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Outcomes Measurement for Dummies…and Smarties

There is an old joke: “How can you tell if a vendor is lying about ROI?”

Answer: “They’re claiming an ROI.”


That’s not entirely accurate. Some vendors really do achieve savings. This is particularly true with vendors that just reduce the cost of something you need to buy anyway, like Quizzify for ER visits, where in most states 50% reductions in ER Bills are routine for employees using Quizzify2Go. Or Diathrive for diabetes supplies. Or any number of vendors for drugs, my personal choice being Drexi/AMPS, home of the $2.76 90-pill Ambien supply.

But, for behavior-change vendors, you need to be the judge to translate vendorspeak into English. Examples:

  • “We retained independent actuaries to validate our savings” translates as “We paid off some actuaries to fabricate our savings.”
  • “We reduced the risk level for many of the highest-risk employees” omits “…but they would have come down anyway due to regression to the mean.”
  • “We achieved tremendous savings vs. trend” needs the asterisk: “because how we choose the trend determines the savings.” (This one, by the way, was a real quote from a well-known consultant.)
  • “We compared participants to matched non-participants, and found that…” Hard stop. Invalid.

Fortunately, in the next 3 weeks, you’ll have four opportunities to learn how to distinguish valid from invalid measurement.

On August 31 at 2 PM EDT, I’ll be joining Virta Health on a webinar, kicking off the discussion with this very topic: Outcomes Measurement for Dummies…and Smarties. And you can learn why Virta is so valid that I am putting up $100,000 as a “Challenge” for anyone who thinks another vendor’s outcomes are better. Sign up here.


If you really want to dig deep, join Health Benefits Nation in Orlando, hosted by The Validation Institute. This September 14-16 conference in Orlando covers the gamut, but specifically, there is a two hour session on valid measurement starting at 1 PM on the 14th. 

Besides digging deep, the Validation Institute is my forum for, uh, naming appellations and kicking posteriors. And of course, I invite people to sue me if they don’t like what I have to say about them.

We will also have case studies where you need to spot the lies, rather than have me tee the lies up for you. Because that’s what happens in the real world. Lies told by “independent actuaries” aren’t going to invalidate themselves.

Actually, they usually do, but only if you look hard enough…and that’s what this session is all about.


One more vendor is about to join the pantheon of validity, Medencentive. I’ve been over their numbers up, down and sideways, as have many others. They are a health literacy vendor. Not like Quizzify (though they are a Quizzify customer) because they go deep on literacy with people who have specific conditions already, whereas Quizzify is educating on all the points where employees and healthcare meet, as the four examples on the homepage show. They will be hosting a webinar on September 13 at noon EDT. You can sign up here.


Finally, if anyone is anywhere near Houston on the 21st of September and is an early riser, register for The Healthcare Digital Dilemma, where I and several of the leading lights of the field — Josh Berlin, David Carmouche and others — to discuss this “dilemma.” You want to do more digital health…and yet you know most of it doesn’t work.  We’ll be discussing how to find the solutions that do.

Webinar: Find out why I am betting $100,000 that Virta saves money

If you were one of the almost 8000 people to read the post  Virta Health becomes the first diabetes vendor to save money, you may be wondering what exactly they do that no other diabetes vendor is able to do, to get me to put $100,000 at risk for the first time for a vendor other than Quizzify.

Part of the reason is that Quizzify and Virta are the peanut butter-and-chocolate of diabetes.  

Virta reverses diabetes, while Quizzify helps pre-diabetics and diabetics avoid hidden sugars. That’s no easy task because 74% of processed foods contain them.  This even includes some products that claim to contain “NO ADDED SUGAR,” but in fact are bursting with added sugars. So that I want to encourage our clients to adopt Virta, and vice-versa.


The other part of the reason is that their savings are measured validly. While plenty of vendors claim to save money and some vendors measure validly, very few are in the intersection set.

Virta and I and the Validation Institute are doing a webinar on valid measurement generally, and you can attend that webinar both to learn about valid measurement and to learn about Virta’s own results using valid measurement.

Please join us for that webinar at 2 PM EDT, August 31st.

 

Virta Health Becomes First Diabetes Vendor to Save Money!

It’s not news that diabetes vendors don’t really do anything. The larger the vendor, the less they do. One even earns an “F” from the Better Business Bureau.

Here’s what is news: Virta saves money!  Really.  I’ve been over their numbers up, down and sideways because I was so skeptical. And who can blame me?  Generally, to paraphrase the immortal words of the great philosopher the Queen of Hearts, I can invalidate six impossible diabetes vendor claims before breakfast.*

So when the Validation Institute contacted me to say that Virta wanted me on a validation call, I said: “No, they don’t.”  They dutifully reported back to the Virta folks, who said: “No, really.”

Which VI dutifully reported back to me. I replied: “Fine.”

“Fine” is one of those words whose meaning depends on the intonation. It could mean better-than-good, like in numismatics. Whereas in a marital argument, “Fine” means: “I know I’m right, but I just don’t feel like getting into it.”

My intonation meant: “Sure, if Virta wants to have their validation request eviscerated, I’ll join the call.”

However, I am pleased to report that “fine” in this case really did mean “better-than-good,” as in: “Virta has the most valid and impressive outcomes in the diabetes field.”

Most vendor claims incorporate some or all of the following fallacies: regression to the mean, participation bias, or “savings vs. trend.” Virta had none of those.

Quite the opposite. Virta did two studies, both using methodologies that met the highest level of VI validity. As a result, in addition to the $50,000 Credibility Guarantee offered by the VI in support of their results, I am offering a $100,000 personal guarantee in support of the following two statements:

  1. Virta Health has proven it can deliver more cost savings (measured PMPM) than any other digital health point solution commercially available today, using a valid measurement methodology. This holds true regardless of condition category, including but not limited to: diabetes management, diabetes prevention, weight loss, mental health, musculoskeletal disorders, heart health, substance abuse, women’s health, fertility care, and cancer care.
  2. No diabetes solution—other than Virta Health—has demonstrated positive net financial savings in-year, using a valid methodology.

Whoever can disapprove either statement to the judges (described as selected below) will receive $100,000.

Terms and conditions are listed at the bottom of this blog.

While it’s a layup to bet the farm to challenge vendor claims  due to their inherentlly sketchy nature, my standards for putting my own money at risk in support of a vendor’s claims are extremely high. Quizzify2Go (ER visit cost reduction) and Sera Prognostics (prediction/prevention of premature birth) are the only entities I’d risk my hard-earned dollars on, and neither is disease-focused. Virta is and will likely remain the lead dog in savings amongst all disease-focused vendors.


Here are the Virta studies that gave me the confidence to offer this challenge with my own money at stake:.

  1. Parallel Assignment: Indiana University

A parallel study is one where would-be participants are randomly assigned to control or the study group. The randomized control trial (RCT) is one such methodology.  In the case of drugs, the control group gets a placebo, so they don’t know whether they are getting the drug or not. This is called a “blinded” study. In many drug studies, even the investigators don’t know. This is called “double-blinded.”

Neither is possible in population health because you would know whether you are in a wellness/diabetes program or not. So studies must be unblinded.

Even unblinded RCTs are rarely undertaken in population health because (in addition to employers not hitherto having access to claims data) such studies need Institutional Review Board approval as an investigation before proceeding, as ERISA plans are otherwise required to offer the same benefits to every employee. (One easy way around this is to offer the intervention to all comers, but promote actively to some worksites but not others.)

Virta minimized that threat at Indiana University, because the parallel assignment took place in different sites, to minimize the chance that (though the consent included the possibility of being in the control group) one diabetic employee might demand the intervention that the others are getting, once they see how helpful it is. Take a look at some of the results for those completing two years with Virta as compared to the parallel control, with both arms experiencing a similar lost-to-followup:

  • HbA1c was reduced by 0.9 points on average
  • Weight loss averaged more than 10%
  • Prescription medications were cut in half, including an 81% reduction in daily dose of insulin
  • More than $3000 savings in prescription drug cost reduction between years 1 and 2
  1. Wait-List (Lottery) Control

Another valid design, also used by Virta, is a Wait-List, or Lottery, Control.

The most famous natural experiment in population health using this control is the Oregon Medicaid study. Medicaid was expanded there to a higher income level, but slots were limited. People who wanted coverage had to enter a lottery. Medicaid eligibility was assessed only after names were drawn – so only for the lottery winners who completed the Medicaid application forms.  That’s one of the reasons it was so important to assess effects of insurance by comparing the entire control group to the entire treatment group, rather than the subset of the treatment group deemed eligible or actually enrolling.

The researchers still assessed the effect of insurance coverage itself (not just winning the lottery) by using instrumental variables estimation, but relying on only the variation of lottery selection to identify those causal effects. (The two-year finding was that being covered by Medicaid as opposed to being uninsured didn’t appreciably change physical health status, but did quite dramatically reduce both depression and financial strain.)

In Virta’s case, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) signed on as a client, but with a limited budget that could not accommodate all who qualified and wanted to participate. Therefore, those who were wait-listed became the natural control group. The VHA, whatever its other controversies, excels at data collection amongst veterans who stay within its system, and was able to compare the results of the actual participants to the would-be participants.

Virta’s approach delivered significant reductions in HbA1c (-0.69 points) and reduced diabetes medications fill by 34.5%. BMI, blood pressure, and even the number of outpatient visits were all reduced. Read more at the full study.


Terms and Conditions of Challenge

Selection of Judges

There will be five judges, selected as follows:

  • Each side gets to appoint one, drawn from Brian Klepper’s listserve with almost 1000 people on it, from all walks of healthcare.
  • Two others are appointed objectively. That will be whichever health services researchers/health economists are the most influential at the time the reward is claimed. “Most influential” will be measured by a formula: the highest ratio of Twitter followers/Twitter following, with a minimum of 15,000 followers.
  • Those four judges will agree on the fifth.

Using the criteria below, judging will be based on validity of the measurement. Measurements deemed invalid, such as those described on the Validation Institute site, is a disqualifying factor, i.e., any challenge by a vendor that is not validated by the Validation Institute.

If the challenging party/vendor is deemed by the judges to have an equally valid metric as Client, the decision is made on the impact of the program in drug use reduction.

Written submissions

Each side submits up to 2,000 words and five graphs, supported by as many as 20 links; the material linked must pre-date this posting to discourage either side from creating linked material specifically for this contest.

Publicly available materials from the lay media or blogs may be used, as well as from any of the 10 academic journals with the highest “impact factors,” such as Health Affairs, published within the last five years.

Each party may separately cite previous invalidating mistakes made by the other party that might speak to the credibility of the other party. (There is no limit on those.)

Oral arguments

The judges may rule solely on the basis of the written submissions. If not, the parties will convene online for a 2.5-hour virtual presentation featuring 10-minute opening statements, in which as many as 10 slides are allowed. Time limits are:

  • 30-minute cross-examinations with follow-up questions and no limitations on subject matter;
  • 60 minutes in which judges control the agenda and may ask questions of either party based on either the oral or the written submissions;
  • Five-minute closing statements.

Entry process

The entry process is:

  1. Challenger and Service Provider deposit into escrow the amount each is at risk for ($100k for the Challenger, and $100k to the Service Provider). Each party forwards $10,000 to the judges as well, as an estimate of their combined fees and/or contributions to their designated nonprofits.
  2. If the Challenger or Service Provider pulls out after publicly announcing an application, the fee is three times the amount deposited.
  3. The escrow is distributed to the winner and the judges’ fees paid by the winner are returned by the judges to the winner, while the judges keep the losers’ fees. (This challenger fee goes to the judges.)

Other

The competition is open to any wellness, diabetes or disease management vendor outcomes claim made before April 15, 2023. This date may be updated by Service Provider from time to time.


*Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Bringing your dental benefit into the 21st Century

Time to bring your dental benefit into the 21st Century.  You may not look twice at it because it’s a small part of your spend, but it’s a big part of your employees‘ spend.

Further, unlike most of the stuff we cover in Quizzify, dental issues don’t go away on their own. Quite the opposite, they get worse in an exponential manner. An ignored 50% covered tooth issue can become a much larger 80%-covered medical issue.

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do about this at pretty much no cost. Read our article in Employee Benefit News, and then join the Linkedin conversation here (rather than comment below).

 

How to De-Crapify Vendor ROI Measurements

Are your vendors making claims that aren’t passing your sniff test?

Have you read my books but want a refresh?

Do you want to be the smartest person in the room (um, assuming I’m not also in it) when it comes to outcomes measurement?

I’ll be speaking on that exact topic, in more depth than usual, at The Healthcare Innovation Congress, taking place May 22-25, 2022, in Baltimore, MD.  Specifically, I’ll be leading two deep dive sessions for employer healthcare professionals and purchasers on Sunday, May 22.

Join this two-part workshop to gain expertise onaccurately measuring the outcomes and ROI on health benefits and wellness programs. (Successful completion of Part II qualifies attendees for the highest level of Critical Outcomes Report Analysis certification, CORA Pro.)

In addition to the usual hilarious examples of invalid measurement, presented via issue-spotters for you to find them, I’ll actually have several examples of – get ready – valid vendors. I mean there are thousands of vendors in this field so it shouldn’t be a surprise that just randomly a few get it right.


But wait…there’s more! Now how much would you pay?

Nothing, as it turns out. I have a limited number of complimentary VIP guest passes* for the Congress. Claim yours today by writing in AL2022 when you register.

I will also be speaking on the Employee Health & Well-being Track on Monday, May 23rd, 3:10 PM – 3:55 PM: “Do Your Employees Understand Healthcare?: Becoming Better Healthcare Consumers by Focusing on Health Literacy.”

Your guest pass gains you access to:

  • 150+ sessions
  • 12 comprehensive tracks
  • 17+ dedicated networking events
  • Pre-conference workshops
  • 4+ days of in-depth sessions, panels, and roundtables
  • 200+ speakers

Do not miss your chance to get a year’s worth of education in just four days. This is the most in-depth, comprehensive event you will attend all year!

Register today for The Healthcare Innovation Congress. I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore later this month.

Keep all your ER bills under $1000!

When was the last time you even saw an ER bill <$1000, all-in?

The Quizzify ER Prevent Sticker Shock Prevent Consent does exactly that.

Here is one of the two best-known authors in healthcare using it for his son.

Go to the post and see for yourself. Say goodbye to high ER bills for you, your family and your company.


And here are some more.


Here is a Level 5 (the most expensive ER visit code, with the bill:

You can subscribe individually by entering FriendofQuizzify in the promo code for a 20% discount at https://2go.quizzify.com/.

Or you can contact AL@quizzify.com to subscribe for your company.

J’Accuse! Naked Juice is sugar water

Occasionally we dual-post in Quizzify and They Said What, when we think an item is important to all of us. This is that situation.


Candy is bad for us. Your employees know that, so they don’t have to learn it in Quizzify. On the other hand, what seems to provide endless question fodder for our trivia quizzes is junk food marketed as health food. For example, we called out “Craisins” (dried cranberries) last month.

Everyone assumes that dried fruit is healthy. Well, dried fruit generally is healthy. Except when it isn’t. If, like cranberries, a fruit is so sour in its natural state that you have to smother it in sugar for it to taste good, well, that’s not healthy. Here is our question on it. Check out the nutrition label at the end:

1/4 dry cup, about 40 grams in total, has 29 grams of sugar, most of which is added. We were quite surprised to learn this (as I used to feed these things to my kids) and apparently so are your employees, as only about 20% get this question right.


We are shocked, shocked, to find that sugar is being added in here!

Just when we think we’ve seen everything, it turns out that one serving of the healthiest-sounding processed food on the planet, Naked Green Machine Juice (whose label touts “Goodness Inside”), supplies far more sugar (53 grams!) than we should be eating all day. (That latter figure would be, depending on who you believe, 35 grams for men and 25 grams for women.)

You can’t quite read it, but take our word for this: the label claims: “No added sugar.”  But here’s a piece of nutrition trivia. Naked Juice is sweetened with concentrated fruit juice, and concentrated fruit juice is an added sugar. Nevertheless, the Naked Juice people don’t have to list concentrated juice as added sugar because that’s what they are selling – juice. It’s like maple syrup. Maple syrup doesn’t list any added sugar on its own label because it is all sugar. But a processed food that includes maple syrup must count it as an added sugar.

Regradless, fruit juice concentrate is added sugar, period. If it were added to any non-juice product, it would be listed as an added sugar.  As far as your digestive system is concerned, there is no difference between fruit juice concentrate and sugar.

How much fruit-extracted sugar does Naked Juice concentrate into one serving? 2¼ apples worth, according to its own label. (Plus the sugary extracts of kiwis, bananas, pineapples, and pears.)

Naked Juice does supply lots of Vitamin A, B and C. But here’s the thing: for every American with a clinically significant deficiency of those vitamins, there are about 10,000 Americans with diabetes and another 20,000 on their way. Virtually every one of those 30,000, including many of your own employees, thinks they are doing their bodies a favor by drinking Naked Green Machine Juice.

Piling on, we’d also observe that the one nutrient we as a country are most deficient in is fiber. (Yes, that is also a Quizzify question.)  Fruits are a good source of fiber. Even Craisins can at least check the fiber box. Yet, somehow, Naked Juice has managed to process all the fiber out of these 2 ¼ apples and four other fruits, so the label above lists 0 grams.

Verdict: Naked Juice is not a healthy alternative to vegetables. Heck, it’s barely a healthy alternative to dessert.

Presenting Chris Deacon…Unplugged! (Webinar 01/06 1 PM EST)

Chris Deacon is going to give us the inside scoop on the successes and challenges in managing the highest-visibility health benefit in the country north of Bentonville (That would be the state of New Jersey and its 820,000 employees!)…and what she learned and we can learn from her experience.

Specifically, she will cover three initiatives that we all agree should reduce spend and likely improve outcomes, but which come with their own set of hurdles:

(1) Enabling advanced primary care
(2) PBMs
(3) Compiling your data in-house and knowing how to use it

Then she will discuss the challenges of each. Sometimes your TPA, broker, consultant or (in the case of public sector entities) politicians will be supportive. Other times they won’t be. A lot of money is changing hands and suffice it to say not all of it is transparent.

But as an attorney, she knows how to use ERISA (and now also the Consolidated Appropriations Act) to demand data, transparency and value. And in this webinar, Chris will share those secrets with you!

Register here. The webinar will be available afterwards to peopel who register ahead of time.

 

The Deplorables Award Winners of 2021 Give Stupidity a Bad Name

It’s a 3-way tie for the Deplorables Award this year, so I think we’re gonna need a bigger basket.


This race to the bottom was hotly contested this year, as we try to determine who, in the wellness industry’s epidemic of very stable geniuses, is Patient Einstein. These wellness vendors routinely violate rules of grammar, ethics, math and even wellness itself in their attempts to outstupid each other. Yes, I know that word is not in the dictionary but that’s only because Merriam-Webster uses a different wellness vendor. 

They also violate the rule that there are two sides to every story. In each case, this is their story, just annotated. In no case are we “challenging the data.” Quite the opposite. There is a saying that: “In wellness, you don’t have to challenge the data to invalidate it. You merely have to read the data. It will invalidate itself.”  

It’s a 3-way tie, in that three companies accomplished more in 2021 than most stupid people accomplish in a lifetime. It may seem impolite to call them “stupid,” but the alternative would be that they know their claims are false, so the alternative would be to call them liars.


Sprout

And sometimes, as in the case of one of our winners, we ourselves would be lying if we didn’t call them stupid. Here is the official catchphrase from the landing page of their website.  I would call this collection of wellness industry cliches a word salad, if only all of these were words.

Yes, Sprout At Work, the most obscure “industry-leading platform” in all of wellness, is a winner!

That’s because they’ve achieved the elusive quadruple aim of wellness: reducing employee costs, increasing employee productivity, raising employee engagne-ment, and poking employee cheeks.


Wellsteps

Needless to say, Wellsteps is back in the Deplorables Award winner’s circle, for the third time in six tries. I keep trying to retire from the business of exposing fraud in wellness. But just when I thought I was out, Wellsteps pulls me back in.

I’d like to propose that the Justice Department go after them. Not because they are lying, cheating and harming employees. Those are table stakes for wellness vendors profiled in these pages. Rather, they should be investigated by the Antitrust Division for trying to create a monopoly on stupidity. 

Yes, it seems like hardly a month goes by without the irresistible force of Wellsteps’ corporate IQ colliding with the immovable object of reality. They lit up the scorecard twice in 2021. First was Wellsteps Accomplished the Impossible: They Got Stupider.  The highlight was that they “updated their ROI calculator.”  But here are the three asterisks to that statement. Their “ROI Calculator”:

  1. is not updated.
  2. doesn’t show an ROI.
  3. doesn’t calculate.

Read the post, and then click through and try it yourself.

Not content with a single entry in this year’s contest, they entered a second time, with Dog Bites Man…and Wellsteps Fabricates Its Outcomes Again. At the risk of insulting the 76 million canines in this country, Wellsteps fabricating its outcomes is the “Dog Bites Man” headline of the wellness world. it really shouldn’t make the front page, especially in an industry segment as idiot-intensive as theirs. Yet transparently fabricating outcomes is their signature move, so I do like to make sure they get credit for it.

Wellsteps’ problem is that they aren’t remotely smart enough to lie without being caught. They may or may not be the most dishonest vendor, and they may or may not be the stupidest vendor, but they are certainly the stupidest dishonest vendor. 

They would also be a finailist for the Chiquita Award, by the CEO, Steve Aldana claiming that health can be improved with “even one more bite of a banana.”

I’ve always recommended to Mr. Aldana that if he is going to lie so much, he needs to hire a smart person.


Wellness360

Dumb-de-dumb-dumb.

Just when I thought wellness vendors couldn’t get any dumber than Wellsteps, I found this one. See Wellsteps: We’re the Stupidest Wellness Vendor. Wellness360: Hold My Beer.

The difference is that Wellness360 is not dishonest. They genuinely believe that we must drink 15 glasses of water a day – they aren’t just saying it to qualify for the pole position in our award competition. 

How do I know they genuinely believe we need “hydration wellbeing challenges” to meet this goal, even though the quoted study itself says “the vast majority of healthy people meet their hydration needs by letting thirst be their guide”?  They wrote to me to defend their findings, and also cited the massive savings reported in the 2010 Health Affairs article. I pointed out the slight problem that the authors of that study themselves retracted that conclusion when they did their own results, and found the opposite. Wellness360 replied: “Thousand’s [sic] of studies monthly give different results for sure,” which of course clears everything up.

They also posted a recipe for ginger snaps that sounded quite tasty…

…largely because it calls for a cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of molasses. I observed that perhaps it wasn’t exactly on-message for a wellness vendor to be advocating consumption of sugar by the cupful.  They posted back that, to offset the sugar, the ginger offers three attributes that I had apparently overlooked. Ginger:

  1. “Keeps your body warm,” 
  2. “Keeps your health in check,” and
  3. “Is a diaphoretic.”

It’s not just you. I had no clue what “diaphoretic” meant either. So I looked it up. Diaphoresis is a medical condition characterized by “excessive sweating for no apparent reason.” 

The good news is we’ve solved that medical mystery by finding that there is an “apparent reason” – those 15 glasses of water a day have to go somewhere.


Please put comments on the Linkedin post here.

Healthcare Heroes of 2021

Yes, I know.  You read TheySaidWhat for the same reason you rubberneck. You simply can’t look away.  You were hoping this week we would be publishing the annual Deplorables Awards. They are coming next week, when we will reveal which very stable genius is Vendor Zero in the wellness industry’s epidemic of cluelessness.

Today we are doing the opposite: giving credit to the people and corporations (they are people too, you know) who stood out in 2021 for advancing the causes of cost-effectiveness, quality, innovation, and health equity.

These are in alphabetical order and if you think I left someone out send me a linkedin note and I will add them if I agree they are worthy.

I would like to separately recognize my uncle, Dr. J. Michael Lane, who passed away fairly recently. He did more than anyone else to wipe out smallpox. First, he wrote the paper which provided the economic justification for investing in the eradication of smallpox, in lieu of vaccinating everyone in sight.

He observed that the vanishingly low smallpox incidence rate outside Africa was maintained by millions of vaccinations that created thousands of complications. And that the cost of going to Africa to eradicate the disease from its last strongholds was far less than the cost of said vaccines and complications. He then procured the budget from CDC and WHO, and led the team which went to Africa to teach the locals how to inoculate up to 10,000 people a day. The logistics of convincing local and tribal leaders, some of whom were Russian allies carrying AK-47s, to stick their friends and families with needles, were challenging, to put it mildly. 

It turns out he didn’t win a Nobel Prize in Medicine because prizewinners are required to invent or discover something. Whereas all he did was wipe out the biggest viral scourge in the history of mankind, albeit using a technology that had been around for centuries.


And now, the winners…

Marshall Allen’s Never Pay the First Bill almost hit the New York Times bestseller list. it is the first how-to book empowering patients/consumers to pay a fair price for services rendered. You shouldn’t need a book for that. I mean, no one has written a book to teach people how not to get snookered by, for example, laundromats. And yet we do. And yet he did.

His expose of broker compensation helped lead to the Comprehensive Appropriations Act, which requires full disclosure of all streams of payment between vendors/carrier/PBMs and middlepeople. This could change the industry, favoring honest vendors like Quizzify that don’t make under-the-table payments.

Jerry Ashton’s nonprofit, RIP Medical Debt, has paid off a total of $5 Billion of old medical debt, and as part of that, restored credit to the debtors, most of whom were otherwise essentially barred from procuring credit on favorable terms (if they can get credit at all), not to mentioned totally stressed. There is still tons more to go. Mind-blowing numbers of insured Americans carry mind-blowing amounts of medical debt. They accumulate this debt even as they’ve paid down their credit card debt in record amounts.

Dr. Bill Bestermann has developed an enormous national following among PCPs and cardiometablic clinicians by studiously mastering and integrating the genomic and metabolic evidence behind Optimal Medical Therapy and a unified theory of chronic disease. The health outcomes he achieved working with BCBS Louisiana, Ochsner, andea other groups are consistently far beyond conventional care, and he has been open and mission driven about sharing his model for the betterment of all humankind.

Katherine Baicker and Zirui Song, for publishing the definitive cluster randomization study on wellness, which naturally showed no impact at all. Special kudos for allowing themselves to be guided by the evidence. Yes, you shouldn’t get an award for that, but in this industry you do. Likewise, we reversed our opinion on these two. As Prof. Baicker demonstrated with her study on Oregon Medicaid’s natural experiment using a lottery control, she is the #1 researcher in this field. (The 2010 Health Affairs thing was well-intentioned, but wrong. I would add that I can’t talk — I didn’t figure out these vendors were scamming people until 2013. If you look hard at my 2012 textbook on outcomes measurement in disease management and patient-centered medical homes, you will see a brief but positive mention of wellness.) 

Leah Binder dramatically expanded the Leapfrog Group’s scope, forging ahead with ethical billing ratings (inspired in part by Marty Makary and one other guy…hmmm…wonder who that was?). Combined with Dr. Makary’s efforts, shining a light on these practices has without question had an impact on billing practices. 

Dr. Eric Bricker consistently produces the best short video exposes of anyone in the industry and nothing seems to escape his smackdowns. I learned from him, for example, why hospitals charge so much more for emergency care than for electives. I had always just assumed it was because you don’t really have a choice in an emergency. That would explain out-of-network price-gouging (which is ending a couple weeks after you read this), but Dr. Bricker explained the specific reason in-network rates are so high, summarized here.


Dave Chase, and other next-generation benefits advisors, showed it really is possible to reduce the overall cost of healthcare while increasing benefits. Maybe you could attribute the first few cases to good luck but after hundreds of similar outcomes, you have to think Health Rosetta’s special sauce works.

Christin Deacon became the highest-visibility benefits manager in the country, running the 4th largest health benefit in the country. The state of New Jersey had the good sense to combine all public-sector employees into one group, to increase purchasing power. Overcoming many hurdles from politicians and others, she made major changes that saved billions, to be shared with employees and taxpayers. Hear Chris tell her story in our January 6th webinar Presenting Chris Deacon…Unplugged.

Bryce Heinbaugh, who has been working tirelessly and successfully to make Direct Primary Care available for participants in the plans that he serves in rural areas of Ohio and West Virginia.  He has put in a couple of years of effort to find and recruit  DPC practices in underserved areas, and then drove a couple of thousand miles in a week to tell the participants about this great feature of their health plans.  And yet you’ve never heard of him. That’s what we’re here for. 

Brian Klepper devotes an absurd amount of time to curating a googlegroup in which like-minded (well, in the broadest sense of the word) disruptors can find common ground, share ideas and make connections. It is important for those of us on the “bleeding edge” to realize we are not alone in the universe, so this Healthcare Hackers Group performs an invaluable function. Curating it is way harder than it looks. Or as I sometimes say, it takes a lot of effort to make something look easy.

The advisors on the Hackers Group – Alera, Connect Health Collaboration, EPoweredBenefits, Higgenbotham, Mitigate Partners, Provinsure, and more – are all “next generation” advisors who have achieved excellent results and who welcome next month’s Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) instead of dreading its bright lights behind shined on their business practices. Indeed, asking two questions of your advisor or vendor will determine their ethics:

  1. What do you think of the CAA?
  2. What do you think of Al Lewis?

Dr. Marty Makary’s The Price We Pay also hit the bestseller list (in paperback). His quest to reduce or eliminate the number of lawsuits filed by hospitals against patients who unwittingly sign financial consents has shown clear results, as the number of such suits has plummeted. Only a small minority of hospitals were doing this, but they compensated for those small numbers with lots of lawsuits. (And some are still at it, of course.) Dr. Makary was also the inspiration for the “Prevent Consent,” which Quizzify literally guarantees will keep ER bills in the 3 figures, in the continental US.

Rosen Hotels is arguably the best employer health benefit in the country, per dollar spent. They get plenty of plaudits already, but we can pile on.

Gillian Pieper, Ashley Johnson, Amy Gilbert and colleagues at VEHI PATH have achieved a relationship with their constituents, the 19,000 Vermont teachers, that would be the envy of any organization anywhere. Quizzify is very engaging in most places, and yet somehow they are twice as engaging as the Quizzify average. It isn’t just Quizzify. Their combination of mutual trust, “champions” in every building, and an easily accessible and interesting set of offerings doesn’t just result in mind-blowing engagement levels, but does so with among the most modest incentives we’ve ever seen.

We should also give shout-outs to some of the leading Business Coalitions. It’s a tough thing to do because you have to rely on funding (at least partially) from exactly the organizations you are trying to negotiate with. But Jessica Brooks of PBGH, Chris Skisak of HBGH, and Bob Smith of CBGH deserve a special shout-out. (This is not to say some others don’t, but these three are willing to take bullets.)


The Vendors of 2021

Among vendors, we’d like to draw special attention to three which solve specific problems. This is no knock against some other vendors, but it’s very unusual for a vendor to make a bright-line change. Usually, with more or less success, the idea of vendors is to change employee behavior.

Quizzify also changes behavior, by teaching employees how to recognize and avoid useless and potentially harmful tests and procedures. Quizzify also tries to change eating behavior. For example, you probably think cranberries are a “superfruit,” if for no other reason than the package tells us so. 

Yet they are completely devoid of vitamins. That’s not even the bad part. The bad part is that in the form we usually eat them, “Craisins,” are literally 50% sugar, a proportion that could make Captain Horatio Crunch himself blush. You have to do the math on the label below, which needless to say Ocean Spray is not exactly forthcoming about. 1/4 Cup is 2 ounces. There are 29 grams in an ounce. Ergo…

See?  We just changed your eating behavior.

But the reason Quizzify is on the list of bright-line change is the Prevent Consent. As noted above, this was largely inspired by Dr. Makary. We simply took the next step from “Don’t sign their consent,” to “Sign your own instead.” So far this Consent has been accepted everywhere (treatment in the ER without affirmative objection constitutes acceptance–Contract Law 101), though occasionally the hospital seems to “forget” that they agreed to it and tries to send a conventional bill. Quizzify will take care of that.

It is now available in a mobile app, Quizzify2Go, which includes a “cheat sheet” to remind employees of their rights in the ER, and a support hotline if the ER intake person is being recalcitrant. It also has a full list of questions to ask during doctor visits for 100+ different topics.


The next is Sera Prognostics. They market a test called PreTRM, which dramatically increases an obstetrician’s ability to predict prematurity. If followed by an intensive prenatal health program, accurate prediction can substantially reduce, and has substantially reduced, the number of NICU days in a population. I’m not undertanding why employers who spend large sums to help employees get pregnant seem less interested in saving large sums by helping employees stay pregnant. But maybe that’s just me.

Employers who compare their NICU days/1000 to their primary-coded diabetes days per 1000 will see that with all the fuss about diabetes, reducing NICU days is a vastly more economically worthwhile activity. This is a list of the top 25 inpatient total spends by employers. Do you see a trend? The plurality are birth events. Diabetes doesn’t show up at all.

Not to mention that, unlike diabetes, your employees will love you for it and you won’t get reviews like Livongo’s.


Next is the Validation Institute, which really came into its own this year. Employers have finally figured out that vendors don’t retain actuaries to determine whether money was saved. They retain actuaries to “prove” that money was saved. Here is their master list of vendor sleight-of-hand techniques. 

In 2021, the Validation Institute (VI) drew a bright line between its own validations and actuarial number salad with its Credibility Guarantee. If you, as a customer of a validated entity, can show VI overstated a vendor claim, the VI will send you a multiple of the fee that the vendor paid to be validated.


And, finally, it is important to recognize that the wellness industry has some fine, upstanding citizens. As far as we know, this is the all-inclusive list but we are happy to add others if indeed they qualify. US Preventive Medicine leads the list because, uniquely in wellness, it has achieved validation by the Validation Institute for making a clear reduction in risk factors.  Aduro, Limeade, Sonic Boom, Wellable, and Wellright also make the cut.

 


Please put comments on Linkedin instead of here. I don’t moderate these posts for comments.

 

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