Tag: "Medicare"

Are Medicare ACOs Gaining A Foothold?

man-in-wheelchairThis blog has never gotten very excited by Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). ACOs are risk-sharing arrangements between Medicare and providers, which are supposed to save money through efficiency. As a concept, they are fine – certainly an improvement over the incumbent, Soviet-style fee schedule. However, it is unlikely that the government has the incentives to get the risk-sharing incentives right.

I had anticipated that ACOs might end “with a whimper.” The Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (CMS) have released results of Pioneer ACO’s third year of operation and 2014 results for Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs which launched in 2012 through 2014. While ACOs are hardly taking off like the administration hoped, they seem to have gained a foothold.

Bundled Payments, Barely Hatched, Go the Way of the Dodo

man-in-wheelchairLast month, I wrote about Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), medical groups accountable to the federal government for management of healthy populations. Even Zeke Emanuel recognizes that they are failing. Dr. Emanuel advised Medicare should “lump together” all the services associated with a procedure, such as a hip replacement, and pay one fee for the entire services.

As I noted, Medicare already does this via its Bundled Payments for Care Initiative (BPCI) which launched in 2013. At the time, hospitals and other providers were offered voluntary participation. Just a few weeks ago, the Medicare decided to make bundled payments mandatory for some procedures in some areas. Now we know why: Providers are learning that the bundles don’t work.

Medicare Devours the Federal Government

(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy.)

Every year, the Medicare Trustees issue a report on the program’s financial status. Reaction to the last few years’ reports has been complacency. Because Medicare’s fiscal problems do not appear to be getting worse, people have the misconception that Medicare’s finances are improving. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, the Trustees themselves insist that: “Notwithstanding recent favorable developments, current-law projections indicate that Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation. Such legislation should be enacted sooner rather than later to minimize the impact on beneficiaries, providers, and taxpayers.”

In 2014, Medicare’s taxes and premiums added up to $342 billion dollars, just 11 percent of federal tax and fee revenue of a little over $3 trillion. However, its spending of $600 billion comprised 17 percent of $3.5 trillion of federal spending. This is just short of defense and security-related spending, which amounted to $615 billion.

When Will We See Fiscally Responsible Health Reform from Congressional Republicans?

(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy on July 16, 2015.)

Just a few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress announced a oint budget resolution, which (if ever enacted) would repeal Obamacare and balance the budget in ten years. That is all well and good. Unfortunately, when they pass health care legislation that actually has a chance of becoming law, they fail to pay for their promises. How can they be trusted to repeal and replace Obamacare with fiscally responsible, patient-centered health reform?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by $353 billion over ten years, before considering the economic growth that would result from repeal. Because repeal would grow the economy, federal tax revenues would increase by $216 billion, resulting in a net deficit of $137 billion. So, when Republicans actually repeal Obamacare, they will still have to cut $137 billion of spending elsewhere.

Yet, they cannot even identify miniscule spending cuts to pay for current health-related bills. The latest is repeal of the medical device excise tax. This is a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices – from pacemakers to MRI scanners – to help pay for Obamacare. On June 18, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the tax. Every Republican present voted for it, plus about one fifth of the Democrat members. With those 46 Democrats joining the majority, the votes in favor added up to 280, just eight short of the number needed to override the promised presidential veto. It awaits a vote in the Senate.

Direct-To-Consumer Lab Test Works Fine!

Fellow Forbes contributor and health care entrepreneur Dan Munro has taken advantage of Arizona’s new law allowing patients to buy lab tests directly without a physician’s order. It was a positive experience:

The Theranos process really has removed much of the friction I associate with blood tests I have taken in the past. Access is through a familiar retail facility with pharmacy hours. Billing is a typical retail transaction with credit, debit and HSA cards (or cash/check). The lowest price blood test is $2.70 (Glucose) and Theranos advertises that their pricing is at least 50% below Medicare reimbursement rates for all tests.

The highest price test on the Theranos order form was $59.95 ‒ a comprehensive test for Sexual Health. For comparison purposes, RequestATest (which appears to be an online, front-end for using LabCorp locations around the country), charges $199 for a comprehensive STD test and AnyLabTest Now (with 3 locations in the Phoenix metro) charges $229 for a comprehensive STD test.

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:

U.S. Busts 243 Providers for $713 Million Medicare, Medicaid Fraud

man-in-wheelchairThis blog does not often congratulate the Obama administration. However, it has been relatively successful at prosecuting Medicare fraud through old-fashioned, gum-shoe type investigations.

From yesterday’s news:

In Miami, the owners of a mental-health treatment center allegedly billed Medicare for tens of millions of dollars’ worth of intensive therapy that actually involved just moving people to different locations. Some of them had dementia so severe that they couldn’t even communicate.

And in Michigan, another physician allegedly prescribed unnecessary narcotic painkillers in return for the use of his patients’ IDs to generate additional false billings. When they tried to escape the scheme, authorities say, he threatened to cut off the medications, to which his patients were addicted.

In the single largest crackdown in an eight-year campaign against health-care fraud, the Justice Department charged 243 people Thursday with $712 million in false billings to Medicare — the medical insurance program for the elderly — and Medicaid, which serves the poor. (Lenny Bernstein & Sari Horwitz, “Government arrests 243 in largest crackdown on health-care fraud,” Washington Post, June 18, 2015)

Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate Was Not Entirely Bad

(A version of this Health Alert was published by RealClearPolicy.)

Supported by health-care interests, Medicare beneficiaries, and an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in Congress, President Obama has signed a law that will change how Medicare pays doctors — for the worse. Critics note the law will dramatically increase federal control of medicine and add $141 billion in deficits through 2025, a violation of Republican and Democratic pledges made since 2010.

The old system, called the Sustainable Growth Rate, was hardly perfect. In fact, in over a decade of working in health policy, I have never heard one person say anything good about it. Now that it is dead, it is time to give the SGR a fitting eulogy — to bury it, but also, for once, to praise it. Whatever its flaws, the SGR was this nation’s only attempt to connect the cost of an entitlement to our ability to afford it.

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.

Health Insurance Consolidation Begins With A Bang

Just last Thursday, I wrote about the forthcoming consolidation in U.S. health insurance. My thesis was that only large, centralized, politically powerful insurers could continue to thrive.

With perfect timing, Humana, Inc., announced on Friday that it was putting itself on the block, and the shares rallied about twenty percent. They continue to climb today.

“Because of the Affordable Care Act, the whole insurance market is shifting towards a lower margin model,” said Chris Rigg, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. “Generally speaking, the bigger you are, the better.” (Michael J. de la Merced & Julie Creswell, New York Times DealBook, May 29, 2015)