Tag Archives: provider

settlement

A Better Reality for Injured Workers

When is the last time you haggled with your doctor over pricing?

It’s certainly not a negotiation most Americans are prepared for or even one they know how to approach. However, when it comes to workers’ compensation settlements, the system anticipates that, after settlement, injured workers can persuade their doctors to bill them fairly, according to the state’s fee schedule. In reality, the system is naïve, and injured workers are instead being unfairly stripped of their settlement funds because they are routinely overpaying for treatment.

Injured workers deserve better, and engaging a professional administration service like CareGuard provides them just that. CareGuard offers injured workers a sophisticated advocate and group-buying power to make sure they can navigate the healthcare system and get the lifetime of treatment they were promised in their settlement, with money to spare.

Each year, tens of thousands of injured workers decide to settle their cases. The vast majority (more than 95%) of these workers have no help when it comes to properly spending their funds on healthcare. After settlement, most injured workers pay out-of-pocket for treatments related to their injury, relying on their often limited knowledge of healthcare to figure out what treatments they should pay for with their funds. When they do decide to use their funds to pay, they must navigate a complex maze of fee schedule guidelines that have been provided by the state to find the correct prices. In reality, it’s nearly impossible to comply with the guidelines without a computer application deciphering the numerous pages of schedules, CPT codes, rates, modifiers and rules.

The result is that, in most instances, when injured workers are left on their own after settlement, they fail to manage their care appropriately. They overpay for treatments and drugs, depleting their funds more rapidly than expected. They lose track of bills and fail to comply with regulations, putting their Medicare and other benefits at risk. And even when they are aware they can negotiate, injured workers are left to haggle out pricing on their own, pitted against a complex and apathetic medical system. Keep in mind that most of these individuals have far more healthcare needs than the average person.

Professional administration services provide access to discounted drug, provider and medical equipment pricing, as well as access to technology that provides a hassle-free experience with medical care. Those services also provide support from a dedicated team of representatives and advocates to answer questions and help the injured worker navigate their medical care. With professional administration, there is no utilization review or any requirement to use a medical provider network (MPN). Instead, injured workers can see any provider they would like, giving them the freedom to get the care they need with the added support to help minimize administrative red tape.

The culmination of all these benefits is that professional administration helps alleviate injured workers’ concerns about settling their cases. It is a tool that can help everyone at the settlement table prepare the claimant for post-settlement success and minimize any backlash or misunderstandings after settlement.

Professional administration is often overlooked because of a common misconception that it is very expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars. At CareGuard, our pricing is typically below $5,000, and it can be even less for smaller cases. As a result of the low pricing and high discounts we offer our members, we also find that, on average, we save the injured worker over five times the cost of our services each year.

The workers’ compensation system was built to protect injured workers. Significant work and resources are dedicated to ensuring the system runs well. However, the system was poorly designed to care for injured workers who have settled their case and have exited the system. Professional administrators pick up where the system left off and ensure the injured worker has a smooth transition to life post-settlement.

health

Endangered Individual Health Market

And then there were none?

The individual health insurance marketplace is endangered, and policymakers need to start thinking about a fix right now, before we pass the point of no return.

Health plans aren’t officially withdrawing from the individual- and family-market segment, but actual formal withdrawals are rare. What we are witnessing, however, may be the start of a stampede of virtual exits.

From a carrier perspective, the individual and family health insurance market has never been easy. This market is far more susceptible to adverse selection than the group coverage market. The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) guarantee of coverage only makes adverse selection more likely, although, to be fair, the individual mandate mitigates this risk to some extent. Then again, the penalty enforcing the individual mandate is simply inadequate to have the desired effect.

Then add in the higher costs of administering individual policies relative to group coverage and the greater volatility of the individual insured pool. Stability is a challenge, as people move in and out of the individual market as they find or lose jobs with employer-provided coverage. In short, competing in the individual market is not for the faint of heart, which is why many more carriers offer group coverage than individual policies. The carriers in the individual market tend to be very good ; they have to be to survive.

In 2014, when most of the ACA’s provisions took effect, carriers in the individual market suddenly found their expertise less helpful. The changes were so substantial that experience could give limited guidance. There were simply too many unanswered questions. How would guaranteed issue affect the risk profile of consumers buying their own coverage? Would the individual mandate be effective? How would competitors price their products? Would physicians and providers raise prices in light of increased demand for services? The list goes on.

Actuaries are great at forecasting results when given large amounts of data concerning long-term trends. Enter a horde of unknowns, however, and their science rapidly veers toward mere educated guesses. The drafters of the ACA anticipated this situation and established three critical mechanisms to help carriers get through the transition: the risk adjustment, reinsurance and risk corridor programs.

Risk corridors are especially important in this context as they limit carriers’ losses—and gains. Carriers experiencing claims less than 97% of a specified target pay into a fund administered by the Department of Health and Human Services; health plans with claims greater than 103% of this specific target receive refunds. Think of risk corridors as market-wide shock absorbers, helping carriers make it down an unknown, bumpy road without shaking themselves apart.

While you can think of them as shock absorbers, Sen. Marco Rubio apparently cannot. Instead, Sen. Rubio views risk corridors as “taxpayer-funded bailouts of insurance companies.”

In 2014, Sen. Rubio led a successful effort to insert a rider into the budget bill, preventing HHS from transferring money from other accounts to bolster the risk corridors program if the dollars paid in by profitable carriers were insufficient to meet the needs of unprofitable carriers. This provision was retained in the budget agreement Congress reached with the Obama administration late last year. Sen. Rubio, in effect, removed the springs from the shock absorber. The result is that HHS was only able to pay carriers seeking reimbursement under the risk corridors program 13% of what they were due based on their 2014 experience. This was a significant factor in the shuttering of half the health co-operatives set up under the ACA.

Meanwhile, individual health insurers have taken a financial beating. In 2015, United Healthcare lost $475 million on its individual policies. Anthem, Aetna, Humana and others have all reported substantial losses in this market segment. The carriers point to the ACA as a direct cause. Supporters of the healthcare reform law, however, push back. For example, Peter Lee, the executive director of California’s state-run exchange, argues that carriers’ faulty pricing and weak networks are to blame. Whatever the cause, the losses are real and substantial. The health plans are taking steps to stanch the bleeding.

One step several carriers are considering is leaving the health insurance exchanges. Another is exiting the individual market altogether—not formally, but virtually. Formal market withdrawals by health plans are rare. The regulatory burden is heavy, and insurers are usually barred from re-entering the market for a number of years (five in California, for example).

There’s more than one way to leave a market, however. One method carriers sometimes employ is to continue offering policies but to make it hard to buy them. Because so many consumers rely on the expertise of professional agents to find the right health plans, a carrier can prevent sales by making it difficult or unprofitable for agents to do their job. Slash commissions to zero, and agents lose money on each sale.

While I haven’t seen documentation yet, I’m hearing about an increasing number of carriers eliminating agent commissions as well as others removing agent support staff from the field. (Several carriers have eliminated field support in California. If you know of other insurers making a similar move or ending commissions, please respond in the comments section).

So, what can be done? In a presidential election year, there’s not much to be done legislatively. Republicans will want to use an imploding individual market to justify their calls for repealing the ACA altogether. Sen. Bernie Sanders will cite the situation as yet another reason we need “Medicare for all.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, has an incentive to raise the alarm. She wants to build on the ACA. Having it implode just before the November presidential election won’t help her campaign. She needs to get in front of this issue now to demonstrate she understands the issue and concerns, to begin mapping out the solution and to inoculate herself from whatever happens later this year.

Congress should get in front of the situation now, too. Hearings on the implosion of the individual market and discussions on how to deal with it would lay the groundwork for meaningful legislative action in 2017. State regulators must notice the endangered individual market, as well. They have a responsibility to ensure competitive markets. They need to examine the levers at their disposal to find creative approaches to keep existing carriers in the individual market and to attract new ones.

If the individual market is reduced to one or two carriers in a region, no one wins. Competition and choice are consumers’ friends; monopolies are not. And when consumers (also known as voters) lose, so do politicians. Which means smart lawmakers will start addressing this issue now.

The individual health insurance market may be an endangered species, but it’s not extinct … yet. There’s still time to act. There’s just not a lot of it.

providers

Walmart’s Approach to Health Insurance

My most recent post generated many questions, mainly about my definition of “value” in healthcare purchasing.

My definition of value is the highest quality of care provided in the most efficient manner, i.e. not too much care, not too little care, delivered in a “lean” way and paid for in a mutually satisfying way.

Walmart’s Centers of Excellence Program (COE) is the closest model we have. In the COE program, Walmart has selected clinics and hospitals that do a superior job of diagnosing high-cost cases and providing the best treatment plan, not the treatment plan that generates the most profit to the provider but the one that is best for the patients sent their way. This program has been very successful for Walmart, but it has been especially so for the company’s associates (employees) and their covered family members.

In Walmart’s benefit plans, a small number of covered lives account for a huge share of healthcare plan expenses. The company provides incentives for our associates and their covered family members to use our COEs.

Eliminating fee-for-service was a big part of my previous post. Walmart’s COEs are not paid fee-for-service. Rather, the company has negotiated global fees, one flat fee for an episode of care for all surgery, testing, anesthesiology, hospital costs, etc.

This is an alternative to fee-for-service, and it is working quite well. I urge other self-insured companies to find similar ways to bypass fee-for-service payments. Again, the time to act is now.

If you feel your company cannot successfully negotiate direct deals with first-class providers like the ones we use, there are aggregators who can do that for you for fairly modest fees.

This piece was written with Sally Wellborn, senior vice president of benefits at Walmart.

Shifting ‘Healthcare’ to ‘Well Care’

New York City has been a leader in the future of healthcare. Listing calories on menus, banning soda sales in sizes larger than 16 ounces and now requiring a designation on menus for any items with more than 2,300 mg of sodium (or a teaspoon of salt) are, if you haven’t figured it out, great ideas. While they seem a bit big brother-ish, I applaud the intent.

Today’s healthcare is a losing battle. Incentives are completely misaligned. Providers get paid for dispensing care, and we keep introducing better — and more expensive — solutions that cure health conditions that inevitably develop as we age.

Today’s usage of the word “healthcare” is “care for the sick.” The only way we are going to solve our cost crisis is to change healthcare to mean “well care.”

By aligning incentives to encourage well care, the system will be a lot less frictional. So, how would this work? The HMOs of the 1980s and 1990s had it right. Provider reimbursement rates would be based in part on compliance by their patients. And providers would be free to decline to treat patients who, because of lifestyle choices, would affect their compensation.

Public awareness and support of this new well care normal can be tied to affordability, and I would envision a new class of coverage developing for those who opt in to a well care lifestyle. Accountability would be directly tied to affordability and also to provider choice. Seemingly insurmountable issues call for creative solutions. We need to change course now.

Promoting Peace of Mind in Work Comp

An employee’s peace of mind is equal in concern with the physical injury when it comes to a worker’s comp claim. An upset employee can lose motivation, incur a bad attitude and rationalize the over-use or abuse of WC benefits. I am adamant that employee satisfaction is as key a factor in WC claim outcomes as it is in overall employee productivity and job performance.

It is not the adjuster’s primary role to manage an employee’s peace of mind at the start of a new report. While we expect good “bedside manner” from an adjuster, she must reserve a defensive position and be a “bad-cop” if necessary. An astute employer sees the opportunity in meeting an employee’s concerns at the time of an injury. It is like adding another critical brick to strengthen the foundation of employee satisfaction.

The immediate task can be simple. A little bit of confident communication goes a long way. Step one is to put yourself in the injured employee’s shoes and imagine being faced with an inability to work. It is not a comfortable feeling.

Quick Tip: Prepare a “Top-10” Information Sheet for Quick Use

Concept: Include a quick-reading “Frequently Asked Questions” checklist as part of an overall information packet for new WC claimants.

Suggested Top 10 and Recommended Answers:

1) Which doctor do I use? – Identify the preferred list, contracted clinic or emergency facility. Explain degrees of employee choice if any does exist in your jurisdiction.

2) What if I can’t do my job? – “If the doctor determines you cannot perform your job, we will try to match you with a temporary alternate assignment. If there is no ability for you to work, your wages will be paid as a WC benefit.”

3) How much will I be paid? – Provide the statutory calculation formula for the comp rate and specify that the employee’s specific rate will be determined by the claims adjuster within 48-72 hours.

4) When do I start getting checks? – Explain the jurisdictional waiting period.

5) How do medical bills get paid? – “All bills will be paid directly to the doctors/providers. You do not pay any bills for accepted and covered treatment.”

6) Do I need an attorney? – “We will help facilitate your benefits. An attorney is not necessary unless you face a disputed issue and want it to be heard by a judge. However, it is your option and right to consult an attorney at any time.”

7) What do I do next? – Explain any other internal steps and forms; explain that an adjuster will make contact and go over additional information. If you have a designated adjuster, provide a name and contact info.

8) What about my health benefits / 401k contributions, etc? – Explain your policies and the jurisdictional requirements that continue benefits during a WC claim

9) Will I lose my job or be fired? – Explain that filing a WC claim is not a basis for termination but also reserve the right for progressive discipline because of safety violations, attendance, job abandonment, fraud and any internal policies that might relate to WC situations.

10) What if I have other questions? – Provide a designated internal WC contact with an open-door policy.