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About those Obamacare numbers and the ICD-10 delay

While I’ve been busy writing a couple of stories on different topics, you’ve probably heard two pieces of news that will affect healthcare providers nationwide: the close of the first open enrollment period for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges and the Congressional “fix” (read “Band-Aid”) to the Medicare sustainable growth rate that statutorily delays the ICD-10 compliance deadline for another year, until October 2015.

The White House yesterday reported that 7.1 million people had signed up for health insurance through healthcare.gov or state-run exchanges, barely exceeding the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of 7 million. Independent tracking site ACAsignups.net says it’s more like 7.08 million, but still just above the goal. That site also tallies the following sign-ups as a result of the ACA:

  • 6.37 million – 12.45 million in private “qualified health plans” (plans that meet ACA standards) via private exchanges, insurance agents or direct purchases from insurers, including deductions for the estimated 3.7 million whose “noncompliant” policies were canceled;
  • 4.71 million – 6.49 million through Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program expansions;
  • 2.5 million – 3.1 million “sub-26ers,” young adults whom the ACA allows to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26; and
  • 1.8 million “woodworkers,” those who came out of the woodwork because they did not know before the Obamacare enrollment push that they were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

ACAsignups.net places the total range at 14.6 million – 22.1 million as of March 31, not counting the healthcare.gov numbers, though my math puts it at 15.38 million – 22.06 million. Add in the healthcare.gov sign-ups and you get about 22.5 million to nearly 29 million newly insured people. However — and this is a big however — we do not know how many of the beneficiaries are newly insured and how many were replacing previous coverage.

Personally, I bought a high-deductible, ACA-qualified health plan through an independent agent to replace a rather restrictive high-deductible plan that was grandfathered in, and should save about $70-$80 a month on premiums starting in May. The new insurer rejected me several years ago due to a pre-existing condition; the ACA assures that I can’t be denied for that reason anymore. I imagine there are millions in the same boat as I am.

The U.S. Census Bureau placed the number of uninsured for 2012 at about 48 million, or 15.7 percent of the population. (The same year, 198.8 million had private insurance.) Until we see new figures for uninsured Americans, we will still just have “gross” statistics, not a net figure to show if the insurance part of the ACA is working.

By the way, the ACA is about much more than insurance coverage, despite what the national media have focused on. I encourage you to read up on this before you say Obamacare is saving or ruining our country.

Now, as for the temporary SGR fix, the ICD-10 delay kind of came out of nowhere last week when it got slipped into the House version of the legislation, but the Senate adopted the same language — reportedly without debating ICD-10 at all — and President Obama today signed it into law. I’ve said before that ICD-10 and other transactional elements of healthcare stopped mattering to me as I watched my dad being mistreated in a hospital due to broken clinical processes in his last month of life. I still think this way. However, this sneaky move shows that the AMA, AHA and other groups more intent of protecting the status quo than fixing healthcare still have enormous sway in Washington.

It makes me wonder whether lobbyists haven’t already started pushing hard for Congress to delay the Medicare penalties for not achieving Meaningful Use that are due to kick in next year. Actually, I don’t wonder. I’m sure it’s happening.

All delaying real reform of a broken industry does is prolong the agony, and ensure that millions more people will be affected by errors and neglect in institutions that are supposed to “do no harm.” The status quo is not acceptable.

 

April 2, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, 2014 edition

It’s time for my annual podcast interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, this time from the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on the day before the official opening of the 2014 HIMSS Conference, rather than in his Chicago office a week or so in advance.

Lieber reiterated HIMSS’ position that the federal government should extend the attestation period for Meaningful Use Stage 2 by one year. I wasn’t there, but today at the CIO Forum, one of the preconference educational symposia, ONC Chief Medical Officer Jacob Reider, M.D., hinted that there will be an announcement on Stage 2 flexibility, possibly Thursday morning at a joint ONC-CMS town hall. That session will feature CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and new national health IT coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D. I’ve never heard either of them speak, and now I’m excited to be covering that session.

We also discussed other aspects of healthcare reform, trends in health IT and expectations for HIMSS14. Of note, on Monday morning, HIMSS and two other organizations will announce a new initiative on “personal connected health.”

Near the end, I reference the podcast I did last week with Dr. Ray Dorsey about remote care for Parkinson’s patients. For easy reference, here’s the link.

This is, I believe, the seventh consecutive year I have done a podcast with Lieber at or just before the annual HIMSS conference. Another interview that has become somewhat of a tradition won’t happen this time, as Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush is not making the trip to Orlando this year.

 

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS President and CEO Steve Lieber, Feb. 23, 2014, at HIMSS14 in Orlando, Fla. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 36.2 MB. Running time 39:35.

0:40 “It’s time to execute.”
1:40 Challenges for small hospitals and small practices
3:10 New ONC EHR certification proposal and continued questions about Meaningful Use Stage 2
5:00 Prioritizing with multiple healthcare reform initiatives underway, including proposed SGR repeal
6:30 Surviving ICD-10 transition
7:35 HIMSS’ position on MU2 timelines
9:05 Remember “macro objective” of Meaningful Use
10:00 Letter to HHS from organizations not including HIMSS calling for what he says are “very vague” changes to MU2 criteria
11:40 Things in MU2 causing providers fits
13:05 Fewer EHR vendors certified for 2014, but more HIMSS exhibitors
15:00 What this means for providers who bought products certified to 2011 standards
17:20 Progress on Meaningful Use so far
21:00 Looking toward Stage 3
22:42 What healthcare.gov struggles might mean for health IT
25:35 Other aspects of the Affordable Care Act being lost in the public debate
27:10 Political considerations related to health IT
29:40 Patient engagement and new HIMSS exhibitors
32:20 Why healthcare spending and provider shortage forecasts don’t account for efficiency gains made from technology and innovation
35:10 Demographic challenges for healthcare
35:45 Shift from hospitals to ambulatory and home care and consolidation of provider organizations

February 23, 2014 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

HIMSS CIO survey visualized

I already reported the results of the annual HIMSS healthcare CIO survey in a story I wrote for InformationWeek the other day. Since everybody seems to love infographics these days, HIMSS produced one visualizing some of the highlights, including the finding that two-thirds of U.S. hospitals already have met Stage 1 meaningful use. Based on this, I’m guessing that close to 90 percent should be there by the end of the year, which means that CMS and ONC will have achieved their objectives for Stage 1, at least on the hospital side. (Of course, the physician part is proving to be much more difficult.) Someone in the know at ONC told me last night that people in that office are expecting 80 percent hospital success by the time fiscal year 2013 closes Sept. 30.

March 7, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

My HIMSS will be all about quality and patient safety

As regular readers might already know, 2012 was a transformative year in my life, and mostly not in a good way. I ended the year on a high note, taking a character-building six-day, 400-mile bike tour through the mountains, desert and coastline of Southern California that brought rain, mud, cold, more climbing than my poor legs could ever hope to endure in the Midwest, some harrowing descents and even a hail storm. But the final leg from Oceanside to San Diego felt triumphant, like I was cruising down the Champs-Élysées during the last stage of the Tour de France, save the stop at the original Rubio’s fish taco stand about five miles from the finish.

But the months before that were difficult. My grandmother passed away at the end of November at the ripe old age of 93, but at least she lived a long, full life and got to see all of her grandchildren grow up. The worst part of 2012 was in April and May, when my father endured needless suffering in a poorly run hospital during his last month of life as he lost his courageous but futile battle with an insidious neurodegenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy, or MSA. (On a personal note, March is MSA Awareness Month, and I am raising funds for the newly renamed Multiple System Atrophy Coalition.)

That ordeal changed my whole perspective, as you may have noticed in my writing since then. No longer do I care about the financial machinations of healthcare such as electronic transactions, revenue-cycle management, the new HIPAA omnibus rule or reasons why healthcare facilities aren’t ready to switch to ICD-10 coding. Nor am I much interested in those who believe it’s more worthwhile to take the Medicare penalties starting in 2015 for not achieving “meaningful use” than to put the time and money into adopting electronic health records. I’m not interested in lists of “best hospitals” or “best doctors” based solely on reputation. I am sick of the excuses for why healthcare can’t fix its broken processes.

And don’t get me started on those opposed to reform because they somehow believe that the U.S. has the “best healthcare in the world.” We don’t. We simply have the most expensive, least efficient healthcare in the world, and it’s really dangerous in many cases.

No, I am dedicated to bringing news about efforts to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors. Yes, we need to bring costs down and increase access to care, too, but we can make a big dent on those fronts by creating incentives to do the right thing instead of doing the easy thing. Accountable care and bundled payments seem like they’re steps in the right direction, though the jury remains out. All the recent questioning about whether meaningful use has had its intended effect and even whether current EHR systems are safe also makes me optimistic that people are starting to care about quality.

Keep that in mind as you pitch me for the upcoming HIMSS conference. Also keep in mind that I have two distinct audiences: CIOs read InformationWeek Healthcare, while a broad mix of innovators, consultants and healthcare and IT professionals keep up with my work at MobiHealthNews. For the latter, I’m interested in mobile tools for doctors and on the consumerization of health IT.

I’m not doing a whole lot of feature writing at the moment, so I’d like to see and hear things I can relate in a 500-word story. Contract wins don’t really interest me since there are far too many of them to report on. Mergers and acquisitions as well as venture investments matter to MobiHealthNews but not so much to InformationWeek. And remember, I see through the hype. I want substance. Policy insights are good. Case studies are better, as long as we’re talking about quality and safety. Think care coordination and health information exchange for example, but not necessarily the technical workings behind the scenes.

And, as always, I tend to find a lot more interesting things happening in the educational sessions than in that zoo known as the exhibit hall. I’m there for the conference, not the “show.”

Many of you already have sent your pitches. I expect to get to them no later than this weekend, and I’ll respond in the order I’ve received them. Thank you kindly for your patience.

February 13, 2013 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

ICD-10 explained in a minute and a half

It’s Sunday, so it’s time for something light.

University of Utah Health Care put together this handy little video that explains ICD-10 to physicians as well as their role in making the transition. There is one footnote I’d like to add: the compliance deadline has been delayed to October 2014 since this video was made.

 

Thanks to the HIMSS social media team for pointing this out to me, via their Facebook page.

October 21, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

A dubious honor from Health Wonk Review

For the very first time, I captured the top spot on the biweekly Health Wonk Review blog carnival, this time hosted by Dr. Jaan Sidorov of the Disease Management Care Blog. Unfortunately, I had to endure my dad’s untimely death after a miserable hospital experience in order to write the piece in question. But if it brings more traffic to that post and, more importantly, more awareness of multiple system atrophy (MSA) and the problem of poorly coordinated care and broken processes in hospitals, I’ll take it.

Since you’re here primarily for health IT, I’ll point you to a couple of relevant items that Sidorov summarizes. In a post actually written back in February, Martin Gaynor, chairman of the Health Care Cost Institute, discusses the organization on the Wing of Zock (the name is explained here) blog. The institute is aggregating claims information from the likes of Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealthcare and CMS to provide researchers with rich data sets related to healthcare costs and utilization.

“At its most basic, HCCI was formed because a better understanding of health spending can improve the quality of care and save money. If we generate information that makes a difference, then we will be a success,” Gaynor says.

Also, consultant Joanna Relth makes it known on the Healthcare Talent Transformation blog that she is no fan of ICD-10. “I’m sure that the intent of making this massive change to the codes is to improve the accuracy of diagnosis coding so providers will bill more accurately and insurance companies will pay providers and insureds in a more timely fashion. Seriously?? Did anyone ask a learning professional about how large a list is reasonable and at what point does the number of data points become impossible to follow?” she wonders in what comes off a little as an anti-government screed.

But I prefer to end this post on a happy note. In the comment section, Relth links to a video from EHR vendor Nuesoft Technologies that parodies Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” Enjoy.

May 25, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

HIMSS12 notes

I’ve just returned home from HIMSS12. As usual, it was a grueling week, made more grueling by the fact that I arrived a day earlier than usual. But I do have to say that this was the least stressful HIMSS I have been to in years.

Maybe it’s because the conference layout within the massive Venetian-Palazzo-Sands Expo complex was surprisingly compact for my purposes, and I didn’t have to do as much walking as normal. Maybe it was because I only set foot on the show floor once, thanks, in part, to the announcement of the Stage 2 “meaningful use” proposed rules on Wednesday, which caused me to cancel one vendor meeting (in the exhibit hall) and cut another one (in the media interview room) short so I could knock out my story for InformationWeek. Or maybe it’s because I spent too much time in the casinos. Let’s go with the first two, OK?

HIMSS12 broke all kinds of records, drawing 37,032 attendees, beating last year’s former record of 31,500 by nearly 18 percent. The final exhibitor count was 1,123, also the most ever. After I tweeted the attendance figure, at least one person thought this rapid growth was an indication that the conference was “jumping the shark”:

jumping the shark? RT @: #HIMSS12 draws record 37,032 attendees, crushing last year's mark of 31,500. http://t.co/Mw1TDYSA #HealthIT
@apearson
Aaron Pearson

I have thought in recent years than HIMSS may be becoming too big for its own good. This time around, I heard mixed reviews.

Personally, like I said, it was less stressful than normal. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, particularly my media colleagues. This year, I also met up with a couple of friends from back home who happen to work for vendors. We kept the fun going all the way back to Chicago, since at least three other health IT reporters and a few others I know were on the same flight as me.

I also have to say I had a wonderful time on a “Meet the Bloggers” panel on Wednesday afternoon, where I joined Healthcare Scene capo John Lynn, fellow Healthcare Scene contributor Jennifer Dennard, Carissa Caramanis O’Brien of Aetna and moderator Brian Ahier for some lively dialogue about social media in health IT. I know that at least one audience member took some video, and I’ll link to that once it’s posted.

Later that evening, I saw nearly every one of the same people at Dell’s Healthcare Think Tank dinner, where I participated in a roundtable discussion about health IT with a bunch of supposed experts. It was streamed live, and I believe the video will be archived. Many of the participants, including myself, tweeted about it, using the hashtag #DoMoreHIT. I really am adamant about the public needing to be explained the difference between health insurance and healthcare.

Speaking about misunderstandings, I am in 100 percent agreement with something Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a.k.a. Seattle Mama Doc, said during an engaging presentation Monday at the HIMSS/CHIME CIO Forum. She made the astute observation that there needs to be better distinction between expertise and merely experience when it comes to celebrities being held up as “experts” in healthcare and medicine. Let’s just say that Swanson, as a pediatrician, is no fan of some of the things Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Mehmet Oz have told wide audiences.

There definitely were some people among the 37,000 who were not enamored with the cheerleading at HIMSS. There was talk around the press room that HHS really dropped the ball by not having the meaningful use Stage 2 proposal out a week earlier, before the conference started. In reality, blame the delay on the White House. Every federal rule-making has to be vetted by the bean counters and political operatives in the Office of Management and Budget, and it’s hard to tell how long the OMB review will take once an administrative agency, in this case, HHS, sends the text over.

I admit, I was wrong in expecting the plan to be out earlier, too. Instead, we got the news Wednesday morning and saw the text Thursday morning, forcing thousands of people to scramble to scour the proposed rules.

I know HIMSS had a team at the ready, who dropped everything to read the proposal and get a preliminary analysis out by the end of the day Thursday. Lots of consulting firms did the same. I’ll save some of the commentary I received for another post.

The wireless Internet in the Venetian’s meeting areas was truly terrible. Either that, or I need to replace my aging laptop. I’m thinking both.

I had no trouble getting my e-mail over the Wi-Fi network, but I really couldn’t do anything on the Web unless I was hard-wired to one of the limited number of Ethernet cords in the press room, and those workstations filled up fast. Bandwidth was particularly poor on Thursday, when I presume thousands of people were downloading the Stage 2 PDF. CMS officials said the Federal Register site crashed from the heavy demand, and I’m sure a lot of it came from inside the Venetian and the Sands Expo.

There didn’t seem to be enough attention paid to safety of EHRs, at least according to Dr. Scot Silverstein of the Health Care Renewal blog, who wrote this scathing critique of the sideshow the exhibit hall has become, making Las Vegas perhaps “fitting for people who gamble with people’s lives to make a buck.”

Personally, I thought ONC and CMS took the recent Institute of Medicine report on EHR-related adverse events pretty seriously. Plus, one of the IOM report authors, Dr. David Classen, presented about the study findings at the physician symposium on Monday and again during the main conference.

Mobile may also have gotten a bit of a short shrift, despite the recent launch of mHIMSS and last’s week’s news that HIMSS had taken over the mHealth Summit from the NIH Foundation. The mobile pavilion was relegated to the lower level of the Sands, the area with low ceilings and support pillars every 30 feet or so. (I called that hall “the dungeon.”) I have a feeling you will like Brian Dolan’s commentary in MobiHealthNews next week. I’m still figuring out what I will write for that publication, but I have to say I did hear some positive things about mobile health this week.

I still don’t know what GE and Microsoft are doing with Caradigm, their joint venture in healthcare connectivity and health information exchange that didn’t have a name until a couple of weeks ago. The name and the introductory reception they held Tuesday evening at HIMSS seemed a bit rushed, IMHO. The Web address the venture reserved, www.caradigm.com, currently redirects to a GE page. Other than the fact that Microsoft is shifting its Amalga assets to Caradigm, I’m at a loss.

Popular topics this year were the expected meaningful use and ICD-10, plus the buzzwords of the moment, business analytics and big data. I’d be happy I never hear the word “solution” as a synonym for “product” or “service” again. To me, that represents lazy marketing. Get yourself a thesaurus.

 

February 24, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Video: Jonathan Bush at HIMSS12

As has become custom, I carved out some time at HIMSS to interview Jonathan Bush, the always outspoken and insightful CEO of athenahealth. This time, instead of meeting in some sterile conference room, we got together just before the start of athenahealth’s annual HIMSS party, which happened to be at Ghostbar at the top of the Palms hotel in Las Vegas.

The setting, on the balcony of the 55th floor, tied into the company’s embrace of the cloud. The staff of both the bar and of athenahealth did a great job finding a single spotlight on the balcony, overlooking the bright lights of the Strip. Yeah, there’s a shadow on Bush’s face and you can hear the wind at times, but I think it adds to rather than disrupts the vibe.

As usual, we joke around a lot, but we also get into some serious discussions about ICD-10, meaningful use, health IT innovation and even my involvement with Health eVillages, a subject that came up because athenahealth has a health IT charity effort of its own in India. (Speaking of HealtheVillages, co-founder Donato Trumato is presenting a case study at HIMSS Thursday morning. It’s at 9:45 a.m. PST in Marco Polo 803 on the first floor of the Venetian. I’ll probably be waiting for the media availability of Dr. Farzad Mostashari at that time. Something about meaningful use Stage 2.)

Enjoy the video. I know I did.

Jonathan Bush at HIMSS12 from Neil Versel on Vimeo.

 

February 23, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Podcast: HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber previews HIMSS12

I’m about to head to the airport for my flight to Las Vegas and HIMSS12. As has become customary before each year’s HIMSS conference, I sat down with H. Stephen Lieber, CEO of HIMSS, this past week to discuss the state of health IT and what to expect at the big event.

The timing of this interview was interesting. We spoke Wednesday morning at the new HIMSS office in downtown Chicago, one day after CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner told a gathering of American Medical Association leaders that federal officials were re-examining the Oct. 1, 2013, deadline for adopting ICD-10 coding, and one day before HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made it official that there would be a delay.

Also one day after this interview, HIMSS announced that it has taken over the mHealth Summit from the Foundation of the National Institutes of Health. While Lieber talked extensively about mobile healthcare, he gave no hint that this news was coming.

Meanwhile, the whole health IT universe had been expecting HHS to release its proposed rules for Stage 2 of “meaningful use” of electronic health records this past week. That didn’t happen. Monday is a federal holiday, so I don’t think we will hear anything until at least Tuesday, which, coincidentally, happens to be the first day of the HIMSS conference. As if we don’t have enough to keep us occupied in the next few days.

The recording is a little fuzzy. I’m not really sure what created the echo and the background noise, since we were in a dedicated interview room, one of the nice features at the new HIMSS digs. Radio interference perhaps? That happened to me a couple years ago in the old HIMSS office on East Ohio Street. Just pretend you’re listening on AM radio or something.

Podcast details: Interview with HIMSS CEO Steve Lieber, February 15, 2012. MP3, stereo, 128 kbps, 31.9 MB, running time 34:51.

1:00 Logistics of HIMSS12 in Las Vegas after the venue change
2:00 Why the Venetian-Palazzo-Sands might work better than the Las Vegas Convention Center
2:55 Why the conference starts on Tuesday this year
3:25 Massive scale of the conference
5:25 Return of Cerner and Meditech and some first-time exhibitors
7:45 mHIMSS and HIT X.0
10:15 Twitter co-founder Biz Stone keynoting and the state of social media in healthcare
12:00 Accountable care and realignment of incentives
14:15 What might be in proposed rule for Stage 2 of meaningful use
17:20 Preview of HIMSS survey of hospital readiness for meaningful use
20:30 ICD-10 readiness
25:00 Greater public awareness of health IT but continuing difficulties in communicating the finer points of healthcare reform
27:50 Mobile healthcare
31:25 The growing importance of clinical analytics

February 18, 2012 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.

Video: athenahealth’s Jonathan Bush at HIMSS11

As has become custom at HIMSS, I sat down with Jonathan Bush, chairman, CEO and president of athenahealth, at the 2011 conference in Orlando, Fla., last week. But due to some technical difficulties in getting the room we thought we had reserved and in getting my audio recorder to work (OK, OK, I didn’t have fresh batteries on me), I busted out the HD video camera. (Wouldn’t you know, the battery was losing steam there, too, so I had to plug the camera in. I have since determined that the USB port wasn’t working, so I exchanged it this past weekend. But I seriously digress.)

In this interview, we talk athena’s business, meaningful use, 5010/ICD-10, ACOs, cloud computing and health reform. We poke a little fun at the “boat show” that the vendor expo has become and make plans for the “Cloud Cavalry” to ride into Las Vegas at HIMSS12.

YouTube recently raised the maximum video length to 15 minutes, but we went on for about 20, so I had to break the interview into two parts.

Part One

Part Two

Don’t forget to check out my fledgling YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/neilversel.

February 28, 2011 I Written By

I'm a freelance healthcare journalist, specializing in health IT, mobile health, healthcare quality, hospital/physician practice management and healthcare finance.