Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: affordable

Implementation of Health Care Law Expanding Coverage to More Young Adults

LJB head shot 03

Linda Barlow

For the first time in nearly a decade, the number of 19-25 year-olds gaining access to health insurance is on the rise, according to the Commonwealth Fund 2012 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. Researchers point to a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA), which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, as a likely cause of this groundbreaking trend.

“The early provisions of the Affordable Care Act are helping young adults gain coverage and improving the affordability of health care during difficult economic times for American families,” said Sara Collins, Ph.D., a Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author of the Biennial Survey’s report, Insuring the Future: Current Trends in Health Coverage and the Effects of Implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The improvements in young adult health coverage are significant, according to the Biennial Survey:

  • Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of Americans ages 19-25 reported that they were insured at the time of the survey in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2010, or a gain in health insurance coverage for an estimated 3.4 million young adults.
  • The share of young adults in this same age group who were uninsured for any time during the year prior to the survey fell from 48 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012 – an estimated decline of 1.9 million, from 13.6 million uninsured young adults in 2010 to 11.7 million in 2012.

Of the estimated 3.1 million young adults who are now covered through the ACA, 60 percent are leveraging it for mental health, substance abuse, or pregnancy treatment, according to a study from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI). For one large, national employer profiled in the study, the newly-covered young adults used about $2 million in health care services in 2011 – about 0.2 percent of the employer’s total health spending.

Access is a major barrier to care for young adults, who were previously terminated from their parents’ plans when they turned 19. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), young adults typically face difficulties obtaining their own coverage because they work in entry-level, low-wage or temporary jobs that are less likely to provide health insurance. Lack of insurance makes it harder for young adults to receive adequate medical care –  a problem that plagued one in five young adults before the ACA began to take effect.

“Young adult women have additional health needs and are particularly vulnerable when they are uninsured, as they are at an age when they require reproductive health services,” noted Karyn Schwartz and Tanya Schwartz, authors of KFF’s Issue Paper, How Will Health Reform Impact Young Adults? “Having health insurance and consistent access to the medical system may increase the likelihood that they receive timely pre-natal care if they become pregnant.”

Meanwhile, some skeptics are expressing concerns about key aspects and implications of the Act, from objecting to young single males being required to purchase a plan including maternity benefits and well-baby coverage – to others saying that full implementation of the ACA in 2014 will mean much higher premiums for young adults. Many have challenged these assertions, however, noting that the ACA’s age-based pricing requirements are largely in line with premiums individuals are paying now.

Although the news for young adults is mostly good, the survey also found that 84 million people – nearly half of all working age U.S. adults – went without health insurance in 2012, or faced out-of-pocket costs that were so high relative to their income that they were considered “underinsured.”

The survey did indicate that 87 percent of the 55 million uninsured Americans in 2012 are eligible for subsidized health insurance through the insurance marketplaces or expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Up to 85 percent of the 30 million uninsured adults also might be eligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance plans with reduced out-of-pocket costs.

Click here to learn more about pricing options for young adults seeking health insurance coverage.

Now it’s your turn. Does rollout of the ACA mean more accessible and affordable health insurance coverage, or will it drive up costs, particularly for younger Americans? Get the conversation started.

Categories: Access to Care

Hospitals, Physicians Embrace Strategies To Reduce Cost of “Frequent Flyer” ER Visits

Pardee Memorial Hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., shaved nearly $405,000 from its Emergency Room (ER) expenses over a one-year period thanks to an integrated program that its founder calls a “patient-centered medical home on steroids.”

The program, Bridges to Health, helped its uninsured participants reduce their ER visits from an average of seven per year (at a typical cost of $14,004 per person) to three per year (at an average cost of $2,760 per person). Another indicator of success: 10 participants secured employment and six previously homeless members found places to live by the end of the first year.

It’s estimated that non-urgent Emergency Department (ED) visits cost the U.S. about $4.4 billion annually. At Pardee Memorial Hospital alone, 255 frequent users (“frequent flyers”) of the ED racked up more than $3 million in unpaid medical bills. Frequent flyers account for up to 40 percent of total ER visits nationwide.

Bridges to Health decreases ER expenses by providing this patient population with primary care, behavioral health services and a nurse case manager through bi-weekly health clinic visits.

“Many of these people just went to the ER because they were in pain or scared,” said Dr. Steve Crane, a family physician who started the program. “You see them going back so many times because their real issues are not supposed to be treated in the ER and are not taken care of.”

The Pardee Bridges to Health free clinic integrates medical checkups and group therapy, with doctors providing treatment and patients offering one another tips ranging from how to obtain legal assistance to saving money on food and shelter. In this way the program addresses the two main problems seen in these patients: lack of social support and access to regular primary care.

Although the results of the program are promising, Dr. Crane cautions that the patient group is small and that it only works for participants who attend the clinic meetings.

Another example of how hospitals can lower frequent flyer ER visits is in the story of Providence St. Peter Hospital (Olympia, Washington). The first step was to join a special community program called the Emergency Department Consistent Care Program and CHOICE, a unified program involving five area hospitals and a non-profit regional coalition of health care providers.

This collaborative effort resulted in ER visits among frequent flyers shrinking by about 50 percent, for a cost savings of nearly $10,000 per patient. That translated to a $2.2 million reduction in ED and inpatient expenses over two years at Providence St. Peter’s alone.

This program flags patients who visit the ED at least twice in one month or four times in six months then examines their cases for narcotic dependency, mental health issues and other factors. The program team uses that data to identify patients, then develops individual care plans and offers the assistance of primary care physicians, clinicians and specialists skilled in the patients’ particular needs.

What’s key to the success of the program? It effectively coordinates efforts with other hospitals in the area, according to its administrative coordinator, ensuring that frequent flyers get a consistent message wherever they go.

What approaches should be pursued to provide more efficient care systems while decreasing readmissions for frequent flyers? Encourage more doctors to keep their offices open longer? Leverage mental health coalitions that focus on continuity of care instead of short-term fixes?

Tell us what you think.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Express Scripts Provides Roadmap to Improve Health Care, Reduce Costs and Streamline Delivery of the Medicine Patients Need

You might be in a “utilization management program” and not know what that means or why it matters to your health. Offered by a variety of employers across industries, utilization management programs are designed to help patients evaluate their health care options and make decisions about the type of services they receive.

So how do these programs impact the delivery of specialty medications for cancer, HIV, inflammatory conditions, multiple sclerosis, and more?

MedAdNews.com reports that a new study from Express Scripts demonstrates how such programs can increase efficiency by ensuring that more patients who need safe, affordable and effective medications can access them.

As spending on specialty drugs continues to increase (18.4 percent in 2012, up from 17.1 percent in 2011), finding the most effective ways to improve the delivery of patient care, reduce cost and eliminate waste is more important than ever. Combining innovations from CuraScript and Accredo, Express Scripts draws upon Health Decision Science – which integrates behavioral science, clinical science, and actionable data – as a springboard to achieve just that.

Building upon this scientific, results-driven approach, Express Scripts provides care targeted to specific areas of patient need through Accredo’s Therapeutic Research Centers as part of its Specialty Benefit Services. Here, a broad array of health care providers integrate pharmacy and medical data to offer what Express Scripts describes as comprehensive patient care that strengthens coordination of services, boosts transparency, and produces solutions.

“It’s really about appropriateness and the right thing for a patient who really deserves safe and effective and affordable medication and ruling out waste. What our plans are most interested in is continuing to be able to afford to provide a benefit. This again was a great example of by doing the right thing that patients were able to save a significant amount of money and again preserve affordability,” said Glen Stettin, M.D., senior VP, clinical research and new solutions at Express Scripts.

Does your employer use a multiple cost management program for specialty drugs? If so, what type? If not, do you think your employer should? What might be some advantages or disadvantages?

Categories: Access to Care

Will Consolidation Change Health Care for the Better?

The Cleveland Clinic believes it will, especially when it produces better patient outcomes and improves care across a spectrum of services.

As part of the recent wave of hospital mergers and acquisitions designed to improve quality and lower costs, Cleveland Clinic recently entered a long-term strategic alliance with Community Health Systems (CHS), a for-profit provider that operates 135 hospitals nationwide. While the two organizations will remain independent, they will “both [remain] committed to discovering novel strategies to improve care, reduce costs, enhance access to health care services and develop new approaches to care delivery.”

In discussing the alliance, CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic, Delos M. Cosgrove, MD, notes that thriving in today’s health care environment will require new ways of doing things. He calls medicine a “team sport.”

We couldn’t agree more. All effective strategies that successfully remove obstacles to quality, affordable care should be on the table in today’s health care environment. The Cleveland Clinic’s consolidation with CHS will lower expenses and improve the quality of care by:

  • Improving patient outcomes and reducing costs by creating a framework that enables physicians to share best practices while capturing, reporting and comparing data.
  • Enhancing quality and data infrastructure by assessing CHS-affiliated hospitals and applying the expertise of the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute to related programs.
  • Sharing best practices and creating synergies that encompass telemedicine initiatives, second opinion services for physicians and patients, complex care coordination and other areas in care and cost containment.

We look forward to watching the alliance between Cleveland Clinic and Community Health Systems as they continue to reframe health care.

Have you seen examples of successful collaborations that are improving access to care and/or reducing health care costs? Share them with us.

Why Aren’t Patients Taking Their Medication?

It’s a question with which many in the health care community grapple. In some cases, it’s a matter of affordability, as the high cost of certain therapies makes it difficult to pay for needed drugs AND to pay for essentials like rent or the mortgage, utilities and food. Even with medical insurance, the copays for these expensive therapies put them well out of reach for many Americans.

In other cases, it’s a matter of easy access to refills – a problem being solved, in part, by mail-order pharmacies. This was especially the case among 44,000 hypertension patients recently studied by Kaiser Permanente. Research found that making prescription refills more affordable and easier to access might reduce disparities in medicine-taking behaviors among racial and ethnic groups.

The study authors noted that as early as the first refill, some patients are forgoing their hypertension medication. The result? According to the CDC, hypertension can lead to heart attacks, strokes and deaths related to cardiovascular disease. The impact is devastating to communities of color, particularly among African Americans, where males have the highest hypertension death rates of any other racial, ethnic or gender group.

The research found that both mail-order pharmacy enrollment and lower copayments were associated with a significantly lower likelihood of being non-adherent.

Said the study authors, “Our findings suggest that while racial and ethnic differences in medication adherence persist – even in settings with high-quality care – interventions such as targeted copay reductions and mail order pharmacy incentives have the potential to reduce disparities in blood pressure.”

If you’re in the health care field, what ideas have you seen put in action that work to improve treatment compliance? As a patient, have you ever stopped taking your medication due to high cost or hassles getting refills? And have you turned to mail-order pharmacies or copay assistance programs for help?

Categories: Cost-Savings