The quality of care delivered by health plans that publicly report their performance improved from last year, but gaps in quality remain and contribute from 42,000 to 79,000 avoidable deaths every year, according to a newly released study by the NCQA.

The performance improvement recorded last year by the 563 health plans was among the largest ever recorded, says the NCQA's State of Health Care Quality 2004.

Average health plan performance improved by 4 percentage points or more. For example, in the "controlling blood pressure" measure, average performance rose from 58 percent to 62 percent. If every American with hypertension received care through one of the top health plans in the country, between 15,000 and 26,000 deaths annually could be prevented and over 21 million sick days per year avoided, according to the report.

Not all the news is good, however. Since 1999, rates on measures related to depression followup have remained persistently low. Appropriate treatment of people with behavioral health conditions remains a critical shortcoming of the U.S. health system, with an estimated 32 million to 35 million adults who suffer from major depressive disorder in their lifetime. In any given year, 19 million American adults suffer from depression.

SOURCE: STATE OF HEALTH CARE QUALITY 2004, NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR QUALITY ASSURANCE.

Managed Care’s Top Ten Articles of 2016

There’s a lot more going on in health care than mergers (Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna) creating huge players. Hundreds of insurers operate in 50 different states. Self-insured employers, ACA public exchanges, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care plans crowd an increasingly complex market.

Major health care players are determined to make health information exchanges (HIEs) work. The push toward value-based payment alone almost guarantees that HIEs will be tweaked, poked, prodded, and overhauled until they deliver on their promise. The goal: straight talk from and among tech systems.

They bring a different mindset. They’re willing to work in teams and focus on the sort of evidence-based medicine that can guide health care’s transformation into a system based on value. One question: How well will this new generation of data-driven MDs deal with patients?

The surge of new MS treatments have been for the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. There’s hope for sufferers of a different form of MS. By homing in on CD20-positive B cells, ocrelizumab is able to knock them out and other aberrant B cells circulating in the bloodstream.

A flood of tests have insurers ramping up prior authorization and utilization review. Information overload is a problem. As doctors struggle to keep up, health plans need to get ahead of the development of the technology in order to successfully manage genetic testing appropriately.

Having the data is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. Applying its computational power to the data, a company called RowdMap puts providers into high-, medium-, and low-value buckets compared with peers in their markets, using specific benchmarks to show why outliers differ from the norm.
Competition among manufacturers, industry consolidation, and capitalization on me-too drugs are cranking up generic and branded drug prices. This increase has compelled PBMs, health plan sponsors, and retail pharmacies to find novel ways to turn a profit, often at the expense of the consumer.
The development of recombinant DNA and other technologies has added a new dimension to care. These medications have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and many of the other 80 or so autoimmune diseases. But they can be budget busters and have a tricky side effect profile.

Shelley Slade
Vogel, Slade & Goldstein

Hub programs have emerged as a profitable new line of business in the sales and distribution side of the pharmaceutical industry that has got more than its fair share of wheeling and dealing. But they spell trouble if they spark collusion, threaten patients, or waste federal dollars.

More companies are self-insuring—and it’s not just large employers that are striking out on their own. The percentage of employers who fully self-insure increased by 44% in 1999 to 63% in 2015. Self-insurance may give employers more control over benefit packages, and stop-loss protects them against uncapped liability.