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Entries in Cost & Utilization (54)

Thursday
May032012

A Practical Roadmap for the Perilous Journey from a Culture of Entitlement to a Culture of Accountability

By Nate Kaufman, May 4, 2012

In a culture of entitlement there is the belief that one deserves certain rewards, rights and privileges based on tradition or past achievements. In contrast, in a culture of accountability rewards, rights and privileges are only earned based on the merits of one’s current behaviors and actions. The transition from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability is a perilous journey for rights and privileges are no longer automatic, the ‘entitled party’ usually feels disappointed, angry, or mistreated.

A culture of entitlement is deeply embedded in the US healthcare system: patients believe they are entitled to state of the art care regardless of their unhealthy lifestyle; physicians believe they are entitled to a high degree of clinical autonomy and historical levels of compensation; hospitals believe they are entitled to be reimbursed at the highest rates in the world regardless of their inefficiencies or the results they produce; and suppliers e.g., insurance and pharmaceutical companies believe they are entitled to high margins regardless of the value they provide to the system.

This culture of entitlement has driven per capita healthcare spending in the US to twice what our “peer countries spend on healthcare (commonwealth fund.) It has driven healthcare costs to a point where neither the public nor private sectors can continue to absorb the historical rate of cost growth. And it has called the question as to whether the U.S. healthcare system is creating sufficient value, i.e., outputs per unit cost.

In recent years, data on the value created by the US healthcare system has become more available and the early numbers are not good. According to McKinsey, “In 2006, the United States spent $2.1 Trillion on healthcare, more than twice what the nation spent on food and more than China’s citizens consumed for all goods and services. In addition, adjusting for economics, health status etc, the US spent $650 Billion more on health care than expected base on comparison to peer countries.  Hospital and physician care accounted for almost 85% of the spending above expected levels, with drugs, health administration and insurance comprising the remained components of excess spending.

The primary driver of this excessive cost appears to be the salaries and revenues of providers and suppliers. For example, McKinsey estimates that for inpatient care, “Revenue per equivalent admission” accounts for $54 Billion in excess costs compared to peer countries. This is driven in part by the cost of nurses who are paid 36% more than their peers in other countries. Drug prices are 50% higher in the US than in other developed countries. Based on a multiple of per capita GDP, primary care physicians in the US are paid 46% more than physicians in peer countries and US specialists are paid 67% more than their peers. It is no wonder that the global fee for a normal delivery in the US is twice that of most peer countries (international federation of health plans 2010)

Given the relatively high investment in “input costs” one would expect a commensurate benefit in outcomes; however this does not appear to be the case. According to the Commonwealth Fund Study:

The U.S. health system is the most expensive in the world, but comparative analyses consistently show the United States underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance.

Data on life expectancy vs. cost by country is further evidence that the outcomes produced by the US healthcare system are not commensurate with the investment.

Finally, the high variability in care raises questions as to whether everyone is getting appropriate care:

  1. The rate of mastectomy vs. lumpectomy in North Carolina varied from .4 per 1000 Medicare Beneficiaries in the Wilson HSA to 2.7 in the Goldsboro HSA (Dartmouth)
  2. The rate of Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery ranged from 8.9 per 1000 in McAllen to 1.9 per 1000 in Pueblo CO. (Dartmouth)
  3. Non-radiologist self referrers of medical imaging are 2.48 times more likely to order imaging than clinicians with no financial interest in imaging equipment
  4. 53 percent of the heart attack patients underwent a procedure to restore blood flow to the heart through a blocked artery that caused a heart attack more than 24 hours earlier despite clinical practice guidelines recommending against it.

The often quoted disparity in the per capita cost of care of Medicare patients in McAllen vs. El Paso has raised many eyebrows. Recent research from Franzini et. Al. shows that while per capita Medicare spending was 86% higher in McAllen than in El Paso, the per capita  spending for Blue Cross patients in McAllen was actually 7% less than in McAllen. The authors concluded that their study is “consistent with Gawande’s finding that our healthcare system can create a “culture of money, – increasing the use of profitable Medicare services when there is [unconstrained] diagnostic and procedural discretion and clinical latitude.” 

In a recent study of ‘value’ of healthcare services in Massachusetts conducted by the Attorney General, it was found that the difference in prices paid by insurers to its lowest paid physician group vs. highest paid exceeded 145% and the difference in hospital payments exceeded 170%.  The Attorney concluded that this wide variation in the payments made by health insurers to providers is not adequately explained by differences in quality, complexity of services or their characteristics that might justify variation in prices. “Instead prices reflect the relative market leverage of health insurers and health care providers.”

In his recent speech to the American College of Surgeons, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill) summarized the government’s position on the current healthcare system when he stated that “every group that relies on federal funding should expect a 10% to 20% drop in that funding.”  When Dr. L.D. Britt, President of the ACS, warned that such cuts could send some healthcare providers into a "tailspin," Kirk replied that “the tailspin is the U.S. economy. There is a new audience at play," Kirk said, referring to U.S. creditors. "The judgments they render, they are swift and severe.”

Shifts in culture are painful but if not recognized, and managed they can be terminal for an organization. Through the implementation of value based purchasing, reduced reimbursement, data transparency health systems are being steered on a perilous journey from entitlement to accountability. The healthcare literature is overflowing with tactics and strategies that sound great on paper and/or may be working in Cleveland or Chicago or Rochester MN after decades of trial and error, however there is little evidence that these proposed solutions will work in most healthcare communities in a reasonably short time frame. Michael Porter provides excellent advice on how to increase the value of the healthcare. He notes that:

“Improving performance and accountability depends on having shared goals that unite stakeholders

In healthcare, the absence of clarity about goals has led to divergent approaches, gaming the system and slow progress in performance improvement

Rigorous, disciplined measurement is the best way to drive progress”

The following are practical steps that a health system can implement to begin the long journey of transformation.

1) Conduct regular briefings for the board members, physicians, employees and the community on the structural changes in healthcare occurring at the local, state and federal level

2) Designate a group of physician leader to be the clinical transformation task force. Use this group as a sounding board and to lead implementation efforts

3) Develop accountability measures for every specialty and hospital department. Initially this data should be blinded but designate a time in the future when all results will be transparent. Note: the health plans and the government have already begun publishing an ever increasing amount of un-blinded outcome data by hospital and physician.

4) The Chief Medical Officer or his/her should actively manage the performance of hospital-based physicians.

5) Select a few high volume Medicare DRGs and initiate a process for designing care to improve cost and quality and reduce readmissions. Pick a redesign methodology health systems are using LEAN. Consider a bundled payment demonstration if the health system and physicians share a common vision for decreasing cost and improving quality (and probably getting paid less per unit of service than under fee for service)

6) ACO-Caveat Emptor --buyer beware. Webster defines ‘risk’ as “hazard, danger, peril; exposure to loss, injury or destruction.” While it is true that there is a theoretical opportunity to make more money by doing less, we learned in the mid-nineties that organizations that take the financial risk for the health of the population can end up much worse off than if they did nothing. After decades of successfully taking risk in California it is clear that the critical competencies needed to successfully take risk include:

a.  Physicians that share a common electronic health record system,
b. A culture focused on reducing utilization of hospitals and high end interventions,
c. A strong base of primary care physicians,
d. Selective use of specialists based on the efficiency of the care they provide, and
e. Robust, mature infrastructure.

Since most of the health systems do not possess these competencies they should limit their exposure to risk and test these competencies on the employee population of the health system. If a health system wants to be in the Medicare risk business consider joint venturing a Medicare Advantage Plan with a local payer.

7)      Finally, every journey requires a roadmap and every health system needs to define its strategic direction, a.k.a. “true north.” To maximize performance under the traditional model most health systems strategic behavior can be  characterized as:

Operating a financially strong health system by maximizing revenues through pricing and volume growth, the provision of a broad range of services and meeting the individual clinical and financial needs of each physician

                The new “true north” is clear:

To operate a financially strong, high functioning health system that consistently achieves optimal measureable value, i.e., outcomes/cost, for every patient.

                Define your ‘true north,’ and begin the journey by taking practical, incremental steps described above. Enjoy the ride! 

Monday
Apr302012

Guest Blog from Sander Domaszewicz on Decline in Utilization Metrics

By Clive Riddle, April 30, 2012

Sander Domaszewicz is a Principal with Mercer well-versed in employer and employee health benefit issues, and is a noted national speaker on topics related to this arena. Recently, MCOL’s ThoughtLeaders publication asked it’s panel about the recently observed trends regarding a dip in various utilization metrics. We didn’t connect with Sander in time to ask him this question for the current issue of ThoughtLeaders, but I asked him if he wouldn’t mind doing a short guest blog with his thoughts on the issue.

Question: A number of recent studies have indicated a modest decline in several key patient utilization metrics since the onset of the great recession. Will a long-term change result, or will utilization increase as the economy improves – and what are the implications?

Sander Domaszewicz, Principal, Mercer:

Many of the plan sponsors we work with are busy moving forward with strategies that will right-size utilization now and in the future, making sure that their workforce gets the care they need at a good value, and no more.  Some of the most powerful efforts in this area started to blossom during the great recession, and our expectation is that long-term change will result. 

Employers' focus has shifted to almost equal attention now being given to both the Demand-side and the Supply-side of the care consumption equation.  On the Demand-side, employers are investing in keeping healthy folks healthy and keeping illnesses well-managed for those that have chronic conditions.  This Demand-side aligns with "wellness" or "health management" initiatives and is trying to reduce the demand for health care services in the first place.  If the Demand-side of the intervention breaks down, employers are also addressing the Supply-side of the care utilization equation.  So if people do need to seek health care services, let's make sure we get them the right care, at the right time, from the right provider, for the right price, with the right outcome.  In other words, how can we get the most total value for the health dollar spent.  Consumer-directed health plans, centers of excellence, narrow networks, patient-centered medical homes, ACOs, medical travel, telemedicine, retail/onsite clinics, and other interventions all have Supply-side impact.

Both the private and the public sector purchasers of health services are working diligently to optimize necessary utilization and prevent unnecessary utilization, so better control over time may be more achievable now than at any time in the past.

Wednesday
Apr182012

DME: A Modest Proposal

By Laurie Gelb, April 18, 2012

What's a "convenience item?"

For most plans, it's anything from the elevation feature of a wheelchair seat to a motorized patient lift to a track to move a shower chair into a traditional stall. In other words, it's features, equipment or supplies that you don't want to reimburse.

The rationale for non-reimbursable DME is most often that in and of itself, the "convenient" add-on or gadget doesn't treat a disorder or isn't essential for ADLs. A power wheelchair's tilt and recline functions, for example, are reimbursed because without them a chair-bound patient is more likely to acquire pressure ulcers, which are costly to treat. But vertical elevation -- that's just patients trying to belly up to bars and kitchen counters, right?

Not only.

Often, the elevation feature is used to prolong the time until a passive lift is necessary for transfers. The same is true of hi/lo beds.

So what?

Watch an assisted standing transfer with a confident patient and assistant. Then watch a lift transfer as the patient dangles from a sling, often scraping body parts against a metal frame and risking already-fragile joints and skin. Which one do you prefer from a cost standpoint?

Taking the whole wheelchair higher may also enable use of a urinal or bedpan (supplies that you don’t pay for, whereas you do pay for catheters + the infections they cause), to make it easier for tall helpers to place a lift sling (or to do pivot transfers with more agile patients), for dressing, feeding and many other purposes. If you think about those specific activities, it’s evident that neither tilt (angled seat) nor recline (angled back) can substitute for elevation in those situations.

Now back to reimbursement. Not only is elevation per se often considered a “convenience, but often it’s not even submitted for reimbursement. Many patients don't even ask for it, even if they are aware it exists, because their DMEs tell them not to bother. Sit-to-stand lifts and chairs are another example of usually-unreimbursable items that yield huge health outcomes for appropriate patients, from avoiding hospital stays for impaction to improved respiratory function.

Much very pricey DME, from mobility to respiratory aids, is never submitted for reimbursement because of time pressure (quicker to buy from the Internet or as self-pay); complexity of the reimbursement process; pressure from a DME to file the easy part; a required preauth wasn't filed in time; DME annual limits and/or specific exclusions.

Is all the DME being bought and sold via the Internet (whether Craigslist or DOTmed) or donated by others good or bad for MCOs? To the extent that it's not reimbursed, you might think that it's just fine. But then turn full circle for the sequelae of obsolete, inappropriate and/or flat-out dangerous equipment and you'll see plenty of potential costs.

Ill-considered Internet purchases and donations aren't the only threat to DME safety; wheelchair-bound/NIV patients who "give up" on or wait forever for unresponsive DME firms who avoid service visits (in part because reimbursement is so uncertain) are practically a cliché.

Visit the homes of the chronically ill, even those comparatively well off and with private coverage, and you'll see fraying slings holding patients whose fall would mean a final hospital stay; rusty equipment with unpredictable steering; BiPAP and even vents being used improperly because no one in the household knows how to titrate them and can't get anyone to help; family members (likely in your network as well) risking severe back injuries because the right equipment for transfers/showering/toileting isn't available.

Some paras and quads "eat like dogs" (often choking in the process) out of bowls because they don't have access to a helper to feed them, and of course wheelchair trays and special utensils aren't covered. Nonetheless, your budget will take a hit at some point, and nutritional status compromised by illness comes under the heading of medical need in most textbooks.

Undeniably, your DME charges for lease months and sales for what you do cover, are way more than patients can pay on the Internet or elsewhere. And this goes back to inflated manufacturer pricing, often in expectation of contracted discounts but also in some cases, simple greed.

The root cause: contracted prices and often suboptimal product quality/selection deplete your DME budget to the point that you can't see a business case for the simple items that would pay for themselves and support your case for "caring" as well. Moreover, DME caps basically tell patients to go anywhere but the traditional system to access equipment. How predictable are the outcomes of back alley DME acquisition?

To put it another way, how much do you know about Helen Jones' fall because the eight-year-old walker passed on from her great-aunt wasn't gripping the sidewalk any longer? You paid for her hospital stay and rehab for a broken hip, and she may need home health on discharge. She didn't know that her walker needed new feet (nor would she have known where to get them), because she has low vision and no one she knows has any familiarity with checking walker feet.

No one teaches us about DME; the provider/plan Web sites so thick with rich media ignore it, so the major sources of information on DME are patient forums and YouTube videos, neither of which Mrs. Jones, 82, is likely to access.

The reciprocal of DME providers’ natural desire to remain profitable, is patients who don't know the system, who don't know when/how to use network benefits and when/how not to; how to access help with equipment that they need to have, or that doesn't work how they need it to; and a system that seems massively disinterested in the change that everyone "agrees" is needed. We obsess about medication errors that leveraging IT and FMEA can fix, but don't touch a larger, increasingly relevant (checked the age trend of your membership lately?) issue.

Beyond medical costs, MCOs incur the cost of fraud. I’ve seen recent drastically upcoded invoices to MCOs from DMEs that patients and family members, exhausted from the calls needed to obtain a facsimile of necessary equipment, not to mention the burden of care, didn't even perceive, or when they did perceive them, didn't blink. Why should they care if the MCO pays more than its contract stipulates, for something they never received, when they perceive that the MCO is depriving them of needed equipment and help?

From the other side, I've seen invoices with incorrect patient names, provider names, equipment codes and diagnosis mismatches sail through (as with home health, but that's another story). The DME claims processing burden is great on the payor side as well. The complexity of regulations for the sake of cost control are only getting worse.

The US managed care maze has also kept many highly-rated European manufacturers out of the US market entirely, except for authorized facility-only distributors, who don’t want the hassle of selling to home care.

Does US access to European products matter? Well, only if you’d like your members to have access to options like wool and fleece lining for slings to protect delicate skin; smaller patient electric lifts and tracks to use in apartments, as opposed to relatives’ [insured by you?] backs; freestanding track systems to reduce mobile lift risk, better repositioning aids, etc. Oh, but wait --none of these are usually covered items, anyway. Well, therein lies part of the problem.

Now imagine that DME was reimbursed like an office visit or injection. Provider in network? Check. Correct coding? Check. Eligible patient? Check. No duplication within six months (just as we don't reimburse two fills for the same med if dose is available or two right leg amputations)? Check. Not experimental? Check. Medical/ADL use (like, not a scooter flag or strobe light)? Check. Then you process the claim.

  • How much would you lose?
  • How much would you and patients gain?
  • How much admin cost would you save?

Sure, you'd cap coverage at one power chair per interval, and other obvious constraints. But a track to get quads into a shower, yes, you'd pay (paid for any skin infections or UTIs lately?). Or an elevator on a power chair. Or a new sling to replace the one that’s frayed past safety.

And on this planet, reputable Internet suppliers could be in-network, too. Yes, certain manufacturers would be upset by this. But, down the road, how long can you continue the game? We’re not in Kansas any more.

Could you pilot a low-complexity DME program for certain dx? Patients at risk and/or high utilizers? Maybe in conjunction with existing disease management? Of course you could. Medicare, Medicaid or private plan, everyone’s feeling the pain (quite literally).

And why would you make the effort? Because the next patient held hostage to inadequate equipment and support may be someone you know.

Thursday
Mar082012

The Current Facts on Alzheimer's

By Clive Riddle, March 8, 2012

The Alzheimer's Association this week released their 2012 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, with the full report available from their web site.

Harry Johns, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, tells us "Alzheimer's is already a crisis and it's growing worse with every year. While lives affected and care costs soar, the cost of doing nothing is far greater than acting now. Alzheimer's is a tremendous cost driver for families and for Medicare and Medicaid. This crisis simply cannot be allowed to reach its maximum scale because it will overwhelm an already overburdened system."

Johns goes on to say "this disease must be addressed on parallel tracks: supporting research to find treatments that cure, delay or prevent the disease, and offering assistance and support to the more than 5 million Americans now living with Alzheimer's and their more than 15 million caregivers. This is what the National Alzheimer's Plan is all about. Caring for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias costs America $200 billion in just one year. By committing just one percent of that cost, $2 billion, to research it could begin to put the nation on a path to effective treatments and, ultimately, a cure. Given the human and economic costs of this epidemic, the potential returns on this one percent solution are extremely high."

Here's a selection from the boatload of information provided in their 72 page report on Alzheimer's and other dementias:

  • $140 billion will be paid by Medicare and Medicaid in 2012 for care and treatment
  • Total costs by payer for 2012 will be $200 billion, broken down as follows: Medicare $104.5B; Medicaid $33.5B; Out-of-pocket payments $33.8B; Other $26.2B
  • Medicare payments for an older person with Alzheimer's and other dementias are nearly three times higher and Medicaid payments 19 times higher than for seniors without Alzheimer's and other dementias.
  • A senior with Alzheimer's and diabetes costs Medicare 81 percent more than a senior with diabetes but no Alzheimer's.
  • An older individual with cancer and Alzheimer's costs Medicare 53 percent more than a beneficiary with cancer and no Alzheimer's.
  • An estimated 800,000 individuals have Alzheimer's and live alone, and up to half of these individuals do not have an identifiable caregiver.
  • The 15.2 million friends and family members of the 5.4 million individuals with Alzheimer's and other dementias provide 17.4 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $210 billion.
  • 200,000 of the Alzheimer's population are under age 65 with “younger-onset Alzheimer's”
  • 45% of seniors over age 85 have Alzheimer's
  • 16 percent of women age 71 and older have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias compared with 11% of men
  • Someone develops the disease every 68 seconds
  • Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
  • Based on final mortality data from 2000-2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases – heart disease (-13 percent), breast cancer (-3 percent), prostate cancer (-8 percent), stroke (-20 percent) and HIV/AIDS (-29) − while deaths from Alzheimer's disease have risen 66 percent during the same period.
  • Alzheimer's accounts for somewhere between 60-80% of all dementia cases
Friday
Mar022012

Midwest Business Group on Health’s Quest to Reduce Elective Preterm Deliveries

By Clive Riddle, March 2, 2012

Last week,  Larry S. Boress, President & CEO of the Midwest Business Group on Health was one of three featured speakers in the HealthcareWebSummit event: Managing an Increasing Trend of Elective Preterm Deliveries.

MBGH has taken a keen interest in facilitating a reduction in elective preterm deliveries, and Larry shared why purchasers have gotten involved, and what they are doing about it.

Larry’s opening arguments were:

  • Maternity care is the number one reason for hospitalization among employee populations
  • The highest cost for maternity care is when underdeveloped infants are treated in the neonatal intensive care units of hospitals
  • Preterm infants are less likely to survive to their first birthday than infants delivered at full term
  • Those preterm babies who do survive are more likely to suffer long-term costly disabilities than infants born at term

He shared 2009 Data compiled by Thomson Reuters for the March of Dimes, which compared average expenditures for newborn care yielding $4,551 for uncomplicated cases vs. $49,033  for premature/ low birth weight cases.

So what exactly is an early elective delivery. Larry offered these characteristics:

  • The newborns delivered with a gestational age between the 37th and 39thcompleted week, that were delivered electively
  • Early elective deliveries are performed on women of all backgrounds and incomes.
  • These are distinct from early deliveries performed due to clinically-appropriate reasons to avoid health problems facing the mother or the infant

And what is the scope of early elective deliveries? We learned that the national average is up to a rate of 17% of deliveries, while the Leapfrog group has set a current target at 12%. Minnesota, South Carolina, Indiana and Arizona all have rates above 25%. Virginia, Florida, and New York exceed 20%. While 53% of hospitals are at or below the Leapfrog target of 12%, 33% of hospitals have rates of 20% or higher (6% of hospitals have rates of 45% or higher.)

What are the motivations to have an elective preterm delivery, despite the dangers and costs? Larry cites these delivering physician convenience factors: (A) Guarantee attendance at birth;  (B) Avoid potential scheduling conflicts; (C)  Reduce being woken at night; and (D) the NICU can handle it. Furthermore, Larry offered these motivations for the mothers:

  • Prior bad pregnancy
  • Desire to deliver on special date or holiday
  • Special circumstances
  • Cultural factors
  • Ability to  plan in advance for birth
  •  Convenience
  • Ability to be delivered by her doctor
  • Maternal intolerance to late pregnancy
  • Excess edema, backache, indigestion, insomnia

But there are serious quality implications of non-medically indicated early deliveries beyond cost that Larry cited:

  • Increased NICU admissions (and separation from mother)
  • Increased respiratory illness
  • Increased jaundice and readmissions
  • Increased suspected or proven sepsis
  • Increased newborn feeding problems and other transition issues
  • Under developed brain and lungs
  • Potential development of cerebral palsy

The good news is this is now a national quality measure for the National Quality Forum (NQF); Leapfrog Group; The Joint Commission; and AMA Physician Performance Consortium Measure.

Larry closed by noting that in the twelve months since MBGH made its initial Call to Action to reduce elective preterm deliveries, over 70% of hospitals reduced their early elective delivery rates below previous levels, and many have set 5% as their goal.

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