Archive | October, 2013

Healthcare.gov is not the same as health reform aka Obamacare aka PPACA

It’s time to begin to focus on how to improve Healthcare.gov.

It seems like the government made all the classic rookie mistakes around implementation. They went for the Big Bang. They worked on it for years only to release it at the last second. They brought in tons of vendors and no one really coordinated them. They over paid for the project and didn’t tie anything to performance. They minimized the testing and complexity.

I think they’re going to make the same mistake again unfortunately. Fixing it may be harder then starting some of it over. Not the integration but the workflow. Bringing in the A-team and not delaying the penalties won’t be quick. And the new people should be smarter and slow things down so they don’t get thrown under the second bus.

But, this failure shouldn’t doom health reform. They are two different things. Sometimes I think the politicians living in their Disneyland of Washington forget more than they know.

The reality is that we have a huge, unsustainable healthcare issue in the US. We should be ashamed to have all the people without coverage that we do. While health reform won’t fix everything, it’s a stepping stone and a lot of the CMS work around innovation, ACOs, and Medicare STARS is critically to payment reform and the shift from FFS to value-based healthcare. There is still a ton of work to be done. We haven’t addressed health literacy. We haven’t addressed quality. The overall experience is still disconnected and generally poor.

The politicians need to focus on making our country better not playing games (on both sides).

And, while I disagree with the tactic, the Republican play to focus on the budget was important. We can’t bankrupt this country for our kids. While the government villianizes the Private Equity industry that leverages up companies and takes on debt risks that’s exactly what the government is doing now.

BTW – one of the interesting benefits of the healthcare.gov debacle is that it’s a ton of free advertising for the site. Everyone is talking about it for free and pulling consumer awareness up. (I doubt that was a strategy.)

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Aetna’s Metabolic Syndrome Innovation Program

I’ve been closely following Aetna’s innovation for the past few years (see post on CarePass and Healthagen).  I had the chance last week to speak with Adam Scott who is the Managing Director of the Aetna Innovation Labs.

Here’s Adam’s bio:

Adam Scott is a Managing Director within Aetna’s Innovation Labs, a group developing novel clinical, platform, and engagement solutions for the next generation of healthcare.  Mr. Scott specializes in clinical innovation, with a focus on oncology, genetics, and metabolic syndrome, as well as “big data” analysis.  His work is aimed at conceptualizing and developing products and services that better predict illness, enable evidence-based care and lengthen healthy lives.  Prior to joining Aetna, Mr. Scott’s 15-year healthcare career has included management roles in consulting, hospital administration, and most recently health information technology.  Mr. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  Mr. Scott resides with his family in Needham, MA, where he actively serves as a director on community boards.

This is one of my favorite topics – Metabolic Syndrome (although yes…I still hate the term).

Definition of Metabolic Syndrome from the NIH:

Metabolic (met-ah-BOL-ik) syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetesand stroke.

The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.

The Aetna Innovation Labs are focused on bringing concepts to scale and staying 2-3 years ahead of the market.  They are looking to rapidly pilot ideas with a focus on collecting evidence.  In general, Adam described their work as focused on clinical, platform, and engagement ideas.  They are trying to collaborate with cutting edge companies that they think they can help to scale quickly.  It’s pretty exciting!

As stated in their press release about this new effort:

“During the course of the last year, Aetna Innovation Labs has successfully piloted an analysis of Metabolic Syndrome and the creation of predictive models for Metabolic Syndrome. This prior work showed significantly increased risk of both diabetes and heart disease for those living with Metabolic Syndrome,” said Michael Palmer, vice president of Innovation at Aetna. “With this new pilot program with Newtopia, we are aiming to help members address Metabolic Syndrome through specific actions, before more serious chronic conditions arise, like diabetes and heart disease.”

Aetna selected Newtopia for this effort for their unique approach toward achieving a healthy weight with an integrative and personalized focus on nutrition, exercise, and behavioral well-being. Newtopia’s program begins with a “genetic reveal,” leveraging a saliva-based genetic test to stratify participants with respect to three genes associated with obesity, appetite, and behavior. Based on the results of this test and an online assessment, Newtopia matches each participant to a plan and coach trained to focus on the member’s specific genetic, personality and motivation profile. Through online coaching sessions, Newtopia will help members achieve results related to maintaining a healthy weight and Metabolic Syndrome risk-reduction, which will be measured by changes from a pre- and post-program biometric screening.

“Newtopia’s mission is to inspire individuals to make the lifestyle choices that can help them build healthy lives,” said Jeffrey Ruby, Founder and CEO of Newtopia.

If you’ve been following the story, this builds upon their project with GNS to develop a predictive algorithm to identify people at risk for Metabolic Syndrome.  As you may or may not know, there are 5 first factors for Metabolic Syndrome (text from NIH):

The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. You can have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.

  • A high triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.

  • A low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.

  • High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.

  • High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

So, what exactly are they doing now.  That was the focus of my discussion with Adam.

  1. They are running data through the GNS predictive model.
  2. They are inviting people to participate in the program.  (initially focusing on 500 Aetna employees for the pilot)
  3. The employees that choose to participate then get a 3 SNP (snip) test done focused on the genes that are associated with body fat, appetite, and eating behavior.  (Maybe they should get a few of us bloggers into the pilot – hint.)  This is done through Newtopia, and the program is GINA compliant since the genetic data is never received by Aetna or the employer.
  4. The genetic analysis puts the consumer into one of eight categories.
  5. Based on the category, the consumer is matched with a personal coach who is going to help them with a care plan, an exercise plan, and a nutrition plan.  The coaching also includes a lifestyle assessment to identify the best ways to engage them and is supported by mobile and web technology.
    newtopia
  6. The Newtopia coaches are then using the Pebble technology to track activity and upload that into a portal and into their system.

We then talked about several of the other activities that are important for this to be successful:

  • Use of Motivational Interviewing or other evidence-based approaches for engagement.  In this case, Newtopia is providing the coaching using a proprietary approach based on the genetic data.
  • Providing offline support.  In this case, Aetna has partnered with Duke to provide the Metabolic Health in Small Bytes program which he described as a virtual coaching program.

Metabolic Health in Small Bytes uses a virtual classroom technology, where participants can interact with each other and the instructor. All of the program instructors have completed a program outlined by lead program developer Ruth Wolever, PhD from Duke Diet and Fitness Center and Duke Integrative Medicine. Using mindfulness techniques from the program, participants learn practices they can use to combat the root causes of obesity. The program’s goal is to help participants better understand their emotional state, enhance their knowledge of how to improve exercise and nutrition, and access internal motivation to do so. (source)

We also talked about employer feedback and willingness to adopt solutions like this.  From my conversations, I think employers are hesitant to go down this path.  Metabolic Syndrome affects about 23.7% of the population.  That is a large group of consumers to engage, and pending final ROI analysis will likely scare some employers off.

Adam told me that they’ve talked with 30 of their large clients, consultants, and mid-market clients.  While we didn’t get into specifics, we talked about all the reasons they should do this:

  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 1.6x more expensive
  • People with Metabolic Syndrome are 5x more likely to get diabetes
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism

This ties well with my argument that wellness programs aren’t just about ROI.

Obviously, one of the next steps will be figuring out how this integrates into their other existing programs to address the overall consumer experience so that it’s not just another cool (but disconnected) program.  And, of course, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program to get clients and consumers to participate.

Two quotes I’ll leave you with on why this is difficult (but yet exciting to try to solve):

“The harsh reality is that scientists know as much about curing obesity as they do about curing the common cold: not much. But at least they admit their limitations in treating the cold. Many doctors seem to think the cure for obesity exists, but obese patients just don’t comply. Doctors often have less respect for obese patients, believing if they would just diet and exercise they’d be slim and healthy.” (source)

Thirty percent of those in the “overweight” class believed they were actually normal size, while 70% of those classified as obese felt they were simply overweight. Among the heaviest group, the morbidly obese, almost 60% pegged themselves as obese, while another 39% considered themselves merely overweight. (source)

10 Healthcare Projects I’d Like To Solve

I always tend to see the glass half full so when I see a problem then I often want to rush in and try to fix it. With that said, here are 10 things that I’ve thought about that I’d like to fix or see as big opportunities:

1. The healthcare experience. While this is the third leg of the Triple Aim, it often seems like the one that is so hard for healthcare companies to get. The system is so fragmented that the patient often is forgotten.

2. Device integration. While devices are better and integration is possible, there is still a huge lift to integrate my data into the typical clinical workflow. This is only going to get much worse with ubiquitous use of sensors and will be the limiting factor in the growth of the Quantified Self movement. (See my post on FitBit)

3. Intelligent phones. This is something that people carry everywhere. They often live life through the phone sometimes missing out on reality. The phone has tons of data as I’ve described before. We have to figure out how to tap into this in a less disruptive way.

4. Consumer preferences. I’m a big believer in preference-based marketing. But the question is how do I disclose my preferences, to whom, and are my preferences really the best way to get me to engage. What would be ideal is if we could find a way to scale down fMRI technology and allow us to disclose this information to key companies so they could get us to take actions that were in our best interest. (see old post on Buyology)

5. Benefits selection. I’ve picked the wrong benefits a few times. This drives me crazy. As I mentioned the other day, the technology to help with this exists and all the data which sits in EMRs and PHRs should allow us to fix this problem.

6. The role of retail pharmacy. This is one of my favorite topics. With more retail pharmacies than McDonalds and a huge problem of access, pharmacies could be the key turning point in influencing change in this country.

7. Caregiver empowerment. Anyone who cares for an adult and/or child knows how hard it is to be a caregiver and take care of their own needs. This becomes even harder with the people being geographically apart. With all the sensors and remote technology out there, I see this being a hot space in the next decade.

8. The smart house. As an architect, I’ve always dreamed of helping create the intelligent house where it knows what food you have. It manages your heat and light. It tracks your movements and could call for help if you fall. I see this being an opportunity to empower seniors to live at home longer.

9. Helping the disenfranchised. For years, we’ve all seen data showing that income can affect health. The question is how will we fix this. Coverage for all is certainly a critical step but that won’t fix it. We have a huge health literacy issue also. Ultimately, public health needs a program like we had to get people to wear seat belts. We need yo own our fate and change it before we end up like the humans in the movie Wall-e.

10. A Hispanic healthcare company in the US. With 16% of the US that speak Spanish, I’m shocked that I haven’t seen someone come out with a health and wellness company that is Hispanic centric in terms of the approach to improving care, engaging consumers, and providing support.

So, what would you like to solve?

The Healthcare Mark-up Game – Driving Up Healthcare Costs

The idea of healthcare costs and the need for healthcare transparency has become a front page issue. With the shift to consumer driven healthcare and high deductible plans, the average consumer is increasingly aware of what things cost. And companies like Change Healthcare provide tools to help consumers navigate this maze.

But, what I don’t hear many people discuss is the issue of middlemen and how this adds cost to the system. I’ve worked for several middlemen so I think I understand the model well. Of course, these companies make good (and true) arguments which is that they lower costs due to scale based efficiencies. But, healthcare is big business so everyone has to get paid somehow. Some of the “non-profits” make the most money.

Let’s look at prescription drugs:
– This begins with the manufacturer who adds the marketing and sales costs to the actual ingredient and packaging and shipping costs.
– The drug is then shipped to a wholesaler who stocks the drugs and ships them to pharmacies.
– The drugs are then sold by the pharmacy to the consumer and the pharmacy bills the payer.
– Assuming the payer isn’t the actual employer, the payer will then bill the employer.

So who all gets paid in this process:
– The manufacturer of the drug
– The advertising companies (they name the drug, they create the packaging, they create the ads)
– The marketing companies (they set up the websites, they create the mobile apps)
– The law firms (trademarks, patents)
– The sales companies (they hire and manage the pharma reps)
– The data company (the manage the Rx data to help target the reps)
– The shipping companies (transportation)
– The wholesaler
– The pharmacy
– The marketing and communication companies (refill programs, on the bag messaging)
– The technology companies (switch company, adjudication company)
– The recruiters (hiring, staffing)
– The PBM (contracting, rebating, customer service)
– The payer (adjudication, customer service, risk management)
– The broker (commission)

Still wonder why healthcare is expensive?

I wish I had an easy answer. A lot of these services are needed and it would cost more if the employers all had to do this themselves. There would be no scale. There would be no efficiencies.

This is certainly one argument for the efficiencies of a single payer system but I don’t think that’s very efficient IMHO.

Why Wall Street Would Love An Rx Report Card By Company

I think this is true for both Wall Street along with prospective employees. I think both would love to have a report card on the prevalence of prescription drug use within a company?

– Is there an abnormally high use of anti-depressants?

– Is there an abnormally high use of sleep medications?

– Is there an abnormally high use of anti-virals associated with STDs?

All of these might indicate cultural problems which would be early indicators of turnover or other issues.

On the flipside, there might be other health data points that provide additional data.

– What is the average step count for the population?

– What percentage of the population play sports?

– How many people have metabolic syndrome?

– How many hours do people sleep?

– Are there treadmill desks and other tools to support good health?

– What percentage of people eat lunch by themselves or at their desk or in a meeting?

– What percentage of people call the EAP line?

What other health data points would you want?

The 15 Year Old Technology Missing From Healthcare.gov

I talked about my experience trying to use the site day one. I honestly hoped it was an anomaly but it doesn’t seem to be.

But, as I think about Healthcare.gov and the general benefits selection process, I see two huge gaps.

Back in 1999, I was working with a company called Firepond. The had what was called a product configurator. At the time, I was at E&Y and Empire BCBS and several other Blues hired them to build a tool for brokers. The tool sat behind a really slick web interface which allowed the broker to ask a consumer less than 10 questions. They would move a sliding bar across the screen and it would dynamically rank their plan options to tell them what was the best option for them to buy. It seems like that wold be great for Medicare.gov and Healthcare.gov.

What we were missing then which Big Data might actually help us solve now is individual claims data. This is what drives me crazy when you have to pick your benefits at work. Why can’t I upload my benefits information and have a tool actually tell me what to buy? If I had my claims history plus a predictive model, I could make smarter decisions about how to select my benefits.

7 Steps To Manage Specialty Drugs – From Prime Therapeutics

Prime Therapeutics is a PBM owned by the Blues.  Several years ago, they insourced their specialty pharmacy operations from Walgreens.  This has been part of their transformation which was a result of new leadership under Eric Elliott who used to run Cigna’s PBM.  

As a PBM that’s owned by the Blues, I’ve talked about them before as an interesting cross of a standalone PBM (ala Express Scripts) and an integrated PBM (ala Humana Rightsource).  

As everyone in the industry knows, the shift in pharmacy has moved from innovator drugs in the traditional space to innovation in the specialty or biopharmaceutical space.  This includes both branded products and biosimilars.  This is critical path for employers, payers, and PBMs.  

A traditional strategy of promoting generic drugs and mail order or preferred pharmacies just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Although specialty drugs are still only used by about 1% of the population, they are the fastest growing area in healthcare.  According to Prime Therapeutics Drug Trend Report, their clients saw a 19% increase in specialty spending last year.  And, specialty drugs now account for over 30% of all the drug spend.  

If you look at the drug pipeline, this is going to continue to explode.  I just met with a series of specialty pharmacies to discuss their offerings and strategies.  There are several drugs coming that claim to “cure” some of these specialty conditions are at least meaningfully impact the patient outcomes in ways that weren’t even envisioned years ago.  And, I think we all know that’s not going to come cheap!

So, tomorrow (10/10/13), Prime is releasing a new report – “Specialty: Today & Tomorrow” which highlights Prime’s specialty drug trend over the past year and recommends strategies that high-performing plans use to manage the steady rise in these costs.  [My comments in brackets.]

1.        Bridge the benefit divide: use combined pharmacy and medical benefit data to see the full scope of specialty spending and seek solutions.  [Critical.  IMO – No one is doing this well yet, but this is something that everyone’s trying to figure out.]

2.        Focus on the biggest issues: use combined data to target the most urgent issues and focus on the areas that can provide the greatest return on investment.  [I’d expand this to be an integrated set of data – medical, pharmacy, lab, patient reported, EMR, etc.  This has to then be integrated with tools for depression screening and others to make sure the patient is supported.]

3.        Narrow the specialty network: use cost-effective distribution channels and limit the number of distributors to secure lower prices. [Fairly obvious.  I think many people are doing this.  I would expand on this to include looking at site of distribution for savings.]

4.        Embrace a management mindset: make sure the right specialty drugs are used properly by those who will benefit the most. [Agree.  I’ve talked about this before.  Some of these drugs still have huge adherence issues which limits their effectiveness leading to massive cost issues.  This is why some people are using only 14-day fills.]

5.        Promote preferred drug use: build plans that encourage desired behaviors. [I think we’re finally at a point where we’ll see specialty formularies, more rebating, and with bio-similars there may be more utilization management programs.]

6.        Protect members from high costs: limit members’ out-of-pocket costs and use available tools to reduce the burden on highly vulnerable members. [Critical.  The specialty pharmacy has to help the member limit their financial exposure.]

7.        Pick the right partner: select a trusted advisor with comprehensive capabilities and deep connections to help anticipate and address specialty drug challenges.  [Agree.  An aligned philosophy and strategy to work with these critical patients is fundamental.  This small group of patients drives most healthcare costs.] 

A copy of the specialty report is now available on Prime’s website and short videos about each of the seven steps can be found on Prime’s You Tube channel. This new report is the first specialty-focused report published by Prime. It follows Prime’s 2013 Drug Trend Insights infographic released in May. Visit the Industry Insights of Prime’s website for more drug trend information. 

Retail Pharmacies As The Distribution Point For Information

It’s always exciting to be “right” in a prediction.  When I spoke at the CBI conference a few weeks ago, one of the key points I made was that today’s healthcare consumer is overwhelmed with information.  They get conflicting data.  They don’t have enough time with their physicians.  They are increasingly responsible for decisions and even with transparency, they don’t always know what to do.  With that in mind, one of my suggestions was that retail pharmacies had a great opportunity to step in and be this information management source for consumers.  (aka – The retailers can serve as the physical resource for the retailing of healthcare.)

With that in mind, I find the announcements by Walgreens and CVS very interesting.

From the CVS press release:

“Humana’s partnership with CVS/pharmacy reflects our proven and ongoing commitment to educate individuals and their families at the places they go when they have questions about their health,” said Roy A. Beveridge, MD, Humana’s Chief Medical Officer. “We’re working to ensure people develop a better understanding of how their health coverage can help them make better, and healthier, decisions.”

“Providing information about new health insurance coverage opportunities is in keeping with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health,” said Helena Foulkes, Executive Vice President and Chief Health Care Strategy and Marketing Officer for CVS Caremark. “We are pleased to combine our innovative suite of services and our new and existing relationships with organizations such as Humana to help patients understand and have access to information about insurance options in their community.

From the Walgreen’s press release:

Walgreens store personnel are directing individual customers who inquire to the GoHealth Marketplace, a resource where they can shop and compare health insurance plans, enroll and find other important tools and information. Consumers can access the GoHealth Marketplace online from www.walgreens.com/healthcarereform or via phone at 855-487-6969. Walgreens also is providing informational brochures and other materials in stores.

“As an accessible, community health care provider serving more than 6 million people each day, Walgreens can help connect those customers who may be considering new health insurance options with resources and information,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief strategy officer. “Our goal is to help ensure people fully understand the marketplace, and working with GoHealth, to provide personalized consultation from experts who can help them make informed decisions.”

In both cases, they may have addressed one of my questions about this strategy from my presentation which was how would they monetize this.  I think it’s the right role, but I wasn’t sure how it would lead to revenue other than general revenue related to store traffic.  I assume both of these have some “commission” or “referral fee” for traffic generated.

Interesting Survey Results About Obamacare

Given all the buzz about healthcare exchanges (much of it echoing what I talked about last week), I thought this was an interesting study from Coupa Software.

From the press release they sent me…

The results highlight just how divided the healthcare community is over the new law:

93% believe there will be negative outcomes from the new law, including:

  • Quality of insurance policies will suffer (53%)
  • Quality of healthcare will suffer (51%)
  • Americans will die earlier (19%)

74 percent felt there would be also be positive benefits for patients, including:

  • More Americans will have some level of coverage (57%) 
  • Increased preventative care services (36%)
  • Lower hospital bills for patients (21%)

78% identified spending inefficiencies in their workplace, including wasteful spending

66% believe Obamacare will eliminate some of those inefficiencies

    • More Americans will have some level of coverage (57%)
    • Increased preventative care services (36%)
    • Lower hospital bills for patients (21%)

Here’s a look at the raw data: https://www.instant.ly/report/52386bb2e4b0c02bc208a937

Healthcare.gov Registration Process – My Experience…Not Good

I was up and ready to try the new healthcare exchanges at HealthCare.gov this morning.  While it started well with a nice GUI (graphic user interface), it went downhill from there.

Once I got in, it was busy so I had to hold.  

Then, when I tried to create a username and followed the directions, it wouldn’t accept my username.  

And, finally, when I got through it all, it wouldn’t accept who I was to let me proceed.  

If everyone else has a similar experience, this is either going to be a miserable failure or the call centers are going to be lit up with phone calls and huge waits.  I guess to answer the question that the CEO of BCBS of NC poised the other day…this won’t reflect badly on the plans because I can’t even get far enough into the process to see what plans participate.  

The one positive (other than the design) was that the terms and conditions were ridiculously simple!

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