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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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Early Observations Show Safety-Net ACOs Hold Promise To Achieve The Triple Aim And Promote Health Equity


September 15th, 2014

Safety-net accountable care organizations (ACOs) have the potential to deliver cost-effective, patient-centered care that engages patients and contributes to achieving the Triple Aim in Medicaid. Safety-net ACOs are playing increasingly important roles in delivering care for vulnerable populations. Active ACO formation is occurring in at least 18 state Medicaid programs with considerable variability across states, although they have been slower to develop than ACOs serving Medicare or commercial populations.

This post will outline five key observations regarding emerging safety-net ACOs and suggest broad policy implications. We are defining safety-net ACOs as collaborative entities of providers and sometimes payers that are 1) accountable for managing the health of their population, 2) assuming upside and/or downside financial risk, and 3) serving predominantly Medicaid (including dual eligibles) and uninsured patients.

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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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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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A First Look At How The Affordable Care Act Is Affecting Coverage Among Parents And Children


September 9th, 2014

Following the implementation of the major coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, the question arises: “How is the health law affecting uninsured children and their families?” Today, the Urban Institute released two new briefs using the Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) to begin to answer that question.

The bottom line is that between September 2013 and June of 2014, coverage increased for parents, particularly in states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA, but no coverage changes were yet apparent for children. This early look suggests that the ACA is contributing to coverage gains for parents, which in turn should be beneficial to both them and their children.

Children’s Coverage

The report on children’s coverage from The Urban Institute and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families found that the uninsured rate for children remained at historically low levels—close to 7 percent—but did not decline further for children under age 18 between September 2013 and June 2014. However, this national snapshot does not capture all of the fluctuations in children’s coverage that may be occurring across the country in particular states; we will have to wait for data from federal sources to have a definitive assessment of how coverage is changing at the state level.

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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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Big Data And The Public’s Health: Building Resilience For The 21st Century


September 5th, 2014

Editor’s note: For more on big data, check out the July issue of Health Affairs. 

In late August 2012, Hurricane Isaac was bearing down on New Orleans. Staff at the City’s Health Department were busy fielding calls from concerned citizens and reaching out to individuals on the City’s Special Needs Registry, a list of residents who have medical or mobility needs and who require extra assistance during an emergency. These individuals are at the highest health risk and are the first to face adverse health consequences during an emergency.

When Isaac made landfall as a slow-moving storm, it dumped approximately 20 inches of rain onto the streets of New Orleans, causing major power outages that lasted for eight days. Immediately following the storm, shelters were opened and many services were available; however, without power to use TV, radios, internet, or cell phones it was difficult for City officials to communicate this information to the public.

The Health Department went door to door to find at-risk residents, but we had no organized method of locating them or answering countless other urgent questions: Who needs power to run their medical equipment? Who needs transportation to dialysis? Who is trapped in a wheelchair on the fifth floor of a building where the elevators are not working?

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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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Implementing Health Reform: Exchange Eligibility Redeterminations Final Rule


September 3rd, 2014

On September 2, 2014, as Americans returned to their labors following the Labor Day holiday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its Annual Eligibility Redeterminations for Exchange Participation and Insurance Affordability Programs final rule, the last rule that had to be in place for the 2015 open enrollment period. HHS also released a fact sheet describing the rule and forms for insurers to use when discontinuing or renewing an insurance product.

The rule finalizes a proposed rule issued in June, which I also analyzed on Health Affairs Blog. The proposed rule was accompanied by a guidance describing how the federally facilitated marketplaces (FFMs) intended to handle the 2015 redetermination process. That guidance is unchanged by the final rule.

Indeed, virtually nothing in the proposed rule is changed by the final rule. The preface to the rule offers some additional explanation of the reenrollment and redetermination process in response to the 36 comments received on the proposed rule, but virtually no changes were made other than minor wording changes.

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Transcending Obamacare? Analyzing Avik Roy’s ACA Replacement Plan


September 2nd, 2014

Avik Roy’s proposal, “Transcending Obamacare,” is the latest and most thoroughly developed conservative alternative for reforming the American health care system in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. It is a serious proposal, and it deserves to be taken seriously.

Roy’s proposal is a curious combination of conservative nostrums (limiting recoveries for victims of malpractice), progressive goals (eliminating health status underwriting, providing subsidies for low-income Americans), and common sense proposals (enacting a uniform annual deductible for Medicare).

Most importantly, however, Roy proposes that conservatives move on from a single-minded focus on repealing the ACA toward building upon the ACA to accomplish their policy goals. He supports repealing certain features of the ACA—including the individual and employer mandate—but would retain others, such as community rating and exchanges. As polling repeatedly shows that many Americans are not happy with the ACA, but that a strong majority would rather amend than repeal it, and as it is very possible that we will have a Congress next year less supportive of the ACA than the current one, Roy’s proposal is important.

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Collaboration, Consistency, and Community Spirit: How Durham Advances Health


August 28th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series written for Health Affairs Blog by local leaders from communities honored with the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. In 2014, six winning communities were selected by RWJF from more than 250 applicants and celebrated for placing a priority on health and creating powerful partnerships to drive change. Interested communities are encouraged to apply for the 2015 RWJF Culture of Health Prize. Applications are due September 17, 2014.

Durham, North Carolina is so richly endowed with health care resources that it is known as “the City of Medicine;” it is home to 95 percent of the companies that comprise the Research Triangle. Yet, while many of the county’s 288,133 residents are thriving, others are not nearly as healthy.

A 2004 community health assessment revealed that in Durham’s very diverse population — currently, 38.7 percent black, 42.1 percent white, and 13.5 percent Hispanic — there were high rates of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and infant mortality.

A 2007 evaluation also showed that 29 percent of the county’s adults were obese. The rate was 42 percent among African Americans. In the same report, 49 percent of adults said their health prevented them from participating in even moderate physical activities. Among children entering kindergarten in 2009, 18 percent were overweight or obese.

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The Winding Path To Effective Bundled Payment


August 28th, 2014

Tom Williams and Jill Yegian’s excellent blog post makes a great companion to our recent paper on the evaluation of the Integrated Healthcare Association (IHA) Bundled Payment Demonstration. Williams and Yegian offer lessons from their experience implementing a demonstration project that failed to meet its original objectives. This type of analysis is essential.

It’s not unusual for a demonstration to fall short of its original objectives. Learning from such cases is part of the innovation process. This is especially worthwhile for bundled payment, which has many potential benefits for patients, providers, and payers.

None of the barriers encountered in IHA’s demonstration signal a “death sentence” for bundled payment. However, the demonstration clearly shows that bundled payment is difficult to implement.

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State-Based Marketplaces: Leveraging Year-One Lessons To Boost Year-Two Enrollment


August 27th, 2014

In three months, consumers will log onto their state’s health insurance marketplace to investigate their options and enroll in a plan. Already, states are hard at work prepping for the second year of open enrollment, which begins November 15. State marketplaces are expected to increase the number of enrollees this year and adopting lessons from 2013-2014 can help.

A User-Friendly Marketplace

First and foremost, states need a user-friendly marketplace that functions properly and allows consumers, brokers, insurers and navigators to seek and provide information that is timely and credible. States know this, but recently, interviews with 100 staff from five successful state-based marketplaces (SBMs) unearthed several less obvious lessons.

To begin, states should move from last year’s ‘shotgun’ marketing that helped build awareness to a more targeted approach to outreach this year. In addition to some mass marketing to maintain awareness, states should target advertising dollars to high-priority segments and focus on less expensive tools, like direct mailing campaigns and walk-up enrollment centers, which proved to be most effective last year.

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Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative: The First Year


August 25th, 2014

Editor’s note: This post is part of a periodic Health Affairs Blog series, which will run over the next year, looking at payment and delivery reforms in Arkansas and Oregon. The posts will be based on evaluations of these reforms performed with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors of this post are part of the team evaluating the Arkansas model.

Arkansas payers and providers actively participated in the design of both the episodic payment and patient-centered medical home (PCMH) models the state has recently implemented. We’ve written about each of these components of the multi-payer Arkansas Payment Improvement Initiative (APII) in our previous Health Affairs Blog posts.

The state’s fragmented and largely rural provider environment presents an important test for a novel episodic payment model that may, if successful, have broader applicability in other states sharing a similar health care landscape. Fourteen episodes have now been launched and provider participation is mandatory. While our first posting goes into greater detail on the nuances of Arkansas’ approach to episodes, we provide the following brief summary here to add context to this discussion.

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The “Failure” Of Bundled Payment: The Importance Of Consumer Incentives


August 21st, 2014

Bundled payment for orthopedic and spine surgery and other major acute interventions has many attractive features, in principle. But implementation has been difficult in practice.  The recent Health Affairs paper by Susan Ridgley and colleagues, and the Health Affairs Blog commentary by Tom Williams and Jill Yegian, list quite a few practical implementation problems, and the points raised in both these pieces are well taken.

As leaders in the Integrated Health Association (IHA) bundled payment initiative, we shared the same hopes, devoted the same energies, and share the same frustrations with the modest results.  We feel it is important to emphasize what we consider to be the initiative’s most important design failure: the lack of engagement and alignment on the part of the consumer.  No one will ever reform the U.S. health care system without bringing the consumer along and, indeed, placing consumer choice and accountability at the very center of the reform initiative.

On an optimistic note, this design failure is being addressed by the larger health care marketplace in the wake of numerous failed attempts to reform health care by focusing exclusively on provider payment and incentives.

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Decoding 2015 Health Insurance Rate Increase Requests


August 4th, 2014

Note: In addition to Christopher Koller, Sabrina Corlette coauthored this post.

The rates are coming, the rates are coming.

While there seem to be fewer “latest verdicts on the ACA,” breathlessly reported in the popular press, as we move through the second half of 2014, the filing of 2015 rate requests for individual and small group products on the health insurance exchanges offer one more piece of catnip for pundits.

Who is up? Who is down? How much? Is this the dreaded death spiral for the ACA? Or its vindication?

As discussions and analysis of these increases are disseminated, it is important to remember the following points

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An Ounce Of Prevention For The ACA’s Second Open Enrollment


August 4th, 2014

Since recovering from its flawed rollout, the ACA has enjoyed a string of successes. By April, some eight million Americans managed to enroll; for 2015, some reluctant insurers, including the nation’s second largest (United), are jumping into the new ACA Marketplaces; and the New England Journal of Medicine recently published an analysis confirming the ACA’s significant reduction of the uninsured.

Approximately 87 percent of Marketplace enrollees claimed premium tax credits, of which an estimated 85 percent, or six million, actually paid premiums. (We assume a disenrollment rate of 3 percent per month since April 2014, which is conservative compared with the Massachusetts Health Connector’s experience and in line with the assumptions of several State-based Marketplaces.) Many of the original six million, plus more recent enrollees, will experience their second enrollment between November 15, 2014 and February 15, 2015. They will also file with the IRS for a premium tax credit as early as January 2015.

The two events in combination represent a huge risk. We hope the responsible agencies will act soon to mitigate the risks.

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Implementing Health Reform: King Plaintiffs Ask For Supreme Court Review


August 1st, 2014

On July 31, 2014, Michael Carvin, attorney for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, one of two parallel cases challenging an IRS rule allowing premium tax credits to be issued by federally facilitated exchange, filed a petition for a writ of certioriari in the United States Supreme Court. The petition asks the Court to review the Fourth Circuit decision affirming Judge James Spencer’s ruling rejecting their claim.

As was described here in detail last week, ACA opponents lost in the Fourth Circuit in a unanimous decision in King v. Burwell but won a split decision in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in Halbig v. Burwell. Carvin is thus seeking Supreme Court review based on a split of authority between the circuits that must be resolved by the Supreme Court.

It is not the intent of this post to review the arguments in Carvin’s brief. Carvin argues that judges Griffith and Randolph made the right decision in Halbig, and that judges Gregory, Thacker and Davis in the Fourth Circuit and Edwards in the D.C. Circuit are wrong. There is really only one new argument in the petition that was not made below, namely that Congress’ intent to deny premium tax credits in states that failed to establish exchanges has now been conclusively established by statements made by Jon Gruber two years after the statute was adopted. This disregards the fact that Gruber neither drafted nor voted on the ACA and had earlier stated that premium tax credits were available in federally facilitated exchange states.

Rather than rehashing the merits, this post will discuss the timing of the petition, the basis on which it can be accepted, and the consequences if it succeeds. Nothing will happen immediately with this petition. The government has 30 days to respond, and can request additional time. The appellants then have 14 days to reply. This puts us into mid-September. It is unlikely, therefore, that the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to accept the petition until it reconvenes in October

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Taking Stock Of The ACA: The Latest Data From The Health Reform Monitoring Survey


July 29th, 2014

Editor’s note: In addition to Sharon Long, this post is coauthored by Genevieve Kenney, Stephen Zuckerman, and Katherine Hempstead. 

Since early last year, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) has been collecting relevant, timely data that is providing insights on the implementation of the ACA and changes in health insurance coverage and related outcomes. (An article describing the survey was published in Health Affairs last December.)

Beginning in late 2013, the HRMS set the stage by exploring adults’ understanding of key ACA provisions, their level of health insurance literacy, and expectations about coverage changes in 2014 based on information collected just before the beginning of the first open enrollment period. More recently, the HRMS has shed light on the characteristics of the newly insured, identified who’s not shopping for insurance, and explained how some states’ decisions to expand Medicaid has reduced uninsurance rates.

The HRMS and other surveys have confirmed that the number of uninsured adults has declined significantly since the first open enrollment under the ACA started. On Tuesday July 29th 2014, Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil moderated a panel discussion on what the HRMS shows about the ACA’s performance thus far and what it implies for next year’s open enrollment period. (A recording is available for those who couldn’t join live.) At the event, we released three new policy briefs that, respectively, provide the latest detailed coverage estimates, describe the remaining uninsured, and explore how consumers are navigating the ACA’s Marketplaces.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve learned from this latest release of HRMS data and what was covered at today’s event:

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