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An Innovative Approach in Minnesota to Close the Gap Between Mental Health Needs and Treatment

February 25, 2021
8:15 am

It has always been important to improve access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.  Now it’s imperative.

Even before the arrival of COVID-19, national numbers raised serious concerns.  Twenty percent of Americans reported experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder while also having substance abuse issues. Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990, and almost 21 million Americans have at least one addiction with only one of every 10 receiving treatment for the condition.  The pandemic has worsened our society’s struggles. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in August of 2020, 53 percent of adults reported that their mental health had been negatively impacted as a result of the changes wrought by COVID-19. This, in turn, has caused the number of people with substance use disorders to rise.

Now, more than ever, investments must be made to ensure access to treatment and innovative ideas must be pursued to address these mental health challenges.  One such innovation is taking place in Minnesota.

One clear obstacle patients face is the lag time between the initial request for care and the availability of specialists and treatment programs. While this wait time is occurring, there is a heightened risk of suicide, drug overdose, or a change of heart about pursuing treatment. Recognizing this dilemma, M Health Fairview initiated a new program to bridge this gap. The program is designed to provide same-day access to either in-person care or virtual care with trained providers.  Additionally, the health system has included a mobile unit that proactively brings the support directly into the community. Emergency Medicine Physician and Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Levine emphasized that this program does not replace any type of care, but rather simply provides the stability patients need in their transition from initial treatment to longer-term care.

These are difficult times for so many Americans. Health providers like M Health Fairview are demonstrating innovation and leadership in meeting the urgent needs of those with mental health or substance use disorders.

Guest Post: The Underutilization of Prevention

March 12, 2020
11:50 am

Robert Popovian is Vice President of U.S. Government Relations at Pfizer

One of the most underutilized ways to reduce medical costs in the U.S. is health care prevention. Unfortunately, politicians choose instead to implement draconian policies such as price controls or utilization management, which focus solely on cost management without any consideration given to patient outcomes or the value of an intervention to society.

The reason policymakers promote these types of measures is twofold. One, these policies are simple to implement and two, they reach their intended results quickly by reducing budgets, whether it be hospital costs or drug expenditures. On the other hand, promotion of preventative measures are complicated and challenging to implement and are thus ignored, despite the fact that the data show that such measures lead to better patient outcomes, including improvements in quality of life and productivity.

The two examples of preventative interventions that have not only shown to reduce costs but also improve outcomes are improving immunization rates and medication adherence.

Vaccines are one of the most cost-beneficial interventions in health care. In the U.S., we have done a great job ensuring our children are protected from various communicable diseases. Vaccination rates for most serious ailments are in the 90th percentile for children. However, the same cannot be said when it comes to adults, as their vaccination rates are abysmal. For example, less than 50% of adults get a flu shot every year.  What’s even more alarming is that approximately 20% of high-risk patients (e.g., patients suffering from lung disease) receive a pneumococcal vaccine. Both measures are well below the Healthy 2020 targets set by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP).

One approach to encourage adult vaccination is to further expand community-based pharmacist immunization capabilities. The evidence is clear that allowing pharmacists to provide vaccinations is the lowest cost alternative for providing this essential public health service. So it is vital that we expand and harmonize state laws governing pharmacist authority to immunize and to allow pharmacists to administer all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended vaccines.

The second example of a cost-saving preventative intervention is medication adherence. One of the most cost-effective ways to improve patient adherence is through pharmacist-led medication synchronization. Medication synchronization is a service that has been offered for the past several years by pharmacists to patients who take multiple chronic medications.

A pharmacist collaborating with a physician and in consultation with the patient ensures that all of the patient’s medications are refilled on the same day. Pharmacists operationalize the concept by making an appointment with a patient to pick up their prescriptions every month, or at 60 or 90 days — depending on the refill schedule — and to discuss other issues pertinent to their care, such as over-the-counter medicine usage, smoking cessation needs or vaccination requirements. Medication synchronization has not only reduced the number of trips a patient has to take to the pharmacy and lessened the administrative burden for pharmacists and physicians, but most importantly it has led to better patient medication adherence and cost savings overall.

In 2014, for example, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) decided that patients enrolled in Medicare Part D plans should have the opportunity to synchronize their medications if they choose to and if it is deemed appropriate by their pharmacist or physician, not only because it improved adherence but also because of the overall health care cost reductions. In their analysis, CMS stated, “while the estimated total 6-year cost of this rule to Part D sponsors is $0.5 million, the savings to Part D sponsors and beneficiaries is $1.8 billion.” More recently, a research article published in Health Affairs suggested that patients with cardiovascular disease whose medications were synchronized were three times more adherent with their medications leading to 9% lower hospitalization and emergency department visits.

Fortunately, most states except for California and a handful of smaller ones have taken the lead from CMS to allow all patients in need to benefit from medication synchronization. It is now up to the pharmacists to offer this service universally to their patients.

No one denies that saving health care costs is a noble cause, and everyone agrees that it is not an easy task. However, policymakers are only focusing on the side of the ledger marked “cost”.  Instead, they should be implementing policies that guide us towards the goal of disease prevention to achieve the ultimate endpoint of reducing health care costs while improving patient outcomes.

Importing Prescription Drugs Will Create More Problems than it Solves

September 11, 2019
12:03 pm

Several years ago, there was a significant push in Congress to allow wholesale importation of prescription drugs from other countries into the United States.  The Healthcare Leadership Council found itself in an opportune position to examine this idea, given that our membership includes not only pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare payers, but also the companies that would facilitate the distribution of these imported products.

We found that the promised cost savings from importation were an illusion.  When shipping, relabeling, storage, liability coverage and other costs were factored into the mix, the cost differential between medicines in this country and those from countries that employ government price controls was largely erased.  It has never been surprising that HHS Secretaries and FDA Commissioners from both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations over the years have attested that the risks connected with drug importation far exceeded any possible rewards.

But now the issue is back in a big way.  States – including Vermont, Colorado, and Florida – have passed legislation to set up their own drug importation programs, pending federal government approval, and the current administration has indicated a willingness to work with them in making this happen.  Also, Congress is once again considering importation legislation. This is troubling.

The only difference between the drug importation issue today and when we first examined it is that the dangers have exacerbated while the benefits have not.  There are certain facts that policymakers should keep in mind when contemplating the prospects of opening our borders to drugs from outside the U.S.

  • We already have a drug crisis in this country, much of it fueled by the proliferation of lethal fentanyl that is originating in other countries and finding its way here through our ports and via the international mail service.
  • The world is facing an enormous health challenge driven by the increase in counterfeit drugs. The World Health Organization has estimated that one in every 10 pharmaceutical products in low- and middle-income countries is falsified or substandard.  Opening our borders increases our exposure to this danger.
  • Since we first examined this issue, there has been an explosion in the number of online pharmacies.  According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, there are over 35,000 online drug sellers and 96 percent of them are in violation of applicable laws.  Many of these operations are based in Canada, the nation often cited as the safe place from which to import drugs.
  • And just to dispense with the notion that importing drugs from Canada will drastically lower prices, the numbers simply don’t work.  Canada’s population is barely more than one-tenth that of the United States and our neighbors to the north have already been enduring problems with drug shortages.  The idea that Canada can provide a sufficient supply of prescription medications to meet American demands is ludicrous.

By all means, we should be having a national conversation on healthcare affordability and accessibility in the United States, seeking solutions that will ensure patients have access to the treatments they need while also maintaining an environment that incentivizes lifesaving medical innovation.  A serious discussion requires credible ideas, though, and drug importation doesn’t fit that bill.

The Congressional Budget Debate and Its Potential Impact on American Seniors

March 25, 2015
2:51 pm

This is the time of year in which the President, the U.S. Senate and House engage in a debate over the federal budget for the coming fiscal year.  This is not so much a discussion about dollar figures as it is about the priorities and values we embrace as a nation.

As this debate unfolds, one of those priorities that must be protected is the health of our nation’s seniors.

This week, the U.S. Senate is considering its fiscal year 2016 budget and there are rumblings that it may include amendments that target the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.  Specifically, there are some Senators and interest groups that would like to enable federal government interference in the private sector drug pricing negotiations that have, since Part D’s inception, kept beneficiary costs affordable and saved money for American taxpayers.  Bringing the federal bureaucracy into a process where it is not needed – and which the law that created the Part D program specifically forbids – could raise prescription drug costs and reduce seniors’ access to the medications they need.

To monitor this possible legislation and other issues affecting seniors’ access to prescription drugs, I refer you to the Seniors Speak Out Facebook page, which serves as an online resource hub for developing information on Medicare Part D.  On this site, individuals can also send a letter directly to their U.S. Senators to encourage that affordable Medicare drug coverage should be protected, not threatened.

The federal budget process is supposed to reaffirm the policies and programs that reflect what this nation holds dear.  Undermining Medicare prescription drug coverage would do exactly the opposite.

The Lasting Resonance of a Summit on Health Care Value

March 18, 2015
11:41 am

On March 2, the Healthcare Leadership Council, as part of its National Dialogue for Healthcare Innovation (NDHI) initiative, brought together over 70 leaders from organizations and institutions that design, implement and are affected by the U.S. healthcare system.  The purpose was to clearly define what constitutes value in healthcare and to begin crafting a pathway that will allow patients and consumers access to life-changing healthcare innovations within a structure that is affordable and financially sustainable.

The Summit on Value and Innovation was just the first step in what will be an ongoing dialogue designed to identify and address the existing barriers to health system improvement.  Summit participants have expressed their intention to continue working toward the goals and objectives they outlines on March 2.

Here are some highlights of the comments and coverage of the NDHI Summit:

“Last week I had the opportunity to sit at the table with some of the nation’s top thought leaders. We convened at the Newseum in Washington, DC, for the Healthcare Leadership Council’s National Dialogue for Healthcare Innovation; it was like a health policy nerd red carpet. Center for Medicare Director Sean Cavanaugh was there. Leapfrog Group CEO Leah Binder was there. America’s favorite bioethicist–oncologist–provocateur Zeke Emanuel was there. The chief executives of providers, payers, pharmaceutical companies, government agencies—all there. And what were they there to do? Define “value” in health care.”

–Neel Shah, M.D., Executive Director, Costs of Care in the AAMC Wing of Zock blog

***

“In order to improve value, we needed to identify some of the obstacles that could thwart progress. Regulatory and policy challenges; trust between stakeholders; insufficient time for measurement and lack of tools for patients to make healthcare decisions were among the barriers we cited.

“To surmount those obstacles, we honed in on several key initiatives: piloting a payment model that incentivizes value and shares risk among stakeholders; mapping the patient journey to better understand how we as stakeholders can work together, rather than focusing on our individual part of a patient’s healthcare experience; and developing medication adherence programs to educate patients on their disease, therapies and treatment goals.”

–Greg Irace, Senior Vice President of Global Services, Sanofi US

***

Several participants said that the Medicare Advantage system does a good job of aligning incentives to produce high-quality care and good value. Barry Arbuckle, president and chief executive officer of MemorialCare Health System, which operates hospitals and provider groups as well as a health plan in the Los Angeles area, said, “If I could push every Medicare patient into Medicare Advantage, I’d do it tomorrow.”
Medicare Advantage is “a fundamentally better system. The financials are aligned. We have incentives to do disease-management programs. Frankly I don’t have that in Medicare, because I get paid when they get sick. And if they’re sicker, I get paid more,” Arbuckle said.

It’s more challenging to address these issues for the commercially insured population, Arbuckle said. Having a long-term relationship with members is crucial to the success of creating better health-care value, he said.

–Coverage in Bloomberg BNA, March 3, 2015