Tag Archives: claims data

Time to End the Market for Ignorance

Insurance is mostly sold on the basis of ignorance, not information. Innovative insurers have an opportunity to change that dynamic.

Recently, I bought a small television for my bedroom. At $229 for a modest luxury, the purchase was not a life-changing event, and though I’m not entirely happy (the sound is a little tinny) the consequences of the disappointment are minor.

I was able to make a wiser buying decision about that TV than about my homeowners insurance, which cost much more and for which the consequences of a bad decision could be catastrophic, if I had a major loss and bought the wrong coverage from an unreliable company. My lack of knowledge about my homeowners insurance is because insurers market ignorance — presenting a major opportunity for innovative insurers to devise systems that enable consumers to make better buying decisions.

Three factors entered into my TV buying decision: product features, price and quality. 32-inch or 40-inch screen? 1080p or 720p? Smart TV or traditional? For each of those features, how much would I have to pay? And how reliable was the TV likely to be: Samsung vs. Sony vs. LG? Online and brick-and-mortar retailers gave me all the relevant information about product and price, and Consumer Reports and other review sites told me a lot about quality.

See also: Innovation — or Just Innovative Thinking?  

Now think about buying homeowners insurance. Few if any legacy insurers provide a sample policy — the full description of product features — prior to purchase. Some will provide a summary, but the summaries tend to be sketchy at best and don’t provide an adequate basis for comparing policies between insurers. Information about company quality is mostly provided by the warm and fuzzy feeling generated by television commercials; what empirical data exist — Consumer Reports again and state insurance department consumer complaint data — is of limited value.

There are many reasons why insurers don’t provide adequate product or quality information, but the important questions are whether insurers, particularly innovative insurers, will change this situation and, if they don’t, what else can be done in response?

Some innovative insurers and intermediaries are making inroads. Lemonade, for example, promises a summary of coverage and sample policy after a customer applies but before he or she pays, and it gives some information on loss ratios, though, as a start-up, of course it has no claims history so far. Getmargo.com offers an insurance advocate to explain policy terms, something good agents always have done but something that has declined with disintermediation. If those efforts demonstrate a market for information, other companies may follow suit.

But those efforts just scratch the surface. As long as personal lines insurance markets are dominated by ignorance rather than information, there needs to be another type of response that does not depend on the market: better regulation.

That’s one part of the Essential Protections for Policyholders, a project of the Rutgers Center for Risk and Responsibility in cooperation with United Policyholders. For example, the Affordable Care Act requires a summary of benefits and coverage answering questions such as “What is the overall deductible?” and “Do I need a referral to see a specialist?” The same kind of form could be required for homeowners insurance and published on state insurance department websites.

At the other end of the process, most states collect claims data — the proportion of claims closed without payment, the median time to payment of a claim, and so on. Those figures also could be made publicly available as a tool for comparing the reliability of different companies.

See also: The Future of Insurance Is Insurtech  

Insurance is a market commodity, but there are significant failures in the market for insurance information. Innovative insurers have an opportunity here, but until they act, better non-market solutions through regulation are needed.

Why to Self-Fund Health Benefits

The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 continues to redefine the employer-sponsored healthcare market. Increased regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities, employer mandates and rising medical premiums have forced employers to evaluate all cost-effective strategies for providing health benefits to employees. One strategy, self-funding, remains an attractive alternative to the traditional fully insured and association-style health plans.

In a self-funded environment, the employer will assume the role of the insurer and agree to pay the medical claims incurred by the plan’s members and dependents. A good percentage of self-funded plans will also use reinsurance and captive risk tools to provide protection from both large individual claims and the plan’s collective utilization.

While self-funding has gained momentum as a result of healthcare reform, it is not a new concept. In 1999, a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study reported that 44% of employer-sponsored healthcare was self-funded. That number has now reportedly grown to 61% in 2014.

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Why Is Everyone So Interested?

Health benefits continue to be one of the greatest expenses for employers. This fact, compounded with the continual rate increases (with little to no justification), leaves employers feeling stuck in an endless cycle. Some also may feel that their employees are a generally healthy group that is a good candidate to self-fund.

Many turn to self-funding because of:

  • Lower fixed costs-The majority of the expense is incurred in the payment of actual medical claims, increasing the margin for savings when the plan performs well.
  • Improved transparency-An increase in premiums is easier to swallow if the employer can get an accurate understanding of its claims experience. Self-funded health plans provide employers with a tremendous amount of data. Accurate claims data strengthens the group’s ability to effectively control spending on claims.
  • Control of the plan design-Self-funded health plans are in a better position to adjust benefits and control increased provider costs. Unlike fully insured products, a self-funded plan design can be structured to meet the specific needs of the group and not an insurer’s overall population.
  • Tax savings-Fully insured premiums continue to jump to accommodate new provisions as a result of the ACA. Self-funded plan sponsors avoid items like the new Health Insurance Industry Tax, which will increase from 2% to 5% in coming years.

With the increased interest comes new strategies and opportunities as the self-funding marketplace evolves. Self-funded plan sponsors are reaping the benefits of evolving provider network and cost containment strategies. Meanwhile, employers that have yet to make the transition see obstacles lessen because of changes in the reinsurance and captive markets.

What Does This Mean for Employer Groups?

Self-Funded Feasibility Studies Are a Must

There is a strong likelihood that every corporation or public entity with 1,000 employees or more has at least heard about self-funding. However, depending on the number of employees on your health plan, it is quite possible that you have not evaluated self-funding, at least in a thorough way.

A deeper look into the composition of employers participating shows us that group size typically has a direct correlation on whether a self-funded strategy is being used. According to the 2014 KFF study, the breakdown of corporations self-funding is:

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Historically, size has mattered. While all groups with more than 200 employees have a responsibility to evaluate the method as an alternative, those employer groups in the less-than-200 range are seeing more opportunity to make the transition. Lessening participation thresholds to lease competitive provider networks and new reinsurance and captive products are creating total-cost scenarios where the right employer can realize the advantages of self-funding. It can still be a challenge when certain market dynamics are present (i.e., lack of claims data, available provider network options, pending legislative actions, etc.), but more and more companies are finding success.

One More Step

The large insurance companies have noticed the changing market, as well, of course, and have introduced a number of bundled plans that look like self-funding. These products are typically entirely owned by one entity, like an insurance company or trust, and allow the employer to participate in a pre-determined portion of any surplus when the group experiences lower-than-expected claims. These products are attractive because they pull together under one brand all the component vendors of a self-funded health plan (i.e., claims administrator, network, reinsurance, etc.). These products can be a great first step for employers weary of self-funding through their own independent health plan. The products will allow them to gain insight into their claims performance while alleviating some of the additional work associated with the wholly owned approach.

For those groups already in these products, it may be time to evaluate taking that next step and realizing the benefits of a wholly owned approach. Reinsurance policies with specific advance and monthly aggregate accommodation can give these employers the ability to still limit their maximum exposure, lower their plan’s fixed costs and keep all of the savings when the plan performs well.

With the tools available today, any employer group in a packaged, shared funded or full ASO model plan is a candidate to complete the transition to a self-funded plan. While the packaged, branded approaches employed by some of the major insurance companies may work for a season, deconstructing the bundled product may be the next step in the employer’s long-term strategy.

Fine-Tuning Your Self-Funded Plan

There are many companies that have been enjoying the benefits of self-funding for years. As a result of the ACA, however, these employers have had to react to escalating medical costs, expensive specialty drugs and increased regulatory and fiduciary responsibilities.

For instance, self-funded health plans typically “lease” provider networks from a large insurance company. But, in 2010, the ACA removed lifetime and annual maximums from health plans, and the number of high-dollar claims has increased substantially. The networks provide discounts on fees, but the question is how important they are given the increasingly large charges they are being applied toward.

Self-funded health plans are adept in using different types of analytics both to measure historical data and to predict outcomes. This has empowered these health plans to fine tune their plans and integrate various cost-containment strategies.

How to Tap the Secret Power of ICD-9's

The medical portion of Workers’ Compensation claims now meets or exceeds 60% of claim costs. That fact alone should easily convince payers to focus on the rich medical information in their data. Very powerful information residing in claims data is virtually untouched—diagnostic codes in the form of ICD-9’s. The problem is few in the industry really understand ICD-9’s or in what ways they could inform powerful medical management.

ICD Defined
ICD-9 codes are not unique to Workers’ Compensation. ICD-9’s are the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM). They are a standardized method of describing injuries, illnesses, and related issues worldwide.

ICD is the classification that codes and classifies mortality data worldwide. The ICD-CM is used to code and classify morbidity data from inpatient and outpatient records and doctor’s offices.

The purpose of the ICD and of WHO (World Health Organization) sponsorship is to promote international comparability in the collection, classification, processing, and presentation of mortality statistics. New revisions of the ICD are implemented periodically so that the classification also reflects advances in medical science.

ICD’s in Standard Billing Forms
Those who bill for medical services in the U.S. are required to use one of two CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid) standard forms, the HCFA-1500 (Health Insurance Claim Form) for outpatient and UB-04 Unified Billing) for hospitals and other facilities. Both standardized forms require the medical provider to list ICD-9’s appropriate to the medical procedures for which they are billing. The verdant data derived from these forms should be analyzed and incorporated into managed care processes.

Unwieldy and Ignored
Bill review organizations and payers capture data from the standardized billing forms in their systems. Nevertheless, while the ICD information is documented in systems, it’s use usually stops there. ICD-9’s are difficult to interpret.

ICD-9’s on bills are displayed in the form of codes, not descriptions of injuries and illnesses and they number in the thousands. Individuals cannot remember the codes, nor do they have the time to look up codes for interpretation. Instead, they simply ignore them.

Secret Power of ICD
Incremental essential knowledge resides in ICD-9 codes that can be translated to powerful medical management. When they are monitored electronically and concurrently, they reveal and inform.

ICD-9’s Reveal Migrating Claims
For instance, migrating claims accrue ICD’s. Migrating claims are those that are not going well, are becoming more complex and costly, often an insidious process that is missed by claims adjusters and medical case managers until considerable damage is done. What happens in migrating claims is the injured worker is not recovering for some reason and is referred to multiple specialists. Each specialist adds new ICD-9’s to the claim.

As a claims migrates, the number of ICD-9’s associated with it mounts.

Computer Monitoring
Using a computerized system especially designed to monitor ICD-9’s is a powerful knowledge solution. Alerts are sent to appropriate persons when the number of ICD-9’s in a claim increases beyond a designated point. Migrating claims cannot be missed and intervention is early, therefore far more effective.

ICD-9’s are Predictors
Another way to tap the secret power of ICD-9’s is to score them individually for medical severity, the seriousness of the injury or illness. Each claim then contains a total ICD-9 score in the system for medical severity. As ICD-9’s are added during the course of the claim, the claim ICD score increases. As a claim migrates and accumulates ICD-9’s, an appropriate person is automatically notified by the system. Migrating claims cannot go unnoticed.

Claims with high ICD-9 scores are predictors of risk and cost. Claim ICD-9 scores can be monitored from the outset and throughout the course of the claim.

ICD-9’s Scores Level the Playing Field
The claim ICD-9 score reveals the seriousness and complexity of a claim. Medical doctors managing difficult claims can be differentiated from those handling less arduous claims, thereby creating fairness in measuring provider performance.

Many indicators are used for claim monitoring and provider performance including medical cost, frequency and duration of treatment, indemnity costs, return to work and multiple other factors. The claim ICD medical severity score automatically predicts trouble and alerts the appropriate medical managers.

Moving on—ICD-10
The ICD-9 contains thousands of codes. Moreover, the ICD-10 revision will more than double the number of codes, making its information value exponential. ICD-10 is slated to be activated in October of 2014.