It’s hard to open any health-related publication these days and not find stories about accountable care organizations (ACOs). Commentary ranges from extolling ACOs as our last, best hope for achieving high-value care in the U.S., to others criticizing ACOs as a thinly disguised return to the 1990s model of managed care and HMOs.
While it’s too early to judge how effectively these provider-based organizations that assume greater financial risk for health care outcomes will ultimately perform, many are hopeful that ACOs offer a promising vehicle for achieving the elusive Triple Aim goal of health reform — achieving higher clinical quality and better experience of care with lower cost trends.
Though the title might apply to many aspects of our daily lives and the world as a whole, in this instance I am referring to how Medicare and other insurers interpret the word reasonable to make coverage and payment decisions. A recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted this enduring challenge for Medicare.
The authors begin with language from the Social Security Act:
John Muir, the famous naturalist, wrote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It’s a concept that’s long overdue but now fully ensconced in the field of population health management. Employee health management (EHM) practitioners, in particular, are coming to understand that the environments in which health promotion interventions occur are a primary determinant of the effectiveness of the interventions. What’s more, many now fully acknowledge that the sustainability of healthy lifestyle improvements in diet, exercise, or tobacco use
As a baby boomer moving through middle age into the unspeakable age that follows “middle,” I was encouraged to read an article in the British Medical Journal that states that for seniors and super seniors, healthy behaviors that include regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining a normal Body Mass Index, and having a rich or moderate social network led to significant increases in longevity. From the study:
I have long held that leaders can’t fake authenticity. When you’re passionate about your vision, it is felt by others whether they support you or not. It’s a realization that has been easy to come by because I’ve had so many great mentors.
In May 1999, Abigail Sulerzyski was born deaf and blind with cerebral palsy and multiple other medical complications. While Victoria, her mother, was learning how to cope with the needs of a severely disabled child, she was also learning how to fight with UnitedHealthcare.
A close friend of ours went with my wife to see a highly regarded physician for a persistent problem. This master clinician started with a warm greeting and a brief conversation about family, and then went through a detailed history of the problem that our friend had experienced for several months. He gave her an explanation of what he believed to be the underlying cause of her symptoms, gave a prescription for lab tests, and prescribed two medications. He also suggested that she see an ENT and recommended someone.
One of the key downsides of market-based health care — that if your costs regularly exceed your income you go out of business — is not typically associated with the National Health Service in the U.K. That is about to change. It has just been announced that the three hospitals that constitute the South London Healthcare Trust in London, England are to be effectively declared bankrupt, the board suspended, and the organization put under a special administrator. He or she will have just 45 days to provide the Secretary of State with recommendations on what to do with an organization that provides emergency an elective services to about 750,000 Londoners but has racked up nearly $100 million of debt in 2011–12 alone.
Why is this of interest to U.S. readers, aside from adding to the long-running debate on the pros and cons of operating a market in health care? It is because one option is to privatize one or more of the hospitals. By privatize, I mean a whole range of options from franchising out the management to a private company to taking over the assets lock, stock, and barrel and then providing services back to the NHS.
As is always the case when I return from working abroad, it takes me longer, metaphorically speaking, to unpack my bags. I was ostensibly in Brazil to teach and consult about innovations in our population health management movement in America. But, as I expected, I was surely the greater beneficiary of teachings from leaders of the wellness movement in Sao Paulo, the business nexus for the world’s sixth largest economy.
Leaders of population health programs in Sao Paulo offer a self-assessment of being a decade or more behind the United States in the maturation of employee health benefits such as employee assistance programs (EAP), disease management, pharmacy benefits management (PBM), and wellness. I anticipated we would be discussing the “leapfrog” opportunities that come with later adoption of trends. For example, developing countries garnered advantage by skipping much of the costly infrastructure of cable by embracing wireless communications.
So I came to Brazil thinking about what aspects of American health care innovation I would skip over if I had a chance to learn from the trials and errors of America’s health reforms. For example, I found it curious that the Brazilian health care system is likely the closest to America’s with respect to the proportion of employer versus government financing, yet the country had yet to mobilize anything resembling a buyers’ coalition or a business group focused on health or health policy. When I happened upon Brazil’s health commissioner, he told me his main message for employers was to become more proactive with the government in setting health policy. I said “Be careful what you ask for.” It was advice borne out of an American sensibility that public/private partnerships are fraught with ideological perturbation.
Amanada Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, chronicles the poignant journey that she and her now deceased husband, Terrence Foley, traveled in his seven-year battle with a rare form of kidney cancer. The Cost of Hope puts into sharp focus the convoluted compexity of our health care system even for two well educated, well insured individuals with superior skills to acquire, parse and synthesize information and data.