Short takes: Livongo buys myStrength, Apple Watch cozies with insurers, Lively hears telehealth and $16 million

Livongo gets behaviorally stronger with myStrength. Extending from their base in diabetes and chronic disease management into behavioral health, Livongo made a logical extension with early-stage behavioral health company myStrength. A large percentage of those with chronic conditions are also struggling with a behavioral health issue–Livongo cites 20 percent but in this Editor’s opinion, the estimate is low. Both Livongo and myStrength have been very successful in the payment game, with both companies achieving payment and reimbursement by employers, insurers, health systems, and state/Federal payers. The other factor is that employers and payers want single, integrated platforms for wellness and disease management. Livongo last year bought Retrofit for its weight management program. Competitor Omada Health recently acquired the behavioral health technology of defunct Lantern. MedCityNews, Fortune, Livongo release

Apple Watch wastes no time in partnering with insurers. Or vice versa! Confirming that Apple Watch’s growth strategy hinges heavily on health via its new features are fresh agreements with Aetna/CVS Health and a rumored reach into three Medicare Advantage plans. The Aetna partnership is with an app called Attain, which blends Apple Watch activity tracking data with users’ health history to create personalized programs. The program is limited to about 250,000 slots plus additional slots for employer plans, and will debut this spring. Late last year, United HealthCare announced Apple Watches would be added to existing wellness program called Motion and their Rally platform. Both Aetna and United have tiered payment programs for the watches, with United adding a HSA reward. For Medicare Advantage plans, Apple is rumored that they will subsidize the watch for use as a health tracker and coach. FierceMobileHealthcare 30 Jan (Aetna), 14 Nov 18 (UHC), and 29 Jan (Medicare Advantage).

Lively adds telehealth to hearing assistance. Lively’s mobile-connected, direct to consumer hearing aids are adding more telehealth features such as remote tuning, virtual video consults with an audiologist, and an online hearing assessment/uploading audiogram for assessment. The NYC-based company also announced closing on a $16 million seed/Series A fundraising round led by Declaration Capital with participation from Tiger Management. There are an estimated 35 million Americans with hearing loss in a $10bn annual market. Hearing aids are rapidly adding digital and DTC features–others in the field are Eargo and ReSound. Lively releaseAlleyWatch, Mobihealthnews. (Lively is not to be confused with Lively!, acquired by GreatCall two years ago)

Medicare Advantage model covering telehealth for certain in-person visits starting in 2020

Another small step for remote monitoring and visits. Late last week, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a limited expansion of telehealth (remote patient visits) coverage as part of the Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID) model. In 2020, plans can apply to use telehealth as part of their coverage. According to the CMS release, Medicare Advantage (MA) is testing a new series of service delivery approaches, including “increasing access to telehealth services by allowing plans to use access to telehealth services instead of in-person visits, as long as an in-person option remains, to meet a range of network requirements, including certain requirements that could not previously be fulfilled through telehealth.” Other MA additions under the VBID mode include expanded rewards and incentives for beneficiaries for health improvement, and reduced cost sharing and additional benefits to enrollees, including those around chronic conditions or socio-economic status, such as aid around social determinants of health. 

The VBID model is administered under CMS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (Innovation Center, also CMMI), which tests innovative payment and service delivery models to lower costs and improve the quality of care. It began in 2017. The CMS VBID page lists 14 participating plans concentrated in a few states; however, it was open to 25 states this year. The 2020 model expands to 50 states under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 plus will accept other MA plan types such as Special Needs Plans and Regional PPOs. Applications will start later this year. CMS press releasemHealth Intelligence 

The wind may finally be at the back of telehealth distribution and payment (US)

Medicare Advantage may lead, but Medicaid and regular Medicare are not far behind. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced in two proposed rules changes expansion of telehealth access for both privately issued Medicare Advantage (MA) plans (26 Oct) and state-run Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Plan) (14 Nov) plan members. This may mean greater acceptance by providers because they will be paid for these services.

For MA, the proposal would, starting in 2020 as part of government funded basic benefits, eliminate geographic restrictions (rural telehealth) and allow members in urban areas to access telehealth services. It would also broaden present location restrictions, allowing MA members to receive telehealth from home versus traveling to a health care facility. The most intriguing wording is here: “Plans would also have greater flexibility to offer clinically-appropriate telehealth benefits that are not otherwise available to Medicare beneficiaries.” which very well could mean remote patient monitoring in conjunction with visits. MA plans have always had more latitude to offer telehealth benefits to members, which are about 1/3 of Medicare-eligibles (over 65). Over 11 percent growth is forecast and it is highly competitive though dominated by United Healthcare and Aetna–over 600 new plans are entering the market next year. Enrollments close on 7 Dec for 2019. CMS.gov release, mHealth Intelligence, Healthcare Finance News.

For Medicaid and CHIP, which states use to extend insurance to low-income individuals and families via private plans, states would be able to, under an approved rule, to more flexibly determine what criteria determine telehealth access. Currently, states use proximity factors–distance from provider and time. The proposed criteria under 10. Network Adequacy (pages 15-16) recommends that time and distance be deleted and instead “adding a more flexible requirement that states set a quantitative minimum access standard (later listed) for specified health care providers and LTSS (long term services and supports) providers”. The reasons why are the limited supply of providers and the functional limitations of the LTSS population. Also notable was language in section 8 discussing access to provider directories via smartphone, as 64 percent of the population with incomes less than $30,000 own a smartphone and use it to access health information.  CMS proposed rule, POLITICO Morning eHealth

This adds to the momentum of the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule published on 1 Nov that added even more:

  • Virtual brief patient checkins and evaluation of patient-recorded photos and video to payments
  • CMS is also finalizing separate payments for three new codes covering chronic care remote physiologic monitoring that unbundle 99091 (CPT codes 99453, 99454, and 99457) and interprofessional internet consultation (CPT codes 99451, 99452, 99446, 99447, 99448, and 99449).
  • Two new codes covering telehealth for prolonged preventive services
  • Finalizing the addition of renal dialysis facilities and the homes of ESRD beneficiaries receiving home dialysis as originating sites
  • After 1 July, the home will be permitted as a permissible originating site for telehealth services furnished for purposes of treatment of a substance use disorder or a co-occurring mental health disorder. CMS.gov fact sheet 

The importance of this is that more digital health covered by Medicare and government payments in public/private programs such as Medicaid and MA lead private insurers to pay doctors for these services, who will then be willing to pay vendors for providing them. For the telehealth and telemedicine companies that have weathered the storms and lean times of the past decade, there may be light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train.

News roundup: FCC RPM/telehealth push, NHS EHR coding breach, unstructured data in geriatric diagnosis, Cerner-Lumeris, NHS funds social care, hospital RFID uses

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Lasso.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]FCC backs post-discharge RPM plan. The “Connected Care Pilot Program” proposed by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr would provide $100 million for subsidies to hospitals or wireless providers running post-discharge remote monitoring programs for low-income and rural Americans such as those run by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The goal is to lower readmissions and improve patient outcomes. The proposal still needs to be formalized so it would be 2019 at earliest. POLITICO Morning eHealth, Clarion-Ledger, Mobihealthnews

NHS Digital’s 150,000 patient data breach originated in a coding error in the SystmOne EHR used by GPs. Through the error by TPP, SystmOne did not recognize the “type 2 opt-out” for use of individual data in clinical research and planning purposes. This affected records after 31 March 2015. This breach also affects vendors which received the data, albeit unknowingly, but the duration of the breach makes it hard to put the genie back in the bottle, which NHS Digital would like to do. Inforisktoday, NHS Digital release

Unstructured data in EHRs more valuable than structured data in older adult patient health. A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society compared the number of geriatric syndrome cases identified using structured claims and structured and unstructured EHR data, finding that the unstructured data was needed to properly identify geriatric syndrome. Over 18,000 patients’ unstructured EHR notes were analyzed using a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm.

Cerner buying a share in population health/value-based care management company Lumeris through purchasing $266 million in stock in Lumeris parent Essence Group Holdings. The angle is data crunching to improve outcomes for patients in Medicare Advantage and other value-based plans. Lumeris also operates Essence Healthcare, a Medicare Advantage plan with 65,000 beneficiaries in Missouri. Fierce Healthcare

NHS Digital awarding £240,000 for investigating social care transformation through technology. The Social Care Digital Innovation Programme in 12 councils will be managed by both NHS and the Local Government Association (LGA). Projects to be funded span from assistive technologies to predictive analytics. Six winners from the original group of 12 after three months will be awarded up to a further £80,000 each to design and implement their solutions. New Statesman

Curious about RFID in use in healthcare, other than in asset management, access, and log in? Contactless payments is one area. As this is the first of four articles, you’ll have to follow up in Healthcare IT News

Is Uber fit to deliver healthcare transport? Healthcare organizations may want to check.

Healthcare-related organizations have codes of conduct pertaining to suppliers. Does Uber meet compliance standards? As we reported a few days ago in our article on the burgeoning area of non-emergency medical transport (NEMT) [TTA 9 Mar], Uber Health’s debut with a reputed 100 healthcare organizations has led this Editor to a further examination of Uber, the organization. Uber has had a hard time staying out of the headlines–and the courts–in the past two years, in matters which might give healthcare partners pause.

  • On 21 Nov, Uber reported that the personal data of 57 million users, including 600,000 US drivers, were breached and stolen in October 2016–a full year prior. Not only was the breach announcement delayed by over a year, but also in that year it was made to go away by Uber’s paying off the hacker. Reuters on 6 December: “A 20-year-old Florida man was responsible for the large data breach at Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] last year and was paid by Uber to destroy the data through a so-called “bug bounty” program normally used to identify small code vulnerabilities, three people familiar with the events have told Reuters.” The payment was an extraordinary $100,000. “The sources said then-CEO Travis Kalanick was aware of the breach and bug bounty payment in November of last year.” The Reuters article goes further into the mechanism of the hack. It eventually led to the resignation of their chief security officer, former Facebook/eBay/PayPal security head Joe Sullivan, who ‘investigated’ it using encrypted, disappearing messaging apps. Atlantic.
  • CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick was forced to resign last June after losing the confidence of the company’s investors, in contrails of financial mismanagement, sexual harassment, driver harassment, and ‘bro culture’. This included legal action over Uber’s 2016 acquisition of self-driving truck startup Otto, started by former Googlers who may or may not have lifted proprietary tech from Google before ankling. These are lavishly outlined in Bloomberg and in an over-the-top article in Engadget (with the usual slams at libertarianism). Mr. Kalanick remains on the board and is now a private investor.
  • The plain fact is that Uber is still burning through funds (2017: $1bn) after raising $21.1bn and its valuation has suffered. The new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who earlier righted travel site Expedia, has a tough pull with investors such as SoftBank and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Also Mashable.

Healthcare and NEMT, as noted in our earlier article, are a strong source of potential steady revenue through reimbursement in Medicare Advantage and state Medicaid programs, which is why both Uber and Lyft are targeting it. The benefits for all sides–patients, practices, these companies, sub-contractors, and drivers–can be substantial and positive in this social determinant of health (SDOH).  

Healthcare organizations, especially payers, have strict codes of compliance not only for employees and business practices but also for their suppliers’ practices. Payers in Medicare Advantage and Medicaid are Federal and state contractors. While Uber under its new CEO has shown contriteness in acknowledging an organization in need of righting its moral compass (CNBC), there remains the track record and the aftermath. Both deserve a closer look and review.

CBO finds as budget neutral telehealth in Senate CHRONIC Care Act

Sneaking under the holiday week wire, when Congress high-tails it for home, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the telemedicine and telehealth provisions in the US Senate’s pending CHRONIC Care Act and found last week that they do not increase or decrease Medicare spending overall. Formally S.870 – Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017–and sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, this means that this bill developed by the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan Chronic Care Working Group has passed a key spending acceptability test, and is another step further towards passage. CHRONIC removes many of the qualifiers that Medicare hedged around telehealth and telemedicine, with most restricting reimbursement to rural areas. There are four areas where the Act removes barriers:

  1. Nationwide coverage for Telestroke
  2. Home remote patient monitoring for Dialysis Therapy
  3. Enhanced telehealth coverage for ACOs–this expands the provisions in the Next Generation ACO program to ACOs participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Stages II, III and the few left in Pioneer, so that telehealth will be reimbursed regardless of geographic location and in the home.
  4. Increased flexibility for telehealth coverage under Medicare Advantage plans

There’s a long way to go, but this is an important step forward to an equal playing field for telehealth services. National Law Review’s summary

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.

US Goverment encouraged to allow more telehealth in Medicare

For those unfamiliar with the US Medicare programme, which provides healthcare benefits for over-65s, it is a tale of two halves. The first, or original, half provides funding for hospitals directly through Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”). The second half of the tale is funding provided to insurance companies (known as Medicare Advantage Organisations or MAOs) to provide healthcare insurance cover. The details are complex and available on the official government site here.

Each year CMS sets the rates which the government will pay the MAOs and the proposed rates were published for consultation last month with the final decision being published next month. One of the respondents to the consultation was the Telecommunications Industry Association which strongly advised the CMS to support the use of telehealth within any MA plans as a means to reducing the cost of healthcare. While the TIA support is good news, and claims to be in the spirit of “long-time supporters of enhanced telehealth and remote monitoring services” I suspect the reasons are not entirely altruistic.

CMS says in its consultation document that some MAOs have asked CMS to include “remote access technology-furnished” services as part of MA plan basic benefits. However, as basic benefits can’t include anything not in the “original half”  (Parts A &B) CMS proposes to continue to include these as “mandatory supplemental services” in the coming year.

In this context remote access technologies are defined as Telemonitoring, Web- and Phone-based Technologies, Nurse Hotlines and other similar services. For 2015, CMS is also to allow MAOs to furnish medical services to beneficiaries via real-time interactive audio and video technologies as a mandatory supplemental benefit.