Category Archives: pricing

Cayman Islands Hospital Delivers Lower Cost Care

This morning’s post by fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, contained a small paragraph that linked to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about a hospital in the Cayman Islands that is delivering excellent care at a fraction of the cost.

Joe’s blog generally focuses on health care and workers’ comp issues, and has never crossed over into my territory. Not that I mind that.

In fact, this post is a shoutout to Joe for understanding what many in health care and workers’ comp have failed to realize — the US health care system, which includes workers’ comp medical care, has failed and failed miserably to keep costs down and to provide excellent care at lower cost.

That the medical-industrial complex and their political lackeys refuse to see this is a crime against the rights of Americans to get the best care possible at the lowest cost.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, the average medical cost for lost-time claims in workers’ comp has been rising for more than twenty years, even if from year to year there has been a modest decrease, the trend line has always been on the upward slope, as seen in this chart from this year’s NCCI State of the Line Report.

The authors of the HBR article asked this question: What if you could provide excellent care at ultra-low prices at a location close to the US?

Narayana Health (NH) did exactly that in 2014 when they opened a hospital in the Cayman Islands — Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). It was close to the US, but outside its regulatory ambit.

The founder of Narayana Health, Dr. Devi Shetty, wanted to disrupt the US health care system with this venture, and established a partnership with the largest American not-for-profit hospital network, Ascension.

According to Dr. Shetty, “For the world to change, American has to change…So it is important that American policy makers and American think-tanks can look at a model that costs a fraction of what they pay and see that it has similarly good outcomes.”

Narayana Health imported innovative practices they honed in India to offer first-rate care for 25-40% of US prices. Prices in India, the authors state, were 2-5% of US prices, but are still 60-75% cheaper than US prices, and at those prices can be extremely profitable as patient volume picked up.

In 2017, HCCI had seen about 30,000 outpatients and over 3,500 inpatients. They performed almost 2,000 procedures, including 759 cath-lab procedures.

HCCI’s outcomes were excellent with a mortality rate of zero — true value-based care. [Emphasis mine]

HCCI is accredited by the JCI, Joint Commission International.

Patient testimonials were glowing, especially from a vascular surgeon from Massachusetts vacationing in the Caymans who underwent open-heart surgery at HCCI following a heart attack. “I see plenty of patients post cardiac surgery. My care and recovery (at HCCI) is as good or better than what I have seen. The model here is what the US health-care system is striving to get to.

A ringing endorsement from a practicing US physician about a medical travel facility and the level of care they provide.

HCCI achieved these ultra-low prices by adopting many of the frugal practices from India:

  • Hospital was built at a cost of $700,00 per bed, versus $2 million per bed in the US. Building has large windows to take advantage of natural light, cutting down on air-conditioning costs. Has open-bay intensive care unit to optimize physical space and required fewer nurses on duty.
  • NH leverage relations with its suppliers in India to get similar discounts at HCCI. All FDA approved medicines were purchased at one-tenth the cost for the same medicines in the US. They bought equipment for one-third or half as much it would cost in the US.
  • They outsourced back-office operations to low-cost but high skilled employees in India.
  • High-performing physicians were transferred from India to HCCI. They were full-time employees on fixed salary with no perverse incentives to perform unnecessary tests or procedures. Physicians at HCCI received about 70% of US salary levels.
  • HCCI saved on costs through intelligent make-versus-buy decisions. Ex., making their own medical oxygen rather than importing it from the US. HCCI saved 40% on energy by building its own 1.2 megawatt solar farm.

And here is the key takeaway:

The HCCI model is potentially very disruptive to US health care. Even with zero copays and deductibles and free travel for the patient and a chaperone for 1-2 weeks, insurers would save a lot of money. [Emphasis mine]

US insurers have watched HCCI with interest, but so far has not offered it as an option to their patients. A team of US doctors came away with this warning: “The Cayman Health City might be one of the disruptors that finally pushes the overly expensive US system to innovate.”

The authors conclude by stating that US health care providers can afford to ignore experiments like HCCI at their own peril.

The attitude towards medical travel among Americans can be summed up by the following from Robert Pearl, CEO of Permanante Medical Group and a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford: “Ask most Americans about obtaining their health care outside the United States, and they respond with disdain and negativity. In their mind, the quality and medical expertise available elsewhere is second-rate, Of course, that’s exactly what Yellow Cab thought about Uber. Kodak thought about digital photography, General Motors thought about Toyota, and Borders thought about Amazon.”

Until this attitude changes, and Americans drop their jingoistic American Exceptionalism, they will continue to pay higher costs for less excellent care in US hospitals. More facilities like HCCI in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and elsewhere in the region need to step up like HCCI and Narayana Health have. Then the medical-industrial complex will have to change.

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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.

CMS’s Price Transparency Trick

Shoutout to Promed Costa Rica for the following article posted today on Facebook.

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20180425/NEWS/180429939?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20180425-NEWS-180429939&utm_campaign=am

CMS has been for decades the crux of the problem with the American health care system, Every model, program and scheme they have implemented addresses only the symptoms, but not the cause of the disease the patient is suffering from.

As I wrote yesterday, and the week before in my review of Health Care under the Knife, the real cause of the complexity, confusion, dysfunction and overall failures of the health care system is the system itself — meaning the economic system that has proletarianized physicians, commodified, corporatized, financialized, and monopolized health care in this country.

So now, this talk of price transparency, when the cost of care is already too high compared to other Western nations, is just a placebo being administered to a dying patient — the American health care system.

Remember these words:

“America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.”

Walter Cronkite

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.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Winston Churchill

“Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Winston Churchill

 

Veering away from the usual topics covered in this blog, I thought about some recent articles I saw about the attempt to repeal and replace, or to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the current political regime wants to do.

The first article, in yesterday’s [failing] New York Times, warned that repealing the ACA would make it harder for people to retire early. Those who retire early, before reaching 65, can get retiree coverage from their former employers, but not many companies offer that coverage.

Those early retirees poor enough could turn to Medicaid, and everyone else would have to go to the individual market. Without the ACA, health care coverage would be more difficult to get, cost consumers more where available, and provide fewer benefits.

According to the article, if the ACA is repealed, retiring early would become less feasible for many Americans. This is called job-lock, or the need to maintain a job to get health insurance.

This is one of the concerns the ACA was supposed to address, in that it would reduce or eliminate job lock. Repealing the law could, according to the article, affect employment and retirement decisions.

The second article, from Joe Paduda, also from yesterday, reported that improving healthcare will hurt the economy, and Joe lays out the arguments for doing something or doing nothing to improve health care and what effect they would have on economic growth.

For example, Joe states that healthcare employs 15.5 million full time workers, or 1 out of every 9 job. In two years, this will surpass retail employment. As Joe rightly points out, those jobs are funded by employers and taxpayers. He suggests that some experts argue that healthcare is “crowding out” economic expansion in other sectors, thereby hurting growth overall.

But Joe also points out that by controlling health care costs, employment will be cut, and stock prices for pharmaceutical companies, margins for medical device firms, and bonuses at health plans will also be affected.

So, if cost control and increasing efficiency works, these lost jobs, reduced profits, and lower margins, Joe says, will hurt the economy. The economy will suffer if the health care sector is more efficient, and since healthcare is also a huge employment generator and an inefficient industry, fixing that inefficiency will reduce employment and growth.

Thus, the title of this article, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, a certain quote has been making the rounds through the media. It was uttered by Number 45. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Yes, it is complicated and complex, but does it have to be so? If we consider the second Churchill quote above, and realize that the UK, France, Germany, Canada, and many other Western countries have some form of single payer, then one must conclude that it is only the US that has complicated and made too complex, the providing of health care to all of its citizens.

There are many reasons for this, which is beyond the scope of this article or blog, but there is one overriding reason for this complexity…GREED. Not the greed of wanting more of one thing, but the greed of profit, as one executive from an insurance company stated recently.

This brings me to the last of the articles I ran across yesterday. It was posted on LinkedIn by Dave Chase, founder of the Health Rosetta Institute. He cited a segment on the Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson program, in which Carlson interviewed a former hospital president who said that pricing was the main problem with the US healthcare system.

Mr. Chase does not solely rely on Carlson’s guest in his article, but cites other experts in the field as evidence that pricing failure is to blame.

If we are to except this as true, then it buttresses my point that the overriding problem is greed, for what else is the failure to control prices but a symptom of greed inherent in the American health care system, and something that does not exist elsewhere in the Western world.

Which brings me to Churchill’s first quote above. Since we Americans have tried the free market system of health care wanting, and have tried a reformed free market system, perhaps it is time to go all the way to a government-sponsored, Medicare for All, single payer system.

The bottom line is: we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils.

UPDATE: Here is Joe’s take on what will happen to the ACA in the next two years. I agree with his assessment.