Speaking at the AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) National Health Policy Conference, Alex Azar, HHS (the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) Secretary, gave a keynote in which he spoke about the administration’s desire to accelerate value-based transformation, and create a true market for healthcare.
Azar, speaking at the event in Washington, D.C., said that upon taking the position of HHS Secretary, he first identified the value-based transformation of the entire healthcare system as one of the top four priorities for the department. The others are: combating the opioid crisis; bringing down the high price of prescription drugs; and addressing the cost and availability of insurance, especially in the individual market, said Azar.
“Value-based transformation in particular is not a new passion for me. It became a top priority for Secretary Mike Leavitt when I was working for him as deputy secretary, and it was taken seriously by President Obama’s administration as well,” he said, admitting that “It has been, at times, a frustrating process. But there is no turning back to an unsustainable system that pays for procedures rather than value.”
Azar noted in his keynote that there are four key pillars to moving in this direction in which value-based care will be accelerated and a true healthcare market will be created: giving consumers greater control over health information through interoperable and accessible health information technology; encouraging transparency from payers and providers; using experimental models in Medicare and Medicaid to drive value and quality throughout the entire system; and removing government burdens that impede this transformation.
Azar added that there will be a charge forward on these critical points of emphasis. “This administration and this President are not interested in incremental steps. We are unafraid of disrupting the system simply because it’s backed by powerful special interests.”
The key theme bonding these four priorities, added Azar, is the recognition that value is not accurately determined by arbitrary authorities or central planners. “It is best determined by a market of many players — in the case of healthcare: patients, providers and third-party payers. Each piece of our plan for value-based transformation recognizes this, and it’s the main reason I am optimistic that we’ll be able to build on the work that’s already been done by the public and private sector and achieve real transformation.”
Interestingly, Azar contended that this will require some degree of federal intervention, “perhaps even an uncomfortable degree.” He continued, “That may sound surprising coming from an administration that deeply believes in the power of markets and competition. But the status quo is far from a competitive free market in the economic sense of the term, and healthcare is such a complex system, that facilitating a competitive, value-based marketplace is going to be disruptive to existing actors.”
Azar also brought up CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) Administrator Seema Verma’s keynote at HIMSS18 in Las Vegas earlier this week, noting how one piece of the puzzle is revamping Medicare’s system of providing claims data, called Blue Button, into what Blue Button 2.0—one of two patient empowerment initiatives that Verma announced at the HIMSS conference.
Azar said that Blue Button 2.0 will use open APIs (application programming interfaces) to give private technology developers access to data in a form they can incorporate into their apps—or essentially, leveraging the private sector to let the patient own, use and understand their data.
He added that more than 100 companies, “including real leaders in the tech world, are already signed up.”
Azar also remarked, “We’re developing measures to prevent information blocking, as well as ways to encourage patient ownership of data in Medicare Advantage and Affordable Care Act plans. We are also going to overhaul meaningful use so that the program’s incentives are focused on encouraging interoperability.”