Today's News and Commentary

About healthcare IT

Virtual Visits: Telehealth and Older Adults: This University of Michigan study found that: “Among older adults who had a telehealth visit, about half said the overall convenience of a telehealth visit was better than an in-person office visit (47%), 36% believed an in-person office visit was better, and 18% thought the overall convenience was the same. However, more than half indicated that in-person office visits were better than telehealth visits with regard to feeling cared for (56%), communicating with the health care professional (55%), and the amount of time spent with the health care professional (53%). Additionally, more than half viewed in-person office visits as better than telehealth visits in terms of overall quality of care (58%).” Findings reinforce the notion that the mode of communication as well as the content need to be customized.

Does telehealth save money? The jury’s still out.: Studies showing both savings and increases in costs vary, among other factors, by specialty and location. More research needs to be done about when and how telehealth can improve health and possibly save money. This case is another tradeoff- telehealth increases access, but does it improve quality and lower cost?

About the public’s health

Pathology of Vaping-Associated Lung Injury: While the exact chemical causing vaping deaths and injuries is still being sought, a brief correspondence in the New England Journal of Medicine from the Mayo Clinic says the pathology of the lung looks like a chemical burn- similar to mustard gas used in WWI.

2019’s States that Vaccinate the Most: Check the site for details.

Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity: The problem is worse than first thought. “The first global atlas on childhood obesity by the World Obesity Federation (WOF) shows that no country has a better than fifty percent chance of meeting their target for tackling childhood obesity…8 out of 10 countries (156) countries have less than a ten percent chance of meeting their target.” Select this link to read the full report.

Virginia doctor sentenced to 40 years in prison after conviction on more than 800 opioid counts: The conviction was in May; this article explains the final sentencing.

Trump signs $1.8 billion autism funding bill:The bill is called: H.R. 1058: Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2019. “The funding, which backs autism research and autism-related support programs, will also prioritize grants for rural and underserved areas.”

About health insurance

Alignment Health Plan to Offer Concierge, Social Determinants of Health Benefits: While many health plans are offering extended benefits for members, this one is offering two that are unique.
”The grocery benefit will provide members with a monthly allowance to buy groceries at participating stores, including CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. The allowance is automatically uploaded onto member’s “black cards” which can be used as a debit card to purchase items at over 50,000 retailers.
The companion care benefit Alignment will connect members with college students who can help with non-medical tasks such as household chores and technology lessons. In addition to routine tasks, the college students offer elderly members general companion care, which the plan refers to as “grandkids on-demand.”

Trump Administration Invitation for States to Design Wellness Programs Draws Swift Backlash: (Wall Street Journal- subscription required): As previously reported, the “Trump administration will let states offer wellness programs in the individual insurance market that tie premium costs to health goals…” But patient advocates and health policy experts are criticizing the plan since it could penalize individuals who cannot comply with the goals because of pre-existing conditions.

Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors: This executive order is part action and part explicit politics.

Three of the more specific orders are:

“ (i) encourage innovative MA benefit structures and plan designs, including through changes in regulations and guidance that reduce barriers to obtaining Medicare Medical Savings Accounts and that promote innovations in supplemental benefits and telehealth services;

(ii)   include a payment model that adjusts supplemental MA benefits to allow Medicare beneficiaries to share more directly in the savings from the program, including through cash or monetary rebates, thus creating more incentives to seek high-value care; and

(iii)  ensure that, to the extent permitted by law, FFS Medicare is not advantaged or promoted over MA with respect to its administration.”

About pharma

Pfizer reportedly to launch Avastin biosimilar in December: The headline is the message. It could result in significant cost savings.

More than Half of Health Plans Use Outcomes-Based Contracts: This research by the consulting company Avalere found “that 59% of payers have executed an outcomes-based contract (OBC). This type of contracting structure is an agreement between a health plan and drug and device manufacturers that ties product reimbursement to clinical, quality, utilization, or financial outcomes. When Avalere first conducted this survey in 2017, 24% of health plans had an OBC in place.

Thirty-one percent of health plans reported having more than 5 OBCs. In 2017, this number was 12%. Additionally, 21% of payers had 2 to 5 OBCs in place, indicating a 17% increase from 2017.”