THE ONE CARE MAZE
By Richard Davis
The public is not engaged enough in the process of health care reform. That is nothing new. Most people don’t get worked up about health care issues until they get sick and have to use their health insurance, if they have it, or when they find out about all the details of payment and coverage.
Yet, many polls indicate that health care is one of the most important issue for voters. What that means is that Americans who have to use their health insurance or who pay premiums are sick and tired of being used as pawns in a money game that should be focusing more on health and not as much on finances.
Voting for a candidate who connects with people on health care issues means that voters have to dig into the issues and figure out what plans mean and how they might affect their health and their pocketbook. But what happens when the course of health care reform cannot be controlled enough by voters?
Most health care issues, whether they relate to financing or the direct provision of services are controlled by administrators and policymakers. The state of Vermont laid the foundation for a new type of payment system for health care a few years ago called the All Payer Model. The basic concept is that eventually most Vermont health care providers would be paid a set fee based on a per person per month figure worked out among the state, insurers and providers.
In order to facilitate the use of that model Vermont created One Care, an accountable care organization. According to VTDigger reporter Katie Jickling in a December 2019 piece, ”About 160,000 Vermonters, roughly a quarter of the state’s population, have their health care funds pass through OneCare Vermont. For the most part, the company flies under the radar.
In fact, nearly a billion dollars of state health care funds go from insurance providers to the for-profit accountable care organization; OneCare then funnels the money to doctors and hospitals.
OneCare helps facilitate the state’s all-payer system, which prioritizes preventative care and aims to lower health care costs by keeping people healthy.”
That means that a lot of Vermont’s health care dollars are now being controlled by One Care, yet there have been a number of instances where the organization’s transparency and public accountability have been called into question.
In November I contacted One Care to find out about how to disenroll. If you a Medicare beneficiary you are automatically enrolled in Once Care unless you opt out. Opting out requires contacting Medicare directly but the people I contacted at One Care initially gave me incorrect information. They assured me that they would upgrade their web site to explain how to disenroll. As of today, those promised changes have not been made.
In January Mike Smith, Secretary of the Agency of Human Services, urged lawmakers not to give One Care a requested $5.7 million until they become a non-profit organization. Becoming a non-profit would provide more transparency, something that many people have been looking for.
The original hope for One Care was that it had the potential to transform Vermont’s health care system by becoming a model for comprehensive care. Many of the pieces of that framework are in place yet the overall organizational structure appears to be getting in the way of meaningful progress. When an organization controls so many health care dollars it needs to do a better job of being open and honest about what it is doing.
One Care, as well as the governor, are claiming that millions of dollars have been realized in savings because of the program. But is money really being saved? Patients may be using fewer services and the cost of their care may be decreasing in some instances.
The other side of that coin that you won’t readily hear about is the fact that providers whose patients use up less of their allotment can keep the money they save. That money goes back into the accounts of hospitals and health care organizations. We need more information about what happens to that money that is called savings.