Welcome to “The Dose,” a New Health Policy Podcast

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/podcast/2018/oct/doctor-who-prescribed-cooking-classes

 

Today we launch the Commonwealth Fund’s brand-new health policy podcast, The Dose.Every other Friday, host Shanoor Seervai will sit down with a leading expert to break down the latest research, hear personal stories about interactions with health care and the health system, and learn about innovations that could make life easier for patients, families, and caregivers.

In episode 1 of The Dose, Seervai talks to Martin Marshall, a primary care physician in East London. Through the stories of his patients and his own experience, Marshall explores what’s different about delivering primary care in the U.K. versus the United States. You’ll hear how Marshall helps one of his patients manage his diabetes with cooking classes, and how he leans on his intimate knowledge of a client’s family history to arrive at a diagnosis.

Click here to listen, and then subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

WHY HEALTH SYSTEMS SHOULD WORRY ABOUT WALGREENS AND CVS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/why-health-systems-should-worry-about-walgreens-and-cvs

 

There’s a building threat from the nation’s two retail drugstore giants to hospitals and health systems as providers move toward value-based care and lower-cost outpatient services.

Even with Amazon threatening to compete with retail drugstore chains CVS Health and Walgreens with its own online pharmacy, these retailers aren’t giving up on brick-and-mortar as a way to attract more patients into their stores.

And that’s bad news for the nation’s hospitals and health systems.

There’s a building threat from the nation’s two retail drugstore giants to hospitals and health systems as medical care providers move away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based care and lower-cost outpatient services.

Walgreens and CVS are looking to healthcare as a way to keep customers coming into their stores, particularly in an era where consumers are fleeing brick-and-mortar to shop online via Amazon.

As front-end retail sales have fallen in recent years, CVS and Walgreens are moving more rapidly into healthcare from simply their historic role of filling prescriptions beyond the pharmacy counter and treating routine maladies with nurse practitioners in their retail centers to more services.

They are partnering more closely with health insurance companies that will work harder to funnel more patients to outpatient healthcare services inside the stores that will make them direct competitors of U.S. hospitals and health systems.

CVS has more than 1,100 retail MinuteClinics compared to 800 five years ago and 400 a decade ago.

CVS was opening 100 clinics per year 10 years ago, and that has slowed because they are now focusing on expanding healthcare services in the clinics as well as their stores generally. The same goes for Walgreens.

Walgreens has increased the services in its retail clinics, advertising the ability of nurse practitioners to conduct routine exams and student physicals and has been aggressively lobbying states across the country to change scope-of-practice laws to allow pharmacists to administer an array of vaccines.

“Why not use those locations as a strategy for healthcare?” Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Carroll says of the drugstore chain’s nearly 10,000 locations across the country. “We have the space. We should use it.”

To be sure, Walgreens is looking to provide more physician services like x-rays and procedures by partnering with UnitedHealth Group’s Optum to connect its MedExpress brand urgent care centers to an adjacent Walgreens. Like most retailers, Walgreens’ sales of general merchandise in the front end of the store is falling just as pharmacy sales, personal healthcare, and wellness revenues rise.

In the first such ventures, the Walgreens store and the MedExpress center each have their own entrance with a door inside connecting the urgent care center with the drugstore. It’s designed for a medical provider to guide a patient to either facility depending on their prescription or other needs.

For now, there are 15 locations in six states that have MedExpress urgent care centers connected to Walgreens stores as part of the pilot. The markets include Las Vegas; Dallas; Minneapolis; Omaha, Nebraska; two cities in West Virginia; and Martinsville, Virginia.

“We’re working closely with a number of partners in the healthcare community to bring services closer to our customers,” Carroll said. “With our stores serving as more of a neighborhood health destination, we can best meet the changing needs of our customers, while also complementing our expanded pharmacy services.”

Meanwhile, CVS plans to offer more healthcare services inside its stores after its merger with Aetna closes. CVS executives say they aren’t ruling out developing urgent care centers as well.

CVS’ network of nearly 10,000 pharmacies and over 1,000 retail clinics, and Optum’s growing network of ambulatory facilities like the MedExpress urgent care centers are emerging as a model health insurers want to do business with as fee-for-service medicine gives way to value-based care that keeps patients out of the hospital.

And in CVS’ case, the pharmacy will soon own Aetna, a health plan with more than 20 million members. That combination, which is currently wending its way through the regulatory process, is expected to lead to more narrow network health plans that encourage patients to use providers in the Aetna-CVS network over other health systems’ facilities.

Health systems should be concerned, healthcare analysts say.

“CVS and Aetna, in their own words, are promising to reinvent the front door of American healthcare,” says Kenneth Kaufman, managing director and chair of the consulting firm Kaufman Hall. “That promise should be of serious concern for legacy hospital providers since those providers have occupied that front door for the past 75 years.”

CVS Health President and CEO Larry Merlo is beginning to offer some details to their strategies.

While cautioning that it’s “very early” in the development of new programs the combined company will develop, Merlo has said the larger company plans to first focus on three primary patient populations: those patients with any of five chronic diseases: diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, asthma, and depression.

CVS and Aetna will also focus on “patients undergoing transitions in care,” and a third “broader focus on managing high-risk patients,” Merlo told analysts on the company’s second quarter earnings call in May.

“By extending our new health care model more broadly in the marketplace, patients will benefit from earlier interventions and better connected care leading to improved health outcomes,” Merlo said on September 20 at a CVS Health town hall meeting in Los Angeles.

“Think again about that senior leaving the hospital, knowing that the care plan prescribed by her doctor is being seamlessly coordinated by CVS and her caregiver. By fully integrating Aetna’s medical information and analytics with CVS Health’s pharmacy data and our 10,000 community locations, we can enable more effective treatment of the whole patient,” he says.

 

Humana completes sale of long-term care insurance policy business KMG, at a loss of $790 million

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/humana-completes-sale-long-term-care-insurance-policy-business-kmg-loss-790-million?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJNeE5UZzRNalU1WWprMSIsInQiOiJRNjRWYXFQcSt3aHpGMlB4RVwvbXA3ckt4MVlxZ04zeHl5VWtKMzB4V2dpa21LTTY3U2pMdWlnSHh3MXRMWlwvWkdQNEdldGVjRWpWUG5Md0xmbTlQVE0zVTdFUStxY0lQcmNpUkRRRHpPelZSOUNBTW90WDNNbGd1ekZsZGZHVU04In0%3D

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Humana has completed the sale of its wholly-owned subsidiary KMG America Corporation, in a transaction first announced in November 2017.

Humana has owned KMG since 2007.

KMG subsidiary, Kanawha Insurance Company, offers commercial, long-term care insurance policies and currently serves an estimated 29,300 policyholders.

Humana sold its shares in KMG for a reported $2.4 billion to HC2 Holdings, which includes Continental General Insurance Company, based in Texas.

In its second quarter earnings statement, Humana reported a $790 million loss on the sale of KMG, which is expected to close during the third quarter.

Humana said it would no longer have plans in the commercial long-term care insurance business.

Humana instead is closing on two transactions to acquire an at-home provider in Kindred at Home and Curo Health Services, which specializes in hospice care, according to the Q2 report.

Curo provides hospice care in 22 states. Humana and a consortium of TPG Capital and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, purchased Curo for $1.4 billion, Humana announced in April.

Humana will have a 40 percent interest.

Also, this past June, Humana partnered with Walgreens Boots Alliance in a pilot to operate senior-focused primary care clinics inside of two drug stores in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Revenue remained strong for the insurer, which specializes in Medicare Advantage plans. Its MA business in Q2 realized both growth and lower utilization.

While revenue remained strong, Humana’s net income dropped to a reported $684 million this year compared to $1.8 billion last year.

The insurer benefitted from a lower tax rate year-over-year as a result of the tax reform law and negatively felt the return of health insurance tax in 2018.

“Our strong 2018 financial results are testimony to the underlying improvement in our operating metrics, like Net Promoter Score, digital self-service utilization and call transfer reduction, and to the growing effectiveness of our national and local clinical programs,” said Bruce D. Broussard, Humana’s CEO and president. “Also, we took another large step this quarter in helping our members, especially those living with chronic conditions, by beginning the integration of important clinical services through our investments in Kindred at Home and Curo, and through our partnership with Walgreens.”

 

Ascension’s latest ad campaign touts online scheduling

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/ascension-s-latest-ad-campaign-touts-online-scheduling.html

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St. Louis-based Ascension rolled out a national ad campaign June 4 across television, radio, billboards and direct mail to promote its online scheduling capabilities, which are available in all 22 Ascension markets.

The campaign is aimed at raising brand awareness and communicating patient scheduling options, even for last-minute or same-day appointments.

“Most of us use technology daily to simplify our lives, and the process of getting the care we need, when and where we need it, should be no different. Online scheduling allows consumers to view available appointments at their preferred location and select a time that fits their busy schedules,” Joseph Cacchione, MD, president of Ascension Medical Group, said in a press release. “As we work to improve access to compassionate, personalized care, we must also ensure we are letting consumers know about the new and innovative ways in which we are making the healthcare delivery process easier for them.”

Ascension currently offers online scheduling across 1,200 providers in primary care, urgent care and emergency department care. It has plans to add online scheduling capabilities for specialists and diagnostic and imaging services in the future.

 

 

Medicare Beneficiaries Feel The Pinch When They Can’t Use Drug Coupons

Medicare Beneficiaries Feel The Pinch When They Can’t Use Drug Coupons

This week, I answered a grab bag of questions about drug copay coupons and primary care coverage on the health insurance marketplace.

Q: My doctor wants me to take Repatha for my high cholesterol, but my Medicare drug plan copayment for it is $618 a month. Why can’t I use a $5 drug copay coupon from the manufacturer? If I had commercial insurance, I could. I’m on a fixed income. How is this fair?

The explanation may offer you little comfort. Under the federal anti-kickback law, it’s illegal for drug manufacturers to offer people any type of payment that might persuade them to purchase something that federal health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid might pay for. The coupons can lead to unnecessary Medicare spending by inducing beneficiaries to choose drugs that are expensive.

“The law was intended to prevent fraud, but in this case it also has the effect of prohibiting Part D enrollees from using manufacturer copay coupons … because using the coupon would be steering Medicare’s business toward a particular entity,” said Juliette Cubanski, associate director of the Program on Medicare Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The coupons typically offer patients with commercial insurance a break on their copayment for brand-name drugs, often reducing their out-of-pocket costs to what they would pay for inexpensive generic drugs. The coupons help make expensive specialty drugs more affordable for patients. They can also increase demand for the drugmaker’s products. If patients choose to use the coupons to buy a higher-cost drug over a generic, the insurer’s cost is likely to be more than what it would otherwise pay.

In addition, consumers should note that the copay cards often have annual maximums that leave patients on the hook for the entire copayment after a certain number of months, said Dr. Joseph Ross, associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University who has studied copay coupons.

The coupons may discourage patients from considering appropriate lower-cost alternatives, including generics, said Leslie Fried, a senior director at the National Council on Aging.

According to a 2013 analysis co-authored by Ross and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 62 percent of 374 drug coupons were for brand-name drugs for which there were lower-cost alternatives available.

Q: Last year, my marketplace plan covered five primary care visits at no charge before I paid down my $2,200 deductible. This year, it doesn’t cover any appointments before the deductible, and I had to pay $80 out-of-pocket when I went to the doctor. Is that typical now? It makes me think twice about going.

Under the Affordable Care Act, marketplace plans are required to cover many preventive services, including an annual checkup, without charging consumers anything out-of-pocket. Beyond that, many marketplace plans cover services such as some primary care visits or generic drugs before you reach your deductible.

The likelihood of having a plan that offers some cost sharing for primary care before you reach your deductible (rather than requiring you to pay 100 percent of the cost until you hit that amount) varies significantly depending on whether you’re in a bronze, silver or gold plan, according to a recent analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

In 2018, 77 percent of silver-level plans offered some cost sharing for primary care visits before enrollees had paid off their typical deductible of $3,800, the analysis found. In most cases, that means people owe a copayment or coinsurance charge for each visit until they reach their deductible. A small number of plans offered a limited number of no-cost or low-cost visits first, and then people using more services either had to pay the full charge for each visit or owed cost sharing until the deductible was met.

Bronze plans were much stingier in what they offered for primary care before people reached their deductible, which was $6,400 or higher in half of plans. Only 38 percent of bronze plans offered any primary care coverage before the deductible, and generally patients still had to pay a copayment or coinsurace. A smaller percentage of bronze plans offered limited visits at no cost or low cost before the deductible.

The share of people who chose bronze plans grew from 23 percent in 2017 to 29 percent this year, said Katherine Hempstead, a senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While premiums are typically significantly lower in bronze plans than other “metal”-level plans, it can be worthwhile to check out how plans handle primary care services before the deductible, she said.

 

 

Would Americans Accept Putting Health Care on a Budget?

https://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/upshot-maryland-global-payments/

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If you wanted to get control of your household spending, you’d set a budget and spend no more than it allowed. You might wonder why we don’t just do the same for spending on American health care.

Though government budgets are different from household budgets, the idea of putting a firm limit on health care spending is far from unknown. Many countries, including Canada, Switzerland and Britain, pay hospitals entirely or partly this way.

Under such a capped system, called global budgeting, a hospital has an incentive to deliver less care — including reducing hospital admissions — and to increase the efficiency of the care it does deliver.

Capping hospital spending raises concerns about harming quality and access. On these grounds, hospital executives and patient advocates might strongly resist spending constraints in the United States.

And yet some American hospitals and health systems already operate this way, including Kaiser Permanente and the Veterans Health Administration. To address concerns about access and quality, these programs are usually paired with quality monitoring and improvement initiatives.

That brings us to Maryland’s experience with a capped system. The evidence from the state is far from conclusive, but this is a weighty and much-watched experiment for health researchers, so it’s worth diving into the details of the latest studies.

Starting in 2010 with eight rural hospitals, and expanding its plan in 2014 to the state’s other hospitals, Maryland set global budgets for hospital inpatient and outpatient services, as well as emergency department care. Each hospital’s budget is based on its past revenue and encompasses all payers for care, including Medicare, Medicaid and commercial market insurance. Budgets for hospitals are updated every year to ensure that their spending grows more slowly than the state’s economy.

Because physician services are not part of the budgets, there is an incentive to provide more physician office visits, including primary care. According to some reports, Maryland hospitals are responding to this incentive by providing additional support outside their walls to patients who have chronic illnesses or who have recently been discharged from a hospital. Greater use of primary care by such patients, for example, could reduce the need for future hospital admissions.

In 2013, early results found, rural hospital admissions and readmissions were both down from their levels before the system was introduced.

In the first three years of the expanded program, revenue growth for Maryland’s hospitals stayed below the state-set cap of 3.58 percent, saving Medicare $586 million. Spending was lower on hospital outpatient services, including visits to the emergency department that do not lead to hospital admissions. In addition, preventable health conditions and mortality fell.

According to a new report from RTI, a nonprofit research organization, Maryland’s program did not reap savings for the privately insured population (even though inpatient admissions fell for that group). However, the study corroborated the impressive Medicare savings, driven by a drop in hospital admissions. In reaching these findings, the study compared Maryland’s hospitals with analogous ones in other states, which served as stand-ins for what would have happened to Maryland hospitals had global budgeting not been introduced.

But a recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, was decidedly less encouraging.

Led by Eric Roberts, a health economist with the University of Pittsburgh, the study examined how Maryland achieved its Medicare savings, using data from 2009-2015. Like RTI’s report, it also compared Maryland hospitals’ experience with that of comparable hospitals elsewhere.

However, unlike the RTI report, Mr. Roberts’s study did not find consistent evidence that changes in hospital use in Maryland could be attributed to global budgeting. His study also examined primary care use. Here, too, it did not find consistent evidence that Maryland differed from elsewhere. Because of the challenges of matching Maryland hospitals to others outside of the state for comparison, the authors took several statistical approaches in reaching their findings. With some approaches, the changes observed in Maryland were comparable to those in other states, raising uncertainty about their cause.

A separate study by the same authors published in Health Affairs analyzed the earlier global budget program for Maryland’s rural hospitals. They were able to use other Maryland hospitals as controls. Still, after three years, they did not find an impact of the program on hospital use or spending.

Changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, which also passed in 2010, coincide with Maryland’s hospital payment reforms. The A.C.A. included many provisions aimed at reducing spending, and those changes could have led to hospital use and spending in other states on par with those seen in Maryland.

A limitation of Maryland’s approach is that payments to physicians are not included in its global budgets. “Maryland didn’t put the state’s health system on a budget — it only put hospitals on a budget,” said Ateev Mehrotra, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Slowing health care spending and fostering better coordination requires including physicians who make the day-to-day decisions about how care is delivered.”

broader global budget program for Maryland is in the works. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reviewing a state application that commits to global budgets for Medicare physician and hospital spending. An editorial that accompanied the JAMA Internal Medicine study noted that a few years may be insufficient time to detect changes. It suggests that five to 10 years may be more appropriate.

“Maryland hospitals are only beginning to capitalize on the model’s incentives to transform care in their communities,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a co-author of the editorial and a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This means that as Maryland moves forward with new stages of innovation, there is a great deal more potential upside.” As former secretary of health and mental hygiene in Maryland, he helped institute the Maryland hospital payment approach.

Global budgets are unusual in the United States, but their intuitive appeal is growing. A California bill is calling for a commission that would set a global budget for the state. And soon Maryland won’t be the only state using such a system. Pennsylvania is planning a similar program for its rural hospitals.

Can this system work across America?

How much spending control is ceded to the government is the major battle line in health care politics. An approach like Maryland’s doesn’t just poke a toe over that line, it leaps miles beyond it.

But the United States has been trying to get a handle on health care costs for decades, spending far more than other advanced nations without necessarily getting better outcomes. A successful Maryland experiment could open an avenue to cut costs through the states, perhaps one state at a time, bypassing the steep political hurdle of selling a national plan.