Five stories shaping the world of healthcare.

1. UPS announces drone drug deliver

Imagine getting your prescriptions handed to you by drone. That’s what the United Parcel Service (UPS) is planning to do along with delivering medical samples between hospitals and healthcare organizations. Drones not only slash delivery times, they can easily carry light medical supplies such as blood and specimens.

UPS has already started drone delivery for healthcare provider WakeMed Health in Raleigh, N.C. The courier is also working with Kaiser Permanente on plans to carry supplies among the provider’s network of 39 hospitals. A partnership with CVS will expand drone service from business-to-business to consumer distribution.

2. Humana signs 7-year tech deal with Microsoft

What do you get when a health insurance leader joins forces with a technology titan? Better experiences for members and streamlined workflows for healthcare providers. Those are just a couple of Humana’s goals for its seven-year deal with Microsoft. Humana plans to tap into several of Microsoft’s programs such as Azure cloud, Azure AI and Microsoft 365 to develop:

  • On-demand care
  • Virtual medical services
  • Medical records that provide patient insights
  • Data interoperability
  • Solutions for preventive, acute and long-term care
  • Social determinants of health indicators

“We’re using technology to enable better care for members,” said Vishal Agrawal, Humana’s chief strategy and corporate development officer. “We’re creating a holistic platform for our members, and Medicare Advantage is a financing model that helps to do that, and technology is a key enabler of that journey.”

3. Flu virus begins to circulate in the U.S.

In case you were wondering — it’s officially flu season. So far, the data shows only a small number of flu cases, but the state of California has reported several flu-related deaths already. What’s more, U.S. public health experts have studied the Australian flu season and found it to be particularly alarming. American experts often look at the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season as an indicator of what’s to come. The primary flu strain in Australia was the H3N2 virus, which triggers more severe symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths. H3N2 has made the rounds in the U.S. in recent years.

“It does lead you to believe that this H3N2 virus is definitely on the move and is changing, which is never a good situation,” says pediatrician Randy Bergen, clinical lead for the Kaiser Permanente flu vaccine program in Northern California.

Even if the U.S. flu season does not mimic Australia’s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends anyone 6 months of age and older get the flu vaccine by the end of October. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to provide protection. The shot does not guarantee immunity, but those who get vaccinated and still come down with the flu recover quicker, suffer fewer symptoms, and lower their risk of hospitalization and death.

4. Bill aims to ‘level playing field’ for rural ACOs

Two senators from opposite sides of the political spectrum have joined forces to help healthcare in rural areas. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) recently introduced the Rural ACO Improvement Act to boost reimbursement rates for accountable care organizations (ACO). The bill proposes to change the way the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) calculates reimbursements.

CMS currently compares per-patient costs of a region’s ACO with those of non-ACO competitors. But rural ACOs tend to spend less than their suburban and urban counterparts because they are often the only provider in their area. That difference cuts into savings perks for rural ACOs from the Medicare Shared Savings Program.

Healthcare organizations including the American Hospital Association and American Medical Association sent both senators a letter stating they hope the bill will “level the playing field.”

5. Medicare Advantage plans roll out new benefits in 2020

Medicare Advantage members can take advantage of a whole new set of benefits in 2020 from rides to the supermarket to new air conditioners. It’s all part of the federal government’s push to provide social and environmental assistance. Several Medicare providers such as Cigna are testing their new benefits in select markets before rolling them out nationwide.

“We believe it’s really important to where we can try to influence those upstream social determinants of health before it becomes a downstream acute health situation,” said Brian Evanko, Cigna’s president of government business. “So, our orientation in this space has been to test and learn, and when something works, expand and support it in other markets.”

Anthem plans to offer sessions with a dietician, 64 healthy food deliveries a year, pest control services, health and fitness devices, financial aid to help with service dog care, acupuncture treatments and massage. Plus, UPMC will offer health coaching and lower drug copays to its diabetic members.

“We’re making drugs that are critical to a disease more affordable for our members,” said Chronis Manolis, UPMC Health Plan’s chief pharmacy officer. “If we remove costs as a barrier, will that lead to improved adherence? We think so.”

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