WCRI – What’s happening with medical?

Hospitals are losing work comp share. You would think that’s good news as non-hospital care is much cheaper.  But that may well be wrong. 

The hospital info was the headline from Carol Telles’ kickoff presentation Friday morning at WCRI’s Annual Conference. Workers’ comp patients are using less inpatient hospital care AND care is moving from hospital facilities to ambulatory surgery centers.

This isn’t specific to work comp.  Care has been moving from inpatient to outpatient to non-hospital facilities for decades.  Way back in the eighties – when I started my career in what was then known as “cost containment” – the big effort was to reduce hospital length of stay and admission rates. Over the last thirty (gulp!) years we’ve seen massive shifts in the location of care, as procedures that once HAD to be done on an inpatient basis – think back surgery – moved to outpatient facilities.

The result – outpatient/ambulatory facility use for all payers grew dramatically over the last 30 years, while inpatient admissions actually decreased over that period. This despite the aging and fattening of America.

For work comp patients, this trend persisted across all states – but this did NOT result in lower cost. In fact while the decrease in inpatient admissions was in the low single digits, costs per admit increased on average 24%. This makes sense. As providers and payers have moved patients to outpatient locations, only the sickest and most risky patients have required inpatient treatment. Unlike ambulatory surgery centers, hospitals have a broad array of emergency and life support resources needed.

Not surprisingly, hospitals are pretty unhappy about this. They are losing healthy, easy, well-insured patients to doctor-owned facilities, but get to keep treating the risky, low-health-status Medicaid and uninsured patients. Over the years, hospitals’ patient population has gotten more expensive to care for and less likely to have good outcomes.

What this means for workers’ comp

To fight back, hospitals are getting much better at revenue maximization.

In English, that means they get as much revenue from vulnerable payers as possible to offset lower reimbursement for unprofitable patients. And you, work comp payer, are about as vulnerable as it gets.

While fee schedules in some states (Maryland for example) generally protect work comp payers, most states’ fee schedules ensure work comp is very lucrative indeed for hospitals.

And no, your PPO isn’t helping.

Work comp PPO discounts may look ok, but the actual cost of treatment has been ballooning in many states. Payers THINK they are doing fine when they see the “savings” below fee schedule, but many aren’t focused on the real problem – how much they are paying.

What can you do about this?

Direct care to providers that deliver the best value, defined as cost divided by quality.

 

 

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