Real World Health Care Blog

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Not Your Mother’s Big Pharma

In a September 29 article in Adweek, Joan Voight demonstrates how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is expected to create new opportunities for pharmaceutical stakeholders to play a more active, personalized role in managing patient care through interactive web-based tools. Three aspects of the ACA will change the way treatment decisions are made and reinvent how patients and Big Pharma interact.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Fill the Primary Care Gap
Although providers will be overwhelmed by an expected uptick in newly insured patients, pharmaceutical companies can help reduce the strain while strengthening relationships with consumers in the process. MerckEngage — an online educational and marketing program that has attracted 8.2 million visits since its launch in 2010 — is one example of just how this can play out. Among some of the resources the website gives members access to include:

  • Free personal health tracking
  • Daily planners
  • Food and exercise tips
  • E-mail messages
  • Content updates

Doctors who sign up will receive alerts to track their patients’ activity, and starting this year the program also features mobile versions for patients and providers alike.

Provide Solutions to Adherence Challenges
A key goal of the ACA — to prevent sick patients from developing more serious conditions and needing more care — emphasizes the importance of increasing medication adherence. This need presents a valuable opportunity for pharma to personalize treatment and communicate in ways that resonate effectively with target audiences.

AstraZeneca is collaborating with Exco InTouch to help patients and doctors track and manage chronic conditions through mobile and web-based tools:

“The first app addresses chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Patients enrolled in the program collect, transmit and review their own clinical data, while their doctors use real-time information to personalize each patient’s care, adjust meds and possibly prevent hospitalization. The patients’ identifiable data is only seen by patients themselves and their healthcare providers, says AstraZeneca,” the report notes.

Develop Innovative Bundles
Implementation of ACA will also change the way prescriptions are made, with insurance companies and accountable care organizations (ACOs) choosing what to prescribe instead of individual doctors. This can serve as an opportunity for pharma to build support among ACOs by creating and branding a package of services for patients and providers that spans behavior modification, education, tracking and dispensing of drugs.

Eli Lilly’s online diabetes program that helps patients and families manage the disease, Lilly Diabetes, was critical to paving the way for this marketing approach, according to the article:

“In Lilly’s case the tools include a meal planner, a self-care diary, a carbohydrate tabulator and even an emergency guide in case of hurricanes or earthquakes.”

Now we want to hear from you. Do you agree with the article? What are the long-term implications of pharmaceutical companies having access to more data about consumers in this new era of digital outreach? What might be the potential advantages and disadvantages?

Will You Be There for Stella?

When patients are diagnosed with cancer, the last thing they should have to worry about is money. That’s why the HealthWell Foundation is planning to open the Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF). This Fund is something completely new and different – created specifically to help people with expenses not covered under HealthWell’s traditional copay fund structure.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

For example, HealthWell will be able to grant as little as $25 to help someone pay for anti-nausea medicine and larger grants for things such as surgical expenses and diagnostic testing that piled up during their treatment. HealthWell has provided direct financial assistance so that more than 70,000 insured people living with cancer can afford their medical treatments.

Once open, ECRF will enable HealthWell to continue helping even more cancer patients just like Stella — wife, mother and caregiver from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As Stella describes in her letter below, HealthWell’s grant was exactly what she needed to help her afford her treatments and continue caring for her family:

Dear Friends,

The past two years have been pretty bad for my husband and me. On February 21, 2011 we lost our only daughter to Scleroderma – a devastating disease that shrunk her skin, took her bones, her kidneys, her heart and finally her life – even though she had the best medical care available in Atlanta, GA.

We didn’t think things could ever be that bad again but, in July of that year, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – Type B. In August, our son (and only remaining child) was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer. We feared that we would lose both our children in the same year; however, he was treated very aggressively with radiation and hormones and now is in remission.

My husband turned 90 this year and has bladder cancer, prostate cancer, he just had a melanoma removed from his face and two weeks later a squamous cell carcinoma was removed from his arm. The tests showed complete removal (how thankful we are for that). So far, we have been able to keep up with the copays for everything until non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma struck me. Without your generous support the winter of 2011 and June of 2012, I could not even have begun my treatment. But the Lord is good! He led me to a great medical team who led me to you kind folks and my treatment began in October 2011. I am now scheduled for four treatments, beginning in May and another four beginning in November, after which my doctor thinks I won’t need any more for a while.

Could you possibly help me with the series of treatments? I just have to get well. My husband is 90 years old and besides the cancer in various parts of his body, he is losing his eye sight, his memory (it is bad) and his hearing. There is no one else to take care of him. I am the last living of my family and he has one sis

ter who is in worse health than he is. Please! Let me know if you can help me in any amount. I will be eternally grateful. Please forgive the length of this letter. When I began writing, it just all poured out. I have no one to talk to about this, so thanks for listening.

Stella – Baton Rouge, LA

P.S. Please accept my meager check in the amount of $25.00. I hope there will be more available in time.

Money is the Last Thing A Cancer Patient Should Have to Worry About

Patients just like Stella who had nowhere else to turn are counting on HealthWell for financial relief right now. But for ECRF to open, we must raise $50,000 and have a long way to go before we hit our goal. So far we’ve raised $20,640 but aren’t there yet. Can we count of you to help us reach out goal?

Click here to learn about ECRF, and donate whatever you can — $5, $10, $25 — so we can make life easier for more patients who are struggling to survive.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Adherence Training Key to Improved Coordination of Care, Use of Specialty Drugs

I have been fortunate enough in my career to do humanitarian work in East Africa, and I have witnessed incredible health care service performed despite a paucity of resources. Conversely, one of the many health care tragedies in that part of the world is the downward therapeutic outcome spiral due to unattended simple maladies. An untreated toe could turn into a raging skin infection or worse. A simple break of a person’s leg improperly set could leave that person crippled for life.

Joel L. Zive

Joel L. Zive

In the United States, we have a different set of complex issues affecting our health care system. But there is a beacon of hope with some of the most vexing health care issues:  specialty drugs. Yes, they have annual costs that approach the length of phone numbers, but research and development costs must be taken into consideration.

Yet when one evaluates the pain and suffering these compounds alleviate – sometimes also saving money for our health care system in the areas of solid organ transplant rejection, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer for example – real value emerges.

Despite their high expense, there are organizations, including the HealthWell Foundation, that help patients pay for access to these medications. And do not forget social workers, case managers and an army of master insurance billers in doctor’s offices and pharmacies across the country.

Yet these drugs carry with them a promise and a peril: A promise if their regimens, with high pill burden, are adhered to and the side-effects are understood. And a peril to the patient and unnecessary high cost to our health care system.

What person who deals in specialty drugs has not been brought to the brink of tears due to the frustration of non-adherence? Of a transplant patient who never told their pharmacist or transplant coordinator that he stopped taking their immunosuppressive medications and lost their transplanted organ? The efforts of the pharmacists, nurses, prescribers, surgeons, transplant coordinators, social workers that were wasted along with precious time and money are horrifying.

On the other hand, you have a patient newly transplanted or newly diagnosed with a complex disease. Frightened, scared — even angry — wondering whether they can afford medications to stave off dialysis or stay alive. In my career, I have seen first-hand examples of turnarounds in patients’ attitudes and quality of life due to these medications and adherence training:

  • A kidney transplant patient who was on dialysis for years who saw other patients go into dialysis walking, then in a wheelchair, then on a gurney before expiring.
  • Another patient at the dialysis center who announced one day, “I give up.” This individual had sufficient motivation but still needed guidance and assurance he would get his medications in a timely manner. Now, this person is rebuilding a life for himself and his family.
  • A woman tired, frail and scared lying in a hospital bed post-transplant wondering how she will live the rest of her life. With encouragement and adherence training she is now flying cross-country to see her relatives.
  • Another patient was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis in the prime of his life. Yes, he had difficulty dealing with his insurance company and their specialty pharmacy.  But he had help and encouragement from an outside specialty pharmacy. And with patience and persistence from others he is now in graduate school.

What do these examples underscore? That although the United States enjoys an abundance of health care resources compared to Africa, what we’re missing is the coordination of care. Sometimes this is due to the health care system and sometimes this is because of the patient.

There are a couple of strategies providers can employ to improve this situation:

  • This scenario I saw first-hand in Rwanda.  If a pharmacist senses there is something not right mentally with the patient, he can contact a social worker in the clinic for further workup.
  • Another approach includes an agreement among the multidisciplinary team about what the adherence goals  should be. If the goals seem to be remiss, then the pharmacist could be notified, and he could handle the issue or direct it to the appropriate provider.

In both cases, there is feedback among the health care team. In the area of specialty drugs, adherence training can fill and highlight these gaps to the patient’s benefit.  As my colleagues in East Africa have told me, “We admire your health care system.”

We have many issues to be worked out and negotiated in the weeks, months and years ahead.  But let’s use adherence training to give my colleagues overseas something they can aspire toward and emulate.

What other strategies can providers employ to improve coordination of care? How can hospitals, government and health care industry stakeholders coordinate to become part of the solution when it comes to more effective adherence training?

We Need a Little Certainty

When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer like me, you’re faced with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. Did they catch it in time? Will the treatments work? And for many cancer patients, can I afford good treatment?

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

The Emergency Cancer Relief Fund (ECRF) could answer this question, but only if the HealthWell Foundation receives the donations it needs in order to open it.

It’s both sad and frustrating that here, in one of the most highly developed nations in the world, many cancer patients have to wonder if they can afford to save their own lives. Unfortunately, even having health insurance is not always enough of a safety net to avoid personal financial collapse while fighting the fight of your life.

As the bills start to roll in, so too does a new wave of uncertainty: Can you afford what you need to get better?

Providing assistance to people living with cancer has always been a priority for organizations like the HealthWell Foundation. Since 2004, HealthWell has been leading the way in bringing financial relief to more than 70,000 cancer patients with copay assistance through more than 20 oncology funds – yet so many more need help.

That is why I’m turning to you today. HealthWell has made the decision to create the ECRF. It is not yet open, but I want that to change. And for that to happen, HealthWell needs your help today.

Once launched, the ECRF will help people with expenses not covered under traditional current cancer copay funds, expanding services to even more cancer patients who have exhausted all other options and have no one to turn to.

For example, the ECRF can grant as little as $25 to help someone pay for anti-nausea medicine. Larger grants can also help patients overwhelmed by medical expenses accumulated during their treatment, such as medical equipment needs and diagnostic testing.

The ECRF will follow patients every step of the way through their treatment or recovery. It will almost be like having another caregiver watching out for your well-being. And for those of us who have lived through or are living with cancer, we know how important that caregiver network can be.

To that end, I would like to personally recognize and thank all of the health care providers at Abington Memorial Hospital and The Rosenfeld Cancer Center who took such good care of me during my recent treatments for breast cancer. From my initial diagnosis through my follow-up visits, every physician, nurse, therapist and technician I’ve encountered has treated me with both professionalism and the compassion and kindness a cancer patient needs to get through the day.

Compassion and kindness – they’re like life-giving oxygen to a cancer patient. But compassion and kindness aren’t just the hallmark of professional caregivers and loved ones. The ECRF will be proof of that, but HealthWell first has to raise enough money to open the fund so patients can benefit from it.

And that’s where your support comes in. If you want to show compassion and kindness to those with cancer, now is the time. Give to ECRF today so that HealthWell can launch the fund and help cancer patients avoid one more uncertainty in their lives.

(Medical) Home is Where the Care and Cost-Savings Are

The word “home” has many connotations: the building in which you live, the place you come from, and even the end point of a game. Now, there is a new type of home: The Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH).

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

PCMH is a model of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible and focused on quality and safety. It has become a widely accepted – and cost-effective – model for how primary care should be organized and delivered, encouraging providers to give patients the right care in the right place, at the right time and in the manner that best suits their needs.

“The magnitude of savings depends on a range of factors, including program design, enrollment, payer, target population, and implementation phase,” explains Michelle Shaljian, MPA, Chief Strategy Officer of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative (PCPCC). “Most often, the medical home’s effect on lowering costs is attributed to reducing expensive, unnecessary hospital and emergency department utilization.”

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, medical homes got a boost because of numerous provisions that increased primary care payments, expanded insurance coverage and invested in medical home pilots, among other programs.

The model has been adopted by more than 90 health plans, dozens of employers, 43 state Medicaid programs, numerous federal agencies, hundreds of safety net clinics and thousands of small and large clinical practices nationwide since then. Among the results:

  • In Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield – the nation’s largest PCMH designation program — saved an estimated $155 million in preventative claim costs over the first three years of implementation.
  • CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield in Maryland reported nearly $40 million savings in 2011 and a 4.2 percent average reduction in expected patient’s overall health care costs among 60 percent of practices participating for six or more months.
  • In New York, the Priority Community Healthcare Center Medicaid Program in Chemung County saved about $150,000 or 11 percent in the first nine months of implementation, reduced hospital spending by 27 percent and reduced ER spending by 35 percent.
  • In Pennsylvania, Pinnacle Health achieved a zero percent hospital readmission rate for PCMH patients versus a 10-20 percent readmission rate for non-PCMH patients.

The PCPCC is the leading national coalition dedicated to advancing PCMH. According to PCPCC, the medical home is an approach to the delivery of primary care that is:

  • Patient-centered: A partnership among practitioners, patients and their families ensures that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs and preference, and that patients have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care.
  • Comprehensive: A team of care providers is accountable for a patient’s physical and mental health needs, including prevention and wellness, acute care, and chronic care.
  • Coordinated: Care is organized across all elements of the broader health care system, including specialty care, hospitals, home health care, community services and supports.
  • Accessible: Patients access services with shorter wait times, “after hours” care, 24/7 electronic or telephone access, and strong communication through health IT innovations.
  • Committed to quality and safety: Clinicians and staff enhance quality improvement through the use of health IT and other tools to ensure that patients and families make informed decisions about their health.

According to Melinda Abrams, Vice President of Patient-Centered Primary Care Program at the Commonwealth Fund, to have the greatest impact, a medical home must be located at the center of a “medical neighborhood” inhabited by hospitals, specialty physicians, physical therapists, social workers, long-term care facilities, mental health professionals and other service providers. She notes that it is the role of the primary care provider to coordinate care and make sure that patients don’t slip through the cracks, or receive tests or procedures they’ve already had – a particular concern for patients who see multiple doctors.

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) – a non-profit, independent group dedicated to improving health care quality – accredits and certifies a wide range of health care organizations and is the leading national group that recognizes PCMH with the most widely adopted model. Currently, there are almost 5,000 NCQA Recognized PCMHs across the country.

Other organizations with PCMH recognition programs include Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, Inc. (AAAHC), the Joint Commission, and URACVideos from the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) feature family physicians who discuss practice redesign aimed at lowering costs, maximizing staff expertise and improving patient care.

“Practices seeking to initiate a patient-centered medical home will find that an assessment process is very helpful to understand where they are,” said Shaljian. “Some practices have electronic health records, a very strong history of team-based care, and strong connections with specialists, hospitals, and other stakeholders in the community, while others do not. Some are deeply affected by an internal culture of quality improvement, which makes a huge difference in how successful some medical homes are.”

Want to learn more about PCMH? Visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality content-rich Resource Center.

How can health care continue to move the nation to PCMH? And how can the model tackle its number-one challenge: the current fee-for-service payment system?

Striking the Right Balance for Better Patient Outcomes

A recent article in Health Affairs reports that ChenMed – which serves low-to-moderate income elderly patients primarily through the Medicare Advantage program – is achieving better health outcomes for Medicare-eligible seniors, including those living with five or more major and chronic health conditions.  Dozens of Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers are helping tens of thousands of seniors live better, longer: 

chris_chen

Dr. Christopher Chen, ChenMed CEO

  • Total hospital days per 1,000 patients at ChenMed in 2011 were 1,058 for the Miami area in comparison with 1,712 total US hospital days per 1,000 patients in the same year (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary).
  • Just one year prior, according to Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the Miami Hospital Referral Region was above the 90th percentile in inpatient hospital days.

Why is ChenMed so successful?

Dr. Christopher Chen, CEO of the organization, says its patient care model integrates cutting-edge medical expertise in a way that empowers physicians to ensure patients receive personalized attention and optimal care.

“People always ask, ‘What is your secret?’ There really is no secret,” he says. “It comes down to having the right incentives, the right physician and staff culture, and the right philosophy of care. My goal at the end of the day is to be cost-effective through improvement of outcomes by changing the philosophy of care. We care about results.”

The group practice’s popularity also attests to its effective one-stop-shop approach to patient-centered care through multi-specialty services. Smaller physician panel sizes of 350-450 patients spur intensive health coaching and preventive care, and prescriptions are given to patients during their visits at all Chenand JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers.

This aspect of ChenMed’s model makes the biggest difference in boosting medication adherence, followed by strong one-on-one doctor-patient relationships that help to change habits for the better. Receiving meds within 3-5 minutes of ordering drugs not only means patients don’t have to wait for the treatment they need, but that they receive their medications while having face-to-face interactions with their primary care doctors.

“In our model we aren’t looking for high-income patients,” Dr. Chen says. “People ask, ‘Are you saying that patients like you because you give more attention to them and provide more access to doctors than those who pay for concierge service?’ I would say yes.”

ChenMed continuously employs top specialists from a variety of fields to conveniently provide fully integrated medical services to patients.  It effectively combines services like acupuncture into its portfolio of care, and improves outcomes and patient experience with customized end-to-end technologies enhancing its daily operations. For example, all the medical assistants and staff are equipped with iPads and can offer physician support tailored to each patient. This fuels collaboration, enabling doctors to work side by side with patients and providing a significant convenience to all parties as a result.

Primary care physicians at Chen and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers also meet three times a week, engaging in thoughtful ongoing discussions that generate numerous enhancements to care and delivery for better outcomes.

“We discuss whether a hospitalization could be improved through better outpatient care. We ask, ‘What can we do to improve patient outcomes while the patient is in the hospital?’ We innovate to improve outcomes and can achieve great things for patients because of our small panel sizes. These meetings have saved many lives and continue to do so,” explains Dr. Chen.

When interviewing prospective doctors to work at ChenMed, they are asked whether they like spending time with patients and whether they love the complexity of medicine. If they say no to either of those questions, then this group is probably not the best place for them, Dr. Chen says, underscoring that:

“We want you to practice medicine the way you thought you would when you graduated from medical school. It’s not about how many patients you see, how many procedures you do, or how much you bill. You should want to be a doctor to make people feel better.” 

ChenMed, through its Primary Management Resources subsidiary, also provides behind-the-scenes consulting services to enhance medical practice operations nationwide.  Physicians interested in end-to-end solutions that streamline operations while enhancing patient health outcomes and the patient experience should contact ChenMed at (305) 628-6117 or go to ChenMed.com.

More Patients Choosing Hospice “Comfort Care” Option

In today’s health care environment, so much attention is paid to preventing and eradicating disease to improve health outcomes. But for patients facing terminal illness or life-limiting conditions, accessing quality care can be a frightening and lonely challenge.

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

That’s where hospice comes in as an option for more and more people. A unique philosophy of care, hospice enhances quality of life for many patients and strengthens the health system’s quality of care by saving critical resources.

Supporting those who choose comfort care with pain and symptom management rather than curative care, it is designed to neither hasten nor postpone death. Hospice is provided in the patient’s home, hospital, extended care facility or residential care homes. Individual insurance plans vary in terms of coverage guidelines.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), an estimated 1.65 million patients received services from hospice in 2011.

“It is important for patients to understand that hospice is as much a part of the health care system as the birthing process,” says Barbara J. Westland, RN, BSN, Director/Administrator, BJC Hospice. “We are there to bring you into the world and we will be there to support you in your journey through hospice until the end.”

Because hospice focuses on care rather than cure, patient outcomes are measured in more qualitative ways, focusing on issues like pain relief within 48 hours of admission, avoiding unwanted hospitalizations and avoiding unwanted cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). And according to NHPCO, family caregivers who had the support of hospice report less instances of serious depression in the six months following the death of their loved one.

In addition to serving the physical, emotional, spiritual and practical needs of patients and their families, hospice also saves money. In fact, research published in the March issue of Health Affairs found that hospice enrollment saves money for Medicare – from $2,561 to $6,430 per patient, depending on the length of care – and improves the quality of care across a number of different lengths-of-stay.

“If 1,000 additional beneficiaries enrolled in hospice 15 to 30 days prior to death, Medicare could save more than $6.4 million,” notes the study’s authors. “In addition, reductions in the use of hospital services at the end of life contribute to these savings and potentially improve quality of care and patients’ quality of life.”

J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president and CEO, points to a study on the benefits of hospice from a cost and quality of care perspective:

“Hospice can reduce the number of intensive care visits, hospital readmissions and other services, which not only saves health care system dollars, but also contributes to a higher quality of life,” he says.

“With the aging population, we expect to see the hospice population growing,” Westland says, noting that between 2000-2007, the number ofhospice patients nearly doubled and the number of providers grew by 45 percent. “Hospice offers a choice for the final journey that is selected by some, but not right for everyone.”

Despite evidence that hospice provides many benefits some critics question whether the implications of market competition and commercialization driving this form of care are ethically consistent with the delivery of health services. In an article that appeared in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics during the summer of 2011, the authors argue that hospice care should be considered with great caution:

“The conflicting interests inherent in the incentive structures of for-profit health care endeavors demand careful scrutiny,” they say. “This is particularly important in the end-of-life hospice context.”

What do you think? Share your experiences and thoughts with us.

Heroes Needed: Apply Within

We’re taking a departure today from our coverage of what works in American health care to ask for your help.

Patients want us to re-open our Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, but we can’t successfully do that until we identify several key companies or organizations to partner with us in this effort.

When HealthWell’s Breast Cancer Fund was open, thousands of Americans battling breast cancer found new hope to live healthier lives. Nearly 17,000 insured breast cancer patients received the financial assistance they needed so that the surging cost of treatments was not a barrier to accessing critical care.

As HealthWell prepares to re-launch its massive Breast Cancer Fund, we are expanding our call to action. We are seeking partners to help us make a real, positive difference in the lives of insured patients who often struggle to afford critical treatment including medications.

By becoming a strategic partner with the HealthWell Foundation, your organization will help thousands of Americans who face medical bills they can’t afford.  Beyond the incredible satisfaction of knowing that you played a role in persuading your organization to help us re-open this fund, you’ll gain a cause marketing partner that will support your efforts to build and shape your brand to new audiences.

When you work with us to empower patients, you will leverage a unique opportunity to win exclusivity, naming rights and more.

With one in eight women in the U.S. expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, the need for timely, life-sustaining care is outpacing our health system’s ability to assist patients. More and more Americans are in desperate need of immediate financial relief to afford deductibles, co-pays and premiums, yet many have few places, if any, to turn for assistance.

Women like Linda in Powell, Tenn., illustrate exactly why support for the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell is needed. When Linda realized just how expensive her breast cancer medication would be, she was scared. As a self-employed grandmother of two, she faced a $5,500 deductible for her insurance premium alone. Additional costs for mammograms, colonoscopy, endoscopy and lab work were all out-of-pocket and she wasn’t sure how she would make ends meet.

That is, until she discovered the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell, a lifeline that enabled her to afford the treatments she needed to remain cancer-free two years after her diagnosis.

“My patient advocate gave me a list of several foundations to contact which I did,” Linda said. “The first turned me down because they said we went $50 over our salary. The second turned me down because I had a deductible. Then I heard from HealthWell. We couldn’t believe we had found help. We just had to cry. I am so thankful. Every time I have my prescription filled it still amazes me. Not many good things have happened to us.”

The fund’s incredible track record of success in offering assistance to patients in need is exactly why we must reopen it now.

The HealthWell Foundation believes that no patient – adult or child – should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it. As demand for medical treatments increases while associated prices continue to spike, we want the Breast Cancer Fund at HealthWell to once again provide timely, critical copay and premium assistance and expanded services to breast cancer patients.

These services went far to ease the strain felt by patients covered under Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and employer-sponsored plans with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening the financial safety net for more patients begins with teamwork. Together we can be part of the solution, harnessing our resources to make access to quality medical treatment a reality for more Americans battling breast cancer. Please contact us if your company may be interested in partnering with us to re-open this vital fund.

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog because we are innovators in finding solutions to overcome hurdles in the American health care system. The thousands of women at work right now trying to clear the hurdle of breast cancer deserve everything we have to give.  Join us.  We have so much yet to do.  And you could make a difference in so many lives.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Filling the Financial Gap When Health Insurance Isn’t Enough

You can’t escape the headlines: rising expenses and high unemployment. And even for the employed, a sharp reduction in health benefits – coupled with a steep increase in out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance – is making access to life-saving and life-sustaining therapies out of reach for many Americans.

For some individuals and families, these out-of-pocket expenses can total thousands of dollars each month – much more than many folks earn.

When people in these circumstances need help, many turn to Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), while others apply for financial assistance through independent non-profits such as The HealthWell Foundation. PAPs – which are offered by state governments or drug makers – are designed for those who cannot afford the cost of medication. Groups like Partnership for Prescription Assistance, NeedyMeds, RxAssistRxOutreach, and the National Center for Benefits (provided by the National Council on Aging), empower individuals to sort out their options and get connected to the PAP that’s right for them, sometimes even helping applicants fill out their paperwork.

What do all these organizations have in common? They focus on addressing the financial strains confronting individuals with health insurance who need important medical treatments but cannot cover their associated out-of-pocket costs and premiums.

Individuals like Marianne of Tarpon Springs, Florida, for example. For Marianne, living frugally her whole life didn’t help. Even though she had health insurance, paid all her bills on time, and once earned a good living as a librarian, the 70-year-old breast cancer survivor could not afford the medicine she needed to keep the cancer from coming back.

With no other alternatives to the $500-a-month life-saving medicine, the fixed-income senior citizen didn’t know where to turn. Until her doctors pointed her to the HealthWell Foundation.

Two years later, and thanks to the financial assistance she received from HealthWell, the still-healthy Marianne travels, cycles, and enjoys the life that continues to “delight and amaze” her.

“I am so fortunate,” she says. “I’ve always been glad to give back to others, and now that I’ve needed the help, I know just how precious it is to receive the kindness and compassion of others.”

Marianne is one of many Americans who benefit from organizations like HealthWell, which has provided copayment assistance to more than 164,000 patients since 2004. Without these critical funds, many of those living with chronic and life-altering illnesses would not have the treatments they need in order to live healthier lives.

No child or adult in the U.S. should go without health care because he or she cannot afford it.

How can charitable copayment assistance organizations partner with businesses, government and other stakeholders to achieve lower costs for health care treatment?

The HealthWell Foundation sponsors this blog.

Get the conversation going in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings

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