Category: Medicare

Bush Scores on Medicare

Former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush stepped outside the political comfort zone and endorsed dramatic reforms to Medicare:

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Wednesday that we ought to phase out Medicare, the federal program that provides health insurance to Americans once they’re 65.

“We need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits,” Bush said. “But we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something, because they’re not going to have anything.”

Bush praised Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for proposing to change Medicare to a system that gives seniors medical vouchers instead of paying their bills directly.

(Arthur Delaney & Jeffrey Young, “Jeb Bush says we should phase out Medicare,” HuffingtonPost, July 23, 2015)

That kind of straight talk deserves praise, especially as so many Americans have allowed a few years of Medicare Trustees’ reports, which show a trivial improvement in the program’s finances, to give them an excuse to dodge the need for reform.

2015 Medicare Trustees Report: No Pot O’ Gold in Medicare’s Future

The Trustees for Social Security and Medicare released their 2015 Trustees’ Report. Liberal stalwart, Mother Jones, proclaimed how wonderful it was. Political blogger Kevin Drum had an interesting argument showing how long-term medical cost projections were down from a decade ago. However, he also conceded that others think the current slowdown is temporary. Yet, if you look at the report itself the news isn’t very reassuring. In 2000, Medicare spending as a percentage of GDP was just above 2 percent. It’s now about 3.5 percent and will be four percent by 2023.

Zeke Emanuel Hammers Obamacare Again

Obamacare’s best frenemy, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, and his colleagues at the Center for American Progress, gave up on Obamacare last year. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, he and Topher Spiro emphasizes that Accountable Care Organizations, which Obamacare established to co-ordinate care and lower costs in Medicare, are failing to achieve either goal:

Obama’s Former Health IT Czar Raises $35 Million for New Venture

FMBow-tied and charismatic, Dr. Farzad Mostashari, who led the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT (ONC) from April 2009 to October 2013, has raised a total of $35 million from leading venture capitalists for his new business, Aledade. Aledade’s senior management includes veterans of athenaHealth and Practice Fusion, both firms which I admire for their entrepreneurship and relative (although not perfect) independence from government.

Like those firms, Aledade will provide its Electronic Health Records to independently practicing physicians. Aledade claims its uniqueness lies in an EHR that will ensure doctors’ win the Accountable Care Organization game. At NCPA, we think that ACOs are unlikely to succeed. Nevertheless, if anyone can pull this off, Dr. Mostashari and his team have got a pretty good edge (in my humble opinion).

Doctor Who Billed Medicare Over $16 Million in 2013 Explains It on YouTube

Last year, I had a very rare opportunity to congratulate the Obama Administration for its decision to release Medicare’s physician payment data for public scrutiny. It followed up quickly with a data dump of hospital claims.

I also anticipated that this would lead the physicians with the highest spending to justify their claims to the citizens at large. Last week, the Administration released the 2013 physician file, which is causing a this to happen. Here is one high-cost specialist explaining his practice on YouTube:

I discovered this thanks to USA Today, which has done a first cut of the 2013 dataset:

Accountable Care Organizations Hate Medicare’s Final ACO Rule

Confident DoctorsLast Thursday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published the final rule for Medicare Shared Savings Program Accountable Care Organizations (MSSP ACOs). At almost 600 pages, it differs in many ways from the proposed rule issued last December:

  • Creates a new Track 3, based on some of the successful features of the Pioneer ACO Model, which includes higher rates of shared savings, the prospective assignment of beneficiaries, and the opportunity to use new care coordination tools;
  • Streamlines the data sharing between CMS and ACOs, helping ACOs more easily access data on their patients in a secure way for quality improvement and care coordination that can drive critical improvements in beneficiaries’ care;
  • Establishes a waiver of the 3-day stay Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) rule for beneficiaries that are prospectively assigned to ACOs under Track 3; and
  • Refines the policies for resetting ACO benchmarks to help ensure that the program continues to provide strong incentives for ACOs to improve patient care and generate cost savings, and announces CMS’ intent to propose further improvements to the benchmarking methodology later this year.

“Successful features of the Pioneer ACO model”? That’ll be a struggle. As we’ve discussed, the Pioneer ACOs have had very meager results, and will probably end up as a footnote to Medicare’s history.

Hip Replacements in L.A.: $12,457 to $17,609

A short drive in the Los Angeles area can yield big differences in price for knee or hip replacement surgery.

New Medicare data show that Inglewood’s Centinela Hospital Medical Center billed the federal program $237,063, on average, for joint replacement surgery in 2013.

That was the highest charge nationwide. And it’s six times what Kaiser Permanente billed Medicare eight miles away at its West L.A. hospital. Kaiser billed $39,059, on average, and Medicare paid $12,457.

The federal program also paid a fraction of Centinela’s bill — an average of $17,609 for these procedures. (Chad Terhune & Sandra Poindexter, “Price of a common surgery varies from $39,000 to $237,000 in L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, June 2, 2015)

Okay, hospital bills are silly. We already know that. Let me point out two things.

“Transparency” Will Not Fix Medicare Physician Fees

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report criticizing the way the federal government sets physicians’ fees in Medicare. It concludes that “Better Data and Greater Transparency Could Improve Accuracy.”

I doubt it. Note the mind-numbing detail of this process: The government delegates its assumed authority to a group of physicians who comprise the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC). The government “reviewed 1,278 RUC work relative value recommendations for about 1,200 unique (new and existing) services)” in the last four years.

Medicare’s Pioneer ACOs Ending with a Whimper?

UntitledThis blog has covered the mediocre and inconclusive results of Medicare’s Pioneer Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model for a couple of years now. A new research paper in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association furthers the narrative that the much ballyhooed program has very slim results:

 

 

 

Results  Total spending for beneficiaries aligned with Pioneer ACOs in 2012 or 2013 increased from baseline to a lesser degree relative to comparison populations. Differential changes in spending were approximately −$35.62 (95% CI, −$40.12 to −$31.12) per-beneficiary-per-month (PBPM) in 2012 and -$11.18 (95% CI, −$15.84 to −$6.51) PBPM in 2013, which amounted to aggregate reductions in increases of approximately −$280 (95% CI, −$315 to −$244) million in 2012 and −$105 (95% CI, −$148 to −$61) million in 2013. Inpatient spending showed the largest differential change of any spending category (−$14.40 [95% CI, −$17.31 to −$11.49] PBPM in 2012; −$6.46 [95% CI, −$9.26 to −$3.66] PBPM in 2013). Changes in utilization of physician services, emergency department, and postacute care followed a similar pattern. Compared with other Medicare beneficiaries, ACO-aligned beneficiaries reported higher mean scores for timely care (77.2 [ACO] vs 71.2 [FFS] vs 72.7 [MA]) and for clinician communication (91.9 [ACO] vs 88.3 [FFS] vs 88.7 [MA]).

Let’s leave the quality measurements aside for now, and focus on the fiscal effects. There appears to be a small positive effect. However, it appears extremely slim and likely even illusory for a number of reasons:

Republicans Reach for Redemption on Medicare “Doc Fix”

Politico reports that Congressional Republicans might be having second thoughts about the extremely flawed, so-called Medicare “doc fix” legislation that they sent to President Obama a few days ago. One of those flaws was that the spending in the bill was not offset by cuts to other federal spending – which is why almost every Democrat in Congress voted for it too.

Well, they appear to be getting the message that NCPA has been sending them since March 25:

…… one GOP source said negotiators had resolved a sticking point over how to offset a recently enacted bipartisan Medicare overhaul that was not entirely paid for. The source said the agreement is likely to offset the overhaul, often called the “doc fix,” starting next year.

Better late than never. How they will get President Obama to sign any bill that offsets spending that was already committed by his signature on March 15 is unclear. (All they had to do in the original bill was remove two short sentences that exempted the spending from the so-called PAYGO scorecards. Had they done so, they would not have to worry about it today.)