John Marcille

John Marcille

We are not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to point to clinical variation as a serious problem. To take one of many instances, the national health care expert David R. Nash, MD, and coauthor, Sanjaya Kumar, MD, call unexplained clinical variation the “core problem in American medicine” in their recent book Demand Better! Revive Our Broken Healthcare System. “[P]hysicians,” they write, “still rely heavily upon the ‘art’ of medicine: unsystematic personal clinical experience, clinical intuition, and judgments based on anecdotal evidence.”

Now an important player — the government — is acting. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will soon penalize hospitals for unnecessary readmissions. This happens as part of the Affordable Care Act and will coincide with the dissemination of data gained from comparative effectiveness research. If it is successful, expect health plans to work on ways to limit variation as well, as our cover story reports.

Will this end practice variation? There are never guarantees. Another story examines how difficult it is to execute bundled-payment contracts between payers and providers. The Rand study pointing this out was criticized by the overseers of the PROMETHEUS project, who say that progress has been made since the study data had been collected. Still, as the story mentions, if it were easy, it would have been done years ago.

Just ask Lee N. Newcomer, MD, MBA, UnitedHealthcare’s vice president for oncology. We did. My interview with him talks about the insurer’s pilot program testing a sort of bundled-payment model for oncologists. United and its five pilot sites have worked through many challenges.

Read about them.

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.