CPC+: Opportunities and Challenges for Primary Care Transformation

In recent days there has been a lot of action around CMS’ Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative (CPCI). First, the next phase of the program was announced, expanding the program in size and scope. Several days later, an evaluation of the first two years of the initiative was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The original CPCI demonstration began in October 2012 and included 502 practices in seven regions (states or smaller areas within states). The regions were determined largely by payer interest, as commercial and state health insurance plans are essential partners in this multi-payer model. The CPCI involves risk-stratified care management fees for participating practices and the possibility of sharing in net savings to Medicare (if any). In turn, the practices must invest in practice redesign around: access and continuity, chronic disease management, risk-stratified care management, patient and caregiver engagement, and care coordination across a patient’s providers, e.g., managing care transitions and ensuring close communication and collaboration.

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Academic Immersion

Editor’s Note: The Petrie-Flom Center is now accepting applications for Student Fellowships for the 2017-2018 academic year. See our website for more information about applying! 

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a Perspectives article describing the “Immersion Day” it holds for its board members. On the Immersion Day, participants don scrubs and shadow front line employees across various parts of the hospital – this might include attending ICU rounds or observing a surgery. The day gives board members the opportunity to meet and engage with staff in a meaningful way as they go about their jobs, painting a vivid picture of the issues and concerns that arise on paper in the board room. In its third year, the program is a resounding success, garnering rave reviews from the trustees. In fact, the hospital has now created an Immersion Day for state policymakers.

Having worked as a clinician before moving into policy and research, this piece resonated deeply with me. I have found my clinical experience to be essential and formative for how I view policy questions. In addition, as I approach the end of my year as a student fellow, I realized that this piece and the concept of immersion describes my experience with the Petrie-Flom Center. Continue reading

Tax exemptions and nonprofit hospitals: An uncertain future

Of the 4,926 community hospitals in the United States, the majority, about 58 percent (2,870) are not-for-profit. About 21 percent (1,053) are for-profit, and the remainder are owned by state and local governments. Hospitals serve communities by caring for the sick, but they’re also often billion dollar enterprises and tension between the mission and business model of nonprofit hospitals is growing.

Nonprofit hospitals are expected to benefit their community in exchange for their tax-exempt status. Hospitals have most commonly fulfilled this obligation by providing uncompensated care, or charity care. However, this has historically been poorly regulated. A 2013 study found that on average nonprofit hospitals spent 7.5 percent of their operating expenses on community benefit activities, and 85 percent of that was charity care. However, there was major variation in the amount allocated to community benefit, ranging from 1 percent to 20 percent.

The Affordable Care Act introduced new community benefit reporting requirements for nonprofit hospitals in an effort to bring more clarity and accountability to the amount and quality of “community benefits” delivered in exchange for 501(c)3 tax exemption. The value of the nonprofit tax exemptions for hospitals is significant: it was estimated at almost $25 billion in 2011. For states and municipalities in particular, the foregone tax revenue is nontrivial, especially as their taxes bases were squeezed by the burst of the housing bubble in 2008. It should be little surprise, then, that municipalities have started to scrutinize the tax exemptions for nonprofit hospitals.

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Et tu, CDC?

The CDC has a new message for women: stop drinking alcohol unless you’re on birth control.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are birth defects that can occur when women drink during pregnancy, and may include physical, psychosocial, and intellectual disabilities. There’s no disagreement in the health care community that FASD are a tragedy, all the worse because they are 100% preventable. However, the amount of alcohol consumption that is considered safe for pregnant women has long been the subject of (unresolved) debate, though most advice tends towards complete abstention.

This week, the CDC took this conversation in a new direction, initiating a FASD prevention campaign that implicates all women of childbearing age by claiming that 3 million women are at risk of injuring a baby because they are “drinking, having sex, and not using birth control”. As a strong supporter of their mission, I was dismayed to see the CDC join the long list of actors holding women individually responsible for public policy goals. To be clear, the concern about FASD is well founded, and women’s health behaviors are an important part of prevention. But the singular focus on women’s personal decisions without regard for the other factors driving alcohol consumption during pregnancy is disappointing from the nation’s leading public health agency.

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Realizing the Potential of Accountable Health Communities

Michael Anne Kyle

The recent $157 million commitment from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) for a new “Accountable Health Communities” test model is most welcome. This is major step for the agency in recognizing the significance of social determinants of health in improving outcomes and costs. A New England Journal of Medicine article accompanying the funding announcement does an excellent job of highlighting the extent to which social conditions affect health outcomes and costs.

The program will invest in 44 communities over five years in three progressively advancing tracks: “increasing awareness”, “providing assistance” and “aligning partners”. Evaluation (perhaps proof of concept is more apt) is an important aspect of the model: the goal is not only to find out whether social service linkages affect health outcomes, but what types of interventions work. The awareness and assistance tracks each involve randomizing patients to usual care or an intervention; in the case of awareness, this is information about relevant social services, and in the case of assistance, the patient is provided navigation to facilitate the connection. The alignment track provides navigation, and will not involve randomization; instead, outcomes in these communities will be measured against a matched control site.

The CMMI vision of AHCs (another new acronym, gulp!) reflects emerging trends in health care and antipoverty work. The funding announcement credits initiatives like Health Leads for inspiring the low-touch (e.g., awareness) pathways. The alignment track, meanwhile, aligns very nicely with the work of emerging Medicaid Accountable Care Organizations in states like Minnesota, Colorado, and New Jersey.

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Why Sovaldi?

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the story of Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), a breakthrough treatment for Hepatitis C. Sovaldi is a transformative cure for a devastating disease, but priced at $84,000 per 12-week course, it has distressed insurance budgets (particularly Medicaid) and in many instances, led to rationing of access. As a result, there has been much debate about the appropriate price for such a valuable treatment.

Many have made the case that $84,000 is a pretty good value proposition compared with the ongoing expenses of living with Hepatitis C, or the cost of a liver transplant. Indeed, most of the people whose opinions I admire are willing to accept the $1,000 per-pill price tag (pills cost about $1/ea. to make) as a reward for innovation and incentive for R&D.

Even though I can accept the merits of these arguments, I find that I still cannot shake a visceral sense of injustice. I’m glad Sovaldi exists. I don’t mind that Gilead is making money. And yet, the situation feels profoundly unfair. It took me a long time to figure out why. Continue reading

Finally, a Final Rule on Advance Care Planning

In a victory for common sense, good policy, and good care, reimbursement for end-of-life counseling was safely tucked into the 2016 Medicare Payment Rules issued by CMS last Friday. The calm adoption of advance care planning shows welcome progress from the “death panels” hysteria that plagued this sensible policy when it was first proposed six years ago. The list of advance care planning supporters is long, including: numerous physician organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institutes of Medicine, the American Hospital Association, and over 80 percent of Americans. So, what is advanced care planning and why does it matter?

Given the circus that originally surrounded it, people may be surprised to learn that this policy simply involves the addition of two billable codes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. The first code, 99497, covers an initial 30-minute consultation on end-of-life planning, with a second, 99498, covering 30 additional minutes, if needed. Importantly, patients do not need to be seriously ill to access this benefit – a consultation can be scheduled at any time, for example, as part of an annual physical. During this meeting, patients discuss the kind of interventions they would want if they become critically ill, or as they approach the end of life. Such conversations enable collaboration between the patient, family, and medical team – it opens the door for an ongoing dialogue about priorities and goals of care (which may evolve over time).

Planning for the end of life matters because advances in medicine have created a dizzying array of interventions and palliative care options for people who are gravely ill. There are many clinical and psychosocial benefits to communicating one’s preferences around end of life care. In a September 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 89 percent of respondents said doctors should discuss end-of-life plans with patients – but only 17 percent had actually had such a discussion with their doctor. Formal recognition of the value of advance care planning is an important step in encouraging more patients and doctors to initiate the conversation.

Public Safety and Public Health

This morning I saw an announcement about a new initiative called “Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration” and thought it was an important thing to share on this blog. This alliance consists of 120 top current/former police commissioners and prosecutors, including both district attorneys and state attorneys general. These law enforcement leaders have come together to influence legislation and public opinion around mass incarceration. Their first project: supporting the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill currently moving through the Senate. This issue matters because there are currently over 2.2 million people in American prisons and jails.

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation on earth, and by a disturbing margin: we have just 5 percent of the world’s population, but 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. What’s more, our prison population has grown by over 500 percent since 1978. At any given moment, one in 35 Americans is in prison, on parole, or on probation.

Why is criminal justice a health policy issue? Well, there are many reasons, but let’s start with the fact that the largest mental health provider in the United States is the Cook County Jail. This does not reflect well on our criminal justice policy or our health policy.

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Medicaid Is Not a Welfare Program

By Michael Anne Kyle

Medicaid is often thought of as a welfare program because of the essential role it plays in providing health insurance for low-income people. However, looks can be deceiving. In terms of scale and scope, Medicaid is rapidly becoming a powerhouse player in health care.

Medicaid enrollment is booming as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): nearly 72 million people are enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). To put this in perspective, about 55 million people are enrolled in Medicare and about 64 million in the UK’s NHS. Medicaid enrollment is likely to continue rising as more states contemplate expansion. As of this month, 30 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Size isn’t the only way Medicaid is changing. Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is a joint state and federal program, which means that states have a lot of latitude to innovate with both delivery and payment. The ACA has enhanced opportunity for reform through planned initiatives like the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), and unexpected pathways, like negotiations around Medicaid expansion – these have yielded some of the most radical departures from the traditional public program paradigm, even in states that have not sought a “private option

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Consolidation vs. Competition

By Michael Anne Kyle

This summer, four of the five largest national health insurance companies proposed mergers – with each other. The acquisition of Cigna by Anthem and Humana by Aetna would reduce the “big five” to three. Provider groups, including the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association are alarmed, citing the potentially anticompetitive nature of these mergers.

It is true that many aspects of the health insurance market are already highly concentrated. In 2013, there were states where the individual and small group markets were dominated by companies with upwards of 70, 80, and even 90 percent market share. The Affordable Care Act introduced health insurance exchanges in an effort to stimulate competition – and it seems to be working. On the Medicare side, a new report by the Commonwealth Fund found that only one (!) of the nation’s 2,933 counties had a competitive Medicare Advantage market. Medicaid has so much going on that it is the subject for another post entirely – but worth noting here that Medicaid managed care is on the rise and projected to cover more than 75 percent of enrollees within the coming year, so the role of private insurers in Medicaid is growing rapidly.

The insurance companies argue that the upside of consolidation is increased bargaining power with providers, enabling them to negotiate better rates and value-based contracts. It’s important at this point to note that while some provider groups are decrying insurance mergers as anticompetitive, there is a tremendous amount of consolidation underway on the provider side, too. A recent analysis finds that half (150/306) of hospital referral regions (HRR) are highly concentrated, and none are highly competitive. There is evidence that concentrated markets reduce price competition, and may also have implications for quality.

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