Now Viewing: Health Care Costs

How Cataract Surgery Helped Me See the Future of Health Transparency

Dec 12, 2014, 1:34 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Robotic Surgery

More and more health care costs are shifted to consumers. So why, asks RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, can’t we easily discover and compare health care costs and quality?

Here’s how the subject came up. Recently, Lavizzo-Mourey underwent cataract surgery at an outpatient center in Philadelphia. No matter whom she talked to—and she was shunted from one person to the next—she could not learn the all-in cost of the procedure.

Lavizzo-Mourey finally did manage to find out the cost of her surgery: $2,000, including co-pays and deductible. But the whole episode, she says, is illustrative of a larger problem.

Writing in a recent blog post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn, Lavizzo-Mourey asks: “Could there be a clearer example of the lack of transparency in the U.S. health care system?”

To get the information we need, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding a set of studies to help us better understand how greater price transparency influences consumer and provider decisions. “And in March,” Lavizzo-Mourey adds, “we will host a summit on transparency that will attempt to come up with more answers."

Along those lines, RWJF last year issued a challenge to developers to devise consumer-friendly tools to parse the abundant hospital price data released by Medicare. The winner? Consumer Reports, for the Consumer Reports Hospital Adviser: Hip & Knee, a personalized app for health care consumers seeking the best hospital for hip or knee replacement surgery.

You can help us move the cost and quality needle forward. Do you know of any other price/quality apps or tools? Let us know.

Transparency in Health Care? Sadly, That's Not How We Roll.

Nov 7, 2014, 3:13 PM, Posted by Andrea Ducas

Patrick Toussaint Andrea’s husband, Patrick Toussaint, using his super strength to tighten a lug nut.

What do changing a flat tire and scheduling a surgical procedure have in common? Nothing. And that’s the problem.

Last month, on our way home to New Jersey from Boston, my husband and I got a flat tire. And while this is a dreaded possibility on any road trip, it happened to us at 9 p.m. on a Sunday. No shops were open, and with an early morning flight just a few hours away we didn’t have time to wait for AAA.

At this point it’s important to emphasize that neither my husband nor I know a thing about cars. We didn’t even know we had a jack or spare in the trunk until we called my uncle, who teased us (“You have a new car! Everything you need is in the back!”) and gave us the pep talk we needed. So we pulled out our owner’s manual.

I’m not sure who that manual is written for, but it clearly isn’t for us. After five minutes of thinking I’d need to call the airline and book a later flight, I realized: There is a better way. I pulled out my iPhone, Googled “how to change a flat tire,” and called up a YouTube video and a step-by-step, picture-guided Wikihow article. Within 20 minutes, the tire was changed, our spare was filled with air to 60 psi, and we were on our way.

So what does any of this have to do with health care? Unfortunately, not very much.

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Helping Physicians Do What They Got Into Medicine to Do

Sep 25, 2014, 10:02 AM, Posted by Anne Weiss

Two women are at a desk, one is counting money

“Health care was never intended to be the behemoth it's become. It was intended to be the place where people could get help for medical problems so they can return to living a healthy life.”

For me, this statement—from an internist I met last month—is a refreshing take on the value of the health care system in a Culture of Health. It’s an inspiring vision for those of us focused on the usual litany of problems: Our health care system costs too much, and delivers outcomes that lag behind other countries to such a degree that it threatens our economic health and social fabric.

Last year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) invested in five markets—Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, and the St. Louis region—where there is the will and ability to measure health care costs and quality, and use that information to drive change. In each of these markets, we’re working with multi-stakeholder organizations who are members of the Network for Regional Health Improvement (NHRI). Each organization will produce reports that compare the cost of treating patients in each primary care practice in their market. (You can learn more about this project here.)

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Exactly How Much DOES That Appendectomy Cost?

Aug 1, 2014, 4:29 PM, Posted by Andrea Ducas

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Want to know one of health care’s dirty little secrets? While we know how much the country spends on care each year, we have little understanding of what it actually costs to provide care.

Think, for example, about an appendectomy. What does it really “cost” the health care system to perform that procedure? The answer is complex, and of course it includes everyone’s time—from the surgeon to housekeeping staff—and it also includes the drugs, equipment, space, and overhead associated with your stay.

The cost of your visit will also depend on who is delivering your care. A consult with a registered nurse (RN) is less costly to the hospital than one with a physician.

Then, consider insurance. If the price your carrier pays for that RN consult is $85, but the price another carrier pays is only $65, what does it actually cost the hospital—and how do those variances affect what you pay both out-of-pocket and for insurance premiums? Moreover, health care providers are currently not trained to think about the costs of the care they provide—and often have no incentive or means to even consider those costs.

These complexities have made it difficult to reform the way we purchase and pay for health care.

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What’s Keeping the Cardiac Polypill off the Market?

Jul 3, 2014, 10:05 AM, Posted by Sheree Crute

Lisa Ranson Lisa Ranson

No matter how busy Lisa Ranson’s morning gets, somewhere between preparing breakfast and suiting up for work or play, she takes the first cluster of eight pills that protect her from a family legacy of heart disease so powerful she had bypass surgery at 34.

Even at that young age, she was no stranger to daily prescription regimens. Growing up, she watched her dad struggle. These days they compare notes. “He’s survived two heart attacks, had bypass surgery, and he has a pacemaker,” Ranson says.

An avid walker who treks three and a half miles most days near her home in the small town of Dunbar, W.Va., Ranson is now 51 and in great shape. But her healthy lifestyle is no match for her genetic inheritance—she is one of 34 million people living with hypercholesterolemia.

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Choosing Wisely: Intensifying the Spotlight On Health Care of Dubious Value

Apr 30, 2014, 8:52 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

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“If you study the kinds of decisions that people make, and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity doesn’t have a particularly impressive track record,” write the brothers Chip and Dan Heath in their masterful book Decisive. Invoking research from psychology and behavioral economics, the Heath brothers demonstrate how people often make decisions by looking at what’s in the “spotlight”—the information immediately before them, sparse as it may be.

But what’s in that spotlight “will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision,” the Heaths counsel. To choose wisely, we need to broaden our focus, or “shift the light.”

That’s especially true in health care, where the consequences of any decision, poorly made or not, may be life or death.

Enter Choosing Wisely, a program that shifts the spotlight onto many of the tests and treatments that both providers and patients should question, if not abandon completely.

(Editor's note: On May 2, 2014, RWJF held a First Friday GoogleHangout to explore how Choosing Wiselysprang from critical examination of the overuse of medical care in the United States—and how it’s changing how care is delivered in communities. Watch an archived version of the Hangout, above.)

This two-year old campaign, launched in 2012 by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, has identified more than 250 tests and procedures that warrant scrutiny because they are ineffective, unnecessary, unsupported by evidence, or possibly harmful. Even so, physicians and other clinicians perform them regularly, and patients sometimes request them.

Fifty-four of the nation’s premier medical specialty societies have joined the Choosing Wisely effort, and most of these have contributed to their own lists of questionable care. This week, three non-physician groups will also sign on to the campaign. Among the categories of dubious care identified on various societies’ “top five” lists are these:

  • Excessive imaging: CT or MRI scans for low back pain shouldn’t be ordered within the first six weeks of treating a patient, unless there are severe neurological symptoms, while patients with minor head injuries shouldn’t routinely get a head CT unless they have a skull fracture or are bleeding. Excessive scans expose patients to radiation that increases their lifetime risk of cancer.
  • Unnecessary medications: Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and should not be prescribed for viral illnesses such as sinus infections or bronchitis, particularly in children. But doctors say they frequently feel pressured to write these prescriptions by anxious parents.
  • Superfluous screening or diagnostic tests: Patients with no symptoms of heart disease and are at low risk of developing it are still frequently subjected to electrocardiograms when they get routine physical exams, despite evidence that this routine screening doesn’t improve patient outcomes. By the same token, hospitalized patients may have their blood drawn countless times for costly diagnostic testing that often yield little useful information, and can contribute to anemia.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is supporting Choosing Wisely with a $2.5 million grant to extend the influence of these lists beyond medical specialty societies and into communities. State medical societies in Texas, Oregon, Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington, and Massachusetts have undertaken steps to promote the lists, including developing continuing medical education courses for doctors. So have ten regional health collaboratives, such as Maine Quality Counts and the Washington Health Alliance outside Seattle (both are among RWJF’s Aligning Forces For Quality communities as well).

Consumer Reports and AARP are among organizations that have taken the lead in publicizing the lists for consumers. All told, these efforts have reached an estimated 170,000 or more physicians and 16 million-plus consumers. There’s even a Wikipedia page for the campaign, with the lists of tests and procedures curated by a “Wikipedian” in residence.

Caveats: Although more than 200 articles have been written about aspects of the campaign in medical journals, there is as yet little hard evidence that is has reduced superfluous care. A recent perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the specialty societies’ lists “vary widely in terms of their potential impact on care and spending”—and suggests that some societies omitted lucrative elective procedures, such as knee replacement surgery, that also aren’t appropriate for many patients.

The bottom line: As a nation, we need to shine a spotlight on an even broader range of questionable health care in the future. But for now, the Choosing Wisely campaign is illuminating plenty of “care” that we can clearly pass up with impunity as we pursue our real objective:  better health.

 

What's Next Health: Designing an Elegant Health Care Process

Mar 20, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa

Each month, What’s Next Health talks with leading thinkers with big ideas about the future of health and health care. Recently, we talked with Jay Parkinson, founder of Sherpaa, who challenged us to consider what a more "beautifully designed" health care system might look like. As you'll read in his post below, Jay’s trying to do just that through his work at Sherpaa. (Jay’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.)

By Jay Parkinson

Everything great comes from an elegantly designed process. Just think of all of the experiences we love and use on a daily basis. Consider the iPhone. Apple re-imagined what a phone, or rather, a tiny computer in your pocket, could be and created a revolutionary device. Steve Jobs designed not only the interface that changed computing forever, but Tim Cook designed the manufacturing and material sourcing processes that enabled them to produce a remarkably complicated device at a relatively inexpensive price. They understood that, in order to deliver an exceptional user experience, they had to design the entire process, from the interface to the factory.

Health care was never designed. It just happened, revolving mostly around doctors’ needs and wants, in a culture that strongly believed “doctor knows best.” But our culture changed with the democratization of health information and other industries quickly evolved, raising consumers’ expectations of what health care could and should be.

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ACOG Issues New Guidelines to Curb Overuse of C-Sections

Feb 27, 2014, 5:27 PM, Posted by Tara Oakman

Tara Oakman Tara Oakman

While I knew that having children would turn my world upside down, I assumed that this transition would be more metaphorical than literal. Ha! Moments before I was discharged from a Maryland hospital a few days after my twins were delivered by c-section, the ground shook violently. My husband had just left the hospital room to get the car, so I was alone with two newborns and a painful surgical wound. All I could think was ... “This is an earthquake! I have two babies. And I can’t move!

One of the scariest parts of the experience was that I couldn’t respond to my maternal instinct to quickly pick up and protect my babies because I had just had major abdominal surgery. Granted, managing in an earthquake is not a common part of recovery from a C-section, but there can be many other dangerous complications that occur more frequently, such as infection, emergency hysterectomy or heavy blood loss. It can also lead to greater difficulty with breastfeeding. C-sections are also very costly, even if there are no major complications. They are much more expensive than vaginal delivery.

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Health Policy Wit or Wit-Out Consumer Input

Dec 13, 2013, 10:56 AM, Posted by David Adler

Consumers Union RWJF Health Care Cost Conference for Advocates Consumer advocates brainstorm about rising health care costs.

Whether you’re a Philadelphia native, a visitor, or just a cheesesteak aficionado, you need to know how to order. When you get to the front of the line at one of Philadelphia’s long-established cheesesteak stands you order your sandwich wit or wit-out. Either with onions or without. Whatever you do, don’t stand at the window and first think about this important decision. Let’s just say it won’t end well. But, as much as I love cheesesteaks (in moderation of course) this is not the most important wit or wit out decision we have to make as a country.

The decision we really need to make is how we want our health policy decisions made. You can have it wit or wit out consumer input. At a recent meeting on health care costs sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Consumers Union, my colleague Anne Weiss drove this point home.

I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the gist of her remarks (and indeed of the meeting) was that efforts to contain spending and to get more value out of our health care system are going to come about with or without consumer input. She wants it to proceed with it. In other words, Anne’s ordering her health care value steak wit. I second her choice. Personally I think it’s ridiculous to eat a cheesesteak without onions, and I think it’s equally problematic to address health care costs without consumer input.

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Can Our Positive Health Assets Cut Health Costs?

Dec 12, 2013, 12:30 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

A female patient gets an allergy checkup in a doctor's office.

By Eric Kim

What if scientists could develop simple, low cost interventions that enhance health and reduce healthcare costs? What if these interventions also increased psychological well-being and were inherently enjoyable for people to perform? These questions are particularly relevant now, as we are constantly reminded of our nation’s rising healthcare costs.

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