Social Determinants of Health

Various Components Play Important Role in Companies’ Definition, Demonstration of Drugs’ Value

As prices for health care services, especially drugs, continue to be under the microscope of public scrutiny, life sciences companies are under pressure now more than ever to make sure that they can demonstrate the value of their products. But this may be easier said than done, as a patient’s perception of value may be quite different than, for example, that of a payer. But these conversations are starting to happen and need to continue to evolve and include all industry stakeholders to truly incorporate value into the equation, say life sciences experts.

According to Daniel C. Lane, Pharm.D., Ph.D., director of US Access Marketing-Customer & Portfolio Value Generation for Bristol Myers Squibb, “Value is something that’s very individualized…If you think about value on a conceptual level, it’s a benefit being received over some type of value-assessment measure…At the elemental level, that’s what we as a life science industry are really trying to understand — how do we communicate that?”

Medicaid Plans Get Ready for Yearlong Postpartum Care

State Medicaid programs now have the option of applying to CMS to expand postpartum coverage for parents who have just given birth to 12 months, up from the default 60 days of coverage. Medicaid MCOs in states that have opted into the expanded coverage tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that they are taking steps to get ready for the new coverage and anticipate better outcomes for both new parents and new children as a result of the program.

Maternal mortality rates in the United States are disturbingly high compared to other developed countries — in 2018, 17 women per 100,000 live births died, compared to three in the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand, per the Commonwealth Fund — and the U.S. is the only developed country to see that rate increase in recent years. Most of those deaths were preventable.

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Health Insurers Invest Billions in Affordable Housing Projects

Health care organizations across the country have poured billions into housing investments in recent years: In the past month, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth Group both announced investments of over $100 million in affordable housing projects. Several health plans tell AIS Health that while they do expect a modest return on investment or reduction in costs from their efforts, they mostly see these expenditures as an act of altruism in line with their missions as stewards of public health.

According to the organizations themselves, total capital allocations to affordable housing investments by Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealth Group and CVS Health Corp. amount to approximately $1.65 billion combined. A large portion of those funds are allocated to finance investments in affordable housing through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), a financial instrument rolled out by the federal government in the late 1980s and early 1990s to encourage investment by the private sector in affordable housing.

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Despite Growth, Barriers Remain to Driving MA Benefit Innovation

Innovative, mostly non-medical supplemental benefits have seen tremendous growth in the few years the Medicare Advantage program has allowed them. But that growth is still from a base of zero, and industry experts suggest that numerous barriers are keeping adoption of these new supplemental benefits at a relatively slow pace.

Starting with plan year 2019, MA organizations began offering a wider range of benefits such as Adult Day Care and In-Home Support Services thanks to CMS’s reinterpretation of the definition of “primarily health-related supplemental benefits.” And with the passage of the CHRONIC Care Act of 2018, MA plans in 2020 began offering Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI), a category of “non-primarily health related” items and services that can be made available to certain beneficiaries.

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Despite Growth, Barriers Remain to Driving Benefit Innovation

Innovative, mostly non-medical supplemental benefits have seen tremendous growth in the few years the Medicare Advantage program has allowed them. But that growth is still from a base of zero, and industry experts suggest that numerous barriers are keeping adoption of these new supplemental benefits at a relatively slow pace.

Starting with plan year 2019, MA organizations began offering a wider range of benefits such as Adult Day Care and In-Home Support Services thanks to CMS’s reinterpretation of the definition of “primarily health-related supplemental benefits.” And with the passage of the CHRONIC Care Act of 2018, MA plans in 2020 began offering Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill (SSBCI), a category of “non-primarily health related” items and services that can be made available to certain beneficiaries.

News Briefs: Lawmakers Urge CMS to Rethink 8.5% Medicare Advantage Plan Rate Increase

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressive lawmakers wrote CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure asking the agency to reconsider recently finalized policies that would lead to an average revenue increase of 8.5% for Medicare Advantage plans next year. Citing the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s March 2022 Report to the Congress, lawmakers wrote that MA plans last year were paid 4% more per enrollee than fee-for-service Medicare, even though the program was designed to generate savings by paying insurers rates set at 95% of those used by FFS Medicare. “To preserve Medicare and its Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, we urge CMS to mitigate the announced payment increases for Medicare Advantage plans so they are on par with payments to fee-for-service Traditional Medicare and take additional steps to address overpayments and increase transparency in the Medicare Advantage program,” they wrote on April 20.

CareFirst Aims to Bolster Public Health With New Program, Exec

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, a not-for-profit payer serving a population of 5.3 million in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., has launched a new Public Health Infrastructure team and chosen a leader for its team: Djinge Lindsay, M.D.

CareFirst says its new public health initiative is all about improving health outcomes and health equity for its members. Lindsay tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that she and her team plan to leverage data and tackle the biggest barriers standing in the way of health equity.

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News Briefs: CMS Will Now Cover and Pay for Over-the-Counter COVID-19 tests for Medicare Enrollees

Effective April 4 and through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, Medicare will cover and pay for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost to people with Medicare Part B, including those enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. Through the new initiative, beneficiaries can obtain up to eight tests per month from participating pharmacies and health care providers, CMS said on April 4. The agency noted that this is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter self-administered test at no cost to beneficiaries.

UnitedHealth Group on March 29 said it will spend approximately $6 billion in cash to acquire LHC Group, Inc., a home health care company. If the deal goes as planned, LHC will be folded into UnitedHealth’s Optum division; the companies expect to complete the transaction in the second half of the year. The move will make UnitedHealth a major player in home care and hospice care, positioning it alongside rival Humana Inc., which purchased Kindred at Home last year.

Health Insurers Use Data Acumen to Tackle Health Disparities

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic’s deepening of disparities and the Biden administration’s own focus on the issue, health equity is undeniably top of mind for health insurers these days. But how can firms move beyond just appointing new C-suite officers or setting lofty mission statements — and instead weave equity initiatives into the fabric of their businesses?

To answer that question, payer executives during AHIP’s recent National Conference on Health Policy and Government Health Programs explained the business case for furthering health equity and how they’re marshaling processes like data analytics and vendor selections to achieve their goals.

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Health Care and Life Sciences Are Facing Headwinds, but Investors Remain Interested in Deals

Health care and life sciences (HCLS) organizations took a tremendous hit from COVID-19 and its secondary effects, including labor shortages, rising wages, supply chain problems and inflation. In addressing the challenge posed by the pandemic, these companies were able to produce impressive progress, not the least of which were the development and delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and tests for COVID. In addition, telehealth evolved quickly, producing new delivery models across multiple parts of the health care system.

But even when faced with multiple headwinds and more uncertainty, investors continue to compete for HCLS acquisitions. According to a recent KPMG LLP report, merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity across both sectors “bounced back with a vengeance” in 2021: 1,839 deals, not counting joint ventures, minority investments and venture funding. That’s up from 1,618 deals in 2020 and 1,543 deals in 2019.