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Ensuring Quality Of Life To The End

May 22, 2017
4:16 pm

As the value-based approach to healthcare delivery is gaining momentum, the focus on end-of-life care has moved towards center stage.  The benefits of palliative care and advance directives have proven to increase quality of care while decreasing the overall costs.  Particularly near the end of life, patients can have a wide range of preferences regarding where they want to be, how much treatment they want to receive, and how comfortable they want to feel.  It is important that caregivers and providers are aware of these preferences and have them documented.  Health systems and patient advocates alike have been working on educating both sides of the healthcare interaction – the physicians as well as the patients and their families – in order to help with coordination and communication about the patients’ needs and desires.

Premier, Inc ., a member of the Healthcare Leadership Council,  has been an acknowledged leader in communicating the vital role palliative care plays within the healthcare system.  Its CEO, Susan DeVore, wrote in the Health Affairs Blog about the growth in this area and how Premier has worked to improve the patient experience near end-of-life.  This piece is an excellent example of the private sector bringing value and quality to those who need it the most.  The post in its entirety can be viewed below, and the link to the original post is here.

 

The Humanity In End-Of-Life Care

Susan DeVore
May 19, 2017

Health care is personal, especially when it comes to caring for someone as they approach death. However, half of Americans feel they have too little control over end-of-life medical decisions.

As the industry moves toward a more holistic approach to care delivery, health care organizations are beginning to rethink how they treat patients and starting to embed end-of-life care plans into the overall approach earlier on, sometimes before people even become ill. In a recent report on end-of-life care by the Aspen Health Strategy Group, several principles are discussed that take a broader view around caring for seriously ill patients, helping to ensure that care is sensitive, aligned with patient and family wishes, and always working toward enhanced quality of life. One of the top recommendations in the report to achieving that end is increasing emphasis on palliative care.

Deemed the fastest-growing medical specialty in the United States, palliative care is interdisciplinary care (medicine, nursing, social work, chaplaincy, and other specialties when appropriate) that focuses on improving the quality of life for persons of any age with a serious illness, as well as for their families.

While a relatively new concept, palliative care has been increasing in prevalence, in part due to new value-based care incentives that promote an environment in which payment relies on not only treating the illness but keeping patients comfortable and, when possible, at home.

However, there is a significant misunderstanding about what defines effective palliative care among patients and providers. Palliative care is about proactive care, which can be used at any point in an illness. Unlike hospice, palliative care is not just for those who are dying; it can be delivered to anyone with a serious or chronic medical condition from the time of diagnosis, regardless of whether the patient is terminally ill, expected to recover fully, or facing years of chronic or progressive disease. It is often provided at the same time as curative medical regimens to help patients tolerate side effects of disease and treatment, while carrying on with everyday life. This includes social, emotional, and spiritual support, as well as advising families on how to care for their loved ones.

Effective Palliative Care Improves Patient Experience

In dealing with these illnesses at the time of diagnosis through palliative care, caregivers can greatly increase patient satisfaction and outcomes, while reducing costs. For example, one of Premier, Inc.’s (a health care improvement company) members, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, launched palliative care outpatient clinics in 2012 and now offers them at three primary-care offices and two oncology offices. In a 2014 cost comparison of patients’ costs in the six months before their first visit to a Presbyterian outpatient clinic to the six months after, hospitalization costs dropped by 19 percent, use of outpatient hospital services went down by 44 percent, and emergency department costs decreased by 79 percent. All of this was done while maintaining quality. And they’ve continued to expand these services by creating a more robust home palliative program with 24/7 access to trained professionals. Acute care hospitalization rates for these patients are now extremely low when compared to national or regional norms.

Research has also shown advantages in administering palliative care. In a randomized trial of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, those assigned to early palliative care not only experienced a better quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression than patients receiving standard care, but they also lived more than two months longer.

Health systems in Premier’s quality improvement and population health collaboratives are sharing their best practices in palliative care and implementing effective models across the continuum to make them available in outpatient settings, nursing homes, and at home. They are also driving ongoing educational initiatives to improve cross-specialty generalist palliative care skills and ensure high-risk patients complete advance care directives. At Fairview Health Services, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, nearly all of the oncology clinic sites have interdisciplinary palliative care teams embedded within them. Physicians, social workers, and nurses work together to ensure cancer patients and their families are receiving timely emotional support and are prepared for future decisions using advance care plans.

These efforts are well-aligned with and supported by value-based care delivery and payment models, including accountable care organizations and bundled payment initiatives that require high levels of care coordination. For instance, last year Medicare began paying for voluntary advance care planning. This creates appropriate incentives for physicians, patients, and family members to spend time discussing patients’ health care wishes, which is just as important as having a life insurance policy.

Plan For The Care You Want

Advance care plans can be created even if you’re not ill. In fact, about 90 percent of people say that talking with their doctors and loved ones about their preferred care wishes is important. This includes writing legal instructions on treatments one would or would not want to receive. Patients who have these plans in place report greater satisfaction with their health care, based on how much treatment is desired, and have been shown to have lower costs of care.

Additional efforts dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for future care, especially care delivered at the end of life, are underway. One that is focused on ambulatory practices and other sites of care is the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s program, The Conversation Project. It has developed a starter kit to help people have conversations with family members or other loved ones about their wishes, should they become seriously ill.

However, definitions for palliative care standards and remaining fee-for-service incentives can stand in the way. As addressed in Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences near the End of Life, there are too few standards for professional institutions and other organizations to follow regarding advance care planning. In addition, lingering fee-for-service models incentivize volume over value, which can lead to care that may not be in line with patients’ wishes.

Therapies to treat diseases, especially those that are life-threatening, need to be balanced with therapies to relieve suffering or improve the quality of life in the process.

While progress is being made, we need to continue to think about how we fold standards of humanity into caring for the people we love, should they be faced with a devastating illness. Conversations about serious illness can be difficult to have, but they are essential to ensuring the care delivered is compassionate, wanted, and warranted.

The Power in Planning Ahead

April 17, 2017
4:53 pm

Now that most of us have filed our taxes for 2016, this is an opportune time to review our health planning with the same level of attention.  There is a nationwide effort to make the day after Tax Day “National Healthcare Decisions Day” – a day in which we think about our long-term healthcare needs and make a plan for how we would like to be cared for in our final days.  At one point or another, all families face challenges with advanced illness and must make decisions about end-of-life care, but too few of us have given thought to issues like designating power of attorney or creating advance directives and living wills.  Advanced illnesses cause many challenges for families.  One of the most difficult is when family members become the primary caregiver for their loved ones and are placed in decision-making roles that they never expected.  Advanced care planning is a useful tool that can assist individuals in preparing for end-of-life care, and keeping family members and healthcare providers updated on their wishes.

For individuals faced with end-of-life care decisions, it is important to have conversations with their physicians about their treatment options and their wishes regarding advanced illness care.  Studies indicate that patients and their families are interested in discussing their end-of-life options with their physicians.  However, there is concern that physicians may lack the training or resources to engage in long-term conversations with their patients on end-of-life healthcare decisions.   For instance, a recent survey of 736 physicians, link above, found that less than one-third reported any formal training on discussing end-of-life care with their patients and their families.

The Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (CTAC), a non-partisan organization, is collaborating with the AHIP Foundation on “The Advanced Care Project,” which offers suggestions for how healthcare professionals can help patients make their decisions about their end-of-life care needs.  A combination of education and collaboration on advanced care allows for patients and family caregivers to develop their own care plan that is specifically designed to fit their needs.

Healthcare plans and providers are embarking on their own initiatives to assist and ensure that patients are able to make their own decisions about their healthcare.  For instance, Aetna offers support to its members through its Compassionate Care Programs, in which individuals experiencing end-of-life care are assisted by nurse care managers who are available to provide resources to patients and their family members, as well as assist physicians in managing the care of the patient.   The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System in Louisiana is collaborating with the Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum in the Louisiana Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (LaPOST) initiative on how a patient’s desires and goals into their treatment plan can be medically translated and applied to multiple healthcare settings.

SCAN Health Plan has constructed a new system to make it possible for patients and their families to understand the full array of care options available to them and to receive treatment that best fits their values, goals, and cultural preferences.  This system is called the Program for Advanced Illness (PAI). A palliative-trained nurse case manager serves as the member’s personal advocate.  The nurse will help members and their caregivers navigate care options that reflect patient’s goals and wishes, encouraging articulation and documentation of end-of-life requests while identifying healthcare proxies and making referrals to hospice.  Additionally, the nurse will communicate with all medical staff and other parties to ensure everyone understands the critical decisions being made as well as following up with the family to offer bereavement services.  More program details are available in the Viable Solutions compendium recently released by the Healthcare Leadership Council.

On National Healthcare Decisions Day, let us continue to have the conversation about how healthcare providers can best assist individuals in making their own decisions about their health care needs.  Create an advance directive and talk to your family and friends about the importance of care planning.  Visit www.nhdd.org for more information.

Walden Discussed Repeal and Replace Strategies at HLC Meeting

January 26, 2017
3:06 pm

On January 24 at a dinner hosted by the Healthcare Leadership Council for its members, U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), the new chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, spoke of his panel’s goals for the upcoming healthcare overhaul.  CQ Roll Call published the following article based upon his prepared remarks.


CQ: Walden Outlines Obamacare Strategy to Health Care Executives By Joe Williams, CQ Roll Call

Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden was poised Tuesday night to outline to health care industry executives his panel’s strategy for repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law, including insights on his plans to overhaul Medicaid.

The Oregon Republican planned to use his closed-door meeting with the Healthcare Leadership Council to discuss several measures his panel would consider in the coming weeks, according to prepared remarks obtained by CQ Roll Call.

A pair of hearings to be scheduled for late next week will center on stabilizing the health insurance marketplaces and on Medicaid. Walden is working with Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah on changes to Medicaid, which provides health insurance to more than 73 million Americans.

Walden planned to confirm during his speech Tuesday night that Republicans will model their legislation largely on a repeal bill President Barack Obama vetoed last year.

“We will use our 2015 reconciliation bill as a starting point in order to repeal major portions of Obamacare, such as the individual and employer mandates, and address the Obamacare Medicaid expansion and the failing exchanges,” Walden’s prepared remarks say. They also say a “stability period” would be included in the legislation.

Walden also is expected to say that Republicans will “maintain protections for those with pre-existing conditions” and permit children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26, two provisions in the current law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that President Donald Trump has voiced support for keeping in a replacement plan.

In his prepared remarks, Walden calls on the Healthcare Leadership Council to engage publicly in the health care debate. The group includes executives from hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufactures and other industries.

“We can’t do this alone. But by working together . . . we can reach our mutual goal of helping people live healthier lives and giving every American a new opportunity to get affordable health care coverage,” Walden will say, according to the prepared remarks.

Changes to Medicaid

Walden’s remarks don’t detail how the GOP would address the 2010 law’s Medicaid expansion, but he confirmed to CQ Roll Call earlier in the day he has had several meetings with Hatch to discuss their legislation on changes to the program.

Earlier this month, Walden organized a meeting between Republican lawmakers on his panel and GOP governors to discuss potential changes to Medicaid. He also attended a separate but similar meeting organized by Senate Finance.

A top aide to Trump said earlier this week the president would propose turning Medicaid into a block grant system. Some GOP governors at the meetings last week, however, suggested a per capita approach that would explicitly require the federal government to incorporate enrollment changes when determining reimbursement rates.

J. Mario Molina, president of Molina Healthcare, told CQ Roll Call both Republican and Democratic governors are likely to push for a per capita approach because it would account for potential increases in each state’s Medicaid population.

“This is going to be a debate between the states and the federal government as to how best to continue this entitlement program while trying to rein in costs,” he said in a recent interview.

Others Republican governors, including Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, proposed lowering the Medicaid coverage threshold to 100 percent of the poverty level and allowing people with income above that amount to get exchange coverage. The law’s expansion provides Medicaid coverage for individuals up to 138 percent of the poverty level.

 

Addressing the Unintended Consequences of the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute

October 12, 2016
2:27 pm

In the new era of healthcare in which value-based care is steadily pushing aside the fee-for-service model, outdated rules and regulations continue to hinder the progress of healthcare reform.  The Healthcare Leadership Council (HLC) has been focusing on what the barriers to innovation are and how the pathway can be cleared.  HLC’s National Dialogue for Healthcare Innovation (NDHI), a platform that builds consensus among the health industry, patient groups, government and academia on issues affecting healthcare progress, hosted a webinar discussing one area considered to be a barrier, the Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute.

The Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute have been detrimental to the development of alternative payment models.  There is agreement that updates are necessary in order for broader collaboration to occur among healthcare providers, without the fear of penalties.  This uncertain environment has caused many organizations to hesitate in moving forward, and is delaying the switch from fee-for-service to value based payments.  Stephanie Zaremba, of athenahealth, voiced concerns regarding this issue in a recent blog post.

NDHI released a report at the beginning of this year that offered up six viable solutions to transform healthcare, which included the Stark Law.  Also earlier this year, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to examine possible ways to modernize the law.  The interest and focus on this matter is growing, and HLC/NDHI will continue to engage with cross-sectoral stakeholders in developing recommendations.  Stay tuned for the whitepaper being released in the near future.

The full athenahealth blog post can be viewed below:


A healthcare law held together by duct tape

By Stephanie Zaremba | August 12, 2016 | Opinion

The drive to fix healthcare is full of big ideas — major overhauls of how physicians are paid, patients are insured, health information is documented, and care is coordinated.

But some of the most important fixes might come from focusing on less exciting details. For example: How outdated fraud and abuse laws are squeezing innovation from the system.

Imagine our existing healthcare laws as a building. Ideally, it is well constructed at the outset, regularly maintained, and remains useful for decades into the future.

But when a law becomes riddled with exceptions — and then with addendums to close the loopholes to the exceptions — its integrity starts to fail. Pretty soon, it’s dilapidated, having exceeded its useful life, held together with a complex web of duct tape and a door that only opens if you know exactly where to kick it.

Our fraud and abuse laws — specifically, the Stark Laws and Anti-Kickback Statute — were written in the era of fee-for-service. They were essential, at the time, to addressing the fundamentally misaligned incentives created by a payment system that rewards physicians for volume.

The basic premise of the laws is simple: A physician can’t receive a financial benefit for referring a patient to another care provider or prescribing a drug, treatment, etc. As patients, we want our providers recommending care based on what is best for our health, not best for their wallets.

But as we shift away from fee-for-service and toward value-based care, Stark and Anti-Kickback are not keeping up. We increasingly see behaviors that are desirable but technically prohibited, such as a hospital paying for the electronic health record used by community physicians. So over time, each law has been subject to a few dozen exceptions and hundreds of advisory opinions carving out specific acceptable behaviors.

Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program receive broad waivers to Stark and Anti-Kickback in recognition of the fact that these laws directly prohibit what is required for ACO success: sharing of costs, infrastructure, and savings.

The Department of Health and Human Services has set aggressive goals for tying payments to value, not volume, and our fraud and abuse laws must be reformed for those goals to be realized. Currently, physicians and hospitals are prohibited from a long list of desirable behaviors under a value-based model: advising patients on the selection of a high quality post-hospital care facility; providing patients with cab rides to appointments or scales to help monitor their weight between visits; and paying for the cost of exchanging patient information electronically, to name a few.

When physicians are financially incentivized to coordinate care, they need a legal framework that encourages innovation around how healthcare providers organize, share costs, exchange information, and engage across the broad continuum of care.

But instead of reform, to date the policy changes necessary to implement this shift are piled on top of a rickety foundation and, as a result, innovation suffers.

The good news is that members of Congress are looking at ways to address problems with the Stark Laws and Anti-Kickback Statute. As they dive in, policymakers need to recognize this crumbling building for what it is: Something that needs comprehensive rebuilding, not another round of patches.

Stephanie Zaremba is director of government and regulatory affairs for athenahealth.

Patients Need Both Innovation and Accountability

September 29, 2016
1:42 pm

Let’s begin this post by stipulating the concept behind the creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) is both sound and important.

CMMI was created as part of the Affordable Care Act to test new payment and delivery mechanisms that have the potential to improve patient care while containing costs.  Given the healthcare system’s current movement toward value-based care, and the need to strengthen Medicare’s financial sustainability, having a CMMI to serve as a testing center for new ideas makes sense.

However, as the op-ed below by former Congressional Budget Office director Dan Crippen points out, CMMI has taken actions that go beyond the scope of what anyone would define as a limited demonstration project.  As Mr. Crippen writes, referring to a project affecting payment for drugs administered in a physician’s office, “Untested payment changes for Medicare benefits, especially when mandatory and applied to tens of millions of recipients, should receive much more consideration than a brief comment period before the initiation of the new policy.”

This is an issue about which we’re going to hear a great deal more in the weeks and months ahead.  The Medicare and Medicaid programs, and the millions of Americans they serve, need innovation to bring about care that is both high-quality and cost-efficient, but there also need to be built-in accountability guardrails having to do with the scope of projects and the transparency of decision-making.

Mr. Crippen is absolutely right in describing Patrick Conway, who heads CMMI, as a conscientious, effective public servant.  We look forward to working with him and elected lawmakers in Congress to assure that CMMI fulfills its intended mission in improving healthcare for current and future generations.

Here is the Dan Crippen op-ed:

I have the utmost respect for Patrick Conway, who heads the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation at CMS, the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. Conway, like thousands of others in and out of government, is looking for ways to improve the health care of our nation.

However, action taken in the closing days of an administration, especially if it supersedes congressional authority and oversight, needs to be carefully examined. Last week, the House Budget Committee held a hearing taking a closer look at this with regard to CMMI and how the Congressional Budget Office evaluates costs associated with it, putting the CBO squarely in the middle of the struggle between the branches.

As recent proposals by CMMI to alter Medicare payments highlight, there are serious problems with the expansive reading of CMMI’s statutory authority. And the result is a significant shift of power from Congress to the executive branch.

The Affordable Care Act, which created CMMI, authorized CMMI to conduct demonstration projects for any part of Medicare and some of Medicaid, with the goal of saving money and improving quality. To conduct these experiments, the ACA allows the Secretary of HHS to waive virtually any part of Medicare and exempt a limited but important number of Medicaid provisions (e.g. the requirement that state Medicaid programs pay actuarially sound rates for managed care).

If HHS determines that a demonstration produces savings (or does not increase costs) and preserves or increases quality, it can expand the policy through rulemaking to the entire Medicare or Medicaid population. The process does not require any congressional approval or assessment, or review of the claims of savings and quality by the CBO or the Government Accountability Office.

With this process, HHS/CMMI can alter benefits and potentially reduce access for beneficiaries, and expose the federal budget to financial risks based on estimates generated solely by the executive branch. Given the uncertainty in savings and the somewhat nebulous definitions of quality in some of these demonstrations, it is not difficult to imagine that the use of this process could vary dramatically with changes of administration.

In a recent example, CMMI has proposed to change the Medicare payment system for drugs that treat diseases such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, which are administered in a doctor’s office. The new payments would go into effect on a mandatory basis in roughly half the country, but Medicare payments would be left unchanged in the other half. Payments, benefits, and potentially access to care, would depend on where the Medicare beneficiary lived. This approach is a nationwide policy experiment introduced unilaterally by the executive.

There are many reasons this new policy, and others like it, should receive congressional review before implementation. Untested payment changes for Medicare benefits, especially when mandatory and applied to tens of millions of recipients, should receive much more consideration than a brief public comment period before the initiation of the new policy. Whatever the good intentions, a major and mandatory change in payment is not something (most of) Congress contemplated.  In fact, many members of Congress have publicly expressed concern to HHS regarding this proposal.

To compound the problem, congressional budgetary rules generally impose a “pay-as-you-go” requirement. Since HHS claims the new policy will save money, any legislation to delay or modify CMMI’s proposals would likely be scored by CBO as lost future savings. Therefore, legislation to limit the experiment would have to be offset by cutting spending or raising revenues by an equal amount. Congress would be forced to “pay for” the delay or repeal of untested policy created by the executive branch.

As a former director of the CBO, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to estimate the impacts of regulatory changes. The assessment of new regulations (and scoring of legislation affecting them) is especially difficult — the effects are necessarily prospective and somewhat speculative. As CBO said last year:

(CBO) … expects that only a few (CMMI) models … will reduce program spending. However, CBO cannot predict which models will succeed, and CMMI has not operated long enough to determine its overall track record.

Given this shift in balance of power between the two branches, and the difficulty in measuring the true cost savings from any particular CMMI experiment, Congress should not set precedent by attempting to legislatively offset the cost of delay or repeal of any CMMI proposal, particularly if it has not gone into effect and there is no track record.

Having worked both in the Congress and the White House, I understand the frustrations and tensions between the congressional and executive branches. And at the end of an administration, which I also experienced, there is always unfinished business. As a member of the team that reviewed end-of-term proposals, I can confidently say this CMMI proposal is not one we would have approved. With limited ability for oversight under this framework, Congress should exercise its authority and halt this experiment until it can properly consider the effects of the proposed policy.