Posts Tagged ‘health care debate’

Wal-Mart: The future leader of low-cost care?

Save money. Live better. It’s Wal-Mart’s corporate motto, but put it in the context of health care and add a third line targeted at improving care for individuals and you’ve got something awfully close to Don Berwick’s triple aim for health care reform. If cost is the real cancer in the U.S. health care delivery system—and we think it is—why not look to America’s low-cost leader for the cure?

When reports started hitting the news this week about a request for information Wal-Mart sent out to its vendors in late October announcing the mega-retailer’s intent to “build a national, integrated, low-cost primary care health care platform that will provide preventative and chronic care services that are currently out of reach for millions of Americans,” alarms went off in health policy circles across the country.

The company has since backpedaled on the statement of intent. John Agwunobi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., head of Wal-Mart’s health and wellness division, released a statement on Nov. 9, 2011, saying, “We are not building a national, integrated, low-cost primary care health care platform.”

Well, that’s a relief.

What struck me about the RFI wasn’t just the ambitious statement of intent, now characterized by the company as “overwritten and incorrect,” it was the list of services Wal-Mart plans to offer: chronic disease management of everything from diabetes, asthma, and hypertension to sleep apnea, osteoporosis, HIV, and clinical depression.

A few years back, Wal-Mart announced plans to open more than 400 retail health clinics in its stores from coast to coast. As of now, it operates about 140 clinics. The company exerted its massive purchasing power and brought us $4 generic pharmaceuticals. And now it wants to bring its cost-cutting strategies to the chronic disease management market.

The trouble is the price points of primary care services and chronic disease management services aren’t the cause of our health care cost crisis. The real problem is the effect on system-wide health expenditures when chronic diseases aren’t managed properly. So maybe Wal-Mart’s idea of enhanced retail clinics could improve access to those services thereby improving population health and lowering overall health care costs, but I doubt it.

I tend to agree with AAFP President Glen Stream, M.D., M.B.I., who told National Public Radio that Wal-Mart’s proposal takes health care in the wrong direction. “I would still be gravely concerned that this is going to fragment care at a time when we now clearly understand that people having a usual source of comprehensive and continuous care in a single location is one of the main features that drives high-quality care, good patient health outcomes, and drives down costs.”

Today, family physicians across the country are transforming their practices to make them more accessible to their patients, and to evolve our delivery system into one that coordinates patient care in an efficient manner to make sure patients receive the right care at the right time and in the right setting. The 2010 AAFP Practice Profile survey shows that significant percentages of our members offer many of the same conveniences that retail health clinics offer. More than 73 percent offer same-day or open-access scheduling. More than 48 percent have extended office hours, and more than 31 percent offer weekend appointments.

Wal-Mart’s interest in expanding its line of health care services is a big indication that primary care is on the rise. Here’s yet another indication. The Baltimore Sun reported this week that Maryland state officials plan “to increase the number of primary care health professionals by as much as 25 percent in the next decade through a wide range of goals that include increased educational opportunities, financial incentives, and tort reform.”

Competition for primary care services is about to get fierce, folks. Wal-Mart knows where the money is and where the demand is. Seems to me family medicine is in a great position for strong market growth.

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Payment Reform recap: Demonstrating value

Following the most basic model for success in business means minimizing overhead and maximizing revenues, Dr. Mark Laitos pointed out at TAFP’s Payment Reform Summit last Saturday. For doctors in private practice and other health care providers, this means billing for as many relative value units, or RVUs, as possible at the best conversion rate, and maximizing ancillary revenue, when possible.

And while this strategy is simple enough, Laitos said it has reduced the “proud field” of medicine to “conveyor belt medicine.” Worse, as payers – including health insurers, employers, and patients to some extent – strive to minimize RVUs, the solution to the cost crisis in a fee-for-service system is to slash payment to physicians and deny care to patients.

Of course neither patients nor doctors (nor the organizations that advocate for them) would allow this to happen considering the scale needed to rein in escalating health care costs. The solution, then, as speaker after speaker suggested, is to trade the volume-based model for a value-based model. This is also the cover story of the latest Texas Family Physician magazine.

Dr. Laitos was the first to bring up the triple aim – three things a health system should strive to do: improve the health of the population, improve the patient experience of care, and reduce the per capita costs of care. This Health Affairs article goes into more depth, but it sounds a lot like the concept behind accountable care organizations – that care should be primary care-based, consider population health, empower patients, and integrate with other care providers on a macro level.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, a family physician and medical director of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas agreed on two points, referencing a still-amorphous “virtual medical community” that aims to connect smaller practices currently organized as “onesies, twosies, and foursies” by providing them with a platform for information exchange and management.

He also brought up BCBSTX’s Bridges To Excellence program as a way for physicians to be recognized as high-performing. “Physicians will have to be able to capture data, analyze that data, and have ability to adjust what those data reveal. BTE and PQRS [Physician Quality Reporting System] are not the answer, but they are a way to get started and learn how to manage the system for quality improvement.”

Dr. Chris Crow of Plano, another speaker at the summit, asserted his strong belief in using data and analytics to measure quality and costs; he’s used it in his practice to provide better, more efficient, and more cost-effective care, and he can demonstrate this through real figures to any interested party. Dr. Crow said that once a physician has access to quality and cost measures, he or she can begin to implement changes to improve care services. Not knowing the metrics is like “driving a car without a dashboard.”

Dr. Laitos asserted that there will be winners and losers in health care reform. “The winners will be the doctors who know how to demonstrate value.”

To read more about the Payment Reform Summit, check out TAFP’s coverage published in last week’s QuickInfo e-newsletter. Also stay tuned for video recordings of the lectures to be published later this fall.

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With Texas health care in the spotlight, opportunities abound

As could be expected, Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to seek the Republican nomination for president has intensified state and national media scrutiny of Texas’ health care record, particularly regarding the uninsured, Medicaid, health care costs, and our medical liability climate.

TAFP has long been on record in our public positions—from “Fading Away” to “Fractured” to “The Primary Solution”—that starving down our primary care infrastructure and the continued fragmentation of care across the spectrum of settings  transcends moral concerns and translates into very real economic consequences that threaten everyone from local taxpayers to employers and families. We have been equally ardent in our position that a vibrant primary care delivery system operating in a healthy liability climate is the solution to the crisis facing our health care delivery system.

Armed with these resources, TAFP’s physician leaders, lobby team, and advocacy staff have routinely briefed top Texas political and health care writers, as well as legislators and their staffs, particularly leading up to and during legislative sessions. Now TAFP has been called upon for similar briefings and interviews by a rapidly growing body of national writers from media outlets as diverse as CBS News, NBC News, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Kaiser Family Foundation and Politico, the Hill, and others.

TAFP anticipates that over the course of the next year and possibly beyond, the national attention paid to Texas will only escalate. This creates an opportunity to continue serving as a national leader to explain the socioeconomic and delivery system challenges plaguing our system, but more important to trumpet the role of family physicians as vital to the solution.

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