April 24th, 2014
Each spring thousands of seniors at medical and osteopathic schools and other physicians apply for positions in graduate medical education (GME) training programs; simultaneously, thousands of training programs rank their preferred candidates. Based on the preferences of the medical student/physician applicants and the training programs, the two are matched by a sophisticated computer program. Since GME is a prerequisite to becoming licensed and practicing medicine in the US, this is a critical juncture in the education – training pipeline and provides a spotlight on the future physician workforce.
There are two matching systems: one administered by the National Residency Match Program (NRMP) for allopathic training positions, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), that matches medical doctors (MDs), doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) and graduates of schools outside of the US, known as international medical school graduates (IMGs); and one for GME programs accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) that is limited to DOs. The following are among the highlights of the results of this year’s matches.
First year positions (PGY 1 positions) for entrants into GME reached an all-time high and the number continues to grow. This year, a record 26,678 first year positions were offered by the NRMP and an additional 2,988 first year positions were offered in the AOA sponsored match, for a total of 29,666 positions offered in 2014. (See Note 1) This represents an overall increase of 2.2 percent from 2013. (See Note 2) However, some of the NRMP increase may reflect the “all in” policy instituted by the NRMP effective in 2013. (See Note 3)
Entry level GME positions far outnumber the number of US medical and osteopathic graduates seeking a residency position. Despite a lot of rhetoric and fear that new US graduates are facing a lack of training slots, overall, there were about 22,300 US MD and DO seniors competing for the 29,666 first year positions. Read the rest of this entry »
April 24th, 2014
Medicare 2014 has achieved the main goal of Medicare 1965: Access to medical treatment for older Americans. That, and advances in medicine, public health, and technology, have led to long lives and better health. Nevertheless, the system designed for the priorities of 1965 does not match the needs of 2014, and beyond.
What very old and frail people need — whether to ease the fears of a 90-year old woman living alone in a second-floor walk-up apartment or the burdens on the family of an 85-year old slowly drifting into the haze of dementia — goes without Medicare coverage. Addressing those needs and correcting course to change habits of overtreatment and cost inflation for older people living with multiple chronic conditions is a historic opportunity — to build Medicare 2030.
With what we know today, we could actually right-size the medical services, generate the savings, and re-design the delivery system to ensure reliability and supportive services. And more: we could pay for all or most of that vastly improved system with the savings we achieve from optimizing medical care.
But will the nation pursue that reinvestment? Will policymakers insist upon it? Will the public demand it? To do so would mean major changes in how we operate health care. Read the rest of this entry »
April 24th, 2014
With open enrollment completed and regulations largely in place for 2014 and 2015, implementation efforts at the federal level have quieted down. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, however, continue to issue technical guidance both to clarify outstanding 2014 issues and to clear the way for 2015. Much of this guidance appears at the CMS REGTAP website.
On April 22, 2014, CMS updated at REGTAP a series of slides, published initially on April 1, 2014, describing their proposed enrollment and payment process for the 2015 federally facilitated SHOP (FF-SHOP), which will begin to offer employee choice and premium aggregation in 2015. These slides expand on information previously provided in the 2015 federal exchange letter to issuers regarding the federal SHOP. CMS states that it intends to update the procedures set out in the slides with formal guidance before QHP certification begins in May. Read the rest of this entry »
April 23rd, 2014
Since enactment of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, a strange, relatively unnoticed phenomenon has occurred: Congress has passed bipartisan changes to it. These amendments were generally to such esoteric components of the law that they dodged the political block-aid that otherwise surrounds it.
But what would happen if things were different? If Congress could act to change the ACA in a meaningful way, what would it do? Here we briefly review the previous sub rosa changes to launch into a broader examination of macro ACA reforms that have a fighting chance of enactment in the not too distant future.
Tinkering. Most recently, in the Medicare “doc fix” in March, both parties acted to repeal the section of the ACA that capped deductibles for small group health plans. That legislation also delayed, again, implementation of the ACA’s Medicaid cuts to disproportionate share hospitals. Read the rest of this entry »
April 22nd, 2014
The February issue of Health Affairs features a series of articles on connected health and highlights the potential for telehealth and telemedicine to reshape how health care is delivered, consumed, tracked, and even paid for.
With funding support from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit, the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) recently conducted a series of focus groups that showed how one key Medicaid population — medically and socially complex, low-income individuals — stands to gain from these advances.
The four focus groups were designed to better understand the issues driving these individuals’ health care utilization, their current level of comfort with technology, and how technology might be able to help them better manage their challenges. Participants were actively receiving services from of one of four case management/care coordination programs in New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Philadelphia, and all were Medicaid beneficiaries with multiple medical and/or behavioral health conditions.
According to a recent Health Affairs article by John Billings and Maria Raven, these individuals frequent emergency departments and have a high incidence of chronic disease. They typically have chaotic, unstable, and socially isolated lives, and many lack permanent housing and live on the street, or in homeless shelters. Read the rest of this entry »
April 22nd, 2014
Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions, certain types of serious conditions (e.g. heart disease, pulmonary disorders, mental disorders, cancer), and functional limitations have higher health and long-term care costs and more adverse outcomes than other beneficiaries.
One of the biggest opportunities for savings for Medicare, Medicaid, and beneficiaries themselves, is through reducing hospitalizations, readmissions, and institutional care, especially for these high-risk beneficiaries. Achieving these savings and serving this population will require innovative delivery models and a clear business case to convince organizations to implement those new models.
The Affordable Care Act set aside $10 billion for experiments in innovative care delivery and payment systems. With these funds, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) is launching and evaluating several initiatives, primarily Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), bundled payment for care innovation, and primary care transformation. These initiatives change financial incentives for health care providers so that while they bear some financial risk for the costs of providing care, they also stand to benefit from any savings produced.
Historically, it has taken additional legislative action to apply successful delivery models more broadly across the Medicare program. Now, the health care law has removed this barrier, giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to expand successful innovations that improve quality or lower costs. While early results show improvements in quality and modest savings, most CMMI pilots and demonstrations to date are not specifically targeted on high-risk beneficiaries, where the biggest gains can be expected. Read the rest of this entry »
April 21st, 2014
The sheer magnitude of the Affordable Care Act and its implementation seems to have briefly preempted the attention of the health policy community, distracting it from its perennial and inescapable preoccupation with spending growth. Everyone knew, of course, that when the dust settled, access and insurance market reforms would set off in ever starker relief the menace of the spending dragon. But in the meantime, an eerie 4-year lull in growth seemed to dull the edge of the problem.
There was research suggesting that structural changes, some in anticipation of payment and delivery system reforms encouraged by the ACA, might continue to restrain growth as the health economy joined a recovery from recession. This hopeful scenario got a boost as the lull outlasted a return to improved GDP growth. Flagging growth in pharmaceutical spending and unexpectedly low premiums in many state and federal insurance exchanges were other favorable straws in the wind. Could a generation-long growth trend averaging nearly two-and-a-half points above GDP finally be at an end? Some saw cause for cautious optimism.
This month, however, the Michigan-based Altarum Institute released an analysis based on government data that showed health spending growth began to surge last October, when it reached a 5-percent annual rate, and has continued to accelerate to a 6.7 percent pace in February, 2.4 percent above GDP and a 7-year high. Growth over the fourth quarter of 2013 was 5.6 percent, a 10-year high. Read the rest of this entry »
April 18th, 2014
On March 25, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in two cases—Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius—challenging the validity of the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) mandate that employer-sponsored health plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptives (the “Contraceptive Mandate”). In each case, closely held plaintiff corporations contend that the Contraceptive Mandate illegally infringed upon the corporations’ freedom to exercise religion.
The cases attracted attention because the Supreme Court had agreed to hear yet another challenge to the validity of the ACA’s provisions, but it has been less noticed that both cases, and others like them, implicate a fundamental question that the Supreme Court has never decided; on what basis, if any, is a corporation a “person” entitled to assert the constitutional and statutory rights of natural persons. Without denying the significance of the challenge to the ACA’s Contraceptive Mandate, the Supreme Court’s failure to define a principled corporate person theory has had—and continues to have—important and pervasive implications for the American legal system beyond the present cases.
Typically, legal concepts creating and regulating societal rights and obligations, like the corporate personhood concept, come into being incrementally in an extended evolutionary process. That evolutionary process is characterized by a dialectic give and take in which the principles justifying—or precluding—application of the concept in a variety of different factual scenarios are gradually clarified, defined and developed through a series of judicial decisions. The problem confronting the Supreme Court as it considers the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases is that the concept of corporate personhood did not develop gradually or in an evolutionary process in which the meaning of the concept was developed and defined. Instead, the concept of the corporate person was imposed on the law ipse dixit, that is, by judicial fiat and without definition, in a series of late nineteenth century Supreme Court cases. Read the rest of this entry »
April 18th, 2014
Editor’s note: The conclusion of this post was updated on April 22, 2014 to discuss regulatory guidance on casework — the handling of consumer complaints by qualified health plans on matters other than adverse benefit determinations.
On April 17, 2014, the White House announced that 8 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance coverage through the health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges. This significantly exceeds the White House’s original goal of 7 million enrollees. It is far more than the Congressional Budget Office’s recent projections of 6 million.
The number of actual enrollees will be smaller than this number. The CBO’s projections are for the average number of those actually enrolled in coverage over the course of a calendar year. To calculate the average number of enrollees, one must subtract from the 8 million the number of individuals who fail to pay their premiums and thus are never actually enrolled in coverage, as well as those who will drop coverage at some later point during the year. To that reduced number, then, must be added back the number who become newly covered through special enrollment periods during the remainder of the year. In the end, 6 to 7 million average enrollees is probably a reasonable estimate.
This does not, however, exhaust the number of Americans who are now covered under the Affordable Care Act. The fact sheet states that 3 million young adults are covered under their parents’ plans because of the ACA. This number is probably high, but it is clear that the ACA has dramatically increased coverage of Americans between the age of 19 and 25 — the age group most likely to lack health insurance prior to the ACA (and still). Read the rest of this entry »
April 17th, 2014
In many ways, the last twenty years have been somewhat of a “revolution” in global health, as marked by rising attention, growing funding, and the creation of new, large scale initiatives to address global health challenges in low and middle income countries. Indeed, the 1990s brought a steady increase in global concern about health, largely centered on the HIV epidemic and due to civil society organizing to draw attention to the growing crisis, leading to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals, and soon thereafter, the GAVI Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and other efforts.
A key driver of increased funding has been donors – governments and multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and foundations. And tracking their funding has become one of the critical measures of the global health response.
A new analysis from Dieleman et al., published as a Health Affairs Web First on April 8, provides a needed contribution to the literature on donor funding for health, including an understanding not just of where donor funding is going but of the relationship between aid, burden, and income. Read the rest of this entry »