CVS to Judge: Please Don’t Let Those 7 Witnesses Testify

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/cvs-judge-please-dont-let-those-7-witnesses-testify

The pharmacy chain asked for a narrow hearing on its DOJ-approved purchase of Aetna, as seven witnesses prepare to testify against it.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Both CVS and the DOJ argue the hearing should be narrowly tailored, with at least some witnesses excluded.

If allowed to proceed as proposed, the hearing could devolve into “a forum for airing competitors’ grievances,” CVS warned.

CVS Health asked the federal judge overseeing its acquisition of Aetna to prevent seven witnesses who lined up to testify against the megamerger from speaking at a hearing next month.

Although antitrust regulators with the U.S. Department of Justice greenlit the CVS-Aetna deal last fall, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., made clear that his review should not be seen as a rubber stamp. Leon said he wanted to hear from witnesses before deciding whether to sign off on the DOJ-approved deal.

The seven witnesses put forward by three groups of amici curiae include health policy professors and economists from major universities, but CVS argued in a court filing Friday that Leon should decline altogether to hold a hearing with live witnesses. The planned testimony, as outlined in court filings, includes irrelevant arguments that could turn the hearing “into a forum for airing competitors’ grievances about the CVS-Aetna merger and about the healthcare industry more generally,” attorneys for CVS wrote.

The CVS filing argues that the three groups of amici—the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the American Medical Association (AMA), and Consumer Action with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)—would be advancing their own competitive interests if the hearing were to proceed.

“Amici’s submissions demonstrate that such a hearing is unnecessary in light of the considerable record already before the Court,” attorneys for CVS wrote, “and Amici’s planned presentations, consisting almost exclusively of unreliable competitor testimony on issues that are not relevant to the Court’s Tunney Act determination, will add little, if anything, of value.”

In its own filing Monday, the DOJ argued that Leon should limit the testimony to only those items relevant to the scope of Tunney Act review. The DOJ asked the court to strike five of the seven witnesses entirely and limit of the scope of the testimony offered by the other two.

“These limitations will ensure that the hearing remains within the appropriate statutory and constitutional bounds, and will protect the Executive Branch’s constitutionally mandated control over its resource-allocation decisions in the enforcement of antitrust laws,” DOJ attorneys wrote.

 

 

 

NC hospital system tries another megamerger

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-f500be38-f71e-4984-955b-efc69e20a435.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

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Atrium Health struck out a year ago when it attempted to merge with in-state rival UNC Health Care, Bob reports. Now, the hospital system has inked a new deal to combine with Wake Forest Baptist Health, which is 90 minutes away from its headquarters.

Why it matters: Research overwhelmingly shows these kinds of regional hospital mergers lead to higher health care prices (and, consequently, premiums) because providers gain negotiating leverage and make it harder for health insurers to exclude them from networks.

Between the lines: The primary hook that Atrium and Wake Forest are selling is that they would build a new medical school in Charlotte. Because who could be against more doctors and research?

  • The organizations didn’t mention how, or if, they would try to keep costs and prices down.
  • The combined system would have almost $10 billion of revenue, which is roughly the size of Boston Scientific.

 

Walmart increasingly comparing physicians over cost: 5 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/walmart-increasingly-comparing-physicians-over-cost-5-things-to-know.html?origin=bhre&utm_source=bhre

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Retail giant Walmart is upping its efforts to hand-pick which physicians are most likely to reduce healthcare spending on employees, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Five things to know:

1. Large companies like Walmart are examining data from public records and their own health plans, and tapping consultants, to compare individual physician costs. 

2. The top physicians Walmart chooses sport the best results at the most competitive costs. The company excludes or shies away from others with poor performance metrics.

3. More than 5,000 Walmart health plan members have visited hand-selected physicians. The company’s health plan covers travel and medical costs to pair employees with these top physicians for procedures like surgery and cancer care. 

4. Lisa Woods, senior director of U.S. healthcare at Walmart, told WSJ that the results from choosing top physicians have made the strategy vital. While health plans have narrowed provider networks for their plans, the selection has largely focused on hospitals and physician groups rather than specific physicians.

5. The efforts are paying off for retailers: Walmart, Lowe’s and McKesson Corp. saved about $19.4 million in 2017 when their employees saw specific spine and joint surgeons picked by the employers, according to the Harvard Business Review.

 

 

 

WHAT’S TO KEEP AMAZON FROM COMPETING IN BRICK-AND-MORTAR HEALTHCARE? NOT MUCH

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/whats-keep-amazon-competing-brick-and-mortar-healthcare-not-much

Amazon could join retail clinics already competing with hospitals and health systems to provide outpatient healthcare services.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Amazon’s launch of new ‘urban grocery stores’ could serve as a possible beachhead for expansion into outpatient medical care services.

Amazon plans to offer goods besides food in the grocery stores, creating a potential entry point for it to get into brick-and-mortar retail healthcare.

Even in a digital age where more services are headed online, e-commerce retail giant Amazon could be poised, alongside retail healthcare clinics, to compete with hospitals and health systems on their brick-and-mortar playing fields.

And there’s little preventing Amazon from doing this, especially after news the company is looking to launch new “urban grocery stores,” which could serve as a possible beachhead for expansion into outpatient medical care services. Amazon would join retail providers Walgreens, CVS Health, and Walmart, which are competing already with hospitals and health systems to provide outpatient services in their communities.

This potential competition to hospital outpatient business comes as CVS is testing a “HealthHub” store concept in Houston following its acquisition of health insurer Aetna, and as Walgreens is dedicating armies of Microsoft scientists to a “store of the future.” Analysts expect these retail clinics to change the way U.S. healthcare is delivered, which includes efforts to give patients less need to use the hospital and its ancillary outpatient services.

And why not Amazon as well?

“Amazon’s basic approach has been to create a transactional platform that supports an ecosystem of interrelated products and services,” says Ken Kaufman, managing director and chair of consulting firm Kaufman Hall. “Adding brick-and-mortar stores to its online platform will support Amazon’s grocery business and its competition with Walmart but could be applied to other products and services, including healthcare, which is very much on Amazon’s radar.”

Amazon last year acquired the online pharmacy PillPack and formed a new venture recently named Haven with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to examine ways to lessen the cost of care and improve health outcomes for the three corporate giants’ 1.2 million employees. Amazon’s announcements don’t directly impact hospitals and health systems, though analysts say Amazon, like Walmart, has a laboratory in its large workforce to test what works.

For now, Amazon “plans to launch urban grocery stores that could offer a spectrum of goods that include beauty products alongside food,” as The Wall Street Journal reported. Amazon declined HealthLeaders‘ request for comment on its plans.

But Kaufman sees this as a potential entry point for Amazon to get into brick-and-mortar retail healthcare, given its history to add on services over time from the successful platforms.

For example, Amazon in recent years has opened brick-and-mortar bookstores in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, Amazon said it is closing 87 of the pop-up kiosk variety stores in malls and Kohl’s stores, but it is maintaining Amazon Books and Amazon “4-star” stores that are largely stand-alone sites.

Amazon is looking at a grocery store model that includes leases with more flexibility than traditional commercial leases, as the Journal reported. That could allow Amazon to jump into healthcare services more quickly.

Though it’s unclear what kind of healthcare services and products Amazon could offer, Kaufman thinks that there’s not much keeping Amazon from exploring brick-and-mortar healthcare delivery in the future.

“It is always difficult to predict the long-term intentions behind Jeff Bezos’ short-term moves,” Kaufman said.

“The more comfortable Amazon gets with physical commerce, the easier it will be to pivot toward healthcare,” he added.

 

 

 

Segment 7 – Healthcare Power, Politics & Philosophy

Segment 7 – Healthcare Power, Politics & Philosophy

 

This segment reviews preconditions for having a focused discussion of healthcare reform necessitated by powerful vested interests, and it discusses how to overcome political polarization.

In the first six Segments, we have reviewed the relentless growth of healthcare spending. And how rising costs are literally built into the system as it is now. This review should give us some ideas on how to fix the system.

But before we talk about how to fix the healthcare system, we must first tackle some landmines that lurk beneath the surface. The landmines are power, politics and philosophy. They are the subject of the next 2 Segments.

In this Segment, we will discuss both preconditions necessary for a calm, focused discussion of healthcare reform as well as what I call “loaded” political words. Then in the following Segment we will look at traditional American values and principles that can be brought to bear on resolving the core philosophical dilemma that has kept us from fixing US healthcare all these years.

Let’s start with preconditions. The idea here is that healthcare now comprises 1/6 of the entire US economy. So, there are powerful interests, lots of money, and fierce political convictions that could derail any discussion before it even gets started.

So, I suggest setting preconditions to be agreed on beforehand. Only then can we calmly get into the meat of the discussion. Here are the preconditions.

Slide21

First, for purposes of discussion, let’s agree to keep dollar spending at the 2017 level – no winners, no losers, everything the same.

Second, let’s keep power the same. Keep the AMA, the hospital association, the VA, Health & Human Services, etc. No power struggles.

Third, strive to keep partisan politics out of the discussion. Make it a joint problem-solving project. Give credit where it’s due: to politicians or policy writers who contribute constructively. The motto is: “U.S. spells us.” Healthcare employs 1/6 of us and touches all of us.

Fourth, here’s where I will insert a viewpoint from my 40 years experience as a doctor: Human beings all get the same illnesses, all suffer, all are interconnected mind/body/spirits. I – like all doctors — have taken care of rich and poor, all races and nationalities, religious and non-religious, social outcasts and VIPs, saints and sinners. In a hospital bed or in the doctor’s office, we’re all the same. We should remember, “We’re all in this together”

Lastly, since healthcare is “too big to fail,” whatever is done should be done deliberately, slowly, with monitoring along the way and mid-course corrections when needed. If we accept these preconditions, we can have a Win-Win Discussion.

This kind of discussion should look at Facts, Goals, Values and lastly Methods, the actual Fix.

We have already discussed the Facts. The key facts are:

– the US health system has grown to 3.2 trillion dollars, representing 1/6 of the entire economy

– Cost growth is built into the system, has always outpaced inflation, and has resisted attempts to restrain the growth

– Healthcare spending is draining vitality from the economy, government and individual household budgets

Slide12

Here are the key Goals:

– We must stop excess healthcare growth beyond the natural increase expected from population increase, aging, and innovation.

– To do so will require fundamental reform of the system, not just tinkering with public finance and private insurance

– Since healthcare is “too big to fail”, a key goal is Avoid short-term disruption, again proceed slowly.

Slide13

The last things to discuss before we get to specific Methods – what I am calling the Fix of healthcare – are Politics and Values.

We all know that our country is polarized to an unhealthy extent. This has contributed to political paralysis – not getting anything done. I’m not a political scientist and cannot tackle the whole subject of healthcare politics.

But I do want to look at what I call “loaded words” that creep into our debates on healthcare. These words lock us into a closed, rigid mindset and can shut down discussion.

Let’s look at a few “loaded words” and suggest more neutral words to help keep the discussion open-minded.

Slide16

First is “socialized medicine.” This terminology stirs up the negative connotations of the so-called “Prussian menace” after World War I and “Red scare” after World War II. A more neutral term would be “publicly financed medicine.” The truth of the matter is that currently almost 50% of healthcare is already publicly financed through Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs. The issues behind the loaded words, which do need thoughtful discussion, are accountability; and also advantages and disadvantages of uniformity and nationwide scale, instead of the current fragmented system.

The next loaded terms are “free market” and “competition.” The connotations are freedom from government interference, freedom from politics, consumer freedom, and efficiency. The grain of truth behind the terms is that the law of supply and demand does drive down prices to a balance point in pure markets. The reality, however, is that healthcare is not a pure market, as we saw in Segment 5. Also, markets sometimes leave aside consumers who are poor or powerless, which includes many of the sick. A more neutral term is commercial market.

Next is “rationing.” The connotation is forcibly withholding something from an individual. A more neutral term is “limit-setting” or “prioritizing.” We will talk more about this in the next Segment, and about the need for patients’ to consent to limits on their health service or health insurance. The reality is that we already have de facto rationing by zip code, income level, government budgeting, and hospital technology policies. Prioritizing is not bad – it’s necessary.

Slide18

Another loaded word is “choice.” The connotation is that the government will interfere in choice of doctor or into the doctor-patient relationship itself. This was one of the scare tactics used by the insurance association in 1993 to bring down the President Clinton’s health reform plan. But the reality is that insurance network plans restrict patient choice of doctor more than government rules do. In addition, doctor inclusion in Medicaid – and other insurance plans, for that matter — is often a matter of the pay scales set by Medicaid or insurance companies, not the choices made by patients.

And the last loaded term I’ll mention is “big government.” The connotation goes back to President Reagan saying, “Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” We always hear about the Army’s 100-dollar toilet seats (in 1986 dollars) and the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare website.

Slide19

And the truth is that government is big and can be just as flawed as any big institution. However, national government, unlike private companies, is legally transparent and accountable. Also, Government can fulfill some functions more effectively and efficiently than some private sector piecemeal approaches. Here are examples: FAA, FDA, FCC. Currently the military enjoys a high regard. Some examples of public-private partnerships are the moon shot, internet and healthcare research. Medicare has an enviable customer satisfaction rating of 77%.

The reality is that we are now a nation (and world) of big institutions – for-profit, non-profit, government, academic. All have institutional governance and administrative challenges, which are studied by the disciplines of public administration and business administration. Public administration and business administration tell us how best to run big institutions so as to fulfill their mission and to remain accountable and transparent. More neutral terms instead of “big government” are: public sector programs or taxpayer-funded program.

So we have some better neutral terminology to use for discussing healthcare to avoid inflammatory polemical words.

In the next Segment we will look at American values at stake in health care. We will also look at what philosophers say is a fair way to run US healthcare.

I’ll see you then.

 

 

Segment 2 – Brief History of U.S. Healthcare

Segment 2 – Brief History of U.S. Healthcare

Slide04

In Segment 2, I will answer the question, How Did We Get Here? I’ll give a whirlwind tour of the history of medical care in the U.S., and I’ll also look at the birth of health insurance.

Let’s start with looking at healthcare in the Colonial period. The most famous doctor at the time was Benjamin Rush. He – like most reputable professionals of the day – got his medical training in Europe, in his case Edinburgh, Scotland, the leading medical center of the time. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and served in the Revolutionary Army. He became the “father of American psychiatry” because of his interest in mental illness as a disease, not demon possession.

Rush and other orthodox practitioners in the early Republic –trained in the scientific European tradition– faced competition from a panoply of practitioners in an unlicensed, unregulated “free market.” They peddled nostrums like snake oil and procedures such as blood-letting. Doctors of all types trained like apprentices. The sick were cared for in their homes, with the poor going to almshouses and mentally ill to asylums. Port cities did have public pesthouses for quarantines.

By mid-19th century, orthodox doctors began trying to solidify their place in the market. They did this through training at medical schools, beginning with Harvard, Dartmouth, College of Philadelphia (which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania) and King’s College (which eventually became Columbia). But by 1850 there were now 42 medical schools that often were little more than diploma mills. The course consisted of only two semesters of 3 months each. The medical school needed only 4 faculty, 1 classroom, 1 dissection lab and a charter to grant degrees. These schools were highly profitable.

In 1847, the AMA (American Medical Association) was founded by the orthodox physicians.

Meanwhile, the era of scientific medicine was blossoming in Austria, Britain, Germany and France. Here are some milestones – anesthesia, microbiology study of invisible germs, antiseptic surgery technique and x-rays.

In America, by the turn of the century, doctors and the AMA sought to further shore up their legitimacy by reforming medical education. States began requiring more formal education as a condition for licensure. The Association of Medical Colleges was founded in 1876. In 1893, Dr. William Welch brought to Johns Hopkins University the German model of education based on 3 or 4 years of training in clinical sciences. Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie hired Abraham Flexner in 1910 to draw up a blueprint for medical school reform. Flexner is widely credited with ushering in the era of modern medicine in this country.

In the early 20th century, doctors enjoyed prestige and independence. Courts rules against corporations practicing medicine, ensuring the pre-eminence of private practice. Doctors joined together in hospitals to take care of growing populations in big cities, and to exploit emerging surgical and diagnostic technologies.

This brings us to health insurance. Surgery (which made great advances during the Civil War and World War I) and hospitals were becoming expensive. So in 1929, Baylor College started the first pre-paid hospital insurance. Baylor’s 1,200 teachers each paid 50 cents per month to cover up to 21 days of hospitalization. Surgeons and hospitals quickly embraced this arrangement, and the Baylor plan became the Blue Cross plan in Minnesota in 1933 and Texas in 1934. By 1950, just 15 years later, Blue Cross covered 57% of the population.

Here’s how it happened. After World War I, the war-torn countries of Europe, like Germany, were in turmoil. Social insurance, including healthcare, helped reestablish some social stability there. But in this country, politicians opposed Teddy Roosevelt’s plan to set up national health insurance for factory workers, calling public insurance a “Prussian menace”. Labor unions saw public health insurance as an encroachment on their special role to ensure worker benefits. The AMA also opposed public health insurance as a potential “interference with the practice of medicine.

Then during World War II, wages were frozen, but companies were allowed to give health insurance benefits instead. This sewed the seeds of the employer-based health insurance system. In 1948 the Supreme Court decided that unions could use health benefits in collective bargaining agreements. Then in 1954 Congress made employer-paid health premiums non-taxable. By the mid-1960s employer-paid health insurance was nearly universal.

Let’s summarize the history of medicine from Rush to Medicare. In the Colonial period and early Republic there was intense competition among doctors of all stripes, those that tried to understand the scientific basis of disease and those who peddled remedies on a trial-and-error basis (referred to as “empirical”), relying mostly on their placebo effect. We still see vestiges of this early competition today in the rivalry between MDs, DOs, chiropractors and podiatrists. During the industrial period, little by little science-based orthodox physicians in the European tradition prevailed over their rivals introducing advances in surgery, diagnosis and infection control. They shored up their gains with institutions such as the AMA, hospitals, and eventually insurance.

In the next Segment, we will look at reform movements, starting with Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. We will also look at why later reforms failed and where that leaves us now.

I’ll see you then.

 

 

 

 

Healthcare Triage: Hospital Competition Can Impact Your Health

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/healthcare-triage-hospital-competition-can-impact-your-health/

Image result for Healthcare Triage: Hospital Competition Can Impact Your Health

It turns out, hospital and health system consolidations can result in worse outcomes for patients. These mergers reduce competition, and it turns out that hospitals compete more often on quality than they do on prices. The result is that quality suffers in markets with less competition.