MCOL Thought Leaders: Implications of Narrow Networks

Today's Topic

how far will the trend towards narrower health plan networks go – and what are the implications?”

alexander domaszewicz

 alexander domaszewicz

Alexander Domaszewicz

ACA legislation put many guardrails on health program design – premium cost sharing must be affordable based on percent of pay and cost sharing through design requires at least a 60% value plan. Narrow networks are one of the few areas that insurers and program sponsors still have left to positively impact cost and quality while staying compliant. The increased use and focus on local plans through exchanges, both public and private, will also spur greater use of narrow networks. With so many forces encouraging folks to get the right care, at the right time, for the right price, with the right outcome, narrow networks will continue to grow, evolve and add value. Despite their opportunity, there are still substantial risks around member understanding. If more efforts aren’t made to educate participants about the trade-offs they’re making when electing less expensive but narrower network insurance offerings, there could be meaningful backlash against the trend.

mark lutes

Mark Lutes
Member of the Firm,
Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.

“Narrow networks” will be with us — but their etiology will not be predominantly through payors culling their networks via economic credentialing. More often beneficiaries needing more intensive case management will “opt in” to a care path administered by providers who are paid as their “home” or through shared savings. Also, “narrow networks” will occur through default–that is through the combined effect of higher deductibles and additional price transparency. As beneficiaries continue to shoulder more of the first tier of risk for their own care, and mobile tools become increasingly available forecasting the costs of episodes, de facto narrow networks of price competitive, accessible (and telehealth friendly) providers will emerge.

Universal American: A “Healthy Collaboration”

JP Morgan Healthcare Conference | Universal American

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH; originally posted at ACO Watch

I intended to post updates from Aetna and Cigna next in this series, yet today I received a tweet by Vince Kuraitis, aka @VinceKuraitis, calling attention to Universal American a managed care player I’ve not spent much time on. Yet they present a rather interesting profile and operating footprint some of which I will highlight below. According to their website Universal American (UAM):

...provides health benefits to people with Medicare. We are dedicated to a Healthy Collaboration, working together with healthcare professionals in order to improve the health and well-being of our members.

The JPMorgan Healthcare conference deck is here, and webcast here (you may need to register). Of note is with the recent release of CMS certified ACOs, UAM now operates ’31 ACOs approved for participation in the Shared Savings Program which include more than 2,000 participating physicians covering an estimated 300,000 Original Medicare beneficiaries in 13 states.’ So not only are they a player in Medicare Advantage (the end game for risk bearing ACOs), they have a presence in the gateway market as well. For complete details, click here. Two pieces from their narrative tell the story, 1) the ‘healthcare landscape’: 

ACOs: We’re NOT There Yet

by Brian Klepper

On The Health Care Blog, veteran analyst Vince Kuraitis reviews a report from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman (OW), arguing that the trend toward reconfiguring health systems to deliver more accountable care is more widespread than any of us suspect.

“The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs-and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.”

OW provides a well-reasoned analysis and conclusions, but I’m skeptical. In discussions with health system executives around the country, I hear some movement toward change, but relatively few organizations are materially turning their operations in a different direction. The specter of policy change is looming, but it is still abstract. As I’ve described before, market forces are intensifying, but they’re mostly still scattered and immature.

Good or perfect: Cutting the fastest path forward

Guest post by Patrick GordonDirector, Colorado Beacon Consortium

Early pioneers to Colorado did not have the luxury of waiting for railway or infrastructure to be in place before taming a new frontier. Their vision and determination laid the foundation for the settlers who followed. They used the tools and talents they had to develop an infrastructure and ultimately build viable, productive communities. Had they waited for the perfect conditions, they’d still be back east.

It’s a lesson we’ve applied to health care transformation. At the Colorado Beacon Consortium (CBC), we resisted the temptation to delay good learning opportunities and wait for perfect solutions. We embraced the ONC/HHS’ challenge to demonstrate how costs can be reduced and patient health improved by integrating health information technology (HIT) into a transformed clinical workflow. This pioneering effort requires new competencies with patient and population data, more sophisticated technology, and a supporting workforce. So far, we’ve offered technical assistance to more than 50 primary care practices in western Colorado. We are laying a foundation.

HealthCamp Oregon, Oct 22 — Hope to See You There!







by Nate DiNiro

HealthCamp Oregon is organizing 2 events during the 3rd week of October in Portland, Oregon. The events will focus on Healthcare, Health IT, the ePatient & Participatory Medicine movement and all-things Healthcare Transformation!


The first event, a panel that will focus on the impact of social media in healthcare, is scheduled for Thursday 10/20. We’re also helping to promote the annual Kaiser Center for Health Research Saward Lecture, scheduled for Friday 10/21. More information on that event can be found below. The second event we’re planning is a HealthCamp unconference, scheduled on Saturday 10/22 and to be held at the offices of Urban Airship. If you’re unfamiliar with either of the previous terms “HealthCamp” or “unconference”, please read on and we’ll fill you in below.

“The Top Ten Things You Need To Know About Engaging Patients”…and the Why

HowardrosenHi all, my name is Howard Rosen (Founder & CEO of LifeWIRE Corp), co-author of the recently published white paper report entitled “Top Ten Things You Need To Know About Engaging Patients.” You can access a copy here through the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (scroll down to “Whitepapers”.)

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 88% of American adults with Internet access research health information online and 60% say Internet info influenced a decision about how to manage a health condition. Further, going online no longer is a one-way stream of information from computer to patient, but has launched into the web 2.0 reality of social networking. Patients go online to find meaningful engagements with other patients and now – not so uncommonly – with their providers. Such a trend provides opportunity for providers to distinguish themselves competitively, and more importantly, to improve the patient experience and quite pos­sibly their health outcomes.

The report is a compilation of what key health IT experts from across the United States think are the most important things you need to know about engaging patients in the digital age. There are also four key recommendations for practical action. It discusses how healthcare organizations that provide high quality outcomes for patients will be the ones who prosper under new health reform models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH). This report also explores the concerns that come with patient engagement and the advantages and strategies that should be explored.

Crowdsourcing the Future: Health 2.0 and HIPAA

Deven McGraw is the Director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology. 


The Health 2.0 movement has seen incredible growth recently, with new tools and services continuously being released. Of course, Health 2.0 developers face a number of challenges when it comes to getting providers and patients to adopt new tools, including integrating into a health system that is still mostly paper-based. Another serious obstacle facing developers is how to interpret and, where appropriate, comply with the HIPAA privacy and security regulations. 

Questions abound when it comes to Health 2.0 and HIPAA, and it’s vital we get them answered, both for the sake of protecting users’ privacy and to ensure people are able to experience the full benefits of innovative Health 2.0 tools. We can’t afford to see the public’s trust in new health information technology put at risk, nor can we afford to have innovation stifled.

To help solve this problem, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) has launched a crowdsourcing project to determine the most vexing Health 2.0/HIPAA questions.

This is where you come in:

Things we are grateful for this year

This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team. To learn more please go to

For three years running now, many of us bloggers have participated in what we’ve called a “blog rally” to promote Engage With Grace – a movement aimed at making sure all of us understand, communicate, and have honored our end-of-life wishes.

The rally is timed to coincide with a weekend when most of us are with the very people with whom we should be having these unbelievably important conversations – our closest friends and family.

At the heart of Engage With Grace are five questions designed to get the conversation about end-of-life started. We’ve included them at the end of this post. They’re not easy questions, but they are important — and believe it or not, most people find they actually enjoy discussing their answers with loved ones. The key is having the conversation before it’s too late.

This past year has done so much to support our mission to get more and more people talking about their end-of-life wishes. We’ve heard stories with happy endings … and stories with endings that could’ve (and should’ve) been better. We’ve stared down political opposition. We’ve supported each other’s efforts. And we’ve helped make this a topic of national importance.

So in the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, we’d like to highlight some things for which we’re grateful.

Testing Technology vs. Enabling a System of Chronic Care – Results of the NIH Tele-HF Trial

by Randy Williams, MD FACC, CEO of Pharos Innovations

The results from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Tele-HF trial are in, and the findings are worth considering . The results are counter to most of the findings of other studies examining telemonitoring for heart failure and at face value are disappointing to us, and the industry. Upon closer examination, however, this study offers us an excellent opportunity for further innovation, refinement of solutions and continuous improvement. It also provides a snapshot of how significant the challenges remain in transforming U.S. healthcare – from a system that is episodic, reactive, acute care based to a system of care that incorporates proactive, interactive, continuum-based chronic care management. 

The genesis for this study stretches back nearly 10 years, from conceptualization to the results we see reported today. This randomized, controlled multi-centered trial was designed to compare an automated, daily symptom and self-reported weight monitoring technology with “usual care” in reducing hospital readmissions and mortality among patients recently hospitalized with decompensated heart failure. The boldness of vision should not be underrepresented: Tele-HF is the largest study of a non-pharmacological intervention for heart failure ever conducted. 

At a high level, the results showed “no significant differences” between the group receiving usual care and the group randomized to receive telemonitoring. I cannot say that these are the results we were hoping for. However, I urge those in our industry and other key stakeholders to take a closer, more informed view, and to reach their own conclusions and insights. 

The Details

First, I want to thank and acknowledge the great work of the investigators, study sites and everyone involved in this trial. It was a long process and everyone worked with the utmost integrity and professionalism. We were privileged to have been selected for participation.  I also want to acknowledge the value of conducting large, multi-centered, randomized, controlled trials in terms of advancing medical science. 

The patient interventions in this study took place in 2006-09 and omit many of the processes and techniques Pharos uses today to achieve the necessary critical mass of physician and patient involvement. Here are the limitations of this particular study – from my perspective: 

Creating the “Blood Pressure Chart” App: An Independent Developer’s Story

by Mateusz Mucha. Mateusz is a freelance web application developer from Krakow, Poland.  31 y.o., married, enjoys rock climbing, sailing, skiing and having 6 meals a day. Contact him at

This is a short story about Blood Pressure Chart – a web-based tool used to manage, analyze and share blood pressure records. The old saying, “necessity is a mother of invention”, is almost applicable here. Almost, because coming up with an idea to store whatever records in a web app is hardly inventive. Certainly not in 2010. Strangely, a moderate set of requirements could not be satisfied by any preexisting solution.

For at least the past decade, I’ve been hearing about my country’s health care going digital. Millions (billions?) of taxpayers’ dollars later, I was given a paper notepad to record my blood pressure.

Having seen a doctor using a typewriter recently, I wasn’t really surprised, but simply had to find a better way. Few hours of googling and checking out a few desktop apps and one web app made me realize that nobody has taken it seriously so far. “I could make something much better in a week”, I thought to myself… but ideas for new functionality kept on coming and around a month later the site was ready.

When you create pretty much anything, it’s good to start by asking yourself a few questions before you touch any tools. Who is going to use it? What do they want to use it for? What are strengths and weaknesses of competing solutions? What non-standard functionality can we offer to enhance user experience?

First and foremost, I’m competing with a simple paper notebook.