How Physician Practices Can Prepare for a Health Care Marketplace

Brian Klepper

Posted 4/21/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

BK 711What 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.

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Seriously Testing The ACO Waters

Brian Klepper

Published April 2013 in Accountable Care News

BK 711If necessity is the mother of invention, then tentativeness and ambiguity are the parents of procrastination. In health care, fee-for-service remains the dominant paradigm, so the ACO movement, lacking almost any semblance of true financial risk, is far more bark than bite. What’s the point of health systems going to all the trouble – and there’s no question it will be an overwhelmingly complicated overhaul – required to move from volume to value if it isn’t a pressing concern? Or, as several health system CFOs have expressed it, “Why should we change what we do and take less money until we have to.” There is no immediate imperative.

But there are some strategic imperatives. Overall health care cost has continued to explode. Kaiser Family Foundation data show that, for more than a decade, health plan premiums have risen 4.5 times as fast as general inflation and more than 3.5 times workers earnings. A recent RAND calculation showed that $4 of every $5 of household income growth is now absorbed by health care. It doesn’t seem likely that much more revenue can be squeezed from group and individual purchasers. (Though many of us have been saying that for decades.)

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When Employers Get Serious About Managing Health Care Risk

Brian Klepper

Posted 4/07/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010RostLast 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.”

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When Employers Collaborate To Manage Health Care Costs

Brian Klepper

Published 12/09/12 in the Eau Claire, WI Leader-Telegram

Note from Brian: This piece appeared last weekend in the Eau Claire, WI newspaper, and was written with the encouragement of employers in that community who, rightly, believe they’ve been raked over the coals on their health care costs.

This argument is mainly directed at other employers, as a way of explaining that there are alternatives. That said, the dynamics described here occur in almost every community in the country.

BK 711Even compared to national health care cost growth that has skyrocketed nearly 4 times as fast as general inflation for more than a decade, Wisconsin stands out and northwest Wisconsin stands out more. Eau Claire’s health care cost burden is a whopping 16 percent higher than the national average. This is pricing many individuals and employers out of the coverage market and sapping the region’s economic vitality and competitiveness.

As Robert Kraig meticulously details in Citizen Action’s Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings 2012, Eau Claire is Wisconsin’s second-highest cost health care market, with 2011 monthly premiums of $750.46, 9.1% higher than the state average of $687.68. (La Crosse is 1st, only a hair higher at $756.70.)

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Primary Care’s Dilemma

Brian Klepper

Posted 9/12/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

Early in the new documentary, Escape Fire, which provides detailed portraits of US health care’s craziness, we meet Erin Martin MD, a young primary care physician in The Dalles, OR, who ultimately abandons her practice with low income patients. Time and financial constraints have frustrated her efforts to provide the care she believes is necessary to make a difference in people’s lives. Later, we see her in a business meeting with other primary care physicians in her new practice, reviewing financials. To maintain the practice’s revenues, they’ll need to see more patients, which means shorter patient visits. The defeat is palpable to her, to her colleagues and to the audience.

A few days ago, Rob Lamberts MD, 18 years into his practice, announced on The Health Care Blog that he was dropping out, leaving to go solo in a Direct Primary Care (DPC) practice catering to patients who can pay out-of-pocket rather than through insurance. Dr. Lamberts, a regular and characteristically sunny columnist, is workmanlike but chilly in his explanation.

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Demanding More From Medical Homes

Brian Klepper

Published 9/4/12 in Medical Home News 

Never confuse motion with action. 

Benjamin Franklin

A reporter called the other day to tell me that several local health systems now had medical homes. “I don’t think so,” I said.  She was emphatic. “They just told me they do.” I asked whether their medical homes take fee-for-service reimbursement. “I guess so,” she said. “Doesn’t everyone?” “Almost everyone,” I said. “But if they do, that means they have a financial stake in delivering unnecessary care.” By definition, that’s counter to the idea of a medical home, which provides the right care at the right time in the right context. You can’t have it both ways.

Virtually every organization remotely related to primary care now wraps itself in the mantle of patient-centered medical homes (PCMH), and many flaunt their Recognition by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) as proof that they’ve met a standard. Presumably employers and other purchasers, enthused by the buzz surrounding medical homes, assume these credentials translate organically to better care at lower cost.

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Will the Bubble Burst?

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/19/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

My recent 3-hour outpatient prostate biopsy generated nearly $25,000 in charges. My health plan will probably settle for four to five thousand dollars – this is the real market value – but if we were uninsured we’d be on the hook for the whole thing. All in all, a minor diagnostic procedure – nothing cured or treated – for the cost of a pretty nice car.

The capricious insanity of health care pricing is delivered with straight faces by health care professionals and executives to flabbergasted patients and benefits managers. It is the by-product of a system utterly devoid for decades of transparency, accountability or market pressures.

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