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4 posts from March 2012

March 23, 2012

Pay For Performance and HCAHPS

"There's nothing better at incenting than money."

Setting aside for a moment the mangling of the English language in this quote (see the full article on HCAHPS and P4P), we can probably agree that financial incentives are often a reasonable way to evoke desired behavior change.

At the moment, we're talking about providing care in a way that evokes favorable responses by patients on the HCAHPS questionnaires. Hospitals that have been attentive to patient satisfaction matters -- as measured by HCAHPS -- will be the winners; others, the losers, in the Medicare zero-sum-game of value-based hospital reimbursement.

We love, love, love metrics. We think that if we dole out financial rewards based on metrics, then health care will be improved. So we've developed about 1,000 quality measures (see National Quality Forum (NQF) measure list), and we ask providers to track performance on too many of them, on the theory that you cannot manage what you do not measure -- an aphorism with truth to it, but folks, we have run amok with measures.

Since we don't track all 1,000 all at once, we end up focusing on the dozen or so metrics in front of us at any given time, and other things fall off the table. 

I would love to see six or eight ur-measures that are predictive of quality across a broad spectrum of issues. I've had the opportunity to discuss this and related P4P issues with some leaders in the field, and offer for your listening (or reading) pleasure (well, OK, it's subjective ...) interviews I've done with Leah Binder of the Leapfrog Group, Don Berwick before he went to work for Uncle Sam and Cyndy Nayer & Wayne Burton of the Center for Health Value Innovation.

So what do you think about pay for performance?

What works? What doesn't?

If you were king/queen of P4P, what would you do?

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting


March 18, 2012

Health Insurance Exchange Regulations and the Health Reform Challenge

Health insuranceThe federal Health Insurance Exchange regulations were released in final form last week.  (See Timothy Jost's précis on the Health Affairs blog and HHS presser.)  

I had the opportunity to hear Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine speak in Philadelphia about his state's progress towards building an exchange the very next day (I was speaking later on the program). Pennsylvania is one of the 26 states challenging the federal health reform law (and even has a state constitutional amendment afoot that would bar implementation of the individual mandate in PA), but that hasn't stopped the Keystone State from spending a $1 million planning grant and getting a $33.8 million implementation grant to kick their state health insurance exchange into high gear. (Nothing like playing both sides, eh?)  

Now that the regs are final, Pennsylvania and the rest of the states had better get cracking, because they are all supposed to have functioning exchanges by January 1, 2014.  The next step would for the federales to give the high sign that they are on track by January 1, 2013 by confirming that they meet the requirements of the "Exchange Blueprint" (which seems less prescriptive than "Plan"); if they don't, or Uncle Sam says their plans aren't up to snuff, then the feds are to step in and run the state exchange. Interestingly, state-level exchanges may be run by the feds (i.e., HHS) "directly or through agreement with a not-for-profit entity." 45 CFR 155.105(f). While some detail is offered about state-chartered not-for-profits that may run exchanges on behalf of states, regions within states, or groups of states (though given current insurance marketing rules and practices that are state-specific, multistate exchanges seem yet to be a pipe dream), no detail is offered about this potentially very important not-for-profit -- after all, there could theoretically be a single not-for-profit entity operating most state-level exchanges come January 2014.  Furthermore, a state-run exchange may contract out its operations in whole or in part to a private entity "that has demonstrated experience on a State or regional basis in the individual and small group health insurance markets and in benefits coverage" and is not a health insurance issuer. 45 CFR 155.110.  It will be interesting to see which of the usual suspects move into this new market opportunity.

Given the late date of the final regs relative to the January 1, 2014 compliance date (which is statutory), I'm thinking that Uncle Sam will be running a whole bunch of state health insurance exchanges, at least for a while.  On the one hand, January 2014 isn't exactly around the corner; on the other hand, we're talking about state bureaucracies that will either have to make or buy exchanges, and both state procurement and state hiring systems may well be described as byzantine.  Not to mention the fact that many states haven't even passed the legislation necessary to establish this new state function.  Or that many are hanging back pending the Supreme Court review of the health reform law. 

Massachusetts won't be one of those making or buying this time around, of course, since it already has an exchange (we call it the Connector) up and running under the Massachusetts health reform law. The grandfathering language in the draft regs has survived (45 CFR 155.150), so folks here in Boston won't have to tweak the Connector to comply with federal requirements, at least initially. A state with an exchange up and running since January 1, 2010, and having at least the percentage of its population covered as CBO estimated in March 2011 will be covered nationally under the ACA in 2016 (95%) may continue to run its own exchange, but will need to work with HHS to determine whether there are any areas onf noncompliance with the federal exchange regs, and work to rectify them.       

As I wrote when the draft health insurance exchange regulations were released in July:

Stepping back from the details, the naysayers will say that the state subsidies built into the exchange for eligible residents will break the camel's back -- universal coverage is a pipe dream we can't afford.  The counter-argument, of course, is that we can't afford widespread uninsurance.  

A question that remains is whether we can afford widespread underinsurance. While this set of regs is certainly long, it is not comprehensive.  About half of the reg is dedicated to matters of eligibility and enrollment.  A couple of key issues have been deferred, including the definition of the "essential health benefits" that must be offered by a "qualified health plan" or QHP -- i.e., any health plan that hopes to be listed on a state exchange. The idea is to have that set of benefits determined by reference to the local (i.e., state-level) "typical plan," which may mean the plan with the most subscribers. Carried to a logical extreme, this approach to defining QHP, while certainly respectful of market differences state to state, could end up undercutting the goals of the ACA by establishing what may be a very low threshold for coverage. This sort of state discretion runs through other aspects of the rule as well; it is not all command-and-control.

As insurers prepare themselves for working with exchanges, they must also prepare themselves for the realities of guaranteed-issue policies based on community rating and no pre-existing condition exclusions. The final regs addressing these issues for the transition period of 2014-2106 and beyond were also issued last week -- the three "R"s: Reinsurance, Risk Corridors and Risk Adjustment; read more about them here. One note on the final reg: calculation of plans' risk scores will be handled by the plans and not by the federales (thanks to comments by Congressional Republicans concerned about government holding the private health data needed for these calculations), which may introduce opportunities for disputes, and certainly reduces opportunities for some big-picture, big data trend analysis in the future.

As January 2013 approaches, some states will be working hard to demonstrate their readiness to comply with the Exchange Blueprint, while others hold back, with one eye on the Supreme Court and one eye on the Congress to be elected this fall. While the regulations allow for a varied patchwork of state exchanges, it seems likely that we will see greater uniformity across the country, with many, if not most, exchanges run -- at least initially -- by the federales or a federal contractor.      

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

March 08, 2012

HealthCare SocialMedia Review - A New Blog Carnival - To Launch In April

While the HealthBlawger is generally loath to republish press releases, the source for the presser reproduced below is, well, the HealthBlawger himself.  With such impeccable provenance, we need make no further apologies ....

HealthCare SocialMedia Review - A New Blog Carnival - To Launch In April

HealthcareSocialMediaReviewOn April 4, 2012, the inaugural edition of a new blog carnival, HealthCare SocialMedia Review, will be posted on HealthWorks Collective by HWC curator Joan Justice, one of the co-founders of HCSMR. “We were inspired by other blog carnivals, including Grand Rounds and Health Wonk Review, and decided it was time to bring the blog carnival treatment to the world of health care social media,” said Justice.

David Harlow (aka HealthBlawg), health care lawyer, HWC advisory panel member and the other co-founder of HCSMR, continued:

The #hcsm tweetchat moderated by Dana Lewis and the community built by Lee Aase through the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media are two examples of the many ways in which those of us who are involved in health care social media are able to interact, share best practices and new developments, and learn from each other.  By adding a blog carnival to the mix, we hope to increase the sharing of long-form thoughts on the opportunities and challenges associated with health care social media.

Justice noted, “All are welcome to submit blog posts for consideration to each edition’s host.  HCSM will be posted every other week -- alternating weeks with Health Wonk Review.  And for the uninitiated: a blog carnival is an anthology, an on-line journal club for bloggers, hosted by a different blogger each time.”

Details on hosting, submission guidelines, Justice and Harlow bios and more are available on the HCSMR home page.

Connect with HCSMR on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to keep up to date.

For further information contact:

Joan Justice joan AT or @healthcollectiv
David Harlow david AT or @healthblawg  

# # #

Health care social media is of consequence in its own right, but also as a tool to implement or leverage other initiatives, across the spectrum of health care innovation today, including participatory medicine, accountable care organizations, mHealth and others.  We look forward to your participation in the HealthCare SocialMedia Review blog carnival as contributors, hosts and engaged readers/commenters.  See you April 4, at the inaugural edition, on HealthWorks Collective.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting

March 06, 2012

Data Breach: How Much Will One Cost You?

MP900440914The going rate for a compromised medical record seems to be $1000 (well, at least that's the asking price) as seen in papers filed in the eleven class action lawsuits against Sutter Health following the theft of a desktop computer last fall.  The computer contained unencrypted protected health information on about 4.24 million members.  The eleven class action suits are likely to be consolidated for ease of handling by the courts.

For an outfit whose most recently reported year-end financials show just under $900 million in income on just over $9 billion in revenue, a $4.24 billion claim certainly qualifies as a big deal.  The data breach claims against Sutter Health were filed last year following its self-reporting of the computer theft, and are in the news again due to the potential consolidation.

The company had reportedly begun to encrypt its data last year, starting with more vulnerable mobile devices, and moving on to desktop computers, but had not gotten to the desktop in question by the time of the breach.  It remains to be seen how these facts end up affecting the final damages awarded in this case.

The takeaway for other covered entities and business associates out there: If the OCR HIPAA audits aren't enough of a motivation to get cracking with beefed-up data privacy and security protections, the potential exposure of Sutter Health in this class action suit should be reason enough to get started on this work as soon as possible, and to make it a high priority. Suits like these may be grounded both in state law and in indirect theories flowing from HIPAA/HITECH breaches (since there is no private right of action under HIPAA). The exposure is there, and a number's been put out there to quantify it. However expensive and inconvenient data encryption and other privacy and security measures may be, they are surely worth avoiding $1,000-a-head lawsuits and months of negative publicity.

David Harlow
The Harlow Group LLC
Health Care Law and Consulting