|THIS WEEK IN HEALTHCARE
What happened in healthcare this week—and what we think about it.
- CommonSpirit confirms large-scale ransomware attack. The fourth-largest US hospital system, Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, is struggling with the impact of a major cyberattack, more than a week after it began disrupting electronic health record access and delaying care in multiple regions across the country. Beyond confirming the attack, the system has not provided many details, other than that it took immediate steps to protect its systems and has begun an investigation.
The Gist: Healthcare hacking is on the rise—our industry experienced the largest increase in cyberattacks of any in 2021. Sitting on troves of valuable patient data, health systems must ready themselves for the reality that hacking attempts are no longer a question of “if,” but “when.” Now is the time not only to ensure proper safeguards are in place to prevent such attacks, but also to prepare response plans for once a hack is confirmed, to be able to continue patient care amid disruption when time is of the essence and patient lives are at stake.
- Colonoscopies fail to reduce colon cancer deaths in landmark study. In a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study of 85K Europeans, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, colonoscopies were found to reduce incidence of colorectal cancer by only 18 percent—much less than earlier large studies—and have no impact on ten-year colorectal cancer mortality rates. This is the first study to directly compare individuals invited to receive colonoscopies with a control group receiving no cancer screening. While the study’s findings surprised many researchers, an important caveat to the headline takeaways is that a secondary analysis of study participants who actually completed their colonoscopies found a 50 percent reduction in death, though the decision to accept the invitation likely correlates with other factors that improve mortality outcomes.
The Gist: We were surprised to learn this was the first RCT to assess the effectiveness of colonoscopies—15M of which are performed in the US each year—and which comprise a $36B market. While the study’s results need careful interpretation, it reminds us that much of established medical consensus has yet to be “proven” by rigorous scientific research. While we don’t expect this study’s results to significantly change colonoscopy recommendations, it does place greater emphasis on the question of value generated by widespread preventative screenings. Colonoscopy will almost certainly remain the gold standard for colon cancer screening in the US, but if these results bear out, other less invasive types of screening, like home-based fecal immunochemical testing, could be viewed as equivalent options and receive more traction.
- Bright Health exits nine more states. Coming off a $1.2B net loss in 2021, Minneapolis-based insurtech Bright Health announced this week it will stop offering commercial and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans in all states except Florida and California, where it will solely offer MA plans. In its remaining markets, the company plans to focus on its care delivery and provider support business, NeuHealth. Bright has reportedly struggled to contain its medical spend, due to rapid growth and COVID-related costs; its claims processing backlog also earned a $1M fine from the Colorado Department of Insurance last April. Once valued at over $11B, Bright’s stock has lost 95 percent of its value since going public in June 2021.
The Gist: The largest digital health IPO to date is now rapidly shrinking, not even two years later—and Bright is not alone amongst its peers. After years of hype, most insurtechs still have minimal market share, and most have yet to turn a profit. With a market cap now under $1B—and dropping by the day—Bright could be an easy pickup for an established health plan interested in its consumer-centric technology, though given reports of dissatisfied beneficiaries, the value of that technology is still unclear.
Plus—what we’ve been reading.
- Insurers under fire for Medicare Advantage billing practices. In a blistering article published in the New York Times, reporters Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz detail widespread fraud allegations involving the nation’s largest MA insurers. Nine of the ten largest plans have been accused by the government of fraud or overbilling, generally for upcoding practices that exaggerate the disease burden among their beneficiaries, without providing them more care. Insurers have disputed most allegations, and regulators have been slow to punish known infractions. As a growing steam of seniors continue the enter the program, aggressive risk adjustment has significantly increased the government’s costs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has yet to reduce payments in response to overbilling, despite having the power to do so.
The Gist: While these practices were well known to many in the healthcare industry, MA’s growth—set to overtake traditional Medicare enrollment next year—has added a spotlight worthy of national attention. While many beneficiaries report being satisfied with their MA benefits, the program was also intended to improve the cost efficiency of senior care. With payers gaming the system to garner record profits, the government has seen higher per-enrollee spending in MA compared to traditional Medicare. There are some signs that the strings are starting to tighten for insurers, as many of the largest are losing Medicare star bonuses in 2023, impacting both plan revenue and ability to market throughout the year. However, reduced quality bonuses change nothing about the underlying MA payment structure, and could even drive insurers to more profit-seeking behavior.