Can Big Data Rescue Long-Term Care Providers?

Big Challenge
Yesterday, the
Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care announced the release of a new study from Avalere Health, which projects a $65 billion cumulative reduction in Medicare funding of skilled nursing facility reimbursement over the next ten years. The cuts are projected to result from implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s productivity adjustment ($35.3 billion); the regulatory case-mix adjustment enacted in FY 2010 ($17.3 billion); a CMS forecast error adjustment in FY 2011 ($3.2 billion); and the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act ($9.8 billion).

Several news sources have picked up the Alliance’s press release and noted those states with the highest levels of projected annual cuts, e.g., Florida ($370 million), California ($350 million), Texas ($240 million), Illinois ($240 million), New York ($220 million), Pennsylvania ($200 million) and Ohio ($200 million).  I don’t think the aggregate comparisons are necessarily very useful because there are a host of other considerations that should be included to truly understand the relative impact of these reductions on individual SNF providers in each of these states.  What is quite meaningful, however, is the stark reality the industry is facing: the decade ahead will see tremendous operational and economic challenges as providers try to accommodate the demographic realities of increasing demand at the very same time less resources are available to cover costs.

Big Data to the Rescue?
In the July 2012 issue of HealthLeaders Magazine Philip Betbeze writes about
Healthcare’s Big Data Problem.  Well, it’s a problem in so much as substantial obstacles still stand in the way of being able to use healthcare data more effectively – and more pointedly, to the real time benefit of operational, financial and clinical decision making.

If I could sum up that challenge it would be this: how do you take an unparalleled amount of disparate  data (e.g., demographic, operational, financial, clinical) and meld it together into a warehouse of information, such that the various elements of that information can be combined, compared and contrasted in ways that reflect and then empower the distinctive thought processes of clinicians, managers and executive leadership of healthcare organizations?

As the article points out, some very encouraging progress is being made to overcome this challenge, including something called, “natural language processing technology,” which integrates clinician notes from the patient’s EMR into the aforementioned information warehouse.  This could be a huge step forward because it has the potential to address a major obstacle sited by many clinicians: i.e., the ability to effectively capture and later be able to quickly recall and share ad hoc note taking that is such a critical component of a patient’s record.

When looking at the path from data to actionable knowledge it is important to remember that data becomes information only after it has been collected, aggregated and organized.  Information becomes knowledge through analysis.  Knowledge becomes wisdom through synthesis.  Wisdom is the foundation of economically beneficial decision making.  Unfortunately, effectively navigating the winding path from raw data to informed decision making has a lot more to do with human nature and individual personalities than it does with the ability to store and manipulate binary data bits.

The Big Idea
So what does this have to do with post-acute and long-term care? As many providers are beginning to realize – and some I dare say, even accept – the economic future of healthcare delivery is going be built upon value-based incentives and risks.  Ultimately, the distinctive difference between financial sustainability and going out of business will depend on the ability of direct service and care workers – whether that is the medical director or the food service aide – to make real-time decisions that allocate the organization’s resources in ways that add value and minimize risk.

Empowering those individuals with the requisite knowledge (see above) to make those decisions more quickly, more confidently and more in alignment with the organization’s value-based mission will create competitive advantages that lead to comparatively stronger financial performance under value-based contracting and integrated care delivery models.  This is a critically important consideration to have in mind when beginning to explore potential relationships with other healthcare providers in your market. 

It is likely that many if not most post-acute/long-term care providers will have to link into and utilize the Big Data solutions of more formidable acute care organizations.  In doing so, PA/LTC organizations must be in a well-informed position so that they can clearly articulate how such solutions must serve them and their direct service and care workers as a prerequisite to their adding value to an integrated delivery network.  It fundamentally has to be a core element of the negotiating process.

So my advice to the leadership of PA/LTC organizations is straight forward: if you don’t yet realize and understand the impact that emerging Big Data solutions will have on how well you are strategically positioned to compete in a value-driven world of healthcare delivery and integrated models of care – learn quickly.  Or, as an alternative, find someone you trust who does – and listen to them.

That’s what I think, anyway.  Would love to hear what you think!

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

Medicaid Coverage of Nursing Care in Tennessee: Prudent, Rationing or Inevitable Reality?

In an article published yesterday in the Washington Post, Guy Gugliotta writes about a new Medicaid policy in Tennessee, which seeks more efficient alignment between reimbursement and cost settings (my interpretation). 

This is very likely an important bellwether of state Medicaid policy that will be repeated in some fashion or other in other states, and it has unsurprisingly been met with a fair amount of controversy and concern.

Operating under a Section 1115 waiver from CMS, TennCare is the State of Tennessee’s Medicaid program, providing health care for 1.2 million with an annual budget of $8 billion. TennCare utilizes a managed care model that extends coverage to additional populations who would not otherwise be Medicaid eligible, while seeking to maintain a consistent level of quality care.  Tennessee has one of the oldest Medicaid managed care programs in the country, having begun on January 1, 1994. It is the only program in the nation to enroll the entire state Medicaid population in managed care.

On June 20th of this year TennCare released a new Nursing Facility Level of Care Guide outlining programmatic changes to its CHOICES program, which, “are designed to target Nursing Facility services to persons with higher acuity of need, while simultaneously making Home and Community Based Services more broadly available.”  This is the subject of the above-referenced article.

With this initiative TennCare seeks to increase the Nursing Facility Level of Care criteria necessary for Medicaid eligibility to a level it believes to be more in line with criteria used in other states while providing a less costly benefit for those individuals who will no longer qualify under the new criteria.  The new criteria are being applied prospectively, so no one currently qualifying for nursing care will be affected.

Under the new eligibility criteria three groups are established:
Group 1: Individuals eligible to receive care in a nursing
                 
facility (NF) and requesting care in a NF;
Group 2: Individuals eligible to receive care in a NF but
                   requesting home and community-based services
                   (HCBS) in lieu of receiving care in a NF; and
Group 3: Individuals not eligible to receive care in a NF,
                   but “at risk” of NF placement and requesting
                   HCBS in the TennCare CHOICES program.

Group 3 is the population of concern and being debated from a policy perspective.  These are individuals that may have qualified for nursing care coverage under previous criteria and been eligible for HCBS cost coverage at a level commensurate with the cost of coverage in a NF.  Now the annual benefits available to this population will be $15,000.

From a consumer advocacy perspective the concern is that many individuals in Group 3 will not receive adequate services and care because the $15,000 benefit is not sufficient.  From a state policy perspective the concern is trying to allocate finite resources in a fashion where those individuals with the greatest need are afforded the ability to receive care that meets those needs.  In short, pub patrons, welcome to Healthcare Public Policy in the 21st Century.

From a pragmatic vantage, the initiative in Tennessee has very important ramifications for providers of community-based services and post-acute/long-term care.  This is an initiative that is certain to hasten the trend toward HCBS and away from care in institutional settings.  It is a threat to projected demand for long-term care in NF settings – and it is a threat to projected reimbursement levels available to HCBS providers under Medicaid.

It seems to me that any healthcare provider wishing to include the Medicaid population in its targeted market in the future look now at how to integrate BOTH NF-based care AND HCBS in its care continuum if it wishes to be economically viable and sustainable.  What do you think?

Cheers, 
~ Sparky