hospitals

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”.

Wonder Why Our Healthcare Costs Are So High?

Bob Laszewski is an insurance health industry expert we regularly track to stay up to speed on the national healthcare picture. His typically even-handed analysis has been consistently the most accurate of any of the opinion leaders we follow.  Here’s how Laszewski summed up the primary reason for our country’s runaway healthcare costs during a recent interview broadcast on the national news program Full Measure in a segment entitled Zombiecare: 

The healthcare establishment has been getting unlimited dollars from government, from employers, from consumers. They built this incredible infrastructure now that’s very expensive. And the only way we’re going to make healthcare more affordable is to deal with all this infrastructure we’ve got and get it to an efficient place.

 When asked how we address this infrastructure problem, here’s the pragmatic Laszewski take:

“We’re going to have to do it over many years. In the private sector and the public sector, we’re going to have to put them on a diet. It really is the prices we charge. We’re going to have to, in real terms, ratchet those back so that hospitals and doctors understand there’s going to be less money in the years to come.”

During the interview Laszewski addressed several things related to the current status of health insurance and the Affordable Care Act. Among the items he addressed:

The Individual Mandate and Paying the Penalty

“The law technically says that you have to have health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you will pay a fine. But the Trump administration has told the Internal Revenue Service, who is in charge of collecting the fines, that when people file their tax returns, if they refuse to say whether they have health insurance or not, the IRS should not pursue them. You technically have to pay it. Your accountant’s probably going to tell you, you technically have to pay it, but it’s not being enforced.”

ObamaCare as Zombie Care(because a Zombie is the walking dead)

“Obamacare is still there, it’s still walking around. It’s still selling health insurance plans to people. But it has no chance in its present form of ever offering affordable and attractive health insurance. And more and more people are just exiting it and going uncovered because they can’t afford it.”

Our takeaway from all this? Be smart.  Stay incredibly vigilant.  Take full advantage of every tool we have at our disposal to do the best we can to help our clients control costs and navigate the turbulent healthcare waters.

There’s still no clear big picture path anywhere in sight.

To watch the entire interview or to read the full transcript, go here.

Using An Old Opening Joke Line To Illustrate Costs In Healthcare

We have all heard jokes that begin with
“Three guys walk into a bar….”

I thought it might make sense to use that model to explain why “referenced-based pricing” and general consumer awareness in healthcare are important to consider. Here goes:

Three guys walk into a hospital to get the same procedure….

– THE FIRST GUY is covered by MEDICAID and the billed amount to the government is $60.

– THE SECOND GUY is covered by MEDICARE and the billed amount is $100.

– THE THIRD GUY is covered by PRIVATE INSURANCE and the billed amount is $250.

cost-1174933_1280

There are long and complicated reasons why this exists, but it does.  One of the things that many people are talking about but still few are doing is called “reference-based pricing” (RBP).  This is where an employer will agree to only pay a percentage above MEDICARE.  It is still edgy and can create problems for members under this type of program, but it makes sense.  Basically, the employer is saying “I understand that providers charge us more but we will only agree to a certain percentage above what you bill to Medicare.”   The reason it is edgy is that it could pit the provider against the member or the provider may even turn the member away.  Nonetheless, RBP is out there and will likely get more attention.

Although structural programs like referenced-based pricing may be too early to embrace, it is wise to know that better pricing is out there and consumers can take advantage by asking questions and comparing prices.

I know that “three guys walk into a bar” has a much better ring to it than “three guys walk into a hospital”, but it is important to know that you may be able to find a better deal on your costs.

This is something BBG is studying and we are gathering pricing differences for our clients.

CDHC-Comparison-Shopping

 

If You Want A Pragmatic Understanding of the Opioid Epidemic You May Want to Listen to This

This post follows up on last week’s primer on how abuse of prescription pain medications has led to what’s now recognized as a true national crisis. The new podcast Embedded provides a riveting inside look at how the use of one particularly powerful prescription painkiller, Opana, impacted life in a small Indiana town.

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