EP351: Everybody in the Healthcare Industry Getting Up in Everyone Else’s Business, With Eric Bricker, MD, From AHealthcareZ
Relentless Health Value™January 20, 2022
351
36:0049.45 MB

EP351: Everybody in the Healthcare Industry Getting Up in Everyone Else’s Business, With Eric Bricker, MD, From AHealthcareZ

In this healthcare podcast, I’m speaking with Eric Bricker, MD, about how so many entities in healthcare are getting up in other people’s business and swimming in other people’s traditional lanes. Consider last week’s show with Katy Talento, for example. She mentions employers who are not only doing their own direct contracting (ie, cutting out the traditional carriers and negotiating directly with provider organizations) but also employee benefit consultants who are working on setting up their own hospital—an employer-owned hospital. That was episode 350, and while this hospital idea is a little future oriented, right now today, across the country, we have employers and also unions who are owning their own primary care clinics, which I discussed at some length with Mark Blum from America’s Agenda (EP248).  

In this episode with Dr. Bricker, we start from the beginning. We kick off the conversation talking about the payer, PBM, and hospital system horizontal consolidation that has transpired over the past decades (that’s plural). Horizontal consolidation is pretty much the easiest way to decimate all competition in your own swim lane so that you can charge more and not worry so much about patient/customer/member experience because the patients/customers/members have no better alternative. They effectively have nowhere, or few other places at best, to go if they leave you.

So, what’s the impact of horizontal consolidation? We get into this in the podcast, but subsequent to this recording, there was a study that came out in JAMA: “The Dysfunctional Health Benefits Market and Implications for US Employers and Employees.” This was by David Scheinker, PhD; Arnold Milstein, MD; and Kevin Schulman, MD. This study showed that commercial insurance costs have gone up 4x the rate of other benchmark goods and services. Bottom line, “It is assumed that insurers compete intensely to improve the value received by employers and employees by negotiating to keep prices down and advocating for employers and employees.” Ha ha … NOT.  

With peak horizontal consolidation, there is little meaningful competition—so ixnay on that premise. By the way, if anyone knows any of those authors that I just cited in that study, hit me up. I’d love to get one of them on the show.

But let’s spend a moment, shall we, on the human impact of all this extreme consolidation. The impact is your sister, your neighbor, your son, your friend. So many feel so much pressure financially in our country today because of healthcare costs. Even families earning significantly more than median household income are forgoing care because of costs. Again, this was in a recent paper. (The authors are Alyce S. Adams, Raymond Kluender, Neale Mahoney, Jinglin Wang, Francis Wong, and Wesley Yin.)  

But the direct observable financial toxicity resulting from high healthcare patient costs is really only the tip of the iceberg here. As Dave Chase from Health Rosetta has said a million times already, high healthcare costs have a multitude of effects on employers, big and small. One big one is, if healthcare costs more, then there’s less money for salaries. Dave, citing lots of evidence, has long attributed wage stagnation in this country to accelerating healthcare costs, which became even more rampant during periods of industry consolidation. Dave Chase leads Health Rosetta, by the way.

Here’s another human toxicity: Listen to episode 337 with Oliva Webb on the impact on her life as a result of the undeniably and unquestionably common non-excellent treatment by the PBMs and SPPs that she has to deal with. Because, as Dr. Bricker also says, no competition means basically not a whole lot of concern about patient experience. Why should a for-profit business spend money to improve something when there’s nothing really to be gained for them financially to do so? I mean, the best a patient can do most of the time is hop from the frying pan into the fire. That’s what happens when there’s no competition or no real competition. Also consider the burned-out clinicians who have to get stuck in the middle of this nobody-really-cares-at-the-monopoly customer service paperwork quagmire. 

By the way, here’s a sidebar that might come as a surprise to some people, but please take this in the spirit with which it’s intended. All of us innovators and lifelong learners, we want to update our beliefs when the facts show us an updated conclusion. So, I have learned that all of this consolidation was going on long before the ACA (Affordable Care Act). My point here is to please look into this well-documented trend line before reflexively tweeting that the ACA drove consolidation. Dr. Bricker and others like Dr. Mai Pham have told me that, in their opinion, low interest rates, cheap debt, and a desire to eliminate competition are wildly powerful drivers of consolidation.

Anyway, about nine minutes into the interview with Dr. Bricker, if you’re one of the ones who knows all you care to know about horizontal consolidation, we get into vertical integration, vertical consolidation—and this is where things get interesting. And when I say interesting, I mean it in a “we live in interesting times” kind of way.

The vertical consolidation conversation segues into whose swim lane that the digital health and other innovators or, dare I say, disrupters are diving into and whose lunch they are aiming to eat.

Dr. Bricker probably needs no introduction. He is the force behind AHealthcareZ, which you can find online, on Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. He has worked as a clinician, in healthcare finance, and currently serves as a chief medical officer. If that weren’t enough, he’s also been an entrepreneur—a very successful entrepreneur, I might add. He started one of the first healthcare navigation firms called Compass Professional Health Services. Compass had something like 2000 employer clients serving about 1.8 million people when it was purchased in, I believe, 2018.  

You can connect with Dr. Bricker on Twitter at @DrEricB and on LinkedIn. 

Eric Bricker, MD, is an internal medicine physician and former cofounder and chief medical officer of Compass Professional Health Services. Compass is a healthcare navigation service that grew to 2000+ clients, including T-Mobile, Southwest Airlines, and Chili’s/Maggiano’s restaurants. Compass was acquired by Alight Solutions in July 2018. Alight is a 10,000-person employee benefits and HR outsourcing company that separated from Aon in 2017.

Dr. Bricker has since started AHealthcareZ.com, with 170+ healthcare finance videos with approximately 90,000 views per month across all platforms. He is also the author of Healthcare Money Campfire Stories. 


06:30 What is this “megatrend” happening in healthcare right now?
07:52 How has consolidation changed the healthcare landscape?
10:22 What is vertical integration within healthcare?
11:48 Why doesn’t inorganic growth benefit patients?
13:33 “What is best for the patient does not necessarily make the most money.”
14:43 “It’s not that it’s above the law … it is just intentionally obscured.”
18:58 “Healthcare is glacial. It is slow.”
23:23 “The largest source of healthcare costs is hospitals.”
25:48 EP330 with John Marchica.
29:17 “What have the historical priorities been of the administrators of those hospitals?”
29:32 “Every hospital CFO knows that they need sick people.”
30:18 EP343 with David Carmouche, MD.
30:59 “The payment change has to come first.”
32:17 “The money wins.”
34:12 “You’ve got to put the financial incentives in place … to make people actually behave the way that they should.”

You can connect with Dr. Bricker on Twitter at @DrEricB and on LinkedIn.

digitalhealth,healthcare,healthtech,compass professional health services,health tech,ahealthcarez.com,

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