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Quantifying the Medicare Advantage advantage

July 25, 2018
2:51 pm

In the 15 years since its inception, the increase in popularity of Medicare Advantage (MA) – health coverage provided by private plans in contrast to traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare – has been undeniable.  Roughly half of all Medicare-eligible seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plan and that proportion keeps rising.

Now there is a new addition to the growing body of evidence that MA plans are not only serving their enrollees well, but is bringing greater overall value to the Medicare program than that generated by the FFS approach.

A newly-released study by Avalere Health, Medicare Advantage Achieves Better Health Outcomes and Lower Costs for Beneficiaries with Chronic Conditions Compared to Fee-for-Service Medicare, finds that Medicare Advantage is outperforming traditional FFS Medicare with higher rates of preventive screenings, fewer avoidable hospitalizations, and fewer emergency room visits.  In other words, healthier patients and significant dollar savings.

Overall, the Avalere study found that MA beneficiaries had 23 percent fewer emergency stays and 33 percent fewer emergency room visits than their peers in FFS coverage.  This wasn’t the result of MA plans enrolling healthier individuals at the outset.  Rather, the study found that a greater percentage of MA beneficiaries were in clinical and social risk categories that traditionally drive up costs in FFS Medicare.

Avalere found that MA outperformed FFS on a range of cost, utilization, and outcome metrics in caring for individuals with one or more chronic health conditions.  Among patients with diabetes, for example, those enrolled in MA experienced 73 percent fewer serious clinical complications than FFS beneficiaries.  And patients dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid – who generally have more complicated and serious health conditions – had 49 percent fewer hospital visits and a 17 percent lower average-cost-per-beneficiary in MA plans.

Former Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, president and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance (of which the Healthcare Leadership Council is a member) said “this study adds to the growing body of evidence showing the ability of Medicare Advantage to align incentives to better manage the care for a high-need population with multiple chronic conditions.”  These patients, of course, account for the most significant portion of our country’s healthcare spending.

This study adds fuel to the argument that we can enhance healthcare quality and better contain spending through improved patient health when healthcare entities compete on the basis of value.

An Expert Look at 2018 Healthcare Trends and Their Potential Impact

February 08, 2018
6:05 pm

President and CEO of Premier healthcare alliance, Susan DeVore, discusses her predictions of what 2018 will bring in a Health Affairs article.  Ms. DeVore, a member and former chair of the Healthcare Leadership Council, shares her optimism regarding the commitment to innovation and competition that is driving the industry towards value-based care and the increased utilization of actionable data.  Her assessment of current trends focuses on how growth and changes in all healthcare sectors have an impact on providers, and further solidifies the importance of the work being done to improve access to care as well as outcomes.

The article is copied below and the original publication can be found here.


What To Watch In Health Care In 2018: Six Key Trends

At the start of 2018, the health care industry is on the cusp of more significant change. The GOP Congress has moved health care away from the center of their public policy agenda, creating more certainty and a clearer view. Of course greater certainty doesn’t mean total certainty, especially as market trends and business realities continue to shift. As providers move into 2018, we still feel confident in making some predictions as to what the future holds.

Clearer Skies Ahead, Pockets Of Turbulence

Uncertainty is expected during any major political transition, but it reached an all-time high for health care leaders in 2017. The fog has largely cleared, and 2018 will be a year of health care leaders starting to place their bets. Here’s what health care leaders see.

Instead of a sweeping set of legislative changes to the Affordable Care Act, the elimination of the individual insurance mandate is now the symbolic emblem of “repeal.” While some project that the mandate’s demise will lead to a decline in the private insurance market, it remains to be seen how the elimination will ultimately play out given the mandate’s relatively weak incentive for individuals to purchase coverage. The strong economy is causing employers to offer health coverage to compete for talent, and the probable enactment of the exchange market stabilization legislation should serve to calm the exchange market, potentially lowering premiums. Going forward, focusing on states will likely become the “replace” strategy for Republicans in 2018, with a larger number of waivers granted to experiment with programs, giving states greater control and reason to consider expanding Medicaid coverage. Health care leaders are viewing 2018 as a year of greater insurance market stability, with the number of insured Americans holding steady or possibly increasing over the latest numbers.

There is also more certainty around the movement to value-based care. Last year’s raging health care debate caused health care leaders to question the movement to alternative payment models (APMs). That momentum, however, is returning, and the experienced and more transparent leadership in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by Alex Azar should provide significant reassurance to providers on both insurance market certainty and the movement to value-based care.

Health care leaders still face major financial threats. Bad debt continues to grow, reaching $38.3 billion in large part due to the rise of high-deductible health plans. Hospitals have taken $148 billion in Medicare payment cutssince 2010, and these cuts are scheduled to continue. Some states are cutting Medicaid reimbursement. 82 rural hospitals, as well as many urban hospitals, have closed since 2010. This year’s $1.6 billion cut in 340B payments will crush some of the most financially challenged hospitals treating the most vulnerable patient populations. Hospitals continue to be disadvantaged in the design of many of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS)’s pay for performance and alternative payment models. As a result, hospital margins remain in low single digits, and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission projects that the Medicare margin will fall to negative 11 percent in 2018.

Attention, Value Shoppers: The New Health Care Market

2018 will be a year of a renewed focus by CMS on paying for value, particularly with the continued ramp up of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 that incents clinicians to take risk, and new APMs that create attractive alternatives for fence sitting providers.

Perhaps more notable today are private sector actions to expand and accelerate the value-based payment movement and disrupt the status quo. Given the clear signals, health care leaders are focused on gaining scale and/or vertical integration to position themselves favorably for an expansion of value-based care. Unlike past merger efforts to command greater market power, today’s consolidation is often more driven by the goal to integrate care delivery and achieve savings.

There is a new form of competition emerging. Providers and payers are organizing themselves into vertically-integrated, high-value care and financing networks. Health care leaders are actively exploring commercial, employer, and Medicare Advantage risk-based programs through either ownership models or partnerships. The most recent mega-deals by CVS and Aetna, Humana and Kindred, Ascension Health and Providence Health, Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care, as well as the ongoing provider acquisitions by insurance goliath UnitedHealthcare, all send a clear message: insurers, physician groups, health systems, and even retail organizations are each seeking to compete as high value care and financing networks.

The CVS/Aetna merger, for instance, is based on a strategy that they will be able to disrupt the system with a retail pharmacy and e-enabled high value provider network. The Advocate/Aurora merger is seeking to achieve regional scale by combining two of the nation’s leading clinically integrated physician networks, hospitals and other provider settings, and pharmacy capabilities in the greater Chicago-Milwaukee region. UnitedHealthcare appears to acquire more physician practices each day. We anticipate more mergers and acquisitions in 2018. As the merger and acquisition activity heats up, the question remains: Who will be best at capturing and engaging patients and customers?

Washington must be careful not to undermine this movement by confusing integration to deliver efficient, high-quality care with consolidation to reduce competition. This emerging model needs to be supported by continuing the movement by public payers to APMs and careful thought by anti-trust regulators.

Episode 2018: The Consumer Strikes Back

For providers to succeed as stewards of new care delivery networks, they need to play the game differently. This means a number of new capabilities, including creating clinically integrated physician networks, collecting and integrating data, and applying analytics to find cost, work flow, and quality improvement opportunities. It also means providing more outpatient clinics and offering additional access points, establishing preferred post-acute care networks, creating new incentive and payment arrangements, building physician measurement systems to assess performance, and negotiating successful alternative payment models with public and private payers.

To ultimately succeed, however, health leaders realize that they need to, above all else, excel at attracting and engaging patients, families, caregivers, and consumers. 2018 will be the year of focus on patient capture and engagement. Providers will work with their patients, families, and caregivers to develop approaches so they more actively manage their health and health care.

This means engaging the patient in their health and health care outcomes from the beginning. This involves providing prevention, diagnosis, and monitoring services that support the total care experience. Done well, it creates stickiness to a high value care network. Organizations are focusing more on this from a human resources training and measurement vantage point. They are also establishing patient portals, providing wearable devices, implementing patient educational programs, screenings, and pushing targeted materials to patients based on their current and anticipated needs.

For example, one of our members is providing home monitoring tools as well as tablets for video consults to help patients meet their health goals. The program focuses on total patient care from prevention to recovery. Few people leave the program, and the organization has reduced overall costs by 34 percent per year and hospitalizations by nearly 50 percent.

Financial Imperative, Meet Actionable Data

A certainty for health system leaders is the need to improve productivity and efficiency. The approach, however, is going beyond the past’s focus on reducing head count and cost of supplies.

After years of avoiding care efficiency and standardization initiatives due to the difficulty of persuading clinicians to embrace them, health care leaders now have a larger and more urgent financial imperative to identify and isolate wasteful practices, cost outliers, and the root causes for the inefficiencies. The keys to success are a strong case for change and a prioritization of efficiencies that yield both cost and quality improvements. This is, therefore, all about data and analytics.

Recent cost containment efforts we have pursued with our members provides a sense of scale.  These health care systems range in size from 6 to 19 hospitals and their care transformation work has achieved savings ranging from $180 to $250 million over two years. Another specific example is a health system member of ours that realized $13 million in savings by driving care process standardization across their departments that touch just ICU and blood utilization. In addition to the savings they also improved their quality scores and reduced patient complications and readmissions. Premier data found a lot of opportunity for other hospitals around ICU stays, potentially reducing expensive ICU stays by 200,000 days across 786 hospitals. This is precisely where providers are now focusing their efforts.

2018 will be the year of delivering efficient, highly reliable care. With today’s financial imperative and actionable data, health care leaders are achieving a new level of efficiency and productivity.

America’s Other Drug Problems: Cost And Competition

Rising drug prices continue to be a dominant concern to health care leaders. Pharmaceutical innovation holds great promise for helping providers achieve their mission to improve and sustain patient lives, but it’s also a Catch-22. As providers are increasingly assuming accountability for the health outcomes of a population, six figure drug price tags and unpredictable price increases threaten financial planning and cool the enthusiasm for taking risk. 2018 will be a year of increased legislative and regulatory policymaking to foster increased drug market competition.

The FDA has and will continue to step up its game with new initiatives designed to unleash more competition that can moderate drug price trends. These include encouraging new market entrants to rapidly start developing generics in classes where there is no competition, streamlining the generic drug approval process, promoting biosimilars and taking steps to prevent branded drug makers from exploiting programs like the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy and citizens’ petitions.

Congress will also be getting into the act this year. We expect the Fair Access for Safe and Timely (FAST) Generics Act and the Creating, Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act, among other legislation, will help eliminate loopholes that can slow the introductions of competitor products.

Finally, manufacturers are developing new ways to demonstrate product return on investment in response to provider demands. There is increasing use of real-world evidence to demonstrate value as well as use of outcomes measures to quantify results. While value-based contracting is still in the early stages, manufacturers are looking to measure and launch these programs.

Emerging And Converging Digital Health

In every single aspect of health care, the digital revolution is making itself felt: new apps are getting patients more engaged; health sensors and wearables are creating terabytes of new, granular data, and machine learning, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence techniques and tools are all emerging new technologies. What’s more, precision medicine, telehealth, blockchain technology, and new personalized digital devices are being infused into all parts of the workflow and consumer experience.

The biggest impediment to effective use of data continues to be the lack of interoperability, especially among the electronic health records, which impedes care coordination and efficiency. While providers are waiting on HHS to implement the interoperability provisions of the 21st Century Cures Act, they are wasting no time in building data warehouses that assemble the multiple sources of data necessary to provide quality care and make informed decisions across the continuum of care. Growth of data warehouse systems and data analytics is one of the fastest growing technology areas as health systems seek actionable information to help them manage the total cost of care at a site and across sites of care.

Consequently, there is a growing and acute need for a trained workforce able to deploy, implement, and maintain health information technologies and systems and increasingly complex medical devices.  Today’s electronically connected, data-and evidence-driven health care system requires staff with data science and data analysis skills. These skills are essential in gathering, interpreting, protecting, and analyzing large and complex data sets. Data management, cyber security, and governance is essential to precision medicine, value-based care and payment and population health.

These are the big trends we see impacting health care providers in 2018.

We are encouraged by the outlook. We are hopeful Congress and the Trump administration will encourage and not impede this progress to high value networks, increased competition among pharmaceutical manufacturers, and increased access to health information.

Calls to Repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board Persist

October 04, 2017
1:08 pm

Amidst the uncertain healthcare environment Americans face, there is a threat that has remained constant: the implementation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).  IPAB, once triggered, will impose significant cuts in the Medicare program that will affect beneficiaries’ access to healthcare. The efforts to repeal IPAB have involved almost 800 organizations across the United States that recognize the dangers of having a single entity with such unprecedented and unchecked authority.

One of the partner organizations taking a stand against this board is the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA).  The BMA mission is to create a healthy future for the nation’s seniors, and ensure innovative, quality healthcare.  Allyson P. Schwartz, President and Chief Executive Officer of BMA and former U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, wrote an op-ed in The Hill that highlights the bipartisan support of IPAB repeal.

The op-ed is shared below, and the link is provided here.


Congress needs to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board

By Former Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz (D-Pa.), opinion contributor

Now is a particularly difficult time to enter into any debate on health care in our country without the expectation of strong partisan divide. However, there is an opportunity that has bipartisan support and a need for action right now.

When I served in Congress, I was actively involved in the development and passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I fought to be sure it met a number of goals, one of which was to reduce costs in health care through improving access to coverage, focusing on primary care, early treatment of disease, and numerous ways to encourage care to more cost effective for government and affordable for consumers.

I am proud of the important work that is the result, bringing changes right now across the country in doctors offices, hospitals, and community care to improve quality and bring down costs in Medicare.

However, not everyone was convinced that all the efforts underway now would happen or happen fast enough. To be sure costs could not grow faster than inflation, the Senate added a provision in the ACA hat many of us thought, even at the time, was the wrong way to bring down costs.

In fact, I was one of the first Democrats to publicly oppose the creation of what is called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and I supported Republican legislation to repeal it. IPAB repeal is now a bipartisan effort, but it has not been taken up or passed. And time is running out on a chance to stop it.

Here is how IPAB is supposed to work and why it is a bad idea.

IPAB is a board appointed by the president, with the sole authority and responsibility to cut Medicare. They are accountable to no one. If costs in Medicare rise above a certain level of inflation, cuts to bring those costs have to be made and implemented in one year. The law also says that if the President does not appoint this Board, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the sole discretion to make these cuts. New revenues or other actions to cover costs are not an option.

Why is this a problem for Medicare and the 55 million beneficiaries who rely on it?

Neither IPAB nor the Secretary of HHS is accountable to the voters. Given the importance of Medicare and the potential impact, our elected representatives should be involved in making this kind of major decision about Medicare. Second, the cuts have to be made in all in one year. Estimates of potentially as much as $1 billion in cuts in 2019 would mean everyone could be affected. Third, there is no requirement that the cuts be done in a way that improves care or targets waste or inefficiencies. If these cuts are across-the-board cuts, they cut important services including new innovations happening to reduce costs in the right way.

While beneficiaries are not supposed to be hurt, there could be cuts to payment to doctors or to innovative programs like telemedicine, nurse care managers, or care in the home —all of which could have a negative impact on Medicare beneficiaries.

This is not only unwise, it is unnecessary. Medicare is in the process of transitioning from the outdated and inefficient fee-for-service payment structure to one that pays for value. New payment systems are underway that focus on high-value treatments, therapies, and interventions that promote better outcomes. We should be doing all we can to drive these positive changes in Medicare, particularly for those with chronic conditions.

The success of this kind of care is evident in the achievements in Medicare Advantage, which is a public-private partnership that is driving innovations and tailored services for millions of beneficiaries through care coordination, supplemental benefits, and patient engagement.

IPAB won’t help any of this important work and is potentially destructive both to these positive efforts and to Medicare.

Congress needs to act and repeal IPAB this year.

I am proud to have built a strong bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill to oppose IPAB. Now, as I work to strengthen the innovations in payment and care delivery that bring the promise of better, cost effective care for Medicare beneficiaries, I ask Republicans and Democrats to act on their bipartisan agreement that IPAB should not be implemented. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries will be grateful that you took action to stop this harmful and unnecessary idea from being a reality.

Allyson P. Schwartz is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Better Medicare Alliance and is a former U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania.

Medicare Embraces the ‘Ounce of Prevention’ Philosophy

March 23, 2016
5:20 pm

We’ve long maintained that Medicare can be a stronger program, both in terms of protecting the health of its beneficiaries and in improved cost-efficiency, if it did a better job emphasizing prevention, diagnosis and early treatment, emulating many of the lessons being demonstrated every day in the private sector.

To the credit of HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, the Medicare program is now moving in this direction in a very significant way.

Today, Secretary Burwell announced that the Obama Administration will propose new rules this summer that would have Medicare provide coverage for diabetes prevention programs.  She cited a YMCA program that has enabled participants to cut their body weight by an average five percent, thus reducing the propensity for diabetes, a disease with extremely high incidence rates among the elderly.  Early interventions can prevent the need for more expensive healthcare services to treat diabetes symptoms, thus reducing Medicare expenditures.

HLC has long argued that Medicare should pay for services such as health coaching, aiding beneficiaries in practicing better dietary and exercise habits, as well as new technological innovations to help those with diabetes and prediabetes better monitor their health conditions.  We, in fact, sponsored a briefing for congressional staffers on the subject last year.

Secretary Burwell’s announcement today heralded an important new direction for the Medicare program.  In her words, the federal government is transitioning from “treating the sick to preventing the illness.”   We applaud her actions.

The Proliferation of Progress Generated by Medicare Advantage

December 11, 2015
3:20 pm

This week the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, representing plans that serve over four million individuals in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, hosted a congressional briefing to discuss innovations in Medicare Advantage.    Experts shared abundant evidence that Medicare Advantage plans have risen above and beyond traditional Medicare in providing quality healthcare that is cost-effective.

Several case studies were presented that highlighted continuing improvements being made to improve senior health:

  • Care at Home, a service launched by BCBS of Western New York and Landmark Health, offers a team that does not replace the primary care physician, but rather collaborates with the doctors and stays apprised on how patients are faring in their own residences.  Care at Home has enrolled 2,500 seniors since November 2014.  Patients with multiple chronic diseases generate more than seven times the healthcare costs of patients with only one chronic disease.  Medicare Advantage members who have six or more chronic diseases are eligible for Care at Home.  The coordinated care, which includes nurturing and education family caregivers, has, thus far, helped prevent 617 emergency room visits.
  • CareMore Health System, an Anthem company, uses doctors called extensivists to coordinate care for patients with chronic conditions.  They also ensure that there is proper follow up with patients and that protocols are adhered to by all involved in the patients’ care.  Predictive modeling is utilized to determine risk and practice early intervention, helping to keep costs low.  An average day at CareMore includes visits to homes for social and behavioral support, reading results from monitors in patients’ homes, following up after discharge, and providing rides for patients who have no form of transportation to reach points of care.
  • BCBS of Rhode Island identified pharmaceutical management as a way to lower healthcare costs and improve health outcomes.  The patient- centered pharmacy program serves members with multiple chronic conditions who take at least four medications and spend over $3,000 on drugs.  The medication therapy management includes comprehensive medication reviews, prescriber consultations, counseling for adherence and education, and monitoring to ensure good adherence habits are established.  In just the first three quarters of 2015, 8,632 members were served with an estimated savings of $2.8 million.

These are just a few examples demonstrating how innovation in Medicare Advantage has protected patients from high out-of-pocket costs, maintained quality care, and kept consumer satisfaction levels high.  These individual successes, and the others like them, need to be kept in mind by policymakers when they debate future support for the Medicare Advantage program.  The best practices and outcomes achieved by these pioneers in healthcare should be shared and encouraged so they can be replicated across the country.