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Discounts and Cost Shifting: Today’s challenge for Self-funded health-plan managers December 11, 2012

Posted by medvision in Chronic Disease, health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Rx Costs, Uncategorized.
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health, paying for healthcareIn my experience in health plan risk management and benefits planning, nearly all large self-funded plans don’t have dollar shortages.  They have allocation problems. In today’s healthcare environment, managers need to know their “real” problems and their vast improvement opportunities. Independent, member-centric, HIPAA-compliant data is not a luxury — it’s the “oxygen” necessary to ensure plan survival in today’s economic climate.

If ever a cat and mouse game existed, it could be best illustrated by today’s billing practices confronting self-funded plan managers.

Years ago, consultants badgered insurance companies and providers over their in-hospital daily rates. Hospitals quickly realized many of the in-patient procedures could be performed in an outpatient setting and, in turn, made up their inpatient financial losses by loading outpatient billing rates.

Consultants, MCO’s and plan managers maintain an on-going tit-for-tat game in the provider discount arena.  Basically, no consultant can definitively analyze a MCO’s overall discount because they cannot access hospital contracts, and hospital charges make up 60-70% of annual plan expenses. Given this lack of hospital contract knowledge, they rank health plans by a stated percent discount off of billed charges. Providers have the ability to increase their billing, charge master,  thus, the discount off billed charges is less relevant.

A more relevant measurement is the amount self-funded employer plans pay as a percentage of Medicare provider reimbursements, for given geographic areas. In my consulting practice, we employ independent, deep-mining healthcare software to analyze the clinical and financial status of the plan’s performance. Recently, with the advent of the national healthcare reform law, PPACA, we discovered certain data elements being charged in manners never seen.

For instance, most plan sponsors today see aggregate annual outpatient claims almost equaling annual inpatient claims.  Outpatient procedures are when the patient comes to the facility, usually in the morning, receives a medical procedure, and goes home in the afternoon. By definition, outpatient procedures cannot be of a very serious nature, although the patient can have serious disease. In contrast, inpatient procedures require 24-hour care by physicians and nurses and can last weeks or months.  As an example, some patients with heart disease are well enough to undergo heart catheterization/angioplasty in the outpatient setting.

Let’s get to the billing issue now.  On average across America, Medicare reimburses hospitals, in the outpatient setting, for angioplasty an amount averaging $4,000. The physician, interventional cardiologist, receives approximately $800. But I’m seeing multiple instances in which our self-funded plan sponsors are paying in the neighborhood of $40,000 plus or minus. Rough arithmetic would show the $40,000 payment to be 800% to 900% above the average annual Medicare reimbursement.  I’m sure this is not a shock to many plan managers as everyone knows the commercial side of healthcare helps finance shortages from Medicare, Medicaid, and unreimbursed indigent care.  Employer plan sponsors can do much better than this ratio by direct contracting with best-of-class interventional cardiac providers.

Now for the jaw-dropping part: If a consultant requests the plan sponsor’s average cost for angioplasty, he or she would probably supply a list of codes aligned to angioplasty, outpatient,   and wait for the answer.  What we are discovering is that the paid billing indicates the codes aligned with angioplasty are populated by very small dollar amounts; however, on the date of service, a large dollar billing of $40,000 is described as a low-cost medical service, sterile IV solutions (saline), listed under the procedure description, while the actual descriptive procedure, CPT code, is listed under a blinded aggregate hospital revenue code. This produces a scenario in which normal queries would not identify the large $40,000 amount paid and requires a detailed, line-by-line billing to investigate the appropriateness of the charge.

How prevalent is this practice? In one instance, medical claim dollars listed under sterile IV solutions, pharmacy incidental to radiology, generic pharmacy, and non-assigned pharmacy equaled $25 million over 24 months.

Without further investigation, it is virtually impossible to ascertain if these dollars are being spent correctly under contracted arrangements. At best, it represents new escalations in the game of hide-and-seek.

And the real concern lies in the subject of cost shifting. Ponder this question: Not counting physician office visits, what percentage increase is fair in addition to the amount providers receive from Medicare reimbursements? Remember that with high-cost healthcare procedures your plan is reimbursing providers much more that Medicare for the exact same treatments/procedures.  It’s a tough question.  Although if we are to maintain employer-sponsored healthcare, it must be addressed. My guess, 200-300% is fair.  And 800-1000% is unreasonable.

This issue is important as commercial plans cannot meet the financial shortages coming in the future.  Another outpatient assumedly situation showed a payment of $78,000 to a hospital assumedly all under contracted rates, in network. If the patient spent eight hours at the facility, employer’s bill equaled $9,750 per hour. This seems expensive.

Another plan management “treat” is represented PBM vendors charging plans 1000%+ more for common generic drugs than members can pay at retailers, Costco, Target, and Walmart. Yes, employer plans save a few dollars from generics, but the lion’s share of savings are gobbled up by PBMs.  Moral of this story: Study your contracts carefully and know that it could be in your organization’s best interest to seek support from a health-plan risk management firm relying on independent health & pharmacy data software.

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Ominous threat to employer sponsored healthcare July 25, 2012

Posted by medvision in Chronic Disease, Employee Wellness, health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Rx Costs, Uncategorized.
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If your job involves managing employer sponsored health plans, on behalf of employers, there’s an article out (http://tinyurl.com/d836mol) that  says the following:

One in 10 employers plan to drop health benefits.

Employee Health, Wellness, Health Plan, DataI hope this is a huge wake-up call for employers.  Over the past 10 years, I’ve pounded the pavement trying to explain the necessity for plan executives to utilize actionable, independent, member-centric data to manage the financial and clinical aspects of their health plans. Some employers have adopted this model and, as a result, their trend/health inflation has become virtually nonexistent over the past several years. Just look at Med-Vision’s news page for examples.  Many others, however, have declined and are flying, virtually blind.

Let’s think about the impending threat to our current system of healthcare delivered at work. First, which types of employer plans are at the highest risk? To make my point, I’m borrowing from the comedic styling of Georgian funnyman, Jeff Foxworthy:

(1)        If you report to an elected board, commission, mayor or any other type of politician who grovels every few years to be reelected, you might have a problem

(2)        If your annual per employee plan costs are $8,000 plus, versus the penalty of $2000 PEPY to drop coverage, you might have a problem

(3)        If your plan design pays claims for an unlimited maximum, while you attempt to save money by preventing care during the first $10,000 of expense, you might have a problem

(4)        If your plan advisors, broker, consultants tell you your existing 10% trend fits the norm, you might have a problem

(5)        If your plan pays hundreds of thousand dollars annually for disease management and the only result you see is one out of 100 members talking to a nurse, you might have a problem

So, maybe you fall into a few of the top Foxworthy-isms. Believe it or not, this performance can be turned around in as little as a year or two. What do you do?  Here’s my advice:

•           Work with advisors/vendors who win solely when you win. If you’re partnering with a public company, MCO/consultant/broker, look at their financial performance on one of the multiple finance websites. Yahoo finance is a great spot. How is their stock, profits, cash flow performance? If they are succeeding wildly while your plan fails, you probably are not receiving the best advice? Why would you pay more in fees and commission while your plan performs negatively? Pay for performance and zero for failure. Make your advisors stay awake at night worrying about the care/lack of care your members receive. If your plan is failing, yell, scream and threaten firing all vendors. Here’s a nice take-away. MCOs are dumping huge sums of cash into client wellness funds to be selected during bidding competition. If you are humming along with an MCO/TPA, demand some wellness cash!  Ask $40K per thousand employees covered.

•           Are you treating plan reports, performance metrics from your MCO/TPA as gospel? Do you think they report on failures/weaknesses concerning your plan while you pay fat ASO fees? (If so, I have some beautiful, airboat accessible, home sites in the center of the Everglades for you to consider purchasing). This is where plan managers fly blind. Identify and implement services from an independent, patient centric deep data mining company. Analyze health data as a risk manager focusing on prevention, disease mitigation and financial accuracy. Read and analyze your existing employee benefits contracts closely. With your data mining functionality you’ll be able to determine if your plan is paying 2000% markups for cheap generic drugs delivered via mail. PBM performance is an easy way for plans to save $10-$15 PEPM. Ask simple questions like, what percent of our women members are receiving breast cancer screenings past age 50?

•           Where is your health plan money being spent by service category? Plans performing in the top 10% spend over 15% of their total budget on primary care services. The vast majority I see spend less than 10% on primary care.

Furthermore, please don’t be assured a Republican win in November will clear the threat. The “right” wants to remove the corporate tax deductions for employer sponsored healthcare.  An era of employer-driven healthcare reform is needed to mitigate risks and lower costs.

And a last thought. Worry about your plan members receiving appropriate health care services in the same manner you worry about your family members receiving correct care. The higher the quality, the lower the cost!

As Geoffrey Hickson said: “If you forget you have to struggle for improvement you go backward.

If I want my employer health plan to fail, I’ll — ? (Pt 1) May 15, 2012

Posted by medvision in health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Uncategorized.
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http://waysandmeans.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=293471

50% of Americans receive health care coverage through their employers. Much discussion is being focused upon the extent  Obamacare/PPACA will provide financial incentives  facilitating employers to drop health coverage, and thus, sending employees/dependents into state exchanges.

Some of us foresee state exchanges as another term for “standing in the Medicaid line”. The above attachment possibly crosses line into politics and I apologize to those offended. I do believe people exist, on both sides of political spectrum, who don’t favor the elimination of employer-provided health coverage.

Granted, America does have systemic healthcare problems. Plan managers, (benefit managers, HR officials, risk managers and brokers/consultants) have huge influences on the quality and cost of care.

Recently, I’ve run across situations where plan managers appear unconcerned of the impact decisions have on their plans. I sometimes walk away wondering why they elect options of obvious detriment to the plan. Maybe its of value to write about some of the, in my opinion, incoherent decisions I stumble across. I’ll summarize these under: If I want my plan to fail

(1) If I want my plan to fail

I’d make health care purchasing decisions in a way “exactly opposite” from the manner any other goods/services are purchased by my organization. I would accept unrecognizable performance metrics, purchasing proposals by the pound and justify decisions based mainly on what my competitors, down the street. decided to. I’d allow myself to be persuaded this decision is based upon benchmarking. I don’t demand  independent data and am completely unable to measure quality of care been purchased.

(2) If I want my plan to fail:

I’d work exclusively with advisors and consultants lacking the same long-term interests as my organization. The more my plan fails, dysfunctions and produces high cost, the more we pay in compensation.  In sequence with my advisors, we fail to allow vendors/service providers with new ideas/new processes to propose for our business. After all, we only want to do business with the mainline providers who provide average benchmark results!

(3) If I want my plan to fail:

I  execute legal documents composed of provisions, definitions and terms written entirely by the vendor. Rarely do these documents align with promises and provisions made in vendor proposals. Commonly they omit our rights to audit, limit termination rights and  provide no recovery for large financial mistakes. While every other contract, apart from employee benefits, is analyzed for weeks, healthcare provisions are indeed complex and due diligence is accomplished by someone else.

Economy taking a toll on healthcare spending April 19, 2012

Posted by medvision in Chronic Disease, health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Rx Costs, Uncategorized.
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Health Costs, Rx CostsIn my last 8 years working with employer-sponsored self-funded health plans, and their health claims data, one common element is always a signal as to their clinical and financial health. It’s amazingly simple! The higher the total ratio of primary care cost to total cost, the better the plan performs. (Lowest trend, lowest cost and highest member compliance rates to evidence based medicine/screenings) For example, if a plan only spends 8% of total dollars on primary care, then the plan’s condition is sick/poor. Why? Because the balance, 92% is being spend due to advanced disease–in hospitals, seeing multiple specialists, utilizing high-cost technology and receiving costly drugs.

Again, why? Primary care is low-cost/high value. Primary care is preventative care or health maintenance-care, instead of reactive disease care. This makes sense and is the major reason employer sponsored on/near site primary care clinics, save so much money on disease care! (These centers charge no member co-pays or co-insurance for primary care visits and generic drugs)

Here’s an article saying the public is skipping primary care visits due to the down economy! If you are responsible for an employer sponsored health plan, you need to make member primary care compliance a critical metric. A stay-awake-at-night concerned, metric.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/health-care-spending-takes-a-hit-2012-04-18

State of Georgia 2012 health enrollment guide–OMG March 11, 2012

Posted by medvision in health data, Healthcare Costs, Insurance Plans, Uncategorized.
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No wonder we are confused with employer health plans! While researching benefits available to state employees, I came across Georgia’s, State Health Benefit Guide, SHBG. (This acronym is the easiest element of the plan to understand) Now before I criticize the 1000s of billed consulting hours that produced these 13 health benefit options, please realize I have access to population claims expense distribution data which never sees the inside of the consultant’s highrise offices. Here’s an example!

I bet 40% of all Georgia employees/dependents covered (40 of 100) average incurring less than $100 in claims annually from the state health trust fund. Not accounting for the member’s required premium contributions of umpteen $1000s. 70% of all covered members spend less than $500 after their premiums and 85% incur less than $1000. So, let’s set the record straight: 85% of the population’s incurred claims average less than the payroll premiums they contribute to be covered under the plan! Now back to the options. They offer the exact same options, HRA, HSA (plus countless employer fund contributions) and HMO, all with individual wellness, yes/no from (2) national managed care organizations, MCOs. Throw in a Tricare supplement option and we have 13 options.

Maybe I’m too simplistic? 5% of Georgia’s covered employees will account for close to 60% of the plan’s $100s of millions in plan expenses. Why not make sure the sick 5% are getting the best quality, value based care in the world? For the 95%, provide all the low-cost doctor services, screenings, preventative medicines, wellness, weight loss and stress reduction to prevent their entering the top 5%? Drop all the HSA/HRA individual account stuff and their accompanying VISA cards! Many covered members don’t even have their own VISA cards in today’s weakened economy!

These plan designs look to be more tinkered with than a rusted 1955 Chevy in Havana Cuba! The enrollment guide covers 35 pages! I’d bet the consultants and Georgia HR staff don’t understand the options in their entirety. How’s a state trooper working nights and part-time jobs going to understand? Logical rework option: Go back a few decades and provide care to covered beneficiaries? Manage risk instead of burying it under acronyms, ink and paper! Georgia needs to realize it’s the largest purchaser of health services in the state, so act like the largest. Demand quality and value, and of most importance demand accountability from all stakeholders, providers, patients, MCOs and consultants.

http://dch.georgia.gov/vgn/images/portal/cit_1210/0/17/1766508382012_Active%20Guide%2010.1.2011.pdf

The light of free markets slipping into employer sponsored health care! March 6, 2012

Posted by medvision in Employee Wellness, health data, Healthcare Costs, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Uncategorized.
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Free market practices appear to breaking through the screens covering our American health care system. Healthcare is a unique marketplace in which our current lack of financial and quality transparency produces high cost and poor clinical outcomes. How many patients will flock to a hospital experiencing 300% increases in cardiac death for heart surgery?  Read this physician’s post: Why we are busier than we’ve ever been.

Self-Funded plan management–take a close look at disease management results February 27, 2012

Posted by medvision in Employee Wellness, health data, Healthcare Costs, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Uncategorized.
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Recently results of Medicare’s largest commercial disease management study were republished in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This study should refocus plan managers on the issue of disease management because 75% of all plan dollars are spent on chronic disease. Preventing the production of disease and the management of existing disease states is the entire ball game with respect to healthcare. Back to the Medicare pilot. In the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, CMS was required to test the commercial disease management industries services with respect to the Medicare fee-for-service program. The program engaged eight of the industry’s DM providers, 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries with serious cardiovascular disease and spent $400 million over the four-year program. The conclusion was reported: In this large study, commercial disease-management programs using nurse-based call centers achieved only modest improvements in quality-of-care measures, with no demonstrable reduction in the utilization of acute care or the costs of care.

How should this be viewed in today’s environment? I’ve always felt the practice of nurses calling healthcare members they do not know, usually from a different state while attempting to offer advice concerning very personal aspects of one’s health is very problematic. Why? (1) Everyone, especially working folks, have very limited time during home hours (2) Not many are comfortable discussing their health issues with strangers and (3) nurses calling many times have limited, or worse, incorrect data about the medical conditions associated with the member.

My impressions of commercial disease management reports being delivered to clients today seem to be verified by the Medicare study as having, essentially, no positive results. But, Medicare members are very different from commercial health plan members? Yes in some ways, however they are mainly at home available so members have time to speak with nurse managers, this pilot targeted serious states of disease, and still, no demonstrable reduction. In what ways should plan managers react when delivered industry standard reports?

  1.  Don’t allow a 50 page DM document impress. DM providers have a strategy of creating member silos in which they describe all silo members as participants in the plan. A member not complaining about monthly mailings is “not” a participant! How many of us pitch 3/4ths of the mail we receive in the trash can? Probably over 90%. The only participants are the ones in continuous monthly/weekly phone calls with nurse managers. Usually this class never exceeds 1-3% of total members.
  2. Health claims metrics reported by the DM vendor probably will contain positive results. These must be verified from independent data in order to be considered valid. Many times DM providers attempt to “prove the negative’ by claiming their efforts created an absence of claims. Even worse are “vapor” attempts to prove savings by producing some type of productivity gain metrics! Sorry but this business in not akin to a college philosophy class.
  3. Each year $100s of millions are simply wasted on telephonic DM. If you cannot see the results clearly, the result didn’t happen.
  4. If you are offering a sole HDHP don’t assume a short-term claims reductions are necessarily good news. In today’s economic climate many are forgoing important medical care. As water recedes prior to a tsunami, an absence of claims this year may be indicative of an avalanche of future chronic disease.

Now the good news. If it isn’t working, try another approach. I’ve seen clients spend $250K through $500,000 with no clear results. How about using the dollars to hire, through a vendor/or directly, on site full-time nurses to reach out to members, face to face? People trust others they meet, trust and recognize!

The greatest opportunity in healthcare is for employer purchasers of healthcare to start demanding the results they want/need from vendors. Vendors which perform win should be rewarded and the many failing need to be sent packing!

5% of Americans spend 50% of annual health care dollars–how will the Cadillac tax work? January 13, 2012

Posted by medvision in Chronic Disease, health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Rx Costs, Uncategorized.
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Health Costs, Rx CostsMy firm has had the opportunity to analyze years of medical claims from multiple self-funded employer health plan sponsors, covering thousands of members. Across employer groups, various industries and  state to state, one metric is virtually identical, the member expense claims distribution. This metric examines the annual plan dollars spent as a percentage of covered plan members. Here’s the common finding:  The top 1% of members account for 25%-30% of annual expenses and the next 4% account for an additional 25%. As recounted in USA Today, the top 5% of Americans spend 50% of all dollars! http://tinyurl.com/7wp9frh

What’s this got to do with the famous Cadillac Tax? The article shows a picture of HHS Sec. Kathleen Sebelius. Not mentioned is the Secretary’s firm stance on the wisdom of the Cadillac tax as a funding vehicle of PPACA. They define a Cadillac plan as containing very rich benefits, better than those enjoyed by average Americans. Starting in 2018 Americans covered under high-cost Cadillac plans will pay substantial taxes for these rich benefits!

Oh–but the article reports just 5% of Americans spend 50% of all dollars, $36,000 each and the top 1% averaging $90,000 of annual medical charges. I bet everyone knows the top 5% suffer from multiple chronic diseases/acute injuries and are suffering. They are not enjoying life compared to the bottom 75% not spending significant dollars. Here’s the issue!

PPACA (ObamaCare) plans on taxes from the Cadillac plans to fund care in the future. What makes plans high-cost? It isn’t what Washington considers a high-cost plans as having low deductibles or low/no co-pays. In reality these “rich gold-plated” plans spend less as their benefits encourage low-cost doctor visits and facilitate the prevention of high-cost disease through the identification of emerging disease at the earliest, low-cost stages. Don’t believe me? Then why are employers slashing health cost by adopting on/near site clinics which employ physicians seeing members for 0 deductibles, no copays and dispensing generic drugs at no member cost? They are preventing disease. The best deal in healthcare is someone living a healthy, disease free life.

The upcoming result of Cadillac plan taxing will confront/afflict groups of older Americans with the sickest populations of members with chronic diseases! Doesn’t seem fair? The 5%-50% fact highlighted by this USA Today report is the most important issue in our national healthcare debate. High cost equals much disease and suffering. If a discussion of healthcare fails to mention chronic disease, the discussion is moot! A famous bank robber was once asked by a reporter, ” Why do you rob banks”? His answer– Fool, because that’s where the money is”.  A meaningful discussion American healthcare inflation, must include chronic disease because that’s where the money is!

I’d call it a new version of voodoo economics, but I’m afraid that would give witch doctors a bad name.
 Geraldine A. Ferraro

Cracks in high-deductible/consumer-driven health plan models November 29, 2011

Posted by medvision in health data, Healthcare Costs, Insurance Plans, Uncategorized.
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I’ve always been confused by the values highlighted by proponents of HDHPs. My logic has consistently been: (1) 75% of healthcare payments are made as the result of treating chronic diseases and, if/when, caught at the earliest stages can be cured, or mitigated. (2) Shifting initial plan expenses to patients, in the form of high deductibles, tends to prevent doctor visits/medical treatment thus negatively impacting the early discovery and treatment of disease. (I understand wellness checks are paid at 100%)

Here’s some real evidence our physicians will be the keys to unlocking our national health care cost/quality problems: http://tinyurl.com/7acns8o

You are enjoying the beach on a pacific island and you see the ocean quickly recede? What danger is likely coming? October 12, 2010

Posted by medvision in Cancer Care, Employee Wellness, health data, Healthcare Costs, Healthcare Reform, Insurance Plans, Risk Management, Uncategorized.
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Tsunami–This blog is about healthcare and we face many health tsunamis’–Shortage of physicians, fragmented data, obesity leading to diabetes, government regulations formulated by “aliens”, so what else? How about the phenomenon of sick Americans failing to pick up prescriptions written to prevent the worsening of disease? Here’s a “brain teaser” for all the experts recommending high drug co-payments: What event costs more for employer plan sponsors/taxpayers? (1) a $1,000 initial dosage of Lovonox preventing pulmonary embolism (2) 15 day  hospital intensive care unit visit struggling to prevent death from pulmonary embolism.

http://tinyurl.com/28xr4r5

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