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Concept: Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association


Overdose deaths involving opioid pain medications are epidemic in the United States, in part because of high opioid prescribing rates and associated abuse of these drugs (1). In 2014, nearly 2 million U.S. residents either abused or were dependent on prescription opioids (2). In Massachusetts, unintentional opioid-related overdose deaths, including deaths involving heroin, increased 45% from 2012 to 2013.* In 2014, the rate of these deaths reached 20.0 per 100,000, nearly 2.5 times higher than the U.S. rate overall (3,4). On July 1, 2012, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), the largest insurer in the state with approximately 2.8 million members,(†) implemented a comprehensive opioid utilization program after learning that many of its members were receiving new prescriptions with a >30-day supply of opioids. The 2016 CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain recommends avoiding opioids as a first-line therapy for chronic pain and limiting quantities when initiating opioids for acute pain (5). CDC analyzed BCBSMA prescription claims data for the period 2011-2015 to assess the effect of the new utilization program on opioid prescribing rates. During the first 3 years after policy implementation, the average monthly prescribing rate for opioids decreased almost 15%, from 34 per 1,000 members to 29. The percentage of BCBSMA members per month with current opioid prescriptions also declined. The temporal association between implementation of the program and statistically significant declines in both prescribing rates and proportion of members using opioids suggests that the BCBSMA initiative played a role in reducing the use of prescription opioids among its members. Public and private insurers in the United States could benefit from developing their own best practices for prescription opioid utilization that ensure accessible pain care, while reducing the risk for dependence and abuse associated with these drugs.

Concepts: United States, Opioid, Pain, Heroin, Naloxone, Implementation, Medical prescription, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association


Background Spending and quality under global budgets remain unknown beyond 2 years. We evaluated spending and quality measures during the first 4 years of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Alternative Quality Contract (AQC). Methods We compared spending and quality among enrollees whose physician organizations entered the AQC from 2009 through 2012 with those among persons in control states. We studied spending changes according to year, category of service, site of care, experience managing risk contracts, and price versus utilization. We evaluated process and outcome quality. Results In the 2009 AQC cohort, medical spending on claims grew an average of $62.21 per enrollee per quarter less than it did in the control cohort over the 4-year period (P<0.001). This amount is equivalent to a 6.8% savings when calculated as a proportion of the average post-AQC spending level in the 2009 AQC cohort. Analogously, the 2010, 2011, and 2012 cohorts had average savings of 8.8% (P<0.001), 9.1% (P<0.001), and 5.8% (P=0.04), respectively, by the end of 2012. Claims savings were concentrated in the outpatient-facility setting and in procedures, imaging, and tests, explained by both reduced prices and reduced utilization. Claims savings were exceeded by incentive payments to providers during the period from 2009 through 2011 but exceeded incentive payments in 2012, generating net savings. Improvements in quality among AQC cohorts generally exceeded those seen elsewhere in New England and nationally. Conclusions As compared with similar populations in other states, Massachusetts AQC enrollees had lower spending growth and generally greater quality improvements after 4 years. Although other factors in Massachusetts may have contributed, particularly in the later part of the study period, global budget contracts with quality incentives may encourage changes in practice patterns that help reduce spending and improve quality. (Funded by the Commonwealth Fund and others.).

Concepts: Health care, Massachusetts, Health care in the United States, Incentive, Budget, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Edward Harkness, Commonwealth Fund


In 2011 CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, a large mid-Atlantic health insurance plan, implemented a payment and delivery system reform program. The model, called the Total Care and Cost Improvement Program, includes enhanced payments for primary care, significant financial incentives for primary care physicians to control spending, and care coordination tools to support progress toward the goal of higher-quality and lower-cost patient care. We conducted a mixed-methods evaluation of the initiative’s first three years. Our quantitative analyses used spending and utilization data for 2010-13 to compare enrollees who received care from participating physician groups to similar enrollees cared for by nonparticipating groups. Savings were small and fully shared with providers, which suggests no significant effect on total spending (including bonuses). Our qualitative analysis suggested that early in the program, many physicians were not fully engaged with the initiative and did not make full use of its tools. These findings imply that this and similar payment reforms may require greater time to realize significant savings than many stakeholders had expected. Patience may be necessary if payer-led reform is going to lead to system transformation.

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Patient, Physician, Qualitative research, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association


As policy makers and others seek to reduce health care cost growth while improving health care quality, one approach gaining momentum is fee-for-value reimbursement. This payment strategy maintains the traditional fee-for-service arrangement but includes quality and spending incentives. We examined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Physician Group Incentive Program, which uses a fee-for-value approach focused on primary care physicians. We analyzed the program’s impact on quality and spending from 2008 to 2011 for over three million beneficiaries in over 11,000 physician practices. Participation in the incentive program was associated with approximately 1.1 percent lower total spending for adults (5.1 percent lower for children) and the same or improved performance on eleven of fourteen quality measures over time. Our findings contribute to the growing body of evidence about the potential effectiveness of models that align payment with cost and quality performance, and they demonstrate that it is possible to transform reimbursement within a fee-for-service framework to encourage and incentivize physicians to provide high-quality care, while also reducing costs.

Concepts: Health care, Medicine, Improve, Incentive, Incentive program, Travel incentive, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association



Premiums for health insurance plans offered through the federally facilitated and state-based Marketplaces remained steady or increased only modestly from 2014 to 2015. We used data from the Marketplaces, state insurance departments, and insurer websites to examine patterns of premium pricing and the factors behind these patterns. Our data came from 2,964 unique plans offered in 2014 and 4,153 unique plans offered in 2015 in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia. Using descriptive and multivariate analysis, we found that the addition of a carrier in a rating area lowered average premiums for the two lowest-cost silver plans and the lowest-cost bronze plan by 2.2 percent. When all plans in a rating area were included, an additional carrier was associated with an average decline in premiums of 1.4 percent. Plans in the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan Program and Medicaid managed care plans had lower premiums and average premium increases than national commercial and Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans. On average, premiums fell by an appreciably larger amount for catastrophic and bronze plans than for gold plans, and premiums for platinum plans increased. This trend of low premium increases overall is unlikely to continue, however, as insurers are faced with mounting medical claims.

Concepts: Health insurance, Medicaid, Insurance, Disability insurance, Deductible, Business, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Boiler insurance


Value-based insurance design (VBID) has shown promise for improving medication adherence by lowering or eliminating patients' payments for some medications. Yet the business case for VBID remains unclear. VBID is based on the premise that higher medication and administrative expenses incurred by insurers will be offset by lower nonmedication expenditures that result from better disease control. This article examines Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s VBID program, which began in 2008. The program eliminated copayments for generic medications and reduced copays for brand-name medications. Patient adherence improved 2.7-3.4 percent during the two-year study period. Hospital admissions decreased modestly, but there were no significant changes in emergency department use or total health expenditures. The insurer incurred $6.4 million in higher medication expenditures; total nonmedication expenditures for the study population decreased $5.7 million. Our results provide limited support for the idea that VBID can be cost-neutral in specific subpopulations. The business case for VBID may be more compelling over the long term and in high risk subgroups for whose members cost is an important barrier to improved medication adherence.

Concepts: Better, Pharmacology, Improve, Hospital, Economics, Insurance, Food and Drug Administration, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association


Primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PPCI) is being increasingly performed nationally at sites without on-site cardiac surgery; however, recent guidelines only provide a Class IIa recommendation for this practice. The state of Michigan has permitted PPCI without on-site surgery under a closely monitored system that mandates auditing of all procedures and quarterly feedback on quality and outcomes. This study sought to compare outcomes of patients undergoing PPCI at centers with and without on-site surgery in the state of Michigan.

Concepts: Heart, Anesthesia, Michigan, Chicago, Michigan State University, Wisconsin, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Cross symbols


To evaluate the clinical features and outcomes of patients with anemia undergoing percutaneous peripheral vascular intervention (PVI) in a contemporary registry.

Concepts: Chicago, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Cross symbols, Flambeau


The Alternative Quality Contract (AQC) implemented in 2009 by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) is intended to improve quality and control costs by putting providers at risk for total medical spending and tying payment to performance on specified quality measures. We examined the AQC’s early effects on use of and spending on medication treatment (MT) for addiction among individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and opioid use disorders (OUDs), conditions not subject to any performance measurement in the AQC.

Concepts: Medicine, Opioid, Drug addiction, Alcohol abuse, The Alternative, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association