Medicare sneezes

The adage goes something like – when the US sneezes, the world catches a cold, signifying just how much influence this country has on the rest of the world.
That’s analogous to Medicare’s impact on the health care sector. And Medicare is about to change the way it pays hospitals, a change that will have a dramatic effect on every private payer from HMO to individual carrier to workers comp insurer to self-insured employer.

Continue reading

You need a P&T Committee

Pharmacy and Therapeutics committees have been around for ages in the provider community – they are the “link between medicine and pharmacy”. In the managed care world, P&T committees take on a somewhat different role, establishing formularies, reviewing medical device reimbursement (at some health plans), contributing to coverage determinations and benefit design.
Mostly, they provide the health plan or insurer with an expert opinion on most things pharmacy-related. Without a P&T Committee, these decisions often are left to a medical director, or worse, claims adjuster (in the P&C world), individuals who are not equiped to make educated decisions about pharmaceuticals.

Continue reading

Developments in the WC PBM world

Cypress Care, one of the leading Workers Comp Pharmacy Benefit Management firms, has just announced the company has received a “strategic investment” from Dallas-based Brazos Private Equity Partners. The company has also added David George (former President of AdvancePCS) to the management staff; George will be taking over the CEO spot from co-founder Hank Datelle and has also made an investment in Cypress Care.
The press release contains the typical comments about all parties’ delight at the deal and enthusiasm for the future. As one who has been directly involved, I can attest that in this case, the PR has it right. David George is a highly experienced and very well respected managed care pro with stints at United Healthcare and on the Board of Concentra, Inc. Bart Hester, a former colleague of George’s at AdvancePCS will be joining Cypress as EVP Account Management and Strategy; the rest of the Cypress senior management team including co-founder Lisa Datelle and President Marc Datelle are all staying with the company.
Note – Cypress Care is a Health Strategy Associates consulting client an dsponsors our annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers Compensation.

Workers comp’s top problem drug

Actiq, the lollypop pain killer, is rapidly becoming the biggest problem drug in workers comp. FDA approved only for treating cancer pain, the potent narcotic is now on most payers’ top 5 drug list (ranked by dollars spent).
There are likely several factors that have enabled a drug clearly not approved for musculo-skeletal conditions to achieve this high “honor”.

Continue reading

Concentra’s investor briefing

Concentra Inc.’s presentation at the Bank of America Investor Conference earlier this month focused on their continued growth, focus on workers comp, and impact of the acquisitions of Beech Street and Occupational Health and Rehab.
Here are some of the highligts from the presentation and comments on same.
Revenues for 2005 are projected to be $1.1 billion, with EBITDA of $156 million and operating cash flow of $101 million. Revenues are growing organically about 5% per year, while operating cash flow is down from $114 million in 2003 to $98 in 2004 to $101 in 2005.
Workers comp is by far their largest market, driving 70% of revenues. The Beech deal will certainly help diversify Concentra’s revenue base, as Beech is a strong mid-tier group health PPO. Beech’s provider contracts will also be compared to the Concentra contracts to identify the ones with the best rates. This, coupled with the greater buying power brought by Beech, may help Concentra drive better deals with some providers.
Of Concentra’s three distinct business units, by far the highest margin business is network services, with a margin of 31%, followed by the clinic business’ 14% margin. The care management sector, which is primarily field and telephonic case management, was hurt by declining revenues and price compression and returned 6%.
Of note, the clinics saw same store revenues up 6.6% on a 5% increase in visits. This at a time when the WC injury rate has been declining by about 4%.
Thomas made the point several times that after the completion of the OH+R deal, Concentra’s clinics will see one of of every ten workers’ comp injuries for initial care. While that sounds impressive, and is impressive, it is important to note that the clinics only see the routine injuries, and most of the dollars that are spent on WC medical go to the more complex cases that are treated by specialists.
The Beech Street and OH+R acquisitions were expensive at $210 million +. The Beech deal adds significantly to Concentra’s group health product offering. while OH+R will add 26 clinics after 8 existing clinics are closed.
Both Thomas and Kiraly repeated their assertion that Concentra is the industry leader in the WC managed care business, and is a full service integrated services provider. From a sheer numbers perspective, they are correct. However, other entities are leaders in segments of the WC business. For example, Coventry’s First Health is by far the leader in the WC PPO sector. MedRisk is the industry leader in management of physical medicine; and PMSI in pharmacy management.
Thomas noted that because Concentra manages all aspects of the claim, it therefore impacts more claims dollars than other competitors. Not exactly. Intracorp has case management, networks, bill review, peer review, and access to specialty managed care. So do Genex and CorVel. Concentra’s out of network bill negotiation entity (Concentra Payment Services) may well be the industry leader in non-network bill processing, but a host of competitors are now in this space.
While Concentra is not a public company, rumors have been rampant for years of their desire to become one. That, coupled with the large amount of debt outstanding, is evidently the reason for their continued participation in these road shows.

Auto insurance and the uninsured

In 2003 Colorado changed its auto insurance law from one in “which all drivers were required to have coverage for treatment of any injuries resulting from auto accidents to a system in which just the driver at fault pays.” The result has been a decline in the percentage of auto injury victims with insurance, leading to reduced revenues for hospitals and an increase in uncompensated care.
Health care providers in Colorado are up in arms about the impact the change away from the no-fault coverage has had on their financial wellbeing, claiming an $80 million hit from the new law. Interestingly, according to Insurance Journal, insurance spokespeople seem to acknowledge the transference of expense from the insurance companies and their policyholders to the hospitals. Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, stated:
“We don’t believe people should be required to have medical coverage as part of their auto insurance just because some people don’t have health insurance

Ambulatory Surgical Centers’ future

So-called “specialty hospitals“, facilities typically owned by for-profit firms and/or practicing physicians, have been the subject of much debate by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Now, it looks like CMS will continue their ban on new facilities at least until the end of the year (and just possibly till 1/1/2007) while they study their impact on cost, quality, and the full service hospitals they compete with.
Specialty facilities focus on a relatively narrow branch of medicine (e.g. spine, cardiac, orthopedics, cancer), are often owned by a partnership including the physicians admitting patients and a for-profit corporation, and rarely have an Emergency Department, overnight stay capacity, or trauma units. What they do have is state-of-the-art facilities, excellent “customer service”, efficient management, and lots of profit potential for the owners.
At issue with CMS is the definition of hospital and whether the specialty facilities meet the CMS definition. This is important because reimbursement is typically better for “hospitals” than for non-hospital facilities (many of these specialty hospitals would likely be classified as ambulatory surgery centers which receive lower reimbursement).
According to Congressional Quarterly,
“The (CMS specialty hospital internal) review also could lead the agency to require some specialty facilities to add emergency departments, which “ten[d] to attract Medicaid and other low-income patients,” CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 5/12).
California HealthLine also reports “In addition, CMS is expected to adjust Medicare reimbursement rates for all providers to better reflect the severity of patients’ illnesses, which could lower reimbursement rates for some specialty services.”
Congress appears to favor allowing new specialty hospitals into the CMS provider world, with House Energy and Commerce Cmte Chair Barton (R TX) noting he considers McClellan’s action to be a reasonable compromise.
“The rise of specialty hospitals will press traditional community hospitals to become leaner, faster and better,” he said (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 5/12). Speaking in response Democrats’ concerns about physician self-referrals, Barton said, “The real fight … here is not about quality of care,” adding, “It’s about control and ownership.” He said that banning specialty hospitals goes “against everything in the American culture that says specialization is good.”
What does this mean for you?
As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) goes, so go commercial payers. The moratorium on specialty hospital construction has served to halt, or at the least reduce, the number of new facilities seeking licensure throughout the country. If CMS moves forward and allows new construction, watch for changes in reimbursement.
It is possible, and some say likely, that reimbursement levels for these facilities will be lower than for full-service hospitals. As many commercial and state (e.g. workers’ comp and auto liability) fee schedules and reimbursement contracts are based on CMS’ Medicare rates, there will likely be a significant impact on the volume of services delivered through these facilities and the price as well.

Medicaid, Round Five

While state legislatures and governors are moving to make significant changes in Medicaid programs, a coalition including AARP, pharmaceutical manufacturers, labor unions, pediatricians and lobbying groups are preparing to do battle for their constituents. The impetus behind this nation-wide movement is the agreement between the Bush Administration and Congress on a $10 billion cut in Federal contributions to Medicaid programs (state governments pay somewhat less than half of the costs of Medicaid, with the Federal government picking up the rest). With that historical decision now law, states have to figure out how best to implement the cuts.
Perhaps most telling, there appears to be consensus from politicians of all stripes that something has to be done. And, given the influence that states have over Medicaid decisions, we will likely see a broad array of possible solutions advanced by legislators. Options include:
— requirements for beneficiaries to share in costs through co-pays and deductibles
— cuts in reimbursement for certain providers, notably nursing homes
— “stripped-down” benefit packages, with different benefits for children, the disabled, elderly poor, and working poor
— negotiations with pharmaceutical manufacturers to reduce drug costs
— change Federal funding for long-term care to a “block grant”, whereby states receive a set amount of money and can make their own decisions as to how to allocate those funds.
This is a good thing. There is no question the US needs to address the exploding costs of Medicaid, and states are excellent “labs” to test various approaches. There is also no question this will be painful for some, with recipients, pharmas, nursing homes, and hospitals among the likely victims. But, we have no choice. Medicaid has grown significantly in recent years, primarily driven by increases in enrollment. Many of the new enrollees are the working poor; individuals who work for employers that do not offer health insurance or cannot afford the employee contribution towards the premium.
What does this mean for you?
This is getting as tiresome for me as it is for you, but prepare for cost-shifting as pharmas and providers seek to recoup lost income by increasing charges and utilization for commercial payers. Especially vulnerable are liability and auto insurers, as their “managed care” programs are in the dark ages.