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Competition In Health Care Markets


January 26th, 2015

In this post, I want to focus on the key role economic analysis plays in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s health care enforcement program. I use this lens to look first at how the FTC has become more successful in challenging hospital mergers, and then to rebut the notion that the Affordable Care Act is somehow a “free pass” for health care industry consolidation.

After the federal antitrust agencies successfully challenged a number of hospital mergers in the 1980s and early 1990s,[1] we suffered a string of court losses in the mid- and late-1990s, even in cases involving highly concentrated hospital markets.[2] In 2002, the FTC decided to take a step back and examine the reasons for our losses, and whether our analysis of hospital markets was correct.

We engaged in an in-depth retrospective study, used our authority to collect data from hospitals and insurance companies, and held workshops along with DOJ. (See here, here, here, and here.) Cory Capps of Bates and White, and other economists contributed significantly to our understanding as well. This intense period of reflection led to several important papers demonstrating that the consummated mergers stemming from the hospital merger challenges we lost—including those involving non-profits—resulted in anticompetitive effects, particularly increased prices. We also determined that our losses were due in part to the courts’ acceptance of faulty economic analysis of geographic and competitive effects. (See here, here, and here.)

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Additional Requirements For Charitable Hospitals: Final Rules On Community Health Needs Assessments And Financial Assistance


January 23rd, 2015

On December 29, the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service released long-awaited final regulations implementing Affordable Care Act provisions that impose additional obligations on charitable hospital organizations covered by §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Published in the Federal Register on December 31 2014, the regulations are massive, consolidating a series of prior proposals into a single final body of regulatory law.  The regulations affect more than 80 percent of U.S. hospitals, both the 60 percent that operate as private nonprofit entities and the 23 percent that operate as governmental units.

Because state and local governments typically condition their own sales, property, and corporate income tax exemptions for nonprofit entities to a hospital’s §501(c)(3) status, the final regulations carry broad and deep implications from both a policy and financial perspective.  According to the Congressional Budget Office the 2002 the national value of the federal tax exemption exceeded $12 billion, a figure that undoubtedly has risen considerably.

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New Health Policy Brief: The Two-Midnight Rule


January 23rd, 2015

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines the so-called “two-midnight rule,” which takes effect on April 1 of this year for new Medicare hospital claims. The rule, announced in 2013, is an effort by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to clarify when a patient will be considered by Medicare as an inpatient for hospital billing purposes. Under this rule, only patients that a doctor expects to need two nights in the hospital would be considered inpatients for the purpose of Medicare claims.

In the past, CMS provided little guidance to hospitals on this matter. This is important because the Medicare payment structures are very different for inpatients versus outpatients: Hospitals are reimbursed with a single comprehensive payment for all care provided to an inpatient during his or her time at the hospital, but they are paid standard fees for each unique service they provide to outpatients. This brief describes the perceived need by CMS for the two-midnight rule, how it would work, the implications for Medicare payment, and the heated response to the rule by the hospital industry.

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Early Evidence On Medicare ACOs And Next Steps For The Medicare ACO Program (Updated)


January 22nd, 2015

Note: Pratyusha Katikaneni and Carmen Diaz also contributed to this post. They are both research assistants at the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform, The Brookings Institution.

On December 1, CMS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), which requests feedback for changes CMS is considering for the Medicare accountable care organization (ACO) programs in 2016 and beyond. The proposal suggests significant potential alterations to the program, many of which we recently reviewed, that would address major issues that ACOs and others have raised: uncertainty and inexperience at transitioning to increasing levels of risk, lack of timely and accurate data, changes in attributed patient populations from year-to-year, and financial benchmarks that fail to account for regional variations and continue to reward high ACO performance over time.

The proposed rule raises more issues than it settles, but it clearly indicates that CMS is open to meaningful public comments and will make important revisions in the MSSP. However, the proposal also illustrates the challenges of resolving these issues in a way that both assures substantial ACO participation and improvement, as well as Medicare savings.

Ideally, big changes in key features in a major program like the MSSP would be based on extensive empirical evidence on what determines success in the program. Unfortunately, only limited evidence, including case studies and some comparative data, is available on the determinants of success for Medicare ACOs, and thus on the MSSP. Data released by CMS in September, which we previously reviewed, showed that the MSSP has generated over $700 million in savings to date relative to the spending benchmarks in the program. This is around 1 percent of the costs of care for beneficiaries affected by Medicare ACO initiatives.

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Unpacking The Medicare Shared Savings Proposed Rule: Geography And Policy


January 22nd, 2015

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). The rulemaking contains several proposals that if enacted, would fundamentally change the underlying incentives for providers to participate in the program. These proposed reforms address issues such as data sharing, renewals of participation agreements, beneficiary attribution, incentives to move to two-sided risk, and lastly, reforms to the benchmark calculations against which ACOs compete to earn savings.

The NPRM comes on the heels of a September 16, 2014 release of performance results for MSSP ACOs that began their performance years by 2013. Under the current program rules, ACOs that successfully reported quality performance data and whose savings exceeded their “minimum savings rate” were eligible to share in savings with Medicare. The MSSP program allows ACOs to choose either one-sided risk (Track 1, only upside potential to earn savings) or two-sided risk (Track 2, both upside and downside potential to earn savings/incur losses) with the final sharing amount based on achieving quality targets (up to 50 percent for Track 1 and 60 percent for Track 2). A vast majority of ACOs enrolled in Track 1, the one-sided risk option. Of the 220 ACOs in the program that participated in the first performance year, 53 earned shared savings, 52 saved money but not enough to meet the required “minimum savings rates,” and the other 115 did not accrue savings (spending on patients assigned to the ACO was greater than projected).

In February 2014, the CMS asked stakeholders for input as to how to improve its ACO programs, feedback which they used to generate the NPRM. Many ACOs and other stakeholders argued that failures to achieve savings over and above minimum savings rates were a partial result of residing in low spending areas. In this post, we examine the merits of this contention and consider the policy implications of our results and their bearing on some of the modifications of the MSSP program that CMS has proposed. We also discuss other strategies for improving the program CMS did not mention in the NPRM.

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Academic Medical Centers Should Lead The Charge On Price Transparency


January 21st, 2015

A bipartisan campaign to increase price transparency in the medical world has been reverberating through the press, government, and hospitals. Recent examples include CMS’ release of datasets for inpatient and outpatient charges and North Carolina’s House Bill 834, which was signed into law on August 21, 2013 and mandates that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services publish hospital charges. In Time Magazine, Steven Brill’s article, “Bitter Pill,” provided stunning real world examples of how the lack of price transparency can create enormous uncertainty and confusion among both patients and providers.

The momentum will only continue as Section 2718(e) of the Affordable Care Act is implemented. The provision, which took effect on October 1, 2014, mandates that each hospital establish, update, and publicize a list of standard charges for items and services provided. At this critical moment, there is one set of institutions that are uniquely positioned to ensure that price transparency is implemented deliberately and successfully: Academic Medical Centers.

For good reason, there is excitement about the potential of the price transparency movement. A recent Health Affairs study by Wu et al. suggests that when patients have access to health care prices for an intervention such as an MRI, a significant number select the lower-price option. This proof of concept shows that price transparency has the potential to lead to competition between hospitals, thus reducing costs to the patient and health care system.

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Graduate Medical Education: The Need For New Leadership In Governance And Financing


January 14th, 2015

With the creation of the Medicare program in 1965, a funding stream was established to support the training of medical residents who provided care for Medicare beneficiaries. In subsequent years, Medicare has maintained these payments to teaching hospitals and remains the largest payer for Graduate Medical Education (GME), with expenditures totaling about $10 billion annually. This represents two-thirds of Federal GME support, with another $4 billion per year provided to hospitals through State Medicaid GME support.

This expenditure was a major motivation for the Senate Finance Committee to request the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to issue a report entitled “Graduate Medical Education That Meets the Nation’s Health Needs.”  The Report proposed major reforms to create a GME system with greater transparency, accountability and strategic direction, in order to increase its contribution to achieving the nation’s health goals. Prior to publication of this long awaited report on July 29, 2014, GME financing policies received substantial attention in the last two sessions of Congress, with a particular focus on increasing the number of federally funded GME positions. The House and Senate committees with GME jurisdiction produced multiple legislative initiatives.

However, there was considerable opposition from primary care stakeholders to some of the proposed changes because of inadequate emphasis on ambulatory training. Possible redistribution of Medicare GME funding was also of concern to many. This seemed to dissuade Congress from passing reform of GME policies. Nevertheless, 1,500 new GME positions were authorized in the recent Veterans Health Administration legislation.

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CMS Spending Report Leads Health Affairs 2014 Top-Ten List


January 13th, 2015

A report on 2012 health spending by analysts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary was the most-read Health Affairs article in 2014. To celebrate the New Year, Health Affairs is making this piece and all the articles on the journal’s 2014 top-ten list freely available to all readers for two weeks.

Health Affairs publishes annual retrospective analyses of National Health Expenditures by the CMS analysts, as well as their health spending projections for the coming decade. In the latest installment in this series — which also made our 2014 top ten — the analysts reported on 2013 health spending and discussed their findings at a Washington DC briefing. The two reports documented continued slow growth in health spending; the 2013 report featured the slowest rate of health spending growth since CMS began tracking NHE in 1960.

Next on the 2014 Health Affairs most-read list was an article on PepsiCo’s workplace wellnesss program. John Caloyeras and coauthors at RAND and PepsiCo found that the diseases management component of the program saved money, but the lifestyle management component did not. This was followed by two Narrative Matters essays by Charlotte Yeh and Diane Meier; another Narrative Matters piece, by Janice Lynn Schuster, rounded out the list at number ten.

The full top-ten list is below. And check out the 2014 most-read Health Affairs Blog posts and GrantWatch Blog posts.

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Medicaid Expansion Post Leads Health Affairs Blog 2014 Top-Fifteen List


January 8th, 2015

As we begin 2015, we present the fifteen most-read Health Affairs Blog posts from 2014. Topping the list is “Opting Out Of Medicaid Expansion: The Health And Financial Impacts,” by Sam Dickman, David Himmelstein, Danny McCormick, and Steffie Woolhander. “Low-income adults in states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion will forego gains in access to care, financial well-being, physical and mental health, and longevity that would be expected with expanded Medicaid coverage,” the authors write, and they offer a state-by-state projection of these consequences.

Next on the list is Susan DeVore‘s overview of health care trends to watch in 2014, followed by David Muhlestein‘s look at the likely growth of accountable care and an examination of declining inpatient hospital utilization by Robert York, Kenneth Kaufman, and Mark Grube. The list also includes two posts from Tim Jost’s comprehensive series on implementing the Affordable Care Act, on waiting periods for employer-sponsored health insurance and Medicaid asset rules.

Stay tuned for the 2014 most-read lists for Health Affairs journal and GrantWatch Blog.

The full top-fifteen list is below:

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Implementing Value-Based Payment In Practice


January 7th, 2015

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of several posts related to the 4th European Forum on Health Policy and Management: Innovation & Implementation, to be held in Berlin, Germany on January 29 and 30, 2015. For more information or to request your personal invitation contact info@centerforhealthcaremanagement.org.

Meeting the objectives of a value-based care model requires hospitals and health systems to realign operational processes, invest in targeted resources (such as physician extenders, educational initiatives and care coordination structures), educate physicians and staff, change organizational culture, and invest in capital (such as physical locations and information technology).

Within hospitals, quality measures have been evolving from purely structural-based outcomes (such as the existence of attributes or features like a hospitalist program or an electronic medical record) to process-based (the percent of surgical patients who received prophylactic antibiotics or acute myocardial infarction patients who received aspirin within 24 hours of arrival) to patient-centered outcomes (return of a patient’s functional status post-surgically or measurement of post-surgical pain).

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Health Affairs’ January Issue: Aging And Health


January 5th, 2015

The January issue of Health Affairs includes a number of studies examining issues pertaining to aging and health or health care. Other subjects covered include: the effect of Medicare’s Hospital Compare quality reports on hospital prices; how the Affordable Care Act’s provisions impact Americans shouldering high medical cost burdens; and whether California’s Hospital Fair Pricing Act has benefited uninsured patients.

Content on aging and health was supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

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Sovaldi, Harvoni Payment Issues Lead Health Affairs Blog November Most-Read List


December 24th, 2014

A piece by Laura Fegraus and Murray Ross on the challenges of paying for lifesaving but high-priced drugs like Sovaldi and Harvoni from was the most-read Health Affairs Blog post for November. This was followed by a critical analysis of workplace wellness programs from Al Lewis, Vik Khanna, and Shana Montrose.

Next came a post on the 2016 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters Proposed Rule from Tim Jost, and then a look at health care policy after the mid-term elections from James Capretta.

The full top-ten list for November is below.

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The Strategic Challenge Of Electronic Health Records


December 16th, 2014

Despite a 2005 prediction that electronic health records (EHRs) would save $81 billion, RAND Corporation just validated clinicians’ complaints in a report describing EHRs as “a unique and vexing challenge to physician professional satisfaction.” The American Medical Association also published EHR “usability priorities” – strong evidence that current EHRs don’t support doctors in practicing medicine.

In a world of Apple-typified simplicity, why is it so hard to get the right EHR? Because, unlike Apple, EHR designers haven’t started with the question of how value can be created for users of the technology. Technology isn’t the problem. The challenge is in articulating clinicians’ information needs and meeting them by making the right tradeoffs between corporate and business unit strategies.

EHRs can, and should, provide relevant information when and where clinicians need it, recognizing that care is not a commodity and that different care processes have different information needs. User interfaces must anticipate clinicians’ needs rather than require individual user design. EHRs need to eliminate low-information pop-ups and alarms and instead provide alerts and reminders that are both timely and relevant. They must be designed with assiduous attention to data entry requirements, replacing blind mandates with thoughtful assignment of the task and the timing.

In this post I look at how rethinking the design of EHRs can better balance the different strategic needs within care delivery organizations.

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Why I Oppose Payment Reform


December 12th, 2014

I recently gave the keynote address at the New York State Health Foundation Conference “Payment Reform: Expanding the Playing Field.” This blog post is adapted from those remarks (you can watch the half-hour speech beginning around the eight-minute mark).

I had my epiphany shortly after I announced my departure from the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) about nine months ago. In an effort to help find my successor, I contacted some executive search firms. One firm quoted what they referred to as the “market price.” When I pressed them to tell me how much effort this price represented, they declined to do so. Ultimately, I recommended that NASHP contract with a search firm that charged by the hour.

It was then that I realized that, given the choice between capitation (a fixed fee for the outcome I desired) and fee-for-service (an hourly rate with no accountability for the outcome), I, as a purchaser, chose fee-for-service. Only a hypocrite would go around talking about the importance of payment reform, while secretly conducting business the old way!

Having given the matter some further thought, I present my five reasons for opposing payment reform:

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Preparing US Hospitals To Safely Manage Ebola Virus-Infected Patients: At What Cost?


December 11th, 2014

Since Ebola first reached US shores this summer, hospitals nationwide have attempted to prepare. National guidance has been helpful, but no such guidance can deal with the fastidious attention to every minute and mundane aspect of caring for a patient with Ebola virus infection that could place a healthcare worker at risk if a breach occurs. Simulation training has helped to uncover defects and to assess our capacity to mitigate those defects.

Additionally, innumerable hours of countless healthcare workers, hospital administrators, infection control staff, facilities and environmental services providers, communications specialists, security personnel and others have been brought to bear focused on the task at hand. Despite this effort, in the 30 years since becoming a physician, I have never witnessed a greater, more palpable level of stress and anxiety among my peers.

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The Accidental Administrative Law Of Policymaking In The Medicare Program


December 11th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of several posts stemming from presentations given at “The Law of Medicare and Medicaid at Fifty,” a conference held at Yale Law School on November 6 and 7.

When Congress establishes a new regulatory program, it lodges the program in a regulatory agency or executive department. A regulatory agency generally has presidentially appointed commissioners with staggered terms and expert staff. This design provides insulation from politics and facilitates applying technical expertise to regulatory problems. Also, administrative agencies make rules and policy and have the powers of investigation, adjudication, and sanction to enforce compliance. Administrative law, an essential instrument of democracy, regulates the operation and procedures of government agencies.

The Social Security Amendments of 1965 established Medicare in the Social Security Administration (SSA). Medicare initially contained two parts, hospital insurance for hospital and related services and supplementary medical insurance for physician and other outpatient services. Pursuant to contract, Medicare contractors handle claims and pay providers as well as adjudicate appeals and make program policy.

This post chronicles the development administrative law, policymaking, and regulation in the Medicare program. It describes how the program evolved a revolutionary collaborative model of regulation that could provide a useful guide for other programs.

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From The National Coordinator For Health IT: The Federal Strategy For Collecting, Sharing, And Using Electronic Health Information


December 8th, 2014

Making our nation’s health and wellness infrastructure interoperable is a top priority for the Administration, and government plays a vital role in advancing this effort. Federal agencies are purchasers, regulators, and users of health information technology (health IT), as they set policy and insure, pay for care, or provide direct patient care for millions of Americans. They also contribute toward protecting and promoting community health, fund health and human services, invest in infrastructure, as well as develop and implement policies and regulations to advance science and support research.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has a responsibility to coordinate across the federal partners to achieve a shared set of priorities and approach to health IT.  To that end, today we released the draft Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020, and we are seeking feedback on the federal health IT strategy.  This Strategic Plan represents the collective priorities of federal agencies for modernizing our health ecosystem; however, we need your input. We will accept public comment through February 6, 2015. Please offer your insights on how we can improve our strategy and ensure that it reflects our nation’s most important needs.

A collection of 35-plus federal departments and agencies collaborated to develop the draft Federal Health IT Strategic Plan: 2015-2020, identifying key federal health IT priorities for the next six years (Exhibit 1). The landscape has dramatically changed since the last federal health IT strategyWhen we released that Plan, the HITECH Act implementation was in its infancy. Since then, there has been remarkable growth in health IT adoption. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act implementation has begun to shift care delivery and reimbursement from fee-for-service to value-based care.

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Health Affairs Web First: National Health Spending In 2013 Continued Pattern Of Low Growth


December 3rd, 2014

A new analysis from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that in 2013 health care spending in the United States grew at a rate of 3.6 percent in 2013 to $2.9 trillion, or $9,255 per person. The increase was slower than the 4.1 percent growth in 2012 and continued a pattern of low growth that has held relatively steady at between 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent annual growth for five consecutive years.

The continued low growth in health spending is consistent with the modest overall economic growth since the end of the recent severe recession and with the long-standing relationship between economic growth and health spending—particularly several years after the end of economic recessions, when health spending and overall economic growth tend to converge. As a result, health spending’s share of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) remained at 17.4 percent in 2013.

The study is being released today by Health Affairs as a Web First and will appear in the January issue of Health Affairs. It was discussed this morning at a reporters briefing in the National Press Club.

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Recalling To Err’s Impact — And A Small But Telling IOM Mistake


November 25th, 2014

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Institute of Medicine (IOM)’s To Err is Human report, which famously declared that from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans died each year from preventable mistakes in hospitals and another one million were injured. That blunt conclusion from a prestigious medical organization shocked the public and marked the arrival of patient safety as a durable and important public policy issue.

Alas, when it comes to providing the exact date of this medical mistakes milestone, the IOM itself is confused and, in a painful piece of irony, sometimes just plain wrong. That’s unfortunate, because the date of the report’s release is an important part of the story of its continued influence.

There’s no question among those of us who’d long been involved in patient safety that the report’s immediate and powerful impact took health policy insiders by surprise. The data the IOM relied upon, after all, came from studies that appeared years before and then vanished into the background noise of the Hundred Year War over universal health insurance. This time, however, old evidence was carefully rebottled in bright, compelling new soundbites.

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New Health Policy Brief: The 340B Drug Discount Program


November 18th, 2014

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines the 340B Drug Discount Program. This federal program, established in 1992, was created to allow safety-net health care organizations serving vulnerable populations to buy outpatient prescription drugs at a discount. In the past few years, government reports have highlighted deficiencies in the oversight and management of the 340B program, whose sales in 2012 were reported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to total $6.9 billion.

The program has also received more attention as a result of two factors: the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) addition of more program-eligible institutions and new guidelines from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) allowing program participants to contract with multiple pharmacies. Some critics have raised concerns about a philosophical difference between the original intent of the program (helping safety-net institutions to stretch limited resources) from the fact that many institutions see a profit when public and private payers reimburse them at a rate higher than what they paid for the drugs.

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