Health Wonk Review update

Friday I inadvertently left out two excellent posts from long time contributors Hank Stern and Roy Poses Md PhD.

My apologies to these gentlemen, and here’s a very brief UPDATE – with their contributions.

Hank Stern, contributed a post about the Defense Base Act, and a contractor’s…challenges when encountering the Act…DBA is kinda like workers comp without the unlimited benefits…and this poor soul suffered mightily.  Hank delves into the details as to how this could happen.  The brief answer – all too easily.

Healthcare in the occupational arena is often the  forgotten red-headed stepchild of the healthcare world, yet it is a significant issue for both the workers who sustain what can be life altering workplace injuries and employers who bear the full cost burden for medical care and wage replacement. At Workers’ Comp Insider, Tom Lynch offers a primer of best practices in his Eight Steps To Controlling Workers’ Compensation Costs part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Roy Poses provided a different perspective on health care, asking why people with no healthcare background are running health care delivery organizations.  

from Roy’s post…

I believe that managerialism in a health care context (leadership of health care organizations by people with only management training, and without any knowledge, understanding or experience in health care, based only on management dogma) is one of the major causes of health care dysfunction. Here is a great example of a managerialist hospital CEO who also seemed to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect, that people who lack ability are likely unaware of this lack…To belabor the obvious, true health care reform requires health care leadership that understands health care and upholds its professional values.

An interesting post to juxtapose comes fromJason Shafrin, who asks “Does more spending improve outcomes?” 

number of studies have claimed that increasing health expenditures may result in no better, or even worse patient outcomes.  The Healthcare Economist revisits the topic looking at the case of neonatal ward spending and patient outcomes in the UK.

HWR – The double edition

You get more for your money this fortnight!

The Senate Republicans’ release of their repeal-and-replace bill – plus our usual plethora of wisdom from health care experts, gives you a double-value today – the first in the history of HealthWonkReview!

Part One – Repeal-and-Replace

Let’s be real – Republican Senators’ bill is NOT an ACA replacement, rather it is best understood as a major reduction in Medicaid. For some, that’s all to the good; for others, not so much.

Here’s what you need to know.

(note I looked for other blog posts supporting the Senate bill – if you read any good ones please send them to me)

From Forbes, Avik Roy says

“the Senate bill will have far-reaching effects on American health care: for the better….if you simply kept [some tax credits from the House bill] in force, and tossed overboard the Paul Ryan flat tax credit, you’d solve all of these problems with the House bill. By making that change, the near-elderly working poor would be able to afford coverage, and the poverty trap would be eliminated. [emphasis added]

I wholeheartedly disagree with Roy’s premise. logic, and selective use of data to support his contention. He just doesn’t understand healthcare and the delivery thereof. His contention that eliminating coverage for 20 million Americans is “for the better” is patently absurd.

Andrew Sprung at xpostfactoid cut to the chase – his takeaway is the bill trades Medicaid coverage for high deductible private market coverage.  Andrew quotes Louisiana Republican Senator Cassidy…but notes Cassidy’s sentiment is misleading at best.

Right now, [low income people] might have a $6,000 deductible, which for someone who makes 150 percent of the federal poverty line might as well be $6 million. 

Sprung…

It’s true, as Cassidy avers, that an enrollee with an income of 150% FPL [federal poverty level] might have a $6,000 deductible, but most don’t…In any case, “most of those 20 million” who newly gained coverage did so through the Medicaid expansion and have zero deductible.

Ezra Klein made a similar point even more economically at Vox – “The Senate GOP health bill in one sentence: poor people pay more for worse insurance.”

Margot Sanger-Katz’ New York Times piece entitled G.O.P. Health Plan Is Really a Rollback of Medicaid reminds us of Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that Medicaid covers :

  • 20% of all Americans
  • almost half of all births, and
  • two-thirds of nursing home residents.

David Williams pushes things a bit further with his post, asking if we should consider Medicaid for all. David uses Nevada as a “template” for his assessment of the potential that  when – my words not his – the GOP destroys ACA – there will be an open revolt and we’ll end up with single payer – using Medicaid. 

Compelling case…

Timothy Jost and Sara Rosenbaum on Health Affairs Blog give us “Unpacking The Senate’s Take On ACA Repeal And Replace“; here are a few key quotes…

  • the Senate bill…entirely strikes the House bill and adopts a new bill with a new title.
  • the Senate bill is focused on changes to the Medicaid program.
  • parts of the Senate draft will be challenged under the Byrd rule. (they violate rules allowing passage without 60 votes)
  • the Senate bill would replace the House’s age-based premium tax credits (APTC) with tax credits based on age, income, and the actual cost of health insurance in particular markets.

Wrapping up our Medicaid – ACA – BCRA discussion, AHCA’s unkindest cuts is from healthinsurance.org; The premise:

The attention various AHCA provisions get is inversely proportionate to the damage they’ll do. and that the bill — and its likely Senate counterpart — should properly be called the Medicaid Dismemberment Act.

Nate Silver opines on the likelihood of BCRA’s passage – his considered opinion is: 

I’d guard both against interpretation that the bill will necessarily pass the Senate because it passed the House. At the same time, Ryan and House Republicans overcame some of the same obstacles — and if that precedent isn’t dispositive, it’s at least highly relevant.

Part Two –

UPDATE – apologies to Hank Stern, who contributed a post about the Defense Base Act, and a contractor’s…challenges when encountering the Act…DBA is kinda like workers comp without the unlimited benefits…

Healthcare in the occupational arena is often the  forgotten red-headed stepchild of the healthcare world, yet it is a significant issue for both the workers who sustain what can be life altering workplace injuries and employers who bear the full cost burden for medical care and wage replacement. At Workers’ Comp Insider, Tom Lynch offers a primer of best practices in his Eight Steps To Controlling Workers’ Compensation Costs part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Roy Poses provided a different perspective on health care, asking why people with no healthcare background are running health care delivery organizations.  

from Roy’s post…

I believe that managerialism in a health care context (leadership of health care organizations by people with only management training, and without any knowledge, understanding or experience in health care, based only on management dogma) is one of the major causes of health care dysfunction. Here is a great example of a managerialist hospital CEO who also seemed to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect, that people who lack ability are likely unaware of this lack…To belabor the obvious, true health care reform requires health care leadership that understands health care and upholds its professional values.

An interesting post to juxtapose comes fromJason Shafrin, who asks “Does more spending improve outcomes?” 

number of studies have claimed that increasing health expenditures may result in no better, or even worse patient outcomes.  The Healthcare Economist revisits the topic looking at the case of neonatal ward spending and patient outcomes in the UK.

Are the exchanges failing? well, depends on who you ask…

Louise Norris has become one of the nation’s leading experts on ACA and exchange matters; she tells us Nevada has a unique approach to their MCO contracts, and the result is that all of their current exchange insurers filed plans for 2018, and two new insurers have also filed QHPs to be sold on the exchange in the fall.

Health Access California’s reports that while Congress considers cuts and caps to Medicaid, California is showing a stark contrast in investing in this core health care program, restoring benefits like dental and vision, and using tobacco tax money to increase provider rates.

CMS Meaningful Use Payments to Providers: Incentives or Sophie’s Choice?is what I love about HWR; really smart, intelligent, deep thinking about what really drives healthcare.

For healthcare providers who are caught in the Meaningful Use regulatory net by participating in the program, they were given a choice between installing an electronic health record system, attesting to meeting a list of nearly-impossible targets to get reimbursement for their multi-million dollar investments, or choosing not to participate which resulted in losing participation in government-funded programs and incentives. Most providers bit. They had no choice. And when it came time to collect the Meaningful Use incentive dollars, they attested to meeting at least the minimum requirements. Now, the government has bitten back asking for repayments of $729 million.

This is Neil Versel’s obituary of Larry Weed, who invented the problem-oriented medical record and the SOAP note, and had been advocating for the computerization of medicine and the inclusion of patients for at least 60 years. One of the leading change agents in healthcare, and one we would do well to think about as we try to drive change

Adam Fein’s entry focuses on the wonders of charity care, and providers thereof.  I did not know that “Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Operate the Biggest U.S. Charities…”

Dr Fein’s post says in part:

growth [of Patient Assistance Programs] is linked to pharmacy benefit designs that shift prescription costs to patients. Many insured patients face economically-debilitating coinsurance—in some cases with no limit on out-of-pocket expenses. The programs are an imperfect, but necessary, fix to our imperfect drug channel system.

Finally, I wondered why the Senate Republicans were so secretive about their healthcare bill, and now we know.

From HealthAffairs blog, a trenchant piece reflecting on the ways the AHCA would harm efforts to address the opioid crisis includes this

Because of the ACA, an estimated 26 million people have health coverage through the marketplaces or Medicaid that includes substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and prevention…Repealing the ACA will remove coverage for SUD treatment and prevention from millions of Americans, leaving a gap in care when it is most needed.

Whew…

Thanks for reading, and hope your weekend is splendiferous!

HWR on ACA

The real experts opine on what’s going to happen with ACA – all collected in one place for your reading enjoyment.

Kudos to David Williams for hosting this fortnight’s edition; among the posts worth your consideration are:

As Julie would say, “Quelle Surprise!”

HealthWonkReview’s Inauguration Edition

Through election after election, HealthWonkReview has been your go-to source for the real impact on healthcare, health policy, access, coverage, and the rest of the story about the industry that accounts for one-sixth of our nation’s economy.

In preparing this edition, I was struck by how much better these blog posts were than pretty much any articles in the mass media (with a couple notable exceptions.).

The depth, understanding of core issues, knowledge of how various parts of ACA interact, and ability of the authors to explain all this in words everyone can understand is impressive indeed.

Louise Norris, Roy Poses, Andrew Sprung, David Harlow, David Williams – these are the folks you need to be following.

Repeal…

Andrew Sprung’s contribution is a welcome list of 7 ways the GOP could blow up ACA gains.  Or maybe not.

Andrew describes various paths to repeal and replace, dissects the problems, perils and promise of each, and handicaps the odds.  It’s a very, very insightful read.

Tick, tock…Louise Norris just keeps getting better and better; as a small-business insurance broker she is on the front lines AND understands the core issues affecting ACA and health policy.  Her entry this month discusses the Republicans’ plan to have legislation ready tomorrow – yes, January 27 – to begin the repeal process. 

A bit of background on the trump Executive Order that required the January 27 legislation comes from the estimable David Harlow.  A quick read, and a valuable one.

Friend and colleague Bob Laszewski’s wondering if the trump administration is prepping for it’s own “if you like your insurance you can keep it” fiasco.  In a great companion piece to the Norris and Harlow reportage, Bob asks a question the current administration likely didn’t:

if you take this new executive order to its logical conclusion, doing things like killing or easing the individual mandate or allowing for cheaper medically underwritten plans can’t have any effect other than making an already fragile Obamacare risk pool worse. Making the pool worse can only lead to fewer consumer choices, or no choices, or higher rates and bigger out-of-pocket expenses for those who remain in the Obamacare risk pool.

My entry this month compares the Republican position on repeal and replace to Wile E Coyote’s headlong charge off the cliff.  Beyond repeal and into replace, things could get pretty interesting – as Mr Coyote learns every episode, it’s not the fall that hurts, it’s the reality of the landing.

As I see it there are two main issues:

  1. Repeal without replacement is a budgetary and political minefield.
  2. Congressional Republicans aren’t even close to agreeing on what a replacement bill would look like

One of the big changes might be block grants for Medicaid – where the Feds just give each state a chunk of money and the state gets more flexibility in how they spend it.  There’s a LOT of detail around this, but at least in Massachusetts, it may not be much of an issue.  David Williams posits that MA is in a pretty different place than most states, one where a full-on total repeal of ACA wouldn’t be a big deal.  That’s because Mass has been in the forefront of these changes, and things are working pretty well.

Federal changes…

OSHA is going to be a different animal altogether in the new administration; perhaps more akin to a cuddly panda than a persistent bloodhound. Julie Ferguson details how the agency is already shifting to a more “employer-friendly” mode.

Julie’s post also digs into the administration’s claim of a “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.” and resulting hiring freeze and consequences thereof; quoting a source that finds there has been no federal workforce expansion and that “employment by the federal government as share of all US employment is relatively low compared to most of the last 70 years.”

That’s a fact, not an “alternative fact”, or what we would call a “lie”.

Peter Thiel is the focus of Roy Poses’ ire this month, and that ire is well-placed.  The trump advisor supported one “Jim O’Neill, one of Mr Theil’s business associates, for this position [of head of the FDA], despite Mr O’Neill’s apparent complete lack of experience or training in medicine, health care, public health, or biomedical research, and Mr O’Neill’s obvious conflicts of interest.”

Other news of note

Brad Flansbaum’s penned a piece on healthcare CFO and CEO ratings at The Hospital Leader. Interesting take on how administrators – who currently are not being “rated” – perhaps should be. Brad provides his views on a few evaluation standards; good to see the proverbial shoe being placed on another foot!

And the ever-wonderful Hank Stern informs us that healthcare inflation is not limited to this side of either pond; costs are going up in other countries too – driven there by a demand for private care.

The election’s impact on health care – experts opine

This is a special post-election edition of Health Wonk Review – we asked our contributors to share their thoughts about how the GOP’s sweep will affect health care, health reform, and the health care system.

I’d like to profusely thank our contributors.  For most, this was a totally unexpected result that no one i know (except Michael Moore, who I don’t “know”) predicted or even considered possible.  Our contributors have focused, dug in, and come up with some terrific insights into implications for health care.

Before we jump in, a couple key data points.

  1. Health care accounts for one-sixth of our GDP.  This is a HUGE, incredibly complex, deeply entrenched business.
  2. Unlike any other part of our economy, health care is unique because it profoundly affects us as individuals.
  3. ACA is MUCH bigger than the Exchanges; only 1 American out of 19 is covered via the Exchanges.

More on what ACA is and is not, and how it has been portrayed in the media from Daniel Dawes at healthinsurance.org.  If you’re up for more fact-checking, Daniel’s got you covered.

David Williams encourages Democrats to go ahead and allow Republicans to repeal ACA. Filibustering such a move, while possible, would delay the death by a thousand cuts from executive action and the budget reconciliation process. That being the case, let ’em at it.

David correctly notes that the GOP’s positions are often directly contradicted by (some of) Trump’s positions, and health care is no exception. He also breaks down the key “policy initiatives”, most of which won’t do anything to bend the cost curve. David concludes that once Trump figures out these initiatives aren’t going to solve the problem, he may well decide to go back to his earlier plans to adopt a Canadian-style system.

We welcome Matthew Holt back to HWR!  Somehow able to write a cogent post while watching election returns (when I was hiding under the covers), Matthew wonders how Trump is going to A) repeal “Obamacare” while ensuring everyone has access to high quality, affordable health care. The middle-aged white folks who supported him expecting he’d “fix” health care are going to be disappointed if he doesn’t deliver…

That, plus the fact that the entire health care system – payers, providers, IT, pharma – have spent six years working to adapt to ACA and there will be an awful mess if there’s a hard stop on Inauguration Day.

Bob Laszewski tells us the GOP does have a written plan, and it’s ready to go.  He also believes the Dems will work with the GOP to replace ACA because there are a lot of Democratic Senators up for election in 2018.

Thanks to Peggy Salvatore for her contribution; she notes that for many voters “Obamacare” may well have been a big reason they pulled the lever for “anyone else”. She also hopes Trump will assemble a team of experts to plan the new health care laws.

Brad Wright notes that while most may think ACA will be repealed, most also thought Clinton would be our next President.  The real question is what will happen to the 20 million + who have coverage due to ACA.

Tim Jost of Health Affairs reminds us that the simplistic statement “repeal Obamacare” is not going to happen.  Most Americans equate the Exchanges with “Obamacare”; ACA is much more than that.  An outright repeal would impact everything from pharmaceutical pricing to biosimilars to Medicare reimbursement to hospital financing; the entire system will grind to a halt if the “replacement” plan isn’t carefully thought out and well planned. 

Given Trump’s wildly inconsistent stances on health care and the low likelihood that the Ryan plan’s policies will do anything to bend the cost curve, I don’t see a solution coming that will make Trump voters happy. 

Thanks to Roy Poses for his post on how the current system is “rigged” to enable companies to sell useless stuff.  The FDA finally caught up with a company shilling its “beads” as a drug delivery tool, when it had been explicitly prohibited from doing just that. Perhaps we need MORE regulatory enforcement, not less.

Pre-election pundit ponderings!

With just a couple Health Wonk Review publication dates between now and the election, we decided to jump into this with both feet.  Which is decidedly different from anything we’re hearing from the Presidential candidates, and pretty much everyone running for elective office.

Not that a little silence wouldn’t be welcome right about now, especially in those hotly-contested toss-up states (we’re talking about FL OH PA NC AZ NV…)

First up is a fact-filled briefing on why insurers are leaving the Exchanges from the keyboard of Louise Norris.  Louise notes that, despite losses in the individual market/Exchanges, insurers are doing fine.  That’s because only 6 percent of Americans get their insurance via individual plans in 2014.

InsureBlog’s got a view on the Exchanges, courtesy of Mike Feehan.   Mike opines: “The collapse of most Obamacare exchanges has captured the attention of the media in recent months” While I’d encourage Mike to not get his shovel ready just yet, in his view private exchanges may – emphasize may – work, but it’s too early to tell.

(HWR Hero Hank Stern is participating in the Strides Against Breast Cancer event next week; you can help him out here.)

healthinsurance.org is wondering if the GOP  would get behind a Medicare expansion that focused on Medicare Advantage plans offered by commercial insurers, these plans are favorites of the Republican establishment.

All you need to know on “Clinton & Trump on workplace issues“, a service provided by the talented and ever-entertaining Julie Ferguson.  Parental leave? Health reform? Drug pricing? Zika?  It’s all there!

Brad Wright offers a trenchant piece on the actual results of ACA to date; Brad notes that most of the folks who gained coverage got it via Medicaid, with significant increases even in non-Medicaid expansion states.  About a third of the growth in coverage came from private insurance bought on the Exchanges.  Not only did Brad report on the data, he got additional insights from one of the study’s principal authors…

Peggy Salvatore is peering into the future of health insurance, and what she sees is pretty darn intriguing.  Peggy’s review of the “demonetization” of health insurance and potential use of real-time data capture and analysis by “health insurers” makes for compelling reading.  Lest you think it too far-fetched, a decade ago you couldn’t read this on your phone…

A BIG issue this election has been pharma costs, with the EpiPen the proverbial poster child.  David Williams thinks that there’s been a bit too much grandstanding and hyperbole here; check out his perspective at Health Business Blog here.

Acronym soup! My contribution is a primer on physician reimbursement changes from CMS. MACRA. MIPS, APM, RBRVS, SGR, along with a discussion of implications for workers’ comp is ready for viewing.

Our good friends at Health Affairs provide welcome insight into maternity care, and why less is more; less care = better outcomes for moms and babies.  That being the case, why is “more” so common? Some thoughts on that, too.

Meanwhile on the hospital front, things aren’t as rosy – unless rosy describes the color of the ink on the financial reports.

Assumptions About Your Hospital Remaining In The Black Are Wrong. And You Better Listen To Who Is Saying So.

Insight into how private equity’s involvement can end up in a heads-they-win, tails-you-lose result comes from Roy Poses MD.  The most persistent and insightful “investigative blogger” I know, Roy’s decade-long focus on the often ugly intersection of capitalism and health care makes for disturbingly necessary reading.  Today he takes on Cerberus’ involvement with Steward Health.  His reporting will NOT make you feel good about our “system”.

There’s a new blog in the blog-o-sphere; GoodNewsWorkComp is up and running, It’s the place for industry folk to meet, greet, and share their stories.  Read Ronnie’s Story for a perspective you won’t get from the “work comp is evil” set.

Meanwhile, Jaan Sidorov is pondering why Apple and insurance companies are working to put Apple watches on members’ wrists. Hint – it’s kinda-sorta big brother, but there’s a win in it for you!

Thanks for reading this far, clicking thru, and sharing with friends, family, and frenemies.