The anti-vaccination idiocy

Penn and Teller profanely destroy the anti-vaccination case in a 90 second video well worth watching.

Unfortunately, many of the so-called anti-vaxxers won’t watch it, or understand it, or believe it.  No, they are willing to put their own kids – and everyone’s kids – at risk because of a completely wrong, now-retracted article in the Lancet purported to show a link between vaccinations and autism.

When, of course, there is NO SUCH LINK. As this group of parents with kids afflicted with autism eloquently shows…

And there’s any number of lunatics claiming vaccinations cause all type of horribles, e.g. whack-job, cartoon character Michelle Bachman’s assertion that the HPV vaccination can cause mental retardation

From the other side of the political spectrum, there are anti-vaxxer liberals who don’t get refuse to understand/outright deny the science – nice to know we all have morons in our midst…

Fortunately, people in third world countries are a lot smarter than these cretins -

We take vaccines so for granted in the United States,” Melinda Gates told HuffPost Live in January…

“They will walk 10 kilometers in the heat with their child and line up to get a vaccine because they have seen death. We’ve forgotten what measles deaths look like. We’ve forgotten … the scourges they used to be. But in Africa, the women know death in their children and they want their children to survive.”

The anti-vaxxers claim it is their right to jeopardize their kids – and yours. Fine.  While one could make a compelling case that their stupidity is grounds for a charge of child abuse, there’s a much bigger public health issue here, one that is all too obvious now that these idiots have allowed their kids into public spaces where they’ve infected others.

That case is simply this – if you choose to do, or not do, something that creates a significant public health risk, then you get to pay for the consequences.

Monetarily, criminally, civilly.

DWI, knowingly infecting partners with STDs, failing to keep firearms locked up, texting and driving, all are akin to the anti-vaccine movement.  And all come with legal consequences.

What does this mean for you?

Be careful, stupidity didn’t die out with the Middle Ages.

Friday catch-up

The first week back from a couple of pretty slow weeks is always hectic – here’s a brief recap of what happened while we all were working.

The big news in the comp world is Congress passed the TRIA extension.  The President will certainly sign it, and we all can relax just a bit.  The six-year extension, which passed with overwhelming support in both Houses, includes a higher deductible and lower Federal cost-share in each of the next five years. The result will be more risk especially for smaller insurers who have less ability to cover potential claims from a major incident.

That said, the 9/11 attacks were just about the worst-case scenario, and the industry was able to absorb the financial hit without too much difficulty.

actually, that wasn’t the biggest news.

That was yet another announcement that the employment market is accelerating ; a quarter-million MORE jobs were added last month, lowering the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent. That bodes well for the insurance industry; the recent evidence that wages are improving is more good news.  Consumers’ energy costs down are dramatically, effectively increasing the average person’s annual wages by about $1000.

Expect consumer spending to increase; if moves to reduce the cost of housing bear fruit, that will help the construction and durable goods industries as well.

Here’s hoping our politicians don’t screw this up…

Thanks to Rob McCarthy for the heads-up on an op-ed piece by Ezekiel Emanuel recommending we skip that annual physical - they cost billions but there’s little evidence they have a positive impact on health or cost. Here’s the conundrum; from a societal perspective Dr Emanuel’s prescription makes sense, but as individuals we make decisions based on our own perceptions of risk and value...

A devastating piece about what it’s really like to be poor is making the viral rounds.  If you have ever blamed someone for being poor, having “too many kids” by “too many fathers”, for not using Medicaid or a free clinic, for smoking or not doing anything else you think they shouldn’t do, and not doing the things they should, read it. The whole thing. As one who is guilty far too often of these judgments, it was a virtual ice bucket in the face. 

PPACA – another perspective

Let’s stipulate that the US health care “system” was and is a mess.  Our costs are about twice as high as other industrialized countries’, outcomes are not as good, and for consumers and purchasers, it is confusing as hell.

The question is, is PPACA making it better?

There’s no question the PPACA has a lot of flaws, several of which are being used for a series of legal challenges.  There’s a reason for that; PPACA wasn’t supposed to be the be-all and end-all bill.

The legislation that was eventually passed originated in the House, and it was only passed “as is” because Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate election and his seating forced passage of the House bill by the Senate.  (Brown’s election gave the GOP 41 seats, allowing for a filibuster)

I won’t get deeper into the political history of PPACA passage; wikipedia has a very good synopsis for those interested in more history. The net is, PPACA is here.  It is not going away.  And there are no alternatives out there that make any sense and/or have any chance of passage and adoption.

So PPACA has a lot of warts – so does pretty much every Congressional legislation.  We may not like it, it may drive us nuts, but it’s reality. Our legislative process is sausage-making at its finest. Or worst, depending on your perspective.

Pre-PPACA, our health care “system” was hurting our international competitiveness, driving up the Federal deficit and state and local expenditures, covering fewer and fewer people, and delivering lousy care to a large part of the US population.  Now, several years into passage, we’re starting to see indicators PPACA is having the desired effect.

Medical inflation remains relatively low.  I, and others, would argue that is in large part because of the systemic changes driven by PPACA.

Some factoids:

  • last year health care spending grew 3.6% – the lowest rate since 1960.
  • over the last four years, health care inflation has tracked GDP growth – compared to prior years when it was consistently higher than the GDP growth rate.
  • the system is getting better – serious medical errors declined by 17% between 2010 and 2013 – saving about $12 billion.
  • Medicare inflation is flat.  In fact, CBO projections for Medicare expenditures in 2019 have dropped by $95 billion over the last four years. As Medicare utilization isn’t really affected by the economy, that’s a pretty solid indicator that the program is more sustainable than we thought just a few years ago.
  • Medicaid costs are up – as we’d expect them to be.

Overall, things are improving, rather dramatically – but not without pain.  Narrow networks, lower earnings for some doctors, higher insurance costs for some employers and consumers, a financial squeeze for many hospitals, all are real and painful.

What does this mean for you?

Fixing very big problems is ugly, thankless, and rife with collateral damage.  It’s also absolutely necessary.


Ebola and workers’ comp

Spoiler alert – no news here, and there won’t be.

Sure, there may well be a lot of hysterical nonsense about the potential problems for health care workers and first responders, flight attendants and TSA screeners.  But there won’t be a crisis, a disaster, or even a problem.

And no, hordes of Ebola-infected suicide germ-bombers aren’t going to invade over our “porous” borders. An idea so preposterous, so far-fetched, so un-doable that only the most naive, nutty, or non-sensical would give it more than a nano-second’s thought. The debunk is here.

Ebola is quite hard to transmit – it requires direct contact with bodily fluids from an individual exhibiting symptoms. This isn’t some airborne germ spreadable by sneezes or aerosol.  The US healthcare system is already quite focused on germ control – ever seen an ER staffer not gowned and gloved for any contact at all?  And if they even think there’s an infection risk, it’s full Hazmat time.

BTW, “direct contact” isn’t touching someone skin-to-skin. It occurs, according to the CDC, when “body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, or feces) from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion.”

What does this mean for you?

Get back to worrying about motor vehicle accidents, flu, and silicosis.  Nothing to see here.


Reality vs magical thinking

Too many workers’ comp execs are allowing their political viewpoints to cloud their business thinking. They can’t abide the notion of PPACA/Obamacare, and along with the majority party in the House of Repesentatives, want it repealed or blown up or completely emasculated.

This is magical thinking.

And magical thinking will not help those execs, or their companies, prepare for or deal with the implications of Obamacare.

Look, as an proud socially-liberal Democrat (as if that’s any new news to you, dear reader), I had to suffer thru 8 long, painful, miserable, agonizing, soul-destroying years of George Bush.  For those of you on the other side of the political spectrum, I feel your pain.  Really.  Even if the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is pretty far from a liberal (sorry, had to slip that in!).

That said, it’s time to accept reality.

PPACA/Obamacare is the law of the land, it is not going to be repealed, substantially delayed, or emasculated. It is here, and it is going to stay.

Despise it you might (as I despise Medicare Part D and the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, and the Iraq war) but accept it you must.  If you spend your work time focused on what you don’t like about health reform, you’re not spending your time thinking about reform’s implications for workers’ comp – how you can mitigate any problems, leverage any advantages, and monitor and measure ways reform affects your business.

What does this mean for you?

Those who do focus on the business implications are going to be better prepared, and therefore more likely to be successful, than those who dwell on uncontrollables.

The revenge of the nerds

It’s about understanding medical care, cost drivers, and components thereof.

Several years ago (ok, more like ten) I was in a client CEO’s office discussing medical care cost drivers, competitors, and possible differentiation strategies.  He stepped out for a few minutes to take a call, and, finding myself with nothing to do, I pulled out the latest Health Affairs to catch up on the latest and greatest in health policy research.

Upon this august gentleman’s return to his office, he asked me if I actually read Health Affair. When I said I did, he said something to the effect of “no one reads that, they just carry it around to look smart.”

And therein lies the problem.

And no, it’s not that I don’t need all the help I can get to look smart.

It is a lack of attention to the underlying drivers, influencers, issues.  It is a failure to think about how Medicare’s physician reimbursement affects commercial rates, how Medicaid enrollment drives provider behavior, how Part D enrollment influences drug pricing, how the lack of coverage among certain populations increases facility costs to commercially-insureds, how low adoption of evidence-based medicine makes for poor outcomes, how productivity is affected by insurance coverage status, how payment reform will affect workers’ compensation medical expense ratios.

There’s also a predilection on the part of some to ignore, or more commonly discount, information that runs counter to their worldview.  I see this all the time with workers’ comp execs when discussing Obamacare; they allow their political blinders to affect their business decisions.

There is so much happening in health care delivery and financing and reimbursement and evaluation and coverage that no one can possibly keep up.

What does this mean for you?

The ones who take the time to read and listen objectively, to think about import and impact are going to be more prepared, more aware, and better equipped than those that, for ideological or other reasons, have tunnel vision.

And thus more successful.


The other ways health care will change

That’s the title of a talk I’m giving today at the New York Academy of Medicine. There’s a lot of discussion around the major changes associated with health reform; access to care concerns, fear of adverse selection, provider and payer integration, Exchanges and Medicaid expansion.

The key is understanding that health insurance has fundamentally changed.  Today, health insurers make money by underwriting; figuring out who is going to have claims, avoiding them if possible and budgeting for the claims they can’t avoid.

That’s over.  Now, success will be driven by branding, marketing, and population health management.  Those are areas of expertise not associated with health insurers, ones they are trying to understand/obtain/build as fast as they can. That is perhaps the biggest change coming, a 180 degree shift in business operations and focus.

Here are the other changes on the horizon…

Disability Management will be the next big thing – buyers will want to know what they get for their dollars, and that deliverable will be healthier, more productive people.

Broad access is over.  Amidst all the caterwauling about small networks and restricted benefit plans is a hard truth; providers will give better deals to health plans who can direct patients to them.

Rise of the non-physician will be rapid and reach surprising heights. No question there aren’t enough docs to deliver the same medical care to more people – but that assumes that is the right care (which about a third is not) and docs should be delivering this care – which in many instances is not necessary.

(Almost) every state will expand Medicaid.  When Medicaid was first introduced in the sixties, many states did not go along – initially.  Yet all did within a few years.

Vertically integrated systems will be big winners.

Medicine will become less art and more science.  This goes to the heart of the first issue; a lot of care is the wrong care, delivered at the wrong time, in the wrong setting.  Within ACA is significant funding for outcomes research and dissemination, and the work is proceeding at a rapid pace.

Hospitals will get back to basics.  While some will continue to spend billions on fancy technology and patient rooms, most will not see much of a payoff from that investment. Instead, expect facilities to focus on streamlining processes, improve administrative efficiency, and reduce costs.  They have to in order to survive.

Revenue maximization will get ever more sophisticated.  Providers are getting really smart about coding, payer contract negotiations, and reimbursement “management”.  Payers who are vulnerable (that’s you, property & casualty) are going to get hammered.


What does this mean for you?

Prepare.  Watch, listen, and read.  The world is changing, and it will affect you.  

Repeal and replace Obamacare – making the case

Refusing to accept reality, the efforts of some states, individuals, corporations, and elected officials to “repeal and replace” Obamacare continue; a recent conversation on Mark Walls’ WCAG focused on this issue as well – with far too much demagoguing and scare mongering. Bluto would be proud.


The “plans” to replace Obamacare typically include some/all of the following:

  • allowing people to buy insurance across state lines
  • providing a refundable $2500 tax credit to all to buy insurance
  • giving states block grants to use for their Medicaid programs and freedom to spend it however they want
  • funding high-risk insurance plans for people with pre-existing conditions so they can get coverage when insurers reject their applications.
  • additional tort reform

Let’s briefly review these ideas, focusing on their implications for coverage and cost control.

Coverage across state lines

Folks advocating this idea base their view that selling coverage across state lines will reduce costs by eliminating mandated benefits, which one wag says would reduce costs 30-50 percent.

Ha.  That view reflects a complete lack of understanding of the cost drivers in health insurance, the primary driver being – you guessed it – the cost of medical care.  For anyone to suggest that a person in Massachusetts will save thousands if they can buy a policy sold in Idaho is lunacy.  yes, mandates do influence costs, but the underlying cost of insurance is the cost of care.

Refundable tax credit

People can’t buy insurance for $2500, so giving low-income people that amount won’t make them buy it as it is still unaffordable – especially if there’s no mandate to do so. Moreover, many who don’t have insurance couldn’t get it due to pre-existing conditions, and no insurance company would sell insurance to anyone who may end up costing the insurance company lots of money.  That would be foolhardy.

Block grants

Good idea, if they actually use the money to increase the coverage and benefits for Medicaid eligibles, instead of trying to dissuade or discourage potential eligibles from signing up.

Funding high risk pools or insurance plans

These have been tried, and almost all have failed miserably as states don’t like to keep funding them.  Florida’s high risk pool has been closed for years, and only a couple hundred citizens are still covered.  Moreover, this dumps the potentially high cost individuals on taxpayers, allowing commercial insurers to cherry-pick the best risks that will generate the largest profits.

Tort reform

Tort reform will not appreciably reduce medical costs. 

Research indicates defensive medicine accounts for 2.4 percent of US health care costs.  That’s not to say medical malpractice and associated costs are not significant contributors to health care costs as they most certainly are.  However, the majority of malpractice victims never pursue a claim.

Of course, lost within this mishmash of convoluted half-thoughts and unworkable, un-informed, and simplistic “solutions” is a rather awkward truth; the individual mandate and other key parts of PPACA, currently reviled as socialism, communism, or worse, came from ideas advanced by conservative icon William Kristol, right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, Sen Orrin Hatch (R UT) and former GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, among others.

So, repeal and replace, with, what?

Fun Friday Factoids

In St Pete at CompPharma’s annual meeting, so can’t do a deep dive into any big blog-able issues…yet there’s so much deserving of attention.  Here – in easily digestible bite-size chunks – are a few items of interest.  Happy dining!

Congress will NOT fix the Medicare physician reimbursement issue this year – so they will boot that can into Q1 2014.  Why do you care? Because work comp fee schedules are usually based on Medicare’s rates, so this will affect work comp.  And, if it is changed, it will impact cost-shifting and commercial reimbursement rates.

Since Florida implemented its Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, oxycodone-related deaths have dropped 41%.  Someone remind me why the governor refused to fund this for months…

Higher medical costs in northern California appear to be driven by consolidation of the provider market.  A report in the NYTimes discusses Sutter Health’s high charges and the lack of justification therefore, Sutter is one of the most costly providers in the nation.

A hearing in Pennsylvania on physician dispensing in work comp included a discussion of the higher medical costs, longer disability duration, and higher indemnity expense associated with doc-dispensed drugs.  Reportedly one of the legislators displayed an ad from a dispensing company’s website that discussed how dispensing docs could make $100,000 without doing any work.

Enrollment in Exchanges has picked up dramatically; according to the Kaiser Foundation, as of this time last month 1.3 million applications had been completed, a quarter of those from California.  WIth over 26,000 enrollments in just the first two days of December, there’s a lot of pent-up demand yet to work its way thru the system. We shall see if the back end, where data gets shared with insurers, holds up. Jury is out…


Obamacare’s dilemma, simplified

The website is not going to be fixed by the end of the month.

As a result, most people will NOT be able to enroll in commercial plans that start January 1.

Many of those who are already insured got cancellation notices, so their policies will not exist after January 1.  And it will be very, very difficult for insurance companies to postpone or “cancel” those cancellations. Not because they don’t want to but because they can’t.

Insurance companies have spent years preparing for January 1; programming computers, developing policy language and getting it approved by regulators, setting up new provider networks, cutting deals with providers; setting up EDI links with the government and banks, and building new reimbursement and clinical management programs. All are ready to go, tested, checked, and waiting for the ball to drop.

They can’t just undo this; they can’t call “Time Out” or hold off, or stop.  The train is leaving the station, and there’s nothing the President or anyone else can do to stop it.

Which puts the Administration in a very poor position, albeit one they built themselves.  The website won’t be ready, and the current policies won’t be in force as of January 1.

Is there a solution?

Not that I see.

What does this mean for you?

Depends on your state.  I’ll address the impact on workers’ comp in a future post.