Dec
9

Friday catch-up

Holy bejeezus this has been a crazy week.

Labor Secretary Nominee

First up, the nominee for Labor Secretary is fast food executive and avowed billionaire Adam Puzder. Puzder’s likely to face tough questioning from Democrats for his stance on the minimum wage, automation, mandatory sick leave, and ACA. He’s also been a vocal critic of the overtime rule.

His restaurants paid a $9 million fine re class action lawsuits involving overtime pay in 2004.

For those in the workers’ comp world concerned about a new Commission on work comp, your concerns are gone.

Puzder’s points on automation aren’t crazy – in point of fact there’s a lot of research on the impact of automation on jobs, with one very credible group estimating 47% of jobs will be automated within 25 years.

Drug prices

Adam Fein has an excellent post on drug pricing, diving into the list v actual price.  Adam uses the EpiPen and insulin products as examples.  For those involved in pharma, this is a must read.

Heroin deaths just surpassed deaths by gunshot.  Congratulations, opioid-shilling pharma companies! 

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-7-47-51-am

Medicaid

For those looking for more insights into Medicaid, I highly recommend a few articles that provide perspective on post-election changes, hospital payments from Medicaid.

ACA repeal

Billy Wynne has a really thoughtful piece on why ACA will not be repealed.  Certainly made me think differently about a few issues. FWIW, I’ve heard from a colleague who is Chair of a large health plan that the repeal language is already written.

These perspectives may both be right; I expect a re-branding of ACA and not a total repeal. The impact on the health system, hospital finances, the individual insurance market, and the number of insureds of a complete and sudden repeal would be disastrous.

Rather, the GOP will pass a bill ostensibly “repealing” ACA while in fact keeping many of its changes in place for at least three years.

How will Democrats handle this?  Here’s one perspective.

Enjoy the weekend.  Gonna get a load of snow up here in upstate New York – can’t wait.


Dec
8

Healthcare in 2018

2017 will be a very misleading year.

There will be no changes to health reform, markets, Exchanges, Medicaid, or Medicare. More people will be insured, hospitals and health systems will enjoy financial stability, and while losses in the individual market for the big five insurers will increase somewhat, work comp will prosper.

This will lead some to think everything’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about, it’s all good, I and others worrying about health care’s future are hysterical Chicken Littles.

Let’s summarize.  There are two general scenarios; GOP repeals ACA’s main components without addressing system-wide fallout, or GOP essentially re-brands ACA (TrumpCare, anyone?) leaving much of the current ACA in place.

If the GOP repeals ACA via reconciliation and/or without:

  • replacing it with an enforceable mandate,
  • maintaining changes to Medicare fee schedules and reimbursement,
  • maintaining the Medicaid expansion,
  • maintaining cost-sharing subsidies for the near-poor, and
  • restoring DSH and other supplemental hospital/health system funding.

This is what we’ll get.

Implications are obvious;

  • cost-shifting to private insurance, workers’ comp, and other property and casualty insurance increases
  • claim shifting increases
  • job lock increases as people don’t leave their employer for fear they won’t be able to get or afford health insurance
  • individual bankruptcy rates increase

I must admit to a morbid fascination with the game that’s playing out.  I’m both embarrassed to admit that fascination and appalled by the damage that will be done to people, businesses, cities and states by the combined ideology and ignorance of our newly-elected House, Senate, and President.

As friends and colleagues keep telling me, we don’t KNOW what these worthies will do.

True, but we can read policy papers, previous proposed legislation, and statements of incoming officials, all of which point to dramatic changes to healthcare. This may well not happen, as those now in positions of power may decide ACA isn’t so bad after all. 

Their constituents have certainly changed their tune, with barely half of the Republicans surveyed looking to repeal “Obamacare”.  Then again, many didn’t know that “Obamacare” and ACA are one and the same.

I don’t think the “repeal and destroy” scenario indicated by those papers and statements will happen, because the real-world impacts would be so damaging.  It appears most on the Hill are leaning towards leaving much of ACA alone, tweaking around the edges, declaring victory and moving on.

Then again, I didn’t think Donald Trump would be President.

If the “tweak and rebrand” strategy wins out, there’s still an awful lot of uncertainty.  The healthcare “system” is a Rube Goldberg contraption like the one where you hit one button and out pops a dollar bill, but if you hit that button while holding down the shift key, you get punched in the face.

a-punch-in-the-face

What does this mean for you?

Yes, this is really complicated and sometimes hard to unpack.  Don’t fall into the trap of willfully ignoring what’s going on in healthcare, as the implications for you and your business are huge indeed.


Dec
7

Workers comp and Medicaid – Implications aplenty!

Workers comp and Medicaid are intertwined.

First, a few factoids about Medicaid.

  • Medicaid accounts for about 17% of US medical spend (work comp is about 1%)
  • It is very state-specific; states have a lot of control over who and what’s covered.
  • both federal and state funds pay for Medicaid, with the Feds covering about 62% of total costs
  • Most Medicaid recipients don’t pay deductibles, copays, or co-insurance. (Indiana is one exception)
  • Medicaid covers millions of people in working families.

Let’s dig into this last datapoint, as it has implications for workers’ comp.

63% of Medicaid recipients have at least one family member working full time. This varies among states, from 77% in Colorado to 51% in Rhode Island. 15% have a part time worker. Only 19% of recipients’ familes have no one working.

Many employers that don’t provide health insurance &/or aren’t required to provide health insurance under ACA recommend workers who qualify sign up for Medicaid.

Implications…

  • More workers are covered by Medicaid now than were pre-ACA
  • Medicaid’s health “benefits” are similar to work comp
  • Claiming behavior may well be influenced by coverage status

Next, employment.

Most credible studies indicate Medicaid expansion increased employment in states that expanded Medicaid.

Implications

More employment = more payroll = more workers’ comp premium and more claims (NOT higher frequency, which is a percentage and not a raw number)

There are a number of other benefits for states that expanded Medicaid – an excellent summary of all available research is here.

What does this mean for you?

Watch what happens with the GOP’s efforts to “repeal and replace” ACA.  Workers’ comp has done quite well since ACA’s full implementation; reductions in Medicaid will almost certainly have the opposite effect.

Note – if you want to argue or discuss, fine – cite sources and data to support your assertions.


Dec
6

Tuesday catch up

Or, what happened while I was/we were in New Orleans at NWCDC

First up, a most excellent report by WCRI’s Olesya Fomenko and Te-Chun Liu on provider fee schedules in workers’ compensation.  Must-reading for investors, bill review entities, networks, and users thereof, the report details:

  • which states use what methodologies,
  • what changes have occurred over the last few years, and
  • trends and developments.

As there is a lot going on with Medicare’s fee schedules, this report provides a sound basis of understanding.

For all those investors, private equity people, and researchers – you can now get – for FREE – what you often pay me for.  Information on fee schedules in workers’ comp and the effects thereof is available here. From WCRI, of course!

Wait…did I just post that? Sometimes I’m such a dumbass.

Fraud

The REAL fraud in work comp is not the odd worker cheating the system – it’s employers misclassifying workers, using labor brokers, under-reporting payroll – you name it.  Bruce Woods, formerly of AIA, brought this to the attention of AIA’s members about a year ago, and I thought of Bruce when I got this from Matt Capece about the millions in damages due to fraud in one state – New Jersey.

Health spending

US spending on health care is approaching 18% of GDP.  CMMS estimated 2015 spending hit $3.2 trillion, or $9,990 per person. The primary driver was “residual use and intensity”, geek-speak for what’s left after age, sex, population changes and inflation are accounted for. In other words, people are getting more services which, given over 40 million didn’t have health insurance until 1.1.2014, and just over half of those poor unfortunates now do, isn’t exactly shocking.

You can expect the folks most likely to lose their health insurance under Trump/Price will get every test, procedure, therapy, script, surgery, and treatment they can now, before the ACA is repealed.

Deflation in work comp medical spend

Workers comp medical expense is now just over 1 percent of total US medical spend. While non-work comp costs were up 5.8 percent last year, NCCI reported work comp medical DECREASED 1 percent last year.

Holy flipping unicorn, Batman. Until someone offers a better explanation, I’ll credit ACA’s reduction in the number of uninsured as the major driver.

Good people sometimes win

Congratulations to friend and colleague Danielle Lisenbey, CEO of Broadspire. Danielle was just named Claim Exec of the Year by the New York Claims Association.

Bravo!

 


Nov
21

Getting serious about health reform, part two – Medicare

As the GOP goes about repealing and replacing ACA, they’ll have to carefully consider how  Medicare will be affected, because it absolutely will be.

Briefly, reimbursement, senior drug benefits, hospital funding, and private Medicare Advantage programs were all altered by passage of ACA. Outright repeal of ACA will, according to most experts, result in higher Medicare costs in the future.

The GOP will have to walk a very narrow and tortuous path between increasing the deficit, something unacceptable to many legislators, and reducing benefits thereby angering its key constituency – seniors.

Not only did ACA make substantive and far-reaching changes to Medicare, but Medicare, Medicaid, group health and individual coverage are all inextricably linked. Reimbursement mechanisms and drivers, systems connectivity and protocols, coverage determinations and benefit design are related to, and influenced by, other payment sources.

Among the changes ACA made to Medicare are:

  • transition from strict fee for service to value-based purchasing
  • close the drug benefit’s “donut hole” (big out of pocket costs for recipients)
  • restrain increases in Medicare Advantage premium increases until the MA programs’ performance is on par with Medicare
  • fund ongoing and much-needed research

There’s been little detail from the incoming administration about future plans, however Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” has a plan to address Medicare. It relies on privatization.  While Ryan’s website is outdated (still referring to the SGR), the “A Better Way” Plan, and recent press statements, provide some details on Ryan’s thinking about “repeal and replace”.

Before we jump into that, a word about ACA’s impact on Medicare. If ACA is repealed, there will be financial fallout for Medicare. In fact, as currently implemented, ACA’s passage has helped Medicare‘s viability.

Per Fact Check;

The law [ACA] both expanded Medicare fundingadding a 0.9 percent tax on earnings above $200,000 for single taxpayers or $250,000 for married couples — and cut the growth of future spending…The trustees’ 2010 report estimated that the ACA had added 12 years to the life of the Part A trust fund.” [emphasis added]

ACA also reduced some reimbursement (payments for imaging is one example), which many Republicans defined as “cutting” Medicare. That played well with seniors then, as most were highly protective of the system they’d been paying into for decades.

So, if ACA is repealed in its entirety, Medicare’s costs are going up.

Ryan’s solution

While there’s little in Pres. Elect Trump’s platform addressing Medicare, other GOP stalwarts have weighed To his credit, Speaker Ryan wants to improve Medicare’s future financial position; he proposes to do so by:

  1. Raising the eligibility age to 67 by 2020, and
  2. Dumping the current CMS-run system in favor of giving seniors vouchers they will use to buy coverage from private insurers. (currently private insurers administer the Medicare program under contract from CMS)

Financially, baby boomers MAY come out OK on the second point (except for those of us who are going to have to rely on the post-ACA private insurance market for two more years). But the Millennials and Gen Exers may well be looking at higher out-of-pocket costs if elected officials decide Medicare vouchers are just too expensive.

However, all seniors would be affected by a privatization of Medicare, and therein lies (one of) the issues.  Medicare is almost universally well-regarded and jealously guarded by seniors

  • 77% of seniors say Medicare is “very important” (that’s higher than the military)
  • more than 2/3rds say Medicare needs to make some changes to remain viable – but the overwhelming favorite “change” (87%) is for the Feds to negotiate drug prices
  • 75% of Medicare recipients believe it is working well

Most telling for Speaker Ryan, only a quarter of respondents thought Medicare should switch to the key plank of the Ryan plan – premium supports.

Reports indicate the GOP is going to move aggressively on repealing ACA and replacing it with something else.  Given the demographics of Trump/GOP voters (mostly older), their favorable views of today’s Medicare, and their lack of enthusiasm for higher premiums or cost share, this is going to be quite the challenge.

It will also be a clear indicator of how serious the GOP is about “reform”.

What does this mean for you?

The first 100 days are going to be quite interesting- watch for the battle between those focused on their core constituency and those seeking to fundamentally change health care.

 

 


Nov
18

Getting serious about health reform, part one

Selling health insurance across state lines is one of the central planks of the GOP’s plan to replace ACA.  Intended to foster competition and reduce costs, the idea is the more insurers competing for customers, the lower the price and better the product. And by eliminating the requirement that insurers comply with state mandates, costs would be lower because some services, conditions, and treatments would not be covered

In addition to these issues there is one real example that should sharpen our thinking.

Today three states allow citizens to buy insurance offered by out-of-state insurers. Maine, Wyoming, and Georgia have all allowed this for over a year, yet no out-of-state insurers are offering plans in those states.

the question is why?

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

That view reflects a lack of understanding of the cost drivers in health insurance, the primary driver being – you guessed it – the cost of medical care.  While mandates do influence costs, the underlying cost of insurance is the cost of care. And health care just costs more in Portland Maine than it does in Boise Idaho

There’s another concern that hasn’t been broached, perhaps because it is politically charged. States have significany regulatory authority over benefit design and mandates. Allowing the sale of non-compliant insurance in a state may well be anathema to those strongly supporting state sovereignty.

 

 


Nov
17

Telerehab’s coming fast

Regardless of what happens to health reform on the national level, the healthcare industry is relentlessly and rapidly adopting technology that will revolutionize patient care.  Big players are seeking out new tech devices, platforms, and applications, buying start-ups and rapidly pushing their products and services into their distribution pipeline.

One example is Zimmer’s recent acquisition of RespondWell, a start-up delivering comprehensive at-home telerehab intended to improve patient compliance with PT and deliver better outcomes. I recently interviewed RespondWell CEO Ted Spooner.  Spooner has a long history in developing tech that delivers services faster/better/cheaper with far less human intervention.  He and his team have taken that experience and used it to build a home-based rehab solution.

The quick backstory – Medicare and other payers are bundling payments for surgical procedures, forcing providers to assume responsibility for any procedure-related care for 90 days post-surgery. In this model, a health care system might get $37,000 to do a total knee replacement; out of that fee, around $5,000 would go to physical therapy.

But there’s a problem – in some places, there’s more demand for PT than there is supply of PTs.  As a result, some patients are on a waiting list – and as a result of that, surgeons, operating rooms, and related staff are not working to full efficiency.

There’s another issue here, one that gets at an uncomfortable reality – many services can be delivered in ways that don’t require nearly as much human intervention.

Telerehab provider RespondWell has come up with a solution, one that uses existing technology, platforms, and communications to “create accessibility and convenience for therapy to patients and give providers visibility to patients to adherence to therapy. Kaiser is one of the early adopters of the Therapy@Home solution.  To date almost all customers are healthcare providers, but Spooner expects payers to be in the mix quickly.

Briefly, Therapy@Home is set up for each patient recovering from surgery; the provider prescribes a therapy plan which is “loaded” into the App. The patient sees a web-based on-screen virtual therapist that helps them perform exercises correctly, while allowing the care team to monitor patient performance and compliance via the internet-connected device’s web camera.

Sessions and communications are recorded and stored for provider access if and when needed.

Here’s one key takeaway; about 60% of in-person PT visits can be eliminated using Therapy@Home.

Considering most total knee patients are older folks, I challenged Spooner on adoption and usage by senior citizens.  He noted that the over 55 population is adopting technology very quickly, driven by easy-to-use smartphones and apps that allow them to connect easily with friends and family.

While RespondWell is focusing on bundled payment-driven care today, this technology/service model (I’m not sure exactly how to describe it) is absolutely transferrable to other types of care – both within PT and in other service areas.

What does this mean for you?

Be a disruptor. Or be disrupted.


Nov
14

Trump and workers’ comp

There’s no question the Republican sweep will hugely affect workers’ comp.

There are nothing BUT questions about what that impact will be.  Here are a few thoughts based on what little we know so far.

The quick take – huge uncertainty; if Trump delivers on his campaign promises, there’s a high likelihood of higher claims frequency and increased medical expenses. 

I preface this by noting Trump is already backing off campaign promises – including repealing “Obamacare”.

The DOL “intervention” in workers comp is dead.  There will be no new National Commission, no federal standards, no study or research or advisory panel. There will be much less emphasis on OSHA enforcement and workplace safety as well.

More jobs?

Energy projects will likely be fast-tracked, although there will be big battles in court as environmental concerns rally to intervene in the only way left open to them – civil suits. Pipelines, coal mines, oil will all see more jobs – although the world economy will have much more to say about that than the White House.

Trump has been touting a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure – anathema to Republicans who don’t want any increase in government spending. Where this will end up is anyone’s guess; if it does go forward, premiums, along with claims costs and medical expenses will rise significantly as these jobs are in high-claim-frequency and high-severity industries.

Trade drives jobs, consumer buying, and inflation. All of which impact work comp.

Trump will label China  – our largest trading partner – a currency manipulator (it’s been keeping the value of the renminbi low to make its exports more attractive). He has to, as that’s a big part of his campaign. BUT it’s going to be a lot of talk and NO action – this is going nowhere, for four simple reasons.

The law requires three conditions to be met for a country to be declared a currency manipulator; China only meets one.

Second, China has been increasing the value of the yuan for months.

Third, consumer demand has been a big part of our economic recovery. If Trump starts a trade war, consumer goods will get a LOT more expensive, driving down consumer purchasing power and consumer confidence. The working class that supported his election would be hurt the most.

Fourth, China owns a shipload of our debt. China can stop – or greatly reduce buying our debt, which will drive up borrowing costs, triggering inflation and more damage to consumer buying power especially for baby boomers who are already living paycheck-to-pacheck.

Oh, and we have a $28 billion surplus in the service sector. If a trade war does start, China will stop sending students here, stop importing movies and music, and its new moneyed class will find other travel destinations.

That said, even the whiff of a trade war will hurt work comp. Inflation will hurt investment returns and lower the value of claim reserves, export jobs will be lost, and the tourism, educational, and cultural industries will suffer as well.

For a brief and helpful summary of Trump and trade, click here.

ACA

Evidence suggests the Affordable Care Act has helped work comp. Work comp medical costs have declined since ACA’s full implementation despite rising employment and middling cost increases in group health. The newly-insured are in higher-frequency jobs.

If Trump rips out ACA “root and branch”, we can expect medical costs to increase and cost- and case-shifting to ramp up significantly.

There’s a lot more to this and we will be tracking it closely.

What does this mean for you?

Given Trump’s already walking back campaign promises, this is just speculation. For now, expect higher premiums, more claims, and higher medical costs.


Nov
11

TrumpCare – initial takes

Okay, time to dig into what this election means for health care.  I’m still working thru how this will affect workers’ comp; my first post next week will focus on that.

To my loyal readers, thanks for your patience while I diverted from health care and work comp and used MCM to discuss the election and its impact on me. For those friends and colleagues who thoughtfully and kindly contributed to the conversation, I deeply appreciate your insights and views. We may not agree and that’s fine as long as we seek to understand.

I’m really working to keep my inner snark under control here, so bear with me folks.

The biggest problem in crystal-balling about the election’s impact on health care is Trump has been all over the place.  He’s advocated for a Canadian-style system, vowed to repeal Obamacare, lauded single-payer, and gone off in other directions enough to convince me he doesn’t have any firm plan.

His party does have a “plan”, at least current Speaker Paul Ryan detailed one earlier this year.  It includes

  • Selling insurance across state lines (an air sandwich if ever there was one),
  • block grants for Medicaid;
  • no mandate but no coverage for pre-existing conditions without continuous coverage;
  • cap employer tax break for health insurance;
  • refundable tax credit for individual purchase of insurance;
  • end the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Here’s the problem.  Nothing here will reduce the cost of health care. 

The voters who backed the GOP and Trump expect health care costs to come down, insurance to be cheaper, less complicated, and provide better coverage, and the whole system to function better/easier/faster with less hassle.

But mostly they want it to cost less.

These initiatives will not do that.

Reducing cost will require narrower networks (you can’t keep your doctor), lower benefits (what, this isn’t covered?!), price controls (anathema to conservatives) and/or tight utilization control (don’t get between me and my doctor).

Yes, forcing people to buy insurance and not covering pre-existing conditions if they don’t is going to make more people buy insurance and that’s good.  But it’s still unaffordable for many, and they will won’t sign up.

What does this mean for you?

It’s easy to criticize; now that Trump et al own this, they’re going to see just how hard it is to fix health care.

 

 


Oct
31

Halloween catch up

Off to New Orleans for client meetings; should be interesting spending Halloween evening downtown.

A couple tems of note that deserve mention.

Over the weekend 178 GOP and 1 Dem representative called on CMS to stop with all the value-based stuff. Claiming the agency is overstepping its bounds, a letter signed by these worthies evidently wants Medicare to return to fee for service.

In a word, this is dumb. FFS is a big reason health care costs are out of control while quality is spotty at best. Fiscal prudence would seem to demand rapid adoption of value-based care. I know taxpayers will be far better served when more care is based on what actually works, not on what providers can bill for.

CompPharma’s annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers Comp will be out tomorrow at CompPharma.com. Big news is respondents’ drug costs dropped 8.7% in 2015. Opioids are still the biggest concern and compounds the top emerging issue.

Finally it looks like occupational injuries declined yet again; the Department of Labor reported the injury rate dropped from 3.2/100 to 3.0.

That is good news indeed – especially for those workers who didn’t get hurt.

Hope your week is most excellent.

Note- sorry about no URL links; posting from my phone which makes that really complicated.