Tag Archives: medical director

New Way to Lower Healthcare Costs

Managers are more likely to limit rental cars to $30 a day than limit an open heart surgery to $100,000 — for ethical and regulatory reasons, many executives steer clear of involving themselves in healthcare decisions, other than selecting the broadest possible network access. But few expenses that executives know so little about matter more than those involved in healthcare do.

This article speaks to a cultural shift that could provide tremendous impact for employers. They can now lower costs while also improving outcomes.

Until now, employers have used two main strategies:

–They offloaded costs to employees, hoping that giving them more skin in the game would reduce their spending on healthcare. But the continuing lack of transparency about healthcare costs, combined with costs that rose faster than employers shifted them, resulted in insurance picking up more cost and consumerism being driven down.

–Employers also invested in wellness programs. But wellness programs are most attractive to the already healthy. And they attempt to reduce how often enrollees encounter the system. But we know that everyone will encounter care at some point. It is each encounter’s volume and cost that is at the heart of this out-of-control system.

The new, better approach was demonstrated in a whirlwind, 48-hour trip I took with some incredible healthcare leaders.

First, we met with the executives of Rosen Hotels in Orlando, who have saved hundreds of millions of dollars compared with average employer healthcare costs. Rosen’s single-digit employee turnover would delight most employers, but it is spectacular in the hospitality industry. Rosen achieves this turnover with a benefit-rich plan most employees would drool over: e.g., no-cost prescriptions, $750 max hospital out-of-pocket.

How does Rosen accomplish this? First, its healthcare thinking is based on what it wants to achieve rather than what it has to provide. Beginning with the CEO, Rosen’s top executives really care about every one of their employees, as evidenced by the more than a few employees who have been there for 40-plus years. (Remember, this is a hotel chain, not a hedge fund with six-digit salaries). The strategies deployed vary, but they mainly support making the highest value care as accessible as possible.

Value—a fair return or equivalent in goods, services or money in exchange for something—is seriously lacking in American healthcare. Rosen took it upon itself to provide healthcare whenever and wherever possible, using its clout to lower costs. The company arranged special prescription drug discounts with Walmart. Rosen has on-site medical directors who personally engage with each employee’s health. The directors visit employees in the hospital and help arrange home delivery of costly specialty medications from lower-cost pharmacies. The company monitors and supports sick employees’ recovery and progress. It also built a health-and-wellness center for all employees and dependents with primary care, prescriptions, fitness instruction and more. I know all this sounds expensive, but the impact far outweighs the cost.

The second part of our adventure involved a flight to the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, just south of Cuba, a beautiful tropical setting an hour-long flight from Miami (and with direct flights from a dozen other U.S. cities). The morning after our late arrival, we enjoyed the beautiful sunrise for exactly 20 seconds before we were bused to a facility called Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). The single building on 200 acres (with significant future expansion plans) is clean, new and functional, though it is not nearly as grand as many U.S. mega-hospitals. Now two years old, HCCI is a joint venture between Ascension Health (a non-profit U.S. health system) and Narayana Health, a top Indian health system based in Bangalore. HCCI’s Indian roots are very important, because that country has no national healthcare or insurance system. The Indians have a novel approach to healthcare: You pay for it.

Narayana Health, which has achieved Joint Commission International (JCI) accreditation, performs a volume of procedures unprecedented in most hospitals. This volume is produced by a highly experienced team with quality outcomes that equal or exceed the best U.S. hospitals, but the team does it at far lower cost. Dr. Devi Shetty, Narayana’s founder and a cardiologist who has performed more than 25,000 heart surgeries, is focused on reducing the price of an open heart surgery to $800. (It currently sits around $1,400). Compare that with a 2008 Millman report that pegs U.S. open heart surgery costs around $324,000.

Some employers—Carnival Cruise Lines, for example—are so convinced of HCCI’s value (better health outcomes at far lower cost) that they will pay for all travel, including a family member’s accommodations for the length of a stay, and often waive an employee’s out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedure.

While HCCI’s pricing is higher than its Indian sister facility, many people could afford to pay for HCCI’s care with their credit card, if that were necessary.

HCCI charges a single, bundled fee that covers all associated costs, plus the cost of most complications — the director says, “Why should the patient pay for something if it was our mistake?” Compare that attitude with that at U.S. facilities, which have financial incentives to deliver as much care for as long as possible, and which get paid more if they make mistakes. HCCI’s upfront pricing model creates a serious incentive for efficiency and quality, because the facility is financially responsible for complications, infections and extra tests.

Patients and purchasers (i.e. employers and unions) should realize that nearly all U.S. healthcare—hospitals, doctors, drug companies and even insurance carriers—are structured to benefit from more care, rather than good, efficient or innovative care.

This means that purchasers and patients must use any available levers to get the best healthcare value they can. As Rosen and HCCI have proven, those levers are increasingly available.

Stop Being Clueless About Workers’ Comp

Despite the brouhaha over the ProPublica articles that say companies are unfairly denying treatment to injured workers to save on costs, I still regard the high cost of workers’ compensation (for those companies that do have high costs) mostly as a management problem.

The companies I see — which are the ones that have huge problems — are clueless about workers’ comp. They turn their claims and injury process over to their claims administrator or carrier, hardly participating in the process, then they blame the TPA or carrier when costs go up even though they have done nothing internally to manage safety or injuries.

These companies never budget for workers’ comp management, don’t staff the risk department (if there even is a department) properly. THAT would cost money, and our headcount would increase, they say. Often, if they do have staff, they do not allow the staff to attend conferences or seminars, join organizations or purchase resources. THAT would cost money, they say.

Sometimes, their brokers offer to help by providing consulting resources, but the companies with high workers’ comp costs do not see the merit in such an approach. I worked with a major entertainment facility, speaking with them once per week, on behalf of their broker, hoping to gain insight. I offered to consult with the staff because I am a consultant: Getting to the root of the problem, finding the cost drivers and fixing them is what I do. They did not need a consultant. Then, one day I said I could “help them develop their training program,” and they accepted instantly! I had used the wrong word — they needed “training help” not “consulting help.” Within months, the high cost of their workers compensation program went down to almost zero. Problem solved.

Several things employers can do, but usually don’t, are:

1. Contact employees within a week or two after the injury to do a survey of their medical and claims adjuster experience. Speak to them via phone, just as you would ask a good customer about her experience. Jennifer Christian, chief medical officer at Webility, contacts employees to find out if each injured worker felt that care was poor, fair, good or excellent. Often, poor treatment by medical providers and callous indifference by adjusters causes employees to become angry, seek counsel or even delay recovery because of lack of expertise during the initial treatment experience.

2. Have claims reviewed periodically by an independent auditor with a medical provider on the team. Only an MD is qualified to read the medical reports to determine whether treatment was appropriate and sufficient, whether alternate causation has been considered and whether aggressive and excellent (yes, perhaps more expensive) treatment has been provided. Make sure adjusters are not using utilization review (UR) to deny care. Audit, audit, audit. Care, care, care.

Do weekly roundtables with your third-party administrator (TPA) — for instance, every Friday discuss 10 claims, etc. Don’t wait until claims reach $25,000. Discuss them when they are small, BEFORE they get astronomical.

3. Retain an MD to be part of your claims team. This can be an on-site MD part-time or full-time who also speaks with treating physicians and injured employees. Adjusters and nurses do not know “medicalese.” Applause to those insurers who have MDs on staff BUT employers still need to have their own medical advisers on the team. Employers often forget we are talking about medical injuries, not simply “claims.”

4. Assess the key cost drivers of your workers’ compensation costs. Nine out of 10 times, employers misdiagnose the cause of their high workers’ compensation costs. In one case, the employer was ready to fire the insurance company because “they thought” there was too much nurse case management. Upon more detailed analysis, including an independent review by claims experts and an MD, we found the claims were handled well 98% of the time. The cause of the problem was misidentified.

The REAL problem was a lack of a post-injury response — employees and supervisors did not have steps to follow within the first 24 hours after the injury. We then held 19 training sessions over three weeks to improve best practices related to rapid medical care and RTW/SAW (return to work/stay at work) in this mega-entertainment theme park. The workers’ compensation costs dropped 20% in a year-over-year comparison of total incurred losses with the previous 12-month period.

5. There are no tools to guide employees and supervisors. In the above case, we provided: employee brochure, physician brochure, wallet cards in English/Spanish for supervisors and employees, and other tools.

6. And, most importantly, provide the best quality medical care available. Yes, even if it’s more expensive. Pennywise is pound foolish. Get the best, not the cheapest. Pay the doctor more to spend more time with your injured employees, not less time.

7. Establish bundled pre-approval of care in account instructions so UR is not necessary — e.g., “All PTP (primary treating physician) treatments and as many as five visits to specialists are pre-authorized by insured. All testing requisitioned by PTP and specialists including physical therapy (PT) and MRIs is to be approved; do NOT submit to UR. If you strongly believe treatment or testing is unwarranted, contact the insured’s medical director before denying request.”

If you don’t manage and monitor it, the process (any process, not only workers’ compensation) will not work well.

It’s time for employers to become involved in their own business! The first step is assessing the problem at your company, not the industry in general or another company. Get that mirror out and have a look. You are most likely looking at the problem.