Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

From the 2 March 2015 Guttmacher Institute press release

Increasing Publicly Funded Family Planning Services Could Substantially Reduce These Costs

U.S. government expenditures on births, abortions and miscarriages resulting from unintended pregnancies nationwide totaled $21 billion in 2010, according to “Public Costs from Unintended Pregnancies and the Role of Public Insurance Programs in Paying for Pregnancy-Related Care: National and State Estimates for 2010,” by Adam Sonfield and Kathryn Kost. In 19 states, public expenditures related to unintended pregnancies exceeded $400 million in 2010. Texas spent the most ($2.9 billion), followed by California ($1.8 billion), New York ($1.5 billion) and Florida ($1.3 billion); those four states are also the nation’s most populous.

Unintended pregnancies U.S. map of public costs

Previous research has demonstrated that investing in publicly funded family planning services enables women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and space wanted ones, which is good not only for women and families, but also for society as a whole. In the absence of the current U.S. publicly funded family planning effort, the public costs of unintended pregnancies in 2010 would have been 75% higher.

Sonfield and Kost report that the total gross savings from averting all unintended pregnancies in 2010 would have been $15.5 billion. This is less than the total public cost of all unintended pregnancies, because even if all women had been able to time their pregnancies as they wanted, some still would have had planned births that were publicly funded. These potential savings do not account for the cost of providing family planning services and other interventions that might be required to prevent the unintended pregnancies.

“Reducing public expenditures related to unintended pregnancies requires substantial new public investments in family planning services,” says Sonfield. “That would mean strengthening existing programs, such as the Title X family planning program, as well as working to ensure that the Affordable Care Act achieves its full potential to bolster Medicaid and other safety-net programs. We know we can prevent unintended pregnancies and the related costs. There are public programs in place that do it already, but as these data show, there is significantly more progress to be made.”

The new research also highlights the central role played by Medicaid and other public insurance programs in providing critical pregnancy-related care—including prenatal care, labor and delivery, postpartum care and infant care—that help keep women and babies healthy. Fifty-one percent of the four million births in the United States in 2010 were publicly funded, including 68% of unplanned births and 38% of planned births.

“These findings demonstrate the continuing importance of Medicaid and other public health insurance programs in preserving maternal and child health, and in supporting pregnancy-related care,” says Adam Sonfield, coauthor of the new report.

For more information:

Unintended Pregnancy Rates at the State Level: Estimates for 2010 and Trends Since 2002

Fact Sheet: Unintended Pregnancy in the United States (national)

State Facts on Unintended Pregnancy

Fact Sheet: Publicly Funded Family Planning Services in the United States (national)

State Facts on Publicly Funded Family Planning Services

State Data Center

March 21, 2015 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Value-Based Care

From the 11 March 2015 post by Cindy Nayer at The Health Care Blog

In recent weeks, the market has reacted to a few noteworthy headlines, all involved with or touching upon value-based discretionary actions, and many with the not-so-hidden question: What’s In It for Me or WIIFM?

  • CMS announced that by 2016 30% of fees in health care should be paid for through a value-based system, moving away from fee-for-service.
  • ACO results have shown ambivalent outcomes.
  • Outcomes-based contracts have permeated the Hepatitis C cost-nado (that’s a cost sharknado, the kind that fiercely defies cost controls and takes over all noise about payment reform and patient preferences).
  • Reference-based pricing is a good/bad troublemaker in the middle of the value-based travails.

The latest rampages have appeared on two national and highly-regarded blogs: The Health Care Blog [Value-Based Reform] and The Health Affairs Blog [Go Slow on Reference Pricing].

As one of the loudest proponents on value-based designs, I lift the curtain again to show the thinking behind the movement from fee for service to value-based designs. All of these items above discuss the message of payment reform, or system alignment, but they are intensely linked to the patient-consumer ability to make the right choices, choose the right sites for care, and pay the right amount for services rendered to achieve health security.

….

March 15, 2015 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] When hospitals buy physician practices, patients hit with fees

From the 5 March 2015 post at Covering Health (Association of Health Care Journalists)

WSB-Atlanta recently explored what happens when hospitals buy physician practices, which has been happening all over the Atlanta area.

Prices for patients go up.

The same physicians – in the same offices, with the same treatments – start charging more.

“Everything is exactly the same,” said cancer patient Mike Rosenberg.

Except the bill.

Sometimes it’s an “outpatient facility fee.” And sometimes it’s a “treatment room fee.”

And it’s a lot of money – sometimes thousands of dollars, not covered by insurance.

And even patients who are savvy enough to know about these fees before they get the bill have a lot of trouble finding out about them, as Erica Byfield made clear in her strong 3-minute report.

It’s not unique to Atlanta. She quotes a University of California, Berkeley, studythat found that patients generally pay 10 percent more at hospital-owned practices.

The ACA does include incentives for “vertical integration,” or having doctors and physicians part of one organization. But it’s not supposed to raise costs. It’s supposed to bring them down by improving efficiency, creating economies and encouraging care coordination. (Some of the fee problems actually stem from Medicare billing practices, not specifically the ACA.)

 

 

March 7, 2015 Posted by | health care | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Medical Necessity and Unnecessary Care

Medical Necessity and Unnecessary Care

From the 29 January 2015 post at The Health Care Blog

Paul KeckleyUnnecessary care that’s not evidence-based—usually associated with excess testing, surgical procedures or over-prescribing—accounts for up to 30% of what is spent in healthcare. In recent months, enforcement actions against physicians and hospitals have gained increased attention. But unnecessary care and over-utilization is not a new story or one that’s easy to understand.

Background

Medical necessity means something slightly different in every part of the healthcare industry. Varied definitions and interpretations are used by providers, physicians, courts, pharmacy benefits managers, government insurers, private insurers, and consumers. Perhaps the two most important are from the largest and most influential payer, Medicare, and the industry’s most important clinical authority, the American Medical Association (AMA).

 

The AMA defines medical necessity as: “Healthcare services or products that a prudent physician would provide to a patient for the purpose of preventing, diagnosing or treating an illness, injury, disease or its symptoms in a manner that is: (a) in accordance with generally accepted standards of medical practice; (b) clinically appropriate in terms of type, frequency, extent, site, and duration; and (c) not primarily for the economic benefit of the health plans and purchasers or for the convenience of the patient, treating physician, or other healthcare provider.” “Statement of the American Medical Association to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Determination of Essential Health Benefits,” American Medical Association, January 14, 2011

So based on these definitions, the application of “medical necessity” leaves lots of room for variation in how doctors and hospitals determine what’s done, and how payers (Medicare, Medicaid, employers, individuals) assess the appropriateness of their activities and costs. Therein is the conundrum about medical necessity and unnecessary care and the need for fresh thinking about the issue.

The basic facts:

Over-utilization and unnecessary care is prevalent and costly: Several reputable studies point to systemic over-utilization costing the U.S. system up to 30% more than what’s necessary (Exhibit A). The U.S. health system is the world’s most expensive, and health costs, per the Congressional Budget Office, will continue to increase at least 2-3% faster than the overall economy for the next decade. The costs associated with unnecessary care (a.k.a. medical necessity) are significant and growing. “The 2014 Long-Term Budget Outlook,” Congressional Budget Office, July 2014.

The government is cracking down on unnecessary care: Hospitals are increasingly being held accountable for the practice patterns of the physicians on their medical staff via the False Claims Act. Enforcement actions against both are on the rise and financial penalties harsh (see Exhibit B for recent cases).

Media attention is sparking public attention to unnecessary care: The Wall Street Journal calls its series, “Secrets of the System.” National broadcast and print news organizations have increased coverage of healthcare including its tendencies around medical necessity and unnecessary care. And social media is a hotbed for anecdotal assessments of “medical necessity”—some supported with objective data, most supported by personal experience, and a few judiciously studied and reported.

So if health costs are a looming problem in U.S. healthcare, and lack of consistency around the delivery of medically-necessary care is a systemic challenge that’s increasingly transparent, why isn’t more done? Most industry insiders offer these reasons:

The body of scientific evidence about what works best is expanding and changes fast. There are 20,000 medical journals. Keeping track of the latest innovations is almost impossible without using a clinical knowledge management software program that captures and filters relevant information useful to making patient diagnostic treatment decisions.
The strength of evidence about what works best and why is often weak. As more information about a patient’s signs, symptoms, risk factors and co-morbidities are factored into a treatment determination, the less likely it is that a clear “medical necessity” directive is found. Ironically, the more information (data) a clinician has about a specific patient, the less likely it is that a “medically necessary service” is dictated through a clinical algorithm or guideline.

Most consumers assume everything recommended is “medically necessary.” The majority of consumers assume that what their physician recommends is evidence-based, and few feel confident to challenge their view. Therefore, consumers want MORE not less in the majority of cases. And social media and media coverage is complicating matters as treatments-de jour become more widely known to consumers searching the latest and best treatments. The burden to stay abreast about traditional and nontraditional methods for diagnosing and treating is daunting, especially if reimbursements are cutting into time spent with patients.

Most providers necessarily err on the side of over-treatment. The majority of physicians and the institutions that credential them to practice tend to over-treat fearing liability exposure or the possibility of an inaccurate diagnosis. It’s precautionary and a business imperative (discounting it can be lucrative at the same time).

The health information technology tools that allow for real-time, accurate matching of a patient’s signs, symptoms, risk factors and co-morbidities to the latest and best evidence don’t exist or are too expensive. The integration of smart medical record systems shared by clinically-integrated networks and with their patients is still aspirational in most communities. These systems are expensive. Clinicians doubt that these systems will pay for themselves in improved efficiency (less paperwork), nor do they trust that payers will pay them more if they make the investment. And most consumers aren’t demanding them to make the investment. Instead, basic access, convenient locations and an assuring experience with doctor are of higher importance.

These views provide a defensible rationale as to why medical necessity and unnecessary care is a systemic challenge in our system, but in coming months, they may be seen more as lame excuses. The spotlight on unnecessary care and medical necessity is likely to shine brighter because:

Unnecessary care contributes significantly to the impressive profitability in many parts of the health system.


Unnecessary care can be harmful to consumers.
The data and sophisticated analytic tools upon which determinations of medical necessity and unnecessary care are increasingly available. Defaults that “my patients are different” and “we don’t have the data” will fall on deaf ears.

What does it mean?

Documentation is key. Accurate clinical documentation across sites and systems of care is table stakes.

Transparency about medical necessity and unnecessary care is assured. Data about the performance of every practitioner, hospital, and health system will be widely accessible. And the evidence supporting coverage and denial decisions by insurers, formulary design by Pharmacy Business Managers (PBMs) and benefits managers, and the justification for narrow networks will be equally available.

 

January 30, 2015 Posted by | health care | , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] What’s Next For Physician Compare? | The Health Care Blog

What’s Next For Physician Compare? | The Health Care Blog.

From the 22 January 2015 post

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 9.33.17 PMOf the many hidden gems in the Affordable Care Act, one of my favorites is Physician Compare.  This website could end up being a game changer—holding doctors accountable for their care and giving consumers a new way to compare and choose doctors.  Or it could end up a dud.

The outcome depends on how brave and resolute the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is over the next few years.  That’s because the physician lobby has been less than thrilled with Physician Compare, and, for that matter, with every other effort to publically report measures of physician performance and quality.

I’d give CMS a C+ to date.   Not bad considering it’s the tough task.  The agency has been cautious and deliberate.  But after the many problems with Hospital Compare, Nursing Home Compare, Home Health Compare, and Dialysis Facility Compare—not to mention the shadow of healthcare.gov’s initial rollout—that’s understandable.  They want, I hope, to get this one right from the get-go.  And competition from the private sector looms.

Congress mandated that CMS establish Physician Compare by Jan. 1, 2011 and that an initial content plan be submitted by Jan. 1, 2013.  CMS met those deadlines, albeit with a rudimentary site that launched in late December 2010.  The agency updated its plans in 2013 and 2014, even as it added more content and functionality to the site.

The law requires the site to have “information on physician performance that provides comparable information on quality and patient experience measures.”  That’s to include measures collected under the Medicare Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), Medicare’s main quality reporting vehicle, and assessments of:

  • patient health outcomes and the functional status of patients
  • continuity and coordination of care and care transitions, including episodes of care and risk-adjusted resource use
  • the efficiency of care
  • patient experience and patient, caregiver, and family engagement
  • the safety, effectiveness, and timeliness of care

Notably, Congress set no deadline for the site to meet those specifications or be fully operational.

So what’s posted so far?   The centerpiece of the site is a searchable directory of some 850,000 Medicare providers.  That includes most of the practicing doctors in the U.S. with the exception of pediatricians and other physicians who don’t treat Medicare patients.  This database predates the ACA and Physician Compare but its functionality, reliability and accuracy (a big complaint from physician groups) is being gradually enhanced.

Each doctor has his or her own profile page—a significant foundation that could accommodate quality and patient experience data in the future.

Consumers can also search three additional databases on the site.  They identify doctors and other clinicians who participate in (a) PQRS; (b) the Electronic Prescribing Incentive Program; and (c) the electronic health record (EHR) incentive program (also called the meaningful-use program).  About 350,000 physicians and other clinicians participate in the latter.

The bad news: these databases are separate and their content is not integrated.  That makes searching for information on a particular group practice or individual doctor cumbersome and time consuming.  And the databases aren’t user-friendly.  On the plus side, for researchers and health administrators, the databases are downloadable.

January 26, 2015 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Reblog] Rewarding Patient Recovery | HealthWorks Collective

Rewarding Patient Recovery | HealthWorks Collective.

From the 6 November 2014 item at HealthWorks Collective

What if we paid for patient recovery rather than just patient services?

What if we paid to treat patients rather than just conditions?

What if we paid to personalize care rather just population health quality measures?

While these questions may sound academic, there is a groundswell of innovative healthcare providers working on the answers.  To realign the healthcare system to overall patient recovery and well-being, it will take physicians and other healthcare providers transforming the entire system. The good news is that this is quietly happening from within, with physicians, healthcare systems and health plans working together.

They include the over 500 Accountable Care Organizations6,500 providers considering bundled payment pilots and providers signing risk sharing agreements with health plans.  Physicians, healthcare systems and insurance plans are sharing data, sharing financial risk and focusing on improving overall patient outcomes and cost.

With little debate or fanfare outside the healthcare industry, Medicare quietly saved $372 million with their versions of the ACO. While some critics predict that ACOs will follow Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) demise in the 1990s, ACOs are different.  Patients are assigned to ACOs and remain free to go to any provider.  ACOs can’t limit care or require patients to see providers in their network.  The ACO’s were still able deliver great results even with these two major challenges which they call “churn” (ACO assigned patient turnover) and “leakage” (patients going outside the provider network).

Bundled Payments are just getting started with up to 6,500 providers deciding soon whether to go live Jan 1, 2015 with Medicare’s Bundled Payment for Care Improvement (BPCI) pilot. Provider/Health Plan risk sharing arrangements are expanding rapidly, indicating they are delivering.  This surge began when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) started requiring health plans to write rebate checks if they paid out less than 85% of their premiums in medical claims. This encouraged Health Plans to partner and reward providers for improvements in patient outcomes and cost. Health Plans leaders believe that the “blurring of the lines” between providers and health plans is just getting started.

Patient Recovery vs. Patient Services

 

 

November 25, 2014 Posted by | health care | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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