Now Viewing: Health Care Cost and Value

Improving Community Health While Reducing Costs: Is it Possible?

Jan 19, 2017, 10:00 AM, Posted by Alexandra Chan, Elise Miller

Community Health Funds (CHFs) are a new way to make communities healthier while reducing costs and supporting collaboration. A new project is asking communities to share and spread lessons from CHF and other health partnership experiences.

Over 80,000 children in Massachusetts suffer from asthma which, when left unmanaged, can dramatically impact overall health, limit school attendance and physical activity. In many cases, uncontrolled asthma symptoms lead to costly emergency room visits. Treating this problem on a large scale will take more than inhalers—it requires coordinated community action. Through the Massachusetts Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), Lynn, Worcester, Holyoke, and other cities have formed community-based partnerships to address several chronic conditions, including childhood asthma. Thanks to these efforts, families receive education, care management and home visits to better manage childhood asthma and ultimately improve their daily lives.

Since underlying social, economic, and environmental factors influence community health issues, the solutions to these issues need a cross-sector approach. But this is sometimes challenging since stakeholders can lack funding and incentives to collaborate.

PWTF was created to address this dilemma. It is a Community Health Fund (CHF)—a financial trust to address local health priorities and promote prevention. CHFs have emerged as an innovative approach for coordinating strategy and shared, flexible funding that supports community stakeholders to work together.

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How a Swedish Model of Care is Making an Impact in the U.S.

Oct 5, 2016, 9:35 AM, Posted by Laura Leviton, Susan Mende

Disease registries designed to support clinical research can be reimagined to create a new and more effective kind of patient-centered care. Just take a look at Sweden.

The Karolinska Institutet building in Sweden. The Karolinksa Institutet in Solna, Sweden. Photo by Pelle Sten via Flickr.

Large-scale collection of patient data into disease-specific databases, or registries, is vital to research. These registries house standardized information on patients’ diagnoses, care, and outcomes, supporting large-scale comparison and analysis which can lead to better population health management and interventions. But can disease registries also help to move us closer to patient-centered care?

We’re learning from examples overseas that, with the help of new interactive technologies, they can.

Sweden created a disease registry for rheumatology that is much more than a data storage house. The Swedish Rheumatology Quality Registry (SRQ) is an interactive tool that helps patients and doctors prepare for and make better use of their office visits. It helps them to work like a team—to “co-produce” care together.

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Evaluating a Ten-Year Effort to Transform Health Care

Sep 21, 2016, 3:20 PM, Posted by Anne Weiss, Brian C. Quinn

An evaluation of RWJF’s quality improvement initiative, Aligning Forces for Quality, uncovers barriers that health collectives face and how successful cultural shifts have helped transform health systems.

I believe a unique opportunity for a philanthropic organization is to explore the big ideas. We have a freedom that few others have to really experiment and innovate. Even to take big risks in our grant making sometimes. Often, the rewards are insights they offer a glimpse of how our nation can address some of the most pressing challenges facing our society.  Aligning Forces for Quality is an example of this philosophy in action.”  —Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

In 2006, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched a bold, ten year experiment that became one of its largest philanthropic investments—the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) initiative which sought to lift the overall quality, equality, and value of health care in 16 communities across the country.

In each AF4Q community, a regional alliance of doctors, patients, consumers, insurers, and employers worked collaboratively to transform their local health care system. Lessons from these transformations were then used to develop national models for reform. Alliances were tasked with addressing five “forces” to enhance quality while reducing costs:

  • performance measurement and reporting
  • quality improvement
  • engaging consumers in their health and health care
  • reducing health care disparities
  • reforming payment

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How Social Spending Affects Health Outcomes

Aug 17, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Elizabeth H. Bradley, Lauren A. Taylor

The United States spends more on health care than any other developed nation, yet a recent study suggests social services could have a greater impact on health outcomes.

A hundred dollar bill. Modified image. Original photo by Ervins Strauhmanis.

In a blog post for The New York Times, Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, detailed important—and importantly nonmedical—barriers to health that he had witnessed in his patients: a man who couldn’t fathom worrying about his blood pressure when he needed to find food and a place to sleep, a diabetic without reliable access to a refrigerator to store insulin, a mother fretting that mold and cockroaches in her apartment were exacerbating her son’s asthma. Medical care might be necessary for these patients. But that care alone is unlikely to be sufficient.

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Costs of Care: Getting the Patient-Provider Conversation Right

Jun 15, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Emmy Ganos

Doctors and patients want to talk transparently about the costs and value of health care, but it’s easier said than done. A new funding opportunity from RWJF seeks to address this challenge by surfacing best practices.

Health care is too often the most stressful part of the American family's budget. In a 2015 survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 42 percent of respondents reported that it is somewhat or very difficult to afford health services. This difficulty ranked higher than monthly utilities, housing, food expenses and transportation costs. In the same survey, more than half of respondents said that making information about the price of medical appointments, procedures and tests more available to patients should be a “top health care priority” for the President and Congress.

Rising out-of-pocket costs helped shape these attitudes, and they are hitting patients in the U.S. at all levels. For people with job-based insurance, the number of individuals with plan deductibles—and the size of those deductibles—has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2015, the rate of covered workers enrolled in a plan with an annual deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage was 63 percent, a significant jump from 10 percent in 2006. This year, deductibles in marketplace plans are even higher than employer insurance, averaging $3,064 for coverage in the popular "silver" tier. For low-income marketplace enrollees, they might qualify for cost-sharing reductions, but they aren’t completely shielded from out-of-pocket expenses.

How can we lower the burden of health care costs in the U.S.?

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Getting to the Essence of Value in Health Care

Aug 3, 2015, 1:57 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

In this era of value-based payment, we need to consider how different players within health care approach the value equation.

How would you judge the value of your health care? A longstanding definition of treatment holds that value is the health outcomes achieved for the dollars spent. Yet behind that seemingly simple formula lies much complexity.

Think about it: Calculating outcomes and costs for treating a short-term acute condition, such as a child’s strep throat, may be easy. But it’s far harder to pinpoint value in a long-term serious illness such as advanced cancer, in which both both the outcomes and costs of treating a given individual—let alone a population with a particular cancer—may be unknown for years. And then there’s the complicating issue of our individual preferences, since one person’s definition of a good outcome—say, another few years of life—may differ from another’s, who may be seeking a total cure.

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Let's Keep the Payment Reform Momentum Going

Mar 31, 2015, 10:22 AM, Posted by Andrea Ducas

Recent advancements in payment reform have been massive and exciting. It's time to sustain the momentum and transform how we pay for and deliver care.

A hundred dollar bill. Modified image. Original photo by Ervins Strauhmanis.

When it comes to how health care providers are paid, change is in the air. I’m probably more excited than most people about trying to make sure our financial incentives are flowing the right way within the health care system. Here’s why.

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The Front Line of Medicine

Dec 18, 2014, 9:00 AM

For the 25th anniversary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), the Human Capital Blog is publishing scholar profiles, some reprinted from the program’s website. SMDEP is a six-week academic enrichment program that has created a pathway for more than 22,000 participants, opening the doors to life-changing opportunities. Following is a profile of Juan Jose Ferreris, MD, a member of the Class of 1989.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’

The words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass resonate for Juan Jose Ferreris, a pediatrician and assistant clinical adjunct professor at University of Texas Health Science Center. He sees a straight line between the public funds allocated for children’s care and their well-being as adults.

“Kids receive less than 20 cents of every health care dollar. Meanwhile, 80 percent goes to adult end-of-life care. Why aren’t we spending those funds on people when they’re young, when it could make a genuine difference?”

Ferreris contends that money also shapes health in less obvious ways. Salaries of primary care physicians are well below those of more “glamorous” specialists. Some fledgling MDs, burdened with medical school debt, reason that they can’t afford not to specialize. Consequently, he says, only 3 percent of medical students choose primary care.

For Ferreris, who is both humbled and inspired by his young patients, building a Culture of Health necessitates recalibrating priorities.

“Nobody’s concentrating on the whole; they’re only looking at one part. And they’re not paying attention to the human—the brain, the spirit, the soul.

“We overlook that aspect...but it’s where I believe the primary care doctor has irreplaceable value.”

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Helping Physicians Do What They Got Into Medicine to Do

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

“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

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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