Looking for the Future in the Past

By Kim Bellard, March 25, 2015

I don't get smartwatches.

Yes, I know; they're all the rage. Apple unveiled its Apple Watch earlier this month, to generally good if not entirely ecstatic reviews. Not to be outdone, Google announced a collaboration with TAG Heuer and Intel for a "Swiss Smartwatch." Samsung and Sony are close behind with their own versions.

Poor Fitbit, which held the early lead in wrist wearables, is now desperately trying to broaden its product line, including the new Surge. They must feel a little like Garmin or Nikon did when mobile phones began to incorporate GPS tracking and digital phones.

I have to wonder why the focus on the wrist. It isn't the ideal place to track, say, your heartbeat, your sleep, or your steps, and as a result fitness trackers have been faulted about their accuracy.  I'm not sure who is clamoring to add more features to a watch.

It's as if Timex and Casio, not to mention TAG Heuer, are conspiring to create a demand so that they don't go the way of Kodak.

It's not that I think they are a bad idea. If you want to wear one, more power to you, and I hope it helps you with your health goals. My problem with them is that I think they are an example of our trying to create the future by looking in the past.

Shouldn't we be developing truly new technologies and uses for them?

I can't help but think about EHRs in this context. Health care providers insisted on being subsidized for what would be normal business process improvement investments for any other industry. What we got for all the federal spending were products that physicians don't really like, that more often hinder than help with patient care, that patients rarely have access to, and that can't easily share data.

We need tools that are more collaborative, more interactive, and more proactive.

Congress is already starting to ask what it has gotten for its $35b HITECH investment, even holding hearings to demand answers. EHRs used to have bipartisan support and now have fairly bipartisan disappointment.

We don't even have an agreed upon way to figure out if providers have the same patient, much less share their data about that patient. The financial services industry solved similar customer-identification problems decades ago. They did it because it made business sense.

In theory, that kind of change will happen once we make that big move to "value-based" care, but as long as our baseline is our current level of spending, I'm skeptical. We need approaches that attempt not just to reduce increases in spending but that aim to take big chunks out of spending. There's no shortage of waste, duplication and unnecessary care that could be eliminated.

Smartwatches, EHRs, or proton beam therapy, to name a few examples, are not likely to help accomplish that.

I want to see those kinds of new technologies in health care, not a smartwatch. Technologies that help change how we think about "health" and how we treat problems with it. I challenge health care technology gurus: show us something not just that we haven't seen before; show us something we hadn't even thought of before

As Alan Kay famously said: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting


PwC’s Health Research Institute Gives Us Five

By Clive Riddle, March 20, 2015

Many institutions are pausing to write and reflect on the ACA at this five-year anniversary mark, underneath the pall of the SCOTUS’ King vs. Burwell shadow. PwC’s Health Research Institute has just weighed in with a nice 22-page report : Healthcare reform: Five trends to watch as the Affordable Care Act turns five.

The report lays five key trends on us that they contend the ACA has fueled after five years:

  1. Risk Shift: Raising the stakes for all healthcare players. The ACA added force to new payment models that reward outcomes and penalize poor performance such as high rates of readmission and hospital-acquired conditions.
  2. Primary care: Back to basics. Experimentation in new payment models and expansion of insurance coverage are making primary care once again the critical touch point.
  3. New entrants: Innovators in the New Health Economy. New entrants are rushing into the market to meet the demand for lower-cost, consumer-oriented care options in the post-ACA era. More than 90 new companies have been created since 2010, according to HRI analysis.
  4. Health insurance: From wholesale to retail. Rapid enrollment in the ACA's public exchanges has demonstrated the potential of retail-style health insurance and spawned renewed interest in private exchanges.
  5. States: Reform's pivotal stage. States have emerged as key players in the reconfigured healthcare landscape, as the ACA gave states notable discretion in how the law could be implemented.

Ceci Connolly, managing director of PwC's Health Research Institute, tells us "the five trends have led to the creation of more than 90 new companies that have entered the sector since 2010. The ACA has opened gates for savvy investors and start-ups to take a piece of the $2.9 trillion industry."

And if that isn’t enough, they give us these five takeaways on what stakeholder should consider going forward:

  1. Revisiting strategies to emphasize saving over spending and quality over quantity, to serve more consumers effectively and demonstrate affordability.
  2. Watching closely as the reimbursement pendulum swings from fee-for-service to accountable care.
  3. Innovating to meet the demands of the new healthcare consumer.
  4. Pursuing opportunities to enhance consumer choice and engagement in selecting health benefits.
  5. Working with states as they continue to shape the future landscape.

Prescription Costs Returning to the Wild

By Clive Riddle, March 13, 2015

Numerous studies have been warning that prescription cost increases, domesticated and docile for some time now, have returned to the wild - resurging and rearing their unpleasant head.

During last fall, Evaluate published a new 18-page report , "Budget-busters: The Shift to High-Priced Innovator Drugs in the USA." that addresses the growth of high-end prescription drugs. Evaluate tells us that "the median price of the Top 100 drugs has skyrocketed from $1,260 in 2010 to $9,400 in 2014, representing a seven-fold increase," and that "the average patient population size served by a Top 100 drug in 2014 was 146,000 down from 690,000 in 2010. The number of treatments costing in excess of $100,000 per patient per year rose to seven in 2014 versus four in 2010."

When Segal released their 2015 Segal Health Plan Cost Trend Survey, they stated “Health benefit plan cost trend rates for 2015 are forecast to drop slightly for some coverage, but to increase substantially for prescription drug coverage...…The increase in the cost of prescription drug carve-out coverage for actives and retirees under age 65 is expected to jump to nearly 9 percent. Prescription drug trend for retirees age 65 and older is expected to rise to 7.5 percent, more than twice the rate of retiree medical cost trends. The projected specialty drug/biotech trend rate for 2015 is an exceptionally high 19.4 percent.”

A number of other studies cite similar concerns, and this week Express Scripts weighed in with their annual Drug Trend Report. They state “new hepatitis C therapies with high price tags and the exploitation of loopholes for compounded medications drove a 13.1 percent increase in U.S. drug spending in 2014 – a rate not seen in more than a decade.”

Here’s some key selections from Express Scripts findings:

“Hepatitis C and compounded medications are responsible for more than half of the increase in overall spending. Excluding those two therapy classes, 2014 drug trend (the year-over-year increase in per capita drug spending) was 6.4 percent.”

“Specialty medications – biologic and other high cost treatments for complex conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and cancer – accounted for more than 31 percent of total drug spending in 2014. As Express Scripts forecasted last year, specialty drug trend more than doubled in 2014, to 30.9 percent. Hepatitis C medications accounted for 45 percent of the total increase in specialty spend despite having the second lowest prescription volume among the top 10 specialty conditions. Medicare plans – required to follow Medicare Part D formulary guidelines – were the hardest hit, as their annual specialty drug spend increased 45.9 percent.”

“Spending on traditional classes of medications continues to rise as a result of compounded drugs, which emerged in the top 10 traditional therapy classes for the first time. Despite having the least number of prescriptions among the top 10 classes, compounded medications accounted for 35 percent of the increase in spending, the most of any traditional therapy class of drugs.”

“Drugmaker consolidation and drug shortages also led to increases in traditional drug trend, which rose to 6.4 percent in 2014. Diabetes remains the leading traditional therapy class for a fourth straight year based on total costs; Express Scripts expects double-digit increases in spend in this class over the next three years due to once-weekly oral and injectable drugs in the pipeline.  Cost for medications to treat pain increased 15.7 percent in 2014, due in part to new tamper-resistant formulations for opiates.”


Medical Identity Theft Impact on Health Care

By Claire Thayer, March 12, 2015

According to findings from The Fifth Annual Study on Medical Identity Theft, published by the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance, the number of patients affected by medical identity theft increased nearly 22 percent in the last year, an increase of close to half a million since 2013. Many of us by now have heard about the massive Anthem breach, affecting up to 80 million people and considered to be the largest security breach involving a major health organization. Anthem notes that "the information accessed may have included names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, health care ID numbers, home addresses, email addresses, employment information, including income data."  However, while, yes, the breach at Anthem was massive, they’re far from alone! 

Since 2009, 109 health-plan related security breaches have been reported to the Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights.  Breaches affecting 500 or more individuals is public information and accessible directly via the aptly named Breach Portal, where you can search by covered entity, state, type of entity (i.e., health plan, healthcare provider, etc), individuals affected, breach submission date, type of breach (theft, hacking/IT, improper disposal, etc., location of breached information).

MCOL's infoGraphoid this week highlights health plan related security breaches since 2009 and how patients found out that their medical identity was exposed:

MCOL’s weekly infoGraphoid is a benefit for MCOL Basic members and released each Wednesday as part of the MCOL Daily Factoid e-newsletter distribution service – find out more here.


Medicare Obesity Counseling – it’s Free!

By Claire Thayer, March 5, 2015

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows alarming obesity trend rates among the elderly population within the United States.  Thirty-six percent of men aged 65-74 are considered obese, along with slightly over 44% of women in this same age bracket, as highlighted on the CDC’s FastStats for Older Persons’ Health web page:

These findings continue to trend upward from the data previously available from the National Center for Health Statistics that found more than one-third of older adults aged 65 and over were obese in 2007–2010. 

Consider that over the next thirty years, the number of U.S. older adults is expected to more than double, rising from 40.2 million to 88.5 million. Primary care providers are critically important in helping to reverse these trends. The Kaiser Family Foundation reminds us in an article published this week, Few Seniors Benefiting From Medicare Obesity Counseling, that the Affordable Care Act included a new Medicare benefit offering face-to-face weight-loss counseling in primary care doctors’ offices. Doctors are paid to provide the service, which is free to obese patients, with no co-pay.  Surprisingly, as reported in USA Today, a mere 1% of Medicare's 50 million beneficiaries have used the free counseling benefit.