Feb 27, 2014, 5:27 PM, Posted by
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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Dec 13, 2013, 10:56 AM, Posted by
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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Dec 9, 2013, 4:33 PM, Posted by
- Transparency is an idea whose time has come—in large part because U.S. consumers are feeling so much pain from higher health costs. Health economists have long noted that U.S. health care prices are out of whack and that hospital chargemasters are nonsensical. Recent media coverage of these phenomena has captured widespread attention, perhaps because consumers are being hit so hard in the pocketbook. Since 2000, rising prices of hospital charges, professional services, drugs, devices and administrative costs, are responsible for 91 percent of the increases in health spending. Meanwhile, consumers’ out-of-pocket spending on health care, estimated at $329 billion this year, is projected to rise to $411 billion in 2020—a 25 percent increase. Almost three in five workers in small firms, and one in three workers in larger firms, are in a health plan with a deductible of at least $1,000 for single coverage, and in 2012, nearly one of five U.S. adults was contacted by a collection agency over unpaid medical bills.
It’s well established that much of this money is being spent on health care of questionable value. With so much of their money—and their well-being—now at stake, “People are going to impose transparency on the health care industry,” predicted Leah Binder, a conference participant who heads the Leapfrog Group.
- Consumers and patients deserve to know far more about the costs and quality of care, but unless the two are linked, the public may continue with its longstanding delusion that the more expensive the care, the better the quality. Francois de Brantes, executive director of the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, noted that this widespread consumer misapprehension constitutes a “perverse incentive” for providers to continue to raise prices. Meanwhile, evidence of poor quality abounds. Martin Makary, a Johns Hopkins University physician and author of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You And How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, reminded the conference that preventable adverse events in hospitals are now the nation’s third leading cause of death annually. Many highly esteemed medical centers that end up routinely on “best hospital” lists don’t make the Joint Commission’s tally of top performers on basic quality and safety measures.
Conference speakers agreed that there’s a pronounced need to combat these trends by developing more and better quality measures—especially those capturing care outcomes, and in particular, the outcomes that are most important to patients. Providers’ scores on these measures should then be funneled to purchasers and the public. “When consumers can really start to see that this hospital is better than this other hospital, or this doctor is better than that doctor, they will start to move,” said Bill Kramer, executive director for national health Policy at the Pacific Business Group on Health.
Promising prototypes of the platforms that could communicate such information include winners of the RWJF Hospital Price Transparency Challenge—for example, Consumer Reports’ Hospital Adviser: Hip & Knee, which combines hospital quality rankings with Medicare cost data to help consumers pinpoint high value institutions where they could obtain surgery.
- Fostering greater transparency will be a long process, but there could be relatively quick “wins.” Many contracts between health insurers and providers contain “gag clauses” that bar both parties from disclosing claims data or prices paid for care. The clauses appear to serve both parties’ interests—helping to protect health plans’ proprietary interests in the provider networks they’ve established, and providers’ desire not to disclose how little they are willing to be paid. California has outlawed such clauses in health plan contracts, and many conference attendees agreed that other states should follow suit.
What’s more, a total of 16 states have set up mandatory or voluntary all-payer claims data bases (APCDs) to pool statewide data on diagnoses, procedures, care locations, and provider payments. Conference participants agreed that more states should enact mandatory APCD’s, or use the regulatory authority in state insurance laws to compel insurers to issue payment and pricing data, as was done in Rhode Island. More states could also follow the lead of Maine Quality Counts, the private, independent nonprofit organization that leads the RWJF-sponsored Aligning Forces for Quality coalition in the state, and which has aggregated health plan data for purchasers, consumers and providers to promote transparency on quality and cost.
- Transparency in the hands of consumers could be powerful—but in the hands of providers, even more so. Health care providers themselves often lack information about the quality and costs of their care. In particular, transparency can focus attention on the extreme amount of variation among providers in the care they provide. Glenn Steele, president and CEO of Geisinger Health System, described how Geisinger’s physicians came together to define “best practices” across a dozen hospital episodes of care, including heart bypasses, hip replacements, and gastric bypass surgery. As physicians in the system adhered to these guidelines, spending fell, by 20 percent because doctors narrowed the indications for which they agreed that the procedures were warranted, and 15 percent by reducing unnecessary variation.
- Transparency is a necessary but insufficient tool for health system transformation. Openness about price and quality alone is “not going to be enough” to achieve the goals of the Triple Aim, observed Steven Brill, whose Time magazine article in March 2013 gave renewed focus to the issue. Payment reforms and “culture change” that shift providers from a volume-based to-value-based approaches remain critical. What’s more, consumers need to have health insurance benefit designs beyond high-deductible health plans that encourage them to make wise choices, such as “value-based” benefits” that help nudge them toward cost-effective care delivered by low-cost, high quality providers. Others at the conference warned that regulators must stay attuned to unintended consequences of health system transformation, such as the consolidation of health care providers that could lead to attempts to jack up prices.
In the end, “We don’t win the game until the care gets better,” observed Jay Want, CEO of WantHealthcare. The nation also must ensure “that the transparency we seek will serve to change the way we think about health and wellness,” said RWJF president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. “We need to use our skills, our imagination, our influence, and, yes, our hearts, to transform our nation into one that considers being healthy part of what it means to be an American.”
To that end, transparency about the choices we face as a nation on the costs and quality of health and health care can give our society a critical lens to look within.
Nov 26, 2013, 10:14 AM, Posted by
Watch our December 6, 2013, FirstFriday Google+ Hangout archive on transparency in health care.
Panic about high health insurance premiums. Fears about high-cost health-care providers being cut out of health plan networks. Worries that the health plans now available through health insurance exchanges won’t cover the care that patients need.
Welcome to the rollout of Obamacare....right?
Actually, with the exception of the new health insurance exchanges, all of the phenomena described above have a long history. Similar concerns were voiced loudly in the late 1980s and 1990s, when “managed care” in health insurance became a dominant force on the health care and health insurance landscape.
What’s amazing to people who lived through both of these eras—then and now—is how little has changed.
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Sep 6, 2013, 4:30 PM, Posted by
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken!”
In some ways, our health care system has traditionally functioned much like the fantastic land of Oz depicted in one of my favorite movies. Consumers and purchasers are expected to be passive consumers, doing what they are told and paying whatever price is levied based on a high degree of trust and limited information. This model seems increasingly ridiculous. We now face an urgent need to improve the quality and efficiency of our health care system.
But to do that, we need information, a lot of information. Health professionals, purchasers, consumers—basically anyone who comes in contact with health care—need timely, accurate, comprehensive information on cost and quality if they are to make smart decisions. Without such information, not even a wizard could do the trick. But right now, such information is usually unavailable, or, when it is accessible, too often indecipherable. In fact, the Institute of Medicine estimates that $105 billion is wasted every year in the U.S. because of a lack of competition and excessive price variations in health care, and a lack of information on the price of health care services plays a large role in this waste.
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Aug 14, 2013, 2:14 PM, Posted by
An old joke has it that the doctor’s pen is the costliest technology in medicine, since money typically flows where physicians’ prescriptions and other orders decide that it should go. As a result, influencing these decisions is key to achieving the Triple Aim of better health and health care at lower cost.
But what’s more likely to influence doctors: external factors, such as bonuses for improving the quality of care, or internal factors, such as appealing to their sense of altruism or satisfaction with their work? In other words, carrots, sticks, or something altogether different—what Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive, calls “our innate human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world”?
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Jun 28, 2013, 9:21 AM, Posted by
In his now legendary approach to urban medicine, physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee Jeffrey Brenner, MD, pioneered the technique of hot spotting—making block-by-block maps of Camden, N.J., examining residents’ hospital costs and identifying the handful of patients who cycled in and out of those institutions and racked up stratospheric medical bills.
What if America’s hospitals and health systems used similar techniques to identify the nation’s poorest and least healthy communities—and then teamed up with local community development organizations to set them on a path to better health?
David Fleming, a physician who directs Seattle’s public health department, made that pitch recently to members of the Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America. National health reform, he said at the panel’s June 19 Washington meeting, affords an opportunity to nudge health care providers to reach outside their facilities to hot spot areas in need of health improvement. “The solutions to health in this country lie beyond the walls of the clinic and in our communities,” Fleming argued.
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Jun 17, 2013, 3:55 PM, Posted by
For an actor—let’s call her Jennifer for discussion purposes—who suddenly has a big award-winning breakthrough—there is nothing sudden about her success. Jennifer’s accolades come to her not by accident but rather after years of below-the-radar hard work, striving and struggle. That same principle applies to seeming sudden success in other fields—say, health care. In fact, today let’s go crazy and salute some breakthrough health care actors. Health care is transforming before our very eyes.
Hang onto your hats, because it’s changing from one predominantly focused on churning out more services and procedures to one relentlessly driving the right care at the right time at the best price.
That’s not happening all by itself. That slowly accelerating transformation could seem sudden—or spontaneous. It might seem like it’s happening effortlessly—almost by magic. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Trust me— there is a bunch of struggling, starving transformation artists who have been working years for this moment—like the great people at the Consumer-Purchaser Disclosure Project.
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Jun 13, 2013, 3:22 PM, Posted by
Imagine that you’re a heart patient. You go to the hospital for open heart surgery and recover successfully. As you leave for home, you’re handed a bill for the surgery and hospital stay—for $800.
In the high-priced world of U.S. health care, where charges for such procedures typically run into the six figures, that price is practically unthinkable. That’s why the idea of $800 heart surgery comes all the way from India—and why the largest nonprofit health and hospital system in the U.S., Ascension Health, wants to figure out how it might be replicated within its walls.
Americans are accustomed to thinking that the best ideas are hatched here and then exported abroad. But in health care, it’s clear that we have plenty to learn from other countries, especially from efforts to provide care in low-resource settings, such as in much of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
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May 21, 2013, 12:57 PM, Posted by
What does U.S. health care have in common with an exotic international bazaar? The prices at either one are almost never posted, whether for a heart bypass operation or an antique rug. And the final price will almost certainly have little to do with the seller’s opening bid.
The nature of the U.S. medical bazaar was laid out earlier this month when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the prices billed to Medicare by more than 3,300 hospitals for 100 of the most common conditions or procedures. Not only was there wide variation in what hospitals charged, but there was also considerable variation in what Medicare actually paid—even though hospital payment rates have been set prospectively, based on nearly 800 so-called diagnosis related groups (DRGs) for 30 years.
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