Post vacation update

Back from a much-needed family trip to Sedona AZ where the mountain biking was phenomenal.

(son Cal and son-in-law Keith plus the old guy)

Here’s what happened while I was in the land of the vortices…

WCRI’s annual conference in March 2018 will be kicked off by the former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dr Erica Groshen.  Always a must-do; sign up soon or risk being wait-listed for the March 22/23 event in Boston.

The latest from the brainiacs from Boston is a report on California’s work comp medical benchmarks.

Colleague and good friend Frank Pennachio of Oceanus Partners will be opining on misaligned incentives in work comp at NWCDC in Vegas next month.  Frank’s terrific delivery, vast experience and deep knowledge of how things really work in work comp will make this one of the most valuable sessions for employers.

Climate change’s effects are being felt everywhere – and the insurance industry may be the industry most affected. An excellent Harvard Business Review article illustrates the major, if not central role P&C Insurance is playing in forcing us to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change.

Differential pricing for high-risk areas (we’re talking about you, south Florida, and you, coastal areas) and Catastrophe bonds are just two of the ways the insurance industry is forcing businesses, governments, and individuals to deal with climate change.

Finally, NCCI’s out with it’s assessment of the 2015 decline in work comp medical costs; key takeaways (note California and New York were not included):

  • a drop in utilization of physician services was the key driver
  • inpatient facility costs increased 6 points, driven by a huge increase in very expensive inpatient stays 
  • there was LOTS of intrastate variation…

Good to be back at work – enjoy the short holiday week.

Friday catch-up

Hurricane recovery

Thanks to NCCI for a very timely article by Chief Actuary Kathy Antonello on evaluating construction contractors based on information on experience modification rates.

Key takeaway – “It’s not appropriate to use E-mods to compare the relative safety of employers.”

Very interesting take on efficiency in construction; the Economist notes that the construction industry has become LESS efficient over the last few decades. While this may well be about to change, for those rebuilding in hurricane-ravaged areas, costs will be much higher, reconstruction take longer, and preparation to deal with the obvious impacts of climate change may not keep up with the speed of that change.

Blockchain continues to work its way into the insurance industry. An excellent piece in the Harvard Business Review notes that insurance is especially suited for blockchain. Both are predicated on spreading information, and in the case of insurance, that information deals with risk. Blockchain is uniquely suited to spreading risk as at its core it is a “trust and efficiency engine.”

Key takeaway…

it will require uncomfortable transparency [from established insurers] and price corrections in their business models. This will be toughest on the portions of the industry that are the least differentiated, where consumers often decide based on price: auto, life, and homeowner’s insurance. [emphasis added]

And there’s this telling point, which identifies a key reason insurers should be worried…

trust in business institutions, and the financial services sector in particular, is at an all-time low. While the large banks are at the center of this trust vacuum — with a seemingly steady stream of scandals, such as the recent Wells Fargo account rigging debacle — the erosion of trust is bad for everyone

Ignore at your peril.

Motivating sales people

Is a question asked over and over by pretty much everyone in this and other businesses, but it is especially important in workers’ comp services, where companies and sales people are fighting over what’s been a shrinking pie for years.

And, except in Florida and Texas, that pie will continue to shrink.

New research provides pretty compelling insights into what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Caution – this is ONE study, in a very different culture, of a in a company selling tangible products.

The high-level takeaway…Sales force compensation is a tricky issue, requiring decisions based less on intuition and conventional “wisdom,” and more on hard, quantitative data.

Details (paraphrasing here…)

Salespeople were assigned to groups each with different compensation arrangements. Some people received unconditional bonuses, which were given irrespective of their sales performance. Some received “conditional” bonuses, where compensation was tied to sales quotas under three different treatments: standard, punitive, and real-punitive. In the standard treatment, a salesperson was paid a bonus after achieving a weekly sales quota that was set 20% higher than what that individual had previously sold. The punitive treatment was identical except for the framing: We told salespeople that failing to receive a bonus was a penalty for failing to achieve their quotas. And in the real-punitive treatment, a draw system was used, where payments were made at the start of the week but then withdrawn for those who didn’t meet their quotas.

For the unconditional bonuses, the thinking was these would encourage reciprocity; Salespeople would work harder in appreciation for the firm rewarding them with higher pay. These bonuses were awarded under two different treatments: delayed and immediate. In the delayed treatment the bonuses were communicated to the salespeople at the beginning of the week, and payment made at the end of the week. In the immediate treatment salespeople were simultaneously informed of and awarded the bonus at the start of the week.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the conditional bonuses were, on average, more than twice as effective as the unconditional bonuses… they increased sales by an average of 24%.

But it’s not that simple.

The researchers found that a conditional bonus could potentially demotivate salespeople over time: Salespeople’s performance was higher during weeks of a bonus treatment but lower in weeks after a bonus treatment. This result is consistent with past behavioral research that has found that too much extrinsic motivation may actually lead to a decrease in intrinsic motivation.

Unconditional bonuses tended to be more effective for salespeople with a higher base performance, which supports the idea that high performers generally have more goodwill toward the company and thus are more likely to reciprocate by increasing their selling effort.

Conditional bonuses were equally effective across all types of performers.

What does this mean for you?

Experiment with different approaches.  Avoid basing decisions on your gut; rely instead on data.

Reducing opioids CAN reduce pain

Yes, patients can be weaned off opioids AND reduce their pain levels.

That’s the conclusion of a Vox article providing an excellent, detailed, and thorough review of a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Vox (thanks to Health News Review for the head’s up).

Here’s the abstract’s conclusion…

Very low quality evidence suggests that several types of interventions may be effective to reduce or discontinue LTOT [long term opioid therapy] and that pain, function, and quality of life may improve with opioid dose reduction.

Let’s parse this out.

The AIM study was based on a review of 67 clinical studies; it wasn’t “primary research.” Researchers found most of the studies on this issue had either a poor methodology or low sample size. And, relatively few were even of “fair” or “good” quality.

The 12.000 pain patients in these studies volunteered to taper off opioids; they were obviously motivated and wanted to make the change. So, it’s not possible to use this research when thinking about how to address non-volunteers as “involuntarily pulling patients off the drugs (may not) lead to similar outcomes.”

And this…

Crucially, the studies also looked at what happened when these reductions in opioid doses were paired with alternative treatments, including alternative medicines like acupuncture, interdisciplinary pain programs, and medication-assisted treatment for addiction. This is very, very different from a situation in which a patient is taken off opioids and effectively left stranded without any other form of care.

Conversely,

[the CDC concluded] there are simply no good long-term studies looking at the effects of opioids on long-term pain outcomes, while there are many studies showing that long-term opioid use can lead to bad results in other areas, including addiction and overdose.

Here’s a major point made in the study and Vox article – we HAVE to stop looking to opioids as a first-and-only line of treatment for pain.

the lack of access to non-opioid strategies may be one big reason that doctors resorted to opioids in the first place. The drugs offered an easy answer — if ultimately an ineffective one — to the many problems doctors faced, including patients who had complicated pain problems that physicians didn’t fully understand and tight schedules driven by the current demands of the health care system that made it hard to take the time to work through a patient’s individual problems. [emphasis added]

AND, we HAVE to allow/encourage/pay for alternative treatment.

What does this mean for you?

Suggest different initial treatments for pain, and get creative when helping patients who want to get off opioids.

Tuesday catch-up

Lots happening this August – clearly not everyone is on holiday.

One personal note – I joined the Board of Commonwealth Care Alliance, a not-for-profit healthplan serving Medicaid and dual-eligible clients in Massachusetts. CCA takes care of the toughest population in the country; the poor, disabled, elderly, homeless, and chronically ill, and they do it very, very well. There’s a lot to be done, and I’m honored to help these amazing people.

An excellent piece by Brian Klepper exposes the reality of the commercial health insurance industry – the more care costs, the more insurers make. While I would take issue with Brian’s over-generalization about how insurers make money (a percentage of healthcare costs), the implications are vast – a medical-industrial complex now consumes a sixth of our GDP.

This is part of what’s crushing middle class America, squeezing out dollars for infrastructure, education, and innovation, and enriching a few while impoverishing many.

One who just got his virtual head handed to him is Martin Shkreli, the arrogant horse’s ass who bought a tiny drug company and jacked up the price of their drug by 5000%. He was convicted on various fraud charges unrelated to the price increase.

The real lesson here is how easy it was for Shkreli to do what many others have done – make huge profits off our for-profit healthcare system. Most just do it very quietly.

Lemonade is launching in New Jersey.

This is a very, very big deal, with insurance about as different from traditional insurance as you can get.

  • Lemonade sells homeowners and renters insurance in four states and has licenses in 9 more
  • It is a Certified B-Corp – underwriting profits are donated to nonprofits picked by policyholders.
  • It makes its money from a flat 20% fee
  • Premiums belong to the insured, not the insurer. Any unclaimed or unpaid funds are returned at the end of the year at the Giveback.
  • 10% of Lemonade’s 2016 revenue went to 14 different not-for-profits

Scoff or smirk if you will – these guys and others like them will become a major force in property and casualty insurance.

Including workers’ comp…

Workers’ comp

First up, a bit more intel on the OneCall – Spreemo “deal” following up on last week’s post…Most of Spreemo’s employees will move to OCCM, with just a handful staying behind at Spreemo. It’s not clear what Spreemo will be doing in the future, but the company’s unlikely to deliver the kind of returns owner Pamplona envisioned when they invested a couple years back.

A while back NCCI published a piece on an injured worker’s catastrophic injury. Leaving aside the poor decision that led to the injury, what’s interesting to me is how the work comp insurer approached the injury – a potential amputation. While the article doesn’t get into this, my sense is if the worker had been hurt off the job, his health insurer would NOT have gone the extra mile to try to save his leg. However, because future earnings and disability are critical to work comp, his insurer – Nationwide – was very motivated to do whatever it could to keep him whole.

The estimable Ed Bernacki MD PhD and colleagues published a paper (thanks David Deitz MD PhD for the heads up) that concludes:

Occupational injury claimants 40 years of age and older with unilateral knee and shoulder symptoms ascribed to a work event tend to have bilateral age-related MRI changes. Age-related disorders should be distinguished from acute injury.

In English, we older folks have age-related problems that aren’t caused by our jobs…

 

 

Workers’ comp update

now that repeal and replace is dead, we can figure out what we missed while contemplating healthcare armageddon.

Workers’ comp

WCRI’s been publishing a flurry of great reports on injured worker outcomes, physician dispensing, opioids, and hospital costs. Sign up for a free webinar on outcomes here.

Coventry’s out with the second part of their work comp Drug Trends Report – download it here. This part deals with the differences between managed and unmanaged pharmacy.  Good video intro by Nikki Wilson too...

HealtheSystems is rumored to be looking to split the company in two, selling off the PBM and keeping the Ancillary Benefit Network business. With myMatrixx setting yet another high point for valuation recently, we’ll have to see if PBM prices remain stratospheric or drop a little closer to earth.

Given the myMatrixx – Express Scripts transaction had a ton of strategic benefit for the acquirer, a similar valuation for Healthe might be a tad optimistic. In addition, a very sizable chunk of the PBM business comes from one payer – the Travelers – a “customer concentration” issue that will give some pause.

BTW, I’m hearing optimism from many work comp pharma buyers about the “new” myMatrixx-ESI combination.  Guarded, but optimistic.

Medicare

Are you seeing an uptick in Commercial Repayment Center (CRC) demands coming from the Coordination of Benefits & Recovery Program? (COB&R)? A couple clients have mentioned this to me..the concern seems to be CMS is revisiting MSAs and looking for additional funds (I am likely not phrasing this correctly…Rafael, please clarify/correct!)

Physicians work for others…

About 2/3rds of younger physicians are employed.   Overall, less than half of practicing physicians have an ownership stake in their practice.

Finally, here’s a really interesting snapshot of price variation in a wide variety of healthcare markets

Tuesday catch-up

I’m going to announce something new tomorrow on the personal front; stay tuned for details…

Until then, here’s what I missed while doing a lot of non-work-related stuff over the last couple of weeks.

Medrisk has launched telerehab, a new service designed to deliver therapy and related services direct to patients at their worksite or home.  I’m a big fan; used appropriately telerehab can help patients heal faster and ensure their home exercises are performed correctly and consistently. (MedRisk is a consulting client).

Medical leadership at Broadspire is changing hands. Dr Marcos Iglesias is taking over from the estimable Dr Jake Lazarovic; Dr Jake has been at Broadspire for as long as I can remember.  He’s always been a pleasure to speak with; humble, highly observant, innovative and focused on always doing the right thing.  Dr Jake has long been one of the good people in our industry.

Dr Iglesias is a friend as well; Marcos has deep experience in occupational medicine as both a provider and insurance company clinical leader.

The first segment of Coventry’s annual drug trend report is out; key takeaways are:

  • opioid utilization dropped 8.5% from 2015 – 2016
  • Average Morphine Equivalents per script decreased 5.6%
  • Total drug costs were down 5.8%

This is yet more evidence that PBMs and payers are doing really good work in cutting employers’ costs and patient risks.  Note to regulators – this is happening across the country; please don’t do things that will hamper PBMs’ efforts to ensure patients get the right drugs.

An excellent review of where the dollars flow in pharma from HealthAffairs; note this is for ALL pharma, not just workers comp or health insurance. (chart from HealthAffairs)

WCRI’s released a series of reports on worker outcomes, following on the heels of an assessment of workers’ comp income benefit adequacy.  WCRI has been focusing on outcomes and worker satisfaction for some time now; kudos to John Ruser and predecessor Rick Victor for this important work.

Finally, a really interesting piece from Harvard Business Review on how some very large employers are dumping health insurers and buying healthcare direct.  I will predict this is going to happen more frequently, and is a big risk for the big four healthplans.  

Compounds in workers’ comp

CompPharma’s second research paper on compounds in workers’ comp was published last week. Authored by pharmacists and government affairs professionals from member PBMs, this paper builds on the ground-breaking research published in our first paper. (I’m president and co-founder of CompPharma)

The first research paper provided a solid foundation to provide stakeholders with a deep understanding of the history, practice, limitations, and issues associated with compounds.

This paper takes a deep dive into patient safety, efficacy, and cost.

It also includes a review of many legal issues surrounding compounds in workers comp and details regulatory and legal cases involving allegedly inappropriate activity by compounders and prescribers.

A few key quotes:

CompPharma supports the use of compounding when prescribed by a licensed practitioner with knowledge of evidence-based medicine supporting the use of a compound for a single patient with special needs that prevent the use of a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). [emphasis added]

the use of topical compounded products is not recommended as first-line treatment for workers’ compensation patients [emphasis added]

CompPharma’s 2014 compound research paper stated, “Pharmacies have received FDA warnings regarding topical lidocaine in concentrations greater than 5% and other topical anesthetics.” Some compounding pharmacists responding to the 2014 paper characterized this statement as a misrepresentation. The authors stand by the statement…

…a chief criticism is that by acting as intermediaries, PBMs profit from the use of compounds and other over-priced medications. In reality, the clinical management programs employed by these companies actually decrease PBMs’ top-line revenue [emphasis added]

The first paper upset a few compounding advocates. Their complaints mostly arose because we didn’t address compounding outside of work comp. Frankly, the paper’s focus was, and the latest paper’s focus still is, purposely limited to workers’ comp. Others are welcome to address non-work comp issues, that’s not what we do.

You can download the paper here – there’s no charge and no registration required.

CompPharma is proud to have been the leading force educating the work comp world about compound drugs; thanks to member PBMs for supporting our work, and a special thank you to

  • Phil Walls, RPh, myMatrixx
  • Deborah Conlon, RPh,  BS Pharm, PharmD, OptumRx
  • Brigette Nelson, MS, PharmD, BCNP, Express Scripts
  • Kevin Tribout, OptumRx
  • Nikki Wilson, PharmD/MBA, Coventry

and Contributing Editor Robert E. Bonner, MD, MPH, Principal, Bonner Consulting Group, LLC.

What does this mean for you?

Compounds can be useful and appropriate for patients with unique and unusual needs. This report provides objective, thoroughly-researched information essential to understanding this issue.

More and stronger evidence that ACA is reducing workers’ comp costs

Is the Affordable Care Act lowering workers’ comp medical costs?

Sure looks that way.

Data from NCCI’s 2016 AIS and HSA clients suggested ACA’s impact was positive and sustained.  Flat-to-declining total medical costs over a two-year period that coincided with the full implementation of ACA were a strong indicator of the law’s positive impact on work comp. Later this week, NCCI’s Kathy Antonello will update us with a first look at the 2016 numbers, and we’ll see if that pattern continues.

I summarized the change in the employed population’s healthcare coverage a while back – noting that many more workers in high-frequency jobs are covered under ACA, a positive factor for work comp. (much more on this can be found here)

Wait, there’s more – Fitch’s just-released review of commercial insurance alluded to the impact of ACA on work comp…

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a corresponding shift of individual medical care delivery away from workers’ compensation to other markets may also be a factor that bears further study.

Other research from Upjohn analyzes the impact of ACA on workers’ comp.  A couple key points:

  • immediately after workers turn 26 (and thus lose access to their parents’ insurance as allowed under the ACA), the amount of medical treatment paid by workers’ comp goes up – implying that lack of health insurance leads to greater use of workers’ comp benefits.
  • the evidence strongly suggests that the ACA will decrease the likelihood that health care is paid for by workers’ compensation, the size of the cost savings to workers’ compensation is difficult to asses [because]
  • the claiming behavior of people with minor medical needs is influenced by having health insurance. This would suggest that the overall savings to workers’ compensation would be modest. Heaton (2012), however, finds evidence that people with greater medical needs respond to health reform, which suggests that the cost savings to workers’ compensation could be large

There’s a lot more to the Upjohn analysis, and I’d encourage you to read it. Potential issues include access to care and the influence of lower Medicare reimbursement. That said, the authors’ overall summary strongly links ACA to lower work comp claims and medical expenses.

What does this mean for you?

Evidence strongly suggests ACA is positively affecting workers’ comp, lowering claims costs and medical expenses.

Liberty Mutual drops the Research Institute – a missed opportunity

A couple weeks ago Liberty Mutual announced it would be closing its Research Institute in June. The news came as a shock to many, including me. Just two months ago I had lauded Liberty for its ongoing support for research into disability.

Before we discuss the Institute’s demise, allow me to reprise that applause for Liberty’s decades-long commitment to the Institute. Just because they are shutting it down today does in no way diminish the great work it did for years, the commitment by Liberty and its policyholder owners to the greater good. We are all better off for that commitment.

On one level I understand why Liberty did this – it’s the dollars. While no one at Liberty has said so, it looks like a financial move, pure and simple. The Institute’s staff is well-paid, the research itself is likely expensive, and in these times of tight focus on unallocated expense management, cutting the Institute’s non-revenue-generating millions in expenses is a quick way to increase earnings.

But I’d suggest this is a mistake, for two reasons.

First, the financial benefit pre-supposes the Institute is “non-revenue-generating”. That’s true, but it could and should have been used much more effectively to advance Liberty’s brand. Yes, that’s not “revenue-generating” in the strictest sense of the term, but there’s NOTHING more important than a brand.

I asked Liberty’s Communications folks two questions; they kindly responded in a timely manner.

Here’s the first.

MCM – My take is Liberty didn’t aggressively promote the Institute or effectively utilize it in marketing and branding efforts. Yes there was the occasional press release or website mention, but it was rarely front-and-center. Why?
LM – We communicate to our customers and business partners in numerous ways on issues that are most important to help them best manage and mitigate risk. Our Research, Risk Control and Claims expertise all play important roles in helping employers and their employees manage current and emerging risks…
We are also keeping our Hopkinton facility open while discontinuing our peer-reviewed research efforts. Our Hopkinton facility will continue to house our Industrial Hygiene Laboratory and Driver Training program, as well as a personal insurance claims training center.
What is evolving is the way that people live and work, and the dynamics of today’s workplace reflect these changes. Liberty remains committed to helping people live safer more secure lives. We are revisiting our approach to accessing research while at the same time continuing to provide our Risk Control and Claims expertise to help commercial insurance policyholders improve both safety and return to work.

Liberty’s response didn’t address my statement about the relationship between the Institute and the company’s branding efforts. “Communicat[ing} to our customers” is talking to people you already do business with. And, communicating without weaving the brand message into that communication constantly and thoroughly minimizes its usefulness.

In my view Liberty didn’t effectively leverage the terrific work done by the Institute, never really connecting the work it does to support Liberty’s overall “lead safer, more secure lives” brand statement.

The lack of effective brand management is by no means unique to Liberty. Rather it is a major problem for the entire workers’ comp and P&C insurance industries. Every player talks about their people, their great claims management and effective underwriting, but few really differentiate. That is why this industry is commoditized; why buyers switch carriers for a few percent, why risk managers follow their consultants’ advice based on a spreadsheet.

Directly and consistently and broadly and cogently tying the Institute’s work to the impact it had on Liberty customers would have been expensive, arduous, in some cases tedious, and totally worthwhile. It would have greatly strengthened the brand by demonstrating Liberty’s depth of commitment to its brand statement.

My second reason is much more debatable.

In these days of awfully insensitive corporate behavior, the Institute stands as a shining example of doing good work without a direct dollar benefit. It is just the right thing to do. While corporations are obliged to support their shareholders, Liberty is a mutual insurer; its owners are its policyholders. One could, and I am, make the argument that the Institute was and remains prima facie evidence of Liberty’s commitment to its “owners”.

What does this mean for you?
Lots of terrific researchers are looking for work. Please reach out to them; here’s one source.