Friday catch-up

Here’s a quick tour of what else happened this week…

First, let’s just relax about Ebola.  Yes, a physician in NYC – who treated patients in Africa – has come down with the disease.  Yes, he traveled on the subway and went bowling before he was diagnosed.  No, this doesn’t mean there’s a nascent epidemic, the City needs to go into lockdown, and residents should panic.

Ebola is hard to catch – a symptomatic victim has to share bodily fluids with another person for the virus to be transmitted.

You don’t get it from a bowling ball or subway seat.

Oh, and the two nurses in Dallas are recovering nicely; one is virus-free and the other improving steadily.

And, of the eight people treated for Ebola in this country, one – Mr Duncan – died, six recovered (or are recovering) and one (Dr Spencer) is in treatment now.

Last word – the nasty, over-the-top criticism of the CDC from critics as diverse as Mitch McConnell and Bill Maher is completely off base.  Dinging the CDC because a hospital in Dallas didn’t immediately understand a potential Ebola patient had presented and wasn’t thoroughly prepared for that (remote) possibility is just ludicrous; as is the vitriol directed at the hospital.

okay, back to the real world. or what passes for it in the US health care non-system.

First up, a piece in JAMA finds patient care delivered by hospital-physician organizations costs more than physician organizations.

After adjusting for patient severity and other factors over the period, local hospital-owned physician organizations incurred expenditures per patient 10.3 percent higher than did physician-owned organizations, according to the study. Organizations owned by multi-hospital systems incurred expenditures 19.8 percent higher than physician-owned organizations. 

Let’s not read too much into this – JAMA is a doc-run publication, but it does have the ring of truth to it; billing practices change when hospitals/health care systems own doc practices, and they don’t get cheaper.  Abstract is here.

Coincidentally, Fitch recently published a study indicating for-profit hospitals are doing quite well, thank you! Seems “the financial headwind of caring for uninsured patients has lessened, evidenced by markedly lower adjusted bad debt expense for large hospital companies.” This is ‘more true’ in Medicaid-expansion states, but is also happening in non-expansion states.

Less need to cost shift to work comp…

A few years back we were hearing how ACA would cause large employers’ health care costs to explode, leading them to drop coverage.  Hasn’t happened.

From Bloomberg; “Employers and their workers have benefited in the form of lower premium increases for their insurance plans. Other than a spike in 2011, after the law required plans to cover children until age 26 and eliminated cost limits on care, premium increases have averaged less than 5 percent a year since 2010, according to Kaiser. ”

Notably, a big part of this is due to employers raising insureds’ copays, deductibles, and cost-sharing.  That was going on before ACA, but now it’s capped.

Sources indicate Aetna is proceeding with efforts to recontract the Coventry Work Comp network onto Coventry “paper”.  However, those efforts seem to be rather lackadaisical; negotiators aren’t pushing hard for discounts, seemingly more interested in “dots than discounts.”  That is, there’s much more focus on getting contracts signed then on the discount itself.

No details on how successful those efforts are; will keep you posted as we hear.

Time to get to work – enjoy the weekend – away from work!

Physician dispensing in work comp; two victories!

I know, you are as tired of reading about physician dispensing in work comp as I am writing about it.  At last, there’s some very good news.

Quick refresher – docs dispensing drugs adds about a billion dollars in excess drug costs – plus increases disability duration by 10 percent, medical costs, and total claims costs.  Dispensing docs also prescribe more opioids to more claimants.

Benefits?  None, except huge profits to dispensing docs, dispensing companies, and their owners – we’re talking about you, ABRY. (investment firm that owns dispensing “technology” firm Automated Healthcare Solutions)

First up, a court case in Louisiana found in favor of the employer, as the 3rd Circuit upheld a workers’ compensation judge’s determination that a claimant would not be reimbursed for drugs dispensed by a third party pharmacy, in this case Injured Workers’ Pharmacy, when the employer had provided access to other pharmacies and otherwise complied with regulations. According to Troy Prevot, Executive Director of LCTA Workers’ Comp -  “The result of this decision will allow us to continue to use retail pharmacies to control pharmacy cost by negotiating lower pricing thru PBMs” instead of paying much higher prices for doctor dispensed or third-party mail order drugs.  

I’d add that LCTA’s victory will enable all other employers in Louisiana to ensure the clinical management of pharmacy is handled correctly by one entity.

Big news from Pennsylvania too – a bill (HB 1846) limiting physician dispensing duration and cost, and specifically targeting opioid dispensing, will become law (there’s some technical stuff going on, but it will happen). Among other things, the law will:

There has been much heavy lifting here – kudos to AIA, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania (the leader of the effort) PCI, the PA Chamber and CompPharma’s member PBMs (full disclosure I am president of CompPharma; the PBMs did the work).

This follows the good results in North Carolina – but all is not rosy, as Maryland and Hawaii employers and taxpayers are still stuck paying far too much for drugs and the crappy outcomes they deliver.

What does this mean for you?

Better outcomes for claimants, lower costs for employers and taxpayers!

Monday catch up

Quick and clean – here’s what else was going on last week.

First, hands OFF the Ebola panic button.  Yes, a nurse who treated the Liberian man in Dallas has reportedly been diagnosed with the disease.  That makes TWO people in this country – out of 320 million.  By way of comparison, more left-handed redheads with Lynryd Skynryd tattoos have been bitten by sharks wearing dentures than have contracted Ebola…

Hank Stern has a post wondering why some treatments for autism aren’t covered for people over 21. Kaiser Health News spoke to an expert who thinks these treatments will be covered as soon as someone initiates a legal challenge; the key is the Mental Health Parity law, which prohibits discrimination based on “quantitative” measures – age is one.

Work comp

Kudos to Arizona for pushing forward on opioid and pain management guidelines.  The guidelines and the draft rules to implement them are slated to be completed by the end of this year – and it’s obvious there’s been a lot of thought put in to implementation. Greg Jones has the details at WorkCompCentral.  [subscription required]

WCC’s Joey Berlin has the news that Tennessee is also working on opioid/pain guidelines, and his sources appear to be very well tuned in to issues related to comp – such as workers prescribed opioids who are still on the job.

This is very, very good news.  And, with this am’s WorkCompCentral reporting three other southeastern states are exploring adopting guidelines it is clear that the powers-that-can in many states are rapidly moving to address the issue.  Side note – the folks interviewed for the WCC article have a high level of understanding of guidelines and differentiation amongst different types – good news indeed.

The good folk in Oregon have released their biannual report comparing states’ workers’ comp premiums; California has the highest rates, followed by three northeastern states – Connecticut New York and New Jersey. Kudos to Jay Dotter and Mike Manley for their work – which is always eagerly anticipated as it is the only survey of its kind.

Texas’ work comp research folks published their annual report – WorkCompWire has the info here.

WCRI’s webinar on research into predictors of worker outcomes has been heavily subscribed, so capacity for the webinar has been doubled.  Sign up here.

Don’t miss Dr Jake Lazarovic’s article on Accountable Care Organizations and work comp.  The Medical Director for Broadspire has penned a solid piece on what ACOs are, how they operate, and how they may affect workers comp.

Finally, don’t forget to sign up for the Women in Worker’s Comp confab in Vegas just before the NWCDC.  Kudos to Healthcare Solutions for putting this together…

A very busy week…

And only one post…clearly I’ve been slacking.  Time to catch up!

Workers Comp

There’s been much discussion of the implications of the demise of the APAX-Coventry Work Comp Services deal; CWCS staff seem to have mixed views, but most are concerned that parent Aetna will continue its non-investment “strategy”, allowing the business to slowly fade.

It would be a mistake to attribute this to some nefarious plan and dark-hearted souls.

Work comp is – at best – tangential to Aetna’s Medicare, Medicaid, group and individual health businesses.  Any time spent focusing on WC is time not invested in much more important things.

Conversely, Coventry is anything but “tangential” to many work comp payers.  For many, CWCS is the integrator, bill processor, document manager, provider network, case manager or some combination thereof.  With medical expense accounting for 3/5ths of claims costs, payers with close ties to CWCS will be watching developments very, very closely.

While we’ve been focused on the Coventry-APAX deal, we haven’t been hearing about other transactions.  There are a couple other potentials out there, but if anything the deal flow has been markedly slower, partially because there just aren’t that many more deals to be done.  We may well see activity pick up again now that there’s more clarity around what would have been a blockbuster transaction.

Lots of good news this Friday – thanks to lots of good people…

While many of us have been focused elsewhere, two organizations have been doing their part to secure the future of work comp.  IAIABC just announced grants to two women to help them continue their workers’ compensation studies - congratulations to Chamila Adhihetty of Toronto, Ontario and Suzette Carlisle of St. Louis, Missouri – and to IAIABC for their foresight.

Coincidentally, Healthcare Solutions will be hosting the inaugural Women in Workers’ Comp Forum on Tuesday, November 18 just before the NWCD Conference in Las Vegas. Registration is free, and the event is proving to be quite popular. Sign up soon here. Kudos to HCS’ SVP Elaine Vega for the idea, and to CEO Joe Boures for enthusiastically supporting it.

WorkCompCentral is focusing on the top performers in California’s comp system – physicians, attorneys, expert, employer, claimant, regulator - with their Comp Laude(tm) Awards.  Nominate your pick here.

One of the finest people in this business is Chris Brigham, MD.  Chris has just released a most excellent book – Living Abled.  He wrote the book to help those dealing with potentially disabling conditions navigate the system, find and use resources, and take charge of their injury or illness.  While individuals can order the book themselves, payers may well want to consider giving it to every claimant. Disability is more about attitude than physical limitations, and Living Abled will help people think clearly about what they can do.

The good folk at WCRI have been marching along, publishing even more research on issues critical to the industry.  A webinar on predictors of worker outcomes is coming up on October 16; sign up here now as there are only 100 slots…

Also just out is a study of what’s happened in Georgia since the Peach State imposed pricing controls on physician-dispensed drugs (spoiler alert – prices dropped significantly after the reform, but doc-dispensed drugs are still much more expensive than the same pills purchased at a drug store).

Why?

My view is the dispensing profiteers seek out drugs from suppliers who inflate the pills’ AWP (the basis for the fee schedule), then turn around and sell them to the docs at a deep discount below AWP – thereby making millions for docs and dispensing companies, and costing employers and taxpayers those same millions.

Read the study and come to your own conclusions.

Broadspire Medical Director Jake Lazarovic M.D. just published an interesting paper on Accountable Care Organizations and Workers’ Comp. Download it and read it on your next flight; it’s an excellent synopsis and poses intriguing questions.

Enjoy the weekend – and remember to 

A – turn off the work email.

B – Put your “away” message on work voice mail.

C – Enjoy the fall weather!

Aetna’s sale of Coventry Work Comp Services…

Is off.

The latest intel from several folks in the know is consistent; APAX will not be buying Aetna’s Coventry Workers’ Comp business.

While its possible Aetna will look for another buyer, that is doubtful; the issues that reportedly led to the collapse of the APAX deal are real, material, and not going to resolve themselves. In fact, the key asset – the PPO network – continues to deteriorate. Aetna has a declining-value asset on its hands, one that, as time goes on, becomes ever less valuable.

According to reports, the biggest sticking point was APAX’ concern that the Coventry network will take at least 2 years to rebuild; when that onerous task is completed it will be nowhere near as valuable as it is today.

That’s far from surprising; I’ve discussed the network contracting issue ad nauseum. Fact is, without the real, committed, and ongoing support of a major group health/Medicaid/Medicare payer, providers aren’t going to give much of a discount to a work comp network.

Workers comp accounts for a bit over 1 percent of total US medical spend. Even if Coventry’s successor could claim 100 percent market share, their influence on a provider – outside of a relative handful – is never going to be appreciable.

But it wasn’t just the network. Sources indicated there were concerns in other business lines as well. Chalk this up to chronic under-investment in the business by Coventry pre-Aetna and the lack of focus on worker’s comp by Aetna since they bought Coventry’s parent company.

With earlier reports indicating Aetna wanted $1.5 billion for a business throwing off more than $200 million in free cash flow annually, a 7x multiple seemed reasonable. However, with no guarantee that the cash would keep flowing, I’d imagine APAX dropped the amount of their bid to account for the lowered expectations.

I’m sure there is much more to the story, but the net is APAX wasn’t willing to pay the price Aetna wanted, and Aetna wouldn’t accept APAX’ lowered bid.

What’s next?

Work comp represents just over 1 percent of Aetna’s revenue.  The company has a few other priorities on its hands at the moment – and as a $50 billion company, well it should.

Guessing here…but if I were at Aetna, I’d think about:

  • Working to keep the PPO network as functional as possible as long as possible without screwing up any of my other – much more important – business lines;
  • Selling off PBM First Script, an asset that should generate a very nice offer;
  • Replacing the bill review platform (BR 4.0) with one of the third party applications currently available. This would allow Coventry WCS to continue its very profitable bill review/PPO outsource business.
  • Leaving current management in place.  Art Lynch is running the show, and he’s the perfect person to do so.  He has strong relationships with current customers, is universally well-liked, and is just the kind of low-key, steady exec WCS needs now.

What does this mean for you?

Don’t delete Plan B - you’re still going to need it.

Friday catch up – Pennsylvania’s drug problem and other news

Today’s catch up leads off with some pretty grim news.  Pennsylvania’s drug problem is getting worse.

WCRI’s just-released report on physician dispensing drugs to work comp claimants in Pennsylvania provides a clear warning to the Keystone State’s employers and taxpayers – costs are going up and they are getting screwed.

Without effective controls on the practice of dispensing, PA saw physician dispensed medications increase from 17% of total drug costs to almost half within four years, due mostly to a huge markup in prices.  In one of the more egregious examples, doctors were paid $7.89 per pill for generic Prilosec, compared to $0.67 per pill at Walgreens.

That’s 1178% of the retail price.

For a medication that probably isn’t needed in the first place.

There’s legislation pending in PA that would go a long way to fixing the problem, legislation backed by labor, the Chamber of Commerce, insurers, and the Pennsylvania Medical Society. The only opponent is – ostensibly – the PA Orthopedic Society.  My bet is the real opposition is backed by the dispensing companies who are making ungodly profits and contributing some of their ill-gotten gains to the effort.

And those dispensing companies are backed by investors - one of if not the major player here is dispensing “technology” company Automated Healthcare Solutions – which is owned by giant private equity company ABRY Partners.

As a good friend in the private equity world once told me, there are two types of investors in work compthose who look to do well by reducing costs, and those who look to do well by increasing costs.

ABRY is the latter. Perhaps PA employers should send ABRY’s Hilary Grove – an AHCS board member – an email to get her thoughtshgrove@abry.com

Other news of import…

Another hat tip to WCRI for their excellent webinar on recent developments dealing with opioids in work comp.  The underlying reports on long-term opioid usage and multi-state comparisons of narcotics in work comp are well worth the read. Notably dispensing docs profit from prescribing and dispensing opioids…perhaps Ms Grove can address this as well… (hat tip to BI’s Stephanie Goldberg)

From Sandy Blunt comes this basic lesson – more than anything, business success is about getting the basics right.  Really understand the fundamentals, handle the work efficiently and correctly, and respond to customer service needs.

From a colleague comes this on compounding-

Not sure if you heard about physician compounding bypassing the pharmacist.  I attended PAINWeek and visited a booth by AbbyJenn.  They are a marketing organization that will set up compounding within a physician’s practice (just buy 3 pieces of equipment or we can arrange a lease) and use staff or hire a pharmacy tech (they will train in 30 minutes) so compounds can be produced and delivered in 10 minutes and the doc can make the profit.

They provided a sheet with one prescriber’s business in August, and compounds are going out the door paid by ins at $1400.  They also offer a formulary of typical topical mixtures to “maximize revenues,” will bill insurance & WC with “immediate claim adjudications” (and may get preapproval, but I am not clear on this point), and call the patient directly when it’s time for a refill!

OK, that’s all I can deal with today.  Keep fighting the good fight.

MSAs – there’s more to the story

A bit more information on my least-favorite subject – Medicare Set-Asides.  After my post last week on NCCI’s recent report on MSAs, I heard from a couple folks seeking to clarify/educate/help me understand that there’s a bit more to the picture, and just before I was about to go to virtual print, along comes this excellent post featuring Jennifer Jordan Esq. of MedVal.

A couple key points.  First, as noted in last week’s post, the NCCI report was based on data from the NCCI data call and Gould and Lamb.  What I SHOULD have been more clear on was that this data “set” may not be representative of the entire universe.  To that point, a couple colleagues suggested there is a lot more nuance here.

First, a word on sources.  As Colleague A noted, many companies don’t send their MSAs to CMS period, and some just send those over X dollars.  Some payers (the Hartford being the largest I’m aware of) handle their MSAs in-house.  And, there are lots of other outfits out there that do MSAs, that have somewhat different perspectives based on their workflow and client base.

Second, unbeknownst to be, the change in vendors handling MSAs may well have had a big impact on the mass approval that occurred last December (thank you Colleague B).  Evidently the prior vendor did not have to continue handling those that were “in process”, and the new vendor wasn’t contractually obligated to handle them either. Somehow, the new vendor did end up handling them – with the result that almost all were processed in a short period, and the vast majority were approved as is.

Third, Jen Jordan knows way more about this than I ever will, so I’d encourage you to read her take on the NCCI report.  Among the key takeaways -

  • juris drives a lot – in some states you can’t settle medicals, while others have convoluted settlement regulations.
  • some MSA companies build high cost MSAs as they want them all to go thru the first time, while others are much more conservative, leading to lower total costs.
  • It may well be that turnaround times aren’t getting much better these days
  • Jen notes that the percentage of MSA dollars allocated to drugs is actually bifurcated, with drugs accounting for about three-quarters of the cost in a big chunk of MSAs and relatively little of the total cost in another chunk.  That said, she notes  “Drugs are and forever will be the major cost driver in the majority of MSAs”

What does this man for you?

Listen to the experts, and I’ll redouble my efforts to avoid writing about MSAs and direct readers to those who actually understand this stuff.

 

It’s the diagnosis…

If the diagnosis isn’t right, there’s a pretty good chance the treatment won’t be right.

A while back I had an interesting conversation with folks from Best Doctors about this issue, and they provided some interesting statistics about the incidence of misdiagnosis.

  • The American Journal of Medicine reported that at least 15% of all medical cases in developed countries are misdiagnosed.
  • Even doctors are not immune to misdiagnosis:  According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 35% of doctors have reported errors in their own care or that of a family member.
  • A July 2012 BMJ [British Medical Journal] Quality & Safety paper found that of 5,863 autopsies studied, 28% had at least one misdiagnosis.
  • A study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings of 100 autopsies found 26 of 100 patients who died in the hospital had been misdiagnosed. Same study also found “The number of missed major diagnoses remains high, and despite the introduction of more modern diagnostic techniques and of intensive and invasive monitoring, the number of missed major diagnoses has not essentially changed over the past 20 to 30 years.”
  • Review of pathology resulted in changes in interpretation in 29% of breast cancer cases, while in 34% of cases, a change in surgical management was recommended.  A second evaluation of patients referred to a multidisciplinary tumor board led to changes in the recommendations for surgical management in 77 of 149 of those patients studied (52%) (University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.)

Best Doctors’ own data for US-based cases in 2013 indicated they corrected or refined diagnoses in 37% of cases, and corrected or improved treatment in 75% of cases. 

Of course, BD’s cases are more likely to have a misdiagnosis; their clients send them claims that look problematic.

With that said, there’s no question diagnosticians can get it wrong; in fairness, it can be pretty difficult to pinpoint the specific physiological or anatomical issue that is causing a patient’s symptoms.  As an example, identifying the cause of back pain is notoriously difficult, especially when an MRI indicates an abnormality.  Liberty Mutual’s recently-published research spoke to this issue directly:

Claims in which MRI was performed either within the first 30 days of pain onset or when there was no specific medical condition justifying the MRI yielded significantly higher medical costs, even after controlling for severity. The study found these early or non-indicated MRIs led to a cascade of medical services in the six-month period post-MRI that included electromyography, nerve conduction testing, advanced imaging, injections or surgery. These procedures often occurred soon after the MRI and were 17 to nearly 55 times more likely to occur than in similar claims without MRI.

“Being a highly sensitive test, MRI will quite often reveal common age-related changes that have no correlation to the anatomical source of the lower back pain,” said Glenn S. Pransky, MD, MOccH, Center for Disability Research.

What does this mean for you?

The lesson here is clear – too much reliance on technology can be counter-productive.  And patients who demand MRIs are not helping themselves. 

Medicare Set-Asides and Workers’ Comp

I’m gingerly stepping into a topic I’ve mostly avoided to date – MSAs.  I avoid it because it is mind-numbingly complex, seemingly illogical in application, and served by often-contentious vendors.

NCCI’s Barry Lipton et al just released an excellent synopsis of the MSA situation (opens .pdf) and summary of where things are today. The report focuses on the feds’ review process, wherein they examine payers’ proposed MSAs.  Based on an analysis of data submitted by Gould and Lamb and NCCI’s Medical Call database, a few of the Research Brief’s highlights include:

  • most MSAs are for Medicare-eligible claimants, with 45% over 60
  • MSAs make up 40% of the average total proposed settlement
  • Drugs make up fully half of the MSA amount
  • CMS’ processing time for MSAs has declined of late to a median of 41 days
  • The gap between submitted and approved MSAs has shruck dramatically.
  • 29% of settlements are for amounts over $200,000, while 45% of the MSA amounts are less than $25,000.
  • Most MSA settlements are paid as a lump sum.
  • More than 90% of MSAs completed in December 2012 were approved as submitted.  That came after CMS changed approval vendors in July 2012.

The report is stuffed full of great information and, for those of us who are relatively ignorant of MSAs yet encounter them on occasion, well worth a read.

What does this mean for you?

If you don’t have the time right now, put it in your research file so you’ll have it when you need it.  And you will need it.