Category Archives: insurers

The Disruptors are Coming: The New Health Economy and the Medical-Industrial Complex

A big shout out to Dr. Don MCanne for his Quote of the Day post Friday for today’s topic, and a belated shout out to him for his post last Tuesday about the gains from the ACA being reversed. See my post, ACA Gains Reversing.

This time, Don alerts us to the impact the new health economy disruptors will have and what it might mean for the push towards single payer health care.

Last month, the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) released a report analyzing the new health economy landscape as more and more companies pursue acquisitions of companies in the insurance, pharmacy benefit management, health care services and retail spaces.
In the last six months, the report states, there has been an explosion of unusual deals between companies such as CVS Health buying Aetna, Cigna buying Express Scripts, UnitedHealth’s Optum buying DaVita Medical Group (Kidney disease and dialysis), Albertsons agreeing to merge with Rite Aid, as well as the much highly publicized partnership between Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway.

Naturally, these aren’t the only deals that have occurred. Last year, 67 deals occurred in the US health services market, including payers and providers, the report adds.

The value of these deals increased 146% over those in 2016. The US health care industry, the report states, is undergoing seismic changes generated by a collision of forces: the shift from volume to value, rising consumerism, and the decentralization of care.
The HRI identified four new archetypes of companies engaged in this new health care economy:

• Vertical integrators — CVS & Aetna, Optum & DaVita, Cigna & Express Scripts
• Employer activists — February 2016, 20 US companies form Health Transformation Alliance (HTA) and developed tools to help its members cut employee healthcare costs. In January, Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway partnered to lower costs and improve employee satisfaction
• Technology invaders — Amazon selling over-the-counter medical products, offering discounted access to Prime service, Apple’s newest operating system allows users to access parts of their EHRs on their phones
• Health retailers — CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Albertsons and others using their network of store locations, consumer insights, national and global supply chains, and national (and sometimes global) branding to attract consumers looking for affordable, convenient care and goods

The HRI report recommends that all healthcare companies should make the following moves:

• Invest in customer experience
• Plan for a broader workforce
• Focus on price

This is how Don McCanne commented on this report. He wrote that Arnold Relman, like Dwight Eisenhower did about the military-industrial complex, warned us about the medical-industrial complex, but did not realize how intense the disruption would be in health care that the HRI report discusses.

According to Don, we are about to see a takeover by the disruptors who “have a leg up on many established health players in understanding consumers and tailoring experiences for them.”
The disruptors are “positioned to address price through greater scale, ownership of middlemen and a wider grip on the US health system value chain.”

If you don’t believe Don, then read what Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan said, “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked). This effort is just beginning.”

This is exactly what the Waitzkin et al. book describes when explaining the methods used by the medical-industrial complex to control and direct the American health care system for power and profit of the members of the complex.

Dr. McCanne observes that it is almost as if the physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and the hospitals and clinics in which they provide their services have become a peripheral, albeit necessary, appendage to their wellness-industrial complex that is displacing our traditional health care delivery system and its more recent iteration of the medical-industrial complex.

In other words, the physicians and nurses and other professionals have become proletarianized, and the hospitals and clinics merely the places where the medical-industrial complex derives its power and profit from.

Dr. McCanne posits the following questions as to what the health care system would look like once the transformation is well along:

• Once the silos of the health care system are flattened, how will health care be financed?
• Will there still be networks?
• Cost sharing barriers such as high deductibles?
• Will it be possible to fund this expansive model of the wellness-industrial complex through anything remotely resembling an insurance product, especially when the insurers are being amalgamated into what was formerly the health care delivery system?
• And now that the plutocracy is in control, how could we ever remove the passive investors that extract humongous rents through the wellness-industrial complex?
• And what about the patients? Did we forget about them?

It is obvious from his comments that this new health economy is going to be more problematic for providing universal health care to all Americans and will only make things worse. His Rx is to begin now to move to a single payer, Medicare for All program, and not worry about what has passed.

Smart diagnosis and prescription.

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ACA Gains Reversing

The Commonwealth Fund reported today that the marked gains in health insurance coverage made since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 are beginning to reverse.

This is according to new findings from the latest Commonwealth Fund ACA Tracking Survey.

According to the survey, the coverage declines are likely the result of two major factors:

1) lack of federal legislative actions to improve specific weaknesses in the ACA and

2) actions by the current administration that have exacerbated those weaknesses. These include the administration’s deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period, and other actions that collectively may have left people with a general sense of confusion about the status of the law.

Here are the key findings:

*  About 4 million working-age people have lost insurance coverage since 2016
*  The uninsured rates among lower-income adults rose from 20.9 percent in 2016 to 25.7 percent in March 2018
*  The uninsured rate among working-age adults increased to 15.5 percent
*  The uninsured rate among adults in states that did not expand Medicaid rose to 21.9 percent
*  The uninsured rate increased among adults age 35 and older
*  The uninsured rate among adults who identify as Republicans is higher compared to 2016
*  The uninsured rate remains highest in southern states
*  Five percent of insured adults plan to drop insurance because of the individual mandate repeal
What are the policy implications of this reversal?
The absence of bipartisan support for federal action has seen legislative activity shifted to the states.
Broadly, the leaving of policy innovation to states will lead to a patchwork quilt of coverage and access to health care across the country. It will fuel inequity in overall health, productivity, and well-being.
Folks, as I wrote about in What’s Really Wrong With Health Care? and Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform, until we see a change in the consciousness of both the American people, their representatives in Congress, and in Corporate America, especially within the financial industry to radically alter the direction health care is heading, the situation will only get worse.
We need to get the money and the greed and the corporations out of health care altogether. We need a single payer system that does not proletarianize physicians, does not turn health care into a commodity, does not financialize it, commercialize it, and compromise it for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment to the many.
As this is May Day, the international workers’ day, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start moving in that direction, as so many other nations have already done?

Three Strategies for Improving Social Determinants of Health

A shoutout to Irving Stackpole for bringing this to our attention today on LinkedIn. This is an important topic that can address the serious issue of poverty in our inner cities.

The topic of food deserts first gained national attention thanks to the efforts of former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who not only created a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, but championed the creation of other gardens in inner city elementary schools.

One in particular was created at a Washington, DC school, and Mrs. Obama invited Chef Robert Irvine of Restaurant: Impossible to cook for inner city school children at Horton’s Kids, a local community center that provides after-school meals for kids.

So an article last week in Managed Care magazine, discussed the three strategies health care systems and payer organizations are trying to address patients’ social needs.

The first strategy, Tackle a neighborhood, focuses on the work ProMedica, a 13-hospital not-for-profit system in Toledo, Ohio is undertaking.

In the UpTown neighborhood of Toledo, the average median household income is less than $21,000 a year, and more than a quarter of all adults have not completed high school. Few residents have homes or vehicles, and healthy food options are hard to come by.

One way they are dealing with the food deficit in the neighborhood is by opening a grocery store called Market on the Green, and is a joint project of ProMedica and the Ebeid Institute.

They also initiated a job-training program, a financial opportunity center, and personal-finance advice and programs.

Last year, ProMedica doubled down and announced a 10-year plan to invest $50 million to create a national model for neighborhood revitalization. In March, they announced a partnership with a New York City-based nonprofit to invest additional capital to spur further economic growth.

Lastly, they expanded their screened 4,000 Medicaid patients who use the food clinic, and found that emergency department utilization decreased by 3%, and 30-day readmission by 53%, with a modest increase in utilization of primary care.

They also expanded screening  to include housing, transportation, and other social needs.

The second strategy is Tackle the top problems.

Here, Humana has been working on its Bold Goal, a population health strategy to improve the health of the communities it serves by 20%.

Humana wants to increase the number of “healthy days” in seven markets: Louisville, KY; Knoxville, TN; San Antonio, TX; Broward County, Fl; Baton Rouge, La; New Orleans; and Tampa Bay.

In the first year, the San Antonio market showed a 9% increase in healthy days, which was attributed to several initiatives, namely a telepsychiatry pilot to increase access to behavioral health services, food insecurity screening at primary are offices, and a collaboration with other organizations to improve diabetes management,

Finally, the third strategy is Develop a social determinants workforce.

Trinity Heatlh, a 93-hospital health care system in Michigan, and one of the largest Catholic systems in the country, has been addressing their patients’ social needs through a series of small experiments.

Trinity’s strategy is to develop a cadre of community health workers who will use pathways, regimented, evidence-based multistep protocols to help individuals address their specific needs.

Trinity found that by focusing on patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or both, and assisted by community health workers, they reduced their emergency department and hospital utilization considerably.

Trinity also hired AmeriCorps workers to serve as community health workers in nine markets. They focused on the social determinants of health of a narrow group of patients: high-utilizing eligibles in an ACO or other at-risk contract.

The strategies these organizations are undertaking are bold initiatives that show some promise of success, but time will tell just how successful they will be.

Yet, in an era of huge tax cuts going to the wealthy, and budget cuts  eliminating many government programs or severely limiting them, these companies are taking decisive action to reverse decades of neglect and despair in our inner cities.

But they won’t be effective unless there is greater cooperation from the communities they wish to serve, and from the rest of the health care community, and those in other institutions.

There is an accompanying story here: Social Determinants of Health: Stretching Health Care’s Job Description.

Americans Are Skipping Health Insurance

Bloomberg on Monday published an article by John Tozzi that reported that some Americans are taking a risk and skipping health insurance because of the cost.

In the article, “Why Some Americans Are Risking It and Skipping Health Insurance”, Bloomberg interviews three families; the Buchanans of Marion, North Carolina, the Owenses of Harahan, Louisiana, and the Bobbies in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Buchanans decided that paying $1,800 a month was too much for health insurance and decided to go without it for the first time in their lives.

Doubling insurance premiums convinced the Owenses to do so as well, and Mimi Owens said that, “We’re not poor people but we can’t afford health insurance.”

Saving money to pay for their nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who was born with five heart defects, forced the Bobbies to go uninsured for themselves and their son Joey.

These three families are but a small part of the dozen other families Bloomberg is following to understand the trade-offs when a dollar spent on health insurance cannot be spent on something else. Some are comfortable financially, others are just scrapping by.

According to Tozzi, the share of Americans without insurance is near historic lows, the current administration is rolling back parts of the ACA. At the same time, Tozzi reports, the cost for many people to buy a plan is higher than ever.

In the case of the Buchanans, wife Dianna, 51, survived a bout with cancer 15 years ago, her husband, Keith has high blood pressure and takes testosterone. Both make more than $127,000 a year from an IT business and her job as a physical therapy assistant. They have additional income from properties they own.

However, their premium last year was $1,691, triple their mortgage payment, and was going up to $1,813 this year. A deductible of $5,000 per-person meant that having and using coverage would cost more than $30,000.

What made the Buchanans take this step was when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and the major hospital system in Asheville, could not reach an agreement, putting the hospital out of network. Keith Buchanan said, “It was just two greed monsters fighting over money.” He also said, “They’re both doing well, and the patients are the ones that come up short.”

The Buchanans are now members of a local doctors’ practice, for which they pay $198 a month. They also signed up for a Christian group that pools members’ money to help pay for medical costs. For this membership, it costs the Buchanans $450 a month, and includes a $150 surcharge based on their blood pressure and weight.

After dropping their coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Keith injured his knee, went to an urgent care center and was charged $511 for the visit and an X-ray. “If we can control our health-care costs for a couple of years, the difference that makes on our household income is phenomenal,” Keith said.

There is evidence, Tozzi writes, that having insurance is a good thing. People with insurance spend less out of pocket, are less likely to go bankrupt, see the doctor more often, get more preventive care, are less depressed and have told researchers they feel healthier.

Yet, some 27.5 million Americans under age 65 were uninsured in 2016 (myself included), about 10 percent of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most common reason cited by KFF was that the cost was too high. A Gallup poll suggested that despite declining for years, the percentage of adults without coverage has increased slightly since the end of 2016.

However, other data, Tozzi writes, showed no significant change.

The following chart outlines the household income and health insurance status of people under 65 who qualify for government help with having insurance.

For the Bobbie family, the current administration’s proposal to make it easier for Americans to buy cheaper health plans could open options for the rest of the Bobbie family, but with over $1 million in medical costs for Sophia, these less-expensive choices would lack some of the protection created by the ACA that allowed her to get coverage.

The tax scam that became law in December will lift the ACA’s requirement that every American have coverage or pay a fine.

Some states are trying out the new rules, offering plans that don’t adhere to ACA requirements. This is the case in Idaho where the state’s Blue Cross insurer attempted to offer a so-called “Freedom Plan” that had annual limits on care and questionnaires that would allow them to charge higher premiums to sick people or those likely to become sick.

The current administration judged reluctantly that this plan violated ACA rules.

The Owenses decided to do something like what the Buchanans did. They tried a Christian health-sharing ministry for a few months, but joined a direct-primary care group, which Mimi Owens called, “the best care we’ve ever had.”

The three American families are by no means not alone in having to decide whether to have insurance or to take the risk and forgo paying huge premiums to save money or to use it for another family member with more pressing medical issues.

Two of these families are not low-income, as they both earn over $100,000 a year and could afford to buy health coverage if it was affordable. But the reality is that premiums have risen and will continue to rise and will price them out of the market.

Except for the Bobbies, no one in the other two families have serious medical issues that are exceedingly expensive, and they have found lower cost alternatives, but for many other families in the U.S., that may not be an option.

The only real solution is universal health care. Then the Buchanans, Owenses, and Bobbies of America will not have to worry about how they are going to pay for medical bills if some serious medical condition arises. We can and should be better than this.

CVS to Buy Aetna

This should wake you up before your morning coffee.

Reuters is reporting that pharmacy operator, CVS Health Corp. is making a bid for Aetna Insurance.

Bid is more than $66 Billion.

Here is the article from Reuters.

Do we really think a pharmacy should own an insurer? What ever happened to the idea of competition is good?

One day, we will live in a world like that of the movie, Rollerball (the one with James Caan), where corporations run the world, and your wife can be taken anytime by a corporate executive.

Fallout of the End of ACA Subsidies

Joe Paduda today gave a very succinct and clear-minded assessment of the fallout of the ending of the ACA subsidies, also known as Cost-Sharing Reimbursement (CSR) payments.

Here is Joe’s article.

It makes perfect sense that what the Orange man said yesterday will do more damage to health care than his false and misleading pronouncements of the past year that the ACA is failing and doing harm.

It is you, sir, who are doing harm. To the poor, to minorities like those in Puerto Rico despite your morning mea culpa, to African-Americans and Latinos,  to women, to international agreements and organizations,  and to our credibility with our allies and adversaries.

 

“Yes, We Have No Humana”

Have you ever gone into a store looking to purchase an item they are supposed to carry because that is the kind of store they are, and been told that it is not available in your area?

For example, if I walked into a shoe store and wanted to buy a certain kind of very nice, but not too expensive shoe, and was told that shoe is not available in this area, I would feel that the act of buying shoes from a shoe store was somewhat disorganized and complicated. Especially if the store sells under their name (remember Florsheim?).

This is what happened to me today when I tried to get a Medicare Advantage plan for my medical condition from, you guessed it, Humana.

As my readers well know, I’ve been critical of Humana before due to issues with my late mother. However, after learning about Special Needs Plans from CMS, my agent informed me that Humana does not offer a Medicare Advantage plan for people with my condition in my area.

So, to use my shoe store analogy above, Humana does not sell Special Needs Plans (certain kind of nice, but not too expensive shoe) under their name in my area of the country.

How stupid is that?

Why shouldn’t everyone be able to buy the same shoe no matter where they live?

Naturally, if you wanted to buy sandals, and lived in Alaska during the winter, you wouldn’t, but all things being equal, you should.

Now I understand why in some counties there are only one exchange to purchase insurance, but again that is like saying there is only one shoe store in a certain county where you can buy shoes.

Totally wrong and bad for business. This is why we need Medicare for All, and should stop denying coverage to anyone, anywhere in the country, for whatever reason. If I buy that certain shoe in New York, I should be able to buy it also in California, Kansas, or anywhere else in the country.

To do anything less only makes the system worse.

So, “yes, we have no Humana, we have no Humana today.”