Tag Archives: abuse

Opioids Are the Opiates of the Masses

One day in 2014, before most people could even spell “opioids” (two “i’s), the CEO of a company named Healthentic asked me to review a white paper based on the output of its new analytics tool. Healthentic’s tool is far more focused on the “80” of the “80-20” rule than competing tools are. So, rather than drowning readers in data, the tool is supposed to help certain figures jump off the pages and lead to action.

As my role in life appears to be the thankless task of finding errors in other people’s work, I was pleasantly surprised that Healthentic called me to plausibility-check the tool early in the process, rather than disseminate it and wait for me to publish “highlights” of my analysis after the fact, as I am wont to do.

As usual, I noticed some highly suspect information. In this case, it was prescriptions for Tramadol, Oxycontin and Hydrocodone. With my usual charm, grace and humility, I said: “These figures can’t possibly be right. This isn’t an NFL team in constant pain. If these figures were correct, it would mean that 40% of their employees filled a prescription for a synthetic opioid in a single year.” We rechecked the figure and the raw data several times. And yet the original statistic refused to bend. It was accurate.

See also: Paging Dr. Evil: The War Over Opioids

Ironically, the particular Healthentic customer profiled in the white paper was obsessed with employee health. Its staff could recite how many employees had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, participated in the “steps challenge” or the “biggest loser contest” or didn’t buckle their seat belts. But opiates and synthetic opioids — the elephant in the room capable of magnitudes more damage to employee health and productivity than any of the wellness vendor siren songs — had been completely overlooked.

In the days that followed, we talked through four possible scenarios and ruled out three:

  1. Employees were being injured due to safety hazards and accidents — but the company’s OSHA reports were clean and, in any event, those prescriptions would have shown up in workers’ compensation, not group benefits;
  2. Certain local doctors were prescribing way too many of these pills — but the prescriptions seemed to be coming from many different doctors;
  3. Employees were reselling their prescription meds — but if that were the case they’d have enough sense not to purchase these pills through the PBM;
  4. A sizable number of employees were at-risk or already addicted to opiates.

It was definitely the last. Little did we know this was the leading edge of the belatedly discovered synthetic opioid epidemic.

Healthentic analysis consistently finds that opioids are some of the most prescribed drugs for all employers. “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” has become: “Take some Oxy and text me in the morning.” It wasn’t hard for a person with a few dental or medical procedures to have several months’ supply of the drug.

Pain is no laughing matter. It is human nature to ease suffering. But the cost and consequences of treating chronic pain so freely with opioids is shockingly high. Not a week goes by without more national news being made on the topic, such as Prince’s death. Of course it isn’t just famous people who are susceptible. Opioids — synthetically designed cousins of heroin — are so addictive there’s a Super Bowl commercial for another drug to treat constipation from chronic use. Obviously a market has to be quite sizable to merit a Super Bowl ad.

See also: Progress on Opioids — but Now Heroin?

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Pursuing early detection of a large supply of opioids and putting treatment goals in place will help a great deal in avoiding chronic use and addiction. Employers can help to head off chronic use before it turns into addiction. Independent analysis of your data should identify the three key risk factors for this population:

  1. a 45-day or greater supply;
  2. 10 or more prescription refills; or
  3. overlapping synthetic opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions.

As brokers and employers, you can flag this population to the medical carriers and providers. You yourselves won’t be aware who is at risk, in conformance with the new CDC guidelines.

I emphasize the word “independent” because of how far behind the curve the payers are. One insurance carrier told an employer not to worry about the 150 people Healthentic had tagged for being at risk for chronic opioid use. “We know about these people. They are in our medication compliance program. Most are on palliative care.” That would be an obvious whopper even if these employees had worked at Chernobyl, and a quick analysis confirmed there wasn’t a single palliative care referral in the group.

Employers’ obsession with wellness, and carriers’ unwillingness to run the data, is great for my business, and for Healthentic’s. Unfortunately, it is not so great for employees at risk for opioid addiction. The only good news is that at least they won’t be constipated.

A Positive Comment (Finally) on Obamacare

Healthcare reform is certainly receiving its share of abuse. Whether the conversation is local or national, private or public, one is sure to hear how Obamacare is nothing but bad news — job destruction and the end of one’s ability to direct personal healthcare. Rarely do you hear a positive comment.

Until now, that is.

Read on to learn more about a market development that actually looks consistent with Obamacare’s objective of making healthcare delivery more efficient and less expensive.

Quality

One of the changes found in the voluminous law is the requirement for the government to begin considering the quality of care when making reimbursements under its insurance program, Medicare. A section of the law creates incentives for providers to pay more attention to the quality of their care, to receive a greater payment for their services. These incentives encourage what has become known as accountable care organizations, or ACOs. ACOs are not necessarily new legal entities, but rather are descriptions of healthcare delivery systems that place an emphasis on quality of care to reduce expense.

Seems like a reasonably good idea, but how do these same quality efforts work in the private commercial market? Not so well.

First, how can the initiatives be tracked when the patients are insured by third-party carriers? Who is rewarded when a provider does a good job, limiting readmissions and health costs? Who even knows when they do a good job? Second, how does community rating distinguish between those providers applying quality low-cost care and those running up the tab to enrich their bottom line?

Fast answer: Quality-care incentives being encouraged by Medicare are largely lost, and certainly not encouraged, when patients are covered by a fully insured or fixed-cost insurer.

What about high-deductible plans that match with the providers’ quality, efficiency and health efforts? No, these, too, are limited by rules imposed by Obamacare on the fixed-cost insurance market.

Community health plans

If the door is shut on providers trying to apply ACO strategies to the fixed-cost commercial market, what can be done? After all, if providers have reworked their businesses to focus on quality and efficiency, it seems illogical to apply these efforts in only the Medicare reimbursement market.

Fortunately, innovation is finding its way to provider systems, under the name of “community health plan.” A community health plan is a network, established by a regional medical provider, offering members of its community superior and affordable healthcare through a plan using only that provider or other like-minded regional providers. These new community health plans overcome the obstacles found in the fixed-cost insurer market and enable all the quality-care efficiencies to be applied in the commercial market.

Think about it: Community health plans were first developed because providers wanted traction with their local communities. They wanted local patients and buyers to call and buy from them first. That’s why many have already adopted a community health plan or at least looked into one years ago.

What providers found, however, was mountain-sized red tape, inconsistent application to their objectives and new rules related to Obamacare that made the idea of a community health plan a bad one.

Enter the stop loss group captive, or “medical captive.” A medical captive is a reinsurance vehicle that pools a layer of self-funded health benefit risk.  The medical captive solution enables providers to offer their community a health plan immediately. No regulatory red tape. Provider have a commercial market health plan where quality-care initiatives can be objectively monitored so cost savings and efficiency is not a guess or lost to a third-party insurer. Cost-saving rewards arising from quality and efficiency can be measured quarterly if not monthly under the medical captive approach. A provider’s cost-saving ideas receive real-time feedback.

The medical captive is built on a self-funded chassis that also delivers benefits over the traditional market. The post-Obamacare insurance environment includes community rating and restricted plan designs, but self–funded insurance programs avoid these potholes. Put another way, a self-funded insurance program fits nicely with the provider’s ACO efforts and allows most of the Medicare-inspired initiatives to be realized in the commercial market. So long as the medical captive is the financing vehicle being used by the provider’s community health plan, the disconnect between Obamacare’s quality initiatives and the commercial insurance market are resolved.

Who?

Hospitals are attracted to the medical captive as a form of community health plan for several reasons. First, the narrow network is gaining ground as a viable solution for keeping medical expenses under control. Employers and employees are now receptive to limiting choice to the local provider in exchange for a lower price. This is good news for the hospital without an existing health plan that is looking for traction with its local employers. The hospital-sponsored narrow network is an approach that is simple to implement with the medical captive. In addition, hospitals with existing community health plans of the fixed-cost variety now are looking to add the medical captive as another choice. Frequently, the hospital’s investment in claim paying services, network and, of course, ACO strategies seamlessly integrate into the medical captive.

Larger physician practices find themselves in a place similar to that of many hospitals in their quest to retain and grow their customer base. Offering a health plan with a capitated physician service component (with a set fee per person, no matter what care they need) is easily accomplished with a medical captive. Physician practices can quickly distinguish their practices from the rush of hospitalists with a health plan that incorporates much of their treatment philosophies, including ACO solutions. The flexibility of the medical captive built on a self-funded platform enables creativity in plan design and buyer incentives that mesh nicely with efforts by physician practice efforts directed at reducing high-cost diseases. Hospital services can then be delivered to the buyers through the health plan on a contracted basis. Measuring the effectiveness of the physician practice efforts at cost control is readily verified by reference to the medical captive underwriting results. It’s not hard to understand why larger physician practices are quickly moving to the medical captive as part of the solution for reinventing healthcare delivery.

Shared objectives

Everyone agrees with the objective of lowering the cost of healthcare. Not everyone, however, agrees with or understands what goes into the cost of healthcare. The cost and purchase of healthcare is more complicated than buying a pair of shoes, unfortunately. Most consumers do not see what it actually costs to receive a medical procedure or purchase a medicine. This is because many do not directly pay or see the cost of the care, but rather the buyers pay a fixed cost or premium and then enter a buffet of healthcare providers. Cost efficiency is a low priority and only mentioned at renewal time or when the overall price trend for the fixed cost interferes with the buyer’s budget.

Looking at Obamacare, we should be encouraged that healthcare providers are growing closer to the financing of care. If the law is encouraging the formation of new healthcare financing mechanisms that offer objective and immediate feedback on quality, cost-saving solutions, we are starting to reach our shared objective.  When buyers and sellers take even one step closer to achieving the same goal, healthcare starts looking more like buying a new pair of shoes.

Easy Way to Spot Workers’ Comp Fraud

While there is considerable talk about fraud in workers’ compensation, the discussion usually refers to fraud by claimants or employers. Unfortunately, fraud and abuse also occurs in medical management.

Poorly performing medical doctors produce high costs and poor claim outcomes. When they are also corrupt, the damage can be exponential. We know poorly performing and corrupt doctors are out there.

More importantly, we also know how to find them!

Disciplining providers by not paying them when they knowingly overtreat is one solution, but even better is avoiding them altogether. Identify the bad doctors and carve them out of networks.  Most agree with this philosophy, yet few medical networks in workers’ compensation have seriously addressed the issue.

Efforts to solve the problem should focus on identifying the perpetrators by means of a well-designed analytic strategy. The data, when analyzed appropriately, will point out medical doctors who perform badly.

There is a trail of abuse in the data. Bill review data, claims payer data, and pharmacy data, when integrated at the claim level including both historic and concurrent data, present a clear picture of undesirable practices. Outliers float to the surface.

Fraudulent providers treat more frequently and longer than their counterparts. They also use the most costly treatment procedures, selected as first option. The timing of treatment can produce evidence of corruption, such as when more aggressive treatments like surgery are selected early in the claim process.

Some of the more subtle forms of medical fraud involve manipulating the way bills are submitted. Corrupt practices attempt to trick standard computerized systems. They consistently overbill, knowing the bill review system will automatically adjust the bills downward. Systems can miss subtle combinations of diagnoses and procedures and allow payment.

Likewise, some practitioners bill under multiple tax identifiers and from different locations. Unless these behaviors are being monitored, computer systems simply create different records for different tax ID’s and locations, making the records appear as different doctors. When attempting to evaluate performance, the results are skewed. Provider records must be merged and then re-evaluated to arrive at more realistic performance scores.

Disreputable providers may obtain multiple NPI numbers (National Provider Identifier) from CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). Once again, the data is deliberately made misleading.

The data can also be analyzed to discover patterns of referral among less principled providers and attorneys. Referral patterns can be monitored.

The data can be scrutinized to find doctors who are consistently associated with litigated cases. That may mean they are less effective medical managers or could indicate that they are part of a strategy to encourage litigation and certain attorney involvement. Kickbacks are obviously not shown in the data, but the question is raised.

Many doctors who skirt ethical practices would be shocked to be called fraudulent. Yet that is exactly what they are. Changing the name does not whitewash the behavior.

Happily, the good doctors are also easy to find in the data. Their performance can be measured by multiple indicators, and, analyzed over time and across many claims, they consistently rise to the top.

Selecting the right doctors and other providers for networks is a complex but important task, and subtleties of questionable performance can be teased out of the data.

The most important approach: Monitor the data in real time so you can intervene and thwart those trying to commit fraud.