Tag Archives: health care

There Is No ‘Free’ Healthcare in U.S.

There is no such thing as “free” healthcare in the U.S. There are people who access healthcare at low (sometimes even no) cost, but the people delivering the service aren’t providing it for free, or, if they are, it’s an ad-hoc charitable donation.

There is one exception that I know of, but the clinics typically only run over weekends (when providers can donate their time and skill). The exception is called Remote Area Medical and is staffed with clinical volunteers, so there is no charge to patients — and no payment to providers. It’s as close to “free” as I think we’ll ever get. Here are some images of what a weekend RAM clinic looks like:

Patients receive free dental care at a c

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RAM has been featured on “60 Minutes” and other news-magazine shows. It’s run by Stan Brock, who founded it. It derived its name — Remote Area — from the idea that it would deliver healthcare to remote regions of the globe. In fact, it started with medical “expeditions” to Latin America in 1992. Today, 60% of RAM clinics are held in rural or urban America. I encourage everyone to watch the 13 minute 60 Minutes episode – from 2012. (60 Minutes – RAM Medical Missions in the U.S. – A Lifeline.)

RAM aside, the argument that EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986) is “free” care delivered through the emergency room is flat-out false. The costs accrued through every emergency department (for every patient, service and supply) is simply rolled into the books under a category called “uncompensated care.”

Uncompensated care is among the three categories of healthcare that for a hospital amount to negative margin. The other two are Medicare and Medicaid. The only remaining opportunity for “positive” margin (and keeping the doors open) is through commercial insurance. That chart (courtesy of L.E.K. Consulting) looks like this:

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Cutting Healthcare Costs Doesn’t Lower Quality

Many believe medical quality is sacrificed when attempting to control costs. The logic assumes the way to achieve quality medical care is to deliver more of it. The other side of the same reasoning is that less medical care means less quality. However, the cost-quality balance is not a zero-sum game.

These supposed opposites — high quality and low costs — can coexist in managing the medical portion of workers’ compensation claims. Quality is not counter to cost management in medical treatment. For instance, managing the number of visits or encounters, prescriptions and the number of specialists the claimant encounters are just a few ways to limit medical services that may, in fact, improve quality.

On the one hand, the treating doctor should see the injured worker often enough to understand, direct and maintain control over the recovery process. Yet some physicians embellish their revenue flow by seeing patients more frequently than necessary. To manage excessive utilization of office visits and services, evaluate the data to learn what is reasonable and what is disproportionate. To be effective, the data must be monitored concurrently so that intervention has an impact.

The way to objectively measure excessive visits is to monitor and analyze the data. For specific injuries in a given jurisdiction, what is the mean number of medical visits? Outliers can be interpreted to mean either the treating physician is fraudulent or the claimant is in trouble. Either way, focused attention is needed.

A claims payment organization can set standards for what should be considered the threshold of excess for given conditions. Beyond that point, the claim is examined and intervention initiated. Some states legislate frequency of care. The state of California, for instance, has placed limits on the number of physical therapy and chiropractor visits. The data system can mobilize notification to the appropriate persons when the benchmark is approaching so that limits are not exceeded. Applying similar methods to a variety of medical visits and services adjusted by diagnosis and other factors such as age and comorbidity will similarly lower costs while sustaining quality.

Another example of balancing quality and cost is controlling frequency or volume of services by electronically monitoring prescription practices, especially those for Schedule II or opioid drugs. The literature is replete with examples of ineffective and poor outcomes when opioids are over-used. By monitoring current data, usage and cost can be checked through appropriate intervention.

Yet another indicator found in the data reflecting excessive medical treatment is multiple medical referrals. Too often when the patient is not improving, the doctor’s response is to refer to specialists. The data gives up that information by noting the number of medical providers and specialists involved in a claim. Assuredly, a claim with multiple specialists is a claim in trouble, or at least progressing poorly, needing attention.

Industry research speaks for itself. Consider this Washington state study, “Long-term Outcomes of Lumbar Fusion Among Workers Compensation Subjects: An Historical Cohort Study.” This study concluded, “Lumbar fusion for disc degeneration, disc herniation and/or radiculopathy in a workers’ comp setting is associated with significant increase in disability, opiate use, prolonged work loss and poor RTW status.”

Monitor the data to discover outliers early so that interventions will effectively improve outcomes. The key to supporting quality while cutting cost is identifying potential problems early. The longer an issue persists, the more challenging it is to correct it.

Consider both medical quality and cost control equal goals. They are not mutually exclusive. The medical profession itself is recognizing and addressing the issues of over-prescribing, over-testing and over-treatment. Medical managers need to assist in the process.

25 Key Slides on Workers' Comp's Future

The following slides show a promising picture for workers' comp as the economy continues to recover and as certain industries — such as construction, manufacturing, oil and gas extraction and healthcare– are poised for growth. At the same time, the industry will have to be prepared for potential disruptions such as those that will come as the workforce ages, such as might occur because of the Affordable Care Act and such as are facing companies because of declining returns on investments. 

The slides were part of a presentation to the AMCOMP Conference for workers' compensation professionals on March 27, 2014. For the full presentation, click here.

Biometrics and Fraud Prevention: Seeing Eye to Eye

As more consumers opt for the flexibility of serving themselves, it has become essential for businesses to deploy strong systems to authenticate identity. The challenge is how to reduce fraud without frustrating consumers or compromising the customer experience.

Biometric technology has been seen increasingly as a solution in industries such as financial services, but is there a useful place in insurance? As technology becomes more convenient –and more secure — many are saying yes.

What’s What in Biometrics

By identifying individuals through their unique physiological or behavioral patterns, biometrics offers a higher level of security, ensuring that only authorized persons have access to sensitive data. Physiological biometrics include fingerprint, face, iris and hand geometry recognition. Behavioral biometrics identify signature and voice verification, including keystroke kinetics that identify a person’s typing habits.

As consumer-centric channels such as mobile and online applications continue to expand, so will the risk of fraud. And while many industries, including insurance, continue to deploy new technologies to stave off attacks, the reality is that the tools and methods by which professional fraudsters operate are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“While insurers have applied some preventive measures against fraud, the industry as a whole needs to catch up,” says Steve Cook, director of business development, Facebanx. “They must be forward-thinking and recognize the benefits of biometric technology and how it can help in preventing fraudulent activities.”

Reducing Claim Fraud and Protecting Data

One area where biometrics has begun to take hold is healthcare insurance. A study by the Ponemon Institute found nearly 1.5 million Americans to be victims of medical identity theft. Healthcare fraud is estimated to cost between $70 billion and $255 billion a year, accounting for as much as 10% of total U.S. healthcare costs.

Many insurers are using biometrics to help reduce billing fraud by eliminating the sharing of medical insurance cards between patients, or by making it more difficult for a person to assume another’s identity. For example, as an alternative to paper insurance cards, a biometric iris scan can immediately transport proof of a patient’s physical presence at a healthcare facility.

Biometric technology is also assisting healthcare insurers with compliance and data integrity standards — in particular with those set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For example, in addition to adhering to requirements for automatic logoff and user identification, insurers must implement additional safeguards that include PINs, passwords and some method of biometrics.

Fraud Capabilities in Property and Casualty

According to a report by Aite Group, the war against fraud in property and casualty insurance is also escalating. The group estimates that claim fraud in the U.S. P&C industry alone cost carriers $64 billion in 2012 and will reach $80 billion by 2015. Customer contact centers have been hit particularly hard. While the focus on protecting consumer data has primarily centered on online channels, fraudsters are now targeting the phone channel, as well. Leveraging information obtained through social media networks, thieves are manipulating call center representatives and gathering customer information. 

For this reason, biometrics are being deployed. Representatives can cross-reference incoming calls against a watch list of known fraudsters, identifying unique voice prints. Advanced biometric techniques can also identify fraud patterns based on speech analytics, talk patterns and various “red flag” interactions.

Summary

The insurance industry is just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to identifying areas of fraud management to which biometric science can be applied. 

“Insurance companies [that] are first to adopt this kind of technology will push the fraudsters over to the competition, because fraudsters don’t want their face or voice on a database that they can’t control,” Cook says.

Making the switch to biometric security measures can mean a substantial investment if done on a large scale. Even so, with the proliferation of online channels, consumer conveniences and ever-shifting tactics of fraudsters, deploying some degree of biometric technology will become a competitive necessity. And, as long as the insurance industry continues to expand consumer services because of e-commerce and m-commerce, no doubt new applications of biometrics will come about.

Winning the War Against Opioid Addiction and Abuse

As we move forward with winning the war against opioid addiction, it can sometimes be challenging to read the daily headlines and stay positive, especially around the holidays. A December article titled “Drug Abusers May be Injuring Pets to Get Pain Killers” shared how police officers and community leaders informed the Ohio attorney general’s office that people have been abusing drugs rightfully prescribed to pets. The US News HealthDay story titled “Secure Your Prescription Drugs When Hosting Holiday Parties” warned readers about the importance of securing prescription drugs in a safe location before guests arrive. When stories deteriorate to addicts intentionally harming their dogs and to people worrying about holiday guests raiding medicine cabinets, rock bottom isn’t far away.

However, 2013 positioned us well for achieving improved results during 2014. Some of last year’s positive developments include:

1.   State law changes establishing clearer standards of care, reporting and tracking of controlled narcotics, bans on abused narcotics, etc.

2.   State and federal agencies aggressively prosecuting individuals who prescribe opioids illegally or  operate “pill mills,” revoking registrations of some pharmacies and compelling healthcare providers and pharmacies to surrender or forfeit their medical licenses to state medical/pharmacy boards

3.   Physician-led education efforts like the Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing

4.   Medical boards actively addressing the inappropriate and illegal dispensing of drugs

5.   Heightened awareness of the neonatal abstinence syndrome crisis in the U.S.

6.   Workers’ compensation insurers leveraging advanced analytics, physician education efforts, evidence-based pain diagnoses and utilization reviews to reduce injured worker reliance on addictive prescription drugs

7.   The Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy

8.   The issuance of the October 2013 Trust for America’s Health report titled “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic”

9.   Continuing prosecution and sentencing of healthcare providers

10. Efforts by national medical organizations

The first eight developments were addressed in the authors’ first quarter 2013 Physician Insurer magazine article titled “The Opioid Abuse Epidemic, Turning the Tide” and our Dec. 2, 2013 Property Casualty 360 Claims Magazine article titled “10 Strategies to Combat the Rx Abuse Epidemic – An Insurers Perspective.”

This article will expand on the last two developments and share some thoughts on what may be in our future when it comes to winning the war on opioid addiction and abuse.

Prosecution and sentencing of healthcare providers

2013 was marked by the successful prosecution and sentencing of healthcare professionals involved in various forms of prescription drug diversion. Arguably the most notable of these was the 39-year prison sentence given to David Kwiatkowski, the former New Hampshire hospital technician who caused dozens of people to become infected with hepatitis C when he injected himself with pain killers using syringes that were then used on patients. Kwiatkowski admitted in August to stealing the drugs and leaving used syringes for hospital use for years, despite knowing he was infected with hepatitis C. His case drew national attention to the problem of prescription drug diversion among healthcare workers; caused a number of institutions to finally take a fresh look at their human resource policies and systems being used to detect diversion; and, has, we hope, sent a strong message of deterrence to all healthcare drug diverters — it is only a matter of time before you get caught!

Efforts by national medical organizations (NMOs)

On an extremely positive note, we are beginning to see NMOs join the fight to help stem the opioid epidemic. On Dec. 10, 2013, the American College of Physicians released a position paper titled “Prescription Drug Abuse: A Policy Position Paper From the American College of Physicians.” The goal of the paper was to provide physicians and policy-makers with 10 recommendations to address the significant human and financial costs related to prescription drug abuse. The recommendations include support for additional education, a national prescription drug monitoring program, establishment of evidence-based nonbinding guidelines regarding recommended maximum dosage and duration of therapy, consideration of patient-provider treatment agreements and the passage of legislation by all 50 states permitting electronic prescription for controlled substances.

In turn, in January 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Drugs and Section on Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine issued a report titled “Recognition and Management of Iatrogenically Induced Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal in Children.” The clinical report recommended guidelines for prescribers to follow when weaning children from opioids. As noted by lead author Jeffrey Galinkin, MD, “[t]he key reason the AAP was keen to publish this paper and go forward with this guideline is that people are unaware that patients can get drug-specific withdrawal symptoms from opioids as early as five days to a week after having been on an opioid chronically.”

This recommendation was immediately followed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Jan. 10, 2014, Federal Register Volume 79, Number 7 publication of proposed rules revising the Medicare Advantage (MA) regulations and prescription drug benefit program (Part D) regulations to help combat fraud and abuse in these programs. The proposed rules include requiring prescribers of Part D drugs to enroll in Medicare, a feature that CMS believes will help ensure that Part D drugs are prescribed only by qualified individuals. As reported by Medscape Medical News, CMS is also seeking the authority to revoke a physician’s or eligible professional’s Medicare enrollment if:

• CMS determines that he or she has a pattern or practice of prescribing Part D drugs that is abusive and represents a threat to the health and safety of Medicare beneficiaries or otherwise fails to meet Medicare requirements; or

• His or her Drug Enforcement Administration certificate of registration is suspended or revoked; or

• The applicable licensing or administrative body for any state in which a physician or eligible professional practices has suspended or revoked the physician or eligible professional’s ability to prescribe drugs.

Furthermore, CMS proposes employing data analysis to identify prescribers and pharmacies that may be engaged in fraudulent or abusive activities. In Table 14 of Federal Register Volume 79, Number 7, CMS’ Office of the Actuary estimates the savings to the federal government from implementing its proposed provisions will be $83 million in calendar year 2015, $132 million in 2016, $171 million in 2017, $364 million in 2018 and $589 million in 2019.

Source: CMS

Innovation in our future

In addition to the above efforts, companies continue to innovate and research new ways to address historical challenges.

Vatex Explorations is building a real-time individual-dose monitoring system called Divert-X to reduce drug trafficking, misuse and addictions that result from routine medical care. Divert-X monitors a patient’s individual doses through the electronic transmission of data identifying the time of dose access, location and other measures. The analysis of the data in real time helps physicians and pharmacists identify drug-taking behaviors that fall outside of norms, allowing early intervention before misuse or addiction set in.

In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration approved an ingestible sensor that can be used to track real time data about your pill consumptions habits. The sensor, developed by Proteus Digital Health, was first approved for use in Europe before coming to the U.S. The ingestible sensor is part of the digital health feedback system, which includes a wearable sensor and secure app and is largely focused on serving the transplant population and patients with chronic illnesses. The authors could envision a day when the system could help in the battle against opioid addiction.

Insurance companies are doing a better job of leveraging advanced analytics to understand their opioid-exposed population and the prescribing habits of the physicians treating their injured workers. Through the review of medical bills (e.g., date and types of service and payment, ICD-9 diagnosis codes, CPT-4 procedure codes, etc.) and pharmacy data (e.g., bill frequency,  aggressive refills, NDC drug codes, quantity used, generic vs. brand, supply days, use of prescriber, pharmacy name, etc.), insurance companies can identify usage and treatment patterns that fall outside of expectations using cluster analyses, association rules, anomaly detection and network “link” analyses.

Law enforcement continues to push the envelope in finding innovative ways to combat drug diversion. Take, for example, the strategy developed in consultation with the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics to curb false reporting of the loss or theft of prescription drugs in Stillwater. According to a police spokesman, most physicians in Stillwater require patients to obtain a police report before they will write a replacement prescription for lost or stolen medications. This requirement resulted in an increase in the number of police reports filed, but a new problem emerged. How could anyone determine whether those police reports were legitimate? In response, the Stillwater police department created a database to record the names of any individual who reported the loss or theft of a prescription drug. The department now requires the individual to take a polygraph test before it will accept any subsequent report of a lost or stolen prescription drug. Fail that polygraph, and criminal prosecution may follow. Query: If this strategy were employed nationwide, would the medicine cabinet at home be guarded more closely?

Conclusion

There is no doubt we have come a long way in the battle against opioid addiction in a relatively short time. Although there is a lot of road left to travel, 2014 is well-positioned to carry forward the effective efforts from last year. Given the innovative spirit of the U.S. and passion of everyone involved in winning this fight, a better long-term solution could be just around the corner.