We focus on a number of topic areas identified by state health policy leaders as important to population health.
Keep up with news and updates from the Milbank Memorial Fund. Get the latest from thought leaders, including Christopher F. Koller, president of the Fund.
We publish The Milbank Quarterly, as well as reports, issues briefs, and case studies on topics important to population health.
The Center for Evidence-based Policy at Oregon Health & Science University is a national leader in evidence-based decision making and policy design.
The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed operating foundation that publishes The Milbank Quarterly, commissions projects, and convenes state health policy decision makers on issues they identify as important to population health.
President’s Blog: The View from Here
Apr 25, 2016 | Christopher F. Koller, President
My e-mail inbox is full of innovations—solicitations for health care meetings, most offering “unique opportunities” to hear from “national leaders,” all of whom are busy innovating.
Much of the conference fodder focuses on payment reform. Thanks largely to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal government—of all places—is an agent of innovation, paying for new services in new ways through initiatives, programs, and payment mechanisms such as episodes of care, accountable care organizations, health homes, and comprehensive primary care.
The commercial insurance industry is following suit, and we are awash in a veritable tsunami of innovations. Value-Based Payments and Alternative Payment Mechanisms (known as VBPs and APMs for the acronym-inclined)—involving population-based payments, risk-sharing arrangements, bundled payments and pay for performance—are swamping the industry.
Innovation is not the same as improvement, however. Payment innovations may create employment opportunities for consultants, but do they work?
In a highly competitive market, that question is answered by customers who reward payment initiatives that improve service value. No such luck in health care—where patients use other people’s money to pay for services they need greatly and understand poorly.
So innovators and imitators in complex nonmarket-based systems like education and social services must rely on evaluations of their work. In health care, this is the domain of health services research—a burgeoning if less lucrative field than VBP consulting.
Programmatic evaluations are less authoritative than the market. There are multiple methods for evaluating an innovation—the gold standard of randomized controlled trials can rarely be created in real world conditions of health care payment. Even when superior methodologies are employed, the conclusions that evaluations deliver are directional and not definitive. Given this, there is a robust debate about the extent to which evaluations should be insisted upon in health policy innovations.
This inability of evaluations to provide a definitive answer on whether a payment innovation “works” is illustrated in a recent report issued by the Milbank Memorial Fund, evaluating eight evaluations of multi-payer primary care transformation projects participating in the Fund’s Multi-State Collaborative. Researchers from Mathematica Policy Research found ample reasons to question positive and negative findings in all eight evaluations, noting ways that study designs, comparison groups, study power, and statistical methods could all be improved. Findings like these can create problems for payment innovators—and especially for their financiers or sponsors, who are looking for a definitive answer about whether an innovation is worthy of further investment. Congress explicitly forbids Medicare from implementing payment innovations developed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) unless the Office of the Actuary can certify that the innovation reduced costs and maintained quality or improved quality at no incremental cost. Such authorization is a high bar.
On the private sector side, there is no independent arbiter of effectiveness. Insurers, locked in private negotiations with providers, often lack the leverage, capacity, and focus to commit to and test a specific payment reform. Employers are advised by experts about how to evaluate payment reforms but do not have the ability to render a consensus judgment. Many choose to remain passive purchasers of health insurance, relying on insurance companies to figure out what payment reform works. Some large self-insured companies choose not to participate in payment reform efforts, letting other payers bear the burden of investing and experimenting.
So, in our multi-payer, financially fragmented health care environment, how will we come to consensus on when a payment innovation works? In the wake of the ACA, we are learning a lot of things very quickly:
At the Fund, we see these lessons in our work with multi-payer primary care transformation. After five or more long years, many of the projects in the Fund’s Multi-State Collaborative are showing real improvements in population health and costs. Is there innovation in this work? Certainly. But more importantly there is also evaluation and education, persistence, and perspiration.
The Milbank Memorial Fund is an endowed operating foundation that works to improve the health of populations by connecting leaders and decision makers with the best available evidence and experience.
Primary Care, Not Palaces
July 31, 2019
States Put Hospital Community-Benefits Requirements to Work for Population Health Improvement
July 25, 2019
How Well Does State Supervision of Hospital Mergers Work?
July 8, 2019
Get the Latest from the Milbank Memorial Fund