Unpacking Bill Clinton’s Refreshingly Candid Comments on the ACA

Guest post Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell.

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

A recent poll conducted by Monmouth University concluded that “fully 70 percent of American voters say that this year’s presidential campaign has brought out the worst in people.”

Undoubtedly and sadly, in this era in which fact-checking of candidate statements is essential, a majority of Americans believe that all politicians lie or at least that they lie often.

That prevailing sentiment is what made former President Bill Clinton’s candid riff about the Affordable Care Act at an Oct. 3 Democratic rally in Flint, Mich. so extraordinary. He stated, “…the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower-income working person, if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your healthcare. But the people who are getting killed in this deal are small business people and who make just a little bit too much to get any of these subsidies. Why? Because they’re not organized. They don’t have any bargaining power with insurance companies. And they’re getting whacked. So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have healthcare, and then the people out there bustin’ it sometimes 60 hours a week end up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world.”

Unlike the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which has been blocked by 19 states that have declined to go along with the law, the health insurance exchanges have been operational for a number of years in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

So how are the health insurance exchanges of this “crazy system” really doing and, to Clinton’s point, what’s happening to people who don’t qualify for subsidies?

Clinton was generous in saying that the “system works fine” for those who get subsidies. State regulators have used terms such as “near collapse,” “emergency situation,” “meltdown,” and “financial death spiral” to describe the condition of their exchanges. In total, the health insurance exchanges are way over budget, serve fewer people, and show signs of being unsustainable, which pushes health plans to cost shift by raising premiums for non-exchange insurance policies, especially employer-sponsored health insurance. The population paying for those policies include the people Clinton described as “bustin’ it sometimes 60 hours a week.”

Originally, the federal government was supposed to spend $136 billion from 2015-2019 on health insurance exchange subsidies. However, as more states than expected opted to have the federal government run their exchanges and because of the higher-risk pool of individuals participating in the exchanges—which led to premium hikes—the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in August projected $278 billion in federal outlays for health insurance exchange subsidies for that period, leading to an overspending or budget deficit just for the subsidies of $142 billion for 2015-2019, a staggering amount, considering that it would basically cancel out the projected 10-year budget surplus for the entire health reform law. With even greater average premium hikes expected for 2017—24 percent for the non-group market—the CBO’s projection is clearly conservative and will certainly be revised upward.

Many states are reporting individual market rate hikes in 2017 well above the aforementioned national average. Minnesota’s approved increases range from 50 to 67 percent. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee will raise its rates by 62 percent. Golden Rule Insurance Co. in Kentucky received approval for a 47.2 percent rate increase, while Wellmark in Iowa will raise its rates by 42.6 percent. In Delaware, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield received approval for a 32.5 percent average rate increase, and Utah’s individual exchange health plans will rise on average 30 percent.

What’s driving these increases?

Continue Reading

The Outlook for ACA Healthcare Delivery Reforms

Guest post by Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy, Omnicell, Inc.

Ken Perez
Ken Perez

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated five major healthcare delivery reforms that collectively aim to improve care quality and slow the growth of healthcare spending. In the five years since passage of the ACA, each of these delivery reforms has been implemented, revised and broadened.

What is the outlook for these changes? Clearly, the long-term strategic intent of the Obama administration is to shift Medicare payments from fee for service to fee for value. On Jan. 26, 2015, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell set forth quantified goals and an aggressive timeline for directing an increasing share of Medicare payments through alternative payment models (APMs) such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and bundled payments, from 20 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2018. Let’s consider each of the major healthcare delivery reforms.

Accountable Care Organizations

On January 11, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that 477 organizations are participating in one of Medicare’s four accountable care programs.

With 434 current participants, the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) accounts for the vast majority (91 percent) of the total. Although the total number of MSSP ACOs has grown steadily each year since the program’s inception in 2012, cumulatively about 100 ACOs (19 percent) have dropped out of the program.

Medicare’s first ACO program, the higher-risk, higher-reward Pioneer ACO Model, suffered numerous departures during the second half of 2015, as the number of Pioneers has dropped from 32 original participants announced in December 2011 to a current total of nine, a 72 percent decline. However, some of the departing Pioneers have transferred to the MSSP or the even higher-risk, higher-reward Next Generation ACO Model, which was launched in March 2015.

CMS also disclosed that 21 organizations are participating in the Next Generation ACO Model, including five former Pioneers. The remaining 13 of the 477 ACOs are the initial participants in the first disease-specific Medicare ACO program, the Comprehensive ESRD Care Model, which was announced in October 2015.

Despite these seemingly impressive numbers, to achieve the aforementioned goal of flowing half of Medicare payments through APMs by 2018, CMS needs even more growth in the number of Medicare ACOs coming onboard in the next couple of years, perhaps 150-200 net new ACOs per year in 2017 and 2018.

Bundled Payments

In 2013, CMS launched the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Initiative (BPCI), a voluntary program which offers providers four episode-based payment models. In three of the models, implementation is divided into two phases. During Phase 1, “the preparation period,” CMS shares data and helps the participating providers learn in preparation for Phase 2, “risk-bearing implementation,” in which the providers begin bearing financial risk with CMS for some or all of their episodes. CMS required all participants to transition at least one episode (e.g., Acute Myocardial Infarction) into Phase 2 by July 1, 2015, to continue participating in the BPCI.

Continue Reading

QuantiaMD Poll: Majority of Physicians Feel Left out of Obamacare, ACA Conversation

QuantiaMD, the largest social learning network for physicians, developed by Quantia, Inc., conducted a recent poll of its members to understand physician perspectives regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Despite millions of enrollees, individuals and doctors remain confused about the law – a troubling fact as many patients look to their physicians as a primary resource on health care policy.

The poll garnered responses from 1,265 physicians from around the country and opened up a dialog about the ACA. Results of the study included:

“This poll proves how physicians have been left out of the health care reform process,” said Mike Paskavitz, Editor-in-Chief, Quantia, Inc. “As the patient’s most trusted point of access to the healthcare system, physicians can be a tremendous communication channel for the ACA, and this poll demonstrates that there hasn’t been much, if any, communication directed at them.  This poll was a huge eye opener for Quantia and validates the importance of the Affordable Care Act curriculum we have been developing for our members.”

Continue Reading

Trendwatch 2014: The Role of IT in Population Health Management

Bill Walker
Bill Walker

Guest post by Bill Walker, chief technology officer, Aegis Health Group.

Fo r the last several years, there has been an increasing emphasis by the federal government on digitizing the healthcare industry. The allocation of meaningful use dollars to physician practices for converting to electronic health records was only the beginning. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the seminal event that demonstrated without a doubt that electronic management of patient information was going to be an absolute if hospitals and health systems are to survive.

The ACA puts healthcare organizations at financial risk for duplication of services, lapses in care coordination and questionable patient safety practices. Population health management demands that electronic patient records be accessible for planning, managing and tracking care coordination. But the fact is fully managing the continuum of care for a patient cannot be achieved without data collection both inside and outside the hospital’s walls. This is a trend that will take on increased importance as healthcare reform rolls out in 2014.

Health systems with forward-thinking HIT executives saw the writing on the wall after the ACA became law and began converting their organizations to electronic medical records. Systems that are considering becoming accountable care organizations (ACOs) – and accepting value-based reimbursement, which will become the predominant reimbursement model – need to find ways to track the health status of individuals in their community before they become patients. How? By embracing the use of technology that closes the healthcare loop before people even know they need those services.

Continue Reading