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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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Implementing Health Reform: Excepted Benefits Final Rule


September 29th, 2014

Congress adopted Title I of the Affordable Care Act to increase access to health coverage for individuals by reforming employer group health coverage and health insurance offered to individuals and groups, requiring large employers to offer their employees affordable minimum health coverage or pay a penalty, imposing a penalty on individuals who can afford health coverage but fail to obtain it, and offering advance premium tax credits through the exchanges to individuals who cannot otherwise afford to purchase health coverage.

Coverage has long been available both through groups and for individuals that provides some health-related benefits but is neither a group health plan nor insured health coverage, as those terms are defined in the ACA.  These benefits were originally labeled by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 as “excepted benefits,” because they are excepted from the forms of benefits regulated initially by HIPAA and now by the ACA.

On September 26, 2014 the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“the agencies”) issued regulations expanding access to excepted benefits through insured and self-insured groups.

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The Latest Health Wonk Review


September 26th, 2014

At Healthcare Lighthouse, Billy Wynne provides this week’s “Thank God It’s Recess” edition of the Health Wonk Review. Billy give us a nice collection of posts, including a Health Affairs Blog post on health insurance reform proposals by Ari Friedman and Siyabonga Ndwandwe.

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How Engaging Patients Can Improve Care And Health Outcomes


September 26th, 2014

Patients and caregivers are gaining momentum as powerful new resources in efforts to improve the health care system. They are increasingly becoming active partners in their own care, as well as seeking to make the health care delivery system more responsive to their needs and easier to navigate. And they are increasingly engaging as collaborators in planning and conducting research, and disseminating its results, with the goal of producing evidence that can help patients and those who care for them make better-informed decisions about the clinical choices they face.

It is this last trend that led the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to support Health Affairs in developing a series of videos illustrating some of the ways that patients are bringing their unique experiences and community connections to efforts to improve care for themselves and others. This includes stories of how patients are becoming partners in research designed to address the outcomes important to them, taking account of their own concerns and circumstances.

Seen through this lens, being a research partner goes well beyond being the subject of a trial. Rather, it means helping to guide researchers in formulating the questions to be studied, making the right clinical comparisons, looking at appropriate populations, and focusing on the outcomes important to patients. This should greatly increase the chance that the research findings will produce relevant results that can have a real-world impact — something we plan to evaluate carefully over time.

Meaningful patient engagement is at the heart of PCORI’s approach to research, and several of the patients featured in the videos have in fact partnered with researchers in just this way in patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) studies we fund. They recognize that PCOR, a form of comparative clinical effectiveness research that focuses on issues of concern to patients, is a vital building block for developing truly patient-centered care and health policy, more effective treatments, and better outcomes.

In the following sections, we highlight the projects mentioned in the videos to give you an idea of how patients and community members are partnering in research projects.

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An Evolving Approach To Collaborations Among Health And Other Sectors


September 25th, 2014

Much evidence exists on the potential for prevention and health promotion to decrease the burden of chronic diseases. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), for example, has issued many reports with recommendations to use population-based and individual prevention programs and policy and legal interventions to improve diets, increase physical activity, and stop tobacco use.

These reports also note that achieving progress in health promotion will require the engagement of other non-health sectors. This isn’t breaking news—terms like “multisectoral” or “health in all policies” prevail in public health dialogue. Yet the question remains – if it is so well accepted that the health sector alone cannot improve health, why don’t multisectoral programs and policies happen more often and more successfully?

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IOM Report Calls For Transformation Of Care For The Seriously Ill


September 24th, 2014

The new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on care near the end of life in the United States was released last week. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee for the last two years, involved both in the writing of the report itself and in coming to consensus on its recommendations.

The name of the report and the charge to the Committee from the IOM was focused on “end of life.” However, the title, “Dying in America,” is something of a misnomer. The report itself focuses extensively on people with serious and chronic illness with indeterminate prognoses, why the current health care system fails so consistently to meet their needs, and what must change to improve the situation.

Hospice is the gold standard of care quality for those that are predictably dying and clearly at the end of life, and we are fortunate as a nation to have such a strong (mostly home) hospice infrastructure, but that’s not where most of the problems lie. The problems lie in the lack of options for people who are either not hospice-eligible (prognosis uncertain or continuing to want and benefit from disease treatment) or are referred to hospice much too late in their disease course to influence their experience and their families’.

The new report builds on the 1998 IOM report “Approaching Death” and goes well beyond the usual nostrums of calling for reimbursement for advance care planning and decrying all the “waste” in health care spending during the last year of life.

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Implementing Health Reform: Complicated ACA Tax Forms Could Cause Problems


September 21st, 2014

In a few months, millions of Americans will be filing either form 8962 to reconcile the advance premium tax credit they received with the tax credit they were actually due, or form 8965 because they owe a tax under the shared responsibility (individual mandate) provision of the Affordable Care Act or claim an exemption from that requirement.

By the close of open enrollment in April, 6.7 million Americans had chosen a qualified health plan with premium tax credits,  and many more have since enrolled in a QHP through a special enrollment period and received tax credits.  Each of them will need to file a form 8962.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 30 million Americans are potentially subject to the shared responsibility requirement, and that 23 million of them may qualify for an exemption.  The 7 million individuals who owe the penalty will have to file a form 8965, as will most of the 23 million who claim an exemption.

On September 15, 2014 the Internal Revenue Service released draft instructions for form 8965.  On September 17, 2014, the IRS released draft instructions for form 8962.  It is difficult to overstate how complicated these instructions are.  The tax credit and individual responsibility provisions of the ACA were complicated to begin with, but have become ever more complex as new exceptions and special rules have been created as implementation of the legislation has proceeded.  Many of the mostly low income Americans who will be completing these forms are marginally literate, at least in English, and have been accustomed to filing very simple tax forms like the 1040-EZ (which cannot be used by an individual claiming a tax credit) or perhaps not to filing taxes at all.  They are likely to be confused, frustrated, even angry, and certainly bewildered, completing these forms.  It is to be hoped that most of them will be assisted by well-trained tax preparers.

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Relative Value Health Insurance And Pay For Performance For Insurers: Complements, Not Substitutes


September 19th, 2014

Background

The quest for value dominates contemporary health policy.  Value, properly defined, is not about cost-savings but about the balance of costs and health benefits — improving the average cost-effectiveness of health interventions.  In choosing which care is funded, insurers are a crucial but commonly neglected driver of health system value.

Insurers can increase health system value by covering fewer cost-ineffective interventions or covering more cost-effective interventions.  Perhaps the earliest attempt to reform insurance, managed care, attempted to pursue both goals, but by the time it was implemented it widely focused (or was perceived to focus) on cost-containment.

A recent insurance reform proposal, known as Relative Value Health Insurance (RVHI), received considerable attention, for instance, in The Upshot, The Incidental Economist, and Forbes.  RVHI enables insurers to reduce their contractual obligation to cover “usual and customary” care.  This and similar earlier proposals rely on the insurers’ natural incentive to cut costs.  Less well-covered, however, are proposals to alter the very incentives of insurers to improve health, which we will call “pay-for-performance-for-insurers” (P4P4I).

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Different Parts Of The Same Elephant: Medicaid Research And State Expansion Decisions


September 19th, 2014

Debates about Medicaid expansion betray an underlying fundamental disagreement not only about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but about the Medicaid program itself. Medicaid, unlike Medicare, lacks the near-universal buy-in to the fundamental value of the program to beneficiaries’ health and well-being. As a means-tested (read welfare-related) program, Medicaid raises concerns and disagreements regarding work (dis)incentives, labor market effects, the “deserving” poor, and how this relates to the construct of health care as a right and a public good.

The Medicaid program serves as a centerpiece of the ACA and of the nation’s health care safety net. The states that continue to oppose Medicaid expansion reveal an important and less acknowledged aspect of this debate: That there remains fundamental disagreement in the United States about whether to include Medicaid as a central and important component of the evolving health care financing and delivery system, or whether system transformation would involve a move away from or elimination of Medicaid, even as a safety net program. Alternatively, how does or might the Medicaid program maintain (or attain) sufficiently broad-based buy-in to withstand wide swings in political control at the federal and state levels?

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Pediatric Asthma: An Opportunity In Payment Reform And Public Health


September 18th, 2014

Editor’s note: The post is informed by a case study, the third in a series made possible through the Merkin Initiative on Physician Payment Reform and Clinical Leadership, a special project to develop clinician leadership in health care delivery and financing reform. The case study will be presented on Wednesday, September 24 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers. 

The Clinical Challenge: A Chronic, but Manageable Illness

Asthma affects 7 million children – more than 10 percent of kids in the U.S. – and is the most common chronic childhood disease. Yet even with high levels of insurance coverage, 46 percent of pediatric patients have uncontrolled asthma. There are substantial gaps in appropriate prescribing and adherence to effective medications. In addition, a multitude of non-medical issues influence a child’s ability to control their asthma: low parental health literacy, poor quality housing, and environmental triggers such as pests, mold, and cleaning chemicals. As a result 800,000 kids visit the emergency department (ED) for asthma each year.

In 2007 (the latest year which data are available) the U.S. spent over $56 billion on asthma care, of which nearly $27 billion was spent on pediatric asthma. Medicaid is the primary payer for pediatric asthma related hospitalizations with 55 percent of the market. Better control may also mean lower medical costs, due to reductions in ED visits, admissions, and other health care utilization – patients with poorly controlled severe asthma cost nearly $5,000 more per patient per year compared to average pediatric asthmatic costs.

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Reference Pricing And Network Adequacy Standards: Conflict Or Concord?


September 18th, 2014

With benefit designs and enrollee cost-sharing increasingly standardized across health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of the remaining levers plans have to differentiate themselves—and to control premiums—is the size of their provider networks. Regulators have been caught in a crossfire between advocates of narrow networks who say they promote quality and keep prices down, and those who feel narrow networks could constrain access to necessary services.

Unfortunately, recent federal guidance – addressing, among other related items, the issue of “reference pricing” — blurs the distinction between in-network and out-of-network providers and may make it more difficult for regulators and consumers to understand the effective “size” of a particular network.

This confusion could undermine the goal of improving transparency in consumers’ health care choices and make it difficult for consumers to use prices in choosing providers. More troubling, expanded use of “reference pricing” under the guidance could leave patients paying unexpectedly large out-of-pocket amounts for services provided by ostensibly in-network providers.

Below, we characterize reference pricing as a “sub-network” contracting strategy, and we describe some of the implications of reference pricing and the guidance for consumers, regulators, plans, and providers.

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Should We Be Done With Describing Health Disparities?


September 17th, 2014

A recent Health Affairs podcast featured a conversation with AcademyHealth president and CEO Lisa Simpson on health disparities along with Darrell Gaskin, the lead of one of the panel sessions at the 2014 National Health Policy Conference (NHPC), “Community Health and Disparity: Moving Beyond Description.” The conversation endorses interventions rather than descriptions as the future direction of health disparities research.

But should we be done with describing health disparities? In a paper we recently published online in the International Journal for Equity in Health, we show that the answer is: Not entirely.

In this paper, using large, publicly available data, 2008, 2009, and 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends (SMART) and 2008, 2009, and 2010 United States Birth Records from the National Vital Statistics System, we reported education-, sex-, and race-related disparities in four health outcomes (poor/fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days, and low birthweight) in each of the selected 93 counties in the United States representing about 30 percent of the U.S. population.

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The Latest Health Wonk Review


September 12th, 2014

At Health Business Blog, David Williams is not ashamed to be a wonk in his September 11 edition of the Health Wonk Review. David highlights many great posts, including “The 125 Percent Solution,” suggested by Jonathan Skinner, Elliott Fisher, and James Weinstein on Health Affairs Blog, which would give consumers and insurers the option of paying 125 percent of the Medicare price for any health care service.

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New Health Policy Brief: Drug Shortages


September 11th, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) looks at the ongoing problem of drug shortages in the United States. From 2005 to 2010, the number of reported drug shortages almost tripled.

Today, newly reported drug shortages overall are decreasing, but the total amount of drug shortages continues to increase, reflecting just how long it can take to rectify a shortage. Generic sterile injectable drugs, a vital component for patients fighting cancer, combatting an infection, or about to undergo surgery, are in especially short supply.

One of the most cited reasons for generic sterile injectable drug shortages is low reimbursement rates from Medicare Part B that came about after a change in law in 2003. These changes incentivized both physicians and manufacturers to switch to higher-cost drugs, reducing investment in cheaper generic drugs and causing “growing market concentration,” and eventual drug shortages.

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Year Zero: Leaders At Oregon’s CCOs Share Lessons From The Early Days


September 11th, 2014

Oregon is one of the first states to implement a version of accountable care organizations statewide across its Medicaid program; insights from those who were “on the ground” during the early days of this experiment may prove useful to other states contemplating a similar model.

Oregon’s Big Bet

Facing a massive gap in funding for Medicaid, a team of legislators, business leaders, and health care leaders in Oregon developed a plan to redesign Oregon’s Medicaid delivery system with Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs), regional public-private partnerships that accept a single global budget and are accountable for the physical, mental, and dental health care of their local Medicaid population. Oregon secured a federal investment of $1.9 billion over five years to support the costs of transitioning to the CCO model; if savings do not materialize, Oregon will have to pay the money back.

CCOs are designed to incorporate all who care for a regional Medicaid population. This includes payers who compete for commercial contracts, providers who compete for business, and county public health departments who have not traditionally shared their systems or structures. CCOs include health systems with separate EHRs, for-profit and not-for-profit entities, and community-based organizations with a fraction of the operating budgets of other partners. CCOs had to grow fast: applications were due to the state just a few months after the enabling legislation passed.

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Birth Control Pills Should Be Available Over The Counter, But That’s No Substitute For Contraceptive Coverage


September 10th, 2014

In recent weeks, some opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage guarantee have promoted the idea that oral contraceptive pills should be available to adult women without a prescription. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced the so-called Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act, a bill that would urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to study whether to make contraceptives over the counter (OTC) — though for adults only.

Making birth control pills available over the counter, if done right, would meaningfully improve access for some groups of women. However, such a change is no substitute for public and private insurance coverage of contraceptives — let alone justification for rolling back coverage of all contraceptive methods and related services for the millions of women who currently have it.

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Rethinking Graduate Medical Education Funding: An Interview With Gail Wilensky


September 9th, 2014

A recent Institute of Medicine report has stirred controversy by proposing to significantly reshape the way Medicare graduate medical education funding is distributed. However, before the panel that wrote the report grappled with how the federal government should fund GME, it had to decide whether the federal government should be involved in the area at all.

“We struggled with the rationale [for a federal role] from the first meeting to the last time we convened,” Gail Wilenksy, who co-chaired the panel with Don Berwick, said in a recent interview with Health Affairs Blog.  After all, she said, the federal government “is not in the business of funding undergraduate medical education or other health care professions in any similar way, or funding other professions that are believed to be important to society and in shortage,” such as engineers, mathematicians, or scientists.

GME funding has been discussed at length in the pages of Health Affairs and will be the subject of a briefing sponsored by the journal tomorrow, Wednesday September 10. (Live and archived webcasts will be available for those who cannot attend in person.) Wilensky will offer opening remarks at the briefing. A summary of the GME report is provided in an earlier Health Affairs Blog post by Edward Salsberg, who will also participate in the briefing.

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Improving Access To High Quality Hospice Care: What Is The Optimal Path?


September 9th, 2014

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 an upcoming 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.

High quality hospice care is consistent with the country’s stated health care reform goals: hospice is person-centered, improves clinical outcomes such as pain and satisfaction, is provided by a multidisciplinary care team, is coordinated across care settings, reduces unnecessary hospitalizations, and saves health care dollars. Studies have consistently shown that hospice improves quality for patients and families by reducing symptom distress, improving caregiver outcomes, and reducing hospitalizations near the end of life, including emergency department visits and intensive care unit stays and hospital death.

But what about access? Fortunately, hospice care in the United States is growing rapidly and there is much to celebrate in terms of the increase in the number of hospice agencies, the number of patients and families served by hospice, and the breadth of conditions and diagnoses of patients receiving hospice care. In 2011 there were more than 3,500 hospice providers — an increase of 53 percent from 2000 — caring for 1.2 million Medicare beneficiaries.

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Implementing Health Reform: DC Circuit Vacates Halbig Judgement, Grants Rehearing


September 5th, 2014

On September 4, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a request by the government for a rehearing en banc (by the full court) in Halbig v. Burwell.  A divided three judge panel in the Halbig case had held on July 22, 2014 that an Internal Revenue Service rule allowing federally facilitated exchanges to grant premium tax credits was invalid. The D.C. Circuit’s decision to hear the case en banc vacated the panel’s judgement.

On the same day the Halbig panel decision was released, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, had unanimously upheld the rule.  The conflicting decisions resulted in dueling petitions for review.  The plaintiffs in the King case petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, asking the Court to reverse the Fourth Circuit decision and hold the IRS rule invalid.  The government, on the other hand, petitioned the D.C. Circuit for a rehearing en banc.

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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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