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Sec. Leavitt, CIGNA, WellPoint – The Finishing Touches to WHCC 2008

by John Moore | April 23, 2008

WHCC 2008 just wrapped up with a final keynote from Secretary Leavitt. Leavitt’s keynote was a progress report on the four cornerstones that have driven HHS under his leadership.

Cornerstone One: Standard Quality Measures

There has been a lot of quality metrics established, but agreement on the standards by which these will be measured is still a big challenge. Leavitt believes we are moving too slow. Currently, HHS is doing an inventory of the quality measurements they are currently using throughout HHS. They have identified 100 of them and will be going public with these measures this year.

Cornerstone Two: Standards for Cost of Care

Leavitt came down hard on healthcare costs and billing structure stating:

Our billing system in healthcare is insane.

He went on to draw an analogy between a consumer buying a car and a consumer buying knee replacement surgery going on to say we need to challenge the assumption that buying healthcare services is any different from other industries. Leavitt believes that current efforts striving for the perfect solution will never move us forward – he again stated we are moving to slow. We need to strive for good, not perfection. CMS is currently aggregating its cost for common procedures data and will make that publicly available to push the cost transparency issue forward. Getting back to that knee/car analogy, CMS covered the costs for 250.000 knee surgeries in 2007, the costs for those procedures will be made public this year.

Cornerstone Three: Interoperable EMR

Sees HHS steadily marching forward on interoperability. Quite proud of the establishment of CCHIT and the certification process used to insure EMR software is in compliance to interoperability standards. HHS, via it National Health Information Network (NHIN), will test flow of data among several systems by end of this year. Next year, he foresees this moving beyond test data to the flow of real data and scale-up.

While Leavitt recognizes the challenge of a broader NHIN and interoperability with fewer than 10% of small practices having an EMR system, he gave little concrete guidance on how to overcome this issue. They are looking to change the economic equation to promote adoption. What that equation will be remains to be seen, but I’d look to CMS as the prime leverage point.

One of his chief objectives this year is to see further adoption of eRx practices, which he will promote strongly. Currently looking to attach eRx requirements with physician reimbursement payment rule of he CMS bill before Congress.

Cornerstone Four: Incentives to Seek Value

He saved the fuzziest statements for this last cornerstone. Again, Leavitt promoted the need to establish standards for value metrics and incentives. Also emphasized the need for trust among all stakeholders to get this to work. The biggest challenge that HHS has uncovered here is that value and incentives are driven locally. Therefore, HHS’s role will be to establish the standards, and let the local community drive incentives. Chartered Value Exchanges, of which 14 have been awarded/funded to date, will be the mechanism to drive value and incentives at the local level. Goal is to have 50 opertational by 2010.

Leavitt closed his presentation by stating he sees the unbridled rise in healthcare costs as the biggest threat to our nation’s national economic security. Solving the healthcare puzzle is this generation’s challenge.


Yes, movement on Cornerstones One and Two has been glacial. Too many vested interests have very strong financial reasons to stall any progress on cost and quality transparency. While it appears that HHS will look to further leverage the clout of CMS, seems too little too late, unless of course the next administration picks up where Leavitt left off and pushes even harder to make this happen. In full agreement with Leavitt that we should strive for good enough and not perfection. Advocates for perfection are the ones truly stalling the process.

For Cornerstone Three, do believe that for all the complaining I have heard, all-in-all, CCHIT is moving the interoperability ball forward and EMR companies are structuring their solutions to comply. Now we just need to educate the physician. Here, HHS has fallen far short of the mark. For all the talk about wanting to drive adoption among physicians, adoption is still horribly low. Coupled with strong incentives to encourage adoption (CMS payment structure?) HHS could do more in educating physicians on what’s in it for them. The EMR market is still surprisingly fragmented, and even for me, an HIT analyst who covers this market for a living has a difficult time keeping up with all of them. Maybe CCHIT can provide some guidance here as well.

Corenerstone Four is my least favorite and was where Leavitt made the least clear statements. Defining value and structuring incentives around value is an extremely hard thing to do. The Chartered Value Exchange sounds like a re-branding of the failed RHIO concept and I don’t give these new exchanges any more chance of surviving than its predecessor. Secretary Leavitt, with all due respect, throw this one in the can and go with a three legged stool, afterall, a three legged stool is more stable anyway.

CIGNA & WellPoint to Make PHRs Portable in 2008

You heard it here first folks, CIGNA and WellPoint will make member data portable by end of 2008, following the lead of Aetna and UnitedHealth.

Sat in on the session, Critical Health IT, which had representatives of WellPoint and CIGNA talk about their consumer and broader health IT initiatives. During Q&A got a chance to ask both why have they not come forward with a public statement that they support the portability of a member’s PHR. (Note, during their own prepared remarks they gave somewhat dismal views of PHRs stating adoption has been a challenge). Both stated that they have every intent of making a member’s data portable. WellPoint and CIGNA are currently deploying the CCR standard internally to insure that the data will be portable and enable a member to populate a PHR of their choosing outside of their health plan. They also went on to state that this will be completed in 2008.

Towards the end of our exchange on this question, the WellPoint representative went on to state that they still have issues regarding privacy and releasing such data to a non-covered entity. GIGNA nodded in agreement. What a load of bull, particularly after WellPoint has had a few privacy/security breaches of their own.

Hey WellPoint, its my data, let me choose whether or not I wish to take the risk and stop being so damn paternal. Or is it, you just don’t want anyone between you and me? Watch out, you are about to be dis-intermediated.

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