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Learning From Missed Opportunities To Diagnose US Ebola Patient Zero


October 30th, 2014

Over a century ago American physician Richard Cabot wrote about misdiagnoses, recognizing: “A goodly number of ‘classic’ time-honored mistakes in diagnosis are familiar to all experienced physicians because we make them again and again. Some of these we can avoid; others are almost inevitable, but all should be borne in mind and marked on medical maps by a danger-signal of some kind: ‘In this vicinity look out for hidden rocks,’ or ‘Dangerous turn here, run slow.’”

Ironically, despite the dramatic changes in the nature of medical practice over the last 100 years, Cabot’s words ring more true than ever today. This has become especially clear in the last few weeks since Ebola first touched US shores, uncovering one of the biggest ongoing vulnerabilities of outpatient medicine – misdiagnosis.

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Grand-Aides And Health Policy: Reducing Readmissions Cost-Effectively


October 29th, 2014

Hospital readmissions for the same condition within 30 days likely should not occur, and most often indicate system failure. Readmitted patients are either discharged too early, should be placed into palliative care or hospice, or most often are victims of a failure in transition of care from hospital to home. Most hospitals and physicians would like to eliminate such readmissions, particularly now that payers like Medicare are penalizing hospitals for high rates of readmission. Numerous approaches have been tried to reduce readmissions, with recent published improvements between a 2 percent and 26 percent reduction.

The Grand-Aides® program features rigorous training of nurse aides or community health workers to work as nurse extenders, 5 Grand-Aides to one RN or NP supervisor, with approximately 50 patients per Grand-Aide per year. The Grand-Aides visit at home daily for the first 5 days post-discharge and then as ordered by the supervisor (e.g. 3 days the next week) for at least 30 days, extending as long as desired.

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Ebola And EHRs: An Unfortunate And Critical Reminder


October 28th, 2014

The Dallas hospital communication lapse that led to the discharge of a Liberian man with Ebola symptoms is an example of the failure of American health care system to effectively share health information, even within single institutions. It is not possible to know whether a faster response would have saved Thomas Eric Duncan’s life or reduced risk to the community and health workers.

What is clear is that rapid sharing of information is one of the elements critical to halting the spread of Ebola. Had all members of the initial care team known of the patient’s recent arrival from an Ebola-stricken country and acted appropriately to quarantine Mr. Duncan, this would have limited the chance of exposing the public and enabled faster preventive protocols for treating personnel.

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Lessons from Ebola: The Infectious Disease Era, And The Need To Prepare, Will Never Be Over


October 28th, 2014

With the wall-to-wall news coverage of Ebola recently, it’s hard for many to distinguish fact from fiction and to really understand the risk the disease poses and how prepared we are to fight it.

Fighting infectious diseases requires constant vigilance. Along with Ebola, health officials around the globe are closely watching other emerging threats: MERS-CoV, pandemic flu strains, Marburg, Chikungunya and Enterovirus D68. The best defense to all of these threats is a good offense — detecting, treating and containing as quickly and effectively as possible.

And yet, we have consistently degraded our ability to respond to these new, emerging and re-emerging threats by underfunding and undercutting existing capabilities and expecting the country to ramp up overnight when new threats emerge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Drug Discount Analysis Misses The Mark


October 8th, 2014

Rena Conti and Peter Bach’s analysis of disproportionate share (DSH) hospitals in the 340B drug discount program — published in the October issue of Health Affairs — neglects an essential point: compared to non-340B DSH hospitals, 340B DSH hospitals provide over twice as much care to Medicaid and low-income Medicare patients, and almost twice as much uncompensated care. 340B DSH hospitals across the board provide high levels of uncompensated care. For these and other reasons enumerated below, the article does not support the criticism that 340B DSH hospitals are no longer serving vulnerable patients.

First, Conti and Bach misconstrue the 340B program’s intent. 340B is not – and never was – a direct assistance program for the poor. According to the Government Accountability Office, “The 340B program allows certain providers within the U.S. health care safety-net to stretch federal resources to reach more eligible patients and provide more comprehensive services, and we found that the covered entities we interviewed reported using it for these purposes.”

For example, 340B savings help The Henry Ford Hospital fund four oncology clinics and related services in Detroit and surrounding townships. The program is also enabling Henry Ford to hire pharmacists and nurses to follow up with their patients to ensure they are taking their medicines properly and that the treatment is effective.

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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.

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Reminder: Health Affairs Briefing: Specialty Pharmaceuticals


October 3rd, 2014

We live in an era of specialty pharmaceuticals — drugs typically used to treat chronic, serious or life threatening conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, growth hormone deficiency, and multiple sclerosis.  Their cost is often much higher than traditional drugs, and they are set to account for more than half of all drug spending by the end of this decade.

The October 2014 edition of Health Affairs, “Specialty Pharmaceutical Spending and Policy,” contains a cluster of articles examining the host of issues related to specialty pharmaceuticals: from the promise they hold for curing or managing chronic diseases, to the risk they pose for exacerbating health care costs and disparities, and the challenges they present for policymakers striving to balance both.

Please join us on Tuesday, October 7, for a briefing on the October issue moderated by Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil.

WHEN: 
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

WHERE: 
Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill
400 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC, Lower Level

REGISTER NOW!

Follow Live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_SpecialtyDrugs.

Health Affairs is grateful to CVS Health for its financial support of the issue and event.

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New Health Policy Brief: The Physician Payments Sunshine Act


October 3rd, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) looks at a section of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (PPSA). The PPSA
spells out how medical product manufacturers are required to disclose to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) any payments or other transfers of value made to physicians or teaching hospitals as well as physician ownership or investment interests in certain manufacturers or group-purchasing organizations.

These data, which have been collected since August 2013, were published for the first time earlier this week in a publicly searchable database and will be updated annually. There is a long history of financial relationships between physicians and medical product manufacturers, which can include anything from free meals to consulting, speaker fees, and direct research funding. This health policy brief looks at the PPSA and its impact on physician-manufacturer relationships.

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Value-Oriented Payment Jumps, And Yet …


September 30th, 2014

Today, Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR) unveiled some potentially exciting news: Our 2014 National Scorecard on Payment Reform tells us 40 percent of commercial sector payments to doctors and hospitals now flow through value-oriented payment methods, defined as payment methods designed to improve quality and reduce waste.  This is a dramatic increase since 2013 when the figure was just 11 percent.

Traditional fee-for-service, where we pay for every test and procedure regardless of its value, may rapidly be becoming a relic.  While the Scorecard findings are not wholly representative of health plans across the United States, they are directionally sound and allow us to measure progress toward value-oriented payment in the commercial sector.  (Scorecard findings are based on data representing almost 65 percent of commercial health plans across the country.)

On the face of it, this is thrilling news for CPR, especially since our organizational goal is that at least 20 percent of payments to doctors and hospitals will flow through methods proven to improve value by the year 2020.  But we are not closing up shop just yet.  The proliferation of value-based payment arrangements only matters if they succeed at reducing costs and improving the quality of care. And for many value-oriented payment models, we still don’t have the evidence.

We also remain a bit circumspect because only about half of the value-oriented payments (out of that 40 percent figure) put providers at some financial risk if they fail to improve care or spend over budget.  To employers and others helping to foot the bill for health care, many new payment methods often feel like “cost plus arrangements.”  Instead, purchasers would like to see risk sharing across payers and providers.

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Global Health Update: High Bed Occupancy Rates And Increased Mortality In Denmark


September 24th, 2014

High levels of bed occupancy are associated with increased inpatient and thirty-day hospital mortality in Denmark, according to research recently published in the July issue of Health Affairs.

Authors Flemming Madsen, Steen Ladelund, and Allan Linneberg received considerable media attention in Denmark for their research findings. For one major Television channel, it topped Germany’s victory in the World Cup finals.

In another story from the Danish newspaper, Information, Councillor Ulla Astman, Chairman of the North Denmark Regional Council and second highest ranking politician, who runs all of the Danish public hospitals, reportly stated that “we have to live with it [the increased mortality],” since they cannot afford to reduce bed occupancy.

“Or die with it,” said lead author Madsen, a pulmonary physician and director of the Allergy and Lung Clinic in Helsingør, Denmark, at the July 9 Health Affairs briefing, “Using Big Data To Transform Care.” Madsen, who left his position as director of the Department of Internal Medicine at Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen to pursue this research, believes that Astman’s statement explains why they have a bed shortage problem and supports his argument that bed shortage is a result of planning.

“It is dangerous to focus on productivity without looking at the consequences,” says Madsen.

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Same Care No Matter Where She Gives Birth: Addressing Variation In Obstetric Care Through Standardization


September 12th, 2014

In August, Health Affairs published a study highlighting an alarming fact in maternal health: The incidence of childbirth complications varies significantly from hospital to hospital across the United States. The study – led by Laurent Glance and colleagues at the University of Rochester – found that “women delivering vaginally at a low-performing hospital had twice the rate of any major complications than women delivering vaginally at a high-performing hospital.” The difference in these complication rates for cesareans was five-fold.

It is well known that variation in care contributes to higher rates of mortality and morbidity in all areas of health care, explaining the push toward checklists and other quality improvement tools and interdisciplinary collaboration. Identifying the primary reasons for variation in obstetric complication rates – why women giving birth in high-performing hospitals have lower complications rates – could be critical to understanding the reasons behind the increasing rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S. This study, along with other disturbing statistics, underscores the significant need for improvements in maternity care.

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Mortality Rate Increases With Emergency Department Closures


September 11th, 2014

The Health Affairs article, “California Emergency Department Closures Are Associated With Increased Inpatient Mortality At Nearby Hospitals,” by Charles Liu, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Renee Y. Hsia, recently published in the August issue, presents an important, timely, and well-conceived analysis, especially given the number of emergency department (ED) closures in the last 10-15 years, the concomitant rise in ED visits during the same period, and the likelihood of further closures due to increased hospital consolidation across the country since the study took place.

The article focuses on mortality rates and finds that hospitals in close proximity to an ED that had closed had 5 percent higher odds of inpatient mortality than admissions to hospitals not occurring near a closure, and that this effect disproportionately affected minority, Medicaid, and low-income patients, further exacerbating existing disparities in health care and health outcomes. This finding adds to Hsia’s body of work that calls attention to the disproportionate impact of institutional closures on health outcomes for vulnerable populations.

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Think and Act Globally: Health Affairs’ September Issue


September 8th, 2014

The September issue of Health Affairs emphasizes lessons learned from developing and industrialized nations collectively seeking the elusive goals of better care, with lower costs and higher quality. A number of studies analyze key global trends including patient engagement and integrated care, while others examine U.S.-based policy changes and their applicability overseas.

This issue was supported by the Qatar Foundation and World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), Hamad Medical Corporation, Imperial College London, and The Commonwealth Fund.

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Non-Payments


September 4th, 2014

Throughout 2014 here on Health Affairs Blog, I have shared Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR)’s insights on different types of payment reform, which run along a spectrum of financial risk. We began the year by examining payment models that have “upside only” risk, such as pay-for-performance, which give health care providers the opportunity for financial gain from improving care with no added financial risk.

Then we examined payment models that contain “two-sided risk,” like shared-risk arrangements for ACOs, bundled payment, and capitation with quality, where providers can reap financial gain as well as experience financial losses depending on care outcomes and expenditures.

This month, we examine a model that presents “downside only” risk — non-payment to providers. This payment strategy puts providers at financial risk for care that could or should have been avoided.

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Projected Slow Growth In 2013 Health Spending Ahead Of Future Increases


September 3rd, 2014

Insurance Coverage, Population Aging, and Economic Growth Are Main Drivers of Projected Future Health Spending Increases

New estimates released today from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project a slow 3.6 percent rate of health spending growth for 2013 but also project a 5.6 percent increase in health spending for 2014 and an average 6.0 percent increase for 2015–23. The average rate of projected growth for 2013–23 is 5.7 percent, exceeding the expected average growth in gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.1 percentage points.

Increased insurance coverage via the Affordable Care Act (ACA), projected economic growth, and population aging will be the main contributors of this growth, ultimately leading to an expected 19.3 percent health share of nominal GDP in 2023, up from 17.2 percent in 2012.  This compares to the Office of the Actuary’s 2013  report, published in Health Affairs, predicting an average growth rate of 5.8 percent for 2012–22.

Every year, the Office of the Actuary releases an analysis of how Americans are likely to spend their health care dollars in the coming decade. The new findings appear as a Health Affairs Web First article and will also appear in the journal’s October issue.

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The 125 Percent Solution: Fixing Variations In Health Care Prices


August 26th, 2014

Summer vacation’s finally here. You’re strolling along the beach, not a care in the world when – ouch – you step on a piece of broken glass and need a few stitches at the local hospital. Such routine procedures are painless enough, but depending on where you’re treated and by whom, the real pain could occur when you’re handed the ER bill.

In some of the latest evidence on the crazy-quilt patterns of U.S. health care prices, Castlight Health found prices in Dallas TX ranging from $15 to $343 for the same cholesterol test.  What makes these price variations particularly egregious is that the highest prices are typically reserved for those least able to pay, such as the uninsured.

What’s the solution?  In the long run, we need to establish a more transparent system where consumers can choose easily based on reliable quality and price measures.  But our current measures of quality are, to put it politely, inadequate, and people with insurance are often insulated or can generally afford those higher prices.  Reference pricing, in which insurance pays only enough to reimburse providers with adequate quality and relatively lower costs, would help to restrain high prices, but distracted patients or those with strong attachments to specific doctors or hospitals could still get stung with a big bill.

Capping payments at 125 percent of Medicare rates. We suggest a short-term solution: The federal Medicare program has in place a complete system of prices for every procedure and treatment.  It’s not perfect, but it is uniform across regions, with a cost-of-living adjustment that pays more in expensive cities and less in rural areas.  If every patient and every insurance company always had the option of paying 125 percent of the Medicare price for any service, we would effectively cap the worst of the price spikes.  No longer would the tourist checked out at the ER for heat stroke be clobbered with a sky-high bill.  Nor would the uninsured single mother be charged 10 times the best price for her child’s asthma care.  This is not just another government regulation, but instead a protection plan that shields consumers from excessive market power.

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