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.

 

Questioning the ethics of pursuing “grateful patients”

Image result for Hospitals Are Asking Their Own Patients to Donate Money

 

Questioning the ethics of pursuing “grateful patients”

Naming a wing, unit or hospital building after a wealthy donor is nothing new, and hospital executives have long had programs to build relationships with “grateful patients” who wish to make a contribution.

piece this week in the New York Times challenges this practice, and in particular, the ethics of analyzing patient financial data and public records to identify likely donors.

A 2013 change to privacy laws made it easier for hospitals to share information with fundraisers. Now many hospitals have built automated systems to perform “wealth screenings”, combining patient medical records, financial information and publicly-available information such as property records, and political and charitable contributions to identify patients with the means and likelihood of making a large donation. Target patients may receive nicer amenities or a visit from a hospital executive, and follow-up from the hospital’s development staff.

Medical ethicists are split on the practice, with one calling it “unseemly but not illegal or unethical”, but another saying that the practice, and particularly getting physicians involved in the process, is “fraught with danger”.

Previous research has shown that half of oncologists reported being trained to identify potential donors, and a third had been directly asked to solicit donations from patients. The reactions of physicians and patients profiled are mixed. Many doctors feel uncomfortable about the practice but recognize the importance of philanthropy.

Some patients want to express their gratitude through donation—but others expressed concerns about misleading connections between their doctors’ needs and where their donations would be spent.

They also questioned whether large health systems with billions in revenue and millions in profits should be routinely pursuing large donors. Rising public scrutiny around billing practices also highlights the dissonance between asking for philanthropic donations while at the same time aggressively pursuing a schoolteacher or bus driver for thousands of dollars in out-of-network claims.

We’d expect these tensions to continue to grow, as rising margin pressures make philanthropic income even more critical for hospitals—but transparency and a growing healthcare consumer marketplace raise questions of how much of a nonprofit health system’s work truly is “charitable”.

 

 

CMS Reevaluates Stark Law in Response to Value-Based Care Initiatives

http://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/health-law-and-policy/cms-reevaluates-stark-law-response-value-based-care-initiatives?rememberme=1&elq_mid=2696&elq_cid=876742&GUID=A13E56ED-9529-4BD1-98E9-318F5373C18F

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On June 20, 2018, CMS and HHS issued a “request for information” (RFI) seeking input on strategies to reduce the burden of the federal physician self-referral law or “Stark Law,” including the law’s impact on the transition to value-based care.

In the RFI, CMS solicits information on the ways in which the Stark Law creates challenges for coordinated, value-based care, and the transition to alternative payment and delivery models; it also seeks ideas and input on how the Stark Law may be changed to facilitate these models.

What’s driving the RFI

The RFI is launched as part of the agency’s “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care” led by HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, which is directed at addressing regulatory barriers to coordinated care.  As such, the Regulatory Sprint and the RFI represent the administration’s efforts to reduce regulatory burden, while also demonstrating a commitment to the transition to more value-based, coordinated care and risk-based payment.  In public statements, HHS and CMS officials have suggested that the Regulatory Sprint may support similar flexibility in other laws, including the Anti-Kickback Statute.

Although the agency does not commit to any specific regulatory changes in this document, it is notable that HHS issued a similar RFI in 2010 just before it issued sweeping waivers of the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute for the Medicare Shared Savings Program.  While many of the questions focus on “Alternative Payment Models” under the Quality Payment Program, the RFI is not limited to these programs.  Instead, the RFI invites the public to propose new exceptions and revised interpretations of the statute to advance the goals of coordinated care.

What CMS wants to know

In the RFI, CMS poses twenty specific questions related to the Stark Law, Alternative Payment Arrangements, and delivery system innovation strategies. The topics and questions range from:

  • Requests for details on Alternative Payment Models and innovations considered or engaged in by healthcare delivery system participants, including details on the financial and operational details of the arrangements, such as financial risk;
  • Solicitation of ideas and input on additional and/or new exceptions to the Stark Law that would facilitate existing and innovative arrangements;
  • Thoughts on changes to existing provisions of the final rule implementing the Stark Law, such as definitions of “commercial reasonableness” and “fair market value,” and thoughts on other potential definitions and terms such as “Alternative Payment Model,” clinical and financial integration and others;
  • Comments on key concepts in the existing law including compensation formulas that do and do not take into account the volume or value of referrals or other business within the meaning of the Stark Law and other novel financial arrangements; an
  • Requests for information on the Stark Law’s compliance cost, the potential role of increased transparency to promote compliance and how CMS should assess the Stark Law’s effectiveness in achieving its underling policy goals related to improper financial incentives.

The RFI may represent an important opportunity for the healthcare industry to educate CMS on current experiences and challenges, and to shape the content of future rules implementing changes to the Stark Law, particularly in a time of industry integration across the continuum of care.  The RFI also offers tangible evidence of the administration’s commitment to continue a migration to value-based care, and potentially reflects an enhanced commitment and desire to migrate away from fee-for-service payment to arrangements involving financial risk.

 

 

What’s Driving Health Care Costs?

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

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

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

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

Key findings from the studies include:

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Explanations

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

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

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

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

Other Market Factors

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

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

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

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

The Role Of Competition And Transparency On Costs

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

Competition

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

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

Transparency

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

Policy Recommendations

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

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

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

 

 

Spin Belongs in The Gym, Not The Workplace

Spin Belongs in The Gym, Not The Workplace – 4 Ways to Increase Transparency

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I have a motto when it comes to honesty and transparency at work: Spin belongs in the gym, not the workplace.

Spinning the truth is a way of shaping our communications to make our self, the company, or the situation appear better than it is in reality. It’s become so commonplace in the corporate world that many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We “spin” by selectively sharing the facts, overemphasizing the positive, minimizing the negative, or avoiding the obvious, all in an attempt to manipulate the perception of others. See if a few of these spins on the truth sound familiar:

  • “We are optimizing and rightsizing our human capital.” (aka, We are eliminating jobs and laying off people.)
  • “Quarterly revenue was adversely affected by marketplace dynamics.” (aka, We failed to hit our revenue goal.)
  • “Brian’s strength as a salesperson is developing creative business deals and client partnerships, as opposed to the tactical elements of his role.” (aka, We can’t or don’t want to hold Brian accountable for his administrative responsibilities as a salesperson because he brings in too much revenue.)

Spinning the truth is one of the most common ways leaders bust trust. It also leads to tremendous inefficiencies because people are confused about roles, they duplicate work, balls get dropped, and people resort to blaming others. Poor morale, cynicism, and political infighting become the norm when honesty and transparency are disregarded.

There are macro-level societal events and trends driving the need for greater transparency in the workplace. We’re all familiar with the digital privacy concerns related to the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, and we’ve witnessed the corporate scandals of blatant deceit and dishonesty that’s contributed to record low levels of trust. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency—the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

But at the individual, team, and organization levels, what can we do to build greater trust, honesty, and transparency? I have four suggestions:

  1. Provide access to information. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and misinformation which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
  2. Speak plainly. Avoid double-speak, and reduce or eliminate the use of euphemisms such as right-sizing, optimizing, gaining efficiencies, or other corporate buzzwords. When people hear these words, their BS detectors are automatically activated. They immediately start to parse and interpret your words to decipher what you really mean. Speak plainly in ways that are easily understood. Present complicated data in layman terms and focus on having a dialogue with people, not bombarding them with facts. Our team members are big boys and girls, they can handle the truth. Be a straight-shooter, using healthy doses of compassion and empathy when delivering tough news.
  3. Share criteria for making decisions. When it comes to making tough decisions, I believe that if people know what I know, and understand what I understand, they will be far more likely to reach the same (or similar) conclusion I did. Even if they don’t, they will usually acknowledge the validity of my decision-making criteria and respect that I approached the process with a clear and focused direction. Unfortunately, many times leaders are afraid to share information or their decision-making criteria because they don’t want to be second-guessed or exposed to legal risk. We’ve become so afraid of being sued or publicly criticized that we tend to only share information on a “need to know” basis. Sharing information on your decision-making process will help people buy into your plans rather than second-guessing them.
  4. Create communication forums. A lack of communication is often the root of dysfunction in organizations. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and no one seems to take ownership of making sure people are informed. Everyone likes to blame the Corporate Communications department for the lack of information sharing in the organization, but that blame is misplaced. Let me tell you who has the big “R” (responsibility) for communication—YOU! If you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to create forums to share information with your team. Ultimately, this starts at the top. A President or CEO cannot delegate communications to some other function. It’s the top dog’s responsibility to ensure alignment all throughout the organization and the only way that starts is to frequently and openly communicate. The forums for communication are only limited by your imagination: town hall meetings, email updates, newsletters, video messages, department meetings, lunch gatherings, and team off-site events are just a few examples.

Spin is a great activity for the gym and it keeps you in fantastic shape. However, in the workplace, spin is deadly to your health as a leader. It leads to low trust, poor morale, and cynicism in your team. Keep spin in the gym and out of the workplace.