Health care must-reads: Consolidation, low-value drugs, competition and big business

A look at how consolidation may be leading hospitals toward greater specialization was the most-read story among readers of SmartBrief for Health Care Leaders last week. Other hot topics: How much Medicare spends on three drugs other countries declined to cover, HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s prescription for lowering health care costs, how hospital pharmacists are innovating and why the big business of health care matters when it comes to changing policy.

Consolidation drives specialization of hospitals

Cost pressure and consolidation are leading some hospital systems to embrace increased specialization. In Chicago, services such as obstetrics and cardiology are being centralized in high-traffic hospitals, and patients can expect to travel farther from home for some care.

Full Story: Crain's Chicago Business (tiered subscription model)

Medicare spent $26B on drugs that 3 other countries say had little value

A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found Medicare paid $26 billion in recent years to cover drugs that were not recommended for coverage in Canada, Australia and the UK after their government advisory groups found they did not have enough value to justify the costs.

Full Story: Becker's Hospital ReviewSTAT (tiered subscription model)

Officials: Competition, value-based approach key to curbing health costs   

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma said a value-based payment approach and competition among Medicare Advantage plans are crucial to reducing health care costs, with Verma noting that additional flexibility and competition among MA plans have contributed to the lowest premiums in six years. Continued efforts to promote value-based care could be on the horizon as HHS seeks to address maternal mortality rates, rural health care access and social determinants of health, Azar said.

Full Story: HealthLeaders MediaModern Healthcare (tiered subscription model)

Hospital pharmacies innovate to improve operations

Four hospitals are improving operations with innovative partnerships and technologies. By installing pharmacy kiosks, partnering with outpatient pharmacies for prescription delivery, installing automatic pill dispensers and adding telehealth services to educate patients on their medications, the hospitals hope to free up time for pharmacists and improve medication adherence.

Full Story: Becker's Hospital Review

How the business of health care influences health care policy

To truly change the health care system in the US would require policymakers and voters to wrestle with whether the health care industry should remain just that: an industry that accounts for 20% of the US economy and an increasing number of jobs, writes Dr. Michael Williams, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Health Policy. "If we continue to treat and regulate health care as an industry, we should continue to expect surprise bills and expensive drugs. It's not personal, it's just ... business," Williams writes.

Full Story: The Conversation (US)

Tom Parks is a health editor at SmartBrief who focuses on health care, leadership and nursing as well as care at the beginning and end of life. He launched and edits the SmartBrief for Health Care Leaders newsletter.

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This "most read" feature reflects the most read items in SmartBrief for Health Care Leaders from the previous week. Sign up for SmartBrief for Health Care Leaders to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s health care newsletters, covering health IT, news for insurers, news for providers and more.