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Express Scripts Excludes 48 Drugs On 2014 Formulary

Is anyone really surprised here?  We saw CVS Caremark make some changes a few years ago that caught everyone’s attention.  (You can see a good list of 2013 and 2014 removals and options here for CVS Caremark.)  This year, it’s Express Scripts (ESRX) who’s caught the attention of the press.

Why do this?  I think Dr. Steve Miller did a great job of explaining it in a recent interview.  The most interesting thing to come out of this was the possible link to copay cards.

Pharmalot: Where to from here?

Miller: We obviously have a long-term strategy. This has sent a loud message to the marketplace that we have got to preserve the benefit for patients and plan sponsors and do things to rein in costs. As there are more products in the marketplace that are interchangeable, we’ll do more to seek the best value for our members. This is just the beginning of a multi-step process over the next several years.

Will there be more to come?  Of course.  The PBMs have to make a significant show of lowering the number of formulary drugs especially in the oral solid (traditional Rx) space to make the point to the pharmaceutical manufacturers that they control market access.  This is critical for them to create more opportunities in the specialty Rx space around rebates.  (Here’s the 2014 Express Scripts exclusion list)

Additionally, this is a low risk strategy for several reasons:

  • The disruption is minimal.  While 780,000 people sounds like a lot, it’s still just 2.6% of the population covered by these formularies.  The savings the employer will generate per disrupted member will pay for the extra customer service needed.  (Harsh reality to some people…I know)
  • As I’ve discussed before, the margins are in specialty pharmacy and mail order generics not in branded drugs which represent less than 20% of all drugs.  Therefore, this is a good place to make a stand.
    • From an old JP Morgan analysis from 2011, Lisa Gill estimated the PBM profits to be (all in 30-day equivalents):
      • $1.69 retail brand drug
      • $2.03 mail brand drug
      • $3.00 retail generic drug
      • $13.00 mail generic drug
  • This is based on a clinical review by an independent P&T committee.  Therefore, this is aligned with the health reform focus on outcomes and value.

New/Old Accusations About PBMs And Their Margins

PBMs (or Pharmacy Benefit Managers) are big business.  Just look at a few of the names and their place on the Fortune 500 list:

Not surprisingly, none of those are non-profits.  There is real money being made here.  It’s all part of the mark-up game in healthcare.  The question of course is does the money being made justify the profits.  For example, I’m happy to pay my banker lots of money as long as he’s earning me more than he’s making (and significantly more).

This is a complicated question.  (see past posts on What’s Next, Why People Don’t Save With Mail, and Growing Mail Order)  I’ve also presented on this topic several times in the past pointing out that the model needs to change, and re-iterating the fact that PBMs made a mistake by putting all their profits in the generic space.  I’ve always said that disintermediation would happen by focusing on generics at mail which is where all the money was at Express Script (8 years ago).  [People remind me that some of this has changed and is different across PBMs.]

The new Fortune article by Katherine Eban called “Painful Prescription” certains shows a dark story.  It focuses exactly on one of these scenarios which is the gap between acquisition cost and client cost.  The article talks about paying $26.91 for a drug but selling it to the client at $92.53.  I’m always reminded of the fact that at one time we used to buy fluoxetine (generic Prozac) for about $0.015 per pill.  On the flipside, we had brand drugs that we bought for more than we got reimbursed and lost money.  It was strange model.

So, here’s my questions:

  1. Do you want transparency?  If so, there are lots of “transparent PBMs” and many larger PBMs will do transparent deals.  You can also follow the Caterpillar model.  (Don’t forget that pharmacy represents less than 20% of your total healthcare spend so you can find yourself down the rabbit hole here trying to shave 2% of spend on 20% or 0.4% of your costs with a lot of effort.)
  2. Are you focused on anamolies like this one or average profits per Rx?
  3. Do you have the right plan design in place?
  4. Do you have a MAC (maximum allowable cost) list both at retail and mail order for generics?
  5. Are you getting the rebates and any admin fees from pharma for your claims passed through to you at the PBM?
  6. If you pay the PBM on a per Rx basis (i.e., no spread allowed), what are they doing to keep your drug costs down year over year (i.e., they have no more incentive to push down on suppliers)?
  7. Are you benchmarking your pricing?  Look at reports from places like PBMI.  For many smaller clients, I often wonder if the savings they find you is worth the costs.

I’m sure there’s more since I’ve been out of the industry for a few years, but while I don’t intend to be the defender of the industry, I do like to bring some balance to the conversation.

Can You Keep Your Prior Health Insurance – No

“That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health plan, you’ll be able to keep your health plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” President Obama, June 15, 2009, from a speech to the AMA

You know what…that was a great campaign soundbite. It might have even been what he wanted. But, it’s not reality. They made a mistake. Move on. Everyone in healthcare knows the industry needs reform. I think the administration would be better off to admit they were wrong and focus on the benefits of reform and stop trying to defend what they’ve said.

Instead, they continue to try to justify this statement – see whitehouse blog. Stop kidding yourself or get out of the ivory tower. It’s like trying to build a website without any experience. It makes no sense.

As I said the other day, just like healthcare.gov isn’t the same as Health Reform (PPACA).  The same goes for this statement.  Healthcare needs to change.  There are some good things here, but healthcare is complicated and the administration made some mistakes.

At the end of the day, I think we have all been surprised at the rate of change especially for big companies:

People are jumping on this opportunity to drop coverage and shift coverage to the exchanges. Someone should have been able to model out all these scenarios years ago. What if this drives lots of companies to lower hours so that people don’t get coverage and they don’t get penalized. That would be a disaster. We don’t want a society where everyone’s balancing 2-3 jobs just to get to full-time hours. (Of course, some people do it just to pay the bills.)

On the flipside, the idea of creating better healthcare coverage for individuals was a good one, but I’m not sure why anyone thought this would be price neutral. In establishing a baseline offering which everyone has to have (e.g., maternity benefits), this is going to drive up costs. By requiring pricing for 2015 before anyone has experience with 2014 is just going to require companies to underwrite a lot of risk and drive premiums up.

As a good summary read of issues, read 31 Things We Learned in HealthCare.gov’s First 31 Days.

Trajectory Modeling On Adherence By CVS

No one who works with consumers or who studies adherence should too surprised that people are different in how they fill their medications. I think companies are finally getting a better handle on longitudinal member records and ways of studying those patterns to determine how and when to intervene.

Our past behavior is always a great place to learn from about our future behavior but at the same time, people view different drugs and conditions differently. For example, I might be very likely to take my pain medication everyday since it’s a symptomatic condition versus my cholesterol medication since it’s an asymptotic condition. I also may take a different approach yo medications that have significant side effects.

At the same time, these data is well known so the quest for the “best” segmentation approach and behavior change model continues.

With that in mind, I finally got a chance to look at some research from September that researchers at CVS Caremark and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published in the journal Medical Care. They used trajectory modeling to follow statin users for 15 months and came up with six groups:

  • Brief gap in medication use or filled irregularly during the first nine months, but improved during the last six months (11.4 percent)
  • Slowly declining adherence throughout the 15 month period (11.3 percent)
  • Used statins only occasionally across the 15 month study period (15 percent)
  • Rapid decline in statin use after initiation (19.3 percent)
  • Virtually no fills after their initial fill (23.4 percent

They also identified some characteristics associated with adherence:

  • Higher adherence was seen with patients who were older, had higher incomes and held a high school diploma.
  • The highest adherence rates were associated with Medicare Part D clients and people who live in New England.
  • Those with the lowest adherence rates tended to be generally younger, male and less likely to have an initial prescription that provided them with more than a 30-day supply of medication.

Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of CVS Caremark:


“The use of trajectory models could help us more accurately identify patients at risk for medication nonadherence so we can develop and implement targeted interventions to help them stay on their medications for chronic health conditions.”

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.

OMG – Prescription Coupons Could Cost Consumers More

Talk about an article that seems a few years late to the party…

Anyways, I was reading a link from the PCMA today about an article on philly.com about copay cards.  It stresses several points:

  • The cards are typically only for 90-days.
  • The cards get people started on brand drugs not generics.
  • People are less likely to switch to generics after they use the brand.
  • This costs people more money over time.

I’ve talked about copay cards many times and presented on this topic at the PCMA conference a few years ago.

Let me give some quick thoughts here.

  1. The cards may typically be for only 90-days, but most people that drop off therapy or titrate to other strengths do so in the first 90-days so perhaps this is saving some money.
  2. Of course, it’s for brand drugs not generics.  That’s the business model we’ve created in this country where generics are priced at pennies so there is no marketing to support those products.  It’s the PBMs and pharmacies that do the marketing for generics since they are the ones making money here.
  3. I think it’s a fair generalization that people are less likely to switch, but this is the problem.  If the drugs are the same (per the FDA), why is this an issue?  Is it an educational issue.  Or, is there really a difference?
  4. I’m not sure the consumer cost is the issue.  That’s marketing 101.  Don’t most consumers understand this issue that sales and coupons drive you to build loyalty often to higher priced products.  I think the debate here needs to stay on the payer who pays 70-80% of the drug costs.  They are the ones who really have an issue here since they don’t control the decision made in the market.

This one doesn’t seem to be going away, but I’m not seeing any net new information.

Diet Soda Versus Regular Soda – Ongoing Confusion

I view this as one more example of how the average consumer gets confused by all the information out there.

images

Should I focus on calories?

Should I focus on the ingredients?

Should I just drink water?  (of course)

Now, “new” research shows that the artificial sweeteners in the Diet drink can actually fool your body making it worse for you over time.  This isn’t completely new if you look at this blog from a few years ago.

But, we often wonder about why consumers don’t take responsibility for their actions and then get upset when more aggressive measures have to be taken.  (See the recent Penn State uproar.)

Consumers don’t know who or what to trust.

Should I drink alcohol?  Is it good for me in moderation?

How much exercise is needed?  New research shows that it can’t all be done at once.

Extreme Weather Isn’t Good For Our Health

After moving to Charlotte, it’s been raining and flooding here all summer.  It reminds me of 1993 when I moved to St. Louis, and they had their 100-year flood.

100yearflood-basic-1

All I ever hear from everyone is that this isn’t normal weather for Charlotte.  It begs the question of whether any weather is normal.  [I’ll avoid going down the global warming path here.]

So, I found it interesting that there was a recent article says that this will essentially be part of a new normal which will be more weather extremes.  Drought.  Flooding.  Hurricanes.  Extreme Heat.

So, what does this have to do with health?  A lot.

When these extreme weather scenarios come up, people are less likely to leave the house.  Kids don’t go outside and play.  And, as you can see on the CDC website, they’re focused on analyzing these trends to understand the impact.  On the NC HHS site, here’s what it says about this weather change.

“Some of the health impacts of climate change may include illness, injuries or deaths due to heat, air pollution, extreme weather, and water-borne pathogens.”

Weather has an impact.  Just look at SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Or, just think about childhood obesity.  Our kids are supposed to get 60 minutes of activity a day.  While we assume that happens with sports, it doesn’t always as I blogged about before.  With many of them over-scheduled to begin with and schools dropping recess, weather may be the last straw.  As recent research shows, a structured recess program is important for academic success.

Some days, I think our kids work harder then us parents.  Let’s look at a kid playing a serious sport.

  • 7:50-2:55 school for 5 days a week
  • 1-2 hours of homework per day
  • 2 hours of sports practice 5 days a week
  • Homework on the weekend
  • Games / tournaments on the weekend

Now, add a second sport which many kids do.  Or a part-time job as they get older.  (I know I’m getting off on a tangent, but it’s been so long since I’ve had time to blog…I need to get back into a pattern.)

Walgreens Clinic Rebranding Is More Than A Name Change

As I talked about in my post about Walgreens and innovation, Walgreens has renamed their TakeCare Clinics to Healthcare Clinics at some locations.  This is more than just a meaningless name change.  This is the beginning of a business model change.  This is the shift from acute care to ongoing chronic disease management.  This is a big move that changes their place in the healthcare value chain.

It’s part of the overall strategy that has pulled them into the ACO space.

It will be interesting to see if CVS Caremark and their MinuteClinics follow them.  CVS Caremark already announced a different strategy in terms of providing advocates.  If I were them, I would jump fully into the remote monitoring / mHealth space and provide chronic disease management from a remote basis.  I think this would be different and innovative.

Walgreens Healthcare Clinics

Did You Know? Chronic Kidney Disease (#CKD) From The National Kidney Foundation

I was reading a document from the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) the other day.  Some of the facts jumped out at me.  I thought I’d share them.

  • 83,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant
  • 1 person dies every 2 hours while waiting for a kidney transplant
  • 26M Americans (1 in 9 adults) have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and most don’t know it
  • 367,000 people depend on dialysis for survival

It also reinforced some things that many people may know:

  • Once kidneys fail, patients need a transplant of dialysis to survive
  • People with diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of these conditions are at risk for CKD
  • African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and the elderly are at increased risk

You can also find more information about CKD from the CDC.

There was an article this week in the NY Times about this silent killer.  Here’s a paragraph from there.

Only 1 percent of participants with no lifestyle-related risk factors developed protein in their urine, an early indicator of kidney damage, while 13 percent of those with three unhealthy factors developed the condition, known medically as proteinuria. Obesity alone doubled a person’s risk of developing kidney disease; an unhealthy diet raised the risk even when weight and other lifestyle factors were taken into account.

Obese Scouts (And Leaders) Told To Stay Away

Did you catch the story the other day that kids and adults that had a BMI of over 40 were told they couldn’t come to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree? And those that had a BMI of between 32 and 39.9 had to submit documentation that they could attend.

What do you think about that?

If you look at the adult US statistics, this would represent about 30%+ of the population. (United HealthGroup report: “United States of Diabetes“)

This is one story where I’m sure there’s a lot that we’d want to know. In Time, they talk about the fact that they published the restrictions two years ago. This would have allowed people time to improve their BMI. But, jumping from 40 to 31 might be too big of a jump in two years for some people to do in a healthy way.

If I were developing this type of program for a company, I’d expect to answer these questions:

  • What did you do to support the scouts and leaders in losing weight? Did you give them a coach? A registered dietician?
  • Did you create a culture of health? What types of foods are at boy scout meetings?
  • Is there a reasonable alternative for the obese scouts to get a similar experience if clinically appropriate?

Obviously, this isn’t a work environment so the rules are different. On the one hand, congrats to them for being brave enough to take this topic on and try to encourage scouts and leaders to have a healthy weight. On the other hand, they need to make sure they do this in a way that doesn’t shame these people and need to make sure they support their weight loss.

But, don’t be fooled. The world is going to continue to move this way. Obesity is too big of a driver of healthcare costs and other presenteeism and absenteeism impacts.

Just look at Japan…(source)

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.

Those exceeding government limits — 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, which are identical to thresholds established in 2005 for Japan by the International Diabetes Federation as an easy guideline for identifying health risks — and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.

To reach its goals of shrinking the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years and 25 percent over the next seven years, the government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet specific targets. The country’s Ministry of Health argues that the campaign will keep the spread of diseases like diabetes and strokes in check.

CarePass, Another Aetna Innovation – What’s Your Healthy?

Have you seen the new “What’s Your Healthy?” campaign?  Here’s a few shots.

BTW – My healthy is keeping up with my kids in sports and moving down a belt notch.

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As many of you know, I consider Walgreens and Aetna to be two of the most innovative healthcare companies today (out of the big, established players).  [And, full disclosure, I own stock in both.]  I’ve talked about Walgreens (see Walgreens post on innovation) several times along with Aetna (see Healthagen post).

That being said, the new campaign along with the press caught my attention.  I was glad that I was able to get some time with Martha Wofford who is the VP and head of CarePass.

“We want to make it easier for everyone to engage in their health and hopefully shift from thinking about health care to taking care of their health,” said Martha L. Wofford, vice president and head of CarePass from Aetna. “CarePass helps consumers connect different pieces of health data to create a fuller, more personalized picture of their health.”

I spent some time talking with Martha and team about their initiative.  Here’s some highlights that stuck out to me.

  • There use of goals was really easy and intuitive.  If you log-in to the CarePass site and get started, you have 3 options or you can create your own (see below).  We spent some time talking about the importance of making these relevant to the individual not focusing on “healthcare goals” like adherence or lowering you blood sugar.  Most of us don’t think that way.  As they described them, they picked “motivation centric goals”.
    Aetna Carepass goals
  • I was also really interested in how they picked which apps to recommend.  There are so many out there, and many of you know that I’ve been fascinated by the concept of curating apps or prescribing apps to people.  They had a nice, simple process:
    • Which apps are most popular?
    • Does the app have “breadth”?  (i.e., national applicability)
    • They also spent more time pre-screening apps which collect PHI to understand them before listing them on the site.
    • They’re using the consumers goals to recommend apps to them.
  • The other big question I had is why do this.  It certain helps build the Aetna brand over time, but there’s not direct path to revenue (that I see).  They described their efforts as “supporting the healthcare journey” through connected data.  Ultimately, it’s about making Aetna a preferred consumer brand which may be very relevant in the individual market and exchange world in the not too distant future.
  • I like the idea of companies being “app agnostic” as I call it.  Walgreens is doing this.  Aetna is doing this.  I plan on doing this in my day job.  This allows the consumer to pick the app that works for them and as long as the data is normalized (or can be normalized) and the app provides some type of open API (application programming interface) it’s much easier to integrate with.
  • We talked a little about what’s next.  Metabolic syndrome is something they brought up.  This is something that Aetna’s been talking about in several forums for a while now.  They launched a new offering earlier this year.  (I still hate the term metabolic syndrome from a consumer perspective, but it seems to be sticking in the healthcare community.)
  • We also talked about new goals to come around smoking cessation, medication, and stress.
  • Another discussion I have with lots of people is how this data gets used.  (see a good article about what’s next for QuantifiedSelf)  I personally really want to see my data pushed to the care management team to monitor and send me information.  (Eat this not that type of suggestions)  Martha talked about how the data belongs to the member and they have to choose to push it to the coach.  She also talked about how they’re integrating with their PHR (Personal Health Record) first and then looking at others.  (see old interview with ActiveHealth)

In summary, CarePass is a nice additional to your #QuantifiedSelf toolkit.  As you can see from the screenshots below, the GUI (graphic user interface) is simple.  It’s well designed.  Integration with your apps is easy.  It provides you with goals and motivation.  They help you navigate the app world.  And, it helps you bring together data from multiple sources.  Once it can pull in all my Rx, medical and lab data along with my HRA data and my device data, it will be really cool!  But, I know that I’m a minority in that effort.  I’m really intrigued by the lifestyle questions they ask and wonder how those will ultimately personalize my experience.

Carepass lifestyle questions Carepass dashboard

So, what apps do they share?  Here’s a screenshot, but you really should log-in and try the site and see the full list.  It’s simple and worth the effort.

Carepass apps

As an added bonus, I’m adding a presentation I gave with Aetna at the Care Continuum Alliance two years ago.  I was searching for my past interviews with Aetna people and found this online so I added it to SlideShare and put it here.

Prescribing An App vs. An Rx – Why Are People Surprised?

A staggering 90 percent of chronic patients in the US would accept a mobile app prescription from their physician, as opposed to only 66 percent willing to accept a prescription of medication, according to a recent survey from health communications firm Digitas Health.  (source)

Is this surprising to anyone?

I don’t think it should be…and here’s why:

  1. In general, most apps don’t cost anything while prescriptions generally do.
  2. I don’t know of any apps with side effects.
  3. It’s unlikely that your app will have a negative interaction with another app (like a drug-drug interaction).  It may give you conflicting information, but that’s about it.
  4. You don’t have to wait to get your app.  You can probably download it while you’re at the physician’s office.  A prescription can take time to get either waiting in line, waiting for it to get filled, or sending it in through the mail.
  5. You don’t have to refill your app.  You may have to update it every once in a while, but it tells you when and all you have to do is press a button.

Of course, most (all) apps won’t have the same likelihood as Rxs in improving your health.  Of course, Rxs only work if people take them…which they don’t.

Still surprised?

More CDHPs Are Coming – Is That A Good Thing?

I think we all see it coming.  It’s a tidal wave of responsibility being pushed from the employer to us the individual.  On paper, this seems like a great thing since 75%+ of healthcare costs are driven by personal behaviors.  On the other hand, this means we actually have to understand the healthcare system and how to make decisions.

Here’s the abstract from a recent Health Affairs article:

Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) are designed to make employees more cost- and health-conscious by exposing them more directly to the costs of their care, which should lower demand for care and, in turn, control premium growth. These features have made consumer-directed plans increasingly attractive to employers. We explored effects of consumer-directed health plans on health care and preventive care use, using data from two large employers—one that adopted a CDHP in 2007 and another with no CDHP. Our study had mixed results relative to expectations. After four years under the CDHP, there were 0.26 fewer physician office visits per enrollee per year and 0.85 fewer prescriptions filled, but there were 0.018 more emergency department visits. Also, the likelihood of receiving recommended cancer screenings was lower under the CDHP after one year and, even after recovering somewhat, still lower than baseline at the study’s conclusion. If CDHPs succeed in getting people to make more cost-sensitive decisions, plan sponsors will have to design plans to incentivize primary care and prevention and educate members about what the plan covers.

You can see some of the growth stats and concerns also in an American Medical News article.  But, as someone who’s live through it, there are a series of issues (all of which are addressable).

  1. Shifting first dollar payment to the individual also shifts a huge burden of time to the individual.  Which bills do I pay?  Which receipts do I send to the HSA?  Which to the HRA?  How much should I put in each account?  What’s the status of my payments?
  2. This only works if I understand my tradeoffs.  What should I be doing differently?  How could I have spent less money?
  3. It can create the wrong incentives.  My regular transactions like pharmacy seem to cost me a huge amount of money every month while my procedures seem very inexpensive.

My point here is that healthcare is like a balloon.  When you step on one area, it doesn’t eliminate the costs.  It simply shifts the costs.  Until we understand the macro-economic impacts of our short-term decisions, it’s unlikely that we’ll really change our path.  I see a huge shift happening and when the tidal wave pulls back it’s going to leave us with a huge Medicare bill in the future as people have put off preventative care only to have more issues in a decade.

Should You Care That Obesity Is Now A Disease?

The AMA has opened an interesting discussion in the past few days with their decision to recognize obesity as a disease.  On the one hand, we all know obesity is a problem that’s impacting our overall health and productivity across the world.  On the flip side, will this actually change anything?

Key discussion points:

  • What is a disease?
  • Is BMI a good metric to use?  If not, what should be used to measure obesity – waist?
  • How do you treat it?

Here’s a few quotes from some articles:

“Right now, physicians will treat high blood pressure, diabetes, give patients medications and say, ‘Oh you also need to lose weight,’” Khaitan told FoxNews.com. “I think (this) gives the physicians a little more credibility in pushing patients to address obesity and become healthier. It’s recognized as a disease…not just something that (because) you have poor lifestyle habits, this is your problem.”  (Fox News)

Obesity is not just a health risk but a disease. Estimates of the genetic contribution to weight gain in susceptible families range from 25—40% with a greater heritability for abdominal fat distribution of 50%1>2.  Obviously there is a major environmental effect but this genetic susceptibility alone removes this condition from a social stigma to the disease category.  (British Medical Bulletin 1997)

“The American Medical Association’s recognition that obesity is a disease carries a lot of clout,” says Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “The most important aspect of the AMA decision is that the AMA is a respected representative of American medicine. Their opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity.”  (USA Today)

Telling all obese people that they have a disease could end up reducing their sense of control over their ability to change their diet and exercise patterns. As experience with addictions has shown, giving people the sense that they suffer from a disease that is out of their control can become self-defeating. So the disease label should be used sparingly: just as not all drinking is alcoholism, not all overeating is pathological. (Time)

Here’s a few facts from the Obesity Action Coalition:

  • In the United States, it is estimated that 93 million Americans are affected by obesity.
  • Individuals affected by obesity are at a higher risk for impaired mobility and experience a negative social stigma commonly associated with obesity.
  • Socioeconomic status plays a significant role in obesity. Low-income minority populations tend to experience obesity at higher rate and are more likely to be overweight.
  • In 2001, the states with the top five percentages for obesity were Mississippi, West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana.
  • Almost 112,000 annual deaths are attributable to obesity.
  • In the United States, 40 percent of adults do not participate in any leisure-time physical activity.

Here’s also a few things you might not realize about obesity from Yale:

  • Finding 1: Obesity can raise some cancer risks
  • Finding 2: Obesity is tied to heart attacks in younger adults
  • Finding 3: Obesity can ruin your day
  • Finding 4: Obesity speeds up girls’ puberty
  • Finding 5: Obesity is a cause of diabetes in kids
  • Finding 6: Obesity in middle age increases risk for dementia

Let me give my hypotheses on why this might matter:

  1. In theory, this is supposed to increase the likelihood that physician’s talk about obesity with their patients.  This would be great, but I think most research shows physician’s aren’t prepared or comfortable with this discussion.  Will the fact that it’s a disease make this easier?  Maybe.
  2. This may be a boon for the obesity Rx market (assuming any of them work and have minimal side effects).  Physician’s may be much more likely to write an Rx for a disease than a lifestyle issue.
  3. This may help get obesity Rxs and bariatric surgery to be covered by health insurance.  The downside of this is that more people may not actually change behavior (diet, exercise, sleep) but instead look for a “quick” fix through drugs and surgery.

In my mind, there is a best case scenario here:

  • Calling it a disease drives awareness among the healthcare community.
  • This increases investment in resources to treat obesity.
  • Treatment is viewed more like mental health to include drugs and behavioral therapy.
  • Physician’s get trained on the disease.
  • Pharma details physicians on the disease and creates CME programs.
  • Patients start to take this more seriously.
  • Plans cover obesity – insurers, employers, CMS.
  • Obesity becomes a broad program including diet, exercise, coaching, Rx, and bariatric surgery following a progressive approach to treatment tied to your starting point.
  • Companies link incentives to managing weight.
  • New metrics are designed that are better than obesity.

Of course, one of the more recent articles which was depressing on this topic was that exercising regularly may not overcome the impact of sitting the rest of the day.  That makes it very hard to increase caloric burn while having a job that requires lots of desk, computer, and meeting time.

Costs Of Obesity In America

The #QuantifiedSelf and “Walking Interview”

If you haven’t heard, “sitting is the new smoking” in terms of health status.  And, unfortunately, you can’t just get up and exercise for an hour and then go sit all day.  That brief spurt of exercise doesn’t change the fact that we sit for 9+ hours a day.

If you think about our shift in work from a very manual work environment to a service and technology work environment, we’ve made activity during the day harder and harder to achieve.  Between e-mail and meetings, most of us are stagnant to accomplish our work.

That got me thinking about the #QuantifiedSelf movement and all of the activity trackers (e.g., FitBit, BodyMedia).  We know companies definitely look online to see people’s social media activity as part of the interview process.  Will they begin to ask about their activity data as a proxy for health?

On the flipside, perhaps the person interviewing should really be asking to see their potential boss’ activity data.  I’d be as interested in knowing what happens during the day.  It would provide a lot of insight into what happens in terms of meetings, face-t0-face activity, and be a good proxy for the real work experience.

Of course, the other option would be to introduce “walking interviews”.  People talk about walking meetings.  I’ve even done a running meeting going for a jog with a potential partner to discuss how we work together.  (It was the only time we could find to meet at a conference.)

Walking interviews would tell you a lot about someone’s health.  You could go up some stairs.  You could walk a few miles in an hour.

Since we know that health, happiness, and wealth are all correlated, this type of insight for the interviewer and interviewee seems very valuable.

JustStandInfoGraphicV3

Could Generic Prescriptions Be The Greatest Placebo Ever?

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been a huge advocate for generic prescriptions since the early part of my PBM/pharmacy career in 2001. It wasn’t long ago that I talked about unresponsible reporting when slamming generics and scaring the population. But, we all enjoy a good conspiracy theory which is about the only thing that makes sense reading the new Fortune article – Dirty Medicine – about Ranbaxy. Both articles are written by the same author, but this one scares me a lot more than the other one. This article reads like a fiction book but appears to be true.  It should scare you also and put a spotlight on the FDA.

Here are a few things from the article.

On May 13, Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal counts of selling adulterated drugs with intent to defraud, failing to report that its drugs didn’t meet specifications, and making intentionally false statements to the government. Ranbaxy agreed to pay $500 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties — the most ever levied against a generic-drug company.

The company manipulated almost every aspect of its manufacturing process to quickly produce impressive-looking data that would bolster its bottom line. “This was not something that was concealed,” Thakur says. It was “common knowledge among senior managers of the company, heads of research and development, people responsible for formulation to the clinical people.”

It made clear that Ranbaxy had lied to regulators and falsified data in every country examined in the report. “More than 200 products in more than 40 countries” have “elements of data that were fabricated to support business needs,” the PowerPoint reported. “Business needs,” the report showed, was a euphemism for ways in which Ranbaxy could minimize cost, maximize profit, and dupe regulators into approving substandard drugs.

But, we know that generics have worked. People have gotten better so one has to assume this isn’t a massive fraud especially when 50% of generics have traditionally been made by the brand manufacturers themselves who would never risk their companies to do what Ranbaxy did. So, it made me wonder about the Placebo Effect. Did some drugs work simply because of that?  Is there anything else that would make sense for why this wasn’t discovered more quickly?

I’ve talked a lot about the Placebo Effect. There’s now even an app to make you feel better using the Placebo Effect.

I’m shocked that the PBMs, pharmacies, manufacturers, associations, wholesalers, and others aren’t out talking about this.  I would want to let the public know that this isn’t a systemic problem, but is one contained to one instance and that quality will be maintained…but maybe no one cares?

No Fat Customers Please – #BoycottAbercrombie

My kids have worn Abercrombie and Fitch clothes for the past few years even thought I find the advertising suggestive and the store environment not particularly inviting for the average adult (loud music, small aisles, very young staff). Even with that, I was shocked to see some of the recent news about their attitude towards their customers in response to why they don’t stock XL and XXL clothing sizes. With today’s focus on customer experience and competitive retail environment, this seems like not only a bad business model, but one that is shallow and unhealthy.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.” (source article)

But, a bad business model and a shallow minded CEO isn’t a reason to boycott a company. And, after growing up in a family where we boycotted many companies due to business practices, I never saw myself as someone who would support this “hippie” approach. That being said, I think that Abercrombie’s attitude is a real issue for the health of our kids for 3 reasons.

  1. We have a major obesity issue in the US. (from CDC)
    1. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
    2. The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.
    3. In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
    4. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.
    5. Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.
  2. We have a bullying issue in the US. (source)
    1. Over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year.
    2. 1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4 percent of the time.
    3. Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.
    4. 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
    5. 56 percent of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
    6. Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.
    7. 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
    8. 90 percent of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.
    9. 1 out 10 students drop out of school because of repeated bullying.
    10. Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.
    11. Physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school.  Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.
  3. We have a suicide issue in the US. (CDC fact sheet)
    1. Among young adults ages 15 to 24 years old, there are approximately 100-200 attempts for every completed suicide.
    2. In a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12:
      1. 15.8% of students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey;12.8% of students reported that they made a plan about how they would attempt suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey;
      2. 7.8% of students reported that they had attempted suicide one or more times during the 12 months preceding the survey; and
      3. 2.4% of students reported that they had made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or an overdose that required medical attention.

 

As adults, I believe we have a responsibility to break the cycle of bullying and set an example. This isn’t time to create a fraternity culture in adulthood. We have systemic issues to address in serious ways. I know we won’t be shopping at Abercrombie again, and I think my kids have lost their interest in wearing the clothes.

Why Do People Think Adherence Is So Easy?

I think we all know that medication adherence is a big deal. The most common number quoted is the $290B waste number from NEHI. There are numerous studies that confirm the value of non-adherence even one that just came out.

The amount of money spent on trying to improve adherence is huge! Pharma has worked on. Retail pharmacies have worked on it. Providers have worked on it. Insurance companies have worked on it. Employers have worked on it… And all of these have happened across the world.

At the same time, you see people get so excited about things don’t make any sense to me.

Let me take an easy example. A few months ago, a company called MediSafe put out a press release around moving medication adherence on statins up to 84.25%. Nothing against the company, but I read the press release and reached out to them to say “this is great, but it’s only 2 months of data…most people drop therapy after the first few months so who care…call me back when you get some good 12 month data.”

But, a lot of people got all excited and there was numerous press about this – see list of articles about them.

Now, tonight, I see another technology getting similar excitement. Fast Company talks about the AdhereTech technology which integrates a cellular phone with a pill bottle. And, it costs $60 a month. In my experience, companies wouldn’t even spend $2 a month to promote adherence so $60 is just impractical. The argument is that this is good for high cost specialty drugs that are oral solids not injectables. But, this isn’t a new idea. Glowcaps already built this model with a very slick interface and workflow.

And, I don’t know about you, but I think this would be obnoxious. And, I love data and am part of the QuantifiedSelf movement. I’m not sure I understand the consumer research here. I would have to believe all of the following to buy into this model.

  • Non-adherence people are primarily not adherent due to no reminders to take their medication on a daily basis.
  • People with chronic conditions that require high cost specialty drugs are going to change behavior because some bottle sends them a text message.
  • Manufacturers or some other healthcare company is willing to pay $60 a month for this service.
  • There won’t be message fatigue after a few months (weeks) of messaging.
  • Pharmacies would be have to be willing to change their workflow to use these bottles.

Yes. Will this work for some people…sure. But, if it helps 10% of people, then my cost is really $600 per success.

Should we be working on better solutions to address adherence…of course.

But, let’s stop trying to figure out some gimmick to fix adherence. Let’s look at root cause.

For example:

  • People don’t know why they’ve been given a medication.
  • People don’t understand their disease.
  • People can’t afford their medication.
  • People don’t know what to expect in terms of side effects.
  • People don’t see value in improving adherence.
  • People don’t know they have to refill their medications.
  • People aren’t health literate.

We have a lot of problems.

Presidential Physical Fitness Award – Reasonable? Role Models?

I must admit that I don’t remember taking the presidential fitness test as a kid. With that being said, I was surprised to learn from my daughter that in her class of club soccer, volleyball, and baseball players she was the only kid to meet the highest level (greater than the 85th percentile across several measures). She made it today by running her mile in 7:37.

So, what does this require? It made me curious. Here’s what you have to do:

benchmarks_presidential_large

Could you do that?  These seem pretty difficult to me.  I could probably do the mile in 6:06, but I doubt I could do 53 pull-ups.  And, I doubt I could sit and reach 7 inches beyond my toes.  (Looking at the 17 year old male standards.)

On the other hand, we certainly need our kids to be more fit.  We have a big childhood obesity issue.

Childhood Obesity

But, it also made me think about Michelle Obama’s efforts in this space.

Lets Move

I think these programs are good starts, but lets not forget that obesity is a social issue and kids learn from those around them.  Let me ask the uncomfortable questions about those who our kids look up to.

  • How many overweight coaches do you know?
  • How about overweight teachers?
  • How about policemen and firefighters?
  • How about clergy?

These are all key role models…not to mention us parents who are often overweight.

I guess my suggestion here to the President would be to think about how to use our massive government payrolls as a foundation for change. Let’s think about the Presidential Fitness Challenge and create a broader wellness solution to change the visual role models for our kids and figure out how to help companies invest in this.

For example, we know that sleeping is correlated to weight and health.  I was talking to my brother-in-law who is a police officer when he told me that they are expected to get 8 hours of sleep a night.  Imagine if companies set this expectation for their employees (sleep impact on work).  

“Sitting Disease” may make a great late night comedy story line, but it’s a reality of our information economy that has to be addressed.

sitting-disease-how-sitting-too-long-can-affect-your-health_5123e1818a55e

How Walgreens Became One Of The More Innovative Healthcare Companies

While we are generally a society focused on innovation from start-ups (and now all the incubators like Rock Health), there are a few big companies that are able to innovate while growing.  That’s not always easy and companies often need some catalyst to make this happen.  Right now, there are four established healthcare companies that I’m watching closely to track their innovation – Kaiser, United/Optum, Aetna, and Walgreens.  (Walgreens has made the Fast Company innovation list 3 of the past 4 years.)

I think Walgreens is really interesting, and they did have a great catalyst to force them to really dig deep to think about how do we survive in a big PBM world.  It seems like the answer has been to become a healthcare company not just a pharmacy (as they say “at the corner of Happy and Healthy”) while simultaneously continuing to grow in the specialty pharmacy and store area.

Let’s look at some of the changes they’ve made over the past 5 years.  Looking back, I would have described them as an organic growth company with a “not-invented-here” attitude.  Now, I think they have leapfrogged the marketplace to become a model for innovation.

  1. They sold their PBM.
  2. They re-designed their stores.
  3. They got the pharmacist out talking to people.
  4. They got more involved with medication therapy management.
  5. They increased their focus on immunizations increasing the pharmacists role.
  6. They formed an innovation team.
  7. They invested heavily in digital and drove out several mobile solutions including innovations like using the QR code and scanning technology to order refills.
  8. They’ve reached out to partner with companies like Johns Hopkins and the Joslin Diabetes Centers.
  9. They increased their focus on publications out of their research group to showcase what they could do.
  10. They started looking at the role the pharmacy could play and the medications played in readmissions.
  11. They partnered with Boots to become a much more global company.
  12. They offered daily testing for key numbers people should know like A1c and blood pressure even at stores without a clinic.
  13. They created an incentive program and opened it up to link to devices like FitBit.
  14. They partnered with The Biggest Loser.
  15. They increased their focus on the employer including getting into the on-site clinic space.
  16. They created 3 Accountable Care Organizations.
  17. They partnered with Novartis to get into the clinical trials space.
  18. They developed APIs to open their system up to developers and other health IT companies.
  19. They formed a big collaboration with AmerisourceBergen which if you read the quote from Greg Wasson isn’t just about supply chain.

    “Today’s announcement marks another step forward in establishing an unprecedented and efficient global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing network, and achieving our vision of becoming the first choice in health and daily living for everyone in America and beyond,” said Gregory Wasson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Walgreens. “We are excited to be expanding our existing relationship with AmerisourceBergen to a 10-year strategic long-term contract, representing another transformational step in the pharmaceutical supply chain. We believe this relationship will create a wide range of opportunities and innovations in the rapidly changing U.S. and global health care environment that we expect will benefit all of our stakeholders.”

  20. They jumped into the retail clinic space and have continued to grow that footprint physically and around the services they offer with the latest jump being to really address the access issue and help with chronic conditions not just acute problems.

With this service expansion, Take Care Clinics now provide the most comprehensive service offering within the retail clinic industry, and can play an even more valuable role in helping patients get, stay and live well,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kang, senior vice president of health and wellness services and solutions, Walgreens. “Through greater access to services and a broader focus on disease prevention and chronic condition management, our clinics can connect and work with physicians and other providers to better help support the increasing demands on our health care system today.” (from Press Release)

This is something for the whole pharmacy (PBM, pharma, retail, mail, specialty) industry to watch and model as I talked about in my PBMI presentation (which I’m giving again tomorrow in Chicago).  It reminds me of some of the discussions by pharma leaders about the need to go “beyond the pill”.

 

Why CVS Caremark Asking For Your Weight Is Good For You

I continue to annoyed by all the fear-mongering in the industry around what CVS Caremark is “doing to their employees”.  What about focusing on how they are helping their employees to get better?  (If interested, you should read some of the information they have on their blog.)

Our “Plan for Health” combines an evolving, best-practice approach to health coverage with preventive care and wellness programs. Our colleagues will be more accountable for taking control of their health and associated costs. The first step is getting to know your numbers by getting a health screening and completing an online wellness review each year. If colleagues complete both by the May 1, 2013 deadline, they will avoid paying an additional $600 for the 2013-2014 plan year. (from the CVS Caremark blog)

I was hopeful to hear someone come out strongly and speak about it yesterday on CBS, but instead the CEO of Mercer just talked about “soft” programs that depend upon consumers being proactive around their health.  I would rather hear about the value of screenings and how it helps employees.  In talking with one friend of mine at a biometrics company, he told me that in one case almost 40% of the people that they identified with diabetes (or pre-diabetes) and hypertension (or pre-hypertension) didn’t know they had the disease (or were at high risk).  That to me is a valuable insight to the individual especially when coupled with a program to help them learn and manage their disease (or risk).

For example, companies for years have been using Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) to try to baseline employee health and use that to accomplish several things:

  1. Help the employee to understand their risks
  2. Identify people who should be in coaching programs to improve their health
  3. Learn about their population and how to improve their health benefits

Use of biometrics is the right evolution from the HRA.  People have tried HRAs for years with some success.  Companies pay as much as $600 for people to take this online survey that has no necessary link to reality.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to lab values.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to claims data.  Most HRAs don’t necessarily trigger enrollment in health programs.  They are supposed to activate the employee to be proactive which doesn’t work for many sick consumers especially those in the “pre-disease” phase.  (Here’s a good study that does show some increased activation.)

As I mentioned the other day, this use of biometrics and link between incentives and participation (and ultimately outcomes) is normal and will ultimately improve the link between the workplace and the employee around health.

Let’s take a broader look at insurance to help set some context:

  • For life insurance, you have to disclose certain data and depending on the policy level you have to do other things like get a physical and have blood work drawn.  That effects your costs and their underwriting.  
  • For car insurance, if you get in accidents, your costs go up.  In some case, you can have a monitoring device put on your car to lower your costs.  (like getting blood work done)
  • For home owners insurance, your costs go up if you live in a flood zone or a earthquake zone.  It also goes up if you have lots of claims.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we do determine a lot of our healthcare costs based on decisions we’ve made or had made for us since we were kids.  Some of these are conscious and some are subconscious.  And, obesity which is a large driver of many of these chronic conditions and has an impact on your likelihood of having cancer.  So, a company asking for your BMI and other data to help understand your risks for healthcare costs (of which they typically pick up 80%) doesn’t seem unusual.

Certainly, some are environmental such as those that live in “food deserts” like Detroit.  In other cases, workplace stress can affect our health.  We’re just starting to get smarter about “sitting disease” and it’s impact on our health.  Or, we may take medications that affect our blood pressure (for example).  It’s certainly important to understand these in context of your lab values and discuss a holistic strategy for improving your health with your physician and any care management resources which are provided to you (nurse, social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist).

This idea of learning more about employees in terms of biometrics, food, sleep, stress, social interaction, and many other data points is going to be more and more of a focus.  Companies want to learn how their employees do things.  They want to understand their health.  They want to improve their health.  They want to invest in their workforce to improve productivity, innovation, and ultimately job satisfaction.

While the glass half-empty people won’t see this and there are some companies that don’t always act this way, I generally believe that companies are trying to act in a way to increase their top line and most intelligent executives understand the correlation between health and wealth and the link between employee satisfaction and growth.

Ultimately, healthcare costs are estimated to put a $240,000 burden on us after we retire (even with Medicare) so if someone wants to help me become healthier and thereby save me money which improves my ability to retire and enjoy life I’m happy for them to do.

How The CVS Program Will Change The Employer – Employee Contract

Have you heard that CVS Caremark is requiring employees to go get biometrics and going to take action on it? OMG!

I’m not sure I understand why people are all upset. Let’s look at the facts:

And, by the way, have we forgotten how much healthcare costs have gone up over time and who pays that bill. It’s either the employer or the government. Both of those things impact our pay as individuals either in terms of lower raises to cover healthcare costs, shifting healthcare costs to us, or taxes. It’s not sustainable so the person who pays the bill has to step in since we’re not. (Which is also why I support the NY ban on soda.)

Now, let’s look at our healthcare system where in the current fee-for-service model, there isn’t an incentive for physicians to address this.

For now, people should be happy. They’re only being required to do the biometrics. The penalty isn’t linked to whether they’re fat or have high blood pressure or smoke or have high cholesterol or have diabetes. A recent study by Towers Watson shows that while 16% of employers do this type of outcome based incentive program today (2013) that this is going to jump to 47% in 2014. So, this will be the norm.

And, guess what…sticks often work better than carrots in some cases.

And, healthcare costs are making us uncompetitive globally as a country.

  • The cost of healthcare is greater than the cost of steel in a car.
  • The cost of healthcare is greater than the cost of coffee in a Starbuck’s cup of coffee.

And, health reform is allowing (even enabling) this to happen. It says that you can treat people differently and create up to a 50% differential in costs associated with their health. (Not a legal definition so read the fine print.)

But, what I think all of us (consumers and employers) will need to realize is that moving to this (which I agree with) will change the employer and employee relationship in several ways.

  1. You can’t put these programs in place without something to help me manage my obesity, cholesterol, and/or other chronic condition. This will drive wellness and disease management programs to be more engaging and successful.
  2. This will put pressure on employers to create a culture of health since we spend so much time at work and work contributes to our health conditions.
    1. Need more time to be active. Less sitting. Treadmill desks. Standing meetings. Nap time. Walking breaks. Use of devices to track steps. Incentives. Gym discounts. Healthy food discounts.
    2. Need less stress.
    3. Need more sleep.
    4. Better food choices at work.
  3. This will drive a lot of the new tools and run counter to some trends about limiting dependent coverage since you can’t address obesity without engaging the entire family and the social network.
  4. This will also create a whole exception process by which people who gain weight due to certain drugs have to be excluded. People who can’t exercise may have to be excluded. People may have to see short-term goals (i.e., dropping BMI from 35 to 32). Physicians will have to be engaged.
  5. Coaching will have to expand to include dieticians, social workers, and others to help people beyond the historical nurse centric coaching model.

If none of this motivates you, then just think about the “gift” we’re giving our kids and maybe that will be a wake-up call why someone has to do something here. (As I shared the other day, I struggle with my weight so don’t think I’m some super skinny, high metabolism person who thinks this is easy.)

What’s Your #Moment4Change?

I’ve being doing a lot of work lately on how to tackle the obesity problem in the US. This has been great personally as it has forced me to look at lots of research to understand all the tools out there.

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Coaching programs
  • Devices
  • Social networks
  • Physicians
  • Centers of Excellence

It’s also made me look at different drivers of obesity including sleep and stress. The new report out showing that sitting is a huge problem (even if you exercise) is very eye-opening also.

For years, I’ve talked about my challenges is managing my weight which lead to some fluctuations, but at the end of the day, I think a lot of this boils down to a “Golden Moment” or a “Moment4Change”. Even people who do this every day (e.g., doctors or sports coaches) are often overweight. We have to have something which prompts us to change our life. We aren’t generally motivated by dropping our HDL. We’re motivated by being able to play with our kids or living long enough to see our kids get married.

In my life, there have been several Moment4Change points so I thought I would put this out there to hear what’s motivated others:

  • In 2002, I went to the doctor for the first time in a decade. He saw some health risks in my blood work and sent me to another physician. He told me I was obese. (Something less than 50% of physicians actually tell their overweight patients.) I was shocked. I was 215 pounds and 5′-10″. After 2 days of agony, I decided that I couldn’t accept that diagnosis and proceeded to lose 40 pounds in the next 60 days (all through exercise and social motivation through a running group).
  • Last fall after letting much of that weight creep back on over the decade, I decided to do a 5K with one of my kids. I’d run 3 marathons and was running several days a week (although at an average pace of 9 minute miles). I got killed as my kid ran at a 7:30 pace in their first race ever. Not only did I feel old, but I felt like I wasn’t being much of a role model. That motivated me to change. Now, after using the FitBit (see several comments), I’ve had good success losing 25 pounds in 3 months and seeing my cholesterol drop 120 points in that same time frame.

So, I’m interested. What has motivated you to changed? And, how do you measure success? I suggested that while women may use the “skinny jeans” test that men might be more likely to use the “belt buckle” test.

 

 

I think this image below from the AON Hewitt 2012 Health Care Survey is a good one about the fact that 80% of our costs are driven by 8 behaviors.

I also thought that this presentation at the FMI by The Well which was a GSW project was right in line with this.

Why It’s So Hard To Improve Consumer Engagement In Healthcare?

I spend a lot of my personal and professional time trying to figure out how to better engage consumers in healthcare.  If you can’t engage them, you can’t improve outcomes.

Never mind the fact that people experience about 5,000 messages a day so you have to cut through that clutter.

Even if we do cut through the clutter, people are busy living their lives.  They’re worried about their family.  They’re worried about the economy.  They’re trying to keep food on the table.  They are generally overwhelmed with too little sleep and too much stress.

But, let’s even assume that you can cut through the clutter and get them to listen, you still struggle with getting a person at a time when they are open to change.  These “golden moments” require them to see value in the change and feel like the short-term effort is worth the long-term gain.  This “value exchange” doesn’t often exist.  And, with 30% variance in the healthcare system, people often don’t trust the system.

Even with all that in mind, people still don’t engage.  They don’t get flu shots.  They don’t fill their medications.  They don’t understand the messages that are delivered to them.

Here’s a quick image I created for a presentation later this week.

Consumer

A few of the sources for this are:

A Compelling Argument As To Why You Need More Germs

“In our modern effort to eradicate disease, we pop antibiotics like candy, apply hand sanitizers with abandon, and gargle mouthwash by the gallon. But this carpet-bombing of germs takes a huge toll on good microbes as well as bad. The March/April issue of The Saturday Evening Post, on newsstands now, reveals recent research pointing to medical problems including asthma, obesity, and chronic sinusitis that might be caused by the absence of certain microbiota in our bodies.”  (From a press release about the article Why We Need Germs.)

What if the bacteria in our body was a determining factor in chronic conditions?  Would you try to get more bacteria into your body?  Would you stop doing things to kill the bacteria?  Would this change our eating habits?

This is a fascinating article by The Saturday Evening Post, it shares some research that might explain why two people can have the same food habits and one be skinny and one be fat.  (A frustrating thing for many of us.)

You can even learn about a crowdsourcing project that will take your feces and tell you the bacteria in your gut.  

In the meantime, you might want to eat more asparagus and garlic.  Yummy!  And, be less stressed out.

For instance, Bacteroidetes—the microbes linked to slimness—proliferate in the presence of fructans, a form of fructose found in asparagus, artichokes, garlic, and onions, among other foods, notes microbiologist Andrew Gewirtz of Georgia State University. A diet high in fructans might support a good crop of slimming Bacteroidetes. On the other hand, he notes, stress decreases the abundance of Bacteroidetes, suggesting one more way stress causes obesity.

Healthcare Fails Again In Experience Survey

The fact that most people would rate their experience with their health insurer low isn’t a big surprise to most of us in healthcare.  But, with the Triple Aim and other quality metrics, the customer experience is becoming an increasingly important metric.  Several recent surveys have talked about this as one of the top priorities for hospital systems.  And, as use of CAHPS continues to grow, this will be more closely linked with incentives.

“Patient experience is on the radar of hospital executives, especially since Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores will soon affect reimbursement,” said Jason Wolf, executive director of the Beryl Institute. “However, the data shows that executives are still grappling with how to implement change within their organizations.” (source)

Like in years past, health insurers just barely nudge out TV service providers to prevent being the bottom of the industry in Bruce Temkin’s Benchmarking work.  While I’d love to see healthcare broken out into hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, insurance companies, PBMs, and care management companies, I think we can assume some similar concerns would fall out.

Healthcare companies need to find ways to address this.  I think there are several key first steps:

  1. Defining your customer;
  2. Mapping their experience;
  3. Creating personas or segments to think about (i.e., healthy, sick, insured);
  4. Identifying influences on their experience (some of which you might not control);
  5. Determining what matters versus doesn’t matter;
  6. Capturing baseline metrics; and
  7. Building a continuous improvement process.

Temkin Group 2013 Satisfaction Temkin Group Satisfaction

 

Body Peace Treaty As Mentioned On Biggest Loser

I was finally catching up on my Biggest Loser shows yesterday.  They talked about the Body Peace Treaty from Seventeen magazine. Not something I read, but there are some good points in the treaty.  Here are a few for you.

  • Do the little things that will keep my body healthy, like walking instead of hanging on the couch, or drinking water rather than something sugary.
  • Appreciate what makes my body different from anyone else’s. I love that I’m unique on the inside, I will try to feel that way about the outside too!
  • Support my friends, who just like me, have their own body issues. Hey, we’re all in this together!
  • Remember that the sun will still rise tomorrow even if I had one too many slices of pizza or an extra scoop of ice cream tonight.
  • Quit judging a person solely by how his or her body looks — even if it seems harmless — because I’d never want anyone to do that to me.
  • Remind myself that what you see isn’t always what you get on TV and in ads — it takes a lot of airbrushing, dieting, money, and work to look like that.
  • Respect my body by feeding it well, working up a sweat when it needs it, and knowing when to give it a break.
  • Realize that the mirror can reflect only what’s on the surface of me, not who I am inside.
  • Not let my size define me. It’s far better to focus on how awesome I look in my jeans than the number on the tag.
  • Surround myself with positive people. True friends are there to lift me up when I’m feeling low and won’t bring me down with criticism, body bashing, or gossip.

So, while some of the things on the list may be more biased towards young women, the fundamentals are the same for all of us.

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