey.

The response for this critical area indicates the early stage at which most respondents currently reside in the transition to value-based care.

Note that as providers continue to commit to developing care delivery competencies to prepare for value-based care, longitudinal patient care will play an increasingly important role as providers manage patient care over longer periods of time and across multiple care settings.

Survey results also reveal that respondents are confident in their ability to deliver value-based care within the various areas of care delivery.

For example, 73% say that their level of ability is very strong (20%) or somewhat strong (53%) for broader access to care, 72% say that their level of ability is very strong (21%) or somewhat strong (51%) for clinical integration, and 72% say that their level of ability is very strong (20%) or somewhat strong (52%) for care coordination/guiding patients to appropriate care.

However, longitudinal patient care receives the lowest rating for respondent organizations’ ability to deliver value-based care in this area. For example, 54% of respondents indicate that this is very weak (11%) or somewhat weak (43%), an indication that it remains a work in progress for respondents.