Today's News and Commentary

About healthcare IT

Healthineers sets plan to buy robotics firm Corindus for $1.1B: The point of this article is not so much about a large acquisition as to point out consolidation in the healthcare imaging and “peripherals” sectors. To me it is more of an IT story since there is a great need for interoperability and unified security systems among these devices.

Transitions hampered by info exchange between venues of care: Despite significant use of electronic data in hospital systems, transitions to long term- and post acute care sites are largely accomplished with manual processes. For example, “only 2 percent of long-term care providers are using IT-only strategies to coordinate care and transfer data. More than one-third of acute care providers are using manual processes to coordinate patient transitions with the long-term care community, and only 7 percent of that community is coordinating with acute care providers.” Undoubtedly many errors in care result from this lack of coordination and system interoperability.

HRSA grants $8.1M to help health centers boost IT use: The Health Resources and Services Administration will issue $8.1M in grants to improve the integration and delivery of health services. The grant will go to OCHIN, “one of the largest and most successful health information networks in the United States, serving more than 500 organizations nationwide with a full array of solutions to improve care for the nation’s most vulnerable patients.” OCHIN will distribute these funds to member health centers, which are obligated to serve all patients regardless of the ability to pay.

Hackers are going after medical devices — and manufacturers are helping them: It takes a thief to catch a thief…This article explains how manufacturers of medical devices are hiring “hundreds of ethical hackers” to help them identify security vulnerabilities in their products.

Study shows Apple devices in combo with apps could identify dementia: Drug maker Eli Lilly sponsored research to differentiate normal participants from those with mild signs of Alzheimer’s Disease using an iPhone and digital apps. If there is a difference, the researchers hoped they could detect the disease sooner. There were, in fact, differences, including:  “People with symptoms tended to have slower typing than health volunteers, and received fewer text messages in total.”

About health insurance

Insurance Coverage Saves Lives:This article summarizes that data showing how lack of insurance contributes to excess deaths.

A look at network participation in TRICARE’s PPO plans: TRICARE provides health benefits to more than nine million active duty and retired military members and their families. This article summarizes research from Health Affairs (Subscription- only access). “Nationally, about 67% of general practice physicians accept TRICARE, compared to about 95% that accept private plans, 86% that take Medicare and 65% that accept Medicaid…on patient-reported measures, such as perceived access to specialty care and satisfaction with their physician, TRICARE members were in line with those in private plans.” 

Financial Performance of Medicare Advantage, Individual, and Group Health Insurance Markets: Medicare Advantage plans have been more profitable (based on individual member gross margins) than individual or group plans from 2006-2018. This study details this finding and also raises the issue of what it means under some Medicare for All proposals that would allow private plans to administer Medicare benefits.

About pharma

CVS slows store expansion plans, cuts pace by a third:This week CVS announced it will only open 100 new stores this year and 50 next year; it has opened 300 per year in the past. The company will concentrate, instead, on redesigning its existing stores around the HealthHUB concept (see previous blogs). This week Walgreens also announced it is closing 200 stores. It appears we have reached the market saturation of chain drug stores.

With importation on tap, Grassley urges FDA to inspect foreign drug plants 'unannounced': As previously reported, many foreign drug manufacturing plants are inspected by FDA teams after much advanced notice. This process has led to record falsification and special preparation for the survey that does not reflect usual procedures. Sen. Chuck Grassley has now requested that the FDA’s inspections be unannounced.

Trump Team Hits Brakes On Law That Would Curb Unneeded Medicare CT Scans, MRIs: Many people are familiar with pre-authorization requirements that private insurance plans have for such high cost services as MRIs and PET scans. In 2014, Congress passed the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA) , which “established a new program to increase the rate of appropriate advanced diagnostic imaging services provided to Medicare beneficiaries. Examples of such advanced imaging services include: computed tomography (CT); positron emission tomography (PET); nuclear medicine; and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).” This program was to start in 2018 but was delayed by the Trump administration until 2020. According to this report, “the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has slated next year as a ‘testing’ period, which means even if a physician doesn't check the guidelines, Medicare will still pay for the scan. CMS also said it won't decide until 2022 or 2023 when exactly physician penalties will begin. Critics worry the delays come at a steep cost: Medicare is continuing to pay for millions of unnecessary exams, and patients are being subjected to radiation for no medical benefit.” While proposals for Medicare for All tout lower administrative costs of a public system, they do not mention that private insurance companies are paying for necessary activities (like these reviews) that Medicare does not.