A Novel Idea: Improve Health & Communities, Lower Cost,  and more...

A Novel Idea: Improve Health & Communities, Lower Cost

As the Senate Ways & Means Committee readies its FY2018 budget proposal for release this week,  MHA has reiterated its strong support for the inclusion of a tiered excise tax on sugary drinks.

As part of a growing coalition – including the American Heart Association, the Massachusetts Health Council, the Boston Foundation, and others – MHA has urged support for language modeled on SB1562/HB3329, filed by Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton). That legislation recommends taxing sugary drinks based on the amount of sugar that they contain. Drinks with more than 20 grams of added sugar per 12 ounces would have a two-cents-per-ounce tax added, and there would be a one-cent-per-ounce tax on drinks with between 5 and 20 grams of added sugar. The new tax would not affect drinks with less 5 ounces of added sugar per ounce, nor would people be prohibited from buying sugary drinks.

The primary goal of the proposal is reduce the consumption of high-sugar beverages and, in doing so, reduce the direct link the beverages have to preventable conditions such Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and dental decay. Children, in particular, have been a particular marketing focus for these products.

“The statistical evidence is clear that the rate of type 2 diabetes among the youth of our country is rising due to more overweight children,” said MHA’s President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, who before coming to MHA was president of the American Diabetes Association. “Drinking just one sugary drink a day increases the risk of having a heart attack or dying from a heart attack by 20%. So taking the initial steps to improve public health by dissuading the consumption of beverages with proven harm and little nutritional value should be a no-brainer.”

Revenues from the proposal are directed toward statewide prevention and public health priorities, including safe drinking water, nutrition programs and funding for the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund.

The proposal builds upon similar initiatives that have been enacted both in the U.S. and around the globe. A recent study in Health Affairs demonstrated that a sugary drink tax in Mexico not only successfully drove down sugary drink consumption, but did so year after year and promoted the consumption of healthier products.

“This bill is a win for public health,” Nicholas said. “It is a win for driving down healthcare costs, which is a universally agreed upon, longstanding goal for the commonwealth. And it is a win for improving the state’s finances for use in supporting positive programs to protect our youth and improve our communities. Massachusetts is known for its leadership in improving the health of its citizens. It’s time to show leadership on this issue as well.”

Tuesday, May 16: Big Day Of Beacon Hill Hearings

On Tuesday, May 16, the state Senate is expected to release its FY18 budget proposal, and three joint committees – Health Care Financing, Financial Services, and Public Health – are holding public hearings during which testimony will be submitted on eight priority bills for MHA and the hospital community.

MHA staff and personnel from member hospitals are fanning out through the State House on Tuesday to testify on:

•        SB520, relating to health insurer reserve requirements;

•        HB563, to prevent health insurers from using administrative denials to avoid paying for medically necessary services;

•        HB2984, to restore funding for disproportionate share hospitals;

•        HB616, to roll back recent regulations and allow healthcare providers to once again freely negotiate with MassHealth MCOs for in-network services;

•        HB611, which would update the base year on which reimbursement rates are set so that chronic disease and reimbursement hospitals can get fair payments from the state;

•        HB614, to compel the Office of Medicaid to use national standards when conducting medical necessity reviews;

•        SB1218, to prohibit the sale of all tobacco and e-cigarettes to individuals under the age of 21, among other restrictions; and

•        SB1211, to require the Health Policy Commission to investigate the quality and patient safety implications of insurer policies that encourage the re-dispensing and administration of medications by hospitals for cancer and chronic disease patients for drugs that were previously dispensed by a specialty pharmacy.

You can review the text and history of any of the above bills by clicking this site maintained by the state legislature.

Opioid Numbers: A Small Glimmer Of Hope?

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on May 10 released the latest data on the opioid crisis in Massachusetts. According to DPH, there were a total of 1,933 confirmed deaths related to opioids in 2016. So far in 2017, from January through March, there have been 172 confirmed opioid overdose deaths and DPH estimates that there will be an additional 242 to 307 fatalities attributable to opioids over the three-month period. That means that to date, 2017 is similar to, but not worse, than 2016.

While estimating death rates and projecting future fatalities from opioids may appear to be a macabre public health exercise, the statistics are needed to gauge the success or failure of the commonwealth’s concerted effort to fight the opioid problem. Hospitals have adopted new protocols on how they dispense opioids, state government has re-engineered its focus on the issue, and law enforcement, the justice system, schools, local community coalitions – among many other institutions – all have enhanced their opioid-fighting efforts. This year’s leveling out of the data, while still troubling, may indicate a small glimmer of hope that the combined efforts are working.

Reliant Medical Group And Optum Eye Partnership

Reliant Medical Group, an MHA member with more than 500 providers, has agreed to be purchased by Optum, a health services company that is part of UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth Group is also parent to the large insurance company UnitedHealthcare. The transaction will require approval by Massachusetts regulators.

Reliant writes that if the agreement is approved, “Reliant would continue to be locally operated and serve patients under the Reliant Medical Group brand in the Central and Metro West regions (to include Southboro Medical Group, a division of Reliant Medical Group).  Reliant’s workforce, including physicians, staff and management, would not change as a result of the transaction.  The medical group would continue to serve patients through multiple insurance plans.”  Michael Sheehy, M.D., chief of population health & analytics for Reliant, is a member of the MHA Board of Trustees.

MHA President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE, while not commenting specifically on the Reliant-Optum merger, said of the ongoing acquisition trend in Massachusetts and around the U.S., “The healthcare system as we know it is undergoing a rapid transformation, and partnerships between physician groups and hospitals and health systems, or physician groups, hospitals, and insurers will be more common in the future as these entities strive to deliver care within the framework of a population health approach.”

The Public's Thoughts On Serious Illness Care

The Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care held its second annual summit on May 9 and released the results of a poll it conducted to gauge how Massachusetts residents feel about addressing issues associated with illness and death.

The poll of 1,851 Massachusetts residents showed that nearly everyone (96%) believe it’s important for people to have conversations with loved ones and healthcare providers about their wishes for care. But the majority (71%) say it’s harder to plan for end-of-life care than it is to plan for distributing their money after death.

More than three-quarters (76%) say that their conversations with providers about their wishes were not at all difficult. They cite their good relationships as the most common reason for ease.  Of those who talked with a healthcare provider, about 40% of the conversations occurred within the past year.

MHA is a member of the coalition and its poster outlining the association’s efforts with serious illness care was featured at the summit. Throughout April, MHA surveyed its staff on their feelings towards serious illness care, performed outreach to the local business community on the issue, featured weekly stories in Monday Report, and organized for a May webinar to help member hospitals engage with their own staffs (see story below). More information about serious illness planning is available on PatientCareLink under the “For Patients and Families” tab (Healthcare Planning Throughout Your Life) and under the “Improving Patient Care” tab (Serious Illness Care).

Healthcare Planning: Take The 1st Step Webinar

MHA is holding a complimentary webinar this Wednesday, May 17 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for hospitals and health systems on how to provide resources to help employees plan ahead in the case of serious illness. Healthcare Planning: Take the 1st Step features a panel of health system leaders sharing how they have worked within their organizations to provide information and resources to their employees. Since healthcare organizations are often the largest employers in their communities, advanced care planning is an important issue to bring to the forefront. MHA’s Pat Noga, Ph.D., R.N., VP of clinical affairs, moderates the panel consisting of representatives from GVNA HealthCare, Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Heywood Hospital. Register here.

HPC To Hold ACO Training Sessions

The Health Policy Commission (HPC) will open the ACO Certification program for application submissions in mid-June. To assist organizations in completing the application, HPC will host two in-person training sessions on the certification application process. The trainings will offer detailed guidance on how to use the application system, based in the software program OnBase, to complete and submit the required responses.  The target audience is individuals who will be logging into the system and filling out the application.

The training sessions will be held on: Thursday, June 8, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at the HPC, 50 Milk Street, 8th Floor, Boston; and on Thursday, June 22, 1 – 3 p.m. at MHA, 500 District Ave., Burlington.

To register for either training session, send an e-mail to HPC-Certification@state.ma.us with the names and e-mail addresses of individuals who would like to attend and the date of the session they wish to attend. Registrations will be accepted until all available slots are filled, or until Friday, June 2, 2017. As an alternative to these in-person trainings, note that HPC plans to host a webinar on July 11, 9 – 11 a.m. that will cover the same content – details on that webinar and registration to follow. 

ACHE Of Mass. Holds May 25 Conference On ACA

The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) of Massachusetts is holding a timely conference on May 25 on efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. ACHE has assembled a good lineup of speakers for the event which runs from 7:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Sheraton Framingham.

Well known ACA proponent Jonathan Gruber, PhD, from MIT will keynote along with repeal-and-replace advocate James Capretta from the American Enterprise Institute. Christine Schuster, president & CEO of Emerson Hospital, will also keynote. A panel will follow, featuring Capretta, Schuster, along with Alan Macdonald, president & CEO of Hallmark Health Systems; and Steven Tringale, president & CEO of Tringale Health Strategies Larry Goldberg of Larry Goldberg Consulting will moderate the panel.

To register, visit this page.

Environmental Infection Prevention Webinar

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 1 - 2:30 P.M.

As the healthcare sector transforms itself to deal with the unprecedented changes in the marketplace, hospitals are facing increasing challenges to balance patient satisfaction with cost containment. This challenge is compounded by the growing challenge of drug-resistant Healthcare-Acquired Infections (HAIs). Approximately one out of 25 patients will acquire a potentially life-threatening HAI during their hospital stay. Multiple factors contribute to this increasingly pertinent issue. Inadequate tools to address risks on-site, lack of employee engagement in the prevention process, and low compliance in relevant processes including hand hygiene all play a role in this costly and dangerous issue. Innovations in infection prevention can help hospitals take meaningful steps to prevent the spread of disease. We’ll cover research-based best practices to guide implementation of tailored infection control programs that enhance patient experience and reduce risk.  Learn more, including registration details, by clicking here.

John LoDico, Editor