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The CEO of The Leapfrog Group Speaks about Value, as the World Health Care Congress Gets Underway

April 29, 2018
by Mark Hagland
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The Leapfrog Group’s Leah Binder discusses the current status of the concept of value, as the World Health Care Congress gets underway

As the 15th Annual World Health Care Congress got underway at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, April 29, judges drawn from the various segments of the U.S. healthcare industry named a variety of organizations winners in various categories of achievement in healthcare (see sidebar below).

One of those named a winning organization was The Leapfrog Group, the Washington, D.C.-based independent organization focused on value in healthcare. That group’s online description states that, "Founded in 2000 by large employers and other purchasers, The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization driving a movement for giant leaps forward in the quality and safety of American health care. The flagship Leapfrog Hospital Survey collects and transparently reports hospital performance, empowering purchasers to find the highest-value care and giving consumers the lifesaving information they need to make informed decisions.” The Leapfrog Group was named the silver winner in the “Lifetime Achievement: Public Leadership” category.

During the reception immediately following the announcement of the winners of the Health Value Awards, Leah Binder, The Leapfrog Group’s CEO, Leah Binder, who has been with Leapfrog for ten years, spoke with Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland regarding her organization’s current activities and aims, and how she sees the present and future of value in U.S. healthcare. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Congratulations on receiving this award. What does it mean for you?

I think that it honors thousands of people who have made Leapfrog a force in American healthcare. We have made every effort to change the way people seek out services, so that they weigh considerations of value before they go to a hospital or a doctor. And before you can even do that, you need information. Price is just one element. We need to know first about quality, before we send a loved one to a hospital or clinic or anywhere else. That’s where we started out in 2000. And we all still have a long way to go. It’s important for employers to continue to push on the healthcare industry to provide information. That’s what this award really honors: we made value possible.


Leah Binder

Just a week ago, I wrote a blog about the results of a study of Massachusetts health plan members that found that, even armed with data and information tools designed to help them decide between healthcare providers based on value, most often, consumers are still not making full use of such tools. Are consumers ready to be fully active in this emerging role?

Consumers are being jolted into readiness, because they are being pushed into high-deductible health plans. One in three workers now is in one, and many employers either only offer a high-deductible health plan, or make it extremely difficult to choose another option. So that changes the landscape for consumer. The first dollar is now coming out of your pocket. So people are having to ask, how much will this procedure cost me? And as you get more comfortable asking questions about price, you start asking other questions. The patient is becoming a payer. And when the patient is a payer—when the recipient of a service is also the payer of a service, we call that a consumer. Patients are becoming consumers, and are starting to think of themselves that way. And that’s a huge cultural shift. So I see payers starting to change rapidly in their treatment of patients. For example, in hospitals, there’s a whole new job category, that of the chief experience officer. Did we never need that before? Of course we did, but that role is emerging now as the whole economy is changing. I see a whole new response to patient engagement beginning to take place now. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it will happen, and any provider who thinks they can just put their head in the sand and think consumers won’t become activated, is deluded.

What should CIOs, CMIOs, and other senior healthcare IT leaders, who have a broad role to play in creating the data analytics and data performance architectures to help their clinician and operational colleagues improve care delivery performance, be thinking about and doing right now?

One thing they should be doing is listening very closely to clinicians—physicians and nurses—about what is happening in direct patient care. I think it is very concerning right now that so many physicians are complaining of being burned out, especially around electronic health records. If the physician is feeling burned out and the EHR [electronic health record] is interfering with the physician-patient interaction, that’s not good. So healthcare IT leaders need to listen to physicians and nurses as experts in the design and implementation of information and record systems.

What about the issue of physicians feeling burnout around having to respond to multiple outcomes measure processes sponsored by the different health plans they’re contracted to? I know that stakeholders have been collaborating for a decade and a half in California on harmonizing outcomes measurement programs statewide.

I think the responsibility that purchasers and payers have is to use measures well. The burnout factor happens when we collect measures and don’t use them. When consumers don’t pay attention, or when purchasers and payers don’t use those measures for contracting purposes. I don’t think it means measurement is a useless thing; indeed, we have to do measurement, to provide scorecards to know how healthcare is doing. It’s very important. So in my mind, our responsibility is to use the measurements appropriately and well.

What should the leaders of employer-purchasers and health plans be doing right now?

They need to pay close attention to outcomes and safety data, and use it in their contracting and tiering and identification of centers of excellence, and communications with employees and families. Fundamentally, they’re investing in healthcare, to make their employees’ lives better. And in the area of patient safety, that’s a critical aspect of that. You can get an excellent outcome at an excellent price, but if there’s an infection or error that disables or, God forbid, kills the patient, you’ve nullified the value. So we see it as a three-legged stool: quality, price, and safety.

What will be happening at The Leapfrog Group in the next couple of years?

One thing we’re planning is, in addition to collecting data on inpatient care and hospital safety grades, we’re going to roll out outpatient surgery center and outpatient surgical units (day surgery) outcomes, soon. We’ll be rolling it out later this year… sometime in the fall. Soon.

On a spectrum from pessimism to optimism, how optimistic or pessimistic are you regarding the progress of the U.S. healthcare industry as it evolves forward into a value-based delivery and payment system?

I’m optimistic, because we’re seeing the engagement of new people in healthcare. We’re seeing consumers, who never really paid much attention to the details of where they got healthcare before, now closely scrutinizing every aspect of their care. That’s a new thing. And I’ve never seen the employer-purchasers more active in healthcare. And new technology is making things very exciting, including artificial intelligence and telemedicine. Whole new ways of doing things. I feel very excited by the possibilities. As long as we have the right kind of market, things will move forward; if we go back down the road of fee-for-service payment, with the wrong incentives, things could go in the wrong direction. But I don’t think that will happen.

How might new disruptive arrangements in healthcare, such as the proposed CVS/Aetna merger, the announcement of the collaboration among Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, and the potential Walmart-Humana deal, impact all of this? Could these new disruptions help push forward the concept of value in U.S. healthcare?

Yes. I think the CVS-Aetna merger—I think that’s actually a very innovative merger that potentially could have an enormous influence on a new direction for healthcare. Potentially, it aligns incentives to the benefit of patients, if it goes the way it should. And if it does, we’ll see more pressure on pharmacy prices and medical prices. So we’ll see how it goes. There’s potential there, in any case. It’s promising. And what we don’t often see very often in healthcare is the merger of two different types of organizations. That’s what got me excited about the CVS-Aetna announcement.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We have strong belief in looking at measures around CPOE and barcoding. We actually pay a lot of attention to the information systems of hospitals and believe that that’s a really important element of quality. You have to look at the infrastructure of a hospital to really see its quality.

Sidebar: Health Value Awards 2018

Healthcare industry leaders were asked to evaluate a wide variety of submissions to the Health Value Awards program. The following winners were announced on Sunday, April 29, in a ceremony during the first session of the 15th Annual World Health Care Congress, being held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.:

Third-Party Administrators:

Diamond: Continental Benefits
Gold: Group Pension Administrators

Direct Care Provider:

Diamond: Aravind Eye Hospitals
Gold: Integrated Musculoskeletal Care
Silver: Health City Cayman Islands

Product/Program Provider:

Diamond: Zero Card
Gold: Access Net

Silver: Quantum

Small Employer:

Diamond: The Phia Group, LLC
Gold: Access Net
Silver: Palmer Johnson Power Systems

Mid Sized Employer:

Diamond: CHG Health Care
Gold: City of Kirkland
Silver: Globaltranz

Large Employer:

Diamond: Intel Corp. HR Benefits Team
Gold: Metro Nashville Public Schools
Silver: Rosen Resorts & Hotels

Outstanding Benefits Provider 2018:

Diamond: David Hoke, Walmart
Gold: Todd Bisping
Silver: Adam Russo

Outstanding Benefits Broker or Consultant Leadership:

Diamond: RE Sutton & Associates, a Division of Brown & Brown
Gold: Don Reiman, Echelon
Silver: Scott Haas, USI Insurance Sales

Lifetime Achievement, Clinical Care:

Diamond: John Wennberg, Dartmouth Atlas
Gold: Dr. Devi Shetty, Narayanna
Silver: John Noseworthy, Mayo Clinic

Lifetime Achievement, Health Benefits Innovation:

Diamond: Harris Rosen, CEO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts
Gold: David Hoke
Silver: Barbara Barrett

Lifetime Achievement, Public Leadership:

Diamond: Harris Rosen, CEO, Rosen Hotels & Resorts
Gold: Dr. Devi Shetty, Narayanna
Silver: Lea Binder, The Leapfrog Group

source: World Health Care Congress

 

 


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When Will Federal Healthcare Officials Liberate CMMI to Create Appealing Innovation?

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At a moment when the MSSP Program is particularly vulnerable, are officials at HHS and CMS preparing new offerings through CMMI that will appeal to provider leaders?

“What might be in the works over at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI)? Are there new pilot models actively in development that will be rolled out this year? Many industry stakeholders, including federal lawmakers, are eager to know what the relatively opaque agency has in store,” Associate Editor Heather Landi wrote here in an article on January 11.

“Created under the Obama administration, CMMI is charged with piloting, testing and evaluating alternative payment models (APMs)—such as bundled payment models, for example—with the intent of increasing quality and efficiency, while reducing program expenditures under Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” she noted. “However, CMMI has been notably quiet in the first two years of the Trump Administration with regards to new payment models. Last January, CMS did launch a new voluntary bundled payment model, Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Advanced, the Administration’s first Advanced APM.”

Landi added that, “In several speeches to industry groups this past fall, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar has indicated that the Trump Administration is exploring new voluntary bundled payments, and even revisiting mandatory bundled payments, which represents a strong about-face in the Trump Administration’s policy about bundled payment initiatives. Azar has even hinted that CMMI will get more involved in addressing social needs, such as food insecurity and housing.”

Indeed, in a September 6 speech to a meeting of the Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee (PTAC) in Washington, D.C., Secretary Azar said, “Of the priorities I have picked for HHS, the most ambitious and furthest reaching is transforming our healthcare system into one that pays for health and wellness rather than sickness and procedures… The outcome we’re aiming for is pretty simple: better healthcare at a lower price. But the question of how we deliver this outcome is much more complicated.”

Azar went on to say that “There has been some progress on some of the tools we need to execute this transformation. We have more alternative payment models, more coordinated care, and more value-based compensation than ever before. But the results we hope for haven’t always materialized. As just one example, we saw in the analysis CMS released at the beginning of August that the burgeoning number of Accountable Care Organizations have not delivered significant savings when all costs and incentives are taken into account.”

Importantly, he added, “[T]he best results we’ve seen have been in ACOs that took on two-sided risk—where providers have real accountability for outcomes. We’ve also seen better results from physician-run ACOs, as opposed to hospitals. Without real accountability, we’re just offering bonuses on top of payments that may be too high already. That’s why we have now proposed to simplify the ACO system into two tracks, requiring them to take on risk sooner. As our CMMI director, Adam Boehler, put it last week, if this means somewhat fewer ACOs, that’s okay with us.”

Remember, PTAC was created by the MACRA law, to help HHS get input and feedback for innovative ideas. As the committee’s website notes, “PTAC was created by The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) which was enacted, in part, to improve how the federal Medicare program pays physicians for the care they provide to Medicare beneficiaries. MACRA authorized the creation of Medicare’s Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and additional Medicare Alternative Payment Models (APMs). MACRA also created incentives for physicians to participate in APMs, and it specifically encouraged the development of certain types of APMs referred to as physician-focused payment models (PFPMs).” And, as part of all of that, Congress created PATC. Indeed, PTAC’s website notes, “The Secretary is required by MACRA to review PTAC’s comments and recommendations on submitted proposals and post a detailed response on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) website.” So it might well be at one of PTAC’s committee hearings that we’ll hear the inside scoop on what’s coming next.

As Landi noted in her Jan. 11 article, “Many healthcare industry stakeholders who support accelerating the transition to value-based care and payment models are eager for CMMI to develop and roll out new voluntary alternative payment models. And others want to see more transparency in the process. Just this week, two Congressional leaders, U.S. Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), ranking member of the committee, sent a letter to Verma calling for greater transparency from CMMI as it develops new delivery and payment models, noting that its process has ‘historically been opaque to Congress and to stakeholders.’”

Indeed, Reps. Neal and Brady wrote, "Significant policy changes made unilaterally by the executive branch without sufficient transparency could yield unintended negative consequences for beneficiaries and the health care community. We strongly urge the Agency to provide more sunshine in this process."

The challenge here is that even the APMs are heading through some very choppy waters right now. As I noted on January 11, The announcement on Wednesday, January 10 by senior officials at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that the agency will require participants in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) will be required to submit applications to the new Pathways to Success part of the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) by February 19, has roiled accountable care organization (ACO) leaders nationwide.”

And I quoted extensively a press release from the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of ACOs (NAACOS) that criticized CMS for the timeframe involved, following the issuance of the final rule on December 19. In its Wednesday press release, NAACOS stated that “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) late Wednesday announced applications to participate in the new Pathways to Success accountable care organization (ACO) program will be due February 19, two months after the agency published a nearly 267-page rule overhauling the Medicare Shared Savings Program. In response, the National Association of ACOs (NAACOS) is calling on CMS to give ACOs till later in March to understand the complex changes and determine participation options with affiliated doctors, hospitals, and other providers before committing to high-stakes decisions.” And the association quoted its president and CEO, Clif Gaus, Sc.D., as stating that “ACOs barely have time to understand the new rules, and organizing an application is very complicated and for some it is now a high-risk decision. There are too many difficult decisions to rush.”

So we have Secretary Azar stating on the record back in September that it’s OK with him if fewer patient care organizations participate in the MSSP program, and then on December 19, CMS announced that it was setting the deadline for the submission of applications to the new Pathways to Success program for February 19. Well, that move will almost certainly cause some ACO leaders to drop out of MSSP for now; indeed, in that same article, I quoted Jennifer Moore, a NAACOS board member and chief operating officer at MaineHealth ACO in Portland, Maine, as stating that her ACO would probably have to retreat to upside-only participation, simply because of the unreasonable deadline set for submission of applications for 2019 participation in two-sided risk.

So—does CMS have ideas for new voluntary APMs that are being developed now? And, very importantly, how appealing might those ideas be to providers? Here’s what’s clear: with MSSP participation already imperiled because of what providers see as unreasonable timelines in submitting applications for participation in two-sided risk, any new voluntary programs are absolutely going to have to be seen by provider leaders as having at least a moderate level of appeal—at the strategic level, programmatic level, and practical level—in order to attract any participation.

Because honestly, the rhetoric and mixed messages coming out of HHS and CMS right now are meeting with confusion, bewilderment, and frustration on the part of provider leaders nationwide. As I’ve noted in past commentaries, HHS and CMS leaders are caught in a complex policy web, in that they represent a Republican administration whose mantra has been that markets and consumers can help to drive change; yet the practical reality, as they know, is that, without using exceptionally focused, even pointed, strategies to gain participation, any voluntary programs that senior federal healthcare policy officials develop, will crash against a shoal of hard defeat in the face of provider reluctance to participate.

CMMI is a unique organization; created under the ACA to be the Medicare and Medicaid programs’ innovation test bed, it is now caught in a vise between free-market-tinged ideology coming from the White House, and the understanding, among senior HHS and CMS officials, that experimental APMs are going to be needed to be created and adopted, quickly, in order to begin to make a dent in the accelerating healthcare inflation trajectory that continues to bedevil the U.S. healthcare system. What’s more, CMMI Director Adam Boehler appears to be talented and thoughtful; now certainly would be a great time for him to be given the freedom and scope to create meaningful new programs that will appeal to the industry.

And, in the end, as political commentators are fond of saying, in a variety of different contexts, hope is not a strategy. Let’s hope we see CMMI developing appealing APMs that provider leaders can really be enthusiastic about participating in. It’s definitely time.

 

 

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Should Physicians and HIT Leaders Worry about the Implications of the Walgreens/Microsoft Deal?

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As architect Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans”; the leaders of the Walgreens/Microsoft alliance, like so many others, certainly are thinking big these days
architect Daniel Burnham

Nearly every day, it seems, new business combinations are announced that are threatening to alter the landscape of U.S. healthcare forever. CVS’s acquisition of Aetna, completed last November; the announcement a year ago now that the executives of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were launching a broad (if not well defined) initiative to improve consumer satisfaction and reduce costs for their employees; Cigna’s acquisition just last month of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) company Express Scripts; and Amazon’s acquisition last summer of online pharmacy company PillPack.

Every one of those business deals represents a disruptive move in U.S. healthcare, with unalike “species” of organizations combining with one another. And now, the retail drugstore giant  Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are coming together in yet another disruptive venture. As Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal wrote in an article on Tuesday, the corporations “are joining forces on a major seven-year healthcare partnership that will aim to ‘deliver innovative platforms that enable next-generation health networks, integrated digital-physical experiences and care management solutions.’” As he wrote, “The companies announced today that they will combine the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and AI (artificial intelligence) platform, healthcare investments, and new retail solutions with WBA’s customer reach, volume of locations, and outpatient healthcare services to accomplish their goals: to make healthcare delivery more personal, affordable and accessible.”

As Leventhal noted in his report, “While innovation in healthcare has occurred in pockets, officials of the two companies believe that ‘there is both a need and an opportunity to fully integrate the system, ultimately making healthcare more convenient to people through data-driven insights.’” Further, he noted, “As part of the strategic partnership, the companies have committed to a multiyear research and development (R&D) investment to build healthcare solutions, improve health outcomes and lower the cost of care. This investment will include funding, subject-matter experts, technology and tools, officials noted in the announcement. The companies will also explore the potential to establish joint innovation centers in key markets. Additionally, this year, WBA will pilot up to 12 store-in-store ‘digital health corners” aimed at the merchandising and sale of select healthcare-related hardware and devices.

“This gap creates an opportunity for the pharmacist to help monitor the patients’ health and prompt the patient to receive preventative care in the retail clinic or through a virtual care visit. Using an enterprise health cloud, like Azure, you create a more connected ecosystem so that we can share that data with the patient’s additional providers, track outcomes, and intervene earlier when an issue arises,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement Tuesday.

And, Leventhal wrote, “Notably, the companies will also work on building an ecosystem of participating organizations to better connect consumers, providers—including Walgreens and Boots pharmacists—so that major healthcare delivery network participation will provide the opportunity for people to seamlessly engage in WBA healthcare solutions and acute care providers all within a single platform.”

Speaking to the difference between retail pharmacies and traditional care providers, Forrester analyst Arielle Trzcinski said in a statement emailed to the press that “[R]etail pharmacies offer an opportunity to engage with the patient much more frequently than at an office visit, giving an example of how chronic care patients see their pharmacist frequently, while some figures indicate that the average diabetic patient sees his or her provider once every six months.”

The implications of all of this are, of course, huge. For one thing, if one were to ask the average patient/healthcare consumer with whom they interacted more, doubtless, the vast majority would cite their retail pharmacists, rather than their primary care physicians. What’s more, what happens if Walgreens is able to follow through, as CVS also intends to do, in creating minute clinics in retail pharmacy locations? The impact could be revolutionary.

Indeed, it’s no secret that many patients are dissatisfied with the cumbersome, challenging processes around accessing primary and specialty care in the U.S. healthcare system. Simply accessing a timely appointment often proves to be a major hassle; and encounters around needed follow-ups and around questions to doctors and nurses often turn out to be such a hassle that many patients simply give up, with the result of medication non-compliance and other issues.

So what will happen if Walgreens, like CVS, manages to achieve success with one or more elements of this initiative? Those could include enhanced continuum of care for patients, especially those with chronic diseases; improved communication among all care delivery stakeholders; and enhanced patient/consumer satisfaction.

A few stakeholder groups should be paying particular attention here, including practicing physicians and healthcare IT leaders. For practicing physicians, could anyone deny that this business initiative, along with the others mentioned above, should be disconcerting at the very least? Already, patients needing relatively immediate medical attention, are turning en masse to urgent care centers, as both health systems and health insurers are working to cut down on the volume of emergency department visits, which are tremendously expensive, and which burden the healthcare delivery system in ways that are not sustainable. But now, with both Walgreens/Microsoft and CVS/Aetna, is anyone denying that the era of pretty-close-to-immediate medical attention is on the horizon?

The reality is that, while most patients like their primary care physicians and are satisfied with their care overall, strong majorities, in polls, continue to complain about poor service, bad communication, and delays accessing care and accessing follow-up support. What happens when most decent-sized Walgreens and CVS drugstores are staffed up with PCPs or advanced practice nurses, to handle the colds, coughs, flus, strep throats, and minor skin and digestive issues that could easily be handled by such service offerings?

One of the core policy issues here is that the U.S. healthcare payment system remains largely predicated on primary care physicians physically touching patients in order to get paid. Yes, telehealth services are expanding daily; but in most situations, patients still need to go through the awkward, inconvenient, sometimes even-arduous process of scheduling an appointment, using some form of transportation to get to that appointment, and waiting in a crowded physician office, in order to access primary care.  But in 2019, when GrubHub can deliver one’s banh mi Vietnamese sandwich to one’s home, and Amazon is sending everything from books to clothing to furniture to God-knows what, directly to people’s doors, how much longer will healthcare consumers continue to be patient with the glacial pace of care delivery change in U.S. healthcare?

Meanwhile, healthcare IT leaders will inevitably find themselves somewhat behind a proverbial eight-ball on all this, caught between the intensifying demands on the part of practicing physicians, especially primary care physicians, for full clinical IT support for their practices, and constant business changes, including merger-and-acquisition activity in their own organizations that is continuously scrambling their long-term planning.

So we’re seeing both business and technology changing, and changing quickly, with numerous examples already of industry-disruptive business combinations, and technology advancing to the point where previously unimagined breakthroughs are now imaginable. For example, Walgreens and Microsoft noted that, “Through this agreement, Microsoft becomes WBA’s strategic cloud provider, and WBA plans to migrate the majority of the company’s IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure,” as corporate officials put it. And “Microsoft also plans to roll out Microsoft 365 to more than 380,000 Walgreens employees and stores globally.” And, to make things just that more intriguing, the announcement quoted Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Walgreens corporation, as stating that “WBA will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payors and healthcare providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value and better health outcomes in health care systems across the world.”

As renowned Chicago architect Daniel Burnham so famously said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” There’s no question that the senior leaders of all of these business alliances, combinations, and initiatives are going to be “no little plans.” It would behoove clinicians, clinician leaders, healthcare IT leaders, and all c-suite leaders in provider organizations to think Burnham-sized thoughts; these businesspeople from outside traditional healthcare delivery are certainly doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

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Blue Cross NC, Five Health Systems Announce Major Shift to Value-Based Care

January 16, 2019
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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The insurer aims to have half of its 3.89M customers covered by VBC contracts by next year; all customers in VBC arrangements in five years
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Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), one of the state’s largest insurers, and five of the state’s major health systems in North Carolina have announced a new value-based care program that encompasses hundreds of thousands of healthcare customers throughout the state.

The five health systems—Cone Health, Duke University Health System, UNC Health Care, Wake Forest Baptist Health and WakeMed Health & Hospitals—and their accountable care organizations (ACOs) have committed to participating in Blue Premier, a new value-based model of care in which Blue Cross NC and the health systems will be jointly responsible for better health outcomes, exceptional patient experience and lower costs, according to a Blue Cross NC press release.

“With agreements from five of the state’s major health systems and their ACOs, Blue Premier is one of the most rapid and comprehensive shifts to value-based payments in the nation,” Blue Cross NC officials stated. Patrick Conway, M.D., serves as president and CEO of the Durham-based health insurer and previously served as the Chief Medical Officer, Deputy Administrator, and Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), a division of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Within five years, Blue Cross NC has committed to having all 3.89 million customers covered under Blue Premier’s value-based care contracts. By early 2020, fifty percent or more of all Blue Cross NC members will have a provider who is jointly responsible for the quality and total cost of their care, the health insurer stated.

“As a practicing physician, I have experienced first-hand the challenges plaguing our health care system,” Conway said in a statement. “Historically, our health care system pays for services that may or may not improve a patient’s health, and our customers simply cannot afford this approach. Moving forward, insurers, doctors and hospitals must work together, and hold each other accountable for improving care and reducing costs. We applaud the leadership and commitment of these five leaders in health care to help transform health care delivery in North Carolina.”

During the HLTH Conference, held at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas last May, Conway discussed the payer-provided landscape in North Carolina and alluded to opportunities accelerate the move to value-based care and payment models, according to reporting from Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland. “We’re looking at a new model, where patient care organizations can partner more fully with Blue Cross North Carolina,” Conway said, per Hagland’s report. And Conway continued, “We’re saying, you can take this alternative pathway with us. And we’ll jointly be accountable for the total quality and cost of care. And we want you to go into two-sided risk. And we’re wondering, should we turn off all prior authorization? And documentation other than for risk coding and STARS measures, we won’t worry about how you document. And for people in the audience, those kinds of partnerships are very exciting, because you’ve now got a provider and payer that are no longer locked into rigid rules, but where you can innovate on quality and customer experience.”

According to the insurer, Blue Premier ties payments to doctors and hospitals over time to the value of services that improve patient health. This means that total payments to the health systems under Blue Premier will be based on the health systems’ ability to manage the total cost of care and their overall performance, measured by industry quality standards. Through a “shared risk” financial model, the health systems will share in cost savings if they meet industry-standard goals to improve the health of patients – and share in the losses if they fall short. “The unprecedented commitment from these five large health systems makes Blue Premier one of the most advanced and comprehensive value-based care programs in North Carolina and the nation,” Blue Cross NC officials stated.

“This unprecedented step by Blue Cross NC and many of the state’s leading health care organizations will make a big difference in advancing high-quality, innovative care in North Carolina,” Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy said in a statement in the press release. “At Duke-Margolis, we remain committed to supporting state government and private-sector initiatives to reform payment and improve care – providing needed examples for the nation.” 

In a statement, Donald Gintzig, president and CEO, WakeMed Health & Hospitals, said, “This collaboration represents an important step forward in our efforts to provide patients in our area and across the state with high quality, coordinated services for the best value. Our health systems are bringing together valuable resources in a more integrated way that will ultimately lead to better health and more affordable health care.”

The news of the value-based care collaboration comes a month after the health insurer announced a partnership with Aledade, a Bethesda, Md.-based company focused on physician-led ACO development, to launch a value-based care initiative to support primary care physicians across the state. Through the initiative, the two companies will support physician-led ACOs tailored specifically for primary care physicians and the communities they serve. Through these ACO arrangements, Blue Cross NC will collaborate with Aledade to provide physicians with technology and data analytics tools to better manage patient care and costs. After joining these ACOs, practices gain a more comprehensive view of their patients’ total cost of care, gaps in quality of care, and experiences throughout the entire health care system, the companies said.

 

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