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Geisinger CEO: U.S. Healthcare Needs a Good Shakeup

By MedPage Today  
   April 26, 2017

News Editor, MedPage Today

The industry 'is so screwed up and it's ripe to be disrupted,' says David Feinberg, MD, the CEO and president of Pennlyvania-based Geisinger Health System.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. healthcare industry could use a good shaking up, a healthcare executive said here Tuesday.

"I think our industry is so screwed up and it's ripe to be disrupted," David Feinberg, MD, MBA, president and CEO of Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., said at a conference sponsored by the Duke Margolis Center for Health Policy and the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. "Either we do it or some Stanford dropout in a black turtleneck is going to."

"Can we take care of people in a way that's dignified, that's culturally sensitive?" he asked. "Can they afford it? Is it easy to get? Is it something you want for your own family? Let's focus on high value, great experience, and low costs."

On the other hand, many of the problems with the healthcare system today are really public health problems and aren't something that private insurers can readily fix, said J. Mario Molina, MD, president and CEO of Molina Healthcare, a managed healthcare company based in Long Beach, Calif. "Obesity is not something you're going to cure; it's a public health issue. ... We really can't expect health plans to [take care of] that."

"We try to do something about obesity, but it's really difficult from a health plan, medical model," he continued. "We're really good at covering acute illnesses or managing chronic ones [but for conditions like obesity] it doesn't work well. We need to invest more in public health; if we did that, we wouldn't invest as much in healthcare per se."

But Feinberg disagreed: For example, "We take diabetics who are food insecure and say, 'Here's food for the whole week for you and your family' -- every week. We've seen decreases in hemoglobin A1c in every single patient, decreases in weight, decreases in blood pressure ... if this was a pill it would be a miraculous pill. We've had patients we had spent $220,000 in 4 years before we started giving them food; in the year they've been in the program, our medical cost is $1,200. Hippocrates talked about food as medicine a long time ago; I think we've lost our way."

Sometimes solving healthcare problems calls for breaking the rules, he continued. "When I got to Geisinger a couple of years ago, there were providers we were spending $500,000 a year on for visits, and the only thing they did was prescribe opiates. They weren't even in our network." But when Feinberg wanted to stop using them as providers, he was told he couldn't cut them off without going through a laborious process to do so.

But "they were [essentially] giving bullets to our patients," he continued. "I said, 'Cut them off and send the regulators to me.' The regulators came to me and I said, 'Put me in jail. I got rid of five doctors who only prescribe opioids to patients' ... We say, 'Let's do the right thing and let the chips fall where they fall.'"

The Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges also came up at the meeting. "The vast majority of [state health insurance exchanges] are stable and working well," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, that state's health insurance exchange. "For 30% that's not the case, and those markets are at risk of destabilization. It's very important [to understand] that we're not talking about a ship that's sinking."

One thing that could destabilize the exchanges, however, is if the Trump administration takes away the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that the federal government is giving to states to help low-income enrollees pay their out-of-pocket costs. "If you don't [keep the subsidies] ... it's going to cause massive disruption," Lee said.

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