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King v Burwell Decision Teaches Sad Lesson in Law Making

Posted on June 25, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In case you’re living under a hole (in the healthcare world we call that in the middle of an EHR implementation), the Supreme Court ruled on King v Burwell today. You can read the 47 page document here if you’re interested in the details of the decision. If you’ve ever read a Scalia decision or dissent, then you’ll know what to expect in his dissenting comments.

The reality is that the decision essentially made it a non-event. If they’d decided the other direction, then there would be a lot of scrambling to mitigate the damage of having all the federal health exchanges not be subsidized. That didn’t happen and so ACA (Obamacare) will continue on as before.

I won’t dive into the good and bad of ACA or the efforts to keep it around or get rid of it here. However, the one big takeaway I have from reading the SCOTUS decision is that the law making process is really awful. At one point in the decision they even reference a quote that “we need to pass the law to see what’s in it” which I’m told is a common phrase in Washington. The decision also commented on how the law was poorly crafted because it wasn’t put through the regular congressional procedures.

I understand that the US government has hundreds of years of overhead that they’re dealing with when making laws. A lot of the procedures likely play a critical role in the law making process. However, I feel that the law making process has accrued so much complexity that it makes everything a challenge.

In the tech world we call this situation “technical debt.” Over time as you’re programming a piece of software, you accrue so much technical debt that making changes on the existing code base becomes really expensive. The solution in the software world is often to recode the software from scratch. It’s almost like declaring bankruptcy and starting from scratch.

The SCOTUS decision highlights to me how much legislative debt our government has accrued in their processes. Unfortunately, they can’t declare bankruptcy and start over without the debt. That’s just not feasible or reasonable.

Since I live in the healthcare IT world, we’ve seen a lot of this “debt” impact legislation like meaningful use. We’re going to see more of it around value based reimbursement and ACOs as the healthcare payment world evolves. Government involvement is a reality in healthcare for many reasons including the government being one of the biggest healthcare “customers.” There can be a lot of benefits that come from government involvement, but there can also be a lot of challenges and loopholes that can snag you. That’s the lesson I’m taking from the King v Burwell decision.

88 New ACO Organizations – What Does That Mean?

Posted on July 24, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

It has been a really interesting couple months for those interested in ACO’s (Accountable Care Organizations) and healthcare. I love how Gregg Masters of ACO Watch called the ACO the “Child of the ACA (Accountable Care Act).” He even declares the SCOTUS supreme court ruling as a big battle won for the ACO. I certainly can’t disagree with him when it comes to the government ACO initiatives. The loss of ACA would definitely hamper much of the government’s work on ACOs. Although, he also acknowledges that ACA is still up in the air pending the Presidential election. ACA is directly in the republican cross hairs.

Politics aside, the ACO program is going forward. CMS recently named 88 new Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) that will take part in the Medicare Shared Saving Program (Originally it was 89 ACOs, but one organization dropped out).

You can see the full list of ACOs on the press release linked above, but I really like this image that The Advisory Board Company put together that shows the location of the various ACOs across the US (click image twice for full size):

I think this represents a pretty good distribution across the country. However, there are a few things that I find a bit disturbing about the organizations participating in the government ACO programs. The first is that many healthcare organizations that you think would be perfect fit for an ACO aren’t participating. Kaiser and IHC come to mind. I’ve heard that both organizations are very interested in ACOs, but not the government ACO programs. I think this is a bad sign for the government sponsored ACO programs.

The second is that only five of the ACOs applied for the version of the Medicare Shared Savings Program where they have a chance to earn a higher share of any savings, but they’ll also be accountable for any losses if the cost o the care increases. You might take a look back at my ACO Risks and Reward post. These five organizations have gone all in with the ACO program. With that said, I wonder why only five of them chose to participate in it? Shouldn’t we want more organizations to have some accountability and responsibility if they don’t improve care and lower costs?

As I have pointed out before, the ACO movement is happening and is not likely to slow down. Even if ACA or other government legislation is repealed, the move to ACOs is going to happen. With that knowledge and some of the comments above, it makes me wonder if the government should be the one funding an ACO initiative. Will their involvement help or hurt the overall ACO movement?

I’ll be interested to see how it goes for these new ACOs. As we’ve seen with EHR and meaningful use, we’ll have to be careful to filter through the messages coming out of CMS about the success or failure of the ACOs. As they progress we’re going to have to reach out to the ACOs and hear the first hand stories. If you’re an organization that’s participating, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

SCOTUS Decision and Healthcare IT

Posted on June 28, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

For those living in a hole that haven’t read about the SCOTUS supreme court decision that was issued today, here’s a good one paragraph summary of their decision from a post by The Atlantic:

In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn’t comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.

There have been a lot of interesting reactions to the SCOTUS decision. Many of them revolve around the politics of the decision. We’ll obviously avoid the political side of the discussion for the most part. I did find HIMSS response to the ACA Supreme Court decision quite interesting. They are mostly grateful that some of the uncertainty is gone so we can move forward in healthcare. Plus, they remind people that health IT has had bipartisan support in Washington despite Obamacare’s obviously partisan issues.

Personally, I think that this decision (regardless of which way it went) will not have a major effect on the healthcare IT and EHR world. Most of the major happenings in healthcare IT and EHR aren’t related to Obamacare. There are a few places that impact it, but most are relatively innocuous.

My biggest concern with the SCOTUS decision is how it will impact healthcare reimbursement in general. Plus, the ACA uncertainty is still there since if the Republicans take control in Washington, then you can be sure that they’re going to repeal ACA as one of the first things they do. This uncertainty could affect the health IT decision making by many institutions.

I’d be interested to hear what other impacts people think the SCOTUS ruling will have on healthcare IT. I do agree with HIMSS that I’m glad we have a decision and can at least move forward with that knowledge.

Accountable Care Organizations and SCOTUS

Posted on June 19, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The Supreme Court ruling on SCOTUS is likely to come sometime this month. There are all sorts of opinions out there about what’s going to happen to the ruling, but a recent tweet caused me to stop and think about the real impact of SCOTUS. The tweet (which sadly I can’t find again) said something about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare and SCOTUS really doesn’t matter to healthcare since the change in care model has already been started.

I take one slight exception to this comment. I agree that the ACO (Accountable Care Organization) movement and all that it embodies is already upon us and won’t be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision on SCOTUS. However, I think the SCOTUS legal decision does matter and will still have an impact on healthcare. Not to mention the politics related to the decision. Although, I’ll leave both of those topics for a different blog.

I do think it’s worth exploring ACOs and why SCOTUS or NO-SCOTUS, ACOs are here to stay in healthcare.

Dave Chase recently said in a Forbes article that “More than 80% of the newly formed ACOs are driven solely by private sector efforts.

I believe that Dave Chase got these numbers from an ACO Watch article about a Leavitt Partners study on ACO growth and dispersion. It’s a powerful number to consider that despite all the efforts by government to move to accountable care organizations that only 20% of the newly formed ACOs came from the government. What a healthy thing and a great illustration of why SCOTUS won’t impact ACOs in any major way.

Dave Chase in the above linked article adds this additional quote from Philip Betbeze:

As Philip Betbeze stated, “In their day-to-day-lives, it [the SCOTUS decision] largely won’t affect the 180-degree shift they’re making in reimbursement philosophy. For most systems, those changes are taking place largely at the behest of commercial plans and local employers.” The fee-for-value train has left the station. Woe is the health system that hasn’t made aggressive moves to reinvent themselves.

We’re still early in the reimbursement philosophy switch, but the winds of change are upon us. Personally I’m excited to see how health systems reinvent themselves. I think this reinvention will be around these key pillars:

*Communication – ACO’s will drive better communication. This will include patient to doctor, doctor to doctor, and even patient to patient. The beauty is that in an ACO, the goal will be for the patient not to come to the office instead of the de facto, come to the office answer most practices give today.

*Data – Practices better be preparing for the tsunami of healthcare data on the horizon. How an ACO takes that data and uses it to improve patient care is going to be key.

If you look at these pillars of an ACO, are they even possible to deal with without technology?