TTA’s week: data’s everywhere and hopeful, Citizen Scientists and Innovation, events, more

 

Data is everywhere this week, from the future of patient-generated data to AI. Citizen Scientists aid innovation. MedStartr and ATA2017 (save 15%!) events. 

From despair to hope? New study charts future of patient-generated data in care delivery (It’s better in 5 years. Can we wait?)
Upcoming MedStartr healthcare events in NYC; #RISE2017 videos online (The places to be in the next few weeks, and if you missed #RISE2017 catch it here)
AI as patient safety assistant to reduce, prevent adverse events (A hopeful take on an urgent issue)
#ShareTheHealth: spare Android phone processing, used fitness trackers, aid health research (Citizen Science innovations)

and: ATA 2017 Telehealth 2.0 Conference, Orlando: TTA Readers attend for less! (The place to be in April–more detail below)

Telemedicine may increase plan cost, the Idaho legislature takes action, aging tech 2017 trends, diabetes apps, Radio 4 CQC debate features Editor Charles, more. 

Telemedicine may drive up medical utilization, increase cost: RAND Health study (Yet it worked as intended)
Idaho legislature begins repeal of telemedicine abortion ban (Editor Chrys’ follow up)
Leeds, Harrogate care homes pilot telehealth system for residents (UK) (Another small test)
Technology for Aging in Place, 2017 edition preview (Some surprises here, debated)
Debate on Care Quality Commission’s position on online prescription services on Radio 4’s TODAY (UK) (Editor Charles now radio star)

CHANGED DEADLINE Calling all diabetes prevention apps: may be your chance for greatness! (Our Mobile Health/NHS England–application due 15 March)
A cornucopia of events and opportunities (UK/EU) (Editor Charles fills in your health tech calendar)

Previous articles of continued interest:

#HIMSS17 roundup: machine learning, Proteus, Soon-Shiong/NantWorks’ cancer vax, Uniphy Health, more (From AI-assisted workflow technologies to the Soon-Shiong cancer vax controversy)
Here’s Howz: now electricity consumption as elder minder (UK) (Telecare 3.0?)
Utah telehealth expansion bill passes Senate and House (Lawmakers working together)
HIMSS17 dispatches: Mayo maps neonate telemedicine, Amwell-Samsung, Samsung-T-Mobile (Including IoT for senior care)

HIMSS17 news flashes: Lenovo, Orbita, Tactio, Garmin, Parallax, Entra Health, Philips, IBM (Some setbacks for Watson Health)
The Theranos Story, ch. 37: the Object Lessons for future healthcare entrepreneurs (An MBA in what not to do)

The Theranos Story, ch. 36: Their money–and time–are running out (The start of the denouement) (more…)

HIMSS17 dispatches: Mayo maps neonate telemedicine, Amwell-Samsung, Samsung-T-Mobile

Mayo maps out an enterprise telehealth (telemedicine) support structure. Here’s how the Mayo Clinic deployed neonatology remote telemedicine to their sites in Minnesota, Arizona, and Florida. There’s plenty of flow charts and summary points in this presentation deck around team building, staffing consistently and reporting that improves processes. Hat tip to our HIMSS correspondent on the scene, Bill Oravecz of Stone Health Innovations. Update: If you are using Chrome, you may have difficulty downloading session handouts from the HIMSS17 website Schedule pages. Try another browser. If you are interested, you may be able to obtain through contacting the two session presenters, Susan Kapraun and Jenna A. Beck, MHA, directly.

American Well and Samsung are partnering on integrating care delivery. Their joint release is low on details, but towards the end there’s an indication that American Well, its partners, and other providers and payers will be able to offer their services to Samsung customers. Other reports (Healthcare Dive) indicate the partnership is destined to enhance Amwell’s Exchange platform between payers and providers. Partners listed are Cleveland Clinic, New York-Presbyterian Medical Center and Anthem (undoubtedly resting after sparring with Cigna). Also Healthcare IT News.

Separately, Samsung also announced a partnership with T-Mobile for developing IoT in the senior care space. This would pair Samsung’s ARTIK Cloud with T-Mobile’s cellular network for Breezie, a social engagement for seniors interface built on a Samsung tablet which has apps and connects to various peripherals for post-acute care and daily living. It sounds interesting, but once again the release hampers the reporter by being as clear as mud in what it’s all about. See if you can decipher this: ARTIK Cloud permits “Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, iHealth Feel Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor and the Pulse Oximeter – to intelligently communicate with each other.” “Each Breezie interface has more than 40 preconfigured accessibility settings and sensor driven analytics to adjust for different levels of digital literacy, as well as physical and cognitive ability.” The Breezie website is far more revealing. Healthcare Dive also takes a whack at it towards the end of the above article.

Anthem to Cigna: That’s Sabotage! You’re staying, like it or not! (updated 21 Feb)

Breaking News in The War of the Payers. Late on Wednesday (15 Feb), Anthem received a temporary restraining order to block Cigna from terminating the merger. Judge Travis Laster’s decision in the Delaware Court of Chancery maintains the “legal status quo’ until an April 10 hearing, where he will hear arguments from both sides. Anthem is now able to proceed with a fast-tracked appeal in the DC Federal Court of Appeals to overturn the February 8 DC District Federal Court decision that denied the merger. The sole extension in the merger agreement is to April 30, which will be preceded by the Chancery Court hearing 20 days prior. Bloomberg, WSJ (via 4-traders.com)

Wednesday morning, Anthem had filed a temporary restraining order in Chancery Court to keep Cigna from ankling the merger, which would make an appeal moot. It was positioned in their February 15 release as “a temporary restraining order to enjoin Cigna from terminating, and taking any action contrary to the terms of, the Merger Agreement, specific performance compelling Cigna to comply with the Merger Agreement and damages.” Cigna wanted out immediately, as we noted on Feb 14, seeing no hope in challenging the District of Columbia Federal District Court ruling as Anthem does, and took the position that the extension was invalid. They also sought an additional $13 billion in damages for shareholders beyond the $1.85 billion breakup fee.

The language Anthem used in Wednesday’s release to justify the filing was harsh: “…Cigna does not have a right to terminate the Merger Agreement at all because it has failed to perform fully its obligations in a manner that has proximately caused or resulted in the failure of the merger to have been consummated.” Anthem then accused Cigna of actively working to sabotage the merger: “Cigna’s lawsuit and purported termination is the next step in Cigna’s campaign to sabotage the merger and to try to deflect attention from its repeated willful breaches of the Merger Agreement in support of such effort.”Also Forbes

Bottom line: ‘Cigna, you’re a bad and faithless partner, but we are going to force a merger by any means possible anyway.’ Cigna blames Anthem for botching the merger approvals. Does prolonging any of this make sense?

Updated 21 Feb The differences started at the very beginning, with C-level disputes on who would lead a merged company and other areas of governance, so obvious (and public) they were cited by DC Federal District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Feb. 8 decision. David Balto, an antitrust lawyer in Washington, dubbed it ‘a shotgun marriage that went sour’ and not to discount Cigna’s case for damages due to business harm. After reading this article, you’ll wonder why they even started. Hartford Courant

Analysis Any merger between Anthem and Cigna has become, despite the language, a hostile takeover, worthy of Frank Lorenzo in this Editor’s airline days, or more recently, Carl Icahn. Having worked for Mr Lorenzo years ago, observing from my tiny chair way over on the sidelines, I learned that hostile takeovers and poorly thought-out mergers don’t work out well, in service delivery or economics, short or long term. They usually end badly, in bankruptcy court, with many tears shed and lives wrecked.

Memo to Anthem and Cigna–is this really necessary? Here we are dealing with insurance, and service to policyholders/members, affecting both their health and wealth. You both talk a good game about saving on medical costs, accelerating the progress of value-based care, delivering value to shareholders, and improving quality. But you hate each other and have from the start. Playing the game of Who Blinks First, and the distraction of a long and bitter legal battle, cannot be anything other than harmful to your members, employees, doctor and health system providers, your bottom lines, and your future.

This is not the airline business, beverages or detergent. It’s people’s lives here–have you both forgotten? Enough! Stop now! Get back to the business of healthcare!

Previously and related in TTA: Cigna to Anthem: we’re calling it off too, Aetna’s Bertolini to Humana: let’s call the whole thing off, Anthem-Cigna merger nixed

Cigna to Anthem: we’re calling it off too–and we want $13 bn in damages!

Breaking News  Not quite so tuneful or amicable is today’s other Funny Valentine, which is now in Divorce Court. Cigna officially wants out, out, out of its merger with Anthem in a big, big, big way. In addition to the contractual breakup fee of $1.85 bn, Cigna is suing for additional damages exceeding $13 bn.

The action versus Anthem in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeks to lawfully terminate the merger (already denied in the DC District Court, TTA 9 Feb) and to stop Anthem’s current move to extend the agreement to 30 April. The additional $13 bn in damages would recoup the unrealized premium that shareholders did not earn as a result of the merger failure.

Anthem stated last week following the District Court decision’s release that it would appeal. Healthcare Dive reported that filing took place yesterday in the District of Columbia Federal Court of Appeals.

The Cigna release is intriguing for its careful air-clearing and positioning. In their view, the merger “had the potential to expand choice, improve affordability and quality and further accelerate value-based care”. Then a wicked backhand to Anthem: “Anthem contracted for and assumed full responsibility to lead the federal and state regulatory approval process, as well as the litigation strategy, under the merger agreement. Cigna fulfilled all of its contractual obligations and fully cooperated with Anthem throughout the approval process.’

Financially, Cigna stresses its positive outlook of 12 to 18 percent growth and ‘significant capital available for deployment’, as well as touting that their “approach of focusing on health care services over sick care financing has never been more critical.” There is also an updated statement about their share repurchasing authority: “Cigna is also announcing that its Board of Directors has expanded the company’s share repurchase authority to an aggregate amount of $3.7 billion. Management has determined that it is prudent to cap the amount of the repurchase to $250 million per quarter until there is more clarity with respect to the litigation with Anthem.”

No press response yet from Anthem. Stay tuned. Also CNBC

Earlier today: Aetna’s Bertolini to Humana: Let’s call the whole thing off

Updated: Aetna’s Bertolini to Humana: Let’s call the whole thing off.

Updated–Humana exits individual exchange policy markets

Breaking News On this Valentine’s Day, a Romance Gone Flat. This morning, both Aetna and Humana formally announced the end of their merger, ruling out any appeal of the Federal District Court decision against it last month [TTA 24 Jan]. While positioned as a mutual agreement, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini took the key quote in the release: “While we continue to believe that a combined company would create greater value for health care consumers through improved affordability and quality, the current environment makes it too challenging to continue pursuing the transaction. We are disappointed to take this course of action after 19 months of planning, but both companies need to move forward with their respective strategies in order to continue to meet member expectations. Our mutual respect for our companies’ capabilities has grown throughout this process, and we remain committed to a shared goal of helping drive the shift to a consumer-centric health care system.”

Humana’s release limited the announcement to one line and briskly moved on to what really counts–the financials. They will receive a breakup payment of $1 bn (after taxes, $630 million) from Aetna, with their 2017 financial guidance call/release taking place after 4pm EST today. Molina Healthcare, which was to receive certain Aetna Medicare Advantage assets from Aetna post-merger to relieve an over-dominance in some markets, will also receive an undisclosed termination fee. Ka-ching! CNBC, Hartford Courant (Aetna’s hometown paper)

UPDATED 2/14-16 Humana’s financial release announced an updated strategy, share repurchases, a nicely increased dividend–and, buried in the release, their exit effective 2018 from the ‘individual commercial’ business, which are individual policies offered in 11 states through the ACA-created Federal Marketplaces, citing an ‘unbalanced risk pool’ and losses estimated at $45 million for FY17. (By 2018, it may be a moot point.) It is ironic that Aetna’s exit from exchange policies due to unprofitability (or not, as it turned out to be in a few cases) proved to be one of the many bricks that broke the merger, in Judge Bates’ view. The truth is that Aetna and Humana are hardly alone in fleeing the exchanges, and that they have turned out to be unprofitable, as predicted.

click to enlargeConsistent with their behavior over the 19 months of the proposed merger, both Aetna and Humana are publicly respectful, unlike….

These other two will never be one, something must be done? The demise of the Anthem-Cigna merger [TTA 9 Feb], now breaking up in Delaware Chancery Court, may mean a period of Payer Merger Quiet. Does this mean a refocusing on benefiting corporate and individual policyholders during the certain changes to come? Aetna may also proceed with a plan to move operations to Boston, which may affect hundreds of jobs, but has pledged to keep a presence in Hartford according to the Hartford Courant. Humana continues to be interested in investment opportunities and, from reports, another merger.

Goodness knows what the end will be! (Hat tip to Ira Gershwin for the title and the interpolated lyrics!)

Anthem-Cigna merger nixed, finally (US)

click to enlarge Breaking News. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Late Wednesday 8 Feb, the anticipated decision derailing the $54 million Anthem-Cigna merger was released by the Federal District Court, District of Columbia. Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision denying the merger was very much along the anti-competitive and anti-trust rationales contained in the 19 January advance report by the New York Post. There’s little that hasn’t already been explored in our prior reports, so we will leave the rehashing to sources like CNBC. The general consensus is that the four Big Payer Merger participants (Aetna and Humana merger denied [TTA 24 Jan]) will be moving on, perhaps to their advantage as most of the premises for merging, based on ACA’s effects, are expected to change, drastically.

Cigna must also be relieved after its reported ‘merger remorse’ after too many rumored disagreements with Anthem. According to Bloomberg, Cigna is sitting on $7 to $14 billion deployable capital, with the high end including extra debt. (Does this include the $1.85 bn breakup fee that Anthem owes to Cigna? Stay tuned on how Anthem tries to get out of this.) And the American Medical Association is beyond delighted (release).

Of course, there’s a lot of speculation about all that loose cash being deployed on new merger targets, which include the Usual Suspects of Humana, WellCare, Centene and Molina. Some free advice: all these companies should, for the next year, sit quietly and breathe deeply (as many employees who would be redundant in any merger are). They should also take care of business (TCB!), refocus on serving their policyholders, make their processes far less onerous on providers, and let it all shake out rather than rushing out to find out Who To Buy. (New Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in this morning, and many changes are coming in both healthcare policy and the judiciary.) Also Neil Versel’s pointed take in MedCityNews.

Updates on Anthem-Cigna, Aetna-Humana mergers

click to enlargeFor our Readers following the Continuing Soap Opera which involves the payer mergers of Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna, some updates:

  • Anthem-Cigna still undecided by despite our 19 January report that the merger would be denied by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. Reading the SEC 8-K filed in July 2015, the extension to 30 April is automatic if the merger is not consummated or is non-appealable by 31 January. Likely this is to Cigna’s chagrin, as multiple sources over the two years this has been going on have detailed the growing disagreements between the two companies. As we noted in January, Anthem is also running up against ‘the Blues rule’ where it does business as a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. The arguments that this internal competition is beneficial are pretzel-like indeed.
  • A labor union investor, Westchester Putnam Counties Heavy & Highway Laborers Local 60 Benefits Funds, is suing Aetna for shareholder losses in the Federal District Court in the District of Connecticut (complaint here). The demand is for a jury trial and details what they believe to be false and misleading statements by management and not disclosing adverse facts.

Healthcare Dive is recommended for their two deeper dives: 1 Feb on Anthem-Cigna and the outcomes of both mergers, 30 Jan on the labor union lawsuit. The likelihood of either happening becomes more remote as time goes by, but there could be a surprise.

Breaking: Aetna-Humana merger blocked by Federal court

Breaking News from Washington Judge John B. Bates of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today (23 Jan), as expected, against the merger of insurance giants Aetna and Humana. Grounds cited were the reduction in competition for Medicare Advantage plans, where both companies compete. “In this case, the government alleged that the merger of Aetna and Humana would be likely to substantially lessen competition in markets for individual Medicare Advantage plans and health insurance sold on the public exchanges.” The decision could be appealed in the US Appeals Court for the DC Circuit, or could be abandoned for different combinations, for example a rumored Cigna-Humana merger, or smaller companies in the Medicare/Medicaid market such as Centene, WellCare, and Molina Healthcare. Certainly there is money about: Humana would gain a $1 bn breakup fee from Aetna, and Cigna $1.85 bn.

No decision to date has been made in the Anthem-Cigna merger, but the general consensus of reports is that it will be denied by Federal Judge Jackson soon. [TTA 19 Jan]

Healthcare DiveBloomberg, Business InsiderBenzinga

Of course, with a new President determined to immediately roll back the more onerous regulatory parts of the ACA, in one of his first Executive Orders directing that Federal agencies ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare on both patients (the mandatory coverage) and providers, the denial of these two mega-mergers in the 2009-2016 environment may be seen as a capital ‘dodging the bullet’ in a reconfigured–and far less giving to Big Payers–environment. FoxNews

DC District Court judge to block Anthem-Cigna merger: report

Breaking News  Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia is expected to rule against the Anthem-Cigna merger on anti-trust grounds, sources have informed the New York Post. In anticipation of the appeal, Anthem has already filed an extension to the merger deadline from 31 January to 30 April, which Cigna is reportedly opposing in hopes of killing the merger.

The lawsuit was brought by the Department of Justice after Senate anti-trust subcommittee hearings and the displeasure of many state insurance regulators [TTA 21 July]. The hearing starting 21 November had two phases: the first on the merger’s effect on national employers, the second starting 12 Dec on local markets [TTA 21 Nov]. The huge stumbling block, according to the report, is Anthem’s unresolved conflict in a merger due to the ‘Blues Rule’, which requires that they have no more than one-third of its marketed products from other insurers in a state where they also market Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. Anthem is the licensee for Blue plans in 15 states, and according to court testimony by Anthem VP of corporate development Steven Schlegel, may have faced a $3 bn (£2.43 bn) penalty. This likely would have come from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the licensor. Anthem’s hope reportedly was to transfer Cigna customers to its Blue plans to balance this out.

The NYP report also adds fuel to two years of rumors concerning governance and management succession conflicts between the two insurers. One revelation in the DOJ complaint was that in April 2016 “Anthem had established a separate, highly confidential team to work on integration planning without Cigna’s participation”. Earlier reports publicized that Cigna hoped that the DOJ lawsuit would have killed the merger; now Cigna wants no extension and to collect its $1.85 bn breakup fee. Sounds like a Fatal Case of Merger Remorse. Stay tuned. 

The separate Aetna-Humana hearing concluded on 30 December under a different DC District Judge, John D. Bates. Arguments here focused on overlaps in two areas: exchange policies (sold by Aetna in only four states, with overlap in 17 counties) and Medicare Advantage monopolies or near-monopolies. The judge’s ruling is still pending. Bloomberg, Hartford Courant, which lets hometown Aetna have its say.

Off to DC court we go: Anthem-Cigna, Aetna-Humana merger trials (US)

It seems like a year ago that the US Department of Justice sued to stop the merger of these healthcare payer giants on antitrust grounds, but it was only July! On the face of it, it would reduce the Big 5 Payers to the Big 3, with the $48 bn Anthem-Cigna matchup besting UnitedHealthcare for the #1 pole position with 45 million covered persons. DOJ also cited reduction of benefits, raising premiums, cutting payments to doctors and reducing the quality of service. 11 states, including New York, California and Connecticut, plus the District of Columbia, are backing the DOJ.

The Anthem – Cigna trial started today in US Federal Court in Washington DC. It is a two-phase hearing: the first on Anthem – Cigna’s merger’s effect on national employers, the second starting 12 Dec on local markets.

So much has happened since our July report, none of it good. ACA exchange plans have hiked benefits up well into the double digit increases by state due to lack of competition: CO-OP insurers couldn’t defy actuarial gravity for long and went out of business; commercial insurers lost too much money and bailed from multiple states (KFF). The effect on Medicare Advantage programs, which are judged on the county-state level, will be most significant with a combined Aetna-Humana having 40-50 percent market share in many counties. This triggers divestiture in current regulations.

These mergers rarely go to court after a DOJ action, so all eyes are on DC. An added fillip is that many expected the lawsuit to be the final kibosh on a Anthem-Cigna deal where reports of conflicts on future management and governance of a single entity were frequent. It wasn’t–and DOJ reportedly will be using documentation on the governance clash to demonstrate why it should not take place.

The $38 bn Aetna – Humana court date is 5 Dec, also in Washington, before a different judge.  All want a decision before year’s end so that (if positive) they can proceed with state regulatory approvals before deal expiration on 30 April 2017.

Bloomberg Big Law Business, USA Today  Also don’t assume this has much to do with a Donald J. Trump administration being ‘typical Republican=friendlier to Big Mergers’, because the president-elect has been hostile to other high profile ones, notably AT&T/TimeWarner, and this will be over before a new Attorney General is confirmed.

DOJ sues to derail Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna mergers on anti-trust grounds (updated)

Breaking News. The anticipated shoe has dropped. With all the US news concentrating on the Republican convention, the US Department of Justice, late today, without much fanfare beyond the presser, lobbed lawsuits at Aetna and Anthem to stop their respective acquisitions of Humana and Cigna. US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was joined by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General William Baer, who had been the DOJ’s point person for this anti-trust review.

According to CNN’s report, Mr Baer said “the two mergers would leave consumers at risk by reducing benefits and raising premiums. He also stressed that the most vulnerable would be hit the hardest and that competition would be reduced. “These are so-called solutions that we cannot accept,” Baer said. He added that the mergers are a “convenient shortcut to increase profit for these two companies,” and that the DOJ had “zero confidence” that they would benefit consumers.”

Reuters reported that Aetna and Humana expect “to vigorously defend the companies’ pending merger,” Anthem’s response was “more muted”, as industry observers expected, as it has been more problematic not only in size and with Medicare Advantage divestiture, but also with reports of disagreements on management and governance.

If these mergers were successful, the Big Five in US health insurance would be reduced to the Big Three, with the $48 bn Anthem-Cigna matchup besting UnitedHealthCare for the #1 pole position with 45 million covered persons.

Why is this important to those of us in telehealth, telemedicine and telecare? We are still seeking ‘who pays for it’ (remember our Five Big Questions/FBQs?) and when five becomes three, and things are unsettled….negotiations grind to a halt. (This Editor will reference the post-2008 years where health tech US deals and development came to a screeching stop as we waited to find out what was in that mystery ACA bill. Recovery/reset took years….)

Earlier reports via Bloomberg News and Reuters noted that both sets of insurance companies faced substantial opposition from the start. (more…)

A weekend potpourri of health tech news: mergers, cyber-ransom, Obama as VC?

As we approach what we in these less-than-United States think of as the quarter-mile of the summer (our Independence Day holiday), and while vacations and picnics are top of mind, there’s a lot of news from all over which this Editor will touch on, gently (well, maybe not so gently). Grab that hot dog and soda, and read on….

Split decision probable for US insurer mergers. The Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers will reduce the Big 5 to the Big 3, leading to much controversy on both the Federal and state levels. While state department of insurance opposition cannot scupper the deals, smaller states such as Missouri and the recent split decision from California on Aetna-Humana (the insurance commissioner said no, the managed care department said OK) plus the no on the smaller Anthem-Cigna merger are influential. There’s an already reluctant Department of Justice anti-trust division and a US Senate antitrust subcommittee heavily influenced by a liberal think tank’s (Center for American Progress) report back in March. Divestment may not solve all their problems. Doctors don’t like it. Anthem-Cigna have also had public disagreements concerning their merged future management and governance, but the betting line indicates they will be the sacrificial lamb anyway. Healthcare Dive today,  Healthcare Dive, CT Mirror, WSJ (may be paywalled) Editor’s prediction: an even tougher reimbursement road for most of RPM and other health tech as four companies will be in Musical Chairs-ville for years.

‘thedarkoverlord’ allegedly holding 9.3 million insurance records for cyber-ransom. 750 bitcoins, or about $485,000 is the reputed price in the DeepDotWeb report. Allegedly the names, DOBs and SSNs were lifted from a major insurance company in plain text. This appears to be in addition to 655,000 patient records from healthcare organizations in Georgia and the Midwest for sale for 151 – 607 bitcoins or $100,000 – $395,000. The hacker promises ‘we’re just getting started’ and recommends that these organizations ‘take the offer’. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.  HealthcareITNews  It makes the 4,300 record breach at Massachusetts General via the typical unauthorized access at a third party, once something noteworthy, look like small potatoes in comparison. HealthcareITNews  Further reading on hardening systems by focusing on removing admin rights, whitelisting and endpoint security. HealthcareDataManagement

Should VistA stay or go? It looks like this granddaddy of all EHRs used by the US Veterans Health Administration will be sunsetted around 2018, but even their undersecretary for health and their CIO seem to be ambivalent in last week’s Congressional hearings. According to POLITICO’s Morning eHealth newsletter, “The agency will be sticking with its homegrown software through 2018, at which point the VA will start creating a cloud-based platform that may include VistA elements at its core, an agency spokesman explained.” Supposedly even VA insiders are puzzled as to what that means, and some key Senators are losing patience. VistA covers 365 data centers, 130 separate VistA systems, and 834 custom installations, and is also the core of many foreign government systems and the private Medsphere OpenVista. 6/23 and 6/24

click to enlargeDr Eric Topol grooves on ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ of robotics and AI. (more…)

The widening gyre of insurers covering telehealth (telemedicine?) (US)

Is a tipping point nearing? Soon? An article in Modern Healthcare that contains a heavy dollop of promotion headlines ‘telehealth’s’ adoption by insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Anthem and Highmark. When read through, it’s mainly about telemedicine (video consults) but does touch on the vital signs monitoring that’s the basis of telehealth. Video consults through Teladoc and other services such as Doctor on Demand and American Well are gradually being reimbursed by private insurers, despite the concern that it would actually drive up cost by being an ‘add-on’ to an in-person visits. Medicaid increasingly covers it, and states are enacting ‘parity’ regulations equalizing in-office and virtual visits including, in many cases, telehealth. Yet the move for coverage is hampered by lack of reimbursement to doctors, or the perception of limited or no payment. Even Medicare, a big advocate for alternative models of care, currently pays little out for telehealth–$17.6 million on a $630 million+ program. The Congressional Budget Office is skeptical, despite the savings claimed by CONNECT for Health Act in both the Senate and House [TTA 12 Feb]. Virtual reality: More insurers are embracing telehealth

China’s Anthem hack: they just wanna understand US healthcare

click to enlargeKnock yersself out! The Gimlet Eye files via Bottle from A Dot On The Map off the New York coast. One of the stranger follow ups of the past week–one that is difficult to read with straight face–is the report in the Financial Times that the Chinese hacked into insurer Anthem’s 80-million strong beneficiary database in order to study up on the American healthcare system and benefit their aging population. Neil Versel with raised eyebrow in MedCityNews quoting the FT story: “The Chinese hackers had trained their sights on the U.S. health sector to help the country understand how other nations deal with medical care, people familiar with the Anthem investigation said.” You’d think it would be easier for the Chinese to go to a few conferences, meet a few executives and learn a few things first. Then maybe they could do a ‘deal deal’ with an insurer on their IP, or bring them into China on a JV. With so many services for sale from the thundering horde of data analytics companies and multiple middleware providers, write a check already. But that would destroy the Fun of Hacking!

How the FT could actually print without a hint of skepticism this ‘nothing to see here, move on’ story rolls the Eye. (more…)

Hackers hit another Blue Cross, put 10.5 million members at risk (Breaking)

click to enlargeBREAKING NEWS This time the data breach is at Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, which covers upstate New York (Rochester-Syracuse area). It was discovered by Excellus on 5 August but dated back to 23 Dec 13, and reportedly has compromised members’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, financial account information and in some cases sensitive medical information. According to the AP/NBC, it also breached other divisions of Excellus and the corporate parent, Lifetime Healthcare: Lifetime Benefit Solutions, Lifetime Care, Lifetime Health Medical Group, The MedAmerica Companies and Univera Healthcare. The source of the hack has not yet been determined.

Excellus joins fellow BCBS members Anthem [TTA 11 Feb], soon to be merging with Cigna, with 80 million; Premera Blue Cross [TTA 24 Mar] with 11 million, Care First with a ‘bag o’ shells’ 1.1. million [TTA 2 June]. The pattern has been such that the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced in July that it will offer all 106 million of its members identity protection starting next January. (Note for our mathematicians: Anthem has millions of non-BCBS members) Chinese hackers are suspected in the Anthem breach.

FierceHealthPayer broke the story, in this Editor’s estimation, to the healthcare trade area. Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Excellus message to policyholders. The NBC/AP report also has a video interview with Eugene Kaspersky of the eponymous anti-virus software (and whose Kaspersky Lab was also a hacking victim earlier this year)

Updated via the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:  FireEye is becoming the ‘go-to’ security company for health organization breaches–Excellus hired them in the wake of the Anthem breach and they discovered the vulnerability facilitating the breach.

Unnerving mergers (US-UK); DoD’s EHR picked; EHRs & AMA

Blues feeling Blue about…The Anthem-Cigna merger, finalized last week (but yet to be approved by the US and likely the UK Governments as Cigna issues policies there), gives them bragging rights over the Aetna-Humana merger and Optum/United Healthcare in their covering of 53 million US lives as the largest US health insurer. Unnerved is the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, of which Anthem is a part of with the Anthem and Empire Blue Cross plans plus others in a total of 14 states. But Anthem also competes with ‘the Blues’ in 19 additional states where it markets under a non-Blue brand, Amerigroup, primarily for Medicare and Medicaid (state low-income coverage). Many of the Blues are non-profit or mutual insurers; many are partial or single-state, like Independence, Capital and Highmark (PA/DE/WV) in Pennsylvania and Horizon Blue Cross of New Jersey. Their stand-alone future, not bright since the ACA, now seem ever dimmer in this Editor’s long-time consideration and that of Bruce Japsen writing in Forbes. Also Morningstar considers Anthem’s overpaying and the LA Times overviews.

Walgreens Boots Alliance, another recent merger of quintessentially American and British drug store institutions, named as its interim CEO Stefano Pessina. He previously ran Alliance Boots prior to the merger and is the largest individual shareholder of WBA stock with approximately 140 million shares, so one cannot call it a surprise. At a youthful 73 (see video), one assumes he also takes plenty of Walgreens vitamins and uses Boots No 7 skin care. Forbes.

Updated: The big EHR news is the US Department of Defense announcing the award of its Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract this week. At 10 years and $11 billion, even giant EHRs went phalanxed with other giant government contractors to face DOD: Epic with IBM; Cerner with Leidos, Accenture and Intermountain Healthcare; Allscripts with Computer Sciences Corp. and Hewlett Packard. Certainly there will be ‘gravitational pull’ that affects healthcare organizations, but the open and unanswered question is if that pull will include the far nearer and immediately critical lack of interoperability with the Veterans Health Administration’s (VA) VistA EHR. The Magic 8 Ball reads: Hazy, try again later.  Leidos/Cerner announced as winners close of business Wednesday 29 July. 

In other EHR news, US doctors vented last week on how much they hate the @#$%^&* things to the American Medical Association‘s ‘town hall’ in Atlanta. Bloat, diminished effectiveness, error, getting in the way of care due to design by those without medical background presently prevail. The AMA’s Break the Red Tape campaign asks CMS to “postpone” finalizing Stage 3 Meaningful Use (MU) rules so that it can align with new payment/delivery models. Better yet, they should buy thousands of copies of Dr Robert Wachter’s book [TTA 16 Apr] and drop them on every policymaker’s desk there, with a thud. Health Data Management