MD Anderson, UnitedHealthcare Launch New Cancer Care Payment Model


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Thomas W. Feeley, MD

Lee N. Newcomer, MD

Bundled pricing is something that patients and care providers want, and this is our first opportunity to better understand how we can manage costs without sacrificing quality care and patient outcomes.

—Thomas W. Feeley, MD
Our recently completed pilot shows that these creative new cancer care payment models can reduce health-care costs while improving patient outcomes.

—Lee N. Newcomer, MD

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and UnitedHealthcare have launched a pilot to explore a new cancer care payment model for head and neck cancers that focuses on quality patient care and outcomes. The collaboration is among the first using bundled payments in a large, comprehensive cancer center.

The bundled payment method reimburses a care provider or hospital for a defined episode of care under a single fee or payment. This is a shift away from the common fee-for-service structure in which a care provider is paid for each treatment, drug, appointment, or test.

Pre-Priced Payment

The program is based on MD Anderson’s extensive mapping of the complex tests, treatments, follow-up care, and supportive services required for the most common head and neck cancer diagnoses. The pre-priced payment provides an incentive to focus on the essential elements of care and to avoid unnecessary steps. This careful mapping is expected to produce improved patient outcomes, lower costs, and a better quality of life for patients.

Similar payment models have shown to help reduce overall costs while providing for continuity of care and improving outcomes for patients. UnitedHealthcare launched a similar pilot in 2010 involving 810 breast, colon and lung cancer patients who were treated at five medical oncology groups around the United States.

A recent issue of Journal of Oncology Practice1 featured the results of that study, which showed cancer costs were cut by a third and quality was improved. Those results prompted UnitedHealthcare to expand the bundled payment model and explore more complete models like the one at MD Anderson. The report, “Changing Physician Incentives for Affordable, Quality Cancer Care: Results of an Episode Payment Model,” demonstrates the potential effectiveness of new approaches to the current “fee-for-service” payment model for cancer therapy.

Pilot Study

The new 3-year pilot will be conducted in MD Anderson’s Head and Neck Center for up to 150 patients newly diagnosed with cancers of the salivary glands, oral cavity (including the mouth, lips, tongue, soft palate), throat, and larynx, and who are enrolled in certain employer-sponsored benefit plans insured or administered by UnitedHealthcare.

Eight bundled payment models have been developed by MD Anderson and UnitedHealthcare for the program. Each bundled payment model was developed for the research-based clinical practices and protocols that have been created and refined over decades at the cancer center.

“For the last 5 years, MD Anderson and its Institute for Cancer Care Innovation have been looking at how to best approach a single price for treating cancers. It is a complex question because cancer is a complex disease and each patient unique,” said Thomas W. Feeley,
MD
, Head of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, and Head of the institute. “Bundled pricing is something that patients and care providers want, and this is our first opportunity to better understand how we can manage costs without sacrificing quality care and patient ­outcomes.”

About the Partnership

“Our partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center marks an important step toward expanded bundled care payment models and away from the traditional fee-for-service payments for oncology care,” said Lee N. Newcomer, MD, United Healthcare’s Vice President, Oncology. “Our recently completed pilot shows that these creative new cancer care payment models can reduce health-care costs while improving patient outcomes. MD Anderson’s work with value-based workflows makes them a natural partner for bundled payments.”

Bundled payments are one of the many different ways UnitedHealthcare is working with care providers to transition to value-based reimbursement methods, which emphasize quality and patient outcomes over the volume of procedures performed. Care providers are showing strong interest, as UnitedHealthcare’s total care provider reimbursements that are tied to a variety of value-based arrangements have nearly tripled since 2011 to $36 billion, and are expected to reach $65 billion by the end of 2018.

Randal S. Weber, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Head and Neck Surgery said patients will receive the same care, approach, treatment, and diagnostics for their disease as those who are not part of the program. The new payment model is designed to bill patients just once for their cancer treatment at MD Anderson, and because the cost of the tests, treatment and other services are priced upfront, they will know the cost of care early in their treatment program.

“Innovative health-care payment reform among patients, employers, care providers, and payers continues to be a topic that calls for careful study,” said Brad ­Gibson, Associate Vice President and Treasurer of MD Anderson. ■

Reference

1. Trent L: Potential approaches to sustainable, long-lasting payment reform in oncology. J Oncol Pract 10:254-258, 2014.

 



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