Congress’ Drug Addiction

Posted 2/26/16 on Employee Benefit News.

The Congressional committee that recently demanded Martin Shkreli’s appearance must have hoped to spotlight a smug jerk responsible for the outrageous prescription drug pricing that we’re all up against. Of course there are lots of Shkrelis running drug companies, but most are shrewder and less brash, and might not make for such good theater.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), one of the Committee’s questioners, seemed to think that his witness could move healthcare forward by disclosing the machinery of the drug sector’s excesses. “The way I see it, you could go down in history as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives or you could change the system. Yeah, you.” Continue reading “Congress’ Drug Addiction”

Will Specialty Drug Pricing Be The Straw?

Published 5/27/15 in Employee Benefit News

ALP_H_BK_0010Over the next few years, drug manufacturers will release a host of new drugs that are more complex and, in many cases, more effective than we’ve had access to in the past. There will be better solutions for common problems, and new solutions for uncommon ones. Specialty drugs, many of them “precision therapies,” will offer tremendous promise for better health outcomes across the breadth of human health and treatment.

Not surprisingly, most of these drugs will have breathtaking price tags, often a high multiple of conventional drugs. Specialty drugs are an exploding growth industry, with spending rising almost 20 times as fast as conventional drugs. Unless something changes, in just another five years we’ll likely spend more on specialty than non-specialty drugs. Or, for that matter, on doctors.

Continue reading “Will Specialty Drug Pricing Be The Straw?”

How Business Can Save America from Health Care

Brian Klepper

Published 6/09/14 in Employee Benefit News

ALP_H_BK_0010One of America’s most enduring mysteries is why the organizations that pay for most health care don’t work together to force better value from the health care industry.

We pay double for health care what our competitors in other developed nations do, but studies show that more than half of our annual health care spend – equal to 9% of GDP or our 2012 budget deficit – provides zero value. Every health care sector has devised mechanisms that allow it to extract much more money than it is legitimately entitled to. Health plans contract for and pass through the costs of products and services at high multiples of what any volume-based purchaser can buy them for in the market. Medical societies campaign for excessive medical service values that Medicare and commercial payers base their payments on. Hospitals routinely over-treat and have egregious unit pricing. There are scores of examples.

Decades of these behaviors have made health care cost growth the most serious threat to America’s national economic security. Medicare and Medicaid cost growth remains the primary driver of federal budget deficits. Over the past decade, 79% of the growth in household income has been absorbed by health care. Health care’s relentless demand for an ever-increasing percentage of total resources compromises other critical economic needs, like education and infrastructure replenishment.

Health care costs have been particularly corrosive to business competitiveness. Three-fourths of CFOs now report that health care cost is their most serious business concern. Commercial health plan premiums have grown almost five times overall inflation over the past 14 years. Businesses in international markets must overcome a 9+ percent health care cost disadvantage, just to be on a level playing field with their competitors in Australia, Korea or Germany.

The health care industry’s efforts to maximize revenues have been strengthened by its lobby, which spins health policy to favor its interests. In 2009, as the Affordable Care Act was formulated, health care organizations fielded eight lobbyists for every Congressional representative, providing an unprecedented $1.2 billion in campaign contributions to Congress in exchange for influence over the shape of the law. These activities go on continuously behind the scenes and ensure that nearly every health care law and rule is structured to the industry’s advantage and at the expense of the common interest.

Health care is now America’s largest and most influential industry, consuming almost one dollar in five. Only one group is more powerful, and that’s everyone else. Only if America’s non-health care business community mobilizes on this problem, becoming a counterweight to the health care industry’s influence over markets and policy, can we bring health care back to rights.

In every community, employers represent loose groupings of lives covered by health benefits, each with different approaches and results on health outcomes and cost. There are few standards and divergent opinions – mostly based on ideology rather than evidence – on plan structure, service offerings, cost sharing, incentives and many other variables.

Business health coalitions represent the opportunity for health care purchasers to collaborate and become more consistent. They can move collectively toward best practice and market-based leverage, with better health outcomes at lower cost. Coalitions like those in Savannah, Ga.  and Madison, Wisc., have shown impressive, measurable impacts. Many others could benefit from shared access to advanced risk management capabilities that can change how benefits and health care work.

Another critical missing component has been the direct involvement of business leaders. Many senior executives may not fully appreciate health care’s often blatant inappropriateness, and possibly haven’t thought through the scale of financial impact on their own businesses and the larger economy.

It will take businesses collaborating, harnessing their immense purchasing power, to disrupt health care’s institutionalized mechanisms of excess. By leveraging their collective strength, purchasers can convey that health care profiteering will no longer be tolerated, and that America’s economic success is dependent on the right care at much fairer pricing.

These goals are worth pursuing for our employees and their families, our businesses and the country. And we call on America’s employers to join us.

Brian Klepper, PhD, is chief executive officer, National Business Coalition on Health, a non-profit membership organization of purchaser-led business and health coalitions, representing over 7,000 employers and 35 million employees and their dependents across the United States.

Would A Single Payer System Be Good For America?

Brian Klepper

ALP_H_BK_0010berwick_donOn Vox, the vivacious new topical news site, staffed in part by former writers at the Washington Post Wonk Blog, Sarah Kliff writes how Donald Berwick, MD, the recent former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Founder of the prestigious Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has concluded that a single payer health system would answer many of the US’ health care woes. Dr. Berwick is running for Governor of Massachusetts and this is an important plank of his platform. Of course, it is easy to show that single payer systems in other developed nations provide comparable or better quality care at about half the cost that we do in the US.

All else being equal, I might be inclined to agree with Dr. Berwick’s assessment. But the US is special in two ways that make a single payer system unlikely to produce anything but even higher health care costs than we already have.

Continue reading “Would A Single Payer System Be Good For America?”

Getting Beyond Fee-For-Service

Brian Klepper

Posted 12/02/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010The catchy title of a recent Harvard Business Review Blog post, The Big Barrier To High Value Health Care: Destructive Self-Interest, suggested that the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) is forging arrangements that can overcome fee-for-service reimbursement’s propensity to drive excess. As the honest broker, IHI could advocate for arrangements of mutual self-interest based on the right care, better outcomes and less money. Employers and unions would get lower costs, with improved health and productivity. Health systems and health plans would win more market share (at their competitors’ expense), realizing longer term relationships that could facilitate sustainability as market forces intensify.

The substance of IHI’s description was less satisfying, though. Their principles – common goals, trust, new business models, and defining roles for competition and cooperation – are obvious ingredients in any workable business arrangement. But the authors never talked about the money. That left plenty of room for skepticism by those of us who have heard more than one CFO ask, “Why should we take less money until we have to?” What, exactly, is the incentive for health care organizations to moderate their care and cost patterns?

Continue reading “Getting Beyond Fee-For-Service”

Facilitating Interoperability

October 18th, 2013

Cross-Posted 10/18/13 from The Health Affairs Blog

BK 711Health Affairs report on health information interoperability by staffers of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) provides a good enough summary of the situation. But it also is not news, and falls under the Bob Dylan Rule: You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. From the article: “In general, limited interoperability across vendors, low motivation to share information in a fee-for-service payment environment, and the high cost of interfaces remain substantial barriers to widespread health information sharing.”

Two difficult but solvable structural problems block our exchange of health care information. The first is the “transport protocol.” Most health care data transport approaches lack the strong privacy and security safeguards that other industries now consider essential. The same industry that is moving toward clinical applications of mobile health, genomics, and nanotechnology still primarily relies on cumbersome, expensive faxes to transmit clinical information between organizations.

Continue reading “Facilitating Interoperability”

A Better Way To Manage Care and Cost

Brian Klepper

http://boards.medscape.com/forums?128@864.cQ5Savfkkqo@.2a59c1b3!comment=1 

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

When an employer sits down with his health care partners – broker, health plan, physician, hospital, drug and device firm, health IT firm – everyone but him wants health care to cost more, and each is typically in a position to make that happen.

Lynn Jennings, CEO, WeCare TLC 

ALP_H_BK_0010A new class of health care management organization is emerging that thrives by taking advantage of health care’s rampant and institutionalized waste. These firms mine the market dysfunction that has developed over decades, which will almost certainly yield enough fuel to drive a new way to manage care and cost.

The founders of these organizations have deep health care experience, and they understand the mechanisms of excess. More important, the ones I’ve met are mission-driven, with a deep sense of outrage that health care’s exploitation has become so pervasive and overt. So their businesses are purposeful.

Continue reading “A Better Way To Manage Care and Cost”

Why Employers Must Collaborate On Health Care

Brian Klepper

Published in the Columbus, GA Ledger-Enquirer on Sunday, 9/15/13

BK 711I recently was privileged to deliver a keynote at the Greater Columbus Chamber’s Healthcare Symposium. I get invited to meetings like this around the country because I lay out a deeply researched and frightening national problem that can only be remedied by business.

Health care is of course very important. But as has been documented over and over (to no avail), it is out of control, with costs that have become so excessive that they literally represent the greatest threat to our national economic security. At $2.8 trillion per year or about one dollar of every five of gross domestic product, health care has become our largest, wealthiest and most politically influential industry. In turn, this has allowed it to spin every piece of health care legislation to advantage.

Continue reading “Why Employers Must Collaborate On Health Care”

The RUC (Again): Is there a Light at the End of the Tunnel? A Conversation with Brian Klepper

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David Harlow

Posted August 13, 2013 on HealthBlawg

Tunnel of Light TJ Blackwell Flickr CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/tjblackwell/3362987463/

dharlow-headshot-0210-60kb-2Recently, there were a couple of breathless articles about the RUC (Relative Value Scale Update Committee) published in The Washington Post and The Washington Monthly, reporting as news the state of affairs that has prevailed for years in the realm of re-setting the relative values of physician services annually for purposes of the RBRVS — which is at the heart of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) and which affects physician reimbursement well beyond Medicare, since the RBRVS is used as a touchstone in determining payment levels under commercial payor agreements as well.

I thought this confluence of publications was a good excuse to call up Brian Klepper, who is an expert critic of the RUC, to discuss the latest stories and talk about the prospects for meaningful reform.

Have a listen to our conversation (about 30 minutes long):

Brian Klepper on RUC HealthBlawg Interview with David Harlow 07262013

Brian Klepper – RUC – HealthBlawg

A transcript is appended to this post.

As detailed in our conversation, the RUC is a committee of the American Medical Association, and it operates behind a veil of secrecy. When it issues its annual update recommendations, CMS generally accepts the recommendation, and promulgates the update as a rule: the annual MPFS rule. The RUC is dominated by specialists, so the system tends to overvalue procedures and to undervalue “cognitive” services, or primary care.

Continue reading “The RUC (Again): Is there a Light at the End of the Tunnel? A Conversation with Brian Klepper”

The RUC Is Bad Medicine: It Has To Go

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/12/13 on Medscape Business of Medicine

BK 711“One of the biggest mistakes we made … is that we took the RUC … back in 1992 and gave it to the AMA. … It’s incredibly political, and it’s just human nature…the specialists that spend more money and have more time have a bigger impact.”

This was Tom Scully, former Bush II Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), previously the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA). He was a panelist in a May 10, 2012 Senate Finance Committee RoundTable discussion by former HCFA/CMS Administrators and has become one of the RUC’s most outspoken critics. He was explaining how the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), a group that asked if it could help the government by overseeing a valuation process for medical services, came to dominate and distort the pricing used in Medicare, Medicaid and commercial health plans.

Mr. Scully echoed this sentiment recently.

“The idea that $100 billion in federal spending is based on fixed prices that go through an industry trade association in a process that is not open to the public is pretty wild. … Having the AMA run the process of fixing prices for Medicare was crazy from the beginning.”

Gail Wilensky, HCFA Administrator under Bush I, was wistful. “It happened innocently enough.”

It is remarkable and compelling to hear these federal health program ex-stewards express regret about a fiasco they had a hand in. Their “mea culpas” are almost palpable. Mr. Scully, in a recent Washington Post video interview, gave a quick aside, “It’s partially my fault.”

Continue reading “The RUC Is Bad Medicine: It Has To Go”

Why Congress Should Pass The Accuracy In Medicare Physician Payment Act

Brian Klepper and Paul Fischer

Posted 8/09/13 on The Health Affairs Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010Paul FischerWith the recent release of two mainstream exposes, one in the Washington Post and another in the Washington Monthly, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) medical procedure valuation franchise, the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), has been exposed to the light of public scrutiny. “Special Deal,” Haley Sweetland Edwards’ piece in the Monthly, provides by far the more detailed and lucid explanation of the mechanics of the RUC’s arrangement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). (It is also wittier. “The RUC, like that third Margarita, seemed like a good idea at the time.”)

For its part, the Post contributed valuable new information by calculating the difference between the time Medicare currently credits a physician for certain procedures and actual time spent. Many readers undoubtedly were shocked to learn that, while the RUC’s time valuations are often way off, in some cases physicians are paid for more than 24 hours of procedures in a single day. It is nice work if somebody else is paying for it.

Continue reading “Why Congress Should Pass The Accuracy In Medicare Physician Payment Act”

Hurtling Down the Road to Ruin

Brian Klepper and David C. Kibbe

Posted 6/21/13 on Medscape Internal Medicine

BK 711dckibbeA recent New York Times article 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.

Physicians, Health Systems and the Drive For Market Dominance

Brian Klepper

Posted 5/23/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

BK 711Several physicians have reached out recently to discuss attractive employment offers from health systems. They are invariably conflicted. They understand the trade-offs, that they’ll give up the autonomy they’ve become accustomed to in exchange for more money and fewer practice management headaches. On the down side, they’ll be accountable for generating significant revenues, sometimes independent of care appropriateness.

Most also are aware that the same care services they provide now will be considerably more expensive once they’re part of a system. Many appreciate that because health systems are corporations with a heavy focus on optimizing short term gains, their future employer’s loyalty is suspect. And then there is the question of whether the health system’s management team is competently preparing to be sustainable in a market that could change dramatically.

As health systems maneuver to dominate regional markets, driving utilization and gaining more leverage over contractual pricing, physician employment has become their principal lever. Primary care physicians (PCPs) are now precious commodities that can manage populations and steer patients into the system’s services. Other specialties – e.g., cardiology, orthopedics, neurosurgery and even gynecologic oncology – are desirable if they’re high yield, driving lucrative, intensive use of inpatient and outpatient services.

Continue reading “Physicians, Health Systems and the Drive For Market Dominance”

Why Aren’t Primary Care Physicians More Ticked off about the RUC? An Interview with Brian Klepper

Brandon Glenn

Published 4/30/13 in Medical Economics

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.

Continue reading “Why Aren’t Primary Care Physicians More Ticked off about the RUC? An Interview with Brian Klepper”

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.

Continue reading “How Physician Practices Can Prepare for a Health Care Marketplace”