To succeed in value-based care, practices need to help patients get the right care at the right time in the right setting. At Aledade, we help practices do just that by reducing unnecessary emergency department (ED) use, improving care coordination with specialists, and managing chronic conditions.

Another way we improve quality is by engaging home health providers as key partners. Home health care accounts for eight to ten percent of total spending across our ACOs.

A primary care physician (PCP) can order home health for a patient in a hospital or another setting. Every 60 days after that, the physician needs to recertify the services as medically necessary for the patient. In the past, PCPs had limited insight into home health quality. They might not know when patients started home health care. They might not have clear communication during the recertification (or recert) process. This often leads to significant care gaps, and risks for the patient.

Our partner practices in Arkansas grew frustrated with the recert process, so they decided to revamp it. When a home health agency submits a recert request to the PCP, the practice’s care manager reviews it right away. The care manager checks if the patient is improving, and calls the home health agency to learn more. The office then schedules the patient for an appointment to review their progress towards their health care goals. Together, the PCP and the patient decide if the patient should continue with home health care. Sometimes another service, like Chronic Care Management, social support, transportation, or education, is more appropriate.

One patient in the Arkansas ACO had received home health services for diabetes management for more than a year. Both the patient and the PCP were frustrated. The patient’s A1C hadn’t improved and their ED utilization had increased. The practice stopped home health, and enrolled the patient in an in-office diabetic education program. There, the patient learned about triggers and how to manage insulin levels. The patient was also able to meet with the practice’s nutritionist for help with planning groceries and meals.

According to the team at Dr. Walker’s Clinic in De Queen, Arkansas, the new home health workflow ensures the practice reviews “all patients prior to admission to home health and performed at every recertification. We have a nurse that manages this population and meets with our home health agencies bi-weekly to discuss goals, recerts, and discharges.”

In West Virginia, our partner practices worked with home health agencies to reduce preventable admissions and readmissions. The home health agencies created a Collaborative Performance Review. They identify the hospital utilization of home health patients and find out how many hospital admissions were readmissions. They also look at patients who screened positive for depression, falls risk, and ED overutilization. This summary finds gaps in patient care, showing how the practice could have prevented a patient’s admission or readmission.

According to Dr. Tom Bowden of Charleston Internal Medicine in the Aledade West Virginia ACO:

“The transition from hospital to home is a critical step in the well-being of our patients. Partnering with home health agencies that can assist us in this process is vital. Finding the home health agencies that are willing to work with us, make changes, provide the care our patients need and track quality metrics will certainly help reach the triple aim of improving health outcomes, improving the patient experience and lowering health care costs.”

All of this starts with a question: “What information from would be most helpful when making a recert determination?”

By focusing on this question, we’ve developed a form for home health agencies. We found home health agencies were eager to provide the necessary information, as were the PCPs. This summary, and the conversations that came with it, are still in the early stages. However, we expect that more communication will identify the most necessary recerts.

Better home health care means patients get the right, high quality care. We work with our home health partners to transition patients from skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals safely and sooner when possible. Home health also helps to proactively keep high risk patients safely out of the hospital. This requires close partnerships with home health agencies, and the communication to paint a full picture of the patient’s health. Armed with this, Aledade’s partner practices can ensure their patients get coordinated care in the right place at the right time.

The 2016 results are in and Aledade Accountable Care Organization (ACO) practices saved Medicare more than $9.3 million! The Aledade West Virginia ACO not only reduced costs 5% below the Medicare benchmark, but also received a shared savings check. In 2015, we brought together a unique group of 11 independent primary care practices that understood the importance of collaborating on improving health. Together, our partner practices have created a strong network that have reduced unnecessary hospital visits and kept patients safely at home, managed high-risk patients through a robust care management program, and provided better coordination of patient care with specialists and other providers in the medical neighborhood. We are very proud of our partner practices’ incredible progress and dedication in these key initiatives that have helped improve patient outcomes. “Teamwork and quality are always a winning combination. None of us are as smart as all of us together, and that is why we joined the ACO, said Dr. Jonathan Lilly, a Vice Chair of the West Virginia ACO. “We’re so proud of the ACO’s work in improving care and reducing costs in West Virginia.”

At Aledade, we know the value data offers to primary care physicians (PCPs) in helping them to deliver high-quality, coordinated care. We believed that if doctors receive practice workflow support, technology, and analytics, they are in a better position to deliver the highest-quality care while reducing unnecessary costs. In West Virginia, our physicians get a real time report when their patients show up at the hospital. With this knowledge they have been able to coordinate with hospital providers and support patients coming out of post-acute setting, reducing hospital readmissions, unnecessary days spent in ERs and the number of days patients spend in skilled nursing facilities. Dr. Ghali Bacha, an ACO member, said, “By joining the ACO and utilizing Aledade’s technology and support, our practice has significantly reduced our patients’ unnecessary emergency department visits and hospitalizations in 2016. Helping our patients get the right care in the right place at the right time has been a major accomplishment.”

Aledade equips PCPs with direct practice support and tools to utilize data to deliver high-quality, coordinated care. Taking data from multiple sources helps doctors keep patients healthier and out of the ER, makes it easier to prioritize their time and their practice’s time for patients who benefit the most from programs like Transitional Care Management (TCM), Chronic Care Management (CCM), and Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs). By implementing care management programs in our practices, both providers and patients have seen significant benefit. In a recent blog, ACO partner physician, Dr. Beckett talked about how improving patient information and care coordination with the local hospitals has made a real difference. He shared a success story about “the patient who previously went to the ED up to twice a week has now gone six weeks without returning.” While this is only one exceptional example of success, this is fortunately a trend we are seeing across all our West Virginia practices and plan to continue to share future success stories.

As Aledade West Virginia ACO’s Medical Director, Dr. Tom Bowden put it, joining the ACO “helped better foster our relationships with patients and other health care providers and helped form that bridge to other doctors and hospitals.” And we have done just that. Practices have worked with local specialists in improving communication to make the patient experience as seamless as possible. Kanawha County specialists have worked closely with our PCPs on referral management to better coordinate and manage patient care. Whether, it’s meeting in person to strategize referral processes or getting systems aligned virtually to get real time data on their patients, the dedication to improving care coordination has driven unnecessary spending down and quality of care up.

In our first performance year, we have established a strong network of providers who have been able to remain independent by driving down costs all the while improving quality of care for their patients. The ACO strives to get every person the right care at the right time in the right place. The proof is in the numbers. 368 fewer West Virginians needed to be admitted to the hospital, 136 of those were readmissions that were prevented by reducing complications. Over 400 West Virginians ended up in their physician office instead of the emergency room. They spent 566 more days at home instead of in a skilled nursing facility and saw their primary care physician 10% more often to help make all this happen. In 2016, the ACO achieved a total savings of $3,197,252, with shared savings of $1,566,654. With continued dedication and hard work on ACO initiatives, we are moving in the right direction for bigger and better things this year and the coming year. We are excited for the future of our ACO in helping create a better health care system and better care for West Virginians.

We started Aledade with the goal of building a new model of primary care – one that’s good for patients, good for doctors and good for our society. In just three years, we have brought this new model to more than 200 practices across 17 states – practices who collectively care for more than a million patients. We have brought it to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) as well as other payers including Medicaid, Medicare Advantage and commercial health plans.

Our model isn’t easy. It combines both on-the-ground support and a cutting-edge technology platform – one that works with over 60 electronic health records. But it also requires sweat equity – investments of valuable time and effort by our dedicated partner practices and Aledade staff. So, it’s important that we take a close look at how we define success. To us, it’s always been a clear but challenging metric: is what we are doing good for patients, good for doctors, and good for the health system?

For patients, Aledade emphasizes more personal, preventive, and coordinated care – the quality of care that you’d want for your own mother or father. In 2016, both of our ACOs from 2015 improved their quality measures for things like controlling blood pressure and ensuring vaccinations and screenings. Our ACOs, overall, are improving their quality scores, and their patients are taking note. In a recent Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey, Aledade physicians were rated by their patients at an average of 9.3 on a scale of 0 to 10 – above the average for the over 400 MSSP ACOs.

Our practices are doing the right things. They are delivering many more preventive and primary visits, they are reaching out to patients to help them with transitions from hospital to home, they are, for the first time, hiring care coordinators who help those who need extra help. And it works. In every Aledade ACO– not just those that earned shared savings—avoidable emergency room visits dropped, readmissions plummeted, preventable hospitalizations from congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and pulmonary disease fell. Collectively, our ACOs prevented more than 1,500 hospitalizations. Aledade ACO practices are giving their patients better care – and we hear it in their stories, and we see it in the data.

Second, we want to make sure that what we’re doing is good for health care providers. Being part of an ACO has to be valuable, and sustainable, for our partner practices. In a time of increasing consolidation and a health care market that often doesn’t foster real competition, our goal is to help independent primary care practices thrive, and our partner practices succeed in value-based care.

Aledade ACO practices provide more – and more intense – primary care. By conducting more annual wellness visits, helping patients through transitions of care, and implementing chronic care management programs, our practices are seeing a return for their work. By implementing value-based care and practices transformation initiatives, our ACOs redirected health care dollars toward primary care and away from hospitals and emergency care. That is, our practices delivered better care and kept people healthier. The health of their practices did not suffer; in fact, they thrived.

And it’s important to note that they saw these returns in health and the bottom line while also lowering costs for society as a whole. That’s our third target for success.

During the 2016 performance period , Aledade’s ACOs – comprising 142 practices with over 80,000 patients in 11 states (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) – saved Medicare more than $9.3 million. Five of our seven ACOs came in under the benchmark set by Medicare, and one was right at benchmark. Two of these – in West Virginia and Florida – exceeded the savings threshold so that Medicare will be sending them a shared savings check. We couldn’t be happier for those practices and the teams that support them, and we’re proud to be their partners.

Proud, but not satisfied.

If not for historically-low rates of inflation nationwide and the idiosyncratic way Medicare measures savings, many more of our ACOs would have earned savings. In Delaware, for example, we reduced costs by a whopping 3.3 percent over last year, and we’re on track to do even better in 2017. In fact, research shows that the savings from ACOs are generally undervalued. ACOs should be rewarded based on whether they improved care and lowered costs more than their local competitors – not a nationwide average. We’ve already proposed some improvements to the way that ACOs are measured.

Medicare also offers a regional inflation update to ACOs in their second three-year contract, which means young ACOs face uncertain market dynamics, but ACOs like many of ours, approaching that second contract, will have more accurate benchmarks. The combination of regional inflation for historical costs and regional benchmarking for this year’s costs reward ACOs that have bent the cost curve persistently in their regions, and have the patience and resources to plan for the long term.

The simple answer is that transforming health care just isn’t a simple thing. It takes a lot of work, a lot of creativity, some patience, and some time. But it works. Studies show that the proportion of ACOs that earn savings nearly doubles from year one to year four. We already have data that our ACOs are performing well in their regions. And with our new partnerships with commercial payers and Medicare Advantage, we’re finding new ways to promote value-based care for independent, primary care practices.

We’re on the right track. Our partner practices are taking the right steps. And the data for 2016 proves it. Despite all you hear about our broken health care system, Aledade practices and our staff are working day in and day out to transform health care in our country so that it delivers better care and lowers costs. That’s why Aledade exists. It’s why we’re so committed to our work. And I’m thrilled to see it’s bearing fruit.

It’s hard to stay healthy if you don’t have a place to call home.

That’s what we learned firsthand, when one of our patients came in for his annual wellness visit.

Thanks to Aledade, we’ve been doing a lot more of these AWVs. They give us a chance to have a conversation with our patients that’s not just about the test or procedure or illness they came in for that day. They help us see the full picture of the patient’s health. Thanks to Aledade’s care management trainings and real-time data and analytics from the Aledade app, we know which patients we need to see for an AWV, and how to work with them when they arrive.

Our patient that day was wheelchair bound, so we asked how his social situation was. Sometimes patients in a wheelchair can get to feeling a bit lonely. In the course of the conversation, though, this patient told us that he had recently lost his home. The waiting list for housing assistance stretched out for three years. In the meantime, the only place he could stay was a shed in his friend’s backyard.

As a care management team, we knew we had to do something.

Housing is such an important part of good health. The National Council on Health Care for the Homeless covers a few reasons for this. A clean, dry and safe environment supports good personal hygiene, the storage of medication, and safety from people and the weather. A private space lets a patient establish stable personal relationships, and have good social interactions with other people. Importantly for us as health care professionals, a patient with a place of their own is more likely to stick with a treatment plan, eat meals regularly, and show up on time for appointments. And housing reduces anxiety and the impact of stress-related illnesses.

Aledade’s practice transformation specialist Connie Perkins and I knew that a three-year wait was too long. So we spent countless hours on the phone with the state’s resources for homeless and disabled persons. Tooele is a rural community. We don’t have that many resources for housing, but after a lot of work and some persistence, we did it.

We were able to find housing for this patient in Wendover. Even though Wendover’s a two hour drive away from our town, the patient was thrilled to have a home of his own. He even started looking for work around his new place.

Thanks to an annual wellness visit – supported by the training, technology, and partnership of Aledade – we helped our patient get healthier, by finding a place to call his own.

In about two weeks, I’m joining the team at Aledade as Chief Administrative Officer – largely because three years ago, I went through a health scare.

It wasn’t me; it was my then 86-year-old father. And what started with a short-term crisis dragged out into a long-term battle with our dysfunctional health care system.

For two years, my dad bounced between doctors, hospitalists and specialists. We never got a clear picture of his health or the care he was getting. His doctors rarely talked to one another, rarely gave him much time and I couldn’t talk to them to understand it all.

At the same time, this was happening while I worked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tasked with running the entire Medicare program. I couldn’t help but put our situation into a broader context: if this frustrating and frightening ordeal could happen to my dad- a brilliant lawyer who was on the Law Review at Penn — and his son who ran the world’s largest insurer, what was it like for other families who didn’t have our resources and our knowledge of how to navigate this confusing health care system?

Fortunately, we were saved by a good quarterback – someone who could take a step back and look at the entire field of my father’s health. For an entire hour, a geriatrician sat with my father just to talk with him. He got a sense of his health conditions, what was giving him the most trouble, and the serpentine path he had taken to get help.

The doctor set up a care plan with him, and took a close look at his medications. When we focused on one drug in particular, my father pointed out that studies had shown it was relatively effective. “That’s true,” the doctor said, “until about 75 years of age.” My dad was taking medication that stopped being effective – and possibly became harmful to him — about ten years ago. In the end, we cleared out about half of my father’s prescriptions. It was as if a switch had been thrown. Over the next few months, my dad returned to the person we knew.

Value-based health care, directed by empowered, independent primary care physicians, is what my father and I needed then. Today, everyone agrees it’s what we all need now.

We need primary care physicians to be the stewards of care, guiding patients through this confusing health care system like the captains of a ship – always pointed to the north star of better health. We need a health care system that doesn’t focus on how many procedures or prescriptions patients get, but on how well their doctors keep them healthy. When those priorities are misaligned, that’s when our health care system doesn’t work. I know, because that’s what my father and I saw firsthand.

I’m joining Aledade because I know the team here is working with incredible physicians best situated to chart that path to value-based care. For years at CMS, I looked at the results and dove into the data – I saw that the future of health care will be led by primary care physicians with the autonomy to act in their patients’ best interests. I saw this potential for success across commercial plans, Medicare Advantage, and traditional Medicare – and Aledade’s covering all of these.

At Medicare, my focus was on the operational integrity of a program that provides insurance for more than 55 million Americans. I worked to ensure the program was run efficiently and responsibly for the taxpayers, and that we kept focused on our strategic goals of improving care and reducing costs. That’s what I’m most excited to do here at Aledade. My focus will be making sure the trains run on time – that our hardworking teams are valued and supported, and that we’re helping our partner practices along every step of this journey.

I’m also joining Aledade because there’s a unique mix of purpose and people in this place. I came from public service, and I wanted to join an organization with a mission that’s bigger than profits or short-term returns. Aledade lives its mission every single day.

I also was lucky to work at CMS with some of the most brilliant people in health policy who were also great colleagues. And I see those same qualities here at Aledade. Thanks to the hard work of so many people, Aledade partners with more than 200 primary care practices in 17 states to actively manage the care of nearly a quarter of a million patients. I can’t wait to be a part of the team that’s building the leading model for a health system that’s good for patients, good for doctors, and good for society.

The comment period for Medicare’s proposed rule on the Quality Payment Program closed last night, so as usual we’ll take this opportunity to share our full comments on the proposed updates to how Medicare shapes the path to a value-based future.

August 21, 2017

Seema Verma, Administrator

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

7500 Security Blvd

Baltimore, MD 21244

 

Re:       CMS-5522-P: Medicare Program, CY 2018 Updates to the Quality Payment Program

 

Dear Administrator Verma:

Aledade partners with 205 primary care physician practices, FQHCs and RHCs in value-based health care. Organized into 16 accountable care organizations across 15 states, these primary care physicians are accountable for more than 190,000 Medicare beneficiaries. More than half of our primary care providers are in practices with fewer than 10 clinicians. We are committed to outcome based approaches to determine the value of health care. We are committed to using technology, data, practice transformation expertise and most importantly the relationship between a person and their primary care physician to improve the value of health care.

Creating a path for independent practices to thrive in the transition to value-driven health care

  • Whole hearted endorsement of the inclusion of “the preservation of independent practices as a guiding principle for the Quality Payment Program (QPP)”
  • Virtual groups provide a needed step on the path to transition to value-driven health care by allowing independent practices to come together for QPP even if they are not ready to take on the total cost of care
  • Virtual groups are part of the path to value-driven health care that must be carefully crafted to be attractive to independent physicians
  • The low volume threshold proposal leaves too much of the Medicare spend and therefore too many Medicare beneficiaries out of the program. We recommend that no more than 10 percent of the Medicare Part B spend should ever be excluded from QPP.

Measuring QPP performance and reducing administrative burden

  • We recommend that the cost category for total cost of care be included for 2018.
  • We recommend that the AAPM bonus move forward a year with bonuses earned in 2018 paid in early 2019 or even in 2018 itself
  • We recommend that CMS value simplicity and minimizing administrative burden above other characteristics of the all-payer determination for APMs

Below is a full explanation of those positions. Thank you for your consideration as we move together through this exciting time in health care. Please feel free to contact Travis Broome (travis@aledade.com) if you or your staff have questions or would like to explore these positions further.

Sincerely,

/s/

Farzad Mostashari, MD

CEO and Co-Founder, Aledade, Inc

Independent Physicians Thriving in Transition to Value

Principle of Independent Practice

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of CMS’s inclusion of the preservation of independent practices as a principle of the QPP. Independent physician practices have proven to be the most successful in accountable care[1] and key to maintaining competitive health care markets.[2] The same characteristics that make the independent physician practices successful also make this principle particularly challenging for CMS to deliver on. Physicians must feel the change in their practice. There is no board room in small practices where a government affairs team will explain slight tweaks in policy that increase revenue by a half a percentage point. The preservation of independent practice in QPP will be felt by CMS’s continuous effort to reduce the administrative burden of participation in QPP through technology, policy and measure design and a continuous effort to link performance with incentives as tightly as possible.

Virtual Groups

We support CMS’s proposal for virtual groups. CMS specifically asked for comment on several additional requirements for virtual groups. We do not believe that at the onset it is advisable to set additional standards on virtual groups. We recommend the following principles to guide CMS’s finalization of the virtual groups.

  • Voluntary election by physicians to be in a virtual group prior to the start of the performance year
  • Agree to work together to improve their performance in QPP
  • Must agree to be scored on quality
  • Can elect to be scored on
    • Clinical Practice Improvement Activities
    • Advancing Care Information
    • Resource Use
  • Can utilize any reporting method including Group Practice Reporting Option (GPRO)
  • Identify to CMS the officer responsible for the virtual group’s reporting
  • The virtual group is responsible for ensuring group reporting (i.e. CMS should not be responsible for aggregating the data across practices except in the area of resource use and other claims based measures)

CMS has proposed that all virtual groups would be scored on all categories as a group. We believe that this could be a limiting approach. For example, it would dissuade any virtual group from admitting members who do have 2014 Certified EHR Technology due to the effects on the advancing care information score.

Finally, we recommend that CMS allow third-party entities to organize and report for QPP on behalf of smaller practices. The practices making up the virtual group should not be required to manage this process internally.

Successful Transition to Value Based Care

We continue to work together with CMS to define a path that both transitions to value based health care and preserves independence.

It is helpful to remember what the path looked like just 5 years ago:

These are all huge leaps. First, physicians must take responsibility for total cost of care in a way they never had before. Second, they must take on a level of risk that could ruin an independent practice. Third, they must develop health insurance operations. The size of those leaps simply prevents many physicians from taking the next step.

Today, with the proposal in this rule for virtual groups the path looks more achievable:

With this proposed rule CMS has smoothed out the move from FFS to total cost of care. In prior regulations, CMS made incremental progress on the move from one-sided risk to two-sided risk. While not specifically for this regulation, we recommend a path to CMS that bases risk on the financial wherewithal of the participants in the total cost of care model and lets physicians move to Medicare Advantage to assume full risk without the burden of claims processing and network development. Our recommendations for the former can be found in the blog for the American Journal of Managed Care[3] and for the latter in the blog for Health Affairs[4].

Our recommended path is:

We believe this path is ideal for encouraging independent practices to continue to make the transition to value based care where they have proven they can succeed at all levels in various pockets of the county. We know they can succeed not just here and there, but in nearly every health care market in the country.

Low Volume Threshold

CMS has proposed to raise the low-volume threshold to exclude individual MIPS-eligible clinicians or groups who bill less than $90,000 Part B billing OR provide care for less than 200 Part B enrolled beneficiaries. We do not support raising the low-volume threshold, and recommend maintaining the current policy of excluding clinicians or groups who bill less than $30,000 to Part B or care for less than 100 Part B enrolled beneficiaries.

In the transition year final rule, CMS estimated that about 32.5 percent of providers would be exempt from MIPS because they do not meet the low-volume threshold, but the number of providers actually exempted for 2017 was higher than anticipated. The increased low-volume threshold creates an arbitrary cut-off for performance in the MIPS program without first assessing the impact of the current low-volume threshold on Part B providers. CMS should continue to transition a greater percentage of total Medicare spend away from fee-for-service to payment arrangements that account for quality, cost, and patient outcomes, rather than further reducing the number of providers eligible to participate.

Further, the modified threshold would mean that some clinicians who were eligible to participate in 2017 will be excluded from MIPS in 2018. We recommend that CMS extend the option for clinicians to voluntary participate in MIPS reporting in 2018 for a performance score and performance-based payment adjustment.  Clinicians who made investments and preparations to participate in MIPS during the transition year should not lose out on the opportunity to earn a positive payment adjustment in 2018.

QPP Measurement AAPM Determination

Resource Use Category

Aledade supports a transition to value-based payments that hold providers accountable for patient experience, quality of care, and total cost. By statute, in the QPP’s third performance year, the cost performance category must be weighted at 30 percent and the MIPS performance benchmark must be set at either the mean or the median score of all MIPS participants. Introducing cost performance into the MIPS score should be done incrementally, rather than creating a steep cliff from 0 percent weight in PY2 to 30 percent in PY3. Therefore, Aledade does not support reweighting the cost performance category to 0 percent of the final score, and recommends this category be weighted to at least 10 percent of the final score.

Measuring cost is an integral part of measuring value because clinicians play an important role in managing care so as to avoid unnecessary services. We appreciate the ongoing CMS efforts to better align the episode cost measures across programs and to better attribute beneficiaries to specialists for purposes of QPP. However, the lack of finality in these efforts should not slow the inclusion of total cost of care in QPP for 2018.

 

Aligning the AAPM 5 Percent Incentive with Action

Currently, a physician chooses to join an AAPM in the summer of 2017 (CMS’s 2018 deadline for the Medicare Shared Savings Program was July 31st), they participate during 2018, they receive their performance in the AAPM in August of 2019 and then they receive their lump sum bonus for participation in the AAPM in May of 2020. Almost three years have passed between a physician’s decision to join an AAPM and the reward for that decision.

When we talk to physicians about AAPM participation they naturally assume that since the 5 percent is contingent only on participation that they will receive the bonus in not May of 2020, but May of 2018 or even sooner. More than one physician has naturally assumed that the bonus would come January 1, 2018. Every minute explaining why this isn’t the case is a minute spent decreasing the likelihood of AAPM participation, the very thing Congress funded the 5 percent bonus to incentivize. While we understand that not all AAPM models require full year participation and therefore within-year bonuses may not be possible, CMS should explore every proxy to bring action and incentive as close together as possible. At a minimum, CMS should use the same year for the QP determination period and the claims period to pay out the bonus the year following participation. So in 2018 participation in AAPM would pay the 5 percent bonus in May 2019 based on the 2018 claims instead of May 2020 based on 2019 claims. To have the bonus for mere participation come seven months after the savings for actual performance in the AAPM strikes physicians as so backwards that it calls into question the credibility of the AAPM itself and negates the positive effects of the 5 percent bonus.

 

All-Payer AAPM Determinations

As members of the Healthcare Transformation Taskforce (www.hcttf.org), we worked closely with other health care providers, health plans, patient groups and health care payers to make recommendations on this area and we would refer you to those comments for the details.

In our comment letter, we want to emphasize the importance the health care providers place on the simplicity of this process. We do not desire to impose a high administrative burden on either health plans or on CMS in order to make the all-payer AAPM determinations. In this case, we would recommend that CMS value simplicity over every other characteristic of this program.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1600142#t=article

[2] https://www.brookings.edu/research/making-health-care-markets-work-competition-policy-for-health-care/

[3] http://www.ajmc.com/contributor/travis-broome/2016/03/changing-stop-loss-formula-can-drive-interest-in-risk-based-models

[4] http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/07/06/spurring-provider-entry-into-medicare-advantage/

It was my second day at Aledade when someone told me to get out.

I thought it was a bit early to be fired, but the new colleague sounded convincing enough. I assumed they knew what they were doing.

Luckily, this wasn’t some drastic HR move. It was the first of many times that I’d hear, “You have to get out into the field. Go visit a practice.”

It’s a mantra here at Aledade. Everyone, even the current and former health care professionals on staff, seemed to have a story of the first time they visited one of Aledade’s partner practices. They all said that setting foot in a practice is the best way to find out what works, what doesn’t, and to get a sense of just how challenging and rewarding it is to work in an independent primary care practice today.

So when I first got the chance to visit Kansas, tagging along with New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo as he worked on his new piece about Aledade’s work, I hopped on a flight to Wichita.

Before joining Aledade, I worked on the public affairs team at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We promoted Open Enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace, talked about programs like Head Start, and got key messages out to the public about health threats like Ebola, Zika, and the opioid epidemic. But there was one story we kept coming back to – the future of health care.

We saw it every time we heard from doctors, and every time the Secretary visited a practice. Data had opened up new frontiers. Patients now had the tools to get engaged in their own care. And payment systems focused on value were starting to reward physicians who kept their patients healthy. There was a palpable sense that you could deliver better care and start to lower costs.

It seemed like everything was pointing down this path. Policymakers from both sides of the aisle saw the promise in this new approach. MACRA, the law that changed Medicare’s payment system into one that rewards the value of care, passed the Senate nearly unanimously and the House overwhelmingly. And down the street at HHS, the Department made a historic commitment – saying that, by 2018, half of all payments in Medicare would be payments that rewarded the value of care, not the old fee for service system.

But it wasn’t until I visited Aledade’s partner practices in Kansas that I realized how far down the path these health care professionals already were.

On Wednesday, the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo published his piece, and he captured this well. “Thanks to Aledade,” Farhad wrote, “the [Kansas] practices’ finances had improved and their patients were healthier. On every significant measure of health care costs, the Aledade method appeared to have reduced wasteful spending.”

Here’s an example of how they were keeping patients healthy:

For example, say you’re a doctor at a small practice in rural Kansas and one of your patients, a 67-year-old man with heart disease, has just gone to the emergency room.

“In the past, we’d only find out our patients were at the hospital maybe weeks afterward,” said Dr. Bryan Dennett, who runs the Family Care Center in Winfield, Kan., with medical partner, Dr. Bryan Davis. With Aledade, Dr. Dennett is now alerted immediately, so “we can call them when they’re at the emergency room and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing there? Come back here, we can take care of you!”

The care management team at Ashley Clinic talks with Farhad.

At Ashley Clinic in Chanute, I saw a larger care team tackle an even larger patient population. As one care manager said, “before, we had the doctor and the patient; a point A and a point C. But there was no one to serve as point B. That’s changed today.”

Two of Ashley Clinic’s patients – a husband and wife – agreed. Both said the care they got now was much better than anywhere they had been before. “We don’t know what an ACO is,” they said. “But we know we hear from our doctor more. And we like that.”

Most importantly, by talking to the care teams and doctors in these practices, I learned that I had been wrong. Value-based care isn’t some new future in the distance; it’s more of a homecoming. As one doctor told me, “This is why I became a doctor in the first place.”

But getting home isn’t always easy.

It’s taking new ways of thinking – focusing on finding the highest risk patients, keeping a close eye on them through chronic care programs, following up with patients as they leave the hospital, and ensuring that patients are going to the most efficient and effective specialists.

While it asks for more time and effort on the part of doctors and care teams, who already put in countless hours caring for patients, the destination is worth the jounrey. And thanks to Aledade’s technology, dedicated support staff in the field, and some inspiring health care professionals, you can find better health care right down a long stretch of Kansas road.

There aren’t too many opportunities when you can get the present and the future of primary care in the same room. But that’s exactly what we found at the Louisiana Academy of Family Physicians’ Annual Conference.

Emma Lisec and Nadine Robin at the Aledade booth

On Wednesday afternoon, we arrived at the historic Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans – Nadine Robin, Aledade’s Southeast Executive Director, and me, Aledade’s Fellow for the Southeast. We were caffeinated, excited and ready to join a massive room full of displays from local hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and specialty groups. We set up our booth, with Aledade’s slogan: “A New Model of Primary Care”, and we waited to see who would come through the doors.

Right on cue, as the conference’s main sessions took a break, the showcase room flooded with health care professionals from across Louisiana – independent doctors, curious hospital employees, even medical students from Louisiana State University. (Geaux Tigers!)

They dropped by a number of different booths, but kept lingering by ours, wondering what that “new model of primary care” actually meant. So Nadine explained: with MIPS, the new payment program created by the 2015 Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (or “MACRA”), quality reporting was taking center stage.

Small, independent practices are the key to that focus on quality. As our CEO Farzad Mostashari has pointed out, small, physician-owned practices offer more personalization for patients. They have lower average costs per patient, fewer preventable hospital admissions, and lower readmission rates than larger, independent- and hospital-owned practices. In other words, they’re in the best position to succeed.

Nadine explained how Aledade helps their independent partner practices report these quality measures all while maintaining their independence. I noticed that a few physicians’ ears perked up at this – the prospect of having a helpful guide through MACRA and MIPS seemed to be integral to their practices staying independent.

I remember one doctor in particular who pulled us aside. He felt like his clinic was short-staffed, and the pressure to sell his practice was only growing. Nadine and I listened to him, and explained that the whole purpose of Aledade is to help small, independent physicians like his stay independent – and thrive. But to do that, we have to start with an honest relationship. We weren’t going to pressure him into joining Aledade if it wasn’t going to be in the best interest of his practice and his patients. We agreed to pull his QRUR report and follow up to see if a partnership with Aledade would be his best step.

We also spoke with some of the physicians of tomorrow. A few medical students from LSU dropped by our booth, wondering what an ACO was. To many of them, the idea of opening their own independent practice seemed out of reach. The concept of a comprehensive approach to primary care, one where the independent practice is in the center of a high value network, sounded promising. They asked us if they could reach out to us later to get a better understanding of an ACO and value-based care.

Nadine and Matt Wheeler presenting at LAFP

That Friday morning, Nadine and Matt Wheeler, one of our inspiring Office Administrators from Bossier Family Medicine in Bossier City, gave a presentation about the new world of alternative payment models. They laid out the idea of value-based care – that physicians should be empowered to provide quality care, and rewarded for helping their patients stay healthy.

They explained what an ACO is – basically a group of health care professionals committed to the health and well-being of a specific group of patients. And they explained why this future – better health care at lower cost – was inevitable. It’s good for doctors, good for patients and good for society.

Nadine with Dr. Jose Mata, a family medicine doctor in New Iberia, LA

Nadine and Matt weren’t the only ones making the case for value-based care. A number of Aledade’s partner physicians in Louisiana were there too – each of them explaining to other doctors why value-based care works.

This whole move to a better health care system isn’t being led by any single practice or any single company, like Aledade. It’s a partnership – a network of practices who want to keep their patients healthy, and organizations working to help those practices succeed. Value-based care is the best model for today’s primary care physicians here in Louisiana, and tomorrow’s too.

Are conversations between doctors and patients the key to good health care? How well do doctors and patients actually talk to one another? In a 1984 study, Howard Beckman and Robert Frankel surveyed 74 practices and recorded how doctors listened and interacted with their patients. 77 percent of the time, physicians prevented their patients from completing an opening statement by asking questions about a specific concern. On average, it happened 18 seconds after the patient began talking.

Beckman and Frankel’s study was conducted in 1984, but the results resonated in a larger study by Lawrence Dyche and Deborah Swiderski in 2005. Physicians in that study asked a question during a patient’s opening statement in 72 percent of the visits, on average in 23 seconds. A quarter of doctors did not solicit patient questions at all.

The average doctor spends between 13 and 15 minutes with a patient. In only 15 minutes, the doctor and patient are supposed to discuss a full patient history, treatment plan and questions. The question at the root of this problem is why do doctors feel the need to rush?

The current fee-for-service system does not reward doctors for having long, detailed conversations with their patients. It incentivizes them to provide more treatments, because payment depends on quantity of care rather than quality of care. Understandably, this system is infuriating to both doctors and patients. However, the fee-for-service system is not the only healthcare model available to doctors.

At Aledade, we focus on helping doctors do their jobs the way that they want to – so that they can listen longer, ask deeper questions, and get more complete answers from patients without needing to rush through diagnoses and treatment plans. As you may have seen in some of our success stories on our blog we do this in many ways, most often by helping our partner practices effectively conduct Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs), Chronic Care Management (CCM), and Transitional Care Management (TCM). These stories highlight how value-based care and a patient-centered approach improves the patient-provider relationship and improves health outcomes.

Communication is the cornerstone of patient care. A report by the Joint Commission, an organization accredits healthcare programs and organizations,  found that  “communication failure was at the root of over 70 percent of serious adverse health outcomes in hospitals.”  Aledade partner practices have learned the value of good communication between a doctor and a patient.

In 2015, Aledade’s ACOs decreased emergency department (ED) visit rates by 6 to 7 percent. The ED visit rate for the Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) population increased by 2.4 percent. Hospitalization rates decreased by 5 to 7 percent, while hospitalization rates for Medicare FFS populations increased by 2.4 percent. And Aledade’s ACOs decreased readmissions by 7 to 11 percent. Across Medicare FFS, readmissions increased by 8 to 9 percent.  

What could account for the difference? For starters, AWV, TCM, and CCM all help  practices catch problems earlier, and provide more consistent care. Annual Wellness Visits help to decrease ED visit rates by helping physicians identify high-risk patients and give them the tools they need to avoid a trip to the emergency room, saving on costly hospital bills. Transitional Care Management lowers readmission rates by helping patients stay out of the hospital when they’ve been discharged from the hospital.he Chronic Care Management program provides high risk patients with intensive ongoing care management support that decreases adverse health events, decreases readmissions and improves self-management skills.

If a provider has the space and time to listen to their patients, they can lay the foundation for mutually trusting and beneficial relationships. This trusting relationship is a key component in providing value-based care as it improves patient satisfaction and health outcomes. It all starts with a conversation, and it is more important than ever to really listen.

Natanya 2

Natanya

At this week’s all-staff meeting, our CEO Farzad Mostashari repeated one phrase again and again. “At Aledade,” he said, “we’re thinking long term.”  

Our work at Aledade helps physicians, patients, and society today, but we’re always looking ahead three years, six years, and even more. A focus on the future resonates in our values and the work we do every day.  In fact, the Aledade Fellows program is born from this long-term thinking. By joining the Aledade team as recent graduates or current students, we have the opportunity to learn what it takes to be the value-based health care champions of the future.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s new book, Prescription for the Future is similarly forward-thinking. In it, he argues for a positive prognosis for the U.S. health care system – but a prognosis that relies on disseminating a variety of transformational practices to raise the quality and lower the cost of health care.  

At Aledade, we partner with practices to implement these high-value practices every day.  Chronic care management that cares for a whole patient. Wellness visits that take into account a patient’s experience outside the doctor’s office. Referral management that steers patients to high-value specialists. And transitional care management that eases a patient’s discharge from the hospital. These are all initiatives that Aledade undertakes today. They’re practices we’ll keep improving on with an eye toward the future.

What Prescription for the Future offers us, as young people involved in the transformative work that Dr. Emanuel describes, is an understanding of Aledade within the greater context of the movement toward a value-based health care system. His book reminds us that the work we do is integral to that  movement, and that we are not alone in looking to the future.

But I wasn’t the only fellow who learned some valuable lessons from Dr. Emanuel’s work. Below are some additional insights from three Aledade fellows:

 

MargotMargot

In chapter eight, Dr. Emanuel asks the question, “Is transformed healthcare transferable?” In other words, can we replicate high-value care success stories across the country?

He points to factors such as cultural, social, and economic histories as the primary barriers to transferring care. Considering these barriers, it seems to me an organization like Aledade is uniquely positioned to transfer high-value care to patients across the country. With a large network focused on collecting quality data, Aledade is equipped to identify successful ideas and scale them among its partner practices. Coupled with this, and equally essential, is Aledade’s emphasis on local physician leadership.

Our partner practices have the independence and flexibility to adopt successful ideas in ways that fit their communities. Care management in Mississippi is not the same care management performed in New York. Ultimately, practices are accountable for the care of their patients, and practices have the grassroots knowledge to transform care for their patients.

 

Doug Streat1 - Edit

Doug

At Aledade, as in health care in general, we have a tendency to use industry buzzwords to describe what we do. Phrases like “value-based” and “patient-centered (and, scarier yet, our alphabet soup of acronyms like ACO, AAPM, CCM) dominate our conversations. This isn’t necessarily bad—we love our work—but it can be hard to explain exactly what is that we do, and why we do it. Dr. Emanuel’s Prescription for the Future is as much a formula for transformation as it is a chronicle of stories that clearly explain the future we are working to achieve.

The future we envision is good for patients. It is one where patients like Miss Harris in chapter one don’t need six providers to manage their care or, if they do, receive seamless care coordination among these providers. The future we imagine is one where patients have ready access to community interventions, like Mr. Downs in chapter six did. The future we are creating is one where primary care providers are so readily available, that their patients don’t need to go to the ED as often.

The future is good for providers, too. The future we are striving for stands on strong technological infrastructure that supports, but does not replace, the work of medical providers, as discussed in chapter seven. The future we seek is one where primary care providers can create improved care and improved bottom line at the same time, as one of our partners in West Virginia, Julie DeTemple, reported to us when she spoke at our all-staff retreat this May.

These transformations, and the others Dr. Emanuel writes about, will help stabilize health care costs and improve practices at a systemic level. In so doing, we hope to build a future that is good for society, too.

 

KellyKelly

As a widely-contested health care reform proposal dominates national news coverage, reading Dr. Zeke Emmanuel’s “Prescription for the Future” was both uplifting and insightful. Each day since I started at Aledade, I have gained a deeper understanding of the United States’ health care system. But arguably the most important thing that I have taken away is a new perspective on the future of health care.

Working alongside a passionate team dedicated to value-based care, a team that is growing every day, has shown me that health care providers are constantly innovating to improve the quality of care delivered nationwide.

I found the chapter on “Transforming Physician Office Infrastructure” particularly interesting and enjoyed reading the section about measuring and releasing unblinded physician performance data. Dr. Emanuel’s explanation of the effectiveness in releasing this data lies in the principle of peer comparisons, from behavioral economics. Physicians, like all humans, are wired to avoid embarrassment in front of their peers, so releasing unblinded data on their performance motivates changes in underperformance. In one story that Dr. Emanuel features, a physician notes:

“As soon as the system started generating data, I remember my own thought was, ‘This is silly. I know I am going to do great on this performance review.’ And then I saw my data. Holy cow, not nearly as good as I thought. Knowing made me realize, ‘Hey we’ve got to be sharing this data.’ But more importantly made me ask, ‘Who is doing the best?’ I need to look at that person and say, ‘What are you doing? How do you do it so well?’” (p.83)

By looking at positive outliers in performance data and assessing what exactly these outliers do better, providers can deliver better care as individuals and practices. That’s why, at Aledade, we analyze and provide quality metric performance and cost data to our providers, both at the ACO and the practice level. We take this one step further by providing practice support through a field team that works directly with practices to decrease their total cost of care and achieve higher quality performance.

My favorite part about working at Aledade is hearing provider success stories, like the one above that Dr. Emanuel features, shared by our field team after implementing Aledade’s resources in our ACO practices. They prove to me that health care professionals around the country are already making incredible progress, and building the future of health care today.

 

Natanya

Natanya

It is not always easy to explain Aledade’s work, and our work as Aledade Fellows, to our family and friends. With healthcare news dominating the airwaves and Twitter feeds recently, it can be tough to make clear how Aledade fits into all of these changes.  

While the answers to these questions are complex, the goal of everyone involved in the value-based transformation is relatively simple: We want to see a future with lower health care costs and higher quality care. At Aledade, we achieve that by partnering with practices and physicians to make that transition from volume toward value.

After all, an alidade is a device used for determining direction. In our case, we’re aiming our sights on a future with better outcomes for patients, providers, and society. Prescription for the Future has given us a peek into where others are aiming their sights. After reading it, I believe we’re not the only ones thinking long term, and that when we converge on the future, it’s going to be bright.