Tag Archives: healthcare reform

So Here’s an Idea on Healthcare Reform

If you spend any time writing or speaking about healthcare reform, eventually you’re asked the magic wand question: What would you do? Well, there’s an idea I’ve been thinking about. It’s not a Big Fix. It’s merely something that would improve whatever system is in place – I think – by making the system more simple and transparent. I’m sure it’s riven with problems. And maybe it’s a hot topic, but I’ve missed those articles. In any event, here it is. Please let me know what you think I’m missing.

The Mechanics

The idea is to have providers (physicians, hospitals, clinics, laboratories, etc.) publicize what they charge using a multiple of what Medicare pays. If Medicare pays $100 for a procedure and a doctor charges $300 for the same procedure, this doctor is a 300% provider.

Carriers, meanwhile, will set what they reimburse providers as a percentage of Medicare, as well. If an insurance policy pays as much as $250 for this same procedure, it’s a 250% policy.

See also: The Math of Healthcare Reform  

The key is that this percentage doesn’t vary based on the procedure. Once a provider or carrier sets its multiple, that figure defines the cost for all treatment and services. Consumers gain two bits of information they lack today: what their provider is charging (300% of Medicare in this example) and what their health plan pays (250% of Medicare here).

There’s two advantages to using Medicare as the benchmark for pricing. First, it’s already in use today. Second, it assures both providers and payers are using the same measurement. When you say “300% of Medicare,” doctors and insurers know what you mean whether they’re in San Francisco or San Antonio. (If you’re from elsewhere, it means take the Medicare rate, and multiply it by three).

Compare this with today, when all they know is that the carrier pays in-network services on a mysterious discount and out-of-network services based on an unknowable formula. What is reasonable and customary? Under my proposal, however, consumers know what the carrier will pay and what they’re responsible for before they walk through the door for medical care.

If the proposal were implemented today, a number of things would remain unchanged. Deductibles, co-insurance and co-pays: still allowed. The Affordable Care Act’s essential benefits: covered. Preventive care: not subject to deductibles and co-insurance.

How emergency treatment is reimbursed will need to change to a standard multiple of Medicare for all payers regardless of the facility’s usual percentage so consumers aren’t subject to balance billing.

Simplicity and Transparency

As noted, this idea overlays the current system; it’s not a substitute. This is an overlay, however, that delivers substantial simplicity and transparency. Consumers know up front which providers they can afford. There would be no networks, so there would be no surprises from out-of-network charges, Consumers choose any doctor fully aware of how much of their bill is covered by their health insurance. If they want more covered, they simply choose another provider.

Physicians wouldn’t have to guess what carriers will pay them. They’ll reduce their costs as a lot of unnecessary paperwork goes away. However, they’ll also have to compete with other providers in their community. If a doctor is going to charge a lot more than everyone else, she better have a good reason.

Hospitals could no long hide behind their charge masters– a menu of prices they charge for services that no one ever sees and few hospitals can explain or justify. These inflated costs are the starting point for pricing negotiations with carriers, so few people ever see them. (Steven Brill wrote a special report for Time magazine in 2013 that explains charge masters and should be required reading for anyone attempting to reform American healthcare).

Consumers and their brokers will be able to compare the value of plans on an apples-to-apples basis. If a 400% policy is more expensive than a competitor’s 500% policy, the carrier better be able to explain why. Consumers won’t face unexpected charges, either. They’ll know if their policy will cover all of a given provider’s expense or if they’ll need to pay a portion of the costs. And they can choose their providers accordingly.

Carriers benefit from this proposal, too (unless you’re employed in the networking department). Actuaries will have more certainty in determining the reimbursement required under each plan, regardless of whether the provider is in- or out-of-network. With better information on their exposure, carriers can price more accurately. The simplicity of the system will also reduce operating costs, and that’s critical for carriers needing to meet a legally required medical loss ratio.

An Improvement, Not a Revolution

I know this idea doesn’t fix America’s healthcare system. The goal is to inject greater simplicity and transparency into whatever system is in place. If transparency advocates are right, this will revolutionize healthcare. I’m not sure I buy into the idea that transparency is all that game-changing, but, to the extent it is, this proposal dramatically increases transparency throughout the healthcare system.

Single-payer advocates will not be impressed by this idea. However, I believe, in spite of its current momentum, single payer is a long way away. Single-payer proposals cost too much, impose too much centralized control and are too disruptive. The ACA cost Democrats Congress (and arguably the White House), and Obamacare is far less radical than any single payer plan out there. Imagine the political blowback at a government-run insurance program by voters already fearful of death panels and distrustful of Washington?

See also: A Way to Reduce Healthcare Costs  

ACA supporters should like my approach. A common criticism is that the ACA doesn’t do enough to make healthcare or healthcare coverage affordable. Simplicity saves money. Transparency empowers consumers to reduce their healthcare costs. The ACA plus a Medicare-pegged healthcare system will help the ACA keep its affordability promise.

Advocates of reference-based pricing should also be happy. I’m proposing reference-based pricing on a nationwide scale with everyone using the same reference: the Medicare reimbursement schedule. This goes further than most of the reference-based pricing proposals or implementations I’ve seen, but it’s a logical expansion of the concept. And because both the provider and the payer are referencing the same benchmark, litigation — a too-common result of current reference-based efforts — is unnecessary.

This proposal isn’t a panacea. The question is, is it a practical improvement? Please let me know what you think – and what I’m missing here – in the comments.

This article first appeared on the Alan Katz Blog

What Next for GOP Healthcare Plan?

The irony of all ironies. The GOP healthcare plan defeated by the GOP! And I’m glad, given all the well-documented problems with the bill.

The Congressional Budget Office or CBO estimated that 17 million to 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance under the GOP repeal and replace plan. I would have been on top of the list, because I am over 60 but not old enough for Medicare. My grandfather was a Marine in World War I. Both my parents and all of my uncles served in World War II. My grandparents on my mother’s side came to Ellis Island a century ago. I am a red-blooded, patriotic American. How dare they try to take away my health insurance.

See also: Is U.S. Healthcare Ready for ‘All Payer’?  

I get that the ACA has major issues and needs fixes. I, too, have several issues with the ACA, including the employer mandate and how small employers are charged premiums under the ACA. (See: “A Quiet ACA Waiver — and Needed Change,” from April 2014.) I am on board with healthcare reform but not when it’s done on the backs of small employers.

Americans do need sound options for affordable healthcare coverage based on their needs. I get it.

The American public is sick of this political nightmare. The GOP thinks they need to repeal Obamacare to get reelected. Hello, the American public was 56% to 17% against the GOP plan. It is time for a bipartisan approach to healthcare reform. 46 U.S. Democratic senators just signed a letter that they be open to bi-partisan discussions to improve and provide fixes to the ACA, as long as the outright repeal of the ACA is not part of the deal. President Trump also just stated he’d be very open to discussions with the Democrats. Where does it say in the Constitution that to pass a bill in Congress all the votes have to come from one political party?

In addition, several moderate GOP congressmen were not in favor of the bill. My congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th NJ District), and three other Republican congressman from the Garden State announced opposition to the GOP bill for the right reason. It would have hurt the poor, the elderly and working families in their districts. Their offices were flooded with constituents opposed to the plan, along with powerhouses like the AARP.

The bottom line and reality is healthcare costs are never going down. We have an aging population of baby boomers with a ton of health problems, now and coming up. One of the major problems with the ACA is that the costs cannot currently be sustained, and a major reason is that 45% of the millennials ages 18 to 30 have not signed up, even though the overwhelming majority voted for President Obama and the Democratic party.

We have the best healthcare in the world in the U.S. Hands down. However, it is terribly wasteful, inefficient and fragmented. We still rely basically on a fee-for-service system that results in unnecessary and even harmful medical care. (See: “Unnecessary Surgery: When Will It End?” from October 2015.)

The only way to a lasting bipartisan agreement is to find common ground one issue at a time:

–Start with the major premise of the ACA, that Americans cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition. Check.

–Next, help small employers hurt by the ACA and rising premiums.

–There appears to be widespread agreement to allow small employers to ban together in risk pools similar to workers’ compensation.

–Chuck Schumer just indicated a willingness to give the 50 state healthcare commissioners more power and control over premiums in their state. Remember healthcare, like politics, is all local.

–Consider tort reform based on the use of documented medical protocols by medical professionals. Millions of unnecessary tests are performed every day due to medical providers’ fear of a potential malpractice claim.

–Pass a bill to help medical students with their tuition and student loans if they will help serve as primary care providers in poor or rural neighborhoods for a year or two.

See also: Healthcare: Asking the Wrong Question  

There are a ton of good ideas out there that we spend our healthcare dollars on, including prevention and wellness and not sick care.

The time for bipartisan reform is now.

Healthcare Reform IS the Problem

Our healthcare (HC) and healthcare financing ( HCF) systems are not sustainable. To think about why that is, find a picture of a rainbow (or draw your own). There are seven bands of color. Label your rainbow from the bottom to the top: Soul/Mind/Body/Wellness/Primary Care/Secondary Care/Tertiary Care (healthcare from specialists in a large hospital after referral from primary or secondary care).

See also: Has The Projected Cost Of Health Care Reform Changed?  

At this moment, there are 324,414, 852 people in the U.S. Most believe that we are made up of those three bottom elements: spirit, mind and body. The center band of the rainbow is wellness – an ideal for any HC system. The three upper bands define the delivery systems of HC in our country today.

The flaws in the HC and HCF model displayed are simple – our current system has at its core a focus of “sickness,” not the ideal of “wellness.” Our system was built on a focus on the body. Yet you can get nearly universal agreement from doctors that much of illness originates in the head, and most will agree that a “believer” supported by a prayer community gets better results.

Our care giver systems are intertwined with HCF and superimposed on “we the people,” not fully integrated with us as individuals. We go to the doctor. Our world of specialists is defined by organs du jour. Our care is explained to us in the vernacular of medicine, not language we understand. When care doesn’t work, we are sent to a different specialty.

Finally, our demographics are killing us. Diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, a victim mentality and a sense of entitlement are limiting our future.

The heaviest users of care are spending other people’s money for the treatment! And, while our systems have become very good at delaying death, they are less effective at extending the quality of life. (Don’t believe me? Go visit a nursing home every day for a month.)

See also: What Trump Means for Healthcare Reform  

Yet healthcare reform is based on the same flawed thinking got us into this mess.

America and her people are genius – when they work together for good. Need evidence? We’ve already walked on the moon. We have the money, the need and the motivation to save us all – now we must just find a way to do it.

What can we do? What should we do? What do you suggest? Somebody out there – outside of the special interests – has the answer for the common interest or an idea that we the people can use to bring health/wellness to our HC and HCF systems.

Marcus Welby, MD is dead. We aren’t. Help!

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.

Healthcare Reform’s Effects on Workers’ Compensation

Since its passage in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — commonly referred to as healthcare reform — has been the subject of intense political debate and a source of anxiety for many employers. Although most employers have focused on the law’s health benefit requirements, the ACA is also expected to affect how they manage their workers’ compensation costs. Employers should understand how reform will affect the quality of care available to their employees, the calculation of workers’ compensation premiums and claims filings — and what employers can do to manage those effects.

Workers’ Health Proponents of the ACA say it will lead to a healthier society. Because more people will have access to healthcare, advocates say, there will be a reduction in comorbidities — additional diseases or disorders that individual patients often have along with a primary disease or conditions. For example, diabetes and hypertension are typical comorbid conditions of obesity. These comorbidities can frequently complicate workers’ compensation claims. Consider that a California Workers’ Compensation Institute analysis of claims from 2005 to 2010 found that average benefit payments on claims for employees with obesity as a comorbidity were 81% higher than those without. There is, however, no significant evidence to support the contention that an employee is less likely to file a workers’ compensation claim simply because the employee is insured. For example:

  • A recent Assured Research study examining health insurance penetration rates and workers’ compensation loss ratios in individual states from 1999 to 2011 showed little correlation between the two measures.
  • Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. and that the percentage of Americans with a high body mass index has steadily climbed over the last 50 years — two trends that are not confined to the uninsured population.

Cost Shifting Employers have long been concerned that injuries from non-work-related causes will be shifted to workers’ compensation. Doing so is tempting because of workers’ compensation’s combination of higher reimbursement rates for medical providers and lack of deductibles and copayments for employees. There is significant evidence to show that treatment for the same diagnosis costs more under workers’ compensation than under group health insurance because of higher reimbursement rates and greater utilization of services. A recent Workers’ Compensation Research Institute study of 16 large states, for example, showed that workers’ compensation payments for shoulder surgeries were often significantly higher than group health medical payments for the same procedure. Some have speculated that the greater access to health insurance promised by the ACA will reduce this shift to workers’ compensation. However, it has become clear that the law will not result in all Americans having health insurance coverage. With the ACA requiring that employers offer coverage to all employees working 30 or more hours per week starting in 2015, one in 10 large companies are planning to cut back on hours for at least a portion of their workforce, according to Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans 2013. Other employers are using higher copayments and deductibles to help offset cost increases. It appears, therefore, that the financial incentive for employees to shift treatment toward workers’ compensation will continue under the ACA.

Access to Care Probably the most predictable outcome of the ACA is that it will increase the number of individuals in the U.S. with health insurance coverage. Despite the potential benefits, this could put additional stress on a health are system that is already short on doctors. Among the 34 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the U.S. ranks 27th in physicians per capita (see Figure 1). And this problem does not appear to be going away: The Association of American Medical Colleges forecasts that physician demand will dramatically outpace supply over the next decade, leading to a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians in the U.S. in 2020. This is particularly troubling as it relates to specialists — for example, orthopedic surgeons — and the potential for delays in obtaining diagnostic tests and scheduling elective surgeries and other procedures. Longer periods of disability and complications as a result of such delays would ultimately drive workers’ compensation costs up. With this added pressure on a limited number of medical providers, it becomes more important than ever for employers to develop medical networks that focus on quality of care and outcomes — even if it means paying more on a fee-for-service basis. Employers that pay their medical providers fairly and quickly will have more timely access for their injured workers and should ultimately have lower workers’ compensation costs.

Standards of Care Traditionally, the healthcare industry’s focus has been on volume; more patient admissions, tests and procedures translated to higher revenues. Post-reform, however, the industry has shifted its focus to improving standards of care and achieving better patient outcomes. If this transition results in less emphasis on costly procedures, which often produce questionable results, workers’ compensation costs could be reduced. Although it remains to be seen whether the standards of care developed under the ACA for group healthcare would be enforced under workers’ compensation, this is a promising development for employers.

Premium Refunds The ACA provides for insurers to rebate premiums to employers that have better than expected performance with their healthcare programs. Employers can either refund such premiums back to their workers or use them to offset future premiums. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has indicated that if premium refunds are given to employees, this would be considered payroll under workers’ compensation premium calculations. In other words, having a good performance on its group health program could increase an employer’s workers’ compensation program costs because premium calculations are tied to payroll. Employers should keep this in mind when deciding what to do with healthcare premium rebates that may be received.

Managing the Effects of Healthcare Reform There is little doubt that healthcare reform will have an impact on workers’ compensation costs and claim trends. And while the extent will not be known until the ACA has been fully implemented, employers can take steps now to lessen any potential negative impacts, and increase the value of the positives. For example, employers should:

  • Increase efforts to identify medical providers that can provide the best quality care for injured workers and take the necessary steps to ensure the workforce has access to these providers.
  • Carefully manage the approach to healthcare premium rebates, which could affect how payroll is calculated under workers’ compensation.
  • Closely monitor any shifts in injury claims to workers’ compensation. Despite the ACA’s promise of greater access to health insurance coverage, there remains a financial incentive for employees to seek treatment under workers’ compensation rather than group health.
  • Remain committed to loss-control efforts. Don’t let concerns over the ACA cause a loss of focus on this key area.