From The Staff

The Latest Health Wonk Review


October 24th, 2014

Louise Norris at Colorado Health Insurance Insider provides this week’s “falling leaves” edition of the Health Wonk Review. Jennifer’s insightful read includes a Health Affairs Blog post from J. Stephen Morrison on the U.S. Ebola response and the role of CDC head Thomas Friedan. Read the rest of this entry »

Narrative Matters: Sensitizing Doctors To Patients With Disabilities


October 23rd, 2014

In the October Health Affairs Narrative Matters essay, a doctor who stutters confronts the stigma against patients—and providers—with disabilities. Leana Wen’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Web First: Noneconomic Damage Caps Reduced Medical Malpractice Payments, With Varied Effects


October 22nd, 2014

With the 2014 election weeks away, a provision of California’s Proposition 46, raising the cap on medical malpractice payments for noneconomic damages, has been in the news. This provision would increase the payment cap from $250,000 to $1.1 million. A new study, being released today by Health Affairs as a Web First, sheds light on the potential effect of this proposition.

Study authors Seth A. Seabury, Eric Helland, and Anupam B. Jena looked at the impact of medical malpractice reforms on the average size of malpractice payments in several physician specialties and compared how the effects differed according to the size of the cap. It found that caps reduced the average payments by 15 percent compared to no cap—and a $250,000 cap reduced average payments by 20 percent.

On the other hand, a less restrictive $500,000 cap had no significant effect. The authors also found specialty variations, with the largest impact involving pediatricians and the smallest for claims of surgical subspecialties and ophthalmologists. Read the rest of this entry »

Resources Don’t Solve Design Flaws


October 21st, 2014

The first three sessions of a conference I recently attended tackled some complex and important questions: How do we extend health insurance to people such as migrant and informal workers who don’t fit neatly into mainstream coverage programs? As we increase our investment in primary care, how do we assure that the performance of the primary care system is at the highest possible level? What types of evidence should we use as we make decisions in a dynamic health care system with limited opportunities for “gold standard” randomized controlled trials?

These are excellent questions, and they were perfect topics for a cutting-edge conference discussing the challenges facing the U.S. health care system.

But this conference was not about the U.S. health care system. These were opening “satellite” sessions at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research held in Cape Town, South Africa. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Policy Brief: The Ninety-Day Grace Period


October 17th, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines the ninety-day grace period, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Of the eight million people who enrolled in the insurance Marketplaces between October 2013 and March 2014, 85 percent received an advance premium tax credit. This provision allows a three-month grace period for nonpayment of insurance premiums for this group of consumers–and this group only–if they have previously paid at least one month’s full premium in that benefit year.

This grace period allows these new enrollees continuity of care, preventing them from shifting or “churning” in and out of coverage for nonpayment. Health care providers, however, have expressed concerns that this provision and the way the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has implemented it could expose them to considerable financial risk. This Health Policy Brief focuses on how this provision is being implemented and the concerns from the provider community. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon And Betty Moore Foundation Names Harvey V. Fineberg Its New President


October 13th, 2014

Health Affairs was delighted to read today’s announcement that Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg will become the next president of The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, effective January 1, 2015. Until recently, Dr. Fineberg was president of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), serving two consecutive terms from 2002-2014. From 1997 to 2001, he served as Provost of Harvard University, and prior to that for 13 years as Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Health Affairs has strong ties to both Fineberg and The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This summer, I interviewed Fineberg about his tenure at the IOM; the audio recording of that wide-ranging conversation is available as a Health Affairs podcast.   Read the rest of this entry »

Posts On ACA Tax Forms, Replacement Plan Lead September Health Affairs Blog Top-Ten List


October 10th, 2014

Tim Jost’s post on complicated Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax forms and his review of Avik Roy’s ACA replacement plan were the most-read Health Affairs Blog posts for September. These were followed by a CVS Health post from Troyen Brennan and coauthors on rethinking the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and a post on bundled payments and innovation from Rebecca Paradis of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation.

The full list is below. Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Health Wonk Review


October 10th, 2014

At Managed Care Matters, Joe Paduda provides this week’s edition of the Health Wonk Review. Joe’s post is an interesting read and includes a Health Affairs Blog post on from Suzanne Delbanco on results from the National Scorecard on Payment Reform. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Web First: New Study Shows Low-Income Residents In Three States Support Medicaid Expansion


October 9th, 2014

Expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to millions of low-income adults has been controversial. However, little is known what these Americans themselves think about Medicaid. A new study, recently released as a Web First by Health Affairs, surveyed nearly 3,000 low-income adults in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas (states that have adopted different approaches for Medicaid expansion).

This telephone survey, conducted in late 2013, found that 83 percent of respondents in Arkansas and Kentucky and 79 percent of those in Texas were in favor of their state expanding Medicaid under the ACA. Roughly two-thirds of uninsured respondents planned to apply for coverage in 2014. The majority of adults surveyed viewed Medicaid as comparable to or better than private insurance in overall health care quality.

Authors Arnold Epstein, Benjamin Sommers, Yelena Kuznetsov, and Robert Blendon developed a thirty-eight-item survey and targeted citizens ages 19–64 with household incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Forty percent of Texas respondents were Latino. A significant number of respondents (40 percent in Arkansas and Kentucky and 32 percent in Texas) said they were in “fair” or “poor” health, with a substantial number of respondents reporting living with chronic health conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs October Issue: Specialty Drugs — Cost, Impact, And Value


October 6th, 2014

The October issue of Health Affairs, released today, includes a number of studies looking at the high costs associated with today’s increasingly prevalent specialty drugs. Other subjects covered in the issue: an assessment of whether some hospitals may be taking advantage of the 340B drug discount program; a review of how shortened residency shifts impact patient care; a study on the increasing costs associated with Hepatitis C and advanced liver disease; and more.

The new issue will be discussed at a Washington DC briefing tomorrow. This issue of Health Affairs was supported by CVS Health.

Do specialty drugs offer value that offsets their high costs?

James Chambers of Tufts Medical Center and coauthors conducted a cost-value review of specialty versus traditional drugs by analyzing incremental health gains associated with each. This first-of-its-kind analysis is timely because the majority of drugs now approved by the Food and Drug Administration are specialty drugs produced using advanced biotechnology and requiring special administration, monitoring, and handling — all of which result in higher costs. Read the rest of this entry »

Contributing Voices

Study Draws Misleading Conclusions Regarding 340B Program


October 23rd, 2014

After reading Rena Conti and Peter Bach’s recent study on hospitals’ purported misuse of the 340B Drug Discount Program, published in the October issue of Health Affairs, I had two questions: first, how are the authors substantiating their conclusions? Second, what kind of sensational sound bites are going to come from this?

These are the questions that responsible researchers must ask themselves so there is not a false representation of what they did, what they found, and how the actual findings compare to their research intentions. Researchers have to be equally precise in both their statistical analysis AND in the discussion of the results.

I was tempted to run through several counterpoints that my 15 years of 340B policy and research experience yields, but was tempered by both the word count limitations on a blog post and the straightforwardness of my main objection. Simply put, the authors’ conclusions are not substantiated by the data collected. Conti and Bach say that they “found” that hospitals “served communities that were wealthier and had higher rates of insurance” and “generated profits.” They did not find this. Read the rest of this entry »

Tax-Exempt Status For Nonprofit Hospitals Under The ACA: Where Are The Final Treasury/IRS Rules?


October 23rd, 2014

Months have now stretched into years, and there still remains no sign of final Treasury/IRS regulations interpreting the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s provisions covering the expanded obligations of nonprofit hospitals that seek tax-exempt status under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The ACA amendments do not depend on formal agency policy to take effect. Nonetheless, Congress directed the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations and guidance necessary to carry out the reforms (26 U.S.C. §501(r)(7)). To this end, two important sets of proposed rules were issued: the first in June, 2012; and the second, in April 2013. While an informative IRS website lists various proposed rules and guidelines important to nonprofit hospitals, final rules seem to have performed a disappearing act.

Apparently recognizing the problems created by its delays, the agency has gone so far as to issue a special Notice letting nonprofit hospitals (and presumably the public) know that they can rely on its proposed rules. But this assurance overlooks the fact that the proposed rules themselves contained crucial areas in which final agency policy has not yet been adopted. Read the rest of this entry »

Implementing Health Reform: The Qualified Health Plan Federal Exchange Participation Agreement And More


October 21st, 2014

October 24 update: The Affordable Care Act requires HHS to establish a federal process for hearing and deciding appeals from marketplace determinations regarding eligibility to enroll in a qualified health plan through the marketplace, eligibility for advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payment, and exemptions from the individual responsibility requirement.  An appeal process is also supposed to be available to employers who are notified that they may be liable for employer responsibility payments.  HHS has promulgated a final regulation establishing standards governing these appeals, as well as eligibility appeals for employers and employees for determinations involving the SHOP program.  This regulation provides state-operated exchanges flexibility to establish their own appeal procedures in accordance with federal requirements.

Under the final regulation, appeals entities were allowed to conduct a paper-based appeals process through December 31, 2014, after which they were to use an electronic process.  Under a guidance released October 23, 2014, HHS has extended the permissibility of paper-based appeals through December 31, 2015 because of difficulties in implementing the electronic process.  HHS has also stated that the federally-facilitated marketplace will continue to use a paper-based process for the 2015 benefit year.  State-operated marketplaces may choose whether to use paper or electronic processes.  The flexibility extends to all electronic requirements included within the final regulation, including appeal requests, transfer of records, and notifications.

Original post: CMS continues to put the pieces into place that are needed for the launch of the 2015 coverage year.  On October 16, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released at its REGTAP.info website the certification agreement and privacy and security agreement that qualified health plan (QHP) insurers must sign with CMS to access the federally facilitated exchange (FFE), the federally facilitated SHOP (FF-SHOP), and CMS Data Services Hub.  The agreement focuses primarily on obligations that the QHP insurer undertakes to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS, although it also addresses the effective date and termination of the agreement and a few other issues.  Most of the terms of the agreement are unremarkable, and this post will only comment on a few.

QHP insurers undertake under the agreement to protect personally identifiable information and to ensure secure communications with CMS in conformity with applicable laws, regulations, and standards.  They must also ensure that their contractors and downstream entities comply with these requirements.  QHP insurers agree to report any personally identifiable information incidents or breaches to CMS within 72 to 96 hours.  This is a far cry from the one-hour breach reporting requirement proposed by CMS last year but never finalized, but perhaps recognizes the difficult of identifying and assessing a security breach.

The agreement expressly recognizes that QHP insurers have developed their products based on the assumption that advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments will be available through the marketplace and that QHP insurers could have cause to terminate the agreement if this assumption ceases to be valid.  This could be interpreted as a reference to the Halbig/King litigation which currently threatens the availability of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments through the FFE, but could also have been included in recognition of the likely Republican takeover of the Senate and the possibility that the Republicans may accomplish through budget reconciliation or otherwise their longstanding goal of repealing the ACA.  As the agreement is renewable from year to year, this clause may contemplate contingencies in the indefinite as well as the near future. Read the rest of this entry »

Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 2)


October 21st, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University (CSU) system in coverage. Part 1 of this post provided background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what worked well. Part 2, below, addresses what worked less well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

IV.  What Worked Less Well

Assessments as to what did not work must be rendered with caution. In most cases lack of success may have been due to lack of emphasis or time, to the relative inexperience of student educators, or the failure of project leaders to follow-up aggressively with CSU or administrative personnel.

Campus groups, social media, and web pages

Most striking and disappointing, was the difficulty in engaging campus groups. Many seemed supportive of the mission. But, in the end, most were unable to commit time and resources to the project, even after repeated engagement by project representatives. Most campus groups had specific goals and agendas, and promoting insurance coverage to students was not one of them. More time or resources might have produced more campus organization support, but these were not available. Read the rest of this entry »

The $500 Billion Medicare Slowdown: A Story About Part D


October 21st, 2014

A great deal of analysis has been published on the causes of the health care spending slowdown system-wide — including in the pages of Health Affairs. Much attention in particular has focused on the remarkable slowdown in Medicare spending over the past few years, and rightfully so: Spending per beneficiary actually shrank (!) by one percent this year (or grew only one percent if one removes the effects of temporary policy changes).

Yet the disproportionate role played by prescription drug spending (or Part D) has seemingly escaped notice. Despite constituting barely more than 10 percent of Medicare spending, our analysis shows that Part D has accounted for over 60 percent of the slowdown in Medicare benefits since 2011 (beyond the sequestration contained in the 2011 Budget Control Act).

Through April of this year, the last time the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released detailed estimates of Medicare spending, CBO has lowered its projections of total spending on Medicare benefits from 2012 through 2021 by $370 billion, excluding sequestration savings. The $225 billion of that decline accounted for by Part D represents an astounding 24 percent of Part D spending. (By starting in 2011, this analysis excludes the direct impact of various spending reductions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), although it could still reflect some ACA savings to the extent that the Medicare reforms have controlled costs better than originally anticipated.) Additionally, sequestration is responsible for $75 billion of reduced spending, and increased recoveries of improper payments amount to $85 billion, bringing the total ten-year Medicare savings to $530 billion. Read the rest of this entry »

Enrolling College Students In Health Insurance: Lessons From California (Part 1)


October 20th, 2014

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Walter Zelman describes an effort he led during last year’s initial open enrollment period to enroll students in the California State University (CSU) system in coverage. Part 1 below provides background on the CSU system and the enrollment effort, the CSU Health Insurance Education Project, as well as a discussion of what worked well. Part 2, which will appear tomorrow, addresses what worked less well, as well as project results, lessons and policy implications, and next steps.

In addition to Zelman, authors of this post include Wendy Lee, now in a Masters of Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins; Natasha Buransombati, now in a graduate program in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Seattle in Washington; and Carla Bracamonte, now in an MPH program at California State University, Fullerton. As CSU students, Lee and Buransombati served as regional coordinators for HIEP and Bracamonte served as a coordinator, CSU Los Angeles.

The California State University (CSU) system is the largest public university system in the nation, as well as one of the most diverse. The CSU Health Insurance Education Project (HIEP) received a $1.25 million grant to educate students in the CSU system about the Affordable Care Act and health coverage options through California’s new marketplace, Covered California. A pre-open enrollment, multi-campus poll found that approximately 25-30 percent of CSU students were uninsured, primarily because they could not afford insurance.

The project placed student educators on CSU’s 15 largest campuses. Over a seven-month period they gave approximately 1,500 classroom presentations, and conducted 70 forums and 300 enrollment events. University administrators sent out over 1 million emails to CSU students. Project strategy emphasized a focus on affordability, the need for insurance (accidents happen), and the simplicity of the enrollment process. Read the rest of this entry »

Thomas Frieden And The U.S. Ebola Response


October 20th, 2014

On Friday, October 17, the White House named Ron Klain the new Ebola czar. This move followed a storm of criticism in the media, on Capitol Hill, and elsewhere. The criticism focused on the multiple mistakes made by the U.S. agencies and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas in the weeks since Thomas Eric Duncan, infected with Ebola, arrived in the United States on September 19. Duncan set off a disturbing train of events that included secondary infections of two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, along with the lingering threat of additional infections.

That threat widened rapidly over the course of this past week. Dozens of health workers in Dallas remain under some form of quarantine or very close monitoring. Contact tracing revealed 300 persons who had possibly come in contact with Vinson during her Columbus Day weekend travel from Dallas to Cleveland and back. Schools were subsequently shuttered in Ohio and Texas.

Most remarkable, within a month the controversy surrounding the threat of Ebola to Americans had mushroomed into a political emergency for the Obama presidency itself, only a few tense weeks before the November 4 elections. Calls escalated for the appointment of an Ebola czar and a travel ban on persons originating in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the root sources of the Ebola emergency. A special measure of criticism was reserved for the Obama administration’s lead face in the U.S. response, Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the words of one observer, this week became full of “recriminations, political showboating… and panicked overreactions.” Read the rest of this entry »

Will Employers Favor Private Exchanges Over Coverage Sponsorship?


October 17th, 2014

Over the past couple years, health care exchanges probably have consumed more of corporate benefits managers’ time and psychic energy than any other topic. An outstanding question is whether the rank and file of American businesses will drop the hassle that employer-sponsored coverage represents, or default to private exchanges.

Private exchange offerings typically move employees from their companies’ previous self-funded health plans to fully-insured individual arrangements, purporting to offer more flexibility and choice that can adapt to the wide-ranging needs of employees and employers, while creating a more competitive health plan marketplace.

Several recent surveys have reported that employers plan to move aggressively to private exchanges. In a survey last year of more than 700 businesses, the Private Exchange Evaluation Collaborative, a group of regional business health coalitions working with the consulting group PwC, found that 45 percent of employers have implemented or are considering using a private exchange for active employees before 2018. Similarly, a February Aon Plc survey found that, while 95 percent of employers say they expect to continue offering health care for the next 3-5 years, and 5 percent of employers currently use a private exchange, 33 percent say they may consider using one in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Health Centers: An Attainable, Near-Term Pathway To Expand Graduate Medical Education


October 17th, 2014

Stakeholders in Graduate Medical Education (GME) and members of Congress eagerly anticipated the long delayed but recently released Institute of Medicine (IOM) GME report. While perceptively characterizing the defects in our GME system, recommendations of the report generated substantial controversy among participants at a recent GME forum hosted by Health Affairs. The IOM proposed limited and gradual changes in Medicare GME financing, but the lack of support for GME expansion was not well received by some.

At present there are multiple legislative GME proposals, but none has gained broad support among the various stakeholders. Congressional committees responsible for GME funding view this lack of consensus among GME stakeholders as a major obstacle.

We describe a near-term and attainable pathway to expand GME that could gain consensus among these stakeholders. This approach would sustain and expand Teaching Health Centers (THCs), a recent initiative that directly funds community-based GME sponsoring institutions to train residents in primary care specialties, dentistry and psychiatry. We further propose selectively expanding GME to meet primary care and other demonstrable specialty needs within communities, and building in evaluations to measure effectiveness of innovative training models. Read the rest of this entry »

Implementing Health Reform: Renewing Coverage For 2015


October 16th, 2014

On October 15, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced, with a month to go before the 2015 open enrollment begins on November 15, that it is beginning to send out notices to enrollees in the federally facilitated marketplace (FFM) explaining to them how to renew their coverage for 2015.

CMS is urging consumers to come back to the marketplace as it opens on November 15 to update their 2015 application and to make sure they are enrolled in the qualified health plan (QHP) that best meets their financial situation and health needs for 2015. The procedure outlined in the announcement is that set out in the FFM redetermination guidance issued in June. State-operated exchanges are also, presumably, beginning to inform their enrollees regarding their own 2015 redetermination processes.

Redetermination Notice

FFM Consumers will receive one of six notices. Consumers who visited the marketplace in 2014 and were determined eligible for coverage, but who did not enroll, are being sent a notice urging them to return to the marketplace and enroll when the open enrollment period begins. Consumers who enrolled for 2014 but have not been receiving tax credits — because they were not eligible, did not apply, or were determined eligible for tax credits but declined assistance — are urged to return to the marketplace and reenroll in coverage. Read the rest of this entry »

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