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The Strategic and Strategic-IT Challenges Around Risk: Premier Execs Share Their Thoughts

June 11, 2018
by Mark Hagland
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Premier Inc. executives share their perspectives on some of the challenges facing senior patient care organizations, as they move into risk-based contracting

In the two articles that he prepared as part of the Special Report on Value-Based Healthcare for the second-quarter issue of Healthcare Informatics, Mark Hagland interviewed industry experts and leaders on the plunge into risk-based and value-based contracting on the part of U.S. providers, and the strategic information technology challenges around that plunge.

In preparing the articles “Value-Based Care: Landscape Tilt,”  and “The IT and Analytics Drive,” Hagland interviewed three senior leaders at Premier Inc., the Charlotte-based health alliance: Joe Damore, vice president of population health management; Mark Hiller, vice president of bundled payment services; and Shawn Griffin, M.D., vice president, clinical performance improvement and applied analytics. Below are excerpts from that interview.

When you look at the landscape around value-based healthcare right now, and the proverbial “journey of a thousand miles,” where would you see that we are as a healthcare system, in that journey?

Joe Damore:  I think we are still in the childhood years, about to enter the teenage years, maybe, on this. We’ve got about 20 percent of both commercial and Medicare arrangements, that are two-sided—it’s actually 17 percent in Medicare that are on two-sided risk now, up from 13 percent. We’re moving more and more towards two-sided risk, but it’s a slow process. The delivery systems want to make sure they’re ready, and that they have the tools, knowledge, and information to manage two-sided risk. But one-sided risk has continued to grow, with over 500 Medicare ACOs across the country, and about the same number of commercial ACOs.

Our forecast is that two-sided risk will pick up even more soon, as providers need some downside risk to really focus on this. And we’ll also see a growth in Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care, involving some downside risk to providers. Many health plans want to do this and shift risk to providers, too, but many don’t have the infrastructure in place to move towards a capitated arrangement for primary care plus shared savings for specialty care; very few have built the tools to do that. There’s a desire to do that. Blue Cross of Hawaii has implemented that model, where they’re capitating over 500 physicians in Hawaii for primary care, and providing shared savings for total cost of care.”


Joe Damore

Mark Hiller: To add to what Joe has said, in the past many years, I’ve been focusing on the bundled payment side, and one of the interesting things with bundled payment is that if you go back to the BPCI program under Medicare, announced in 2011, the thousand-plus participants have been dealing with two-sided risk across the life of that program. What’s more, there’s two-sided risk in the total joint replacement program. We’re working with providers on CHF, pneumonia, COPD, and so forth, in addition to total joint, and with two-sided risk. So that’s growing, if more slowly, than the broad population health-related programs. But in the bundle area, it’s growing fast. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new program [BPCI-Advanced—the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Advanced program, sponsored by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)] took off quickly.

I have no doubt it’s going to explode quickly. The applications to that program were due in, in March. And from the rumors I’ve heard, there has been a significant number of applications submitted to Medicare. And that will involve two-sided risk.


Mark Hiller 

Shawn Griffin, M.D.: From your analogy around the maturity curve, we’re still standing on opposite sides of the gym, trying to figure out if anyone wants to dance, and nobody’s a good dancer yet.

What are the biggest challenges that providers face in moving into risk-based contracting?

Damore: Living in both worlds—the world of fee-for-service incentives and of value-based payment—is very difficult. We have an expression at Premier: fee-for-service is the enemy of value-based payment. That is the number-one challenge, that the model of payment to providers has to be aligned on a value-based model. It’s like the example I gave around capitation and primary care: if my incentive is to get patients into the office, that’s what I’m going to do; but if my incentive is to manage my patients on a capitated model, I’m going to grow my panel and have advanced practitioners see my patients more. And I’ll use creative techniques, including virtual visits, e-visits, group visits. So in my opinion, that’s the greatest barrier.

Hiller: I think there’s also still a misunderstanding out there of how these models work. When I meet to talk with providers about bundles, especially when I talk to providers new to the concept, there’s a vast different between how the program actually works, and their understanding of it. There’s this notion that you’ll get a single payment and figure out how to distribute that, and many providers aren’t comfortable with that, because they think they’ll now have to act as a payer. But the vast majority of bundles today still involve a FFS payment upfront, and it can actually be successful for them financially. To be successful with these bundles really requires managing quality of care: you don’t want multiple readmissions under a bundle. When you can reduce readmissions, and look across the continuum of care, which most providers aren’t used to doing, you can be quite successful, both financially and from a quality perspective.

Griffin: Joe nailed it well. We’re looking at organizations that have optimized their operations well over 40 years for fee-for-service payment, so no one’s optimized this. And this makes everybody lose sleep.


Shawn Griffin, M.D.

Damore: Another good example of this is Kaiser Permanente; I always use Kaiser as an example of a place where it’s easy to manage, because you have only one payment system at Kaiser, value-based payment. If you look at their success, and they had a tremendous financial year last year—I think they made over a billion dollars—it’s quite possible to be successful, if value-based care delivery and payment is your focus. The longer you live in both worlds, the harder it is.

What are some of the core strategic and operational IT and data issues involved in moving into risk-based contracting?

Griffin: Fundamentally, the response to risk is trying to increase control, and our data systems have not been organized to give us total control over processes. The challenge is that your insurance company you’re contracting with controls and owns the data; data ownership is an important concept. And even doctors aren’t all on the same EHR [electronic health record], who are in the same network. And now that the system of care isn’t just hospitals, but outpatient and post-acute as well, you have to build data and IT governance [around participation in value-based healthcare contracting]. And you have different metrics for different claims and clinical data types; and the fact that we’re trying to bring in different types of data and tell the same story with them, is difficult. And the lack of interoperability is a huge challenge.

Damore: I feel like we’re making progress on the claims data, because organizations are getting better at doing claims analytics; we’re now beginning to be able to use claims data to identify, for example, who the high-risk and high-cost patients are, etc. But I still see a huge challenge in the lack of interoperability among EHRs. I don’t see anyone who’s mastered the situation yet of networks that are using multiple EHRs.

Griffin: We have a sketch of interoperability that often involves dumbing down the information you share among EHRs. Almost nobody talks about claims interoperability. Medicare Advantage versus commercial plans, multiple Medicare Advantage plans, all are different versions of claims data. We all have a phrasebook for a foreign language.

Hiller: I would agree with everything that Joe and Sean have said. There are bright spots in all of this struggle, and what we’ve seen in bundles—I used to work on the hospital side, in the middle of my career, for eight years, and once a patient left a hospital, it was a black hole. And even though these claims aren’t tied to specific bundles or whatever, even having some level of information—seeing where our patients go, how long they’re spending time there, and 28 days in a SNF [skilled nursing facility] is something you anecdotally knew about, but now you can see it.

What should CIOs, CMIOs, and other senior healthcare IT leaders be doing right now, in the context of what we’ve been discussing here?

Griffin: Interoperability requires connectivity, so you need to be fleshing out your connections with all your providers, and that you’ve got the wiring down. And you’ve got to be working with your physicians, and make sure your clinicians are at your table as your building out your plan, and solving problems, not just increasing responsibilities. There’s no magic bullet, but there are islands of competency, where leaders of patient care organizations are doing this well, and sharing information with others.

Damore: I also think you need to take an interdisciplinary approach to governance of IT. The CMIO and CIO can lead that effort, but shouldn’t be doing it in isolation. You need clinicians, your quality leader, your financial leader, your clinical integration leader. So you need multiple people at the table. And you need to develop a roadmap that’s logical. So you really need to develop a targeted plan, and say, here are the stair steps to that plan. I see so many places where they haven’t really thought through it in a very organized, stairstep way, in terms of what you’ve got to do and in what order.

Griffin: Yes, it’s a huge process. Unfortunately, meaningful use-driven [EHR] implementations tended to get reduced to technical implementations, but improving the quality of care was actually the point of what meaningful use was supposed to get us towards. And the fact that we still have interoperability issues is witness to that.

What about the element of personal leadership in moving organizations forward?

Griffin: I definitely think we need a bias towards action. And clinician leadership in change in an organization is not only necessary for success, but the key to success. And with the excess of data and shortage of information and shortage of timeliness of presenting information in the workflow.

And it can’t be perceived as an IT project, correct?

Griffin: This is similar to if you were going to open a brand-new hospital. It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation, not a hobby thing run out of the back of the IT department.

Is there anything anyone would like to add here?

Griffin: We’re seeing a broader emergence of cloud-based technologies, which will better help us leverage data analytics. And having trusted outsider advisers working with trusted internal leaders, is important. And we can either lead or react, and the leaders are tending to do better.

Damore: I think it’s an exciting time, and I do think with some of the changes in the administration, we’re going to see this transformation accelerated, because of the fact that there’s now leadership in place focused on it. I know the Secretary is looking for a couple of people in the VBP area, to help move this forward.

Hiller: I agree, I think this is a very exciting time, and has been for a few years now, and as a finance guy, it’s exciting to see these new programs blending in and being combined with changes in care delivery. And these bundles we’ve been working on that have been successful, it’s really a team-based approach, with clinician leaders, quality people, finance and IT people getting together, and the fee-for-service world doesn’t do that well, so this is exciting.

 


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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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