From The Staff

Call For Submissions: Narrative Matters Poetry Contest


March 26th, 2015

April is National Poetry Month and in celebration the Narrative Matters section of Health Affairs is seeking poetry submissions for upcoming issues of the journal.

We are holding a poetry contest from March 26 to April 22, looking for well-crafted poems that touch on topics related to health and health policy. Three winning poems will be announced at the end of April. Winners will receive a $500 prize, publication in Health Affairs, and two copies of the issue containing the winning poem. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Web First: Without CHIP, Sharply Higher Insurance Costs For Many Low-Income Families


March 26th, 2015

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is now set to expire after September 2015. A new study, being released by Health Affairs as a Web First, and also appearing in its April issue, examines the availability and cost of dependent coverage for children through employer-sponsored plans. Such plans would be the primary pathway to affordable coverage for more than half of all children losing CHIP eligibility, insofar as access to employer-sponsored coverage through their parents can bar children from receiving Marketplace subsidies.

According to the study, 96.9 percent of enrollees in employer-sponsored plans had access to dependent coverage. The additional cost would vary — as much as $7,252 per year for workers with one dependent child and $11,829 for those with two or more dependent children. Authors Thomas Selden, Lisa Dubay, G. Edward Miller, Jessica Vistnes, Matthew Buettgens, and Genevieve Kenney also found that adding dependent coverage could cost many families more than 8.05 percent of their income, qualifying them for hardship exemptions from buying coverage.

As a result, many children once covered by CHIP would no longer be insured. This study is thought to provide the first estimates documenting variations across employers in the marginal costs to families adding children to employer-sponsored plans. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Briefing: The Cost And Quality Of Cancer Care


March 25th, 2015

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among US adults, and cancer care now costs in excess of $125 billion each year in the United States alone. Cancer has also become the second leading cause of death worldwide, making it an increasing priority in low- and middle-income countries. The April 2015 issue of Health Affairs, “The Cost and Quality of Cancer Care,” includes a collection of papers on the cost and quality of cancer care.

You are invited to join us on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Panels will cover valuing cancer care innovation, paying for care, and quality of cancer care.

WHEN:
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 11:40 a.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

Register Now!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairsand join in the conversation with #HA_CancerCare. Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Health Wonk Review


March 17th, 2015

Check out Wright on Health, where Brad Wright has a Spring Forward edition of the Health Wonk Review. Brad’s Review, which more than makes up for the lost hour of sleep, cites Health Affairs Blog’s set of posts on the King v. Burwell oral arguments. Brad links to Tim Jost’s post, which in turn links to posts by Sara Rosenbaum, Ilya Shapiro, Bill Sage, and Grace-Marie Turner. Read the rest of this entry »

New Narrative Matters: How Health Care Fails Older Patients, And How It Can Be Done Better


March 13th, 2015

Health Affairs‘ March Narrative Matters essay features a chance meeting between an octogenarian and a geriatrician that shows how the US health system focuses on medical care at the expense of older adults’ well-being. Louise Aronson’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: Assessing Efforts To ‘Solve The Sustainable Growth Rate Formula Conundrum’


March 11th, 2015

On April 1, unless Congress acts to prevent it, the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) fee cut will take effect, dictating a 21.2 percent reduction in Medicare physician fees. A new commentary, released today by Health Affairs as a Web First, assesses last year’s bipartisan and bicameral legislative model for how to repeal the SGR, a model likely to be used in similar efforts this year.

The 2014 legislation contained many useful steps to replace the SGR but had a major omission, authors James Reschovsky, Larisa Converse, and Eugene Rich of Mathematica Policy Research argue: It did not adequately address overhauling the current Medicare fee schedule. Read the rest of this entry »

New Health Policy Brief: Right-To-Try Laws


March 10th, 2015

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) looks at so-called Right-to-Try laws. For patients with serious, potentially life-threatening diseases, current federal regulations offer two routes to gain access to experimental drugs not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): participation in a clinical research trial, or, if not possible, applying to the FDA for use of a drug under the expanded access (also known as compassionate use) program.

While the FDA has approved nearly all of these applications, the process is widely thought to be overly cumbersome. Since last year, five states have enacted their own Right-to-Try laws, with the aim of giving critically ill patients the treatments they seek. This health policy brief provides background on the federal regulations of expanded access and the recent involvement by many states. Read the rest of this entry »

Takeaways From Health Affairs’ Big Data Twitter Chat


March 9th, 2015

Recently, we at Health Affairs hosted a Twitter chat with the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) on the topic of big data. The chat was a follow-up to the Health Affairs issue, “Using Big Data To Transform Care.

During the Twitter chat, we moderated a question-and-answer session with PCORI’s Rachael Fleurence, Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) Methods and Infrastructure Program Director, and Sarah Greene, CER Methods and Infrastructure Associate Director, while many users joined in the conversation with #healthdatachat.

So how does PCORI define “big data?” PCORI responded with the following tweet: “rapid accrual of large quantities of diverse patient experience data.”  Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Health Wonk Review


March 4th, 2015

David Williams has the tenth anniversary edition of the Health Wonk Review up at Health Business Blog. David’s interesting review includes Tim Jost’s series of Health Affairs Blog posts unpacking the final 2016 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters rule and final 2016 Letter to Issuers in the federal exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs’ March Issue: The Benefits And Limitations Of Information


March 2nd, 2015

The March issue of Health Affairs contains papers focusing on the benefits—and the limitations—of information-gathering processes as a way to solve health system problems. Studies in this variety issue examine US hospital rating systems, disclaimers on dietary supplements, state prescription drug monitoring programs, the value of US versus Western European cancer care, and other topics.

National hospital rating systems show little agreement — what’s a consumer to do?

Matt Austin of Johns Hopkins Medicine and coauthors compared four well-known national hospital rating systems designed for use by US consumers: U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals; HealthGrades’ America’s 100 Best Hospitals; Leapfrog’s Hospital Safety Score; and Consumer Reports’ Health Safety Score. They analyzed ratings covering the time period from July 2012 to July 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

Contributing Voices

Building A Quality Of Life National Movement: Igniting Advocacy To Integrate Palliative Care In Our US Health System


March 30th, 2015

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series on palliative care, health policy, and health reform. The series features essays adapted from and drawing on a recent volume, Meeting the Needs of Older Adults with Serious Illness: Challenges and Opportunities in the Age of Health Care Reform, in which clinicians, researchers and policy leaders address 16 key areas where real-world policy options to improve access to quality palliative care could have a substantial role in improving value.

As our health system faces dramatically rising numbers of people living longer with complex chronic conditions, we have an unprecedented opportunity to mobilize a “quality-of-life” movement promoting patients’ choices and priorities about how they want to live at all stages of illness. Most of the current public policies and discourse about quality of life in health care focuses on the end of life. That tradition may actually impede delivery of person-centered and goal-directed quality care from the onset of illness. It also falls short in supporting shared decision-making, which requires early and continuing identification of what is most important to seriously ill patients and their families, and what they are hoping for as they progress along the continuum of care.

All people want to live healthy and disease-free lives for as long as possible. When serious illness does strike, patients and families want to achieve, cure, or keep disease progression in check. In addition, they place a high premium on maintaining good functioning and quality of life for as long as possible so they can continue to pursue life goals and enjoy what matters most to them. They want coordination and connection, including clear communication and quality time with their health care team to help them understand treatment options and the implications of those treatments in terms of survival, functioning, and quality of life. In addition, they want support to make informed decisions during and after treatment that align with their personal preferences and goals. Read the rest of this entry »

The Time Is Now To Fix Medicare ACOs


March 27th, 2015

This past January 20th, the Department of Health And Human Services established national Medicare pay-for-value goals. By 2016, the Department intends to tie 30 percent of Medicare payments, and by 2018 50 percent of payments, to quality or value through alternative payment models. Medicare Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are expected to make a significant contribution toward meeting these goals. With current ACOs accounting for 7.8 million beneficiaries and 15 percent of Medicare spending, it will be essential for the current 405 ACOs to stay in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) through 2016, and for a substantial number of new ACOs to join the program.

However, common concerns about the MSSP became apparent a year ago when stakeholders submitted comment letters in response to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ “Evolution of ACO Initiatives at CMS” RFI (Request for Information). These concerns were reinforced last July after CMS announced proposed changes to ACO quality measure set and quality performance benchmarking, and again in November when the National Association of ACOs reported survey data showing nearly two-thirds of member ACOs would leave the program unless substantial improvements were made.

Recognizing these concerns, this past December CMS published a proposed rule offering many possible improvements to the Shared Savings Program. Public comments were due February 6th. CMS now has the opportunity to use stakeholder input to redesign the program in a way that will allow ACO providers to drive payment and delivery reform and thereby enable DHHS to meet its newly established pay-for-value goals.  Read the rest of this entry »

Paying For The ‘Doc Fix’


March 26th, 2015

For years now it has become apparent that the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) system is not sustainable. However, fixing the SGR will require increases in budgeted costs, and so one of the major barriers to replacing the SGR is figuring out how to pay for the fix. Towards this end, it is important to understand the appropriate cost-comparison.

Federal scorekeepers (appropriately) assess the cost of the SGR fix relative to current law, which assumes that fees will follow a trajectory defined by current policy. But as near as I can tell, few advocate for that path or believe it will occur; rather the current system will continue to require regular “patches.” Therefore, the appropriate measure of the cost of the doc fix is spending with the fix relative to spending without it. The latter includes the costs of future “patches” necessary to ensure continued operation (as well as any savings that can be achieved because of continued SGR related negotiations). Substituting this realistic alternative into the cost calculus likely substantially lowers the incremental cost of any SGR fix. Read the rest of this entry »

Executions, Doctors, The U.S. Supreme Court, And The Breath Of Kings


March 26th, 2015

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series stemming from the Third Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 30, 2015. The conference brought together leading experts to review major developments in health law over the previous year, and preview what is to come. A full agenda and links to video recordings of the panels are here.

The relationship between medicine and capital punishment has been a persistent feature of this past year in health law, both at the level of medical ethics and Supreme Court review.

Our story starts in Oklahoma, where the execution of Clayton Lockett was botched on April 28, 2014. National Institutes of Health (NIH) bioethicist Seema Shah described the events in question: Read the rest of this entry »

The Final Stage Of Meaningful Use Rules: Will EHRs Finally Pay Off?


March 25th, 2015

Six years ago, President Obama signed into law the HITECH Act, which spelled out a path to a nationwide health information technology infrastructure.  The goal was simple:  every doctor, nurse, and hospital in America should use electronic health records — and do it in a way that leads to better care delivered more efficiently.  The Act provided $30 billion in incentives for providers and hospitals who met the criteria for “Meaningful Use”, which the Obama administration was given the authority to define.  The rules were set up to be rolled out in three stages, and while the first two stages have been out for a while, the criteria for the third and final stage of Meaningful Use (MU) were finally released on March 20.

David Blumenthal, the first national coordinator under HITECH, used the analogy of the Meaningful Use program as an escalator — with the first stage focused on just getting people on board and each stage requiring a higher level of use — which would focus on demonstrating better care through advanced EHR use.  Put more simply, the goal of the three stages was to first get providers to just start using EHRs, and then over time to get them to use the systems more frequently, more robustly, and ultimately, in ways that lead to better, more efficient care.

The new stage 3 rule reflects both the successes and the failures of the first two stages.  It moves toward making the EHR market more open and competitive, and providing more choices, in ways that I think are helpful — but possibly not helpful enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Good And Bad News For Diabetes Prevention In The Community


March 25th, 2015

The findings from a recent synthesis of the literature about the effectiveness of prevention initiatives focused on reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes among high-risk populations (people already obese or inactive or diagnosed as having prediabetes) are largely encouraging.

The synthesis includes a comprehensive and systematic review of the medical, diabetes, and public health literature for evaluation studies of interventions published between 2002 and 2013. The search was undertaken using medical subject headings and keywords related to diabetes and its risk factors.

A number of interventions—such as the National Institutes for Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program and the Group Lifestyle Balance Program—focused on helping people eat better and become more physically active are effective in reducing the risk of diabetes onset. Robust studies show that these interventions work even better than medication to prevent diabetes. Read the rest of this entry »

Unpacking The Burr-Hatch-Upton Plan


March 24th, 2015

Anticipating the upcoming Supreme Court decision on King v. Burwell, which could halt health insurance subsidies available through the federal exchange, Republican Senators Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch joined with Representative Fred Upton to propose a comprehensive replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act, or Patient CARE Act, is modeled on a proposal of the same name offered last year by Senators Burr, Hatch, and Tom Coburn, who has retired from the Senate. The Burr-Hatch-Upton plan, like its predecessor, adopts consumer-based reforms of the insurance market, modernizes the Medicaid program, and makes other changes intended to lower cost and increase choices.

In an earlier post, we described in detail the provisions of the Burr-Coburn-Hatch bill. In this post, we discuss how the Burr-Hatch-Upton plan differs from the earlier proposal. We also discuss the impact of the new proposal on health insurance coverage, premiums, and the federal budget based on a new analysis from the Center for Health and Economy (H&E), a non-partisan think tank focused on producing informative analyses of trends in U.S. health care policy and reform ideas. We conclude by commenting on the direction Republicans are likely to take in reforming the health system in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case. Read the rest of this entry »

Ensuring Timely Approval Of Generic Drugs


March 24th, 2015

Having saved US consumers over $1.5 trillion in the past decade, generic drugs are one of the most cost-effective interventions in our entire health care system. Using generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs, when a generic is available, has been shown to increase medication adherence and improve health outcomes for chronic conditions.

Importantly, generic drugs offer these advantages without sacrificing quality; the Food and Drug Administration’s bioequivalency standards are met and often exceeded by generic-name manufacturers, and no randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of medical evidence—have identified clinically significant variations in outcomes between brand-name and FDA-approved interchangeable generic drugs. Read the rest of this entry »

A Check-Up On Dental Coverage And The ACA


March 24th, 2015

Oral health is an important but often overlooked part of health and insurance coverage. State Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) are required to cover children’s dental services (and children’s access to care has been improving over the last ten years), but coverage for adults is optional. As noted in a recent Health Affairs GrantWatch Blog post, only about 15 states offer extensive coverage for adult dental services in Medicaid.

Medicare does not cover most dental services. And most private dental coverage is offered through stand-alone dental products that are separate from medical plans. Overall, this has resulted in more than 2.5 times as many Americans going without dental coverage as medical coverage.

Inadequate access to dental care is costly. Many low-income individuals turn to the emergency department as their primary and only source of care for oral health needs. The American Dental Association estimates that emergency room visits for avoidable oral health-related visits cost the U.S. health care system as much as two billion dollars per year. A recent Narrative Matters feature in Health Affairs (“Navigating Veronika”) highlighted the steep barriers that low-income individuals can face in navigating the dental safety net and finding a provider who will treat them, even when Medicaid covers the costs of care. Read the rest of this entry »

What Is Behind The Post-Recession Bend In The Health Care Cost Curve?


March 23rd, 2015

It has been a while since I last had the opportunity to analyze the slowdown in health spending and the extent to which it represents a lasting bend in the cost curve, as opposed to lingering effects of the “Great Recession or other temporary changes.” (See Note 1)

Distinguishing Health Care Cost Curves

When we discuss bending the health care cost curve, two questions arise: “Which curve?” and “Short run or long run?” In this post, I focus on the curve represented by the growth rate in national health expenditures (NHE) pre- and post-recession. Other curves of interest include “excess growth” (health spending growth in excess of gross domestic product [GDP] growth) and the closely related health spending share of GDP. For analysis of all three curves over the very long run, including a provocative “big bang” theory about the origins of excess growth, see Tom Getzen’s blog. A fourth curve that has gotten my attention, through the work of Gene Steuerle, is the health spending share of the growth in real per capita GDP. (See Note 2)

I now turn to the present topic, the record low growth in NHE that began in 2009 (the year in which the recession ended) and continued through 2013 (the most recent year for which we have official data). There has been extensive discussion about whether these low rates are the result of temporary cyclical factors, such as the recession, or more permanent structural factors. As detailed below, I conclude that, to a surprisingly large extent, the answer is neither: the bulk of the decline in the health care spending growth rate resulted from lower economy-wide price inflation and some temporary factors not tied to the recession. Read the rest of this entry »

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