A recent New York Timesarticle that focused on colonoscopies highlighted the questionable science, predatory unit pricing, and overutilization that characterize this procedure and much of US healthcare. Patients get routine screenings that, in other industrialized countries, cost one half to one thirtieth of what they do here, then are gobsmacked by bills equivalent to the cost of a good used car. Reporters and healthcare writers have covered this topic in all its intricacies thousands of times.
But Elizabeth Rosenthal, the Times reporter, zeroed in on the root of the crisis, which is how healthcare interests have shaped market and policy forces to their own ends. “The high price paid for colonoscopies mostly results not from top-notch patient care, according to interviews with health care experts and economists, but from business plans seeking to maximize revenue; haggling between hospitals and insurers that have no relation to the actual costs of performing the procedure; and lobbying, marketing and turf battles among specialists that increase patient fees.”
One result is that healthcare’s cost drivers are a multiheaded monster, frustrating simplistic solutions. Many physicians own a financial stake in the care they deliver, rather than being paid to manage the care process well. Pricing is typically unrelated to cost or quality, varies wildly among providers, and often comprises dozens of components that are impossible to understand beforehand. Insurance companies may make a percentage of total cost and so are incentivized to allow healthcare to cost more. Every level of the system is rigged.
If primary care physicians have a bigger enemy than the RUC, Brian Klepper, PhD, hasn’t heard about it.
The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) is a 31-physician panel that wields enormous influence with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in setting the relative values of medical procedures, which are then used to determine reimbursement levels. CMS has historically accepted about 90% of the panel’s recommendations.
Posted 4/21/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog
What is the path forward for physicians who want to remain in private practice, outside the constraints of health system employment? How will the environment change and what new demands will that place on practices and physicians? What follows are the observations of one industry-watcher who has worked on all sides of health care, but who now spends most his time focused on the interests of those who pay for it. No crystal ball, but several trends are clear.
There are now concrete signs that health care’s purchasers are exhausted and seeking new solutions, that a competitive marketplace is emerging and getting increasing traction. As they abandon ineffective approaches, the paradigm that has dominated the industry for the past 50 years will be upended. The financial pressure felt by buyers will transfer to the supply side health industry that has come to take ever more money for granted.
For decades, fee-for-service payment, inclusive health plan networks, and a lack of quality, safety and cost transparency have been enforced by health industry influence over policy, effectively neutralizing the power of market forces.
Without market pressure, physicians have felt little need to understand their own performance relative to that of their peers. The variation of physician practice patterns within specialties has been high, with some physicians’ “optimizing their revenue opportunities” by veering wildly away from evidence-based practice. Even so, until recently in this dysfunctional environment, it has been nearly impossible to identify high and low performers.
Posted 4/07/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog
Last week I visited with Gary Rost, an unassumingly knowledgeable man and the Executive Director of the Savannah Business Group (SBG), arguably one of the most effective health care coalitions in the country. Their offices are only a couple hours away from my home on the Northeast Florida coast, so it was a quick trip up.
SBG was founded in 1982 as a way of mobilizing employer buying power for better care at lower cost. Its reach now extends beyond Savannah about an hour south, north into South Carolina and west from the coast. The vision described on its site is straightforward and easy for purchasers to appreciate:
“SBG endorses and adheres to the principles of value-based purchasing: performance measurement, transparency, public reporting, pay for performance, informed consumer choice and collective employer leadership.”
This beautifully written letter was forwarded after an interview with me on health care cost appeared in a Florida newspaper.
Many of us with coverage often think in abstract terms about working families that do not have access to employer-sponsored coverage, and that must shoulder the overwhelming burden of costs on their own. As Mrs. Doss describes, health care costs dominate her family’s economic life and drive many of their most important decisions.
Tullman recalls building EHRs that moved many physicians away from paper and the errors it fosters. He calls out David C. Kibbe, MD as an example of the forces wanting to preserve paper and opposing EHRs, with quotes from a 2008 blog post suggesting that the current crop are “notoriously expensive,” “difficult to implement” and unable to demonstrate care quality improvements. He predicts that, in the future, the industry will leverage open platforms and interoperability, yielding new monitoring and management utilities that can facilitate better care at lower cost.
Most of us have spent some time thinking about our own deaths. We do it with a sense of dreadful curiosity, but then we push it aside with “well, we’ve all got to go sometime.”
Unlike most people, I probably know the how, the why, and maybe even the when of that event. It is profound information that turns the world upside down for us, our families, friends and caregivers.
I have cancer that is incurable, aggressive, and has negligible survival odds. My chemotherapy is a long shot. I will leave a spouse, children, siblings and a life that I love and cherish. I cannot imagine existence without them.
Posted 2/15/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog
Health care’s purchasers crave certainty. But complexity – and therefore uncertainty – rules. Assurances are hard to come by.
The most common question asked by prospective clients of my onsite clinic/medical management firm is how much less their employee health benefits will cost if they deploy our services. They often expect that we’ll review their claims history and nail down what their health care will cost once we’re involved. Looking in the rear view mirror can inform the future, but it isn’t foolproof.
The Complexity of Health Care Risk
The challenge here is that so many different mechanisms contribute to the need for care, the ways care is accessed, the ways care is delivered, and the ways it is priced. Even mechanisms that, in isolation, are strong, often are inadequate in the context of larger cost drivers.
On January 7, a federal appeals court rejected six Georgia primary care physicians’ (PCPs) challenge to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) 20-year, sole-source relationship with the secretive, specialist-dominated federal advisory committee that determines the relative value of medical services. The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) is, in the court’s view, not subject to the public interest rules that govern other federal advisory groups. Like the district court ruling before it, the decision dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims out of hand and on procedural grounds, with almost no discussion of content or merit.
Thus ends the latest attempt to dislodge what is perhaps the most blatantly corrosive mechanism of US health care finance, a star-chamber of powerful interests that, complicit with federal regulators, spins Medicare reimbursement to the industry’s advantage and facilitates payment levels that are followed by much of health care’s commercial sector. Most important, this new legal opinion affirms that the health industry’s grip on US health care policy and practice is all but unshakable and unaccountable, and it appears to have co-opted the reach of law.
Posted 1/7/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog
“How many businesses do you know that want to cut their revenue in half? That’s why the healthcare system won’t change the healthcare system.”
Rick Scott, Governor of Florida
Former CEO, Hospital Corporation of America
Quoted by Vinod Khosla at the Rock Health Innovation Summit in August (video here)
The Washington Post recently reported that health plan lobbyists, charts at the ready, are working to convince legislators that unreasonable health care costs are everyone else’s fault. Karen Ignagni, the Executive Director of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) declared: “If you’re going to have a debate and discussion about what’s driving health care costs, you have to get under the hood.”
Her first argument is that many practices of doctors, hospitals, drug, device and health information technology firms make health care cost more than it needs to be. This is well-documented and true. But her second, that health plans are different than the rest of the industry, and that they do not negatively influence care or cost, is pure marketing.
Posted 12/06/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog
On The Health Care Blog, veteran analyst Vince Kuraitis reviews a report from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman (OW), arguing that the trend toward reconfiguring health systems to deliver more accountable care is more widespread than any of us suspect.
“The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs-and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.”
Posted 11/21/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog
Here a link on SlideServe to my plenary presentation on CMS’ relationship with the AMA’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), and how/why it has undermined American primary care. I delivered this overview at the Medical Home Summit in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the team – led by Paul Fischer MD, a primary care physician in Augusta, GA – that sued CMS and HHS over their failure to require the RUC’s to adhere to the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act is awaiting the appeal court’s ruling that will determine whether the case is at an end or whether it moves forward into discovery.
Given the seriousness and far-reaching impacts of the problem, it is shameful that America’s primary care medical societies have shrunk from supporting this action. In doing so, and in yearning to continue to align and participating with the AMA and the RUC, they have become complicit with them. They have not only compromised the primary care physicians who are their members, but ignored the much larger problems of patients who are too often put at unnecessary risk through care they don’t need, and purchasers – individuals, businesses and governments – who have been exploited for more than 2 decades with costs that are double those in other industrialized nations.
Posted 10/12/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog
Walmart’s sheer size makes almost any of their initiatives newsworthy. That said, despite being a lightning rod for criticism on employee benefits and health care, they have introduced initiatives with far-reaching impacts. Their generic drug program began in September 2006 – more than 300 prescription drugs for $4/month or $10 for a 90-day supply – and was widely emulated, disrupting retail drug markets and generating immense social benefit. Imagine the difference it made to a lower middle class diabetic who had been paying more than $120 per month for medications, and suddenly could get them for about $24.
Yesterday Walmart announced that “enrolled associates” – covered workers and their family members – needing heart, spine or transplant surgeries could receive care with no out-of-pocket cost at 6 prominent health systems around the country: Mayo Clinics (Rochester, MN and Jacksonville, FL); Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland, OH); Geisinger Clinic (Danville, PA); Mercy Hospital Springfield (Springfield, MO); Scott & White Memorial Hospital (Temple, TX); and Virginia Mason Medical Center (Seattle, WA).
Note from Brian: The article below describes my recent keynote address to a large meeting of imaging center administrators, and appears in the Sept 2012 Radiology Today. I’m reposting it because it accurately reflects, in depth, the message that I tried to deliver.
Remarkably, the audience was evenly divided in their evaluations. Half thought it was a very important but difficult to hear talk. The other half thought I was a jerk and it was the worst talk they’d ever heard. My take on this is that the responses reflected an industry that has become comfortable with a lack of accountability and market forces, and that is highly threatened by change.
A keynote speaker told administrators to expect businesses threatened by ever-increasing healthcare costs with new approaches that will change how imaging organizations compete.
When Brian Klepper, PhD, delivered his keynote speech to the audience at the AHRA annual meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, last month, it was not the feel-good speech of the summer. Klepper, whose companies develop and manage worksite primary care clinics for employers and manage specialty care for those employees, told the audience that his company had recently negotiated a deal in Indiana for $450 MRI exams in a market that had technical fees ranging between $1,750 and $3,200. That was the opposite of a warm and fuzzy message to the 900 or so imaging administrators attending the meeting at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center.
“Somebody like me is going to come in to your market, and your volumes are going to plummet because there is no way you can compete against a $450 imaging price when you’re currently used to getting $2,800 or whatever you’re getting,” Klepper told the audience. “That is the problem.”