The idea behind these projects is to deliver better care for less money. It is a noble and essential goal since health care spending stands to undermine our entire economy within the next 10-20 years (and perhaps sooner). The results can be characterized as mixed at best with roughly equivalent numbers of pilots costing more money as opposed to less money. Granted the time frames had short time horizons and we have to take as a given that most innovative approaches will fail.
My problem with the whole idea of Medicare Innovation projects is that the idea of top down driven innovation is really a non-starter and that meaningful innovation of Medicare the third party payment system it is embedded in are ones that will result in something entirely different. That will not happen if the innovations are embedded in the Medicare/Third party payment system we now use. They will co-opt any real change.
I believe that Clayton Christensen's book the Innovators Prescription has an analysis of this problem which is spot on. He identifies various strategies which companies can use to address disruptive innovation in their industry. The disruptions almost always are related to some new product or service which comes in at the low end of the market and ultimately moves up market to disrupt the market leader.
One example he uses was IBM, which was a leader in the mainframe computer industry. During the early 1980's, technological innovation allowed for the development of desktop computers which had a much larger market than the mainframe business. The first desktops were no match for the computing power of the mainframes. Multiple mainframe and mini-computer companies saw the change coming but none except IBM actually adapted to their impact on the market. Companies like DEC and Wang went out of business but IBM did not. Why?
From my perspective, successful innovation in health care payment and delivery means undermining third party payment systems, including Medicare. Given how Medicare is organized and administered, that will not happen. Markets allow for tremendous flexibility and do so by allowing participants to tweak from the bottom up. Medicare demonstration projects are a top down endeavor. The ideas may come from a variety of parties but they must percolate through the Medicare bureaucracy before they can be test or implemented. As it stands now, Medicare and other third party payers will always co-opt any attempts to change the system in any meaningful way and are now in positions to insure they are always in a position to co-opt any attempt using their control of the payment system.
The most constraining part of the Medicare and third party payment system is executed through the lack of the ability of health care providers and delivery systems to experiment with re-bundling of services. Medicare constrains providers through legal constraints. You either participate in Medicare with all its restrictions or you opt out. Similarly, other third party payers use the Medicare template to force providers to be either all in or not in at all.
I see the concierge movement is simply an effort to repackage and bundle services. In my estimation, it is exactly the right thing to do. It is viewed by critics as allowing the camel's nose in the tent, the first step in disrupting a payment system which should be used to guarantee health care access to all. I also see it as a first step in disrupting a payment system which needs disruption. Once physicians and other providers of health care services are empowered to bundle services differently from what is allowed by Medicare and private insurance, innovation in those realms will explode. The public will benefit the most.
True innovation in health care which can save money to the degree that will be required to prevent financial calamity will require deployment of innovations which can cut costs, not in small and inconsistent increments, but in huge chunks. The trade offs required will be modest compromise on the deliverables. We put computers in a huge percentage of homes in 2012 not by promising million dollar mainframes but by initially deploying crappy desktop machines.
Furthermore, we succeed in deploying sophisticated technology by initially targeting the affluent few after which markets relentlessly drive costs down to make them available to the many at a fraction of the costs. High end whistles and bells in cars such as ABS braking systems and high end electronics were first available only in the top end luxury cars. They are now standard equipment at a fraction of the initial cost. Why has this not happened in health care? Non-market based, administratively controlled payment systems have served as a brake on this type of innovation. Medicare demonstration projects will not disrupt these systems and without that type of disruption, no meaningful change can occur.
I have a simple plan for innovation. Allow us to get a waiver from Medicare which allows us to continue our participation in Medicare while we experiment with alternative payment systems. We need no grant monies, just additional autonomy and the ability to bundle and price our services in novel ways.