By Christian Torres, KHN Staff Writer, May 17, 2012
To save on health care, you have to invest in it.
At least that’s the thinking of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Last week, the CMS innovation center awarded 26 grants – worth a total of $122.6 million – to a variety of health care organizations. If these plans for better patient care pan out, the programs estimate they could reap about $254 million in savings over three years.
The innovation center is scheduled to announce several more awards in June.
That month, however, is also when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the health law, which established the innovation center, and that decision could threaten the center’s programs. But supporters maintain that this sort of front-end investment is imperative to introduce new efficiencies and better quality care into the system.
John Schnelle, who will oversee Vanderbilt Medical Center’s effort to reduce hospital readmissions in Tennessee, said that without the grant “the organization would probably still do [the project] but, one, not as fast, and two, not as well.” Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Upper San Juan Health Service District might abandon entirely its plans to deploy mobile telemedicine for stroke and other emergencies among a rural population. “We have a $47,000 bottom line as a health district this year,” said CEO Brad Cochennet. “That $47,000 pales in the face of the costs that it takes to ramp up this program.”
Kaiser Health News recently spoke with representatives of four projects that will receive innovation grants. They reflect the diversity of the programs being funded, ranging from efforts to provide primary care to inner-city homeless populations to offering dental treatment on South Dakota’s Native American reservations. All cited the importance of CMS support, but they also agreed that their ideas to improve care are inevitable changes to the health care system: expanded access, better coordination and a renewed focus on prevention.
Bringing Telemedicine To Mountain Dwellers
Colorado’s Upper San Juan Health District has a large, rural population, with many living in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains. The $1.7 million CMS grant will help expand a just-started telemedicine program for cardiac care.
Emergency medical service teams will be deployed to check in on patients at risk for stroke and other conditions. Using mobile technology, clinicians will be able to monitor and diagnose patients from afar, rather than having to bring them to the nearest hospital for evaluation.
“Just in transportation alone” there are savings, Cochennet said. “We’ve probably had five people evaluated with telemedicine equipment in the first few months [of our pilot project] that did not have to go on a helicopter ride to Denver to be evaluated.” A helicopter ride could cost $30,000 to $40,000, Cochennet added.
Clinicians and EMS personnel will also educate patients on heart-healthy habits so they can manage symptoms and avoid cardiac events entirely. Total savings are expected to reach $8.1 million over three years.