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Highlights from Wide-Ranging Interview with Atul Gawande, Head of the New ABJ (Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase) Healthcare Endeavor, Provides Glimpse of Vision and What They Hope to Accomplish

(Note: In keeping with our 2 Minute Drill mantra, we’ve broken this into two parts. Today in Part 1 we’ll highlight Gawande’s view of the three big systemic problems with healthcare. Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll summarize his vision for the ABJ-HCE.)

Last week Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase announced the appointment of renowned author, surgeon, and researcher Atul Gawande to head up their ambitious new “Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase healthcare endeavor” (still unnamed, we’ll refer to it as ABJ-HCE for now). In a long form interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival Gawande expounded on his view of the problem facing the U.S. healthcare system and his thoughts on what the ABJ-HCE can do to make the whole system work better.

Here are few of Gawande’s thoughts that struck me as I watched the interview:

  • While healthcare comprises 18% of the U.S. economy, 30% of those expenditures are of no benefit to the patient.
  • The three biggest sources of waste are:
    • Very high administrative costs. He said there are a lot of “middlemen” in the system some of which must be taken out of the system to simplify the equation.
    • Pricing (I think he’s referencing the price of healthcare services and the method of paying providers for the services)
    • Mis-utilization of treatment. This is identified as by far the biggest of the three buckets. He defined mis-utilization as the wrong care, delivered at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.
  • On the reality of our healthcare system:
    • It was built in the 1940’s and 1950’s when there were only a handful of treatments.
    • Then: A system where the clinician could be expected to do it all – administer the right medicine and treatment. Add in some staff and a place for the patient to recover otherwise leave the clinician alone to do it all.
    • Now: We’ve discovered in the last century that the number of illnesses we can have and the number of ways the human body can fail exceeds 70,000 (covering 13 organ systems).
    • And, in the last fifty years we’ve generated 4,000 new surgical procedures and 6,000 new drugs.
    • Yet, we’re still deploying all these new discoveries and capabilities on a 40’s and 50’s system where the clinician will take care of it.

Gwande points to a broken system. Healthcare is now so complex “that everybody involved feels it’s out of their control – payors, patients, and providers — with no real influence over the end results. “Obamacare is on life support” and “even though I’m going to work for a bunch of employers, employer-based care is broken”.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Gawande on what’s needed, what ABJ-HCE brings to the table, and achieving his goal for the endeavor:  “Scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery everywhere”.

As Expected, States Will Have More Control and Greater Flexibility in Regulating Obamacare Starting in 2019

In a CMS press release the Trump Administration announced yesterday, as expected, that beginning in 2019 individual states will have more control and greater flexibility in regulating the individual health insurance market and the Obamacare Marketplace (aka the Exchange). In a summary of the “final 2019 Payment Notice Rule” CMS highlighted provisions that were intended to increase flexibility, improve affordability, and decrease administrative burdens.

 

It’s likely that changes made at the individual state level will ultimately have some impact either directly or indirectly on employer sponsored health coverage, particularly the small group market. We will be monitoring this very closely for our clients and will report back, especially as we get closer to 2019 and more information becomes available.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of the headlines and links to the respective articles following yesterday’s announcement by CMS:

Here’s a link to the CMS press release:

 

Warren Buffett on the Amazon/Berkshire/Chase health venture — “Don’t Expect Any Miracles Out Of Us”

A month and change has now passed since the great splash of January’s big Amazon/Berkshire/Chase health venture announcement. It certainly was successful in disrupting the news cycle. The initially sky-high healthcare “Richter Scale” readings are returning to normal. And, it’s pretty safe to say that any substantive changes, major disruption, and any new normal that may be triggered by this venture on big healthcare (20% of the economy), other employers – big, small and in between, and everybody else are not on the immediate horizon.

Like the CVS/Aetna venture announced last December, real change is likely to be More Tortoise Than Hare.

A sampling of Warren Buffett’s comments in some of his recent interviews with Bloomberg, CNBC, and KHN may provide you with a little more insight and a glimpse of some of his expectations.

Here are a few sound bytes from recent Buffett interviews:

He said that the goal of the business is “better care, lower costs,”and, that it will take time.”

This is not easy. If it was easy, it would have been done.”

It would be very easy I think to go in and shave off 3 or 4 percent just by negotiating power. We’re looking for something much bigger than that.”

He spoke of health-care spending taking up an increasing proportion of the U.S. economy, and a indicated that the goal of the venture is to “at least” halt that ascendant trend.

Buffett also stated that he hopes “we could find a way where perhaps better care could be delivered even at somewhat lesser cost.”

To read more go to Bloomberg: Buffett-Dimon Health Venture To Go Beyond Just Squeezing The Middlemen 

Could 2018 End Up Being a Year of Improved Health Insurance Market Stability? Here are Five Reasons It Could Be the Case.

With healthcare seemingly out of the political crosshairs for the moment and any tectonic shifts emanating from a new Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/J.P. Morgan Chase superpower health entity a ways down the road, employers may get to experience some at least temporary market stability in the way of more choices, more consistent rates, less volatile renewals, and more opportunities to innovate (e.g. SharedFunding).

Employers have grounds for hope, at least for the next year or so.

Here are five (5) reasons that may lead to at least some temporary stability and have positive impact on cost and selection in the group market:

  1. The total number of people insured is holding steady or possibly even increasing despite the repeal of the individual mandate.
  2. Interest and energy in employer sponsored plans is up. More employers are offering health coverage. Many are also trying to improve their health coverage in order to compete for and retain talent in a more robust job market and a stronger economy.
  3. Much of the market activity for both insurance carriers and healthcare providers is geared toward gaining scale while building a better mousetrap (eg. Aetna/CVS, Unitedhealthcare and other carriers acquiring providers, etc). Strategic M&A activity is expected to continue.
  4. More states are experimenting by exercising the state waiver option (more info here and here). While tinkering with the individual market and Medicaid will get most of the headlines, more control on the state level should spawn more innovation and new options in the group market especially for small and mid-size employers.
  5. Health systems are now focused on vertical integration and improving their overall value proposition. They’re jockeying for market position and attempting to win over patients and payors alike.

 

 

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