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by George Chapman, GW Chapman Consulting

Affordable Care Act.  A bill to replace the ACA, called the “American Healthcare Act”,  has just passed the Ways and Means committee in the Republican controlled House. The bill would: eliminate many of the taxes that support expanded Medicaid and the premium subsidies on the exchanges and replace them with consumer tax credits, provide block grants to the states for Medicaid, and discontinue the individual mandate requiring all to have insurance or pay a penalty. The bill would continue, however, the basic cornerstones of the ACA: allow children to remain on a parent’s plan until age 26, no life time monetary caps on illnesses, and insurers cannot deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. Rather than going through a disruptive and highly political repeal and replace process, many industry observers wonder why the changes proposed in the new bill were not simply introduced in Congress, over the last six years, as amendments to the ACA. The insurance lobby (AHIP) has expressed approval of some of the changes, but it has expressed concern about the potential decline in coverage and the negative impact on our most vulnerable populations. The American Medical Association flat out will not support the new bill. The hospital lobby says the probable increase in the uninsured will cost hospitals billions. Washington observers and healthcare policy experts believe the bill, as written, will not garner enough support in the Senate. The Congressional Budget Office still has to determine if the new bill’s numbers add up. The CBO has estimated that 15  million people could lose their insurance.

Mega merger drama.  Critics of the ACA have maintained many consumers really don’t have choices because one in three markets has only one insurance company left on the exchange. Consequently, consumers, physicians and hospitals could potentially be at the mercy of monopolistic pricing. Insurance companies maintain that mergers (resulting in less choices) will  allow them to reduce costs and increase efficiencies which would benefit the consumer. The Department of Justice isn’t buying that has blocked the mega merger of Anthem and Cigna, the second and third largest commercial insurers in the nation. Incredibly, Cigna is now suing Anthem to end the merger agreement and for damages. Anthem has countersued. The AMA has expressed its strong concern over the possibility of politically driven settlement negotiations between Anthem and the DOJ that could result in Anthem closing the deal with Cigna.

Accountable Care Organizations. ACOs were established by the ACA to cut costs and improve access and quality.  More than 850 ACOs across the country care for over 28 million people.  Hospitals, physicians and insurers have been collaborating the past six years. The majority of ACOs participate  in shared savings programs with Medicare and commercial insurers. Industry experts are confident ACOs will survive any changes in the laws of the land.

Telehealth.   More and more insurance companies are paying for telehealth. The immediate benefits are easier access, enhanced doctor/patient communication and remote monitoring of incapacitated patients. It will take more time and experience to determine whether or not the increased utilization of physician services via telehealth is eventually outweighed by cost reductions in other areas like inpatient care and drug utilization.  A study published in Health Affairs followed three years of claims for respiratory infections. The study concluded that nine of ten telehealth visits (for this condition) represented new or additional utilization versus visits that substituted for an in person encounter. The authors of the study recommended insurers or even providers might want to increase patient out of pocket costs to prevent frivolous or unnecessary telehealth utilization and that  telehealth might have more of a positive impact for those patients with traditionally undertreated conditions like diabetes and mental health.

Obesity.  In a study published in “Cell Metabolism”, researchers found that a dopamine deficit may be the major cause of physical inactivity which has often been blamed on obesity.  Lab mice were divided into two groups. The first group was fed low fat food while the second received high fat food. The mice on the high fat diet naturally gained more weight, but researchers noted all ice were inactive, due to low dopamine levels, to start. So weight gain itself did not lead to inactivity in these mice.

Dementia.  46 million people worldwide suffer from some sort of dementia. In the US, 5 million people have Alzheimer’s disease. One in three seniors will die from dementia complications. Dementia costs us about $236 billion a year. Researchers at Boston University school of medicine found that people who sleep more than nine hours on average are TWICE as likely to develop dementia than those who sleep less than nine hours on average.

Social media. Social media (SM) is having more and more of an impact on consumers and their behaviors every year. 40% say information gleaned from SM affects how they deal with their health. 19% of smartphone owners have at least one health related app. 41% of us say SM influences our choice of providers and hospitals. 30% of healthcare professionals use SM for networking. When it comes to sharing health info via SM, 43% of us are comfortable sharing with hospitals, 47% with physicians, 38% with insurers and 32% with pharmacies. 60% of physicians report SM actually improves the quality of health in their patients.

Really? And finally this. “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated”. President Donald Trump. February 27, 2017.

On December 9th, we had a presentation by Troy Evans of 16th Avenue Inc talking about the concepts of co-working, co-living and One Million Cups Syracuse style, and how each could apply to consultants in a much different way than most of the people in the room had ever thought of.

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The first concept came under the name of Syracuse Coworks. In essence, it's an open working space where people who work independently can go, set up their laptops or computers, and not only do their work but be surrounded with a lot of other independent business people doing the same. What it offers is the chance to talk to other people who aren't potential customers and bounce ideas off, something that doesn't happen all that often when we work out of our homes. It also gives people a chance to have a conversation face to face and possibly even go to lunch or to grab a cup of coffee.

That's not the only reason it's unique. For only $100 a month you have access to free high speed wi-fi, there's a conference room, a space where you can put on a small event or presentation, a soundproof space if you want to do podcasting or videos, and even a few individual offices; those will cost you a little more than the $100 though. True, it's downtown Syracuse on Jefferson Street, but if you're bored or going stir crazy at home this is a great and inexpensive option to consider.

Next Troy talked about CommonSpace, which is the co-living piece. This consists of 2 floors of one bedroom apartments of only 300 square feet of space. Once outside that you have common areas such as a large kitchen, living room type areas, game rooms, movie area and a place to work out. These units are both short and long term lease and of course the wi-fi is free.

The initial expectation was that 50% of the people living there would also be working in the downstairs space, but it's turned out that only 15% of the residents work in the Coworks area. Most of the people are 3 month short term residents from out of the area, including some from other countries. The age ranges are from 26 to 55, with 4 couples living there.

The starting price is around $800 a month, and once a week there's a group dinner and once a month a group event. Troy mentioned that his hope was to create an internal neighborhood more than just another apartment complex.

The final piece of his presentation concerned One Million Cups, which was actually started in Kansas City by the Kauffman Foundation a few years ago. It's intention was to be more of a think tank for up and coming businesses that wanted an opportunity to present their business to a group of other independent business people and then ask their advice on promotion, marketing, the product itself… pretty much anything.

Presentations are between 5 and 6 minutes and then it's questions and recommendation time. It happens at the same time everywhere across the country (Wednesdays at 9AM) depending on time zone and the coffee and hot chocolate are free. One thing Syracuse Coworks offers (it might be offered elsewhere but we're not sure) is that anyone who comes on Wednesdays can use the co-working space for free that day, which is pretty cool.

The members loved this presentation because it offers something that most consultants could use. Getting out of the house every once in a while can be a good thing, and it's hard to beat the $100 a month price (other than going to the library) and the opportunity to talk to someone during the day (which the library would frown on). It's learning about things like this that makes PCA of CNY such a special group to belong to.

 

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by George Chapman, GW Chapman Consulting

Hospital ratings. The recent five star ratings of hospitals by Medicare raised the issue of whether large teaching hospitals got a fair shake because the survey upon which the ratings were based (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) did not account for patient acuity. Large teaching hospitals treat more trauma and often care for difficult patients transferred to them by surrounding rural and suburban hospitals.   A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine looked at online hospital reviews by consumers on Yelp. About 25% of the almost 3,800 hospitals in the Medicare survey also had ratings on Yelp. The correlation between the Medicare rating received by a hospital and the Yelp reviews was very strong. Yelp reviewers reported on staff quality and compassion, access, convenience, bedside manner, cost, billing, scheduling, treatment of family and visitors. Researchers found that consumers are more savvy than the industry thinks. Hospitals that performed better on both outcome and processes enjoyed greater market share and growth. Word gets around and patients seek care where it’s the best.

Telemedicine.   Many argue telemedicine will never be as effective as a real face to face encounter between patient and provider. So far, the technology has proven effective in many scenarios such as: the patient is incapacitated (sick, injured, contagious); foul weather; transportation is unavailable (commercial or care giver); patient just needs remote monitoring;  patient needs encouragement or compliance pep talk; patient needs medicine checked; patient has mental issues and acts out; patient can’t leave work; on call provider can refer to video visit.

RomneyCare update.  Industry observers keep an eye on what is happening In Massachusetts because it is consider the harbinger of things to come under the Affordable Care Act. The Massachusetts Center for Health Information  reported that costs in 2015 were $8,424 per capita which is an increase of 3.9% over 2014. The benchmark or target was an aggressive 3.6%. (Everyone in Massachusetts has insurance.)  As with the rest of the nation, drug costs were responsible for most of the cost “overrun”, accounting for a third of all costs. Larger, more efficient healthcare systems are putting a lot of financial pressure on smaller community hospitals and rural systems.

2016 election.  Both candidates agree drug companies seemingly raise prices arbitrarily and something needs to be done.  Trump would allow Medicare/Medicaid and commercial payers to purchase drugs from countries like Canada. Clinton would appoint a federal watchdog to monitor price increases and limit the amount of income consumers would have to spend out of pocket on drugs. But controlling the pharmaceutical industry, let alone prices, will not be easy unless the revolving door between the FDA and the drug manufacturers is controlled. The FDA has data on how many of its former employees now work as consultants or lobbyists to the pharmaceutical industry but has not released such data.

National spending.  In 2014, we spent $9,523 per capita. Still the most by far of any developed country. At $3 trillion, healthcare was 17.5% of our GDP in 2014. (it is currently trending at 18%.) Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 36% of spending. Commercial insurance accounted for 33% and out of pocket another 11%. The remaining 20% is VA, federal employees, Public Health Service and other federal programs.

Specialty rankings.  According to a study of online physician reviews published in Becker’s Hospital Review, consumers report the highest satisfaction levels with neuromuscular specialists, thoracic surgeons, podiatrists, plastic surgeons and colorectal surgeons. The lowest ranking were with: psychiatrists, preventive medicine specialists, pain specialists, emergency physicians and neurologists.

Physicians refusing care.  A debate over how much autonomy a physician should have when he/she has a conscientious objection to providing a service like abortion, birth control, unnecessary testing and assisted suicide is published in the Journal of Bioethics.  Those who argue a physician does NOT have the right to refuse care feel access to care, especially when there are few if any alternatives, must override a physician’s personal beliefs. Those who argue a physician DOES have the right to refuse care argue they are entitled to have values like everyone else. Sweden and France bar physicians from refusing any legal service and can suspend or revoke a practitioner’s license. The US, Canada and the UK have historically allowed the refusal of services based on conscientious objection. Most physicians who will not provide certain services due to moral objections will be happy to refer their patients to another provider without disrupting the overall relationship between them.

Watch your scale.   The good news, according to a study by a Cornell professor published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is your weight might be at an annual low…. right now. The bad news is that, thanks to the upcoming holidays, you will gain weight and a lot of the gain will be permanent if you don’t pay attention. Weight gain typically starts 10 days before the holiday season and peaks around New Year. Because the study participants were aware they were in a weight study, the professor believes the weight gains were probably artificially low to moderate and that weight gain in the general public is worse. Other studies have found that after 30, most of us gain two pounds of permanent weight every holiday season.

CNY Smokeout.  3K fun run to promote giving up tobacco products and creating healthy lifestyles. Sunday November 6, 2016. Onondaga Lake park. 8 am registration.  $20 entry fee. 727-3074 for more information.

Something that the Professional Consultants Association of Central New York does that you don't see a lot of other organizations doing it allowing time for a member to do what we call a 5 to 10 minute spotlight on their business and accomplishments. We tend to believe that it's important not only for the rest of our members to know that we have such accomplished participants in the organization, but it gives the members themselves a chance to get up in front of a friendly group of cohorts and present themselves live.

DannyChawan002What most organizations don't pay attention to is that there are a lot of members who like to stay in the background and just come to watch, but never to participate. As consultants, our belief is that everybody needs to be practiced in the art of presenting to others. We also understand some people are a bit more shy than others, but if you can't talk in front of people you're familiar with you're not going to be a very good consultant long term.

At our first meeting of the season, Danny Chawan of  Srim Enterprises talked about his career as a PhD food scientist; at least that's what I call him. Danny has multiple patents for his discoveries and creations, and has worked with multiple companies across the world in helping them to figure out how to mass produce their products. He is also kind of a local celebrity, having them and both the local regular and business newspaper many times because a lot of the work he does is in the basement of his house, which is a veritable laboratory.

Danny is also a longtime member of the PCA board, butt it's probably been a long time since we got to talk about himself in front of a lot of people. That's why we were happy that he spoke to us, and I know that with the questions a few people asked all of us were illuminated and fascinated by some of his adventures. Below is a small sample of a blog post he once wrote that helps illuminate what he does:

The Things That Affect Taste And Quality

I am a food scientist, a term that may be misunderstood by a lot of people. What I do is figure out how companies can mass produce their food items based on original formulas and recipes so that those products will taste like expected later on.

One might not know how hard it is to get something like this right, but all you have to do is think about making something as simple as cornbread and mixing together two boxes of ingredients at once instead of just one. You might initially believe that if you’re going to do this that all you have to do is double everything. However, you find that when you bake the cornbread, it’s not coming out quite as you thought it might. Maybe the middle doesn’t cook all that well or the outside gets burned, or maybe it doesn’t spread the way you expected it to in the pan.

In that small experiment, you realize that you have to change many things, from how long you bake to what temperature to even how much of the other ingredients you should put into your cornbread mix. Do you put more or less milk in? What about the eggs?

If things can go wrong with something that simple, imagine what it’s like when you’re looking to make thousands, if not millions, of a product at one time in a factory. The chemistry alone can be daunting. It’s not just ingredients or temperature at a certain point. It’s the type of oven or vat you’re cooking in, how you’re putting your product into its packaging, how long it should cook or cool, the order of ingredients, the power of spices… so many things. Many times the corrections are minor, but it could take weeks of testing to figure it out. Other times the corrections are major and costly; there are a lot of great products that never make it to market because it would cost too much to create them.

This is one reason why homemade products, or products made locally, cost so much more than products from large companies. Local products are made in smaller quantities to retain their quality, while larger companies might end up cutting some corners to get out what they do. Don’t take my word for it; make some rice krispie treats, then go out and buy a box of them, and taste them yourself. I believe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

I tend to believe that more organizations should think about having some of their members present themselves to the group, whether it's a sort of Trade Organization or Professional Organization. After all, when groups of people get together with some clarity, not only will they have good things but sometimes they can ask questions that would benefit everybody. It's also nice to know that there are a number of Professionals in the room who are ready to celebrate as well as assist whenever possible.

This is one of the major benefits of being a member of PCA; it's open to every one of our consultants; all they have to do is ask or wait to be asked. :-)

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by George Chapman, GW Chapman Consulting

Hospital rankings released.   After months of delay due to concerns about the methodology used, CMS released the results of its hospital quality rankings. 4,600 hospitals received from one to five stars based on 64 quality measures like post-surgical infection rates, average waiting time in the emergency department, readmission to the hospital after a heart attack, use of CT and MRIs, complications after hip surgery, etc.  102 hospitals (2%) earned ***** stars. 934 (20%) earned ****stars. 1,770 (38%) earned *** stars. 723 (16%) earned ** stars. 133 (3%) earned * star. 937 hospitals (20%) received no ranking due to insufficient data. NYS had the most one star hospitals with 35 of the 133. 33 were downstate. Faxton-St. Luke in Utica and SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse were the two upstate hospitals getting a single star. Many  believe the rankings were biased against teaching hospitals which typically treat more trauma, transfers from other hospitals and the more complex cases.  Go to “CMS Hospital Compare” on line to check a hospital’s ranking.

Cancer survivors increasing.   The number of cancer survivors will increase by 11 million over the next two decades according to the National Cancer Institute. Their numbers will increase from the current 15 million to over 26 million.   Almost 75% of the survivors will be over 65 by 2040.  

Text messaging your physician.  CMS is working on guidelines for text messaging. The availability of better and secure text messaging technology caused CMS to  reconsider its ban on text messaging which has been in force since 2011.  Various studies indicate text messaging can accelerate care, boost communications between patients and their providers and streamline patient activity. A recent study of women diagnosed with breast cancer found a much higher level of satisfaction with both treatment plans and their decision making among women who used some means of electronic communication with their physician.

Healthcare to be 20% of GDP. According to Office of the Actuary under CMS, healthcare expenditures will grow 5.8% a year between now and 2025. That is about 1.3% faster than the rest of the economy, which could make healthcare 20% of the GDP by 2025. We spent $3.2 TRILLION last year on healthcare. The Affordable Care Act has been credited with keeping annual increase to “moderate levels” compared to the 8% growth rate in the two decades prior to the ACA. Price inflation accounted for less than 1% of the increase in expenditures. We continue to spend far more, per capita or percentage of  GDP,  than any other country.

Curbing fraud.   Penalties will soon double.  The minimum penalty for EACH false claim submitted to CMS will double from the current $5,500 to nearly $11,000. The maximum penalty per false claim would increase to over $21,000.  There are typically thousands of false claims in a particular case meaning penalties reach into the million and sometimes billions.  Whistleblowers receive a cut of the monies recovered. Many feel the higher penalties may invoke the constitutionality of the fines as a defense. The eight amendment prohibits excessive fines. However, most cases are settled on damages or the government’s actual losses versus penalties.

Trump’s plan.  Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA nearly 50 times. Mr. Trump has vowed to repeal it if elected. According to the non-partisan Center for Health and Economy, Trump’s plan would upend most of the recent reforms under the ACA.  18 million Americans would lose their insurance due to elimination of tax credits and Medicaid expansion.  Premiums would decrease across all plan categories (bronze, silver, platinum) by removing actuarial rating and deductible restrictions and the individual mandate.  Medical productivity would increase 2% due to a shift from employer sponsored plans to individual plans.  More cost sharing would result in a more price conscious consumer.  Provider access would increase 11% based on the assumption that new low benefit, low premium  catastrophic plans would offer a wider network of providers.  The federal deficit would decrease $583 billion over the next decade due to provisions directly related to removing the standard benefit packages under the ACA.

Feds to Increase value of primary care.   In a continuing effort to make primary care more appealing to medical students and to reward those already practicing, Medicare will increase payments for lnternal Medicine, Family Medicine, Ob/GYN, Pediatrics, Geriatrics and mental health by $900 million next year. Most of the increase will come at the expense of specialists. Commercial insurers tend to follow Medicare’s lead on how physicians and hospitals are paid.      

Random health facts.  Lack of exercise causes as many deaths as smoking.  Eating out regularly at restaurants doubles your risk of obesity. Laughing 100 times equals 15  minutes of exercising on a stationary bike. 30% of cancer can be prevented by avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol and exercising regularly. Averaging less than seven hours of sleep a night reduced your life expectancy. Just one soda a day increases your chances of type 2 diabetes by 22%.