Thursday, October 20, 2011

CMS Launches Innovation Advisors Program

October 20, 2011 - As a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, creator of the Medinnovation Blog, and author of Innovation-Driven Health Care, I could not help but notice the following announcement.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Monday that it is accepting applications for a program designed to help healthcare professionals drive improvements to patient care and reduce healthcare costs.

CMS administrator Don Berwick, M.D., was on hand to kick-off the $6 million program, which will recruit up to 200 innovation advisors "with the knowledge and the vision to find innovative ways to improve care and reduce costs for beneficiaries in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program." The CMS Innovation Center will manage the program.

Let me explain why I am interested. The Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education in Oak Ridge, Tennessee will manage the program. I grew up in Oak Ridge,a community that supplied the uranium for the atomic bomb in World War II.

The deadline for applications for Innovation advisors is Nov. 15; participants will be selected by Dec. 15. An initial group of 50 innovation advisors will be selected to gather in Washington, D.C in January 2012 to begin six months of orientation and training.

A second group of 150 advisors will begin orientation by mid-2012. Training will include in-person national and regional meetings, virtual training sessions, seminars and presentations by healthcare experts. Selected advisors will be paid $20,000 to reimburse them for travel and time.

One of the goals is for each participant to take what they learn during training and apply it to their home organizations and areas, explained Joe McCannon, senior advisor to Dr. Berwick. Innovation advisors will be expected to develop and implement a hands-on systems improvement project.

Although I am pleased CMS is supporting such a program fostering innovation, I am dubious about its outcome.

Why my doubt?

• In the first place, the government built Oak Ridge on a wartime footing in a race to develop the Atomic Bomb before Germany. It was a case of national survival. I do not regard health care reform as administered by CMS as a similar situation. Yes, Medicare and Medicaid are the largest contributors to our growing national deficit. Yes, these government programs need to be reined in, but is a CMS program on innovation the way to do it? This may well be a fox in the henhouse situation.

• Two, the government, and its largest agency, CMS, which now spends close to $1 trillion annually, is not very good at innovation. The reasons for its incompetence in innovation are legendary:

--Once launched, government programs continue in perpetuity, even after they fail, because they are spending taxpayer money not private money. There is no incentive to shut down programs. Private venture capital programs are quickly shuttered when investors perceive actual or impending failure. Failure is not necessarily a negative for government.

-- Supporters of government innovation represent vested special interests, which contribute heavily financially to political coffers, the Solyndra solar project being the latest example. Too often political winners turn out to be business losers.

-- Government shackles, stifles, surrounds, and suffocates its projects with bureaucratic rules, regulations, and restrictions. To me even the instructions to potential advisors sound bureaucratic,

“Crucial to the efforts of transforming the healthcare system is supporting individuals who can test and refine new models to drive delivery system reform. The Innovation Center seeks to deepen the capacity for transformation by creating a network of experts in improving the delivery system for Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries.”

I contend, perhaps wrongly, that we already have too many experts instructing us how to transform a market-driven system into a government-driven system.

Tweet: CMS has launched a program to pick 200 innovation advisors to help improve the transformation of health care to a government-run system.

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