Feb
23

Are you being gamed?

I’ve had a number of conversations of late with self-insured employers about their workers’ comp “savings” reports; one thing that keeps coming up is how- and why – vendors ‘game’ the numbers.

(this post is a follow up to a post I did seven years ago…)

Perhaps the greatest variation is in bill review “savings” – and the fees attached to those “savings”.

Bill review savings are reported as a percentage below the applicable fee schedule or, in states without fee schedules, usual and customary rates or billed charges (depending on the vendor and state). Savings are also attributed to application of state rules, for example a denial of an assistant surgeon’s fee or physical therapy 59 modifier. These savings don’t generate additional fees for the vendor as they arise from mere application of state regs and fees.

One would think this is an objective result, and therefore there should be little variation among and between vendors, and in an ideal world, one would be right.

However, there is almost always a bit of judgment involved in determining what the ‘right’ fee schedule amount is and what state rules apply. The complexities are many, and the justifications, while often thin, are given to payers unequipped to refute the vendor’s statements.

Then there is the gamesmanship where savings that should be attributed to fee schedule or application of state rules are put in a different bucket, a bucket that just happens to generate additional fees for the vendor.

Let’s look at the ‘why’ vendor BR savings vary.

Simply put, follow the money.

Most bill review services these days are priced on a flat charge per line or per bill; Most BR vendors also charge for additional ‘value-added’ services on a percentage of savings basis – typically 25% of savings delivered on top of fee schedule/UCR cuts. That’s where the…variation usually lies.

The financial motivation is obvious; the vendor gets the same fee for processing a bill whether they deliver $1 or $1000 in BR savings, but their compensation for ‘value-added’ services is based on the savings that are delivered – the higher the ‘savings’, the greater the fees for the vendor.

Therein lies one explanation – perhaps the most significant one – for the wide variation in BR savings percentages. In my consulting practice I’ve had access to reports from several of the larger BR vendors, and the variation can be as much as 300 percent from vendor to vendor. Yes, you read that right – one vendor’s bill review “savings” in a state can be three times higher than another’s.

Almost always the vendor with the lower FS savings delivers great results from ‘nurse review’, ‘complex bill review’, ‘coding edits’, ‘unbundling and upcoding review’, or whatever they call it – suffice it to say that the savings delivered from these ‘extra, value-added’ services – when added to the ‘standard’ bill review reductions – are usually only a bit higher than other vendors who don’t have all those extra, value-added add-ons.

That’s not to say that some savings can – and should – be derived from careful and professional review of bills – coding and clinical reviews are often helpful.

How can you protect yourself?

  1. Ask competing vendors to reprice a set of bills and provide savings numbers in aggregate and for each bill. Compare reductions from application of FS and state rules from the vendors, and on individual bills.
  2. Where there’s wide variation, ask the vendors for an explanation, and don’t accept mumbo jumbo BS.
  3. Make very sure your vendor knows you are holding them to the same standard they used in repricing your sample bill.
  4. Ask your colleagues if you can see their savings reports, and compare the savings allocations to your reports.
  5. Ask your broker, consultant, or adviser for their views, and get them to share de-identified client savings reports with you.

What does this mean for you?

The bad actors are known to many – make very sure you know who they are.


Feb
21

Single Payer is Inevitable.

It’s going to happen. The US healthcare system will collapse.

It’s hard to say what’s the worst thing about American healthcare; the outrageous cost, the crappy outcomes, the endless paperwork hassles, the ridiculous rules, the dead and damaged patients, the huge financial burden for taxpayers and families.

American healthcare sucks.

For people, that is. For insurers, pharma, device companies, it’s never been better. 

People are dying younger every year. Infant mortality rates are worse than any other developed country. Costs are going up. More and more people are uninsured. Rural hospitals are closing. Employer premiums are unaffordable.

All while pharma, device companies, and for-profit healthcare companies are making billions and the tax cuts are increasing families’ costs and generating huge profits for health insurers.

 

Funny thing is, the last best hope for our Frankenstein-like healthcare system was the ACA. Based on a Heritage Foundation/Republican plan, the ACA relies on a hybrid private/public system, using Medicare and Medicaid regulation to drive innovation and improve care.

That’s being gutted by the current controllers of Congress and the White House, who have no plans to fix anything.

This will continue until it no longer can. No one knows when voters will rebel, but they will.

And when they do, we’ll have single payer.


Feb
20

Hey Washington, where’s the health care fix?

It’s a hell of a lot easier to blow something up than to build a replacement.

Especially when you don’t care about a replacement.

Fact is, we – you, me, taxpayers, governments – cannot afford our current health care “system.”  And it is getting more expensive every day.

Congress and the President are continuing their efforts to weaken and hobble the ACA, and they are generally succeeding. Without enforcement of the individual mandate, fewer young folks are getting insurance, increasing premium for us oldsters. The number of Americans without health insurance is up, health care costs are rising, and future Medicare costs are escalating.

The misguided and ill-intentioned “work for Medicaid” effort is going to create a whole new governmental bureaucracy, raise costs, and have zero positive impact. Medicaid changes are going to lead to hospital closures, especially in rural areas and inner cities. 

Health care costs were $3.5 trillion last year – and they’ll top $4 billion in two years. That’s a meaningless figure – until you realize our national and your personal budget is going to get whacked.

But it’s worse than that. The bi-partisan budget deal and tax cuts will exacerbate our already-huge national debt, screwing our kids and grandkids. The biggest driver? Health care.

And Congress’ and the President’s solution is nowhere to be seen.

Where’s the “replacement” the GOP has been talking about? Where’s the “market-based solution” to our health care crisis? Where’s the plan to lower drug costs?

Have you seen anything from Congress or the President that gives you any hope they have any plan?

These politicians aren’t interested in governing, don’t care about your costs or your kids’ debt, and hope you don’t pay attention. They have no political courage, no interest in doing anything that might cost them the next election.

What does this mean for you?

Nothing good.

 

 

 

 


Feb
16

Friday catch-up

Buried under two projects this week – here’s what crossed my desk while I was trying to do actual work…

First, after the horrific tragedy in Parkland, I recalled this data point – the US has a significantly higher child mortality rate than other developed countries.  Gun violence is a major driver. A child age 15 to 19 in the U.S. is 82 times more likely to die from gun violence than such a child in the other countries.

More than 1500 of our kids die from gun violence every year.

The next time someone blathers on about “American Exceptionalism”, show them this graph.

Big spenders – 

We’ve long known that a few people account for a lot of health care spending. New news indicates this is more true now than ever; 5% of patients accounted for 53% of spending in 2015. What isn’t as well known is there’s a LOT of turnover in that 5%; fully two-thirds of the people in the group this year weren’t big spenders last year.

Consistently High Turnover in the Group of Top Health Care Spenders  Implications abound:

  • high risk pools can’t cover these folks if they can’t predict who they are
  • insurance is needed to protect us from the risk we need high cost services

Drug costs

From Adam Fein, news that the rest of the world is following in the work comp world’s footsteps at least when it comes to moderating drug cost inflation. There’s a lot of great information in Adam’s post, much of which refutes generally accepted wisdom or common knowledge.  One item of note – utilization – the volume of pills – was almost flat last year across all payers.  

Webinar on IME Reports  

Independent medical evaluations (IMEs) are a critical component of workers’ compensation and other disability benefit systems. Unfortunately, IME reports often lack quality, customer satisfaction of the various stakeholders is not measured, and TQM is rarely, if ever, applied to medicolegal and IME work.

On Wednesday, February 21 at 3 pm ET, Noon PT, Christopher R. Brigham, MD , a world-class expert on independent medical evaluations (IMEs), will host a unique, no cost webinar on “IME Reports: Assuring Excellence! ” 

You can register at this link https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_PsLc3YHXTRWBU6aq2W9Wsg

Have a safe weekend, and please demand your elected officials stop ignoring the causes of gun violence 


Feb
15

The Olympic Edition!

Of Health Wonk Review is up – thanks to Steve Anderson of healthinsurance.org…

Stronger, higher, faster, brilliant-er – all for your reading pleasure.  And really cool pictures too.


Feb
15

Stone Point buys Genex – again

Case management/bill review/UR/IME company Genex has been re-purchased by Stone Point Capital; Stone Point sold the business to Apax in 2014. Takeaways are:

  • Stone Point really understands workers comp and the WC services business. The company is currently pursuing insurer AmTrust and own or have owned a number of companies involved in workers’ comp including:
    • Cunningham Lindsey
    • Oasis Outsourcing
    • StoneRiver
    • Sedgwick
  • Apax’ divestiture is likely NOT a signal the firm is going to break up or sell off OneCall Care Management. OCCM is deep into a systems conversion intended to tie the disparate businesses it owns together and the company just moved most of it’s home office people into a single location. Perhaps most importantly, OCCM’s debt is still trading well below par, an indication the investment is under water.
  • CEO Peter Madeja and the core of the senior management team will stay on. Peter is one of the finest people I know, universally liked and respected in the work comp community, and he and his team have performed well, keeping Genex growing in a declining market.
  • My guess is Genex will likely keep acquiring related businesses. These could include firms in the IME and MSA space as well as the occasional case management company. Mature markets require participants to grow via acquisition, a strategy Madeja et al have mastered.
  • I’d also expect some much bigger acquisitions. I don’t think Stone Point bought Genex to get into the case management and bill review business; these folks have bigger plans.

A couple of side notes...

Stone Point’s initial investment in Genex back in 2007 was reportedly about $56 million. 

One report indicated a source said that this time around, Genex sold for three times the original equity investment (note Apax paid for Genex with a combination of debt and equity). Without any detail or ability to dig into that, I have no idea if that is accurate or even likely.

 

 


Feb
13

Anything but simple

To the casual observer, the work comp bill review process is pretty simple:

  • make sure the procedure codes are appropriate for the injury,
  • compare the billed codes to the state fee schedule/allowable amount,
  • apply any reimbursement rules, and you’re done.

The real story is far more complex.  It’s no longer just about making sure the claim exists, the body part matches the medical report, and the procedure makes sense for the injury.

Reimbursement has gotten enormously complicated. Coding and code modifiers, bundled payment logic, clinical appropriateness, duplicate identification, relatedness, location of service verification, surgical groupers are just a few of the issues and considerations often unappreciated – and not considered – during the bill review process.

Far from A to B, it looks more like this – and is unique for some bills…

While some will say this is “not new news”, what is new is the constant focus and attention required to stay abreast of the ever-more creative and sophisticated “revenue maximization” industry. (That’s the label for provider-focused efforts to get as many payer dollars as possible)

I’ve taken a close look at several approaches/techniques intended to help payers keep pace with provider billing. One that caught my eye is Equian’s Clinical and Coding Logic. The folks at Equian were kind enough to spend a lot of time educating me on the research behind their Clinical & Coding Logic (CCL) solution, how it is used, and where it can have the most impact.

CCL has it’s roots in a commercial health application purchased by Equian some time ago, an application that has been adapted for use in workers’ comp. Building on that application, the company continues research to identify emerging billing practices, and develop identification techniques and rules to address those practices; to date more than 100 additional rules and millions of additional edits not found within typical bill review engines are in place.

There’s a LOT behind CCL; while I can’t provide more than a superficial overview, here’s a few things that popped up for me.

  • Diagnosis and procedure codes with a “low-likelihood”of occurring in work comp are flagged; when they appear medical records are reviewed in detail
  • Experimental and Investigational services typically fall thru the cracks in routine bill review processes; these have been identified and payment logic developed.
  • CCL includes identification of services that appear to be body-part related but actually address pre-existing conditions
  • Extensive research on the notorious 59 modifier enables reductions for inappropriate charges associated with surgery

Equally important is Equian’s ongoing research and analysis to identify emerging and previously unseen billing practices, development of identification techniques and rules, and evaluation of results.

CCL is a supplement to, not a substitute for the regular bill review process and technology. It requires data transmission to and from Equian via secure link, similar to PPO pend-and-transmit processes. Results shared by Equian demonstrate CCL is most useful for high-volume bill operations. Across the board, reductions average about $45 per bill (I was not able to independently verify savings or impact, and note that results are almost certainly highly contingent on each payer’s unique situation.)

What does this mean for you?

Never stand still.


Feb
1

Big pharma’s “not responsible” for the Opioid Disaster

Opioid manufacturers and distributors are “lobbying up”, spending almost $2.5 million dollars to lobby state Attorneys General over the last three years, likely in an effort to convince them to not sue manufacturers.

These millions allow manufacturers and distributors access to Attorney General meetings, where CBS reported their representatives spoke “on a panel, telling a group that they were not responsible for the opioid crisis, according to several attendees.”

Overa ten years, these distributors and manufacturers sent 21 million pills to a single West Virginia town, a town with a population of 2900 souls.

That’s around 462 tons of pills.

320 pounds of opioids for every person in Williamson, WV.

Two independent pharmacies – just a quarter mile apart – each got more than a million pills a year. The explanation offered by one of the pharmacies – that the pharmacy serves a much bigger area than just the town of Williamson – is beyond ludicrous. The entire county’s population is less than 27,000.

It gets worse…this from Gizmodo…

An investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail found in 2016 that almost 800 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills were distributed throughout the state’s pharmacies from 2007 to 2012—a figure all the more astounding given that the state has only 1.8 million residents. [emphasis added]

That’s more than 400 pills for every man, woman, and child.

BTW, Purdue Pharma has made $35 billion from sales of Oxycontin.

How in the hell can distributors claim they are “not responsible for the opioid crisis” when distributors sent 2 million opioid pills a year to 2 pharmacies in a tiny town?

A new paper from University of Virginia researcher Christopher Rhum discounts many of the factors blamed by some for the huge spike in drug deaths, placing the blame squarely on the supply of opioids. According to The Economist, “The epidemic is caused by access to drugs rather than economic conditions.”

Of note, the owner of one of the Williamson pharmacies was quoted saying: ““All the prescriptions we filled were legal prescriptions written by a licensed provider,”

Tomorrow, an interview with a licensed provider.

Thanks to Liz Carey of WorkersCompensation.com for her story on this.


Jan
30

Disruption of the US “healthcare” “system” is starting

Today’s announcement that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorganChase are forming a new entity to deliver health benefits to their workers may well be the harbinger of massive change to come.

credit Collaborative Lab, Rachel Botsman

While many details are to be determined, the new company will be:

“free from profit-making incentives and constraints” and

“The initial focus of the new company will be on technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost,”

Here’s what I see as key factors.

  • These three giants have intimate knowledge of health insurers and healthcare providers. The biggest takeaway is they have determined insurers and providers are not performing today, and will not perform tomorrow. 
  • Amazon is a delivery machine – and knows way more about us than we do. The company knows logistics better than any other entity; it is also a world leader in analytics and “behavioral understanding.” Add in the Echo, and it’s current presence in and knowledge of tens of millions of American homes is a huge asset.
  • JPMorgan Chase is a financial empire that deeply understands investments, financial drivers, banking and fund flows. It has massive capital – $2.5 trillion in assets – a giant consumer banking enterprise, and brilliant people.
  • Berkshire Hathaway is huge, diverse, enormously well regarded, and very well run. BH brings perhaps unmatched management capability to the partnership, as well as multiple insurance assets staffed by people who understand risk.

Notably, stock prices for healthplan giants UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, and Aetna – and others are down 5 percent this morning, with analysts crediting the announcement for the damage.

It’s critically important to note that the companies that have dominated the healthplan industry for decades are, in the view of three dominant firms, not performing. In fact, their performance is poor enough that the three CEOs all noted they don’t have all the answers, the implication being they believe they can do a better job than the supposed experts.

The release is here.

 


Jan
26

Telemedicine – where next?

MCM’s Telemedicine Week continues with a couple more use cases and a quick summary of where things are going – with the caveat that we’re only just beginning to understand what this is, how it can be used, what the obstacles and limitations are, and how accelerating technological changes will affect tele-…

First up, CHC’s white paper authored by colleague Peter Rousmaniere. CHC has a broad suite of tools used for everything from recorded statements to triage to initial clinical “visits”. The case study discussions provide a glimpse into the future, as there’s a lot of crossover between and among the use cases.

HSA consulting client MedRisk launched it’s telerehab program last year, and takeup has been strong. To date, patient reaction is quite positive, driven in large part by high satisfaction from one-on-one interaction between the patient and therapist. The white paper provides a detailed review of everything from technology to applications; a wealth of references are cited for those interested in more detail.

From here, where?

  • Wearable technology has yet to be incorporated into services, but I expect it will be soon. Devices that track range of motion, force, and acceleration will be used to monitor home exercise and help assess patient readiness to return to work.
  • Other devices will assist in diagnosis and patient monitoring, alerting both patient and clinician to potential problems or conditions that may affect recovery or determine treatment paths.
  • Peer reviews can be improved by virtual visits, enabling the peer review physician to interact with the patient without the expense and hassle of meeting in person.

Barriers

  • Represented patients may be loathe to schedule tele-visits if their attorneys don’t understand or support tele-services.
  • Regulations are going to be playing catch-up for the foreseeable future. Issues related to reimbursement, admissibility, liability, confidentiality and the like will take time to work through.
  • Change aversion will be the highest and toughest barrier. We all know workers’ comp can be hidebound and kludgy, with participants looking for “reasons why not rather than opportunities to.”

All that said, the more we learn about tele-services, the clearer it is that this is going to be a major change driver.

What does this mean for you?

Get with it.