ELITE HOSPITALS PLUNGE INTO UNPROVEN STEM CELL TREATMENTS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/clinical-care/elite-hospitals-plunge-unproven-stem-cell-treatments?utm_source=silverpop&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ENL_190402_LDR_BRIEFING%20(1)&spMailingID=15395736&spUserID=MTY3ODg4NTg1MzQ4S0&spJobID=1620119090&spReportId=MTYyMDExOTA5MAS2

Hospitals say they’re providing options to patients who have exhausted standard treatments. But critics suggest the hospitals are exploiting desperate patients and profiting from trendy but unproven treatments.

The online video seems to promise everything an arthritis patient could want.

The six-minute segment mimics a morning talk show, using a polished TV host to interview guests around a coffee table. Dr. Adam Pourcho extols the benefits of stem cells and “regenerative medicine” for healing joints without surgery. Pourcho, a sports medicine specialist, says he has used platelet injections to treat his own knee pain, as well as a tendon injury in his elbow. Extending his arm, he says, “It’s completely healed.”

Brendan Hyland, a gym teacher and track coach, describes withstanding intense heel pain for 18 months before seeing Pourcho. Four months after the injections, he says, he was pain-free and has since gone on a 40-mile hike.

“I don’t have any pain that stops me from doing anything I want,” Hyland says.

The video’s cheerleading tone mimics the infomercials used to promote stem cell clinics, several of which have recently gotten into hot water with federal regulators, said Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine. But the marketing video wasn’t filmed by a little-known operator.

It was sponsored by Swedish Medical Center, the largest nonprofit health provider in the Seattle area.

Swedish is one of a growing number of respected hospitals and health systems — including the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinicand the University of Miami — that have entered the lucrative business of stem cells and related therapies, including platelet injections. Typical treatments involve injecting patients’ joints with their own fat or bone marrow cells, or with extracts of platelets, the cell fragments known for their role in clotting blood. Many patients seek out regenerative medicine to stave off surgery, even though the evidence supporting these experimental therapies is thin at best, Knoepfler said.

Hospitals say they’re providing options to patients who have exhausted standard treatments. But critics suggest the hospitals are exploiting desperate patients and profiting from trendy but unproven treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration is attempting to shut down clinics that hawk unapproved stem cell therapies, which have been linked to several cases of blindness and at least 12 serious infections. Although doctors usually need preapproval to treat patients with human cells, the FDA has carved out a handful of exceptions, as long as the cells meet certain criteria, said Barbara Binzak Blumenfeld, an attorney who specializes in food and drug law at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Washington.

Hospitals like Mayo are careful to follow these criteria, to avoid running afoul of the FDA, said Dr. Shane Shapiro, program director for the Regenerative Medicine Therapeutics Suites at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida.

‘EXPENSIVE PLACEBOS’

While hospital-based stem cell treatments may be legal, there’s no strong evidence they work, said Leigh Turner, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics who has published a series of articles describing the size and dynamics of the stem cell market.

“FDA approval isn’t needed and physicians can claim they aren’t violating federal regulations,” Turner said. “But just because something is legal doesn’t make it ethical.”

For doctors and hospitals, stem cells are easy money, Turner said. Patients typically pay more than $700 a treatment for platelets and up to $5,000 for fat and bone marrow injections. As a bonus, doctors don’t have to wrangle with insurance companies, which view the procedures as experimental and largely don’t cover them.

“It’s an out-of-pocket, cash-on-the-barrel economy,” Turner said. Across the country, “clinicians at elite medical facilities are lining their pockets by providing expensive placebos.”

Some patient advocates worry that hospitals are more interested in capturing a slice of the stem-cell market than in proving their treatments actually work.

“It’s lucrative. It’s easy to do. All these reputable institutions, they don’t want to miss out on the business,” said Dr. James Rickert, president of the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics, which advocates for high-quality care. “It preys on people’s desperation.”

In a joint statement, Pourcho and Swedish defended the online video.

“The terminology was kept simple and with analogies that the lay person would understand,” according to the statement. “As with any treatment that we provide, we encourage patients to research and consider all potential treatment options before deciding on what is best for them.”

But Knoepfler said the guests on the video make several “unbelievable” claims.

At one point, Dr. Pourcho says that platelets release growth factorsthat tell the brain which types of stem cells to send to the site of an injury. According to Pourcho, these instructions make sure that tissues are repaired with the appropriate type of cell, and “so you don’t get, say, eyeball in your hand.”

Knoepfler, who has studied stem cell biology for two decades, said he has never heard of “any possibility of growing eyeball or other random tissues in your hand.” Knoepfler, who wrote about the video in February on his blog, The Niche, said, “There’s no way that the adult brain could send that kind of stem cells anywhere in the body.”

The marketing video debuted in July on KING-TV, a Seattle station, as part of a local lifestyles show called “New Day Northwest.” Although much of the show is produced by the KING 5 news team, some segments — like Pourcho’s interview — are sponsored by local advertisers, said Jim Rose, president and general manager of KING 5 Media Group.

After being contacted by KHN, Rose asked Swedish to remove the video from YouTube because it wasn’t labeled as sponsored content. Omitting that label could allow the video to be confused with news programming. The video now appears only on the KING-TV website, where Swedish is labeled as the sponsor.

“The goal is to clearly inform viewers of paid content so they can distinguish editorial and news content from paid material,” Rose said. “We value the public’s trust.”

INCREASING SCRUTINY

Federal authorities have recently begun cracking down on doctors who make unproven claims or sell unapproved stem cell products.

In October, the Federal Trade Commission fined stem cell clinics millions of dollars for deceptive advertising, noting that the companies claimed to be able to treat or cure autism, Parkinson’s disease and other serious diseases.

In a recent interview Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, said the agency will continue to go after what he called “bad actors.”

With more than 700 stem cell clinics in operation, the FDA is first targeting those posing the biggest threat, such as doctors who inject stem cells directly into the eye or brain.

“There are clearly bad actors who are well over the line and who are creating significant risks for patients,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb, set to leave office April 5, said he’s also concerned about the financial exploitation of patients in pain.

“There’s economic harm here, where products are being promoted that aren’t providing any proven benefits and where patients are paying out-of-pocket,” Gottlieb said.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said there is a broad “spectrum” of stem cell providers, ranging from university scientists leading rigorous clinical trials to doctors who promise stem cells are “for just about anything.” Hospitals operate somewhere in the middle, Marks said.

“The good news is that they’re somewhat closer to the most rigorous academics,” he said.

The Mayo Clinic’s regenerative medicine program, for example, focuses conditions such as arthritis, where injections pose few serious risks, even if that’s not yet the standard of care, Shapiro said.

Rickert said it’s easy to see why hospitals are eager to get in the game.

The market for arthritis treatment is huge and growing. At least 30 million Americans have the most common form of arthritis, with diagnoses expected to soar as the population ages. Platelet injections for arthritis generated more than $93 million in revenue in 2015, according to an article last year in The Journal of Knee Surgery.

“We have patients in our offices demanding these treatments,” Shapiro said. “If they don’t get them from us, they will get them somewhere else.”

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic try to provide stem cell treatments and similar therapies responsibly, Shapiro said. In a paper published this year, Shapiro described the hospital’s consultation service, in which doctors explain patients’ options and clear up misconceptions about what stem cells and other injections can do. Doctors can refer patients to treatment or clinical trials.

“Most of the patients do not get a regenerative [stem cell] procedure,” Shapiro said. “They don’t get it because after we have a frank conversation, they decide, ‘Maybe it’s not for me.'”

LOTS OF HYPE, LITTLE PROOF

Although some hospitals boast of high success rates for their stem cell procedures, published research often paints a different story.

The Mayo Clinic website says that 40 to 70% of patients “find some level of pain relief.” Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare claims that 75 to 80% of patients “have had significant pain relief and improved function.” In the Swedish video, Pourcho claims “we can treat really any tendon or any joint” with PRP.

The strongest evidence for PRP is in pain relief for arthritic knees and tennis elbow, where it appears to be safe and perhaps helpful, said Dr. Nicolas Piuzzi, an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.

But PRP hasn’t been proven to help every part of the body, he said.

PRP has been linked to serious complications when injected to treat patellar tendinitis, an injury to the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone. In a 2013 paper, researchers described the cases of three patients whose pain got dramatically worse after PRP injections. One patient lost bone and underwent surgery to repair the damage.

“People will say, ‘If you inject PRP, you will return to sports faster,'” said Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “But that hasn’t been proven.”

2017 study of PRP found it relieved knee pain slightly better than injections of hyaluronic acid. But that’s nothing to brag about, Rickert said, given that hyaluronic acid therapy doesn’t work, either. While some PRP studies have shown more positive results, Rickert notes that most were so small or poorly designed that their results aren’t reliable.

In its 2013 guidelines for knee arthritis, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons said it is “unable to recommend for or against” PRP.

“PRP is sort of a ‘buyer beware’ situation,” said Dr. William Li, president and CEO of the Angiogenesis Foundation, whose research focuses on blood vessel formation. “It’s the poor man’s approach to biotechnology.”

Tests of other stem cell injections also have failed to live up to expectations.

Shapiro published a rigorously designed study last year in Cartilage, a medical journal, that found bone marrow injections were no better at relieving knee pain than saltwater injections. Rickert noted that patients who are in pain often get relief from placebos. The more invasive the procedure, the stronger the placebo effect, he said, perhaps because patients become invested in the idea that an intervention will really help. Even saltwater injections help 70% of patients, Fu said.

A 2016 review in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery concluded that “the value and effective use of cell therapy in orthopaedics remain unclear.” The following year, a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded, “We do not recommend stem cell therapy” for knee arthritis.

Shapiro said hospitals and health plans are right to be cautious.

“The insurance companies don’t pay for fat grafting or bone-marrow aspiration, and rightly so,” Shapiro said. “That’s because we don’t have enough evidence.”

Rickert, an orthopedist in Bedford, Ind., said fat, bone marrow and platelet injections should be offered only through clinical trials, which carefully evaluate experimental treatments. Patients shouldn’t be charged for these services until they’ve been tested and shown to work.

Orthopedists — surgeons who specialize in bones and muscles — have a history of performing unproven procedures, including spinal fusion, surgery for rotator cuff disease and arthroscopy for worn-out knees, Turner said. Recently, studies have shown them to be no more effective than placebos.

MISLEADING MARKETING

Some argue that joint injections shouldn’t be marketed as stem cell treatments at all.

Piuzzi said he prefers to call the injections “orthobiologics,”noting that platelets are not even cells, let alone stem cells. The number of stem cells in fat and bone marrow injections is extremely small, he said. In fat tissue, only about 1 in 2,000 cells is a stem cell, according to a March paper in The Bone & Joint Journal. Stem cells are even rarer in bone marrow, where 1 in 10,000 to 20,000 cells is a stem cell.

Patients are attracted to regenerative medicine because they assume it will regrow their lost cartilage, Piuzzi said. There’s no solid evidence that the commercial injections used today spur tissue growth, Piuzzi said. Although doctors hope that platelets will release anti-inflammatory substances, which could theoretically help calm an inflamed joint, they don’t know why some patients who receive platelet injections feel better, but others don’t.

So, it comes as no surprise that many patients have trouble sorting through the hype.

Florida resident Kathy Walsh, 61, said she wasted nearly $10,000 on stem cell and platelet injections at a Miami clinic, hoping to avoid knee replacement surgery.

When Walsh heard about a doctor in Miami claiming to regenerate knee cartilage with stem cells, “it seemed like an answer to a prayer,” said Walsh, of Stuart, Fla. “You’re so much in pain and so frustrated that you cling to every bit of hope you can get, even if it does cost you a lot of money.”

The injections eased her pain for only a few months. Eventually, she had both knees replaced. She has been nearly pain-free ever since. “My only regret,” she said, “is that I wasted so much time and money.”

 

 

 

The “Medicare for All” Continuum: A New Comparison Tool for Congressional Health Bills Illustrates the Range of Reform Ideas

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2019/medicare-all-continuum

Medicare for all paperwork

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have called for “Medicare for All” as a way to expand health coverage and lower U.S. health care costs. Replacing most private insurance with a Medicare-like system for everyone has instilled both hope and fear across the country depending on people’s perspective or financial stake in the current health care system. But a closer look at recent congressional bills introduced by Democrats reveals a set of far more nuanced approaches to improving the nation’s health care system than the term Medicare for All suggests. To highlight these nuances, a new Commonwealth Fund interactive tool launched today illustrates the extent to which each of these reform bills would expand the public dimensions of our health insurance system, or those aspects regulated or run by state and federal government.1

The U.S Health Insurance System Is Both Public and Private

The U.S. health insurance system comprises both private (employer and individual market and marketplace plans) and public (Medicare and Medicaid) coverage sources, as the table below shows. In addition, both coverage sources are paid for by a mix of private and taxpayer-financed public dollars.

Most Americans get their insurance through employers, who either provide coverage through private insurers or self-insure. Employers and employees share the cost through premiums and cost-sharing such as deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. But the federal government significantly subsidizes employer coverage by excluding employer premium contributions from employees’ taxable income. In 2018 this subsidy amounted to $280 billion, the largest single tax expenditure.

About 27 million people are covered through regulated private plans sold in the individual market, including the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. This coverage is financed by premiums and cost-sharing paid by enrollees. The federal government subsidizes these costs for individuals with incomes under $48,560.

For 44 million people, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program is their primary source of coverage. These public programs are financed by federal and state governments, and small individual premium payments and cost-sharing in some states. In most states, these benefits are provided through private insurers.

Medicare covers 54 million people over age 65 and people with disabilities. The coverage is financed by the federal government along with individual premiums and significant cost-sharing. About 20 million people get their Medicare benefits through private Medicare Advantage plans and most beneficiaries either buy supplemental private insurance or qualify for additional coverage through Medicaid to help lower out-of-pocket costs and add long-term-care benefits.

Millions Still Uninsured or Underinsured, Health Care Costs High

The coverage expansions of the ACA — new regulation of private insurance such as requirements to cover preexisting conditions, subsidies for private coverage on the individual market, and expanded eligibility for Medicaid — lowered the number of uninsured people and made health coverage more affordable for many. But 28 million people remain uninsured and at least 44 million are underinsured. In addition, overall health care and prescription drug costs are much higher in the United States than in other wealthy countries. U.S. health care expenditures are projected to climb to nearly $6 trillion by 2027.

The Medicare for All Continuum

To address these problems, some Democrats running for president in 2020 are supporting Medicare for All. Meanwhile, in Congress, Democrats have introduced a handful of bills that might be characterized as falling along a continuum, with Medicare for All at one end.

As our new Commonwealth Fund interactive tool illustrates, the bills range from adding somewhat more public sector involvement into the system, to adding substantially more public sector involvement. The bills may be broadly grouped into three categories:

  • Adding public plan features to private insurance. These include increasing regulation of private plans such as requiring private insurers who participate in Medicare and Medicaid to offer health plans in the ACA marketplaces, and enhancing federal subsidies for marketplace coverage.
  • Giving people a choice of public plans alongside private plans. These bills include offering a Medicare-like public plan option through the marketplaces, extending that option to employers to offer to their employees, giving people ages 50 to 64 the option to buy in to Medicare, and giving states the option to allow people to buy in to Medicaid. These bills also bring the federal government’s leverage into provider rate-setting and prescription drug price negotiation.
  • Making public plans the primary source of coverage in the U.S. These are Medicare-for-All bills in which all residents are eligible for a public plan that resembles the current Medicare program, but isn’t necessarily the same Medicare program we have today. The bills vary by whether people would pay premiums and face cost-sharing, the degree to which they end current insurance programs and limit private insurance, how provider rates are set, whether global budgets are used for hospitals and nursing homes, and how long-term care is financed. All of the bills in this category allow people to purchase supplemental coverage for benefits not covered by the plan.

Looking Forward

Many Democratic candidates who have called for Medicare for All are cosponsors of more than one of these bills. The continuum of approaches suggests both the possibility of building toward a Medicare for All system over time, or adopting aspects of Medicare for All without the disruption that a major shift in coverage source might create for Americans. We will continue to update the tool as new bills are introduced or refined. Users also can view a comparison tool of other wealthy countries’ health systems, which shows where select countries fall on a continuum ranging from regulated systems of public and private coverage to national insurance programs.

 

 

Aetna, Anthem, Health Care Service Corporation, PNC Bank and IBM announce blockchain network

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/aetna-anthem-health-care-service-corporation-pnc-bank-and-ibm-announce-blockchain-network?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT0RJNU16UTNOakl4WlRFNCIsInQiOiJ1WHRTRHREbE5rM1hkZmc1QnRcL3JCSjdxMWdtXC9weGE1OE4yT0tMZ2d0eGVCYnlXbkVDSmVtU09UTzZDaUVSTmE2aVRpT1YzSklCVmVsZ3VaMWVyMDlNa1Z2b25DbXZ2QnpxSUpySWluXC8zSDRoTmkya2JCMU53b1h5YkRQUDlNcyJ9

Network will eventually be open to new members for secure digital sharing of healthcare information.

Aetna, Anthem, IBM, Health Care Service Corporation and PNC Bank have partnered to create a blockchain technology network aimed at improving transparency and interoperability in the healthcare industry. 

The groups intend to use blockchain for more efficient claims and payment processing. Blockchain enables the secure exchange of information. It will also benefit more accurate provider directories.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Collaboration is key in the industry as a more cost-effective alternative to merging to create more competitive and efficient systems.

The current network is expected to add additional health organizations in the coming months, including providers, startups, and technology companies.

Initial members include three of the nation’s largest insurers, Anthem; HCSC,a customer-owned health insurer that includes Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans; Aetna, which is now part of the CVS Health business; IBM, which is a leading blockchain provider; and PNC Bank, which is a member of The PNC Financial Services Group.

Blockchain technology gives health systems an edge because it ideally creates faster, more efficient and secure claims and payment processing.

Insurers are mandated to maintain accurate provider directories, a time consuming and often manual practice involving numerous emails, phone calls and even fax exchanges.

For providers, a new technology that can actually reduce time spent in administrative clicks on a computer is a boon.

THE TREND

Despite major initiatives to digitize healthcare information, improvements in transparency and interoperability are still needed for that data to be shared.

Blockchain is designed to fill that role, reducing administrative errors and costs and ultimately enhancing patient care. The network also enables the companies to build and deploy new solutions.

Walmart last year filed a patent to use blockchain for medical records. A pharmaceutical industry consortium called the MediLedger Project, launched in 2017, is using blockchain to track pills across the supply chain, according to Fortune.

ON THE RECORD

“Through the application of blockchain technology, we’ll work to improve data accuracy for providers, regulators, and other stakeholders, and give our members more control over their own data,” said Claus Jensen, chief technology officer at Aetna

Rajeev Ronanki, Anthem chief digital officer Rajeev Ronanki: “Timely access to medical information has been a stumbling block for creating a seamless consumer experience. With a trusted foundation based on transparency and cryptography, we will provide a faster, safer and more secure way to exchange medical information to transform the  consumer healthcare experience.”

What’s more, blockchain will enable large networks to exchange health data in a transparent and controlled way, according to Lori Steele, general manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences for IBM.

“Using this technology, we can remove friction, duplication, and administrative costs that continue to plague the industry,” added Chris Ward, head of product, PNC Treasury Management.

 

Healthcare’s vertical mergers kick-started a massive industry shift in 2018. Will it pay off?

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/payer/healthcare-s-vertical-mergers-kick-started-a-massive-industry-shift-2018-will-it-pay-off?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTnpBNE1HTmtObUl3WVRkayIsInQiOiJFOU1xMDRPMGtzMCtnWXU4MExUVFAzZ3Jrdm5cL2s3S1dMRkVldTRWS2QyNmJZU255UWRIWW14QmtXVkJ2T2VTeGpYTVBvQXZWWW1JVnB0S0crTXV3aFhDS0wrY3NzTmtEYmJEMHdvSG03bGkxS2ZlREdiaWZydFZkbkdlXC9tTHE1In0%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Mergers and acquisitions deals consolidation

Two massive megamergers in CVS-Aetna and Cigna-Express Scripts dominated the conversation around mergers and acquisitions in healthcare.

Whether you think the mergers will help or hurt consumers, both deals have sparked a distinct shift across the industry as competitors search for ways to keep pace. It also frames 2019 as the year in which five big vertically integrated insurers in CVS, UnitedHealth, Cigna, Anthem and Humana begin to take shape.

Combined, the mergers totaled nearly $140 billion.

Both CVS and Cigna closed their transactions in the fourth quarter with promises that their new combined companies would “transform” the industry. Unquestionably, it’s already triggered some response from other players. Whether those companies can make good on their promises to improve care for consumers remains to be seen, and the payoff may not come for several years, as 2019 is likely to be a year of initial integration.

While CVS and Cigna hogged most of the spotlight, several other notable transactions across the payer sector could have smaller but similarly important consequences going forward.

WellCare acquires Meridian Health Plans for $2.5B

In May, WellCare picked up Illinois-based Meridian Health Plans for $2.5 billion, acquiring a company with an established Medicaid footprint with 1.1 million members. The deal boosted WellCare’s membership by 26%.

But the transaction also thrust WellCare back onto the ACA exchanges. Meridian has 6,000 marketplace members in Michigan.

Importantly, the acquisition gave WellCare a new pharmacy benefit manager in Meridian Rx. CEO Kenneth Burdick said it would provide “additional insight into changing pharmacy costs and improving quality through the integration of pharmacy and medical care.”

WellCare also makes out on CVS-Aetna transaction

WellCare was also a beneficiary of the CVS-Aetna deal after the Department of Justice required Aetna to sell off its Part D business in order to complete its merger.

The deal adds 2.2 million Part D members to WellCare, tripling its existing footprint of 1.1 million.

Humana goes after post-acute care

2018 was the year of post-acute care acquisitions for Humana. The insurer partnered with two private equity firms to buy Kindred Healthcare for $4.1 billion in a deal that was first announced last year. It used a similar purchase arrangement to invest in hospice provider Curo Health Service in a $1.4 billion deal.

Both acquisitions give Humana equity stake in the companies, with room to make further investments down the road. Kindred, in particular, is expected to further Humana’s focus on data analytics, digital tools and information sharing and improve the continuity of care for patients even after they leave the hospital.

Not to be outdone, rival Anthem also closed its purchase of Aspire Health, one of the country’s largest community-based palliative care providers.

UnitedHealth keeps quietly buying up providers, pharmacies

With ample reserves, UnitedHealth is always in the mix when it comes to acquisitions. This year was no different. The insurance giant snapped up several provider organizations to add to its OptumHealth arm. In June, it was one of two buyers of hospital staffing company Sound Inpatient Physicians Holdings for $2.2 billion. It also bought out Seattle-based Polyclinic for an undisclosed sum. The physician practice has remained staunchly independent for more than a century.

Most notably, UnitedHealth is still in the process of closing its acquisition of DaVita Medical Group. DaVita recently dropped the price of that deal from $4.9 billion to $4.3 billion in an effort to speed up Federal Trade Commission approval.

The Minnesota-based insurer is also clearly interested in specialty pharmacies to supplement its PBM OptumRx. UnitedHealth bought Genoa Healthcare in September, adding 435 new pharmacies under its umbrella. Shortly after, it bought up Avella Specialty Pharmacy, a specialty pharmacy that also offers telepsychiatry services and medication management for behavioral health patients.

Centene invests in a tech-forward PBM

Perhaps in an effort to keep pace with Cigna and CVS, Centene has made smaller scale moves in the PBM space, investing in RxAdvance, a PBM launched by former Apple CEO John Sculley. Following an initial investment in March, Centene sunk another $50 million into the company in October and then announced plans to roll the solution out nationally. Notably, CEO Michael Neidorff has said he is pushing the PBM to move away from rebates and toward a model that relies on net pricing.

“You talk about ultimate transparency—that gets us there,” he said recently.

 

 

 

Anthem ER policy could deny 1 in 6 visits if universally adopted, JAMA study warns

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/anthem-er-policy-could-deny-1-in-6-visits-if-universally-adopted-jama-stud/540241/

Dive Brief:

  • Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s controversial policy that denies emergency coverage based on a patient’s diagnosis after a visit to the ER, would affect as many as one in six (15.7%) ER visits if adopted universally by commercial insurers, according to a new study from JAMA Network.  
  • Anthem’s policy is currently active in six states. In July, the American College of Emergency Physicians and the Medical Association of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit asserting that Anthem BCBS of Georgia is violating federal law requiring insurers to cover the costs of emergency care based on a patient’s symptoms rather than their final diagnosis.
  • “Our results demonstrate the inaccuracy of such a policy in identifying unnecessary emergency department visits,” Shih-Chuan Chou, lead author of the JAMA study, wrote. “This policy could place many patients who reasonably seek emergency care at risk of coverage denial.” 

Dive Insight:

As healthcare costs rise, insurers continue to seek ways to stem payments for emergency care, which hit their pockets the hardest. Anthem’s approach, taken in the summer of 2017, is to disincentivize what it deems to be unnecessary ER visits by denying coverage for patients with non-emergent ER discharge diagnoses. 

Earlier this year, UnitedHealth Group began reviewing ER claims with the most serious conditions in an effort to reduce or deny claims with improper evaluation and management codes. While similar in that they both crack down on ER visits, Anthem’s policy looks to move patients away from ERs and into less expensive urgent care centers and retail clinics, while UnitedHealth’s policy change is about making sure hospitals are billing properly.

The backlash has been much harsher for Anthem. According to a report issued this past July by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Anthem denied roughly 12,200, or 5.8%, of all emergency room claims in Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia from July 2017 to Dec. 2017 through this policy. Missouri’s hospital association was one of many health organizations to publicly oppose the policy.

In a statement to Healthcare Dive, Anthem defended its ER policy as a way to “ensure access to high quality, affordable healthcare” by encouraging consumers to receive care in “the most appropriate setting.” 

“If a consumer reasonably believes that he or she is experiencing an emergency medical condition, then they should always call 911 or go to the ED,” the statement reads. “But for non-emergency health care needs, EDs are often a time-consuming place to receive care and in many instances 10 times higher in cost than urgent care.” 

 

 

Dinged, Dented, Defiant: The ACA Is Still Standing

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/dinged-dented-defiant-aca-still-standing

Texas v. Azar is the latest in a long line of lawsuits and legislation that Republicans have used to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which has shown itself to be remarkably resilient.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

A federal judge in Texas could slap a preliminary injunction on the ACA.

The case is the latest in a long string of efforts to dismantle the ACA since its inception in 2010.

A federal judge in Texas is poised to drop a ruling that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Or, maybe not.

The Republican plaintiffs from 20 states in Texas v. Azar argued before U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in early September that the entire ACA became unconstitutional when Congress zeroed out the individual mandate penalty, effective 2019.

Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Republican plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction. The Department of Justice, which declined to defend portions of the ACA, also urged O’Conner to delay any injunction until after the enrollment period, saying any attempts to impose the injunction during the enrollment period would invite “chaos.”

If the injunction goes through, it could end premium subsidies for ACA beneficiaries and cripple enrollment. The Urban Institute has estimated that 17 million people would lose their health insurance coverage if the ACA was overturned.

As potentially catastrophic as this sounds, the healthcare sector doesn’t seem to be overly concerned. In fact, business couldn’t be better.

A report in Axios shows that many players in the healthcare sector are prospering under the ACA. The website notes that S&P 500 healthcare index of 63 major companies has grown by 186% since the ACA became law in 2010, outstripping the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones.

In addition, health insurance companies are flush. Shares of UnitedHealth Group have gone up more than 700% since 2010, and the stock price of ACA marketplace insurer Centene has gone up 1,100% over the same period, Axios reports.

While hospitals have had a tougher time of it, especially in states that refused to expand Medicaid, they’re still seeing reductions in charity care and bad debt owing.

Regardless of how O’Connor rules in Texas v. Azar, ACA payers, providers, and other stakeholders will continue to presume that the law isn’t going anywhere, says healthcare economist Gail Wilensky.

“They’re assuming it’ll be around, or something very similar will be,” says Wilensky, a former director of Medicare and Medicaid, and a former chair of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

“I don’t think people are regarding any serious likelihood of it going away again,” she says.

Even if O’Connor, appointed to the court in 2007 by President George W. Bush, agrees with the severability arguments raised by the Republican governors and attorneys general in 20 states who brought the suit, the matter likely would get shot down on appeal, Wilensky says.

” I would be surprised if it doesn’t get reversed someplace else,” says Wilensky, now a senior fellow at Project HOPE.

“If it had go all the way to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court isn’t going to tolerate it, but I don’t know that it would even get that far,” she says.

The case is just one in a long string of legal and legislative actions Republicans are taking at the state and federal level to either undermine or bolster the ACA.

Earlier this year, O’Connor sided with Texas and five other states and threw out an Obama administration tax on states receiving Medicaid funds.

The Republican-controlled Congress has tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Republicans may try again in 2019.

While the signature legislation of the Obama era has been dinged and dented, it’s also proven to be remarkably resilient.

Wilensky says the ACA is resilient because it solves a problem “for a small but non-trivial group of people,” and that Republicans don’t have a credible alternative.

“Once a benefit is in place for any measurable amount of time, certainly two or three years would qualify, there’s no precedent for removing it,” she says.

“And most of the proposals that had come up did not seriously get the job done,” Wilensky says.

“They really weren’t effective as an alternative and you simply aren’t going to take away a benefit, like the extension of insurance to people who are above the poverty line and not offered traditionally employer sponsored insurance without having a credible alternative.

“It’s just not going to happen because there are too many issues that have already been adjudicated at a more serious level,” Wilensky says. “I don’t know why they did this other than that this is 20 attorneys general and they’re running for something.”

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on the state of healthcare from Scott Becker

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/10-thoughts-on-the-state-of-healthcare-from-scott-becker.html

1. Healthcare, given that we have 325 million-plus people in the U.S. with an aging and growing population that is living longer, is a very complex problem.

2. When I hear any executive, technology person or sales person look at an audience and say, “If everyone would just use this type of coaching app for diabetes or behavioral health, we would cut billions of dollars in costs,” I cringe, scoff, laugh and tend to get angry. I recently heard this in a speech I listened to.

3. Healthcare at its core is really taking care of individual patients. I see the theories behind population health and preventive health but I’m skeptical that it’s a fix-all.

4. When people say there should be no fee for service, I tend to think they’re representing some constituency. I assume at some level someone will still need to get paid to do something.

5. Hospitals and physicians and many providers will struggle as they become more reliant on governmental pay and as commercial patients are siphoned off. Government reimbursements will soften.

6. I’m not so dumb as to not see the irony in the campaign signs that said “get the government’s hands off my Medicare.”

7. Notwithstanding No. 6, whenever the government does place fingers on the scale, they are often wrong, and it often has massive unintended consequences.

8. The system costs with 325 million-plus people in the U.S. are crazy and insurance costs per family are insane.

9. Both parties are tone deaf as to the needs of the American people. Simply stated people that are poor need healthcare, and people that aren’t poor need affordable healthcare. These people are both Republicans and Democrats.

10. Given the quasi-monopolies of insurance companies in certain areas and the lack of insurance options, it’s likely we will need some sort of public option at some point.