Great news for taxpayers may be bad news for workers’ comp

The just-released report of the Medicare Actuary finds that hospital costs have been increasing at a historically low rate – below 1 percent – for the last four years.

And that’s not likely to change.

Medicare is pushing facilities to reduce costs, driving down readmission rates, using a variety of tools including Value-Based Purchasing, MS-DRGs, and increasing the emphasis on other types of pay-for-performance (basing a small part of compensation on quality measures).  While these can be somewhat blunt instruments and may lead to some unwanted consequences, overall the strategy is working – costs are coming down.

In the 24 states that have not (yet) expanded Medicaid, the effects of Medicare’s changes are even more stark. Payments to safety-net hospitals under the Disproportionate  Share Program have been drastically reduced, while the additional revenue anticipated from Medicaid expansion did not.  The result is a budget shortfall that many are scrambling to address.  The issue is particularly acute in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, which account for about half of the 5 million people in the “coverage gap”.

Non-DSH facilities (which accounts for most of the hospitals) in non-expansion states have a similar, if somewhat smaller problem; their indigent patient loads are (very likely to be) significantly higher than they would be with Medicaid expansion.

Impact on workers’ comp

In a phrase, cost-shifting.  Sure, hospitals are doing better post-PPACA than they were before, however they are also much more focused on financials, developing ever-more sophisticated coding, reimbursement maximization, and revenue-enhancement tools. (Google “hospital revenue maximization” if you are curious…).  They don’t apply these just to Medicare or Medicaid patients; in fact they look for other payers where they can increase revenue to make up for projected shortfalls.

And folks, workers’ comp is a very soft target.

  • Work comp networks’ ability to get deep discounts from hospitals and health systems is diminishing.
  • More and more physician practices are being acquired by health systems.
  • Facility fee schedules have not kept pace with technological or billing practice changes, and any effort to address these via regulation or legislation results in a battle with the (very powerful) hospital lobby.
  • Some bill review entities are playing games with network facilities, trying to negotiate
    prompt pay discounts instead of using the network rate.

What does this mean for you?

Watch those facility costs.

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