From The Staff

ACOs, Bundled Payment Lead Health Affairs Blog August Most-Read List


September 12th, 2014

Posts on payment and delivery reform head the Health Affairs Blog top-fifteen list for August. Suzanne Delbanco and David Lansky’s post on accountable care organizations was the most-read post, followed by Tom Williams and Jill Yegian’s post on bundled payment, written in response to an article published in the August issue of Health Affairs.

Next is Health Affairs’ Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil’s post on the five engagements that will define the future of health, drawn from his keynote presentation at the 2014 Colorado Health Symposium. This is followed by Rosemarie Day and coauthors’ post on the private health insurance exchange system.

The full list is below. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Employer-Sponsored Family Health Premiums Rise 3 Percent In 2014


September 10th, 2014

Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,834 this year, up 3 percent from last year, continuing a recent trend of modest increases, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF)/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) 2014 Employer Health Benefits Survey released today. Workers on average pay $4,823 annually toward the cost of family coverage this year. Health Affairs Web First article published today contains select findings from the KFF/HRET report.

This year’s increase continues a recent trend of moderate premium growth. Premiums increased more slowly over the past five years than the preceding five years (26 percent vs. 34 percent) and well below the annual double-digit increases recorded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This year’s increase also is similar to the year-to-year rise in worker’s wages (2.3 percent) and general inflation (2 percent).

Annual premiums for worker-only coverage stand at $6,025 this year.  Workers on average contribute $1,081 toward the cost of worker-only coverage this year.

“The relatively slow growth in premiums this year is good news for employers and workers, though many workers now pay more when they get sick as deductibles continue to rise and skin-in-the-game insurance gradually becomes the norm,” Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman, said. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Think and Act Globally: Health Affairs’ September Issue


September 8th, 2014

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

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

Health Affairs Event Reminder: Advancing Global Health Policy


September 5th, 2014

Please join us on Monday, September 8, when Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil will host a briefing to discuss our September 2014 thematic issue, “Advancing Global Health Policy.” In an expansion of last year’s theme, “The ‘Triple Aim’ Goes Global,” we explore how developing and industrialized countries around the world are confronting challenges and learning from each other on three aims: cost, quality, and population health.

A highlight of the event will be a discussion of international health policy—led by Weil—featuring former CMS and FDA administrator and current Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark McClellan and Lord Ara Darzi, surgeon, scholar, and former UK Health Minister. Additional panels will look at how countries are transforming chronic care, lowering costs, and redesigning delivery systems.

WHEN: 
Monday, September 8, 2014
9:00 a.m. – 12:30 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_GlobalHealth.

If you can’t come in person (we hope you will!), you can watch the webcast of the event.

Read the rest of this entry »

Projected Slow Growth In 2013 Health Spending Ahead Of Future Increases


September 3rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

Health Affairs Forum: Graduate Medical Education Governance And Financing


August 29th, 2014

Please join us on Wednesday, September 10, for a Health Affairs forum to discuss, Graduate Medical Education That Meets the Nation’s Health Needs, a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on the Governance and Financing of Graduate Medical Education (GME). Health Affairs Founding Editor John Iglehart will host the event.

For the past two years, the committee – co-chaired by former CMS and HCFA administrators Donald Berwick and Gail Wilensky – conducted an independent review of the governing and financing of the GME system, and the report is a roadmap for policymakers for repairing and improving its deficiencies. The Health Affairs forum is one of the first opportunities interested parties will have to gather in a public setting to discuss and debate the committee’s proposals.

WHEN
Wednesday, September 10, 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_GME. Read the rest of this entry »

Exhibit Of The Month: Income-Related Disparities Associated With Negative Health Outcomes


August 29th, 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.

Much is known about income-related disparities when it comes to preventative care and chronic conditions, but less so about the associations between poverty and negative health outcomes.

In “Geographic Clustering Of Diabetic Lower-Extremity Amputations In Low-Income Regions Of California,” published in the August issue of Health Affairs, authors Carl Stevens et al. identify diabetic amputation “hot spots” in low-income urban and rural areas of California (Exhibit 2).

Based on California data from 2009, they isolated 7,973 lower-extremity amputations in 6,828 adults with diabetes. They compare this to a corresponding map of poverty rates in the same region based on households who reported incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (Exhibit 3). Read the rest of this entry »

Health Policy Brief: The Relative Contribution Of Multiple Determinants To Health Outcomes


August 22nd, 2014

A new Health Policy Brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) examines factors that can contribute to health status. In the United States, less than 9 percent of health expenditures go to disease prevention, and there is little support for social services, such as programs for older adults, housing, and employment programs.

This brief focuses on “multiple determinant” studies that seek to quantify the relative influence of some of these factors on health. It is part of a larger project, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which aims to create a structure for conducting analyses that demonstrate the value of investments in nonclinical primary prevention and their impact on health care costs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Contributing Voices

Establishing Vouchers For Veteran Health Care


October 2nd, 2014

Editor’s note: For more on this topic, stay tuned for additional Health Affairs Blog posts today from Jonathan Bush and Joel Kupersmith. 

Recent disclosures of long wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities that are presumed to lead to adverse patient outcomes have led to calls for reorganization. Possible reorganization approaches include privatization and the provision of vouchers to enrolled veterans. However, this discussion must recognize that Medicare already provides comprehensive services to the majority of VA patients.

Provider care coordination accompanied by financial incentives such as subsidized co-pays and deductibles, or purchased MEDIGAP policies, could induce veterans who use relatively little VA care to choose most, if not all, of their health care from Medicare providers. This would affect budget allocations under current VA funding and the new funding under the PL 113-146 (Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014), potentially freeing up VA resources to deal with increasingly complex patients, without creating another bureaucracy or insurance program. Combined with VA management reforms which should include provider productivity requirements and more intense quality reviews, financial incentives to focus VA care have the potential to help VA return to performing its core mission successfully. Read the rest of this entry »

Is A Study Of HIV Treatment For Mothers In Africa Unethical?


October 1st, 2014

A global health controversy erupted this summer when the prominent scientific journal Nature ran an article entitled “HIV trial attacked.” Within, commentators squared off over whether a huge ongoing study provides suboptimal and thus unethical treatment options to mothers with HIV in the developing world.

The multinational PROMISE study (for Promoting Maternal and Infant Survival Everywhere) is enrolling thousands of pregnant women with HIV in hopes of comparing mortality and other clinical outcomes between mothers who receive lifelong HIV therapy to mothers who receive shorter treatment durations if they have less advanced HIV disease. Read the rest of this entry »

Turning Family Caregivers Into A Political Force


October 1st, 2014

Suzanne Mintz’s memorable Narrative Matters essay in the September issue of Health Affairs calls for attention to and support for family caregivers, and puts many important policy and practice improvements on the policy table. But the piece stops just a step short of giving voice to the fury that is needed to mobilize change. Why are family caregivers so polite? We ask for the bare essentials and say “please.” We beg for mere recognition and some honesty about the situation. Why are we so polite?

Are we waiting for hospitals, specialty physicians, health systems, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and others who are deeply invested in current patterns of care, thinking they might wake up one morning and start advocating against short-term self-interest? Or set out to learn about supportive services and family caregivers?

Of course, everyone loves family caregivers. Virtually anyone over the age of 50 can share tear-inducing stories of someone’s devotion to a frail elderly parent or a long-term disabled friend or relative. But we, the public, respond to the despair and frustration of family caregivers with the same shrug we give to young mothers whose lives are suddenly governed by feedings and changings. Our response to family caregivers has to change. The challenges are so great, and the level of support so deficient, for so many family caregivers. Read the rest of this entry »

Implementing Health Reform: Judge Rules Against Premium Tax Credits In ACA Federal Exchanges (Updated)


September 30th, 2014

Update, October 8 — Hardship Exemptions, Age Offs, And Renewals Of Catastrophic Plans  : On October 6, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a guidance on hardship exemptions, age offs, and renewals of catastrophic plans.  Under the ACA, most individuals in the nongroup market must purchase bronze, silver, gold, or platinum plans.  Catastrophic plans, which are cheaper and have deductibles equal to the out-of-pocket limit but cover three primary care visits, are available, however, to individuals who qualify for a hardship or affordability exemption or who are under 30 years of age.  Included in the hardship exemption category are individuals whose plans were cancelled because the plans did not comply with the 2014 reforms and who could not otherwise find affordable coverage.  Catastrophic coverage will continue to be available to individuals who claimed the plan cancellation hardship exemption in 2014 or claim it in 2015 for plan years beginning on or before October 1, 2016.

Many hardship exemptions were granted for 2014 only and will expire on December 31, 2014.   Hardship exemptions with certificates beginning with the letters E, G, or F and ending with the letter N expire on that date.  Other exemptions, such as exemptions for individuals eligible for services through the Indian Health Service or under age 30, continue in effect beyond 2014.  Individuals with these other exemptions should be renewed in a catastrophic plan.

Insurers should renew coverage for individuals who enrolled in a catastrophic plan that is terminating at the end of 2014 outside the marketplace in a non-catastrophic plan available in the same product outside the exchange and send the appropriate notice.  If no non-catastrophic plans are available in the same product (see here on the distinction between plans and products), the insurer may enroll the individual in a non-catastrophic plan in a different product.  In either event, the insurer should notify the enrollee of the option of applying for a new hardship exemption and enrolling in a catastrophic plan if the individual is potentially eligible. Read the rest of this entry »

An Interview With George Halvorson: The Kaiser Permanente Renaissance, And Health Reform’s Unfinished Business


September 30th, 2014

For decades, health policymakers considered Kaiser Permanente the lode star of delivery system reform.  Yet by the end of 1999, the nation’s oldest and largest group model HMO had experienced almost three years of significant operating losses, the first in the plan’s history. It was struggling to implement a functional electronic health record, and had a reputation for inconsistent customer service.  But most seriously, it faced deep divisions between management and the leadership of its powerful Permanente Federation, which represents Kaiser’s more than 17,000 physicians, over both strategic direction and operations of the plan.

Against this backdrop, Kaiser surprised the health plan community by announcing in March 2002 the selection of a non-physician, George Halvorson, as its new CEO.  Halvorson had spent most of his career in the Twin Cities, most recently as CEO of HealthPartners, a successful mixed model health plan.  Halvorson’s reputation was as a product innovator; he not only developed a prototype of the consumer-directed health plan in the mid-1990’s, but also population health improvement objectives for its membership, both firsts in the industry.

During his twelve year tenure as CEO, Halvorson not only guided the plan to solid profitability, but added a million members in California, its largest market, despite a devastating recession and a national retreat of commercial HMO membership.  He invested over $6 billion in computerized patient care systems and population health management infrastructure, healed the breach with Kaiser’s physicians, and markedly increased its consumer satisfaction scores, earning 5 STAR ratings under Medicare Advantage.  He left the organization at the end of 2013 with more than $53 billion in revenues and more than $19 billion in reserves and investments.

This interview covers Halvorson’s time at Kaiser, his views of health reform, including the unfinished reform agenda, and his public health activism.  It was conducted by Jeff Goldsmith, a veteran health industry analyst, and Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Virginia.  Jeff is a member of the editorial board of Health Affairs. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Whose Costs Are Saved When Palliative Care Saves Costs?


September 29th, 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 the 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.

As is well-known to most readers of Health Affairs, specialist palliative care is, and has always been, about helping seriously ill patients and families determine what matters most to them, and then helping them achieve their goals. Research demonstrates the beneficial impact of palliative care services on quality of life, survival, family caregiver outcomes, and symptom burden.

As an epiphenomenon or side-effect of the improved quality resulting from these models, multiple studies demonstrate lower intensity and costs of health care. Palliative care can make enormous contributions to health care value because by improving patient- and family-centered outcomes, it leads directly to reduced costs, for both payers and providers. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Engaging Patients: Interviews With Patients, Providers, And Communities Across The Country


September 25th, 2014

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reaches deeper into the daily lives of Americans, one impact is sure to hit home. The ACA encourages patients and providers to become more active partners in making the crucial strategic decisions over improving individual health. Three new videos, produced in partnership with Health Affairs and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), show how people all over the United States are learning that involving patients – teaching them, soliciting their input, and communicating with family-members and other caregivers right from the start – can result in better, more efficient health care outcomes.

There is growing evidence that patients, once engaged, take better care of themselves. They’re more likely to monitor their own health, take their medicines, and communicate more thoroughly with their care providers. They have a better understanding of the treatment strategy. And they are more likely to participate in clinical studies or other research to find better, more efficient treatments.

I was privileged to report on and host these videos on the new era of patient engagement. I interviewed nearly two dozen people across the country – patients, doctors, researchers, care-providers, academics and community activists – all of whom have inspiring stories to tell about the benefits of focusing on patient centered outcomes. Time constraints meant that many of their important points landed on the cutting-room floor during the video editing process. It’s another privilege to be able to offer some of those additional insights in this blog. Read the rest of this entry »

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