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Bundled payments: Big promise, big pitfalls


See hip replacement at left.

David Blumenthal, M.D., and David Squires have written a very cogent and realistic overview of the promises and pitfalls of bundled payments. Among their remarks:

“Healthcare economists are drawn to bundled payments because a bundle of care constitutes a clinically and intuitively meaningful “product” — in this case, the clinical episode. Defining clear products in healthcare helps create markets in which providers directly compete on quality and price. One barrier to effective healthcare markets has been that prices, when available, tend to relate to inputs into clinical care — such as pills, bandages, bed days, or X-rays — that are not meaningful to consumers of care and that don’t necessarily predict the total costs of care. ”

“Yet bundled payments have drawbacks. First, it can be complicated to define and track the type of care that should be included in the bundled payments for which a given provider is at risk. Knee and hip replacements are well-suited to bundles because they often involve comparatively young patients who are physically active (often the source of their joint damage) and want to remain so. But when patients have multiple chronic conditions that interact with each other, it becomes less clear whether the bundle should include the costs of caring for all those problems….Monitoring the fairness of these interactions could become burdensome and increase administrative costs.”

“{A}s the hip patient example suggests, bundles could inhibit certain types of care coordination, even as it encourages other types. On the plus side, bundles may encourage hospitals to work more closely with rehab centers. On the negative side, bundles may encourage specialists’ already strong tendency to see patients not as whole individuals, but as single disease problems or procedures, and to diminish their sense of responsibility for costs of illnesses not included in their particular bundled payment.”

{B}undled payments could encourage destructive competition for patients with profitable bundles. The otherwise healthy patient needing a knee replacement may prove more profitable than a knee replacement patient with complicating problems such as heart, lung, or kidney disease. While risk adjustment could somewhat compensate for cherry-picking, such adjustments have not proven foolproof in the past, and an entirely new fleet of risk adjusters that are specific to given clinical episodes will likely be required. Monitoring the work of multiple risk adjusters and possible gaming by providers could become yet one more administrative expense.”

“{B}undled payments may make it harder for population-based payment methods like ACOs to be successful. Providers who participate in ACOs assume responsibility for all the care their patients need during a given period of time, including specialty care. This general accountability for their patients’ health encourages efforts to coordinate care, especially for complex patients. Still, to be financially viable, ACOs must generate savings from existing services. If independent specialty providers capture the elective procedures for which savings are easiest to generate through bundled payments, it could be harder for ACOs to find those savings within their own service mix.”

To read this entire essay, please hit this link.





Unique Device Identifier data should be integrated with Medicare claims


This HealthAffairs article discusses the need to close “black hole in Medicare data.”

The authors write:

“Every year, the Medicare program pays for nearly 500,000 hip- and knee-replacement surgeries for America’s seniors. At the same time, approximately 25,000 patients undergo procedures to remove and replace a previous artificial joint, sometimes because it failed before the end of its expected useful life. Remarkably, and largely due to inadequacies in the systems that collect data through routine billing, the Medicare program is unable to identify product failures and patient safety problems, or to measure and promote high-value care with medical devices. This problem is serious, but can, and should, be fixed.”

They note:

“Regulations finalized in 2013 establish a Unique Device Identifier (UDI) to provide each product with a code corresponding to its make and model. FDA required all implanted devices to have one of these identifiers by September 2015.”

“With Medicare spending billions of dollars annually on joint replacement procedures alone, the program’s administrators and taxpayers should, at the very least, know which brands of products are being purchased and implanted. Making this information available will help improve the quality of implanted devices, reduce costs to the taxpayer, and improve patient outcomes. Until UDI is integrated into claims, CMS—and Congress—will be unable to effectively administer and oversee healthcare for American seniors who rely on medical devices.”

To read the HealthAffairs article, please hit this link.

Problems with Medicare knee/hip-replacement payments


Here’s a discussion  in HealthAffairs of why Medicare’s hip- and knee-replacement payment system may not be the answer for other payers and buyers.

Among the problems:

  • “The Medicare proposal is hospital-centric.”
  • “While the proposed model provides financial incentives for hospitals to avoid-post-surgery complications, it does not vary payments to those hospitals with the severity of the patient’s condition.”
  • “The diagnosis related groups (DRGs) targeted by the program are too broad and include procedures unrelated to replacing a hip or knee. This could contribute to higher total costs of care and result in hospitals being penalized unjustly for those unrelated procedures.”
  • “The provider payments would not be reconciled until the end of the year, which means that providers are paid as usual and any rewards or penalties are not proximate to their performance.”

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