Editor's Corner—Fierce Healthcare's 10 most-read stories of 2023

Physician pay and workforce issues were top of mind for Fierce Healthcare readers in 2023.

And, it's no surprise as the healthcare industry continues to grapple with labor shortages, clinician burnout and financial pressures as residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, even three years out.

Professional medical network Doximity's annual physician compensation report is a popular story with our readers every year and it once again leads our top 10 list of most-read stories in 2023.

Layoff announcements have increased this year as hospitals and health systems limp out of a financially devastating 2022. Staff writer Dave Muoio has been tracking this development and his often-updated story on the latest workforce reductions was the second most-read story this year.

The top 10 list of 2023 stories reflects the range of big headlines that shook up the healthcare industry from major hospital mergers to ongoing research about COVID-19 to changes to the Medicare Advantage program. Readers were also interested in the latest healthcare plays by Amazon.

At the start of the year, the internet was buzzing with news about ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence large language model developed by OpenAI, and its potential uses in medical practice and education. In February, Doximity rolled out a beta version of a ChatGPT tool for doctors and readers were clearly eager to read about this game-changing technology.

Here are the top 10 healthcare stories of 2023:

1. Here are the 20 highest-paid specialties in 2022 as average physician pay drops 2.4%: Doximity

Physicians are facing the same economic and compensation pressures as the broader workforce with inflation putting a squeeze on doctors' real income. Average physician pay fell by 2.4% from 2021 to 2022, and that decline in physician compensation comes at a time when U.S. healthcare workers are facing significant challenges, including economic strains, a growing physician shortage issue and high rates of work-related burnout, according to the sixth annual Physician Compensation Report from professional medical network Doximity. 

2. Layoffs are ramping up among hospitals and health systems. Here are 100 examples from 2023

2023 cuts among healthcare companies including hospitals are up 99% year over year through 11 months, according to a recent multisector report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It's no surprise the volume of layoff waves from hospitals and health systems during that time have handily surpassed 2022’s full-year totals by summer. The job eliminations are coming from organizations big and small. So far in 2023, we tallied 100 layoff announcements, news reports and regulatory filings from hospitals and health systems.

3. Kaiser Permanente to acquire Geisinger Health in bid to launch multisystem VBC platform

In April, Kaiser Permanente dropped big news, announcing plans to acquire 10-hospital Geisinger Health. The deal was described as the first step toward a new multisystem value-based care organization. That new entity, called Risant Health, will be a nonprofit organization that operates “separately and distinctly from Kaiser Permanente’s core integrated care and coverage model,” the organizations said. Kaiser said it intends to bolster Risant beyond Geisinger by acquiring additional “like-minded, nonprofit, value-oriented community-based health systems.”

4. Do masks really protect against COVID-19? Meta-analysis authors want to see more evidence

To mask or not to mask and which masks provide the highest level of protection to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 was an ongoing debate throughout the pandemic. That debate picked up steam again in February when staff writer Frank Diamond took a deep dive into a study that found wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic—even N95 masks—may not have afforded individuals any more protection against the virus. Researchers said there's not enough evidence to make a clear determination about whether masks really protect individuals against the virus. Pro-masking experts immediately challenged the study's conclusion.

5. How Biden admin rules could pave way for Medicaid to be a major housing player

The Biden administration has taken steps to make it easier for Medicaid programs to support enrollees in addressing housing insecurity. It's backed pilot programs under Section 1115 that allow for funding to support housing needs and set clear ground rules for how states and managed care organizations can offer short-term assistance. However, experts say these programs are still somewhat "theoretical."

6. CMS to raise Medicare Advantage pay rates by 3.3% in 2024; phase in risk adjustment changes

In March, the Biden administration finalized a proposal to raise Medicare Advantage payments by 3.32% in 2024, slightly above the 1% raise that it proposed. Payers scored a win in the final rule as CMS established that the changes to the MA risk adjustment model would be phased in over three years as opposed to going into effect next year. Insurers also received a slight pay bump in Medicare Advantage compared to the proposal. Regulators said the goal is to ensure that payments to plans are accurate.

7. Majority of Medicare Advantage enrollees don't fully understand their plan

Medicare Advantage continues to be a hot market with rapid growth. But, a survey released in August found that many MA beneficiaries feel they are overbilled, have struggled navigating the prior authorization process or are confused by the features of their plan. Only 44% of MA enrollees say they fully understand their plan, with 68% saying certain details have caused confusion. One in eight beneficiaries said they misinterpreted aspects of their plan's benefits after enrolling in Medicare Advantage, according to the survey.

8. Amazon Pharmacy rolls out service for unlimited generic drug prescriptions for $5 a month    

Amazon shook up the retail drugstore market when it acquired PillPack in 2018 and then again when it rolled out Amazon Pharmacy in 2020. The industry continue to watch closely to see the online retailer's next healthcare move. In January, Amazon rolled out a new prescription drug subscription for Prime members called RxPass that will ship generic medications to customers' homes for a flat monthly fee of $5. The aim is to provide affordable access to commonly prescribed generic medications, executives said. But Amazon is facing competition in this space with companies like GoodRx and Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs Company also tackling drug pricing and transparency.

9.  Medicare Advantage plan star ratings decline again in 2024

Amid changes to the methodology for calculating the star ratings, payers have seen several years of declines. For the 2024 plan year, about 42% of Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans will have a rating of at least four stars. That's down from 51% in 2023 and 68% in 2022. Plans that include drug coverage are rated on 40 measures, while MA-only coverage is scored based on 30 measures.

10. Doximity rolls out beta version of ChatGPT tool for docs aiming to streamline administrative paperwork

Doximity was one of the first to test out ChatGPT tools for docs when it rolled out a beta version of a generative AI tool called Doximity GPT. The tool helps streamline doctors' time-consuming administrative tasks, such as drafting and faxing preauthorization and appeal letters to insurers. Doximity GPT is an integration with ChatGPT that works with Doximity’s free fax service, executive said. The site features a growing library of best medical prompts where the AI-based writing assistant has been trained on healthcare-specific prose.