Out With the Old...Wait, Not in Health Care

By Kim Bellard, August 16, 2016

The last company still manufacturing VCRs announced it has ceased their production.  VCRs had a good run, most households had one, but their time has passed.  Meanwhile, the stethoscope is celebrating its 200th birthday, and is still virtually the universal symbol for health care professionals.  

There has got to be a moral in there somewhere. VCRs are a classic example of how technology (usually) moves on.  Except in health care.

Like stethoscopes.  Digital advocate Dr. Eric Topol recently tweeted: "The stethoscope's 200th birthday should be its funeral. That's all well and good, but -- to paraphrase Mark Twain -- reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

It's not like stethoscopes do all that good a job, or, perhaps, that physicians use them all that well.  A 2014 study found that participants only detected all tested sounds 69% of the time.  As the authors diplomatically concluded, "a clear opportunity for improving basic auscultations skills in our health care professionals continues to exist."   

Oh, and stethoscopes also help carry germs.

And it's not like there aren't alternatives.  As one might expect in the 21st century, there are electronic/digital stethoscopes.  There are also handheld ultrasounds that provide another strong alternative.

And now, of course, there are smartphone apps for stethoscopes.  Apple was claiming 3 million doctors had downloaded its $0.99 stethoscope app as long ago as 2010, with Android versions also available.  

And yet stethoscopes hang in there.  

We might like to think that physicians continue to use traditional stethoscopes because they are simply being thrifty, since electronic stethoscopes and handheld ultrasounds are much more expensive, but that seems a reach.  They've certainly not been reluctant to adapt other types of newer, more expensive technology -- at least, not as long as they can charge more for it.  

It is a conundrum that has bedeviled economists: why in health care does new technology almost always increase costs, unlike most other industries?  E.g., DVRs were much better than VCRs, but quickly became comparably priced.  Professor Kentaro Toyama cites what he calls technology's Law of Amplification: "Technology’s primary effect is to amplify, not necessarily to improve upon, underlying human inclinations."

And in health care, those underlying inclinations don't drive towards greater value.

When it comes to stethoscopes, it's not about the money.  Many physicians believe that the stethoscope helps foster the patient-physician relationship.  In a recent article in The Atlantic, Andrew Bomback admitted that, "Indeed, for many doctors (myself included), the stethoscope exam has become more ceremony than utility."  

Physician/engineer Elazer Edelman argues that a stethoscope exam can help to create a bond between patients and physicians.  He worries that technology may be fraying the "tether" between doctors and patients. Still, if the relationship depends on which device a physician uses to listen to our chest, that relationship is in bigger trouble than we think.

So, R.I.P. VCRs, and thanks for the memories.  As for stethoscopes, and for health care more generally, though, maybe the moral is that we should focus less on status symbols and more on what is best for patients.

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


Health Benefit Costs for Large Employers – Up 6% again in 2017

By Claire Thayer, August 12, 2016

This week, the National Business Group on Health released their Large Employers’ 2017 Health Plan Design Survey, with the ‘good’ news that the overall health benefit costs were only expected to increase 6%.  Says Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, “interestingly, current estimates have health insurance premiums for the average public exchange plan increasing by at least 10%, about twice what large employers are projecting for next year. This is a clear indication that the employer-based health care model continues to be the most effective way to provide health insurance coverage to employees and their families.”

Spending on pharmaceuticals and specialty drugs are contributing factors in the overall growth of health care benefit costs.  The survey reports that overall, 80% of employers placed specialty pharmacy as one of the top three highest cost drivers, followed by high cost claimants (73%) and specific diseases and conditions (61%).

The survey offers highlights of what employees will see during their upcoming open enrollment:

  • Telehealth services on the rise: Nine in 10 employers (90%) will make telehealth services available to employees in states where it is allowed next year, a sharp increase from 70% this year.
  • Consumer-Directed Health Plans (CDHPs) increase slightly: Overall, 84% of employers will offer a CDHP in 2017, up from 83% this year. In addition, more than one-third of employers (35%) will only offer CDHPs to employees in 2017, a slight increase from 33% this year.
  • Spousal surcharges leveling off: One in three employers (33%) will have surcharges in place for spouses who can obtain coverage through their own employer, roughly the same as this year. A few employers will exclude spouses when other coverage is available through an employer.
  • Expanded options at Centers of Excellence grow. The use of Centers of Excellence will grow from 79% this year to 85% in 2017. The largest increases will be for bariatric surgery (up 15 percentage points), transplants and fertility treatments, both up 8 percentage points.
  • Tools to manage care: Eight in 10 respondents (80%) plan to offer nurse coaching for care and condition management while 72% will offer nurse coaching for lifestyle management. Nearly two-thirds (65%) will provide employees with self-service decision-making tools to help them become better health care consumers.

A Snapshot of Managed Care Pie

By Clive Riddle, August 4, 2016

MCOL’s Managed Care Fact Sheet webpages are being updated to reflect current data, so I took this opportunity to grab some Facts and provide this preview, baking this snapshot of managed care pie.

National HMO Enrollment is 92.4 million for 2016, up from 85.7 million in 2015, and a recent low of 66.8 million in 2007. The previous high was 81.3 million in 1999, just before managed care backlash whipped the numbers down. (1)

How does the managed care enrollment pie divide up?  33% are enrolled in HMOs, 57% in PPOs, 2% in POS plans and 7% in HDHPs.(1) - (3)  The top five national health plans by enrollment are United Health Group – 48.0 million; Anthem – 39.6 million; Aetna – 23.0 million; Cigna – 15.1 million and Health Care Service Corporation – 15.0 million. (14)

And what portion of the total national pie does managed care represent? 31% of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, 63% of Medicaid enrollees are in Medicaid managed care plans, and 99% of commercial lives are enrolled in managed care. Factor in the 9% of the population that is still uninsured, and 70% of the total population is enrolled in some form of managed care plan. (4) – (10)

What are current resource use benchmarks in managed care – or how much of the pie is being eaten? HMO Hospital inpatient days per 1,000 members per year are 1,639 for Medicare, 395 for Medicaid and 231 for commercial; Commercial PPO are 237. HMO Physician visits per member per year are 10.2 for Medicare, and 4.8 for Medicaid and Commercial; Commercial PPO are 4.7. HMO Prescriptions per member per year are 29.9 for Medicare, 9.6 for Medicaid and 9.0 for Commercial; Commercial PPO are 11.8. (2) (11)

Getting back to pie, medical cost components – for a family covered by a PPO – are sliced up 31% for inpatient, 30% of physician, 19% for outpatient services, 17% for pharmacy and 4% for other services. (12)

So what does the pie cost? Single health plan premiums average $518 for HMOs and $548 for PPOs, and family premiums average $1,437 for HMOs and $1,539 for PPOs. Premium increases are estimated to be 4.3% in 2016, and have been under 5% after 2011, and under 8% after 2003. In 2002 – post managed care backlash -  they were 14.7%, but they were 8.1% or less in the pre managed care backlash era from 1993 to 2000, including a decrease of 1.1% in 1994.  Before that, double digit increases were the norm for a number of years.

(1) Total HMO Enrollment - Kaiser State Health Facts; Data Source: Health Leaders InterStudy, a Decision Resources Group Company July 2015 Data, accessed August 2016 www.statehealthfacts.org

(2) 2015 HMO-PPO Rx Digest Series, Sanofi www.managedcaredigest.com 

(3) New Census Survey Shows Continued Growth in HSA Enrollment, AHIP November 11, 2015  https://ahip.org/new-census-survey-shows-continued-growth-in-hsa-enrollment/     

(4) CMS Fast Facts: www.cms.gov/fastfacts/  

(5) Medicaid Enrollment Report as of January 2016: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid-chip-program-information/program-information/downloads/january-2016-enrollment-report.pdf 

(6) Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts Total Medicaid MCO Enrollment http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/total-medicaid-mco-enrollment/ 

(7) CDC Fast Facts, National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States 2016: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/ 

(8) Tricare Prime Beneficiaries 2016: www.tricare.mil/About/Facts/BeneNumbers.aspx 

(9) CDC May 2016: Health Insurance Coverage: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, 2015 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/insur201605.pdf  

(10) Total U.S. Population data as of April 2016, U.S. Census Bureau: www.census.gov

(11) 2015 Public Payer Digest Series, Sanofi www.managedcaredigest.com

(12) Milliman Medical Index, Milliman, May 24, 2016 http://www.milliman.com/mmi/    

(13) Kaiser/HRET Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Benefits, 2015. www.kff.org

(14) MCOL research from 2016 company reports


Common Culture – A source of strength for integrated delivery systems 

By Cathy Eddy, Health Plan Alliance, July 25, 2016

On July 20, I had the opportunity to be part of a discussion that American Hospital Association and Sharp Healthcare hosted in San Diego for integrated delivery systems with health plans. I was asked to facilitate an exchange on key trends in product innovation.

During the day the discussion hit on many of the national trends we are seeing in our work with health plans around the country:

  • Strategic Value
  • Growth
  • Changes in Ownership
  • Alignment and Intersection
  • Government Oversight

During my session, we went into depth about the need for alignment between payers and providers and the key intersection points where health systems and their provider-sponsored health plans need to work in tandem to be successful. These areas are:

  • Governance
  • Customer experience
  • Contracting strategy
  • Risk adjustment
  • Quality metrics
  • Clinical integration
  • Informatics and analytics
  • Technology assessment and IT infrastructure

Jim Hinton, President & CEO, Presbyterian Healthcare Services who chaired the meeting, suggested I add a slide about Culture, another area that is a key to success. He shared that his team will call out when the word “side” is mentioned. I’ve been on the Presbyterian Health Plan board for 10 years and the organization does a great job of looking at its challenges and opportunities from a system point of view. We have an annual planning retreat with the system and health plan boards that contribute to a common culture at the governance level.  Jim’s comment reminded us that words matter.  So does culture.

Mike Murphy, CEO of Sharp Healthcare, led a discussion with a team of his executives including Melissa Hayden Cook, the CEO of Sharp Health Plan. They did a great overview about how they work as an integrated health system. This organization has built the “Sharp Experience” that drives a common culture. For the past 15 years, Sharp has held annual all-employee meetings  – three sessions where 17,000 employees, 2,600 physicians and 2,000 volunteers are invited to take a bus trip to the convention center and recommit to Sharp Healthcare and their role with the system. Their vision: To be the best health care system in the universe!

Integrated Delivery Systems often include several business models and that can result in different cultures. The language of a health plan is different than the one used by providers. The meaning given to the same words can be different – for instance, revenue. In a health plan, revenue comes from premium dollars, but payers see provider revenue as a cost. Roles can have the same title, but different responsibilities  -- care manager is just one example. It is a challenge for our integrated delivery systems to develop a common culture.  Kudos to Sharp and Presbyterian for the work they have done in this arena.

Value-based payments will drive the need for collaboration. Population health focuses on the care continuum. The customer experience is often a reflection of the system’s culture…positive when everyone is working with a common set of values and negative when the hand-offs are confusing and disjointed. As we strive to successfully integrate providers and payers, the value of a common culture can be an important key to success.

So how healthy is your culture? Listen carefully to see the words that are a part of conversations in your health system to see if you are thinking like an integrated system.

This post originally apperared on the Health Plan Alliance Blog on June 28th, 2016. You can see the original at http://www.healthplanalliance.org/News/166/Common-Culture--A-source-of-strength-for-integrated-delivery-systems and see all the Health Plan Alliance Blog posts at http://www.healthplanalliance.org/hpa/Blog.asp


Connecting individuals to complex health care fraud schemes

By Claire Thayer, July 25, 2016

The U.S. Department of Justice has been busy in tracking down and convicting criminals in health care fraud related crimes.  This week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its largest criminal healthcare fraud case against individuals in $1billion Medicare fraud scheme. This follows U.S. Department of Justice news on June 22, 2016, of an unprecedented nationwide sweep led by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in 36 federal districts, resulting in criminal and civil charges against 301 individuals, including 61 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $900 million in false billings.  In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is suspending payment to a number of providers using its suspension authority provided in the Affordable Care Act.  This coordinated takedown is the largest in history, both in terms of the number of defendants charged and loss amount. 

An OIG report published earlier this year found that in FY 2015, FBI efforts resulted in over 625 operational disruptions of criminal fraud organizations and the dismantlement of the criminal hierarchy of more than 144 health care fraud enterprises.  These and other findings are the focus of a recent MCOL infographoid, co-sponsored by LexisNexis Health Care, highlighted below:

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.

Page 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 113 Next 5 Entries »