Walmart Moves Health Care Forward Again

Brian Klepper

Posted 10/12/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

Walmart. Save Money. Live Better.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).

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Are You Ready for Intense Price Competition?

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.

Jim Knaub

Published in Radiology TodaySeptember 2012, 13:8, p18

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.”

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The Wrong Battles

Brian Klepper

Posted 9/20/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

This week the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) issued a new report describing its vision of primary care’s future. Not surprisingly, the report talks about medical homes, with patient-centered, team-based care.

More surprisingly, though, it makes a point to insist that physicians, not nurse practitioners, should lead primary care practices. The important questions are whether nurse practitioners are qualified to independently practice primary care, and whether they can compensate for the primary care physician shortage. On both counts the AAFP thinks the answer is “no.”

AAFP marshals an important argument to bolster its position. Family physicians have four times as much education and training, accumulating an average of 21,700 hours, while nurse practitioners receive 5,350 hours.

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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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Who Will Speak For Physicians and Their Patients?

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/29/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

Dr. George Lundberg has an important article on Medpage Today that deserves the thoughtful consideration of every American physician. He argues that the American Medical Association, a successful and representative organization for many decades, more recently “fails on both fronts” to fight for doctors and for the health of the American people. It has become, he says, “unsalvageable.”

In a companion piece earlier this month, he called on all physicians to become lifelong members of the AMA, as a way to gain professional impact and to make the AMA more reflective of American physicians’ concerns. “If you are an American physician and you don’t like what the AMA has done and is doing, if you are not a member, shut your mouth, you have no right to complain.”

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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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The Most Important Health Care Group You’ve Never Heard Of

Brian Klepper and Paul Fischer

Posted 8/06/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

Excessive health care spending is overwhelming America’s economy, but the subtler truth is that this excess has been largely facilitated by subjugating primary care. A wealth of evidence shows that empowered primary care results in better outcomes at lower cost. Other developed nations have heeded this truth. But US payment policy has undervalued primary care while favoring specialists. The result has been spotty health quality, with costs that are double those in other industrialized countries. How did this happen, and what can we do about it.

American primary care physicians make about half what the average specialist takes home, so only the most idealistic medical students now choose primary care. Over a 30 year career, the average specialist will earn about $3.5 million more. Orthopedic surgeons will make $10 million more. Despite this pay difference, the volume, complexity and risk of primary care work has increased over time. Primary care office visits have, on average, shrunk from 20 minutes to 10 or less, and the next patient could have any disease, presenting in any way.

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Why Medical Management Will Re-Emerge

Brian Klepper

Posted 7/31/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost

Several years ago I had dinner with a woman who had served in the late 1990s as the national Chief Medical Officer of a major health plan. At the time, she said, she had developed a strategic initiative that called for abandoning the plan’s utilization review and medical management efforts, which had produced heartburn and a backlash among both physicians and patients. Instead, the idea was to retrospectively analyze utilization to identify unnecessary care.

This was at the height of anti-managed care fervor. A popular movie at the time, As Good As It Gets, cast Helen Hunt as the mother of a sick kid. When someone mentioned an HMO, Ms. Hunt’s character let fly a flurry of expletives. America’s theater audiences exploded in applause.

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Cancer Survivor on N-of-One’s Direct-to-Patient Ombudsman Model

Kevin Davies

Posted 5/31/12 on Bio-IT World

The long-term success of N-of-One, a Waltham Mass.-based company offering personalized cancer information, will undoubtedly be shaped by the vision of its newly appointed CEO, Christine Cournoyer, and strategic partnerships with companies like Foundation Medicine, announced this week.

But ultimately it comes down to whether the company’s original direct-to-patient strategy works for cancer patients like Elaine Waples.

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The RUC’s Empty Gesture

Brian Klepper and Paul Fischer

Posted 05/11/2012 on Medscape Business of Medicine

Recently, the leaders of the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) lavished praise on the American Medical Association’s Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) for announcing the addition of a rotating primary care seat and a permanent geriatrics seat, and for promising to post vote tallies. Welcoming these maneuvers indicates not only a poor understanding of history but also misguided political and strategic instincts that will continue to harm patients, purchasers, and primary care physicians.

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Second Opinions: How Should You Choose?

Dov Michaeli

Posted 5/9/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

Incredulous Dov

I have frequently been asked to render judgment on another doctor’s diagnosis, or treatment plan. Other times I am asked anxiously: “should I get a second opinion”? The implicit assumption in this sort of questions is that “two heads are better than one.” Or stated more broadly, we put our faith in the “wisdom of the crowd,” whether the “crowd” is made up of two or two-thousand individuals.

I have to admit I’ve had some nagging doubts about this all-encompassing wisdom. For instance, wisdom of the crowd has been amply documented in estimation tasks (“how many people in this crowd?  What is your estimate of the completion date of the project?”). The reason this works is that it exploits the benefit of error cancellation; the outlier estimates on either side cancel out each other and we end up with the consensus opinion, that is closest to the truth. But how do you decide when the issue is not quantitative? Think of the virtually unanimous opinion of the White House crowd to go to war in Iraq. Where was the “wisdom” there? More interesting, we could drill deeper and ask why is it that the crowd reached such a wrong decision? Wisdom of the crowd was hailed as a source of near-magical creativity and unparalleled wisdom and forecast accuracy. Some of these attributions have proved to be unfounded. For instance, with respect to creative potential, groups that engage in brainstorming lag hopelessly behind the same number of individuals working alone. The key to benefiting from other minds is to know when to rely on the group and when to walk alone. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some sort of an algorithm to guide us in making this decision?

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DeathWise.org – DIY End of Life Planning

Pat Salber

Posted 5/10/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

For most of us, talking about death doesn’t come easily. Yet, it’s something we all experience — the loss of those we know and love, and ultimately, our own death quote from DeathWise.org

In this wonderful age of digital empowerment, we can now take charge of many things that we used to have to depend on others to do for us.  Examples include booking vacations and managing our investment portfolios. Now, there is a website, DeathWise, that can help you manage your death–well, not exactly your death, rather the planning for your death.  This can mean the difference between an orderly exit or one that leaves your family and friends combing through your papers and guessing your wishes.

In my family, no one ever talked about death, let alone planned for it. One example was the death of my maternal grandmother who, at the age of 78, died in her bed in the apartment she had rented for almost 40 years. Neither her daughters, their spouses, nor the rest of her extended family had any idea about the details of her life despite the fact that we all lived within 30 miles of her house and saw her frequently. We were pretty surprised to find out that all of “her” furniture actually belonged to the landlord.

And, that her frugal habits included saving every rubber band that ever made it into her hands – all rolled up into a gigantic rubber band ball. We didn’t know where her papers were, what type of service she would like or even if she preferred cremation or burial. We muddled through, spending days in her apartment opening cupboards, poking around in drawers, and rifling through papers, bankbooks (remember them?), and check stubs. We hoped we did what she would have wanted, but we weren’t really sure.

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Implementing Health Reform: Increasing Medicaid Payments for Primary Care Physicians

Timothy Jost

Posted 5/10/12 on the Health Affairs Blog

On May 9, 2012, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released proposed regulations to implement section 1202 of the Health Care and Education Reform Act of 2010. Section 1202 increases Medicaid payments made to primary care physicians for primary care services during the years 2013 and 2014 to Medicare payment rates, with the additional cost covered by the federal government.

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Patent Pools Pushed To Make Drugs Affordable in Developing World

Merrill Goozner

Published 5/9/12 in The Fiscal Times

Amid a growing crisis in financing treatments for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the developing world, an arm of the World Health Organization will meet in Geneva later this month to consider alternative ways of producing lower-cost drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools to fight the those diseases in poor countries.

A background report issued last month by a working group of the World Health Assembly called for establishing a global research and development treaty that would beef up research into cures for so-called neglected tropical diseases. It also called for the treaty to create mechanisms for ensuring the next generation of drugs for fighting those diseases could be produced by generic firms at prices barely above the cost of manufacturing.

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