Non-Profit Hospital Tax Exemptions Being Questioned

Photograph of a patient struggling with his hospital bills

National Public Radio recently reported the suspected abuses of nonprofit hospitals that sue and garnish the wages of low income, uninsured or underinsured patients.  As a result of these reports, Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says hospitals could be breaking the law.
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Noble Health Alliance Launches Website


In the age of healthcare reform, providers are looking for ways to offer patients a more comprehensive and integrated experience. Enter in Noble Health Alliance, a partnership of four Pennsylvania health systems (to date), formed to encourage population health and eliminate redundancies in healthcare.

Noble Health Alliance is based in Philadelphia and was founded 2013. The organization is one of our newest clients, and the first health alliance website we’ve launched.
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CVS Health Rebranding – What Can Providers Do to Counter?

CVSHealthI have been reading about the rebranding of CVS Caremark Corp. to their new branded name CVS Health.

CVS rolled out a new brand along with the announcement that they are removing tobacco products from their shelves in all 7,600 stores and replacing those products with smoking cessation products. As a side note, Walgreens has also removed tobacco from their shelves but CVS Health rebranding takes this move to a new level.

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Promises of More Patients: Uncertainties of the Affordable Care Act


It is almost a certainty that patient care volumes will increase after the complete rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Already, health systems are seeing a new level of demand that is burdening systems because of increased volumes. The patients you are currently treating that don’t have health insurance are mandated to enroll in a health insurance product offered either through a Federal or State exchange program.

The most recent figures from the Department of Health show that 7.1 million people are now enrolled in ObamaCare. Of those, more than 26% or 1.8 million people are between the ages of 26 and 34. The thought behind Affordable Care was that more young people would enroll and force the premium cost down through risk sharing. Although the number of young people enrolling has not achieved the levels anticipated it is a very good start and creates an opportunity for health systems and providers.

The Affordable Care Act ensures that health plans in the individual and small group markets offer a comprehensive package of services, known as essential health benefits. Essential health benefits must include services such as: hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; substance abuse disorder treatment; wellness services, emergency care, along with pediatric services that includes oral and vision care.

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The 2013 SHSMD Annual Conference in One Word

SHSMD Annual Conference

Having spent my week at SHSMD schmoozing with the biggest gathering of healthcare strategy, planning, communications, marketing and PR professionals that the Society has ever had, the current state of our industry can be summed up in a single word:


We’ve been on the cusp of major industry shifts for a few years now, but for all of the discussions and debate, no one is really sure what our industry is going to look like three years from now.

This week saw the biggest step to date in terms of actual implementation of the ACA (AKA Obamacare) and we’re still playing a guessing game to determine what its real meaning to our service mix and financial picture will really be. Obamacare applies leverage to the edges of the healthcare system, but doesn’t dictate what the care delivery system will look like or how it will work.

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Healthcare Marketing Reform

healthcare_marketing_reformI’ve spent a lot of time recently pondering the role of marketers in a post-reform healthcare system. Healthcare is undergoing an incredible period of change. While we’re still unclear on the specifics of how things will play out, the failures of the current system that we hope to correct are well established:

  • Costs are growing out of control.
  • No accountability for the costs of delivering care.
  • No accountability for quality or outcomes.
  • The results that we get from the current investment is mediocre.
  • A lack of consistent, evidence-based, data-driven decision making.
  • Lots of waste resulting from a lack of coordination.

As marketers look to understand how we’ll adapt to reform, there’s no shortage of ideas. Some suggest that marketing will go away. Others predict that the goals of marketing will simply change. Instead of driving usage of expensive services such as cardiology and oncology, marketers would focus on driving volume to preventive and early detection services that would reduce or eliminate the overall costs of treatment. Still others suggest that, despite the changes, marketers will do pretty much of what they do today, only targeting that slice of the patient population with high-paying private insurance.

What I don’t hear is any discussion about changing how marketing gets done.

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What Health Reform Means for the Healthcare Web

We’ve written quite a lot about health reform in its various forms including Meaningful Use, ACOs, ACA, and medical home. But a question that I received this week made me realize that I’ve never written specifically about health reform’s impact on your hospital’s online strategy.

Greater Organization Complexity

Merging, acquiring, and employing docs and the many flavors of business relationship between hospitals, clinics and insurers that are emerging under reform means that your brand is getting pretty complicated. This isn’t just a question about names and logos – your website has suddenly become the front door to a very complex and likely changing mix of doctors and services. Your job is to make it simple for every site visitor to get the information they want. I strongly recommend our webinar on using the Web to support complex organizations to dive into the topic in greater detail.

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AHA Leadership Forum – Our World is About to Change

“Our world is about to change. Now, let’s figure out what that might look like.”

That is, in essence, what my week at the AHA Leadership Forum in San Francisco was all about. We all know that there’s a tremendous wave coming in healthcare. The recurring theme was actually “the second wave” representing the shift from pay-for-service to the new models of healthcare reimbursement that are on the horizon. And the conference focused on determining what the industry will look like in the future.

As much as we’ve discussed the changes, much of that talk has either been very conceptual or very tactical – in essence missing the forest for the trees. The various legislative efforts that have gotten this ball rolling (ARRA, ACA) are really applying leverage at the edges of the healthcare system. But they don’t do a good job describing what the core of the system will really look like when it’s all said and done, let alone what will happen as we work through the processes of transformation.

While it may add to our collective discomfort, this is fundamentally a good thing. For all the complaints of politicians trying to change a healthcare system that they do not fully understand, we should be happy that they haven’t attempted to dictate the details. They’ve set out meaningful goals specifically around the reimbursement model and then stepped out of the way to allow the healthcare system work out the details.

It’s clear that we don’t really know the details just yet – at least not all of the details. We do seem to understand where enough major challenges lie to keep us occupied for a while, however.

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The ACA is Upheld! (Mostly)

It’s been a crazy morning as everyone waited anxiously for the ruling. In fact, CNN cycled through several versions of pre-written responses to the decision flip-flopping from “The Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate for health care” to simply “Upheld.”

Within a few moments of the decision, the big items have become clear:

  • The individual mandate, a critical lynchpin of the legislation, was upheld as constitutional.  The key argument against the mandate held that the government cannot compel citizens to buy a product.  In a 6-3 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts joining the majority, the mandate was determined to be a tax (or, rather, the fine that individuals would be required to pay for not purchasing insurance is a tax), nothing more, which the Federal Government has the right to levy.
  • Broader questions of the constitutionality of the overall Accountable Care Act (ACA) were contingent on the fate of the individual mandate and were therefore not an issue.
  • The other key issue relating to the Federal Government’s ability to force an expansion of Medicaid.  This too was ruled constitutional, but with the caveat that states would lose only a portion of Medicaid funding. Essentially, new funding that was added along with the new eligibility requirements, rather than all of their Medicaid funding.

Surprisingly simple, really.

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Meaningful Use Stage 2 Ushers In the Age of the Patient

We’ve had a few weeks to wrap our heads around the Meaningful Use Stage 2 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and it’s clear that the Feds are looking to shake up the industry a bit. Why? It’s time to pursue the true objectives underlying healthcare I.T. adoption in HITECH.

Meaningful Use Stage 1 has been successful in moving the industry toward medical record adoption. The hurdles for demonstrating Meaningful Use in Stage 1 are low, but have caused organizations to begin implementing basic infrastructures – and this will turn out to be a good foundation for what’s to come. Unfortunately, Meaningful Use Stage 1 requirements have not broken the boundaries that exist between providers, hospitals and patients.

As we predicted, Meaningful Use Stage 2 seeks to give everyone involved the data they need by placing renewed focus on sharing information between providers, submitting public health data, and engaging patients and families.

The requirements around engaging patients and families have been amongst the most often deferred by provider organizations in Meaningful Use Stage 1. The NPRM clearly establishes that this goal of the HITECH Act isn’t going away and raises the bar significantly for connecting with patients and their families online.

Meaningful Use Stage 2 Criteria
The following is a summary of the Meaningful Use Stage 2 criteria for patient and family engagement (with comparison to Meaningful Use Stage 1 in parenthesis):

  • Of all patients who are discharged from the inpatient or emergency department:
    • More than 50% have their information available online within 36 hours of discharge (Stage 1 was 10% and optional)
    • More than 10% are provided patient-specific education resources identified by Certified EHR Technology (Stage 1 was optional)
    • More than 10% view, download or transmit to a third-party their information during the reporting period (New)
  • Of all unique patients seen by the eligible providers during the EHR reporting period:
    • More than 50% are provided timely online access to their health information (timely is defined as within 4 business days after the information is available) – ( Stage 1 was 10% and optional)
    • More than 10% view, download, or transmit to a third-party their health information (New)
    • A secure message was sent by more than 10% of unique patients (New)
  • For office visits:
    • Clinical summaries provided to patients for more than 50% of office visits within 24 hours (Stage 1 was within 3 days)
    • Patient-specific education resources are available for more than 10% of all office visits (Stage 1 was optional)

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Obamacare, The Problem Child

In a series of high-stakes court battles, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) has viciously torn its way through the legal labyrinth. From a high-level procedural posture standpoint, many lower courts have heard cases involving PPACA.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the individual health insurance mandate falls outside the federal authority in the Constitution, and that the provision could not be disconnected from PPACA; therefore concluding the entire Act must be struck down. In the converse, members of a three-judge panel at the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the individual health coverage mandate is constitutional. The dissenting judge on the panel argued that the federal Anti-Injunction Act prohibits the federal courts from considering suits seeking to block implementation of new federal taxes, at least until they incur some sort of penalty. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that judge, dismissing two PPACA cases concerning the individual mandate, finding that the suits were barred under the Anti-Injunction Act.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dividedly affirmed Judge Vinson’s decision in part; the panel agreed that the mandate was unconstitutional, but held that it actually could be severed from the rest of the Act, allowing the rest of PPACA to remain. The federal government declined to seek review by the Eleventh Circuit and instead petitioned for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the panel’s ruling. On November 14, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and here we are today; the commencement of that hearing.

Does the problem child have a future?

Every child has a future. In this case, even if PPACA is struck down, all parties seem to agree that future healthcare reform will draw at least in part on Obamacare. However, in this case, of the four issues the Supreme Court has agreed to hear, the key issue is the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

According to a CMIO post, if the Court upholds the individual mandate it will go into effect in 2014. If they strike it down, the Court will then consider whether the mandate is severable from the remainder of the law, which will determine whether PPACA’s other provisions survive. If the Court decides that the individual mandate is “inextricably linked” to PPACA as a whole, they will likely strike down the entire Act.

One of the most frequently asked questions in regard to the individual mandate is, “What does the provision mean for those who don’t purchase healthcare?” Individuals who can but choose not to obtain qualifying health care coverage under this law will be required to pay a penalty as part of their income tax returns. In 2014, the penalty is $95 or 1% of the individual’s income, whichever is greater.

However, according to NPR, PPACA provides a vast system of subsidies to help people afford health insurance. Subsidies are available to people on a sliding scale, up to 400% of the poverty level. This year that would be a family of three with an income up to $76,360 and a family of four up to $92,050. Even then, if there’s no affordable policy available, people can be declared exempt. And most of those with insurance provided by their employer will meet the requirement automatically, so they won’t have to do anything.

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Happy 2nd Birthday, Baby Obamacare!

Just over two years ago, President Barack Obama officially gave birth to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) – inarguably one of the most momentous healthcare laws in our country’s history. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a single person in America who won’t at some point in the next two years be affected by PPACA, should it be upheld. And for those of you thinking you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might be more familiar with PPACA’s alias “Obamacare.”

Advocates of PPACA define PPACA as a federal statute that will ensure all Americans have access to affordable healthcare, and ultimately improve quality of care by rewarding doctors and hospitals who meet Meaningful Use criteria. Challengers of PPACA claim it’s an act of socialism that will degrade quality of care, as the once uninsured masses flood ERs across the country causing demand to rise far more rapidly than supply.

One thing is certain: PPACA has led to an all-out war. Soldiers on both sides of this battle continue to launch politically contentious bombs at one another in the court of public opinion, seemingly oblivious to the fact that PPACA actually headed to the Supreme Court yesterday. And while these proceedings should catch the attention of all Americans (and even those abroad), members of the healthcare community should be particularly keen on how these pivotal six hours of arguments over the next few days play out.

Before anyone goes into this week’s almost certain media frenzy over the Supreme Court hearing, there’s some very basic information that can help get you up to speed on how President Obama’s baby, so-called Obamacare, has grown – from conception to birth to its second birthday.

Conception by the Senate in the privacy of the House.

Many on the right fail to realize that the first iteration of what would become the PPACA was initially passed by the House – where the Constitution requires all revenue-related bills to originate – as a modification to the Internal Revenue Code. Many on the left fail to realize that the Senate used this iteration to catapult their own healthcare reform plan by completely revising it, incorporating terms they knew were favored by the Senate Health and Finance committees. After some debate and negotiations, the Senate passed the bill on December 24, 2009.

Planning for Kiddie Care.

Once the Senate’s version of the bill got back to the House, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel argued for a scaled back bill in the face of the recently-elected Senator Scott Brown’s imminent stalling tactics. Although President Obama leaned in support of Emanuel’s proposal, he was soon convinced not to back down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who dubbed Emanuel’s pared down bill idea, “Kiddie Care.”

President Obama then introduced a healthcare reform plan of his own, and over time was successful in gaining buy-in. The most viable option at that point for advocates of comprehensive reform was for the House to pass the Senate’s bill, with every intention of subsequently passing amendments to it – much like the Senate did to the House’s original version. After a considerable amount of negotiations that involved controversial concessions by President Obama, including one related to certain restrictions on federal funding of abortions, the House passed the bill on March 21, 2010.

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Improved Health Literacy Won’t Fix Healthcare

In many of the discussions about creating empowered, engaged patients, I hear a common theme: that improving the general health literacy of Americans will largely solve the problem. It’s a view that, in hindsight, I’ve generally agreed with. If only health consumers understood the problems, challenges and tradeoffs of healthcare more fully we would stop bad behavior and when injury or illness occurred, we would make better decisions.

I have come to the conclusion that I’ve been wrong.

This idea has been percolating for a few weeks in the back of my mind after listening to a podcast debating a similar question for financial products. The always thought provoking Freakonomics podcast, an extension of the successful books of the same name, looked at the question of financial literacy as a way to prevent the next financial crisis.

We know the recent financial crisis had many causes, but at the bottom of the food chain were a lot of individual consumers who took out loans they couldn’t afford. Some of those loans couldn’t be afforded because the monthly payments were simply outside what’s reasonable for that individual’s income while others were very complex instruments in which payments ramped up dramatically over the course of the loan and, in some instances, included expensive penalties which made refinancing all but impossible.

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More Insights on Meaningful Use Stage 2

As the conference room, and then the overflow room both surged beyond their capacities with HIMSS attendees looking for insights on Stage 2 of Meaningful Use, I began wondering if there would be anything for the presenters to say. Rumors of a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) have been swirling for weeks with the date gradually slipping back. Checking Twitter again confirmed that nothing had yet been released this morning.

But we soon learned the NPRM was submitted this morning and will be released to the world later this week. Most importantly, our presenters were allowed to start sharing the important details.

Today’s Meaningful Use Stage 2 discussion was a joint presentation with Farzad Mostashari and Steven Posnack from ONC joined by Elizabeth Holland and Travis Broome from CMS.

The presenters all reiterated that the committees involved have all stayed the course with the intent of the legislation, Stage 1 rules and discussions to date.  And, as advertised, most of the information shared was to be expected. Still, with so many different stakeholders involved, it was good to get some confirmation about the direction they’re proposing.

The major themes (and in the time available, we weren’t able to get much more than themes) are as follows:

Streamlined Process
The regulations should be clearer and more flexible. Much of the feedback that the committees took to heart seems to have been in areas where the process didn’t fit the situation. Organizations can now implement only what they need to achieve compliance rather than installing software simply to check a box. Likewise, vendors working on modular certification won’t be required to test against criteria that do not apply to their tools.

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