Audits and investigations into the effects of ObamaCare from congressional committees, government auditors, advocacy groups, and others.
“One of the common arguments against mandating or providing upfront prices for medical tests and procedures is that American patients are not very skilled consumers of health care and will assume high prices mean high quality.
A study released Monday in the journal Health Affairs suggests we are smarter than that.
The insurer WellPoint provided members who had scheduled an appointment for an elective magnetic resonance imaging test with a list of other scanners in their area that could do the test at a lower price. The alternative providers had been vetted for quality, and patients were asked if they wanted help rescheduling the test somewhere that delivered “better value.”
Fifteen percent of patients agreed to change their test to a cheaper center. “We shined a light on costs,” said Dr. Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint’s chief medical officer. “We acted as a concierge and engaged consumers giving them information about cost and quality.”
The program resulted in a $220 cost reduction (18.7 percent) per test over the course of two years, said Andrea DeVries, the director of payer and provider research at HealthCore, a subsidiary of WellPoint, which conducted the study. It compared the costs of scanning people in the WellPoint program with those of people in plans that did not offer such services.”
“The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients’ bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes.
The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems such as air embolisms — air bubbles that can kill patients when they enter veins and hearts — or giving people the wrong blood type.
CMS removed data on eight of these avoidable “hospital acquired conditions” (HACs) on its hospital comparison site last summer but kept it on a public spreadsheet that could be accessed by quality researchers, patient-safety advocates and consumers savvy enough to translate it. As of this month, it’s gone. Now researchers have to calculate their own rates using claims data.
Before the change, the Hospital Compare website listed how often many HACs occurred at thousands of acute care hospitals in the U.S. Acute care hospitals are those where patients stay up to 25 days for severe injuries or illnesses and/or while recovering from surgery. Now, CMS is reporting the rate of occurrence for 13 conditions, including infections such as MRSA and sepsis after surgery, but dropping others.”
“CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The dominion of Tennessee’s largest health insurer is reflected in its headquarters’ lofty perch above the city, atop a hill that during the Civil War was lined with Union cannons to repel Confederate troops.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has used its position to establish a similarly firm foothold in the first year of the marketplaces created by the health law. The company sold 88 percent of the plans for Tennessee individuals and families. Only one other insurer, Cigna, bothered to offer policies in Chattanooga, and the premiums were substantially higher than those offered by BlueCross.
Though insurers have been regularly vilified in debates over health care prices, BlueCross’ near monopoly here has been unusually good financially for consumers. Its cut-rate exclusive deal with one of three area health systems turned Chattanooga into one of the 10 least expensive insurance markets in the country, as judged by the lowest price mid-level, or silver, plan. The premium for a 40-year-old for that plan is $181 a month, 30 percent less than for the median cheapest silver plan nationally.”
“Francisco Velazco couldn’t wait any longer. For several years, the 35-year-old Seattle handyman had searched for an orthopedic surgeon who would reconstruct the torn ligament in his knee for a price he could afford.
Out of work because of the pain and unable to scrape together $15,000 – the cheapest option he could find in Seattle – Velazco turned to an unconventional and controversial option: an online medical auction site called Medibid, which largely operates outside the confines of traditional health insurance. The four-year-old online service links patients seeking non-emergency care with doctors and facilities that offer it, much the way Priceline unites travelers and hotels. Vetting doctors is left to prospective patients: Medibid does not verify credentials but requires doctors to submit their medical license number for patients to check.
Velazco paid $25 to post his request for knee surgery. A few days later, he had bids for the outpatient procedure from surgeons in New York, California and Virginia, including details about their expertise. After accepting the lowest bid — $7,500, a fee that covered anesthesia and related costs — he learned that his surgeon would be William T. Grant, a Charlottesville orthopedist.”
“The Affordable Care Act may be the law of the land, but some states are still doing their best to avoid it. Nearly half the states have refused to participate in the law’s expansion of Medicaid. Some describe this reluctance as tantamount to a moral crime—see Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s recent statement that expansion’s opponents are “prevent[ing] their own constituents from getting access to health care.”
As a doctor, I know this isn’t true. Medicaid is sold to the public as a magic pill that will solve the poor’s inadequate access to medical care. But reality isn’t so simple.
Simply put, Medicaid gives patients terrible access to medical care. A recent study found that nearly a third of doctors no longer accept new Medicaid patients. In some states, as many as 60 percent don’t. Why not? Because Medicaid operates in a world without economic logic.
Bureaucrats in Washington dictate how much money doctors receive for the treatments and services they provide. Unfortunately, on average they reimburse at less than the actual cost—the average Medicaid reimbursement is 40 percent less than the reimbursement from private insurance.
Medicaid payments don’t even match the reimbursement rates for Medicare. Primary care receives 59 cents for every Medicare dollar. Obstetric care receives 78 cents. Overall, Medicaid receives 66 cents for every Medicare dollar—a one third cut for the exact same service.”
“A high-level report recommending sweeping changes in how the government distributes $15 billion annually to subsidize the training of doctors has brought out the sharp scalpels of those who would be most immediately affected.
The reaction also raises questions about the sensitive politics involved in redistributing a large pot of money that now goes disproportionately to teaching hospitals in the Northeast U.S. All of the changes recommended would have to be made by Congress.
Released Tuesday, the report for the Institute of Medicine called for more accountability for the funds, two-thirds of which are provided by Medicare. It also called for an end to providing the money directly to the teaching hospitals and to dramatically alter the way the funds are paid.
The funding in question is for graduate medical education (GME), the post-medical school training of interns and residents required before doctors can be licensed to practice in any state.”
“Better access to data about real world patient experience holds enormous potential to help achieve many of the goals of health reform, including improving the quality and delivery of medical care, reducing costs, and improving safety and outcomes by accelerating the knowledge base upon which the development of new treatments and cures relies.
Capturing data about the actual experience of patients outside of the carefully controlled clinical trial setting – Real World Data – can help fill the knowledge gap between clinical trials and clinical practice. RWD offers a treasure-trove of information that could allow providers, innovators, health plans, researchers, and others in the scientific and medical communities to make faster, more efficient, and less costly advances in medical research and clinical treatment. Life sciences companies can use this data to explore the benefits and risks of treatment options including their effectiveness in patient subpopulations, expedite enrollment in clinical trials, identify new targets for research and development, and transform the value equation in medical care.”
“The top federal prosecutors from South Dakota and North Dakota say they have increased their efforts to fight healthcare fraud.
U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson of South Dakota said he has restructured his office to allow lawyers in the criminal and civil divisions to devote “significant time” to investigating medical fraud. He predicted it will be among the fastest-growing area of criminal investigation and wants his office to be in position to pursue increasing “complex and egregious” cases.
“My advice to the medical community is to stay away from gray areas or outright fraud that wastes tax dollars, because we will be watching,” Johnson told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “The end result in many of these cases will be that the taxpayers get their money back with interest and penalties, and the medical professional loses their license.”
Johnson’s office recently settled an alleged fraud case involving two doctors at Dakotas-based Sanford Health. Court documents show that Sanford paid $625,000 to settle the lawsuit, in which the doctors and the hospital did not admit wrongdoing. Cindy Morrison, Sanford’s executive vice president for marketing and public policy, said the hospital settled to avoid distraction.
“For us, it’s the issue of time and expense,” she said.”
“Nancy Pippenger and Marcia Perez live 2,000 miles apart but have the same complaint: Doctors who treated them last year won’t take their insurance now, even though they haven’t changed insurers.
“They said, ‘We take the old plan, but not the new one,’” says Perez, an attorney in Palo Alto, Calif.
In Plymouth, Ind., Pippenger got similar news from her longtime orthopedic surgeon, so she shelled out $300 from her own pocket to see him.
Both women unwittingly bought policies with limited networks of doctors and hospitals that provide little or no payment for care outside those networks. Such plans existed before the health law, but they’ve triggered a backlash as millions start to use the coverage they signed up for this year through the new federal and state marketplaces. The policies’ limitations have come as a surprise to some enrollees used to broader job-based coverage or to plans they held before the law took effect.
“It’s totally different,” said Pippenger, 57, whose new Anthem Blue Cross plan doesn’t pay for any care outside its network, although the job-based Anthem plan she had last year did cover some of those costs. “To try to find a doctor, I’m very limited. There aren’t a lot of names that pop up.””
“The decision in the Halbig v. Burwell case this week was an unexpected legal boon to opponents of Obamacare. Spearheaded by the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and law professor Jonathan Adler, the case will almost certainly lead this debate about the text of the Affordable Care Act back to the Supreme Court. My colleague Sean Davis has written a comprehensive piece on the case, particularly on the nature of the supposed “drafting error” at its core.
But whatever the ultimate outcome for Halbig, the case serves as a reminder of the uneven ground on which Obama’s health care law is likely to be standing over the next two years. Whether facing challenges in the courts, or in implementation, as we saw in the GAO’s security report this week, or simply as a matter of political approval, Obamacare is going to be a subject of uncertainty in 2016, and its survival will depend on who wins the election, as I wrote here last month.
This raises an interesting question about how the presidential candidates will interact with the law. The law’s continued instability and problems will have to be answered – but the odd circumstance likely to result from the political frame of the issue is that Republicans will put forward a plan to replace Obamacare, but Democrats won’t.
One of the lazier memes of Democratic politicians and a few too many members of the media over the past several years has been the myth that Republicans have no alternative to Obamacare. This is the sort of thing that doesn’t pass even the most basic assessment of accuracy in reporting – here is a list of the health care reforms introduced by Republican House members in 2012, and here’s one for 2013. While their plans vary in scope, there are eight things Republicans generally agree about when it comes to health care reform:
•They want to end the tax bias in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance to create full portability, either through a tax credit, deductibility, or another method;
•They want to incentivize the reform of medical malpractice laws, likely through carrot incentives to the states;
•They want to allow for insurance purchases across state lines;
•They want to support state-level pre-existing condition pools;
•They want to fully block grant Medicaid;
•They want to shift Medicare to premium support;
•They want to speed up the FDA device and drug approval process; and
•They want to maximize the consumer driven health insurance model, making high deductible + health savings account plans larger and more attractive.”