From The Staff

Health Affairs Web First: For Global Health Programs Aiding Developing Countries, Analyzing A New Funding Model


November 13th, 2014

Development assistance for health in low-and-middle-income countries nearly tripled from 2001 to 2010, with much of that growth directed toward the response to HIV. Donor agencies struggle to determine how much assistance a country should receive. A new study, recently released as a Health Affairs Web First, presents three allocation methodologies to align funding with priorities.

The study authors Victoria Fan, Amanda Glassman, and Rachel Silverman then select a model—one with enough flexibility to solve mismatches between disease burdens and allocations—to evaluate the progress that could be made by one organization—the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria—in fighting HIV. The authors found that under the new funding model, substantial shifts in the Global Fund’s portfolio are likely to result from concentrating resources in countries with more HIV cases and lower per capita income. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Twitter Chat With PCORI


November 12th, 2014

Health Affairs recently partnered with the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to produce three videos about ways patients and practitioners are incorporating patient engagement in health care decisions. The videos are hosted and reported by journalist John Dimsdale.

Twitter Chat On Patient Engagement

To further the conversation, Health Affairs and PCORI will host a Twitter chat with Sue Sheridan, director of patient engagement for PCORI, on Monday, November 17 at 2 p.m. ET on the topic of patient engagement in research.

Monday, November 17
2-3 p.m. ET
Join the conversation using #PatientHC!

Join in the conversation with the hashtag #PatientHC and follow us @Health_Affairs. Have a question about patient engagement in research? Send it along using #PatientHC. Read the rest of this entry »

New Health Policy Brief: The Family Glitch


November 10th, 2014

A new health policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) looks at the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) so-called family glitch. Low-to-moderate-income families are eligible for a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the Marketplace if the cost of health coverage through their employers is more than 9.5 percent of their household income.

However, this formula is based on individual-only coverage and does not account for the higher cost of a family insurance plan. If the family glitch is not fixed, the path to affordable insurance for many spouses and children could be blocked—and children could be even further impacted if Congress fails to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) after the current appropriation ends in September 2015, which the brief also explains. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Event Reminder: Collaborating For Community Health


November 4th, 2014

Policymakers are paying increasing attention to the relationship between the characteristics of communities and the health of the people living in them. The November 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Collaborating For Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by alignment of the fields of health and community development.

These possibilities come from both sides, including recent changes in the community development field that have set the stage for the new focus on improving health, as well as new approaches to health care financing that create incentives for improving health outcomes.

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, November 5, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_CommunityHealth. Read the rest of this entry »

Social Services And Community Health: Health Affairs’ November Issue


November 3rd, 2014

The November issue of Health Affairs includes a number of studies looking at how social services and community support programs can improve the health of local residents. Other subjects covered: the potential for pay-for-performance payment models to create a market that values health, not just health care; how one safety-net accountable care organization is uniquely improving care coordination; a three-year progress report on a regional health collaborative; and more.

This issue of Health Affairs is supported by The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It will be discussed at a Wednesday, November 5 briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Web First: Vietnam’s Health Care System, Explained By Its Minister Of Health


October 30th, 2014

In August, Vietnam’s Minister of Health, Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, was interviewed for Health Affairs by Tsung-Mei Cheng, recently released as a Health Affairs Web First.

Among the topics discussed was an overview of the unique characteristics of Vietnam’s health system; its strengths and weaknesses; health financing reform aimed at reaching the goal of universal health coverage; the prevention and control of infectious diseases; and how Vietnam has performed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Cheng is a health policy research analyst at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, in New Jersey. Health Affairs has previously published Cheng’s interviews with other world health ministers, including Thomas Zeltner of Switzerland (2010) and Chen Zhu of China (2012). Read the rest of this entry »

Health Affairs Briefing: Collaborating For Community Health


October 29th, 2014

Policymakers are paying increasing attention to the relationship between the characteristics of communities and the health of the people living in them. The November 2014 issue of Health Affairs, “Collaborating For Community Health,” examines new possibilities created by alignment of the fields of health and community development.

These possibilities come from both sides, including recent changes in the community development field that have set the stage for the new focus on improving health, as well as new approaches to health care financing that create incentives for improving health outcomes.

You are invited to join us on Wednesday, November 5, at a forum featuring authors from the new issue at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 13th Floor

REGISTER NOW!

Follow live Tweets from the briefing @Health_Affairs, and join in the conversation with #HA_CommunityHealth. Read the rest of this entry »

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 Monthseries. 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. Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Health Wonk Review


October 24th, 2014

Louise Norris at Colorado Health Insurance Insider provides this week’s “falling leaves” edition of the Health Wonk Review. Jennifer’s insightful read includes a Health Affairs Blog post from J. Stephen Morrison on the U.S. Ebola response and the role of CDC head Thomas Friedan. Read the rest of this entry »

Narrative Matters: Sensitizing Doctors To Patients With Disabilities


October 23rd, 2014

In the October Health Affairs Narrative Matters essay, a doctor who stutters confronts the stigma against patients—and providers—with disabilities. Leana Wen’s article is freely available to all readers, or you can listen to the podcast. Read the rest of this entry »

Contributing Voices

Section 1332 Waivers And The Future Of State Health Reform


December 5th, 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.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) turbocharges state innovation through a number of provisions, such as the creation of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation, funding for states to establish customized insurance exchanges, and Medicaid reforms such as health homes and projects geared toward the dual eligible population. Yet another component of the law holds even more potential for broad reform. Buried in Section 1332 of the law is a sparkplug for innovation called the State Innovation Waivers program.

Also known as 2017 waivers or Wyden waivers, 1332s offer wide latitude to states for transforming their health insurance and health care delivery systems. According to the statute, states can request that the federal government waive basically every major coverage component of the ACA, including exchanges, benefit packages, and the individual and employer mandates. But the cornerstone of 1332 waivers is the financing. To fund their reforms, states can receive the aggregate amount of subsidies—including premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions, and small business tax credits—that would have otherwise gone to the state’s residents. Depending on the size of the state, the annual payment from the federal government for alternate coverage reform could reach into the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

A better name for this program might be Waivers for State Responsibility, because they don’t exempt states from accomplishing the aims of the ACA, but give them the ability (and responsibility) to fulfill the aims in a different manner while staying between certain guardrails. State reforms must ensure “affordability,” cover a “comparable” number of people as statutory ACA implementation would have, and not increase the federal deficit. Read the rest of this entry »

The Council On Graduate Medical Education (COGME)—Not Yet Ready For End-Of-Life Care


December 4th, 2014

In November, 1985, twenty-nine years ago, members of the first session of the 99th Congress addressed growing concern and controversy regarding Graduate Medical Education (GME). Although Medicare had financed GME for the previous twenty years, Congress began to recognize that our rapidly evolving health care system could require significant changes in the composition of our physician workforce, and that these changes could impact the appropriate governance and funding of GME.

In this setting, the Council on Graduate Medical Education (COGME) was conceived and underwent rapid gestation, with its birth achieved via enactment of authorizing legislation in 1986. Its charter charged the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, with responsibility for taking national leadership in the development of policies related to GME, and in the research, development, and analysis of such policies that impact on the health workforce needs of the nation. COGME was instructed to provide advice and make policy recommendations to the Secretary and committees of the House and Senate within their jurisdiction.

Contrary to a sunset provision in the legislation, COGME still survives. While continuing to function on very limited support, it recently issued a noteworthy report entitled “Improving Value in Graduate Medical Education” in 2013. COGME presently is preparing its 22nd Report, which addresses the need for change in GME due to changes in the U.S. health care system and focuses on opportunities to improve training through more effective targeting of public resources. Read the rest of this entry »

The Family Glitch, Other Thorny Children’s Coverage Policy Issues, And The Future Of CHIP


December 3rd, 2014

Editor’s note: For more on the topic of children’s health, stay tuned for the December issue of Health Affairs, set to be released next week.

Health Affairs’ recent policy brief on the family glitch highlights one of the key issues affecting how well children will be served in the new post Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage landscape. Many observers thought that with the creation of health insurance marketplaces and subsidies for low-income families, there would no longer be a need for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was created in 1997 to provide health coverage for uninsured low-income children.

Together with its larger sister program, Medicaid, CHIP has been quite successful in achieving this legislative goal. From 1997 to 2012, the national rate of uninsured children was cut in half from 14 to 7 percent. Yet, 7 million children still remain uninsured. The ACA, meanwhile,  was aimed primarily at reducing numbers of uninsured adults. The question now is, what policies and systems are needed to sustain and further the progress that has been made to increase rates of children’s insurance? Read the rest of this entry »

Implementing Health Reform: Federal Exchange Reenrollment And More (Updated)


December 2nd, 2014

Update, December 6: On December 3 and December 4, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services released additional data regarding the second open enrollment period.  On December 3, HHS issued its second open enrollment statistical report, covering the week of November 22 to 28, 2014.  Not surprisingly, given that most Americans were occupied with the Thanksgiving holiday, activity was down from the first week of open enrollment, with 303,610 plan selections and 520,427 applications submitted, compared to 462,125 plan selections and 1,032,129 applications the first week.  Call center volume and healthcare.gov visits were also down sharply.  As in the first week, about half (49 percent) of the visitors were new consumers and half (51 percent) were consumers renewing coverage.

Consumers have until December 15 to enroll or reenroll and have coverage effective as of January 1, 2015, while open enrollment lasts until February 15, 2015.  Many more enrollments and reenrollments are to be expected before open enrollment wraps up. Moreover, most current enrollees will be automatically reenrolled in their current plan or a similar plan if they do not return to the exchange to choose a 2015 plan, so the statistics do not indicate how many 2014 enrollees will be back for 2015.

A second report, released December 4 by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) on Health Plan Choice and Premiums in the 2015 Health Insurance Marketplace, however, emphasizes the importance of current enrollees in fact returning to the marketplace and selecting a plan for 2015 rather than simply being reenrolled passively

The overall picture of the 2015 federally facilitated marketplace (FFM) that appears in the report is quite positive.  There are 25 percent more insurers participating in the FFM for 2015 than 2014. Ninety-one percent of enrollees live in a county with 3 or more insurers. On average, 40 plans are available per county, up from 30 for 2014.  Although premium increases or decreases vary significantly from state to state, on average premiums for the second-lowest cost silver plan have increased only 2 percent, and premiums for the lowest-cost silver plan have increased only 5 percent, before the application of tax credits.

A primary message of the report, however, is that the FFM insurance market is very dynamic and competitive, with premiums increases or decreases varying significantly from plan to plan.  The amount of premium tax credits is set based on the benchmark plan — the second lowest-cost silver plan.  The 2014 second lowest-cost silver plan may very well not be the benchmark plan for 2015.  Thus, an individual who received the maximum premium tax credit by enrolling in the 2014 benchmark plan may receive a smaller tax credit in 2015 if that plan costs more than the 2015 benchmark plan and the enrollee remains with it.  The enrollee will thus have to pay more for the 2014 plan in 2015.

Even enrollees who do not receive a tax credit (and 15 percent of enrollees did not in 2014) may find that they can save money by switching plans for 2015 because less expensive new plans have entered the market or because the relative cost of plans has changed.  More than 7 out of 10 current FFM enrollees can find a lower-cost plan at the same metal level by returning to shop.  The average consumer who bought a silver plan for 2014 can save almost $492 a year by switching plans.  Across all metal levels, 2014 consumers could save almost $2 billion by shopping for a less expensive 2015 plan in the same metal level.

After the application of tax credits, 54 percent of silver plan enrollees could find silver plan coverage for $50 or less per month by returning to the marketplace and shopping for a less expensive plan, while an additional 23 percent could get coverage for $50 to $100.  By contrast, if 2014 enrollees do not switch plans, only 31 percent if will get silver plans for $50 or less, and 27 percent will get silver plans for between $50 and $100 ,after the application of tax credits if they do not shop.  Other changes in 2014 plans may also make it worthwhile for consumers to return to the marketplace to shop.

It is important to understand that changes can be made and savings achieved without changing metal levels, that is, without taking on increased cost-sharing.  While different plans within the same metal level may have somewhat different deductibles, coinsurance, or co-payment levels, they should have very similar total cost sharing levels—that is what it means to have the same actuarial value.  They may, on the other hand, have different provider networks or formularies or vary in other important respects, and less restrictive plans are likely to have higher premiums.  It is also very important that consumers with incomes below 250 percent of poverty think very carefully before changing from a silver plan to a lower-premium bronze plan, as cost-sharing reduction payments, which can reduce dramatically deductibles and co-insurance amounts, are only available with silver plans. Consumers should not change plans simply to save money without checking out other plan features, but for many people a move to a less expensive plan is a desirable option, as the ASPE report makes clear.

Original post: On December 1, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a Guidance for Issuers on 2015 Reenrollment in the Federally facilitated Marketplace (FFM).  This guidance sets out in great detail—with clarifying examples—the process which the FFM and insurers will use to send and receive enrollments and reenrollments for 2015, including the process that the FFM will use to communicate to an insurer when a 2014 enrollee selects a different insurer for 2015 coverage.  The guidance is primarily directed at insurers but should also be of interest to consumers and those who are assisting them.  It demonstrates, I believe, a much higher degree of planning and intentionality than was evident in the 2014 open enrollment period, when enrollment rules often seemed to be developed on the fly.

This post describes the reenrollment guidance, as well as initial enrollment figures for the FFM and other ACA-related developments. Read the rest of this entry »

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Collaborating On A Culture Of Health: Buncombe County, North Carolina


December 2nd, 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.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at the junction of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers, Asheville, N.C. is graced with natural beauty and an abundance of health and economic resources. But in 2012, many residents of Asheville and the surrounding Buncombe County area were struggling with poverty and chronic illness. So the community responded as advocates, public health experts, community leaders, and business leaders came together to establish a culture of health.

As County Health Director Gibbie Harris explained, “the thing that is really driving us forward is an interest in being the healthiest community in the country… We have people who are interested in social justice, and a desire to improve the lives of our friends and neighbors.” Read the rest of this entry »

How Do Alternative Payment Models Fit In With State And National Reform Efforts?


December 1st, 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 Oregon model.

The Affordable Care Act has affected health care at almost every level. Extensive experimentation within states continues to create changes. Given all these shifts, it is helpful to step back and consider how alternative payment models (APMs) fit in with these reforms, and why they are critically important.

Many describe the Affordable Care Act as a means to expand coverage, with relatively little emphasis on controlling costs. This is an oversimplification — accountable care organizations are designed to address costs. New “productivity adjustments” in the Medicare program are also intended to check spending growth. But these changes, while real, represent a patchwork approach to controlling costs that probably do not address the underlying problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Workplace Wellness Produces No Savings


November 25th, 2014

During the last decade, workplace wellness programs have become commonplace in corporate America. The majority of US employers with 50 or more employees now offer the programs. A 2010 meta-analysis that was favorable to workplace wellness programs, published in Health Affairs, provided support for their uptake. This meta-analysis, plus a well-publicized “success” story from Safeway, coalesced into the so-called Safeway Amendment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That provision allows employers to tie a substantial and increasing share of employee insurance premiums to health status/behaviors, and subsidizes such program implementation by smaller employers. The assumption was that improved employee health would reduce the employer burden of health care costs.

Subsequently, however, Safeway’s story has been discredited. And the lead author of the 2010 meta-analysis, Harvard School of Public Health Professor Katherine Baicker, has cautioned on several occasions that more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions. Now, more than four years into the ACA, we conclude that these programs increase, rather than decrease employer spending on health care with no net health benefit. The programs also cause overutilization of screening and check-ups in generally healthy working age adult populations, put undue stress on employees, and incentivize unhealthy forms of weight-loss.

Through a review of the research literature and primary sources, we have found that wellness programs produce a return-on-investment (ROI) of less than 1-to-1 savings to cost. This blog post will consider the results of two compelling study designs — population-based wellness-sensitive medical event analysis, and randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Then it will look at the popular, although weaker, participant vs. non-participant study design. (It is beyond the scope of this posting to question non-peer-reviewed vendor savings claims that do not use any recognized study design, though those claims are commonplace.) Read the rest of this entry »

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


November 25th, 2014

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

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

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

Implementing Health Reform: Minimum Essential Coverage And The Multi-State Plan


November 24th, 2014

Two earlier posts this past weekend analyzed the massive Department of Health and Human Services 2016 Benefit and Payment Parameter Proposed Rule, released on November 21.  Also on November 21, the Internal Revenue Service of the Department of the Treasury released a final rule on Minimum Essential Coverage and Other Rules Regarding the Shared Responsibility Payment for Individuals, while the Office of Personnel Management released proposed modifications to the multi-state plan (MSP) program rule.  This post explores these rules.

Minimum Essential Coverage

The ACA requires Americans to either maintain “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) or pay a tax.  There are a number of exceptions to the requirement, however, and the concept of MEC can become quite complicated.  The final rule published by the IRS provides guidance as to the meaning of MEC and the rules governing some of the exceptions. Read the rest of this entry »

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