Policy Watch

A recent report credited the provider push to embrace alternatives to fee-for-service payment as contributing to its finding that family healthcare costs increased by nearly the smallest rate in the index’s history.

June 21—A Senate committee next week plans the first in a series of hearings focused on ways to reduce healthcare costs.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee plans a June 27 hearing titled “How to Reduce Health Care Costs: Understanding the Cost of Health Care in America.”

It was billed as a chance for senators to develop a common understanding of healthcare spending—who is spending the money, what it is being spent on, when in a person’s life does he or she spend the most, and into which sectors the money goes.

“The United States has the most innovative health care system in the world, but it is also the most complex, and too often Americans struggle to understand the system and plan for and afford their health care,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a written statement. “These hearings will explore why Americans spend so much on health care and how to reduce those costs.”

Alexander’s recent efforts to reduce healthcare costs included a June 15 letter to the Trump administration urging, among other steps, greater flexibility in state rules for individual insurance.

Earlier this week, two other members of the HELP Committee clashed at a healthcare forum over the fate of the Affordable Care Act but agreed that improved transparency could increase the affordability of health care. Both senators, Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), are part of a bipartisan six-senator group in discussions to write a wide-ranging healthcare transparency bill.

The hearing will feature several healthcare finance advisers, including Melinda Buntin, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Ashish Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The panel also will hear from Niall Brennan, president and executive director of the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI). In early 2018, HCCI issued a high-profile reportthat concluded that price hikes in a recent five-year period—and not utilization—drove healthcare spending. The research concluded that the spending growth in those years was due almost entirely to price increases, with especially large increases for administered drugs, emergency department (ED) visits, and surgical hospital admissions. The report also identified much higher hospital price increases in that period than identified by others.

The HCCI data looked at a narrow slice of the U.S. healthcare system and did not reflect overall price and spending trends, other researchers noted.

Buntin was among those who previously noted in comments to HFMA News that such research is unable to capture the increasing intensity of services provided in places like hospitals.

The hearing comes a month after the release of the 2018 Milliman Medical Index (MMI), which measures the cost of health care for a typical American family of four receiving coverage from an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) plan. In 2018, family costs were projected to increase by 4.5 percent, which would approach the lowest rate on record. The 2017 increase of 4.3 percent was the lowest in the MMI’s 18-year history, and “points to the recent deceleration in healthcare cost increases,” according to the report.

“[M]any stakeholders credit the involvement of healthcare providers with the more recent strides in reducing healthcare cost trends,” the MMI report stated. “Various approaches to involving providers in controlling costs (including value-based reimbursement, risk-sharing arrangements, and the increasing prevalence of commercial accountable care organizations [ACOs]) were frequently cited as contributors to the decline in growing rates.”

Sunday, June 24

HFMA’s Annual Conference (formerly known as ANI) in Las Vegas (through June 27). Learn more.

AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting (through June 26). Learn more.

Monday, June 25

Deadline to submit comments on the Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System proposed rule. Learn more.

Tuesday, June 26

Address at the Heritage Foundation by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on free-market principles in health care. Learn more.

Votes by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on several healthcare bills. Learn more.

Vote by the House Appropriations Committee on the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. Learn more.

Hearing by the Senate Finance Committee titled “Prescription Drug Affordability and Innovation: Addressing Challenges in Today’s Market.” Learn more.

Hearing by the House Veterans Affairs Committee titled “VA Electronic Health Record Modernization: The Beginning of the Beginning.” Learn more.

Deadline for responses to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) request for information on whether to make data sharing a condition of participation in Medicare programs. Learn more.

Webinar by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) titled “Combat the Opioid Epidemic With Evidenced-based Analytics.” Learn more.

Webinar sponsored by CAQH CORE titled “The Role of Interoperability in Value-based Payment, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Perspective.” Learn more.

Wednesday, June 27

Confirmation hearing by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on the secretary-nominee. Learn more.

Hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee titled “Examining the Administration’s Government-wide Reorganization Plan.” Learn more.

Online summit by the Food and Drug Administration on opioids. Learn more.

Webinar by CMS titled “Navigating EHR Reports for CY 2018 Hospital eCQM Reporting.” Learn more.

Webinar by AHIP titled “HSAs/HDHPs: Here to Stay?” Learn more.

Web conference by the Advisory Board titled “Deriving the full benefit of a preferred post-acute network.” Learn more.

Thursday, June 28

Webinar by HFMA titled “The Impact of Market Structure on Total Cost of Care.” Learn more.

Webcast by the American Journal of Managed Care titled “Implementing Alternative Payment Models for Improved Population Health: Experiences From the OCM.” Learn more.

Webcast by Mercer titled “New Opportunities for Association Health Plans.” Learn more.


Rich Daly is a senior writer/editor in HFMA’s Washington, D.C., office. Follow Rich on Twitter: @rdalyhealthcare

Publication Date: Friday, June 22, 2018