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Tough to track hospital ACO performance indicators

Authors of an article in NEJM Catalyst discuss how hospital-based Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are facing big hurdles in tracking performance indicators. They conclude:

“ACOs are a broad-stroke model for changing how health care is delivered. Analysis of {an American Hospital Association} survey results highlights the reasons that a broad tool is challenging: It is difficult to get data at the level of granularity required to resonate with individuals, and primary care physicians have limited control over the wide range of care their patients receive over the course of a year. A more targeted tool, like bundled payments, where one defined episode of care can be studied, measured, and perfected, may be a better answer and could even be used within an ACO to distribute capitated payments.”

To read the article, please hit this link.

 


More states test ACO-based Medicaid payment system aimed at cutting costs

 

By PHIL GALEWITZ

For Kaiser Health News

MINNEAPOLIS — Sandy Dowland has been to the emergency room 10 times in the past year and was hospitalized during four of those visits. She has had a toe amputated and suffers from uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, major depression, obesity and back pain.

But her health is not high on the 41-year-old woman’s priority list.

“I have a lot going on,” said the unemployed mother of five who lives in a homeless shelter. She said it’s a struggle just to get herself and children through each day.

Her health bills are covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor. That’s a relief for her, she said. But state officials say Medicaid is busting Minnesota’s budget, particularly with patients like Dowland and its system of paying hospitals for each admission, ER visit and outpatient test.

To ease that financial strain, Minnesota is at the forefront of a growing number of states testing a Medicaid payment system. It rewards hospitals and physician groups holding down costs by keeping enrollees healthy.

Under this arrangement, those health care providers are asked to do more than just treat medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease. They are called on to address the underlying social issues — such as homelessness, lack of transportation and poor nutrition — that can cause and exacerbate health problems.

It’s why North Memorial arranged for a community health worker and paramedic to meet Dowland on a recent weekday at a day care center for homeless families. They advised her on how to take her insulin, prodded her to use a patch to quit smoking and helped her apply for Social Security disability payments and food stamps.

“This is nice to have someone who I can talk to about everything in my life and give me access to the community resources I need,” said Dowland, who added that she puts off her own health needs in order to care for her children and look for housing and a job. “I appreciate the help because, at the clinic, the doctor doesn’t have time for this.”

North Memorial is among 21 health systems in Minnesota participating in this new model of care, called Accountable Care Organizations. ACOs get to share in money they save Medicaid by keeping spending under a budget and by reaching quality targets, such as averting hospital-acquired infections and controlling patients’ blood pressure and asthma.

The shift toward ACOs is occurring with Medicare and employer-sponsored insurance, too. But for Medicaid programs, it presents unique challenges. Medicaid enrollees, by definition, are low-income. Many have little experience navigating health systems and large numbers are homeless or dealing with mental health problems, conditions that can lead to difficulties in encouraging healthy behaviors.

“The goal [of ACOs] is really exciting to make health systems more responsive to what people need to be healthy,” said Ann Hwang, director of the center for consumer engagement and health innovation at Community Catalyst, a Boston-based consumer advocacy group. “But the jury is still out as to whether they are really moving the needle in addressing social services such as transportation, housing and food insecurity — the things we know affect people’s ability to be healthy.”

Nationwide, a dozen states are experimenting with Medicaid ACOs and 10 more are making plans for them.

About half of Minnesota’s 1 million Medicaid recipients are in ACOs, which officials said saved the state $213 million since 2013. Hospitals and doctors received $70 million of that.

In addition to North Memorial, other participating health systems include the Mayo Clinic and Hennepin Healthcare, the state’s largest safety-net provider and based in Minneapolis.

‘Going To Where The Patient Is’

For giant health systems that for years have competed by adding the latest technology or building sleek facilities, the ACOs are a huge shift. In effect, the ACOs push hospitals to address patients’ problems before they end up in the ER or operating rooms.

“We are learning to have to do a better job of going to where the patient is … as we now realize we are responsible for the patient when they are engaged with us and when they are not here,” said Robert Stroebel, who helps leads the ACO effort at Mayo Clinic.

So far, the model isn’t proving to be a panacea.

In six states using ACOs, a March federal study in found, Medicaid enrollees received more primary care services — such as doctor visits — but the program did not reduce hospital visits in most states or lower costs.

“Changing provider and beneficiary behavior may take more time than the few years this report covers,” concluded the study.

Minnesota’s experience demonstrates the challenges of changing to a new Medicaid payment system. In 2016, the latest year for which data are available, only six of the 16 ACOs were eligible to share in cost savings.

But Marie Zimmerman, Minnesota’s Medicaid director, noted the state’s program has seen a 7 percent cut in ER visits and a 14 percent reduction in hospital stays in areas where health providers participate in an ACO.

“Medicaid is 20 percent of Minnesota’s population, and we have to care about getting the best deal and the long-term fiscal ability of the program and not cutting eligibility and provider rates and benefits to show sustainability,” she said.

At Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, Dr. Allison Wert examines Medicaid enrollee Rachel Rowell, who participates in the ACO.(PHIL GALEWITZ/KHN)

Struggle To Change Behaviors

The switch to ACOs accelerated efforts by hospitals and physician groups to attack so-called social determinants of health, such as the lack of stable housing and poor nutrition. But providers still struggle to change patients’ behaviors, particularly helping those with addiction and mental health problems, according to interviews with officials at several ACOs.

Doctors, nurses and social workers at Hennepin dealt with that head-on during a recent routine review of their patients. When they came to a 58-year old man suffering from alcoholism, anxiety and heart problems and living in a homeless shelter, they noted how they couldn’t get him into a primary care clinic and saw him only during frequent hospital admissions.

“Best we can hope for him is if we can facilitate a safe ending,” said Dr. Rachel Silva, a Hennepin internist, acknowledging that despite their best intentions, health providers likely would not be able to prevent his early death.

Even with teams of nurses, social workers and community health workers, Hennepin officials say they struggle to keep up with many Medicaid enrollees who have addiction problems, and many patients still go to the ER out of habit or convenience rather than the organization’s primary care clinics, which are as close as across the street.

Yet, there are success stories, too. The Mayo Clinic has started a community health worker program to help at-risk patients connect to social services such as housing and transportation.

Nancy Zein, 47, a Medicaid recipient who uses the Mayo Clinic, said having weekly meetings with community health worker Tara Nelson has been life-changing for her and her mother, who is also on Medicaid.

“She’s been a godsend,” said Zein, who noted how Nelson helped her get Social Security disability payments and her mom find affordable housing for disabled adults, as well as get both enrolled for food stamps.

“It’s made such an impact on our health,” Zein said. “My mom has depression issues, and with Tara helping us with housing, it helped her depression.”

With the opportunity to share in financial savings, North Memorial has hired additional community paramedics to visit high-risk patients. Mayo Clinic has added community health workers to help patients find housing and transportation and nurses to make home visits to patients after leaving the hospital. Hennepin set up special clinics for the most challenging Medicaid patients and sends doctors to care for patients in homeless centers, jails and the county’s mental health center — to reach people who may need help even before they are likely to end up in their ER and on Medicaid.

Nearly 20 percent of Hennepin’s adult Medicaid ACO members are homeless. In the past four years, social workers and other staff have helped more than 500 of their Medicaid patients — including in the ACO — get into public housing.

Cuts For Managed-Care Companies

The ACO model has raised concerns among managed-care companies that Minnesota and other states have used for decades to control Medicaid spending. Those companies get a monthly fee from Medicaid for each enrollee and often require those patients to seek care with doctors and hospitals that have contracts with the managed-care firm. The companies profit if they spend less on care than they receive in the state allotment.

“We are aligned with the goals … to explore innovation and provide better delivery of care,” said Scott Keefer, vice president of Minnesota Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, which has 300,000 Medicaid members. But, he added, much of the ACO savings cited by state officials are dollars taken from managed-care company profits.

His health plan lost more than $200 million from Medicaid operations during the past two years, partly because it had to pay part of its state funding to ACOs.

“We are not magically saving money. … We are moving the financial deck chairs around,” he said.


Some pleasing deregulation for providers

 

The Department of Health & Human Services has announced more plans to give providers regulation relief.

FierceHealthcare reports:

“Long-term-care facilities, in particular, are likely to see their pile of regulatory paperwork shrink. One future proposed rule, among the nearly 150 in HHS’s regulatory list, includes the removal of ‘unnecessary, obsolete, or excessively burdensome’ requirements that such providers need to comply with to participate in Medicare and Medicaid.”

“{The department}  said the rule would ‘increase the ability of healthcare professionals to devote resources to improving resident care’ instead of paperwork. Hospitals and providers have been calling for paperwork reduction initiatives and appear to have found a friend in the Trump administration.

“HHS also plans to streamline the Medicare claims appeals process by fixing cross-references, unclear terms and definitions, and other errors that could be burdensome for providers and beneficiaries.”

The American Hospital Association seemed happy.

“We know that efficiencies can be found in many areas, such as streamlined quality reporting, administrative simplification, and less burdensome reporting on the use of electronic health records, among others,” Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president of payment policy, told FierceHealthcare.

The new service went on: “Changes to Accountable Care Organizations are also expected. Some ACOs have been asking the agency for more time in non-financial risk-based contracts, instead of the six-year limit. However, the agency appears to be moving in the opposite direction, as one proposal on the Medicare Shared Savings Program includes ‘facilitating the transition to performance-based risk,’ signaling a greater push for risk-based arrangements.”’

To read more, please hit this link.

 

 


What’s needed for future bundled-payment success

 

A piece in JAMA looks at what would be needed in future expansion of bundled-payments programs.

The authors consider such things as extending bundle durations to a year; the role of bundled-payments programs outside the hospital, especially as efforts intensify to reduce readmissions, and ensuring that Accountable Care Organizations and bundles are adequately integrated and coordinated by aligning incentives and sharing information on shared patients.

The authors conclude

“Expansion of bundled payment for episodes of care is under way. The 3 key innovations in the next generation of bundled payment models (extending the duration of the bundles, expanding the accountable entities beyond hospitals, and integrating bundled payments with global budget models within ACOs) could better align episode-based payment with population health and offer a smoother path to global budgets. Testing bundles nested within overarching collective accountability through bundle-ACO integration is particularly promising. There will be ample opportunity to inform bundle design based on findings from voluntary and mandatory Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services programs and private insurer initiatives. Innovations in bundled payment design could increase their attractiveness to commercial and public payers alike in the pursuit of higher-value care.”

To read the whole article, please hit this link.


Senate panel clears bill to help chronically ill Medicare patients

The Senate Finance Committee has unanimously approved a bill aimed at improving care for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic conditions.

Med Page Today reports that the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 {whew!} would increase access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries with chronic illnesses — including those in Medicare Advantage plans — as well as provide more incentives for enrollees to receive care through accountable care organizations (ACOs). It also would extend the Independence at Home demonstration program to keep people in their homes rather than hospitals, allow reimbursement for more non-health and social services, and extend permanently MA Special Needs plans that target chronically ill beneficiaries.”

“One thing we hear a lot from ACOs is they have trouble keeping beneficiaries in-house rather than going to a provider outside the ACO, and that makes it harder to coordinate their care,” a committee aide told the publication. “This bill says that if you go to a primary care doctor in the ACO, we’ll reduce or eliminate your cost-sharing for that primary care service. That will make beneficiaries stick to the ACO, and bring down their costs.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), the committee’s ranking member, told MedPage that the measure is “transformative.”

“This is a formal recognition that this package of services — the focus on care at home, the focus on new technology, the expanded role for primary care and prevention, which inevitably leads to more non-physician providers — is the beginning of our push to update the Medicare guarantee. That’s why it’s transformative.”

To read more, please hit this link.


Future ACO growth opportunities

 

 

Paul Keckley looks at the future of Accountable Care Organizations in H&HN. Among his observations

  • “Care coordination across multiple sites of care vis á vis an ACO results in improved efficiency and outcomes.”
  • “The infrastructure, skill sets, care coordination processes and actuarial risk associated with ACOs is expensive and evolving. Organizations with large, multispecialty medical groups or networks that sponsor their own health plans or have experience in capitated contracts {have} fared best.”
  • “The expected increase in health spending to 6 percent annually for the next decade will prompt close attention to the effectiveness of ACOs as a vehicle for reducing cost. Physician-led organizations that adhere to care standardization and incentives for their clinicians linked to cost savings will be sustainable. Others will falter. And industry consolidation means ACO consolidation.”
  • ”The centerpiece for sustainable ACOs will be a comprehensive primary care network that integrates physical and behavioral health, pharmacy, dental, eye and nutrition services with heath coaches to change patient behavior. … From these primary care centric models, virtual ACOs that incorporate rural health and teleconnectivity, and clinical models that include social determinants of health in assessing risks and care coordination tactics will evolve.”
  • ”The MSSP likely will morph. Quality measures will change. The Shared Savings Program formula will be altered. Some MSSP ACOs will test shared savings with enrollees themselves, rewarding medication adherence or self-care management. CMS will simplify its reporting requirements to encourage continuity in the programs and seek to reduce attrition of participants. And attention to formulary design and medication management, post-acute care coordination, digital connectivity and self-monitoring and alternative health modes of care will become imperatives to achieving savings.”
  • ”Medicaid ACOs will be a growth opportunity. The shift of control from CMS to states via block grants or capitated payments will present an opportunity for ACOs, provided their primary and behavioral health capacity is adequate and actuarial risk assessment is precise going in.”

To read more, please hit this link.

 

 

 


Medicare ACOs seen gaining this year

 

Avalere Health, the  consulting firm, sees financial-risk-bearing Accountable Care Organizations gaining more traction and popularity this year. It says that “providers will feel increasingly comfortable with assuming financial risk in exchange for larger incentives” as more than 9 million Medicare beneficiaries are covered by a total of 480  (ACOs), including 99 new participants, in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

The number of ACOs participating in the Next Generation ACO Model launched by the CMS Innovation Center has more than doubled to 45 this year, from 17 in 2016..

Of the 525 ACOs serving Medicare beneficiaries, 87 are in risk-sharing arrangements that include bearing financial losses if certain cost targets aren’t reached.

Healthcare Dive noted: “Expansion of MSSP and growth in the number of risk-sharing ACOs is due in large part to the passage of MACRA, which is accelerating the trend toward value-based initiatives through the Quality Payment Program. So far, it seems that MSSP has been successful saving a total of $466 million in 2015 and more than $1.29 billion total since 2012.”

“As Congress considers health reform, there is some doubt surrounding the future of value-based initiatives like MSSP, which was established by the ACA. One reform floated by Republican leadership could be detrimental to progress made toward value-based care.”

“This approach would cause Medicare to function more like traditional markets, which would increase financial responsibility borne by beneficiaries and leave improvements to market forces rather than government regulators.”

To read the Avalere report, please hit this link.

To read the Healthcare Dive analysis, please hit this link.

 

 


2 studies look at savings from ACOs

 

While provider participation in Medicare and Medicaid Accountable Care Organizations may lead to only modest savings at first, the savings grow substantially over time, say two studies.

The first study, led J. Michael McWilliams, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and published in JAMA Internal Medicine,  found that such organizations notably cut post-acute care costs. Between 2012 and 2014,  the 114 ACOs in the research reduced post-acute spending by 9 percent, or just over $100 per beneficiary, compared with a non-ACO control group.

To read the study, please hit this link.

The second study, also published in JAMA Internal Medicine, compared  two Medicaid ACOs, one each  in Colorado and in Oregon.

To read that study, please hit this link.

An editorial accompanying the two articles concluded:

“Accountable care organizations have been established across diverse market settings, using a multitude of organizational structures and approaches to governance and operations, and this heterogeneity is reflected in the heterogeneity of their performance. The 2 articles published in this issue add to a growing body of evidence on overall performance, several dimensions of quality, and spending. Nevertheless, we know little about the effects of ACOs on patients’ health and quality of life. Perhaps most important for ACO leaders and the long-term success of these programs, we know little about the key ACO capabilities that are important to ensuring their success in different organizational or market contexts. Although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has conducted rigorous evaluations of the Pioneer program, generalizable findings tailored to organizational contexts are few. A long-term commitment to alternative payment model evaluation is necessary to ensure effective, sustainable payment and delivery system reform.”


Vermont’s all-payer healthcare hopes

stateseal

The Vermont State Seal in a stained glass window in the State House.

Governing magazine has looked at Vermont’s development of  an all-payer healthcare system, which CMG has reported on before.

In this approach, the publication says,  ”{i}nstead of billing doctors for each service they provide, insurers in Vermont will now give them a fixed sum each month, along with bonuses for keeping patients healthy. (Doctors can also pay penalties for adverse health effects, like having a high number of patients getting readmitted to the hospital within 30 days.) The hope is to eliminate unnecessary procedures, reduce costs and elicit more positive health outcomes.”

“In the 1970s, a dozen or so states tried all-payer systems for their hospitals. Except for Maryland, they all eventually shifted back to the standard fee-for-service because there was little evidence that all-payer was actually reducing overall health-care spending.”

“All of those states, however, only applied all-payer to hospitals — leaving out a large portion of health-care providers and limiting its potential impact.”

“Vermont’s system will cover all providers — hospitals, primary care, specialists, urgent care clinics, you name it. And instead of the state paying the providers their monthly fixed sum, it will be up to accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are groups of providers that have the same goals as all-payer: to reduce spending by rewarding better, not more, care.”

But there will be big challenges to making this work.

To read the Governing piece, please hit this link.


Nursing homes stressed as move to value-based reimbursement intensifies

In a new report, Stackpole Associates has commented on and summarized  data  that the nursing-home industry has been avoiding for several years.
Of particular interest to Cambridge Management Group is the effect on nursing homes of moving from volume to value, since CMG has been spending a lot of time in helping clients do that in recent years.
 Among Stackpole’s observations:

“Declining demand in long-term care markets is not a popular topic, but the inaugural SNF {skilled nursing facility} report from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) clearly shows this trend. The occupancy rates in long-term care markets have been dropping, and in the SNF category, occupancy fell from just under 85% in October 2011 to 82.8% in December 2015, according to NIC. The decline in occupancy in this specific long-term care market would have been worse if owners and operators had not been removing capacity (taking beds off-line) from the system progressively over the same period of time. When both the number of beds is declining, and occupancy is decreasing, how can this be described as anything but a late mature, early declining market?”

“The biggest single factor in the decline in demand in the long-term care markets is the Demographic Dip or Birth Dearth. Demographics are like gravity; you can learn to work with it, but you can’t deny it.”

We at CMG take issue with part of Stackpole’s  remarks below. The implication  that nursing homes will only be available for rich people is not correct.    Strong skilled nursing facilities are emerging in the Medicaid sector.

“Compounding the challenges of declining long-term care markets, are the initiatives by CMS and … managed care organizations to reduce utilization, and ‘squeeze out’ margin in the sector. The transition from volume-based payments to value-based payments through such mechanisms as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and Bundled Payment for Care Improvement (BPCI) are laudable and needed, but these will have devastating effects on the sector. The shift from volume to value will benefit the strongest (i.e., SNFs with the best quality payor mix) and disproportionately hurt SNFs serving the most vulnerable populations in our society. As intermediaries and value-based payment initiatives reduce utilization, and margin from the sector, the weakest will be forced to either close or merge with other, bigger and stronger systems.”

 


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