TTA’s ‘winter dog days’ 5: Change Healthcare cyberattacked, Walgreens’ VillageMD exiting FL, Cigna $3.2B buyback, Cerner-VA problems, Teladoc’s weak ’24 forecast, telemental health revives, LockBit busted, more!

 

 

A few surprises at week’s end, with what appears to be a cyberattack taking down Change Healthcare’s systems and Walgreens’ VillageMD exiting Florida. There’s life in funding and stock buybacks but Oracle Cerner’s in the same-old with the VA. Teladoc on slow recovery road, telemental health coming back, LockBit busted, Musk’s Neuralink implant, and a few thoughts on AI. 

Weekend reading: AI cybersecurity tools no panacea, reality v. illusion in healthcare AI, RPM in transitioning to hospital-at-home, Korean study on older adult health tech usage (AI obsession?)
Breaking: Walgreens’ VillageMD shutting in Florida; Change Healthcare system websites cyberattacked (updated) (Two shockers)
Mid-week roundup: Cotiviti’s $10.5B stake to KKR; Cigna buys back $3.2B shares; VA Oracle Cerner faulty med records; LockBit ransomware websites cold-busted at every level, principals indicted; Trualta partners with PointClickCare
Teladoc closes 2023 with improved $220M loss, but weak forecast for 2024 leads to stock skid (Teladoc in recovery)
Telemental news roundup: Brightside Health expands Medicaid/Medicare partners; Blackbird Health gains $17M Series A; Nema Health’s PTSD partnership with Horizon BCBSNJ (A comeback badly needed)
Neuralink BCI human implant subject moving computer mouse by thought: Elon Musk (Controversy)

A week with a lot of Facing The Music, as the snow and chill continue as we’re ready for spring, already. Four payers scuttle mergers, Walgreens and Amazon are reorganizing big time, and the losses (Amwell especially) and layoffs continue. Apple wins a round in its patent fight with AliveCor. It’s the New Reality and let’s hope we get to a Newer, Better Reality soon. Maybe it’s time to focus on designing tech that is older adult (and not so older adult) friendly–and yes, there are some ‘green shoots’.

Weekend reading: why the tech experience for older adults needs a reboot (a boot in the….?), health tech takeaways from CES (Must reads)
Mid-week news roundup: Elevance-BCBSLA, SCAN-CareOregon mergers scuttled; Amwell’s $679M loss, layoffs; Invitae genetics files Ch. 11; innovations released from DeepScribe, Essence SmartCare (DE), fall detection at Atrium Health (SC)
Further confirmation of the New Reality for digital health–lower valuations, more exits, fewer startups, tech buyers not seeing ROI (The cleanout continues)
AliveCor v. Apple latest: Federal court tosses AliveCor suit on heart rate app data monopolization (This David v. Goliath round goes to Goliath)
Facing the Music of the New Reality: Amazon Pharmacy & One Medical restructure; Walgreens shakes up health exec suites again, cashes out $992M in Cencora; new takes on NeueHealth; Cue Health, Nomad Health layoffs

AI: how much of it is hype, how much harm can it do, and call in the lawyers. Rock Health sotto voce issued its downbeat 2023 roundup, with 2024 predictions familiar to our Readers. Ireland’s HealthBeacon sold to a new healthcare player–Hamilton Beach. Cano Health faces the Chapter 11 music, veterans at VA will Mynd, and mass outsourcing to Optum.

2023 was buying time, 2024 is face the music time: Rock Health (Blood out of a Rock?)
Another icy bucket: who is liable when a healthcare AI system fails? (More AI caveats)
First healthcare IPO: BrightSpring debuted at less than projected, but holding value (Nice to see)
Mid-week short takes: Ireland’s HealthBeacon bought by Hamilton Beach (!), Ambience AI raises $70M, VA to develop VR mental health app with Mynd Immersive (VA tries out digital therapeutics)
Two Must Reads: Is AI the next hype bubble replacing crypto–and capable of great harm? (Get set to be apprehensive)
News roundup: Cano Health files Ch. 11 bankruptcy, delisted (updated), Walgreens lays off more, Allina Health outsources 2,000 RCM jobs to Optum (The inevitable for Cano and Walgreens, along with speculation)

This week pinged between overstatement and underreporting. The press around the Blair and Hague recommendations around selling NHS medical data–exaggerated. Underreported? Who was targeted in 23andMe’s 6.9M record data breach–and their future. The upward trajectory of cyberattacks confirmed, Musk gets his brain implant going, Cigna sells MA but Amazon calls it off with iRobot, and a former CMS head to helm Oracle Health.

Sell NHS medical records to fund AI, biotech? Not quite what’s in the Blair-Hague report. (They didn’t read the National Purpose report)
23andMe data breach may have targeted those of Jewish and Chinese heritage; company valuation crashes (Is there a bottom?)
Short takes: Orion digital pain therapeutic to be commercialized by Newel Health; Verma to head Oracle Health; CVS to shut 25 LA-area MinuteClinics 
2023’s global cyberattack disaster: healthcare #3 in weekly attacks, 10% of organizations ransomwared–report (Beware)
News roundup: Musk’s Neuralink implants first human BCI; Cigna’s $3.7B MA sale to HCSC; no Amazon deal for iRobot; DispatchHealth-Instacart food Rx; 5 India health tech fundings 

A newsy week…a bit of catchup on JPM which has caught up to the New Reality explored in our ’24 forecast. Humana loses on MA, Walgreens now officially labeled ‘troubled’, but Bright Health survives and rebrands. Cybersecurity beat out AI this week with HHS performance goals (more work, fewer IT people) while breached patient records doubled last year. Fundings and more this ‘n’ that.

Short takes: Humana’s big MA loss; Medicare telemental care bill back in Senate; HHS releases cybersecurity performance goals; Texas Healthcare Challenge hackathon 23-24 February (HHS asking for cybersec upgrades while IT departments are laid off)
Midweek updates: Walgreens may sell Shields Health after 2 years; Ventric Health’s home cardiac RPM; Singapore military medical corps upgrades PACES 3 EMR (Walgreens now labeled as ‘troubled’)
Peering through the cloudy crystal ball into 2024 healthcare investment and company health (2024 a funhouse mirror image of 2023?)
News roundup: Bright Health now NeueHealth; breached patient records double, RCM as vector for hacking; Amazon’s CCM marketplace; JPM reflects the new reality; fundings for Vita Health, Turquoise, CardioSignal (Settling into the new normal)
Published: NHS guidance on integrating TEC providers into urgent community response (UCR) (UK) (Less stress on ambulance services and EDs)

In the ‘dog days’ of winter, Apple gets a comeuppance in its patent fights with Masimo and disables pulse oximetry in two Watch models. AliveCor moves forward against Apple in Federal court. We sort out a lot of new product introductions, a sale of a company we thought was sold, a possible Really Big EHR Sale, General Catalyst buys a provider…and 23andMe turns the tables on their massive data breach by Blaming the Victims. 

Got a data breach? Blame the victims like 23andMe did! (This is a first)
News roundup #2: Bright.md sells remaining customers to 98point6; Netsmart EHR up for $5B possible sale; Caregility intros two new telehealth systems (Maybe a big sale coming?)
Breaking: appeals court continues ITC ban on Apple Watches with working pulse oximetry (Masimo wins a round)
News roundup: Owlet’s Dream Sock, BabySat go to market; General Catalyst’s HATco agrees to buy Summa; Cigna’s contrasting provider strategy; new ElliQ robot assistant debuts at CES (HATCo’s first step into health transformation?)
Apple removes pulse oximetry from Watches to dodge ban; AliveCor advances patent review v. Apple (two big updates!)

Reality bites as we recap the 2023 hangover at several major companies with cutbacks from the suites to the streets and C-suite changes that you may have missed.

Wrapping up many changes at Walgreens, VillageMD, CVS Health, Oracle Health (A lot of musical chairs!)

Happy 2024! Breaking out of the January gate, Apple gets stay in the Masimo patent fight and Watch sales resume. The continuing soap operas of Cano Health and Veradigm resume. Bright Health’s cash from Molina gains some breathing room, and rival Devoted scores a tidy Series E. In the UK, telecare issues rise as the digital voice switchover nears–learn more next Friday.

A timely webinar Fri 12 Jan: Protecting a lifeline – preparing for the digital voice switchover (UK) (Trying to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled)
News roundup: Cano Health gets 2nd NYSE delisting warning; Veradigm acquires Koha Health RCM, faces class-action lawsuit; Bright Health-Molina sale closes; Devoted Health’s $175M Series E (updated) (Some funding ‘light’ and Bright sees some daylight)
Breaking: ban on sale of Apple Watches 9 and Ultra 2 stayed by federal appeals court Wed 27 December (Until mid-January for now)


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Telehealth & Telecare Aware: covering the news on latest developments in telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, and health tech, worldwide–thoughtfully and from the view of fellow professionals

Thanks for asking for update emails. Please tell your colleagues about this news service and, if you have relevant information to share with the rest of the world, please let me know.

Donna Cusano, Editor In Chief
donna.cusano@telecareaware.com

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Telemental news roundup: Brightside Health expands Medicaid/Medicare partners; Blackbird Health gains $17M Series A; Nema Health’s PTSD partnership with Horizon BCBSNJ

Mental health, whether pure ‘telemental’ or an integrated in-person/virtual model, remains one of the healthier (so to speak) sectors of digital health.

Brightside Health announced today a series of new and expanded health plan partnerships as well as expanded state coverage for Medicare and Medicaid plans.

  • CareOregon with a new contract to serve Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Blue Shield of California with a new contract to serve Medicare Advantage enrollees.

These add to Brightside’s partnerships announced last October:

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas–expanded contract to include Medicare Advantage coverage.
  • Centene’s expansion of coverage state-by-state, including Nebraska Total Care Medicaid and Wellcare Medicare Advantage.
  • Optum for UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members
  • Lucet for Florida Blue members

Under traditional Medicare, coverage now includes Texas, California, Delaware, Arizona, New York, Washington, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois.

Beneficiaries and members can access Brightside’s virtual psychiatric therapy including medication, plus cognitive and behavioral therapy with independent skill practice, and Crisis Care, Brightside’s program for those with elevated suicide risk. With the new partnerships, Brightside is now estimating that they cover approximately 100 million lives–one in three US covered lives–and is seeking to further expand these partnerships as well as to traditional (original) Medicare Part B beneficiaries. Brightside Health was founded well before the gold rush in telemental health–2017–and has raised over $81 million over five rounds up to a Series B in March 2022, mainly led by Acme Capital (Crunchbase). Brightside release, Yahoo! Finance, Psychiatric Times

Blackbird Health raised $17 million in a Series A funding. This was led by Define Ventures with participation from Frist Cressey Ventures and GreyMatter, for a total raise of $23 million to date. Blackbird addresses the other side of the spectrum from Medicare–pediatric mental health in an integrated in-person and telemental health model–and serves patients aged 2-26. Blackbird’s care model considers in an ‘understand-first’ approach how children’s brains develop over time and the impact that growth has on mental health. Another unique aspect is that they developed a series of ‘Blackbird Biotypes’ based on 50 million data points drawn over a decade that identify patterns of behavior in clusters of individuals with similar symptoms-linked brain features. These assist in assessment, accurately identifying the underlying root cause of symptoms, and proposing integrated and personalized treatment plans. Blackbird claims this approach results in substantially lower use of medications and ED utilization. Last year, Evolent Health co-founder and COO Tom Peterson joined the company after his own family’s experience with Blackbird’s therapeutic model to help it scale from its three clinics and 40 providers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Blackbird release, Forbes

Startup Nema Health, a virtual clinic targeting a single condition–post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–is now in-network in Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ (Horizon BCBSNJ) commercial plans. Nema’s model is virtual care for PTSD from evaluation and virtual therapy sessions, starting with intensive sessions 3-5 times per week for 2-4 weeks, through support from a designated peer mentor plus messaging and interactive exercises. Based in NYC, Nema is in-network with UnitedHealthcare/Optum, Oxford, Oscar, and Connecticare in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Horizon is New Jersey’s largest insurer. Nema claims that 76% of their patients no longer meet PTSD criteria after completing Nema therapy. Nema is at seed stage funding of $4.1 million from .406 Ventures and Optum Ventures, raised last November. FierceHealthcare, Nema release

Why this matters:

Since 2020, telemental health got a black eye (and then some) from ADHD and opioid medication-assisted treatment (MAT) providers such as Cerebral, Done Health, Truepill, and others. Thriving during the pandemic, many of them are now facing various Federal charges. Others, like Calm, are basically meditation and sleep apps. The real need, and provider shortage, remains.

The need for psychiatric care and support for Medicare and Medicaid covered populations is high, but clinical supply is low.

  • According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in announcing the state-based Innovation in Behavioral Health (IBH) eight-year, eight-state integrated care model last month, among the 65 million Americans currently enrolled in Medicare, 25% have at least one mental illness, with 40% of Medicaid members experiencing mental illness or substance use disorders (SUDs).
  • Yet provider shortages have worsened over time–as of 2020, The Commonwealth Fund estimated that an additional 7,400 providers (not necessarily psychiatric MDs) were needed to meet demand. Studies cited in Psychiatric Times (2022) estimate that the current shortage of psychiatrists, running at 6%, is expected to be between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists by 2024. Distribution is concentrated in urban areas and their suburbs as well. It doesn’t help that physicians entering psychiatry in 2003-13 decreased by 0.2% and their average age is 55. Even in well-covered geographic areas, retiring doctors with no replacements have created coverage shortages.
  • For child psychiatry, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports that there are just 14 psychiatric specialists for every 100,000 children in America. 

CVS Aetna testing social determinants of health with Medicaid HealthTag pilot

The meshing of payer, retail, and service enhancements to improve health outcomes is the aim of CVS Aetna’s HealthTag pilot in Louisiana and West Virginia. It’s not terribly complicated. Aetna Medicaid (state health program) members picking up their prescriptions at CVS pharmacies will receive tucked into their prescription bag information on social and community services that may be useful to them, services such as food, housing, and transportation. An outside organization, Unite Us, is the resource for these social care programs. 

HealthTag is part of a broader and older ongoing program, Destination: Health [TTA 27 July 19] with Unite Us and a five-year affordable housing initiative. Unite Us’ community organizations had to do quite a bit of adjusting to virtual assistance from in-person after the pandemic hit. R.J. Briscione, senior director for social determinants of health (SDOH) strategy at CVS Health, told Fierce Healthcare that the objective of the “program is designed to identify Aetna Medicaid members who could use additional interventions to address their social needs, but who might otherwise not receive those potential services.” The pharmacy is a logical place as the members may have frequent interactions with their pharmacists for medications. (What is not said that frequent medication use is a leading indicator of multiple chronic conditions which may be mitigated by improvements in food sources, housing, and transportation to work and doctors, and possibly reducing cost.) 

Unite Us is also working with Lyft car service to provide non-emergency patient transportation to referred health appointments [TTA 13 Mar].

SDOH is not new to US payers, but the CVS Aetna integration and delivery is much more seamless than distribution through a practice office or mailers.  (This Editor worked on a WellCare program delivered through participating practices in their Maryland accountable care organization unit, and it was hard to get traction.)

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.

CMS urged to further reimburse telehealth remote patient monitoring with three new CPT codes

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which controls payments to doctors for the Medicare and state Medicaid programs, has been urged by 49 healthcare organizations and technology vendors to further unbundle the controlling CPT code for remote patient monitoring (RPM), 99091. The 2018 Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) Final Rule finally separated RPM from telemedicine remote visits by permitting separate payment for remote physiological data monitoring by unbundling CPT 99091 to reimburse for patient-generated health data (PGHD)–a new term. The letter to Administrator Seema Verma proposes 2019 adoption of three additional American Medical Association CPT Editorial Panel-developed codes which further break down various aspects of RPM, while maintaining 99091. 

CPT codes for Medicare and Medicaid are important because they also influence private insurers’ reimbursement policies. Practices which get paid for RPM are more likely to adopt enabling technologies if they are affordable within how they are paid. 

CMS started to include telehealth RPM in 2015 in a chronic care management code, 99490, but specifically prohibited the use of CPT 99091 in conjunction with CCM. This created a lot of confusion after some brief moments of hope by tying technology to a complex CCM model.

It’s possibly a ‘light at end of the tunnel’ development for hungry tech companies, but one which won’t be determined till end of year when PFS rules are released. Also Healthcare Dive.

Soapbox: JPM’s Dimon takes the 50,000 foot view on the JP Morgan Chase-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon health joint venture

Mr. Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, had a few thoughts about the JPM-Berkshire Hathaway-Amazon healthcare JV for all three companies. You’ll have to fill up the tea or coffee mug (make it a small pot) for it’s an exceedingly prolix Annual Shareholder Letter you’ll have to sled through to find those comments. Your Editor has taken her punishment to find them, towards the end of the letter in ‘Public Policy’. 

They demonstrate what this Editor suspected–an headache-inducing mix of generalities and overreach, versus starting modestly and over-delivering.

  • Point #1 sets up what has gone wrong. Among several, “Our nation’s healthcare costs are twice the amount per person compared with most developed nations.” Under point 2 on how poor public policy happened, an admission that Obamacare fixed little:

Here’s another example: We all know that the U.S. healthcare system needs to be reformed. Many have advocated getting on the path to universal healthcare for all Americans. The creation of Obamacare, while a step in the right moral direction, was not well done. America has 290 million people who have insurance — 180 million through private enterprise and 110 million through Medicare and Medicaid. Obamacare slightly expanded both and created exchanges that insure 10 million people. But it did very little to fix our broken healthcare system and has, in fact, torn up the body politic over 10 years — and this tumult may go on for another 10 years.

  • Point #7 is about fixing the deficit and the ill effects if we don’t. In Mr. Dimon’s view, healthcare is a major part of this through the uncontrolled growth of entitlements, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security leading the pack–skipping over the fact that nearly all Americans pay into Medicare and SSI well in advance of any entitlement collection. Healthcare is also an offender through unnecessary costs such as administrative and fraud (25-40 percent),  and six mainly chronic conditions accounting for 75 percent of spending.
  • The experts–specifically, their experts–will fix it! “While we don’t know the exact fix to this problem, we do know the process that will help us fix it. We need to form a bipartisan group of experts whose direct charge is to fix our healthcare system. I am convinced that this can be done, and if done properly, it will actually improve the outcomes and satisfaction of all American citizens.”
  • The generalities continue with
    • The JV “will help improve the satisfaction of our healthcare services for our employees (that could be in terms of costs and outcomes) and possibly help inform public policy for the country.” 
    • Aligning incentives systemwide ‘because we’re getting what we incentivize’
    • “Studying the extraordinary amount of money spent on waste, administration and fraud costs.”
    • “Empowering employees to make better choices and have the best options available by owning their own healthcare data with access to excellent telemedicine options, where more consumer-driven health initiatives can help.”
    • “Developing better wellness programs, particularly around obesity and smoking — they account for approximately 25% of chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, stroke, heart disease and depression).”
    • “Determining why costly and specialized medicine and pharmaceuticals are frequently over- and under-utilized.”
    • “Examining the extraordinary amount of money spent on end-of-life care, often unwanted.”
    • “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked”).

This Editor has observed from the vantage of the health tech, analytics, payer, and care model businesses that nearly every company has addressed or is addressing all these concerns. So what’s new here? Perhaps the scale, but will they tap into the knowledge base those businesses represent or reinvent the wheel? 

A bad sign is Mr. Dimon’s inclusion of ‘end of life care’. This last point is a prime example of overreach–how many of the JV’s employees are in this situation? The ‘attack’ tactics? We’ve seen, heard, and many of us have been part of similar efforts.

Prediction: This JV may be stuck at the 50,000 foot view. It will take a long time, if ever, to descend and produce the concrete, broadly applicable results that it eagerly promises to its million-plus employees, much less the polity. 

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.

Telehealth policy and reimbursement changes summarized by Center for Connected Health Policy (US)

A significant barrier to the adoption of telehealth (defined here as video consults, store and forward imaging, and remote patient monitoring) is the issue of reimbursement gaps. Basic Medicare (the Federal program for those over 65) pays for video and store and forward only under certain conditions (primarily under rural telehealth programs) but does pay for RPM as part of chronic care management (albeit under a maze of codes and procedures). Medicaid (the state low-income insurance program) is far more lenient, and private pay in states varies widely, with 36 states having some form of parity payment legislation. However, Medicare is planning expansion beyond what is covered in private plans (Medicare Advantage) by 2020. Some Federal programs such as the advanced Next Generation ACO program and the bundled payment Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement model have telehealth waivers.

The always-helpful Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) has published a five-page guide to where these programs stand. Becker’s Hospital Review. CCHP PDF 

Improvements in telehealth reimbursement, interstate coverage urged in Florida

Florida is one of the 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) to have legislated telehealth commercial insurance coverage, usually termed ‘parity’, for telehealth (telemedicine) virtual visits. It’s also the headquarters of many telehealth related companies, which makes it surprising that it took till 2016 for legislation to pass. In the law was the formation of a Telehealth Advisory Council within Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to report on the actual performance of insurers in paying for telehealth services. This Advisory Council recently met to review a draft copy of a 32-page report that will be sent to Florida’s Governor and Legislature later this month. That report contained some aggressive recommendations based on their provider survey, such as:

  • Establishing a practitioner/patient relationship through telehealth alone, without a prior in-person visit
  • Real parity in insurance company payment with in-person visits–in other words, payment at the same rate, which is explicitly stated in regulations in only three of the 34 states with telehealth ‘parity’ legislation
  • Amend Medicaid rules to give provider reimbursement for more telehealth services–currently, Medicaid provides for reimbursement of live video conferencing only
  • Authorize participation in interstate “compacts” that enable cross-state licensure for telehealth services. This was in the Florida House version of the bill in 2016 but dropped from the final version approved by both chambers.

The Advisory Council’s survey prior to the draft report showed lower than the national usage of telehealth: 6 percent of practitioners versus nationally 16 percent. 45 percent of Florida hospitals used telehealth, below the 52 percent of hospitals (with another 10 percent in the process) found in a 2013 national poll. For practitioners, the key barrier was financial in three areas: required investment, adequate reimbursement for services, and a financial return.

By law, the Advisory Council must complete its report by December 1, 2018, but it appears they are well ahead of schedule. Health News Florida (WUSF). Background from law firm Foley on the original legislation 14 March 2016

Action This Day in US healthcare, coming to pharma, insurance, home care and innovation

Action This Day, in Churchill’s words. Today’s news of President Trump meeting with the CEOs of US pharmaceutical companies– Novartis, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Celgene, and Amgen–along with the PhRMA association head, indicates the speed of change that this two-week old Administration intends in healthcare. Trump’s points to the Pharma Giants: drug prices need to be brought down, especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients, through competitive bidding not price-fixing; bringing home production to the US; and that there is ‘global freeloading’ on US drugs. This last is a bit vague, and the pricing part may stir some Standard Republican Resistance, but what Trump also came down firmly for is speeding up the drug approval process. In return, the execs asked for tax reform.

Notable here is this quote:  “I’ll oppose anything that makes it harder for smaller, younger companies to take the risk of bringing their product to a vibrantly competitive market,” Trump said. “That includes price-fixing by the biggest dog in the market, Medicare, which is what’s happening.” The Hill, Business Insider

Does this mean an open door and encouragement for healthcare technology?

Certainly many startups, early-stage companies, and Grizzled Pioneers are eagerly anticipating a more open healthcare business environment than the many dictates, restrictions and the constant changing of goalposts they have faced for the past eight years. The hope is an openness of the Powers That Be on the Federal side (CMS, HHS, FDA) to innovation, patient-centered care and a change away from hammering constantly on lowering cost through a multitude of controls and top-down diktats on what Healthcare Should Be.

This Editor has seen companies straining to hang in there, playing the niches, moderating their equity raises, merging, projecting profitability sometime in the future. Some have not made it. One is the pioneer telehealth company Viterion Corporation, which was quietly dissolved by its parent company in Japan for various reasons at end of last year. (Editor’s disclaimer: I was marketing director for the company.)

Already innovation is reaching long-neglected areas like home care. Home support for the aging population isn’t buzzy, analytic or sexy, but it’s ready for change. The Financial Times takes a look at this $40 bn US market, focusing on the Hometeam caregiving service presently in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which has over $43 million in investment after only three years (Crunchbase); Honor, which has over $65 million in funding, operating California and Texas. Their points of difference from traditional home care agencies involve models and technology. Hometeam employs carers who are full employees with benefits and an average of $15/hour pay, double that of the usual minimum wage paid to independent contractors. They equip carers with iPads to track what happens in the home, and to report daily to families. Honor has an algorithm to help it scale up from the 100 or so carers who are the ‘break point’ in matching carers with patient needs. In contrast, the UK is far behind in development. The article looks at Vida which uses a mix of carers and technology for its private pay clients. Now approved by the Care Quality Commission, Vida is already in talks with local councils across London and Brighton. But funding is thin: £400,000 of start-up funding and planning to raise £1 million. Tech start-ups try to fix ailing US elderly care sector. If paywalled, search on the title. Hat tip to Susanne Woodman

Action Next Days? Predictions have been all over the place since the election. Many have been overheated (and highly political), but others explain the complexities of undoing the past six years. A reminder: the PPACA did not go into effect until 2010 and most of the provisions kicked in during 2011. Health tech law firm Epstein Becker Green trotted out its crystal ball (more…)

State by State report on telehealth laws and policies (US)

A comprehensive scan of telehealth laws and Medicaid [grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/State-telehealth-laws.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]program policies is available from the recently released report from the Center for Connected Health Policy, part of the Public Health Institute, a California based non-profit. This fourth annual review, State Telehealth Laws and Medicaid Program Policies,  provides a current summary of telehealth policies and laws in all the states and the District of Columbia.

As we have covered in many previous articles, states are actively pursuing legislation to implement their own set of telehealth policies. This report is supposedly an up to date summary of these laws and regulations as of March 2016.

Some significant findings highlighted by the authors are
– 47 states and Washington DC provide reimbursements for some form of telemedicine video conferencing. This number is unchanged from last year.
– 9 states reimburse for store and forward services (e.g. medical images, documents and pre-recorded videos. Primarily sent between medical professionals)
– 16 states offer reimbursement for remote patient monitoring, unchanged from last year

The report is complemented by an interactive map located here.

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

Arizona plans using health tech to engage Medicaid recipients

Arizona’s smartphone app-based outreach plan for its Medicaid (low-income health insurance) program has raised a few eyebrows. The app/online site would:

* Help beneficiaries find primary and urgent care providers
* Provide beneficiaries access to chronic disease management tools
* Send beneficiaries appointment reminders

The programs would use mobile, online and texting, which doesn’t require a smartphone and has historically worked well in compliance and information (e.g. Text4Baby). For the critics, however, Pew Research found that half of those with incomes under $30,000 have smartphones. This number also includes the elderly, and does not take into account recent growth–smartphone prices have decreased smartly, and are now available on pay-go plans. iHealthBeat

Telehealth reimbursement makes legislative progress in Texas, US House

In Texas, telehealth reimbursement as part of the state Medicaid program passed their House resoundingly (120 to 5!) and moved to the state Senate. (In Texas, if your bill makes it through the scrum that is their House, the Senate moves expeditiously.)  HB (House Bill) 2641 would authorize Texas’ Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC) to extend reimbursement for home telemonitoring (telehealth) services under the state Medicaid program from September this year for four years. Health care providers in Medicaid would be reimbursed for review and transmission of electronic health information. The caveat of course is that it is ‘feasible and cost effective’–it is designed to be expenditure neutral. The bill also includes extensive stipulations on health information exchanges based on national standards (ANSI) as well as amending the health and safety code for immunizations and other health conditions. The ‘criminal offense’ pertains to protected health information breaches as a misdemeanor. Telehealth inclusion in Medicaid is positive as this state insurance plan serves the poorest and often sickest, as well as many federal Medicare ‘dual eligibles’. Texas, being a large state, also sets trends (including the most reluctant to adopt cross-state telemedicine licensure.)  Text of HB2641

Would that telehealth reimbursement have the same chance in that large, exceedingly deliberative body called the US House of Representatives. HR2066, the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2015, is similar to a bill that expired in committee in the last session. It was introduced (more…)

Nursing homes vs. hospitals for primary senior care

Another way to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations? A recent New York Times article has kicked off a debate on whether many procedures for older adults can be better delivered in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility (SNF) setting rather than in-patient hospitals. Already serving many seniors for rehabilitation and residential care for multiple chronic conditions and old age-related debilities, the dreaded transfer to hospital may be lessened by a combination of outpatient procedure and installation of 24-hour nursing at these homes. Unbelievably (to this Editor) many of the 16,000 nursing homes in the country do not have round-the-clock nursing staff; only five states require 24/7 registered nurse coverage on site and there is no Federal requirement. An advantage is that minimizing hospital stay also minimizes hospital-acquired infections, patient distress (more…)

State telemedicine legislation update (US)

Here’s some brief updates on US telemedicine legislation scene to hit the news recently.

Florida

Florida is progressing the telehealth bill we reported on 12 Feb 2015. The Florida Senate [grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Florida-House-of-Representattives.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Telehealth Policy Committee revised the draft bill on 18 Feb 2015 so the need for Medicaid reimbursements to be the same for telemedicine and face-to-face consultations is removed.

Mississippi

We have reported many telehealth initiatives from Mississippi and the state is now considered to be “a leader in telemedicine” according to a recent report in Politico. “Mississippi’s telemedicine program, ranked among the seven best in the country, has inspired neighboring Arkansas to take bigger steps in some areas of the field, and the impact of its success is making waves in Washington as well” continues Politico.

Mississippi is also helping to move telehealth at a federal level. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced a bipartisan bill in July last year to expand telehealth services under Medicare. The bill called Medicare [grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/mississippi-logo1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Telehealth Parity Act 2014 starts to move face to face and telehealth consultations to be on an equal footing.

(more…)