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Contributing Voices
Dean Field, MD

The question facing health care organizations today is daunting: “How are we going to efficiently and effectively care for millions of new patients, many with chronic illnesses, and many who have never had access to routine health care in the past?”

At Franciscan Health System in Tacoma, Washington, we face the same problems as other health care systems. With 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians, and 46,000 hospital admissions plus 460,000 outpatient procedures, we fully understand the challenges of health care delivery today. However, we’ve found that the best approach to population management lies in a culture shift from treating lives at risk to a system where we front-load our attention to preventive medicine. Two things will allow us to be successful:

  • Team-based care which opens up access and enables physicians to extend their reach by adding certified physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), care managers, health coaches, pharmacists, and others to the medical care team.
  • Electronic health records (EHR) technology connecting all providers with a complete and up-to-date medical record.
Contributing Voices
Frank Diamond

There’s a gap in the proverbial health care safety net that’s big enough for a whale to swim through.

People who are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole — what a recent study calls the “justice-involved population” — make up 22% of the 13 million newly eligible people.

“The justice-involved population has a higher disease burden than the general population, yet as many as 90% of justice-involved people lack health insurance at the time of their release from incarceration,” says the study, published in Health Affairs. “This disparity between disease burden and access can drive up the cost of health care, result in worse outcomes, and cause patients to seek care later than appropriate and in care settings that are often isolated and lack care coordination.”

Contributing Voices
Michael Flanagan
Michael Flanagan

Uncertainty regarding health insurance exchanges is not going away. Changing enrollment deadlines and newly insured populations have brought challenges to payers and providers. Success will require staying competitive on price, network quality, and access.

To succeed, a health plan needs new capabilities, such as flexible network management and an unprecedented level of coordination between payers and providers. Payers must be agile enough to adjust network strategies on the fly, as they learn more about newly enrolled populations. They need the ability to administer more complex product designs, care delivery. and reimbursement initiatives quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, current network operations often struggle because of multiple sources of provider data, disconnected reimbursement systems, and manual loading between network management and contract management. As the need for administrative savings grows and networks and reimbursement arrangements increase in number and complexity, the problem with existing systems will increase.

The road ahead requires preparation and challenges to current assumptions. Here is a template for health plans to drive their activity on the health insurance exchange:

Contributing Voices
Paul Terry

One of the more audacious promises of the accountable care organization (ACO) movement is the idea that providers of medical services can play a larger role in improving a population’s health. It stems from a notion that health care financing reforms will move the focus of providers from “the tyranny of the office visit” to activities where success will be judged according to improvement in clinical metrics whether a patient visits the office or not. It’s the right vision from a health promotion advocate’s vantage point because it may serve as a preamble to an era where medical and public health practices and public policies truly intersect. Dartmouth’s Jack Wennberg famously observed predictable provider-centric small-area variation in the use of clinical procedures while the Centers for Disease Control and many other public health observers have long shown that ZIP codes have more to do with health than do medical codes. Can the next generation of health reforms reconcile the tension between these loosely related truths?

Contributing Voices
Snezana Mahon, PharmD
Snezana Mahon, PharmD

Medicare plans are furiously working to develop an optimal 2015 bid to submit to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The pressure is especially acute this year given the rapidly consolidating and fiercely competitive Part D environment. Missteps in the bid development process have always been costly — affecting member acquisition and retention and overall profitability for the plans. But in the current environment, bid errors paired with a poor star rating will severely reduce payments from CMS and likely put plans out of business.

It’s important to understand the implications of several changes CMS proposed affecting preferred networks and enhanced alternative plans.

Contributing Voices
Steven Peskin, MD

The title of this post might also read "Don't Mess with Mother Nature"

We have seen remarkable improvements in human health as a direct result of the science that has brought us our antibiotic age with significant reductions in infant mortality, deaths due to bacterial pneumonia, and other serious infections that sometimes led to systemic infection and death.

Fast forward to today, when we may obtain with a prescription many of these powerful germ killers for $4 at WalMart and Target and drug and grocery store chains. Some retailers even give away a prescribed course of antibiotics as a loss leader to entice the customer to enter that store.

The liberal (excessive, really) use of antibiotics in the United States and much of the rest of the world is having profound unintended negative consequences.

Contributing Voices
Steven Peskin, MD
Steven Peskin, MD

Three days of a severe headache that would not respond to the ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. "I never get headaches" is what I said multiple times to my wife and to colleagues. The morning of day three, a rash started to appear on my forehead, in the left eyebrow, in the scalp, with swelling around the left eye and swollen lymph nodes at the angle of the jaw on the left. My wife mentioned "shingles". Poor early diagnosis on my part, and, I said "Oh !*#%! that is what I have".  I was starting to feel as if I had been taken out by an NFL linebacker.

Contributing Voices
Neil Minkoff, MD
Neil Minkoff, MD

Multiple news outlets are reporting that a letter signed by Representatives Henry Waxman, Frank Pallone Jr., and Diana DeGette was sent last week to the CEO of Gilead asking for justification for the high price set on its new Hepatitis C medication, Sovaldi. (See this story.) The lawmakers also stressed that they expect Gilead to explain how the drug will get to patients in government funded programs, like Medicaid and Medicare.

Contributing Voices
Frank Diamond

Remember when many predicted that accountable care organizations (ACOs) will save health care? A study by the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET) states that “ACOs are entities willing to be held accountable for the costs and quality of care for a defined population of patients. When the ACA [Affordable Care Act] became law, such would-be organizations were likened by some observers to unicorns — they exist in our imagination, but no one has actually seen one.” (Certainly not Regina Herzlinger, PhD, as we reported here.)

Harsh, perhaps, but a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention searched in vain for the cost savings in Medicare ACO pilots. The HRET says that “only 25% of physician practices have joined or formed ACOs, and another 15% plan to do so.”

Contributing Voices
Paul Terry

Recently a Minnesota school was evacuated after 10 students got sick during choir practice. A carbon monoxide leak was the presumed cause, given the similarity of student’s symptoms and the rapid spread of complaints. Thirty students in all were taken to the hospital and the school was closed for the day. Tests proved negative, recovery was quick, and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) now reports that the likely cause was psychogenic illness.

The state spokesman said that when people in a group become ill at the same time with subjective complaints, “It is no less real.”

It seems that when an affliction — real or imagined — hits, it can spread quickly among some people. According to one of the more recent CBS News Poll, 61% of Americans disapprove of how the ACA rollout is being handled. Nevertheless more Americans are in favor of fixing the law (48%) or keeping it as is (7%) than repealing the ACA altogether (43%). More telling perhaps, according to several opinion polls about the ACA since 2010, is the stability of opinions concerning Americans’ support for or opposition to the law.

Only time will tell whether the latest ACA anguish from the chorus will fade without treatment, but one thing seems increasingly obvious: Debates about the ACA are distracting from the inertia needed for additional reforms if we are serious about reducing health care costs and improving the health of the nation.

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Meetings

4th Partnering With ACOs Summit Los Angeles, CA October 27–28, 2014
PCMH & Shared Savings ACO Leadership Summit Nashville, TN November 3–4, 2014
2014 Annual HEDIS® and Star Ratings Symposium Nashville, TN November 3–4, 2014
Medicare Risk Adjustment, Revenue Management, & Star Ratings Fort Lauderdale, FL November 12–14, 2014
World Orphan Drug Congress Europe 2014 Brussels, Belgium November 12–14, 2014
Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Forum Alexandria, VA November 13–14, 2014
Home Care Leadership Summit Atlanta, GA November 17–18, 2014
HealthIMPACT Southeast Tampa, FL January 23, 2015