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ACO Quality Results: Good But Not Great


December 18th, 2014

On September 23, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released Year 1 Quality Performance results for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) that began participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) in 2012 or 2013. Another report, released shortly before, outlined financial performance of the ACOs and showed that only 49 ACOs, or 22 percent of those ACOs, qualified for shared savings payments by successfully reducing total spending.

Opportunity for continued quality improvement aside, a troublesome snag for the program could be a very low correlation between improved quality and earned savings: our analysis shows that, in performance year one, improved quality and earned savings only correlate at 8.6 percent, so low that it is statistically insignificant (Figure 1).

In practice, this means that better quality is not associated with better financial results. Twenty-one of the 49 ACOs that did earn shared savings actually scored below the average quality of the group. For the first year, quality outcomes did not affect the size of shared savings payments, but in future years ACOs that perform poorly on quality measures will lose a portion of any shared savings.

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Shared Decision Making And The Use Of Patient Decision Aids


December 17th, 2014

More than 30 years ago, a Reagan-era Presidential Commission urged the national adoption of “shared decision making” (SDM) as a way to improve communication and informed consent in health care. Since then, many patient decision aids (PDAs) have been developed — tools that present information about common medical choices in standardized, user-friendly formats. More than 100 published, randomized trials using PDAs have shown many benefits.

Summarizing these benefits, a recent Cochrane review concluded that using PDAs can lead to patients gaining knowledge, having a more accurate understanding of risks, harms and benefits, feeling less conflicted about decisions and rating themselves as less passive and less often undecided. But there remains a lack of evidence that these tools actually change the way clinicians and patients communicate, and it is unclear to what extent more medical decisions are actually being shared.

A discussion paper recently published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed the literature on the implementation of PDAs in clinical practice and concluded that, despite some areas of progress, “the promise of SDM remains elusive.” In this blog post, we expand on some ideas raised in the recent Discussion Paper and provide specific recommendations in three areas: technological support for shared decision making, recognition that failure of shared decision making comprises a medical error, and a transformation in how we conceptualize “informed consent.”

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Investing In The Health And Well-Being Of Young Adults


December 15th, 2014

Young adulthood — ages approximately 18 to 26 — is a critical time in life. What happens during these years has profound and long-lasting implications for young adults, and — because many are parents — for the next generation.  Healthy, productive, and skilled young adults are critical for the nation’s workforce, global competitiveness, public safety, and national security.

Although young adults are resilient and adaptable, they are surprisingly unhealthy, showing a worse health profile than both adolescents and adults in their late 20s and 30s. Recent national attention on young adults has focused primarily on enrolling them in health care insurance to offset the higher costs associated with care for older adults under the Affordable Care Act 2010 provisions — mistakenly implying that it is not in their own interest to have health insurance. Unfortunately, too little attention has been paid to young adults’ specific health needs and the transitions they face once they are in the health care delivery system.

The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council recently released a new report titled Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults, which reviews what is known about the health, safety, and well-being of young adults and offers recommendations for policy and research. It was prepared by a committee with expertise in multiple disciplines, including public health, health care, behavioral health, sociology, social services, human development, neuroscience, economics, business, occupational health, media, and communications. We served as chair and a member of the committee, respectively.

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The Innovation Conundrum In Health Care


December 12th, 2014

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 the Center for Healthcare Management.

It is never too early for new technology in health care. In contrast to the innovator’s dilemma in other industries where the adoption can be sluggish because current customers may not be able to use the future’s toolbox, in medicine innovators always can be assured of an audience when announcing the “life-saving impact” of something new.

Coverage and widespread implementation usually are a different story, but creating hype and demand for unusual and unfamiliar medical technology has never been hard. But who then drives the invention, diffusion, application, and evaluation of such innovation?

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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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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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The Health Care Holy Grail?


December 9th, 2014

A friend practicing internal medicine in Massachusetts is a pillar of his community, a beloved physician — and he is miserable.

“The practice of medicine has deteriorated to that point where many of my colleagues would like to get out,” he told us. “I certainly would. Medicine now is about production lines, insurance company power, regulations. It is one fire drill after another throughout the day, day after day with a bureaucrat peering over your shoulder all the while.”

In countless conversations in recent years we have found that these sentiments are as common as they are troubling. Imagine going through the rigors of medical school and training and then looking back and regretting your career choice? Burnout is sweeping physician ranks throughout the country.

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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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Transforming Rural Health Care: High-Quality, Sustainable Access To Specialty Care


December 5th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is also authored by Kate Samuels, a project manager at Brookings. It is informed by a case study, the fourth  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 Monday, December 8 using a “MEDTalk” format featuring live story-telling and knowledge-sharing from patients, providers, and policymakers.

Health care for patients in rural communities across the United States remains a unique challenge.  Despite many programs aimed at improving access to physicians and hospitals, access to health care providers remains limited.  While 19.3 percent of Americans live in a rural area, only about 10 percent of physicians practice in rural areas.  Similarly, 65 percent of all Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural areas.  Rural residents often face long travel distances to see a specialist after what can be months waiting for an appointment.

Even in areas where rural primary care providers (PCPs) remain committed and engaged in the community, often having been raised and educated there, these providers often lack close connections to specialists who tend to be based in larger, urban academic medical centers (AMC).  The result is a worsening gap in specialty care access, in turn leading to a deteriorative effect on rural provider morale and retention.

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Tying It All Together


December 2nd, 2014

Throughout 2014, Health Affairs Blog has been generous in allowing us to share our insights and opinions on a monthly basis as we examine the evidence for different payment reform models. Along this journey, we’ve taken an in-depth look at how well different payment models are proving to enhance the quality and affordability of care.

We’ve taken a few detours to explore some of the building blocks of a higher-value health care system, like price transparency. And we took some time to share findings from our 2014 National Scorecard on Payment Reform, which revealed the commercial sector is moving toward more value oriented payment.

So with 2015 almost upon us, what did we learn from all this exploration? And based on our learnings, what are the logical next steps for our work at Catalyst for Payment Reform (CPR), and for health care leaders’ efforts as they think about moving the needle on payment reform?

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Implementing Health Reform: 2016 Benefit And Payment Parameters Proposed Rule, Consumer Provisions; Hardship Exemptions


November 22nd, 2014

On November 15, 2014, the marketplaces reopened for 2015.  Anecdotal reports indicate that in most places enrollment and reenrollment are running smoothly.  But the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is looking forward to 2016.  On November 21 CMS published its massive 2016 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (BPP) Proposed Rule  with accompanying fact sheet.  It also published the draft 2016 actuarial value calculator and draft actuarial value calculator methodology for 2016.  Finally, CMS published a guidance on hardship exemptions for certain individuals.

Not to be outdone, the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service released its final regulation on Minimum Essential Coverage and other Rules Regarding the Shared Responsibility Payment for Individuals, together with a Notice regarding Individual Shared Responsibility Payment Hardship Exemptions that May be Claimed on a Federal Income Tax Return Without Obtaining a Hardship Exemption Certificate from the Marketplace and a Revenue Procedure setting out indexed adjusted percentages of income that will be used for determining the level of contributions expected of individuals before premium tax credits become available, the affordability threshold for the shared responsibility payments unaffordability exemption, and the threshold for determining whether employer coverage is affordable for purposes of determining eligibility for tax credits.

Finally, the Office of Personnel Management released a lengthy proposed rule proposing modifications in the multi-state plan program.  These rules, proposed rules, and guidances will be addressed in a series of posts over the next several days.  This post will address primarily the consumer-facing provisions of the BPP proposed rule, focusing on changes in benefits.  A second post will follow, discussing the provisions of the rule more relevant to insurers, such as proposed changes in the reinsurance, risk adjustment, and risk corridor rules.  A final post will discuss the IRS rule, which is primarily a finalization of proposals and guidances already made public, and the OPM multi-state plan rule.

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Shifting From Depression Screening Alone To Evidence-Based Depression Treatment In ACOs


November 19th, 2014

In their October 2014 Health Affairs article, “Few ACOs Pursue Innovative Models That Integrate Care for Mental Illness And Substance Abuse With Primary Care,” Valerie Lewis et al. identified that the quality measures in an Accountable Care Organization’s (ACO) contract affect how well that ACO integrates behavioral and physical health integration.

The authors note that depression screening is a common measure among the ACO contracts that include behavioral health measures and suggest that additional measures could lead to further improvement. In this blog, we propose some additional measures and consider whether effective measures alone will be sufficient or just necessary to promote integrated care models that reduce costs and improve health for the ACO’s defined population.

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High Quality, Affordable Care: Making The Case For Smarter Networks


November 13th, 2014

Narrow networks are one means health insurance plans have used to mitigate increases in health insurance premiums. These networks have become more prevalent since the expansion of coverage brought about by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But these narrow networks have given rise to complaints that consumers are being denied access to, and choice of, providers. These complaints are causing policymakers to consider, and in some cases adopt, new laws and regulations on network adequacy.

In the following blog post, I argue that policymakers should consider that there are different types of narrow networks and should be careful not to adopt policies that inhibit new contractual arrangements among payers, providers, and hospitals, such as Accountable Care Organizations, which hold the promise of better quality care at lower cost. At the same time, issuers must provide accurate and current information on which hospitals and providers are in the network and are accepting new patients, and must make the case that smarter networks can lead to better outcomes at lower cost.

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Yes, We Can Transcend Obamacare


November 6th, 2014

In a recent  Health Affairs Blog post, Washington and Lee University law professor Timothy Jost described a new health-reform plan designed by one of us (Roy) and fiscally modeled by the other (Parente) as a “serious proposal [that] deserves to be taken seriously.” Jost praises parts of the plan. Most notably, he writes that its suggested reform of Medicaid “makes a lot of sense and is similar to proposals made earlier by progressive commentators,” and describes its aim of enacting a uniform annual deductible for Medicare as a “common sense proposal.”

But much of Jost’s review is filled with ideological pique—there are various harrumphs about “nostrums” and “talking points” and “hobby horses.” His article contains some factual and analytical inaccuracies, but also a few good points worth discussing.

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An Emerging Consensus: Medicare Advantage Is Working And Can Deliver Meaningful Reform


November 6th, 2014

Since enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, much of the attention in the policy community has been on modernizing Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service (FFS) program.  Through Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), larger “bundles” of payments to fee-for-service providers for episodes of care, and tests of pay-for-performance models, the hope is that the traditional Medicare model can be remade through sheer force of bureaucratic will.  The stated intent is to find a way to pay for value, not volume.

These efforts may or may not bear much fruit, but, over the longer term, it’s not likely to matter much.  That’s because a more important transformation of Medicare is already well underway and is occurring despite more resistance than assistance from the program’s bureaucracy.  According to the 2014 Medicare Trustees’ report, enrollment in Medicare Advantage – the private plan option in Medicare — has been surging for a decade.  In 2005 there were 5.8 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in MA plans — 13.6 percent of total enrollment in the program.  Today, there are 16.2 million beneficiaries in MA plans, or 30 percent of program enrollment. (See Table IV.C1)  In addition, the Medicare drug benefit, which constitutes about 12 percent of total program spending, is delivered entirely through private plans. (See Table II.B1)

As MA enrollment has surged, so has recognition of its improved value.  A recent, comprehensive review of the evidence conducted by Joseph Newhouse and Thomas McGuire of Harvard University makes a compelling case that MA plans are providing higher value services at less societal cost than the traditional FFS program.  Based on their findings, Newhouse and McGuire argue for policies that would provide incentives for even more beneficiaries to enroll in MA plans in the future.

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What About Lousy Hospitals?


November 5th, 2014

Excellence in American hospital care is rare. It is common knowledge that many hospitals fall alarmingly short on safety, quality, effectiveness, patient satisfaction, and cost. As Mark Chassin wrote in Health Affairs, “quality and safety problems in health care continue to routinely result in harm to patients. Desired progress will not be achieved unless substantial changes are made to the way in which quality improvement is conducted.”

What exactly should those “substantial changes” look like? Hospitals seeking excellence are pursuing various paths, but the best documented and most comprehensive is the “Baldrige journey.” The journey requires submission of a 50 page “Application” to rigorously developed, structured “Criteria,” followed by thorough review and scoring by a team of trained judges. Almost half the score is on results for patient care quality, patient satisfaction, worker satisfaction, and finances

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The Payment Reform Landscape: Benefit And Network Design Strategies To Complement Payment Reform


November 4th, 2014

For the past ten months on Health Affairs Blog, we’ve been discussing the evidence for different models of payment reform, examining everything from pay for performance to nonpayment. But no discussion of payment reform is complete without addressing benefit and network designs and how they can help or hinder various payment reforms.  When the right payment method is paired with the right benefit and/or network design, they can work together to help reduce costs and improve care.  There are a number of payment approaches that pair well with specific benefit and network design strategies to yield higher-quality, lower-cost care. Below we discuss a few of these effective pairings.

But before we get into the specifics, why it is important to motivate providers to deliver and patients to seek higher-value care?  Health care providers may not only respond to direct financial incentives, but they are also likely to respond to knowing information about their performance is being put in front of prospective and current patients.  They also may be more willing to accept new forms of payment if acceptance means payers will encourage more patients to seek their care.

On the flip side, patients are unlikely to know how their providers are paid.  But if motivated (financially and otherwise), patients may act on meaningful distinctions in price and quality by choosing higher-value providers, saving money for themselves and whoever else is footing the bill for their care.

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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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Exhibit Of The Month: Comparing The Cost And Value Of Specialty And Traditional Drugs


October 27th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing “Exhibit of the Month” series. Readers who’d like to highlight other noteworthy exhibits from the same issue are encouraged to make their pitch in the comments section below.

This month’s exhibits, from the article, “Despite High Costs, Specialty Drugs May Offer Value For Money Comparable To That Of Traditional Drugs,” published in the October issue of Health Affairs, compare the value and costs of specialty and traditional drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration from 1999-2011.

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


October 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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