Managed Care Isn't Managed or Care

Managed care started out as a straightforward concept but has mutated into shadowy deals that cost employers. It's time to get angry.

It is time to get angry. I plead with you all to recognize the king’s new clothes as he stands indignantly naked between the 300-pound gorilla and the elephant in this room called workers' compensation. I am hereby calling out an industry that has turned "managed care" into "manipulated cost," with a shameful lack of transparency and a churning mass of workers' compensation claims.

Decades ago, the cottage industry of bill review provided a legitimate and needed service directly between healthcare provider and payer. Fast forward to the scheme that has evolved, with some healthcare networks and other consortiums that purchase services conspiring with some insurers and third-party administrators (TPAs). These arrangements may set up shadowy deals where medical goods and services are marked up by intermediary agents and where perpetrators split the profits -- at the expense of unknowing employers.

Sadly, there is little outrage from employers. Perhaps the amounts seem negligible while the methods seem to be an acceptable cost of doing business. Risk managers have so much else to think about. Maybe managed care is considered to be essential, so no one in their right mind would question it.

I believe the employer-buyer holds a false sense of security that we need to get beyond. The drip-drip-drip of money siphoned from actual employee care needs to finally strike a collective nerve so that real change can happen. To that end, I want to list some considerations that I hope will spark outrage and lead to change.

Quick Tip: Managed Care Food for Thought; Indigestion Guaranteed:

Cognitive Dissonance: Claims providers justify bill-review fee schemes based on the notion that there are no controls from provider-sources… but wait a minute… they also take network fees because they apparently can control bills from provider sources! Anyone feel mildly conflicted trying to reconcile this logic? How can both facts exist?

Deliberate Mystery: Bill review as founded decades ago should no longer be necessary. Today's technology obviates the premise that all WC bills need to be hand-checked against a fee schedule or that licenses for CD-ROMs holding schedules or “reasonable and customary” data are valuable. When it comes to group health, providers make it their business to know what deductibles and reimbursements apply while you stand at the window. Why is WC a deliberate mystery?

Technology Hypocrisy: The WC claims industry purports to have data and IT capability that can predict and fast-track claims, allowing ever higher (arguably untenable) adjuster caseloads, yet when it comes to monitoring fees pretends we are still in the 1990s. I submit that today's technology can lock healthcare providers into correct billing. Aggregate provider monitoring/auditing by the adjusting entity can support accuracy. High automation and negligible cost should make fee oversight an included aspect of claim service, with network affiliation requiring providers to contribute to the technology. As our national provider base moves into more hospital-centered conglomerates, there are far more IT resources available on the provider end.

Core Responsibility: TPAs and insurers are paid to adjust benefits per state statutes. But charging a percentage of savings for medical care in a state with a fee schedule is as ridiculous as would be charging a percentage of "savings" for reducing an average weekly wage to the statutory comp-rate. What is the difference when it comes to core claim adjusting obligations?

No Repeat Value Added: We can agree that complicated in-patient bills are worthy of review and that fees for that review are justified. But there routinely are recurring bills from the same providers on the same file. After the initial adjustment, why should claim payers charge a fee for adjusting the exact same bill repetitive times? Seriously… there is no value added in charging for a task already performed. Here is an exercise: Look at your claim payment register to see the same $1.15 bill review fee and $5.32 network fee charged on the same $48 physical therapy bill over and over and over. Maddening, isn't it?

How Would You Feel?: Let's make it personal. What if your homeowners or auto insurer mandated your use of a repair-provider-network? Your damaged car gets fixed, and you are presented with a bill marked up by the network -- not knowing what the actual body shop charged. You pay your deductible, leaving "profit" for your insurer and network to split… Hmm…

Low-Quality Reality: Network discounts have come to roost, leaving healthcare provider frustration high and quality of care low. I submit that higher quality deserves higher fees.

New Network Charge: Efforts to define, seek and sustain quality should be at the forefront of network effort. Can you imagine providers competing based on quality to join exclusive, well-paying networks? Astute, unbundled and self-administered employers that seek medical quality often pay more with confidence and get better results. Today's bundled programs beget providers willing to work cheap and approach profit on a volume-of-treatment basis. More visits means more weeks/months/years open equals more money for the entities otherwise trusted to resolve claims. Isn't this reality the opposite of what should be managed care?

Employers… Get angry: Start asking questions and making demands. Let's start with disclosure of end-provider fees. Ask your legislators to crack this issue open and make corrections accordingly. I call upon some major broker to take the lead and create a "Managed Care Bill Of Rights." Wouldn’t that be a great distinction?

Bottom Line: The insurance/claims/managed care industry cannot beg for the trust of those served while skimming treatment dollars. Fix the problem.

Barry Thompson

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Barry Thompson

Barry Thompson is a 35-year-plus industry veteran. He founded Risk Acuity in 2002 as an independent consultancy focused on workers’ compensation. His expert perspective transcends status quo to build highly effective employer-centered programs.


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