What Medicare’s reimbursement changes mean for work comp

It isn’t possible to exaggerate the implications of the changes to Medicare’s provider fee schedule.

When Medicare shifts its weight, the foundations of workers comp move – a lot.  Here’s why.

First, around a third of provider reimbursement is governmental – and for some providers well over half of their payments come via Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental programs which base reimbursement on CMS.

Second, the vast majority of work comp fee schedules are based on CMS therefore the changes  affect not only Medicare and Medicaid, but also many state workers compensation fee schedules. The decreases in reimbursement for imaging have been felt in Worker’s Comp. particularly in California and Florida. Also the increased reimbursement for physical therapy has also worked its way into the Worker’s Comp system.

The new fee schedule is known as MACRA.  Replacing the previous SGR system, MaCRA will increase reimbursement 0.5% per year until 2019. At that point reimbursement will be flat until 2026.

Wow there are many other issues affected by this change, including increased reimbursement for quality and the use of electronic health records, the fee schedule changes themselves will have the most impact on Worker’s Compensation.

Expect continued increases in reimbursement for cognitive services; office visits, physical therapy and the like. I would also expect to see decreases in reimbursement for surgery and possibly ambulatory surgical centers which fare outside of MACRA.

What does this mean for you?

The schedule changes have already been felt in Worker’s Compensation. If Congress decides to take additional action which is possible but not probable this will also affect Worker’s Comp.

What the latest work comp drug spend means

NCCI released a study yesterday indicating drug spend for active claims increased 6 percent in 2014, driven by higher prices. That’s consistent with the finding from CompPharma’s Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Compensation, however more recent data indicates drug spend in 2015 dropped precipitously.

The chart below is from CompPharma’s to-be-released-momentarily 2016 Drug Survey; for the 30 payers surveyed (combined they account for just under a quarter of total work comp drug spend), drug costs dropped 8.7 percent in 2015.

drug-cost-trend

Two observations.

Work comp PBMs are Unicorns; incredibly rare and completely unique, their business model is based on reducing their revenue.  In a very small, totally mature industry, PBMs compete for payers’ business by showing how they will reduce drug costs, and especially reduce overuse of opioids.

What other business does that?

In addition, work comp PBMs do this without the economic levers of deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and tiered formularies that group health and Medicare PBM programs use.  In fact, non-work comp PBMs can’t fathom how they do this.

“How they do this” is thru a deep understanding of drivers, a willingness on the part of the PBM to eat the cost of drugs that a payer decides aren’t compensable or related, a lot of analytics to identify potential issues and problems, many well-trained people dealing with patients, prescribers, pharmacists, adjusters, case managers, attorneys, sophisticated clinical management programs.  All this is necessary, highly effective, and expensive indeed.

I bring this to your attention, dear reader, for a couple reasons.

First, on a per-pill basis, work comp drugs tend to cost more.  That’s because it costs a LOT more to manage work comp pharmacy than to manage group, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Second, slashing fee schedules to Medicaid reimbursement means PBMs can’t afford to keep driving down costs and reducing opioid usage.

What does this mean for you?

PBMs and payers are doing great work addressing a major driver of work comp costs and disability; below-break-even fee schedules will force them to become pure transaction processors, something employers, taxpayers, and patients can ill afford.

Note – I am president of CompPharma.

Work comp’s future is not what you think it is

What drives workers’ comp is employment – more specifically, payroll, industry type, and claim frequency.

Employment is the end-all and be-all of workers’ comp – for premiums and policies on the front end, and getting work comp patients back to work when claims do happen.

So when a whole lot of jobs in a bunch of industries look to be disappearing, we work comp folks need to take notice.

If you insure, manage claims for, provide services to, or otherwise work in the transportation/logistics industry, you’d best be watching developments in Pittsburgh and keeping your eye on Otto.

Uber is experimenting with its self-driving cars in the Steel City, a big step on the way to fully automated driverless cars.

self-driving-uber

Ford is heavily involved, and will have a self-driving car on the market in 5 years.  Sign me up; as one who spends way too much time behind the wheel, I’m all over this.  Do work, read, work while being transported to client meetings? Heck yes!

The giant “ride-sharing” company is also behind Otto, an effort to automate long-haul trucking.

Photo below from SF Chronicle; testing of Volvo truck by engineer Nic Munley.

1024x1024

Unlike competitor Lyft, Uber doesn’t seem to care that its current drivers are going to be left ride-less in the not-too-distant future, nor is Uber bothered that, if when Otto and its lookalikes are successful in removing drivers from trucks, those 900,000 truck drivers will not have jobs.

And without truck drivers, truck stops won’t be selling much food or necessaries. Motels won’t be providing showers or rooms. Body shops won’t be needed as much either.

Uber contends that the 24/7 usage of driverless vehicles will mean more jobs for mechanics, but that’s speculative at best.  In fact, as these vehicles will just be replacing miles driven by vehicles currently piloted by people and not adding more vehicle miles, I don’t see why any more mechanics will be needed. Actually, less maintenance may be the norm due to constant monitoring of vehicle systems.

So…

  • far fewer truck drivers
  • fewer support staff
  • fewer jobs in service stations, motels
  • fewer “taxi-type” drivers
  • fewer accidents = less work for body shops, less demand for auto parts and paint, less need for auto claims adjusters

For work comp…

  • much lower premium volume
  • far fewer claims to service
  • far fewer jobs to return injured drivers to
  • possibly more claims in the near future as drivers see the writing on the wall

Opt-Out – unneeded, unnecessary, and ill-conceived

Legislators in Oklahoma carefully crafted their Opt-Out legislation, seeking to address concerns about Constitution issues, fairness to workers, and redress,

Despite that intent, the state Supreme Court ruled the law is unConstitutional.

Therein lies a lesson for advocates and detractors from Opt-Out.  However, advocates should be cautioned against focusing solely on legal issues, as there’s a much bigger issue with opt out.

Namely, workers’ comp is not “broken”.

Moreover, moves to “reform” via Opt-Out have inspired a backlash among those concerned that workers will be ill-treated if not outright harmed by Opt-Out.  While advocates cite legislation that purports to require equitable treatment, most of the “power” is on the side of the employer in Opt-Out, making it difficult indeed for aggrieved workers to seek and obtain fair treatment if their employers don’t abide by the letter of the law.

Folks who work in jobs where there’s a higher risk of occupational injury are angry about their loss of earning power, about jobs that are disappearing, about powerful employers gaining ever more power, about decreased opportunities for them and their kids.  And they have every right to be angry.

The aggressive push to overturn a workers’ comp system that has worked quite well for the vast majority of employers and workers for a century feels like yet another finger on the scale for employers, especially because there’s no need for it.

Does work comp need improvement…Heck yes.  Here are a few changes that would make almost any state’s system work better for everyone.

  • Get rid of caps on maximum weekly wages.  Why peg income maximums to an average weekly wage, when workers who make a lot more will NOT be able to provide for their families at an income that is a small fraction of their working earnings?  That is nonsensical, grossly unfair, and unethical.
  • Adopt real evidence-based treatment guidelines coupled tightly to utilization review, allowing for expedited, clinician-driven review.  Use the Institute of Medicine standards for evidence and guidelines.
  • Allow direction of care to network pharmacies to eliminate physician dispensing, a practice that prolongs disability, raises medical costs, and provides no benefit for anyone but dispensing companies and providers.
  • Fully fund and fully staff employer fraud departments.  Crack down hard on wage fraud, especially that perpetrated on construction projects.  The return on investment on this will be healthy indeed.

One change we hope to see is an end to the pointless debate about Opt-Out – it is unneeded, unnecessary, and ill-conceived.

Oklahoma is opting out of Opt Out

With the news that NCCI is proposing a 10.2 percent rate decrease for Oklahoma, [sub req] the “Opt-Out” movement is rapidly approaching irrelevancy.

Following on the heels of successful legal challenges to Opt Out legislation (with more possibly on the way), the news that a mere 54 employers have chosen the Opt Out option, AND a 3.4 percent decrease earlier in the year, I don’t see how Opting Out of workers’ comp in the only state that allows it will survive. [technically Texas employers “opt in” to comp as they are not legally required to provide the coverage.]

This is a good thing.

While many employers that Opt Out do so honorably and with the full intention of dealing with their workers fairly and equitably, some most assuredly do not.  While the work comp system has its flaws – and more than its share of bad actors in all areas, it does work quite well for the vast majority of employers and patients.

Opt out allows bad actors to completely screw their employees, hiding behind legal walls that protect the employer from legal action by injured workers.  That’s completely wrong, and is all but impossible under workers’ comp statutes.

What does this mean for you?

Can we please nail the coffin shut and throw a truckload of dirt on top of an idea that deserves to not see the light of day?

Pre-vacation catch-up

Headed out on a much-needed vacation; MCM will be on hiatus till the middle of next week.

Here’s a few items of note that came across the virtual wire over the last few days.

Mylan’s EpiPen Disaster.

In the story-that-will-not-die, EpiPen manufacturer Mylan continues to dig its hole deeper and deeper.  The latest news – the actual cost to make and fill an EpiPen is less than 10% of the product’s actual price.  And may be as low as four bucks – for a $300 injector.

Of course, when you need an EpiPen, you really, really need one – and could not care less what it costs. (it is used to reverse the most dangerous symptom of anaphylactic shock – asphyxiation)

But there are so many hands out in the EpiPen distribution chain, all making a margin as the product works its way down to the end user.  Most striking is the rebate Mylan likely pays to the insurer – one estimated by the estimable Adam Fein at around 40% of the product’s list price.

Now Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is providing all of us a lesson in how NOT to respond when confronted by reporters asking about price increases and huge compensation packages.  Bresch said, and I quote: “No one’s more frustrated than me.”

That takes some balls – and a whole lot of cluelessness.

The parents who can’t afford to replace their kids’ EpiPens every year when they expire and have high-deductible plans so they pay the $600 out of pocket might be a touch more “frustrated” than Ms. $19-million-a-year Bresch.

Beyond that, there’s a nastier, uglier, and way bigger problem here.  Health care in this country is a for-profit business, and Mylan is operating in the best interests of its stockholders.

And no, the “free market” won’t solve this issue – markets don’t care about people.

Provider consolidation continues

CMS’ changes in reimbursement are driving adoption of IT systems designed to track and report patient encounters with a focus on quality metrics.  These systems are expensive, difficult to implement, and require ongoing updating and maintenance.

More consolidation does not mean more efficiency or cost-effectiveness…in fact some data indicates costs go up.

Implication – more sophistication in billing, electronic medical records (EMR), coding and contracting means payers will find smarter and more knowledgeable negotiators across the table, and more sophisticated billing.

Work comp rates keep coming down

California, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee all are joining the states that have announced decreased work comp rates.  I know Florida’s getting all Sunshine-y for plaintiff attorneys, and payers are in a justifiable uproar about that, but that’s an anomaly.

Implications – good news for employers and taxpayers, bad news for opt-out.

Which remains a “solution” (and a pretty poor one at that” to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Okay, gotta run.  see you next week!

Workers’ comp hospital costs – implications for payers

WCRI’s report on variations in hospital outpatient costs is yet more evidence of the wide and seemingly nonsensical variations in work comp regulations, fees, payments, and practices among and between states.

Among the findings:

  • an eight-fold variation in costs from the lowest-cost state – NY – to the highest – AL.
  • Shockingly, fee schedule states’ costs are a LOT lower than non-fee schedule state costs.
  • Costs in percentage-of-charge fee schedule states were much higher than those in states with Medicare-based fee schedules.

There’s a wealth of information in the report; here’s my takeaways.

Captain Obvious Alert.

In many states, workers’ comp is a huge profit generator for hospitals and health care systems.  Anyone following the drama in Florida surrounding “negotiations” around facility reimbursement in past years saw this play out in vivid color.

Hospitals are almost always much more politically influential than workers’ comp stakeholders, giving them a decided advantage in influencing legislation, and sometimes regulation as well.

As Medicaid and Medicare continue to clamp down on costs, hospitals and health care systems will get even better at maximizing revenue from workers’ comp.  Moreover, network discounts provided to workers’ comp payers are fading as payers realize the opportunity inherent in comp, and work comp PPO contractors confront the “yeah but you’re only 1 percent of my revenue” argument.

There is an entire industry devoted to revenue maximization; claims adjusters and bill review folks would be well-served to brush up on the techniques used by these folks. Here’s just a couple examples from quick research…

Considering the dollars paid to facilities and hospitals account for at least a third of work comp medical spend in most states, this is a big problem.

So, what to do?

  1. Analyze your data! Where are you spending your dollars – by state, facility, employer.
  2. Compare it to WCRI’s information – not just in this report, but the others these brilliant researchers have produced
  3. Direct, channel, refer – even in states where you don’t have an absolute right to “direct”, you CAN influence where your patients go to get care.
  4. Find and work with a medical bill review specialist with expertise in the specific states of most concern.
  5. Get creative – talk to your adjusters with long and deep experience to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Kudos to WCRI’s Olesya Fomenko and Rui Yang for their work – they’ve taken a shipload of data and turned it into information that’s understandable  – and actionable.

Does workers’ comp have a future?

Not much, at least according to workers’ comp legend Frank Neuhauser. In an article published in last month’s Perspectives, the IAIABC journal, [sub req] Neuhauser argues that workers’ compensation is no longer needed for 90% of America’s employees, as the workplace has become safer than the non-occ environment.

Noting that the occupational injury rate has dropped precipitously over the last 25 years, he draws a contrast between today’s occupational risks and those extant 100 years ago when workers’ comp was just a few years old. This contrast is so compelling that Neuhauser makes the case that workers’ comp insurance is superfluous, unnecessary as the risks are so low in our largely service economy.  Further, he makes the case that this safe workplace is one of the primary reasons to do away with work comp. Moreover, the medical care that would be needed for those few injuries that do occur can be delivered via health insurance, while disability coverage can simply be added to workers’ existing short- and long-term disability.

I find Neuhauser’s case far from compelling.  In fact, it is so far-fetched at least one very knowledgeable colleague wondered if Neuhauser had penned the piece just to provoke discussion.

If that was his mission, it was accomplished. At today’s Maine Workers’ Comp Summit, all panelists at the Think Tank disagreed with the central premises of Neuhauser’s case, raising multiple objections to his data and logic.  Here are a few.

  • About a third of workers have disability coverage.  What about the other two-thirds?
  • About 15% of workers do not have health insurance.
  • Employers have worked diligently to reduce injuries and risks thereof in large part because they pay higher premiums with higher injury rates.  Removing that financial incentives would almost certainly result in higher injury rates.
  • Eliminating workers’ comp would also eliminate the tort protection enjoyed by employers in today’s no-fault system.
  • In some cases, there is no tort system as a recourse. As Think Tanker Alison Denham pointed out, some injuries, such as those suffered by fire professionals, have no “cause of tort.”  Who would an injured fire professional sue?

Pennsylvania Judge David Torrey succinctly addresses many of Neuhauser’s arguments, bringing a much-needed legal perspective.

The net?  Sorry, Frank.  Work comp is here to stay.

 

Companies need strategies, Execs need success

And those two often don’t match up very well.

Example.  Work comp insurance companies benefit when medical and indemnity costs are lower than expected.  So, lower medical costs = better “outcome” for the company.

Many – if not most – managed care executives are evaluated in part based on “network penetration” and “discount below fee schedule”.  Thus, the more dollars that flow thru their network, and the deeper the discount those providers give the network, the “better” the executive’s performance is.

Superficially, this makes sense – more care thru lower cost providers equals lower medical cost, which benefits the insurance company.

“Superficially” being the key word.  Here’s the problem with this model.

Insurers contract with PPOs, which in turn contract with providers to deliver services at a discount. Most PPOs get paid a percentage of the savings that is delivered by that discount, typically 15 to 22 percent of the savings. So, the more the PPO ‘saves’ the more it makes. On the surface, this sounds good: the system rewards the PPO for saving money and does not pay it when it delivers no savings.

Under a percentage-of-savings arrangement, reducing total medical cost is ignored in favor of saving money on unit costs. The PPO gets paid for savings on individual bills. Therefore, the more services that are delivered and the more bills generated, the greater the ‘savings’ and the more money the PPO makes.

The system encourages over utilization because it is in the PPO’s best interest financially to have numerous providers generate lots of bills for lots of services. Also, the providers, squeezed by a per-unit fee schedule that is lower than fee schedule/Usual and Customary Rates (UCR), have a perverse incentive to make up for that discount by performing more services.

The fact is few carriers, TPAs, or employers have realized that per-bill ‘savings’ is the wrong way to assess a managed care program – or the executive running medical management. And unless senior management changes their evaluation methodology, their managed care departments will have no incentive to change their program to one that actually does reduce total costs.

This is by no means the only example out there; I’m quite sure you can come up with more than a couple off the top of your head.

What does this mean for you?

Take the time to understand  – really understand – what success is, and what drives success.  You may be unpleasantly surprised to learn your execs’ motivations are diabolically opposed to your company’s success.

Federalizing workers’ comp

Insurance folks decry the difficulty inherent in operating in multiple states, each with their own rules, requirements, standards, and demands.  It would be all so much easier if there was one national standard, and some would argue this would make for a “fairer” system.

However.

States have the Constitutional authority to oversee and regulate most insurance functions. While federal legislation and resulting regulations can – and do – supercede State laws (think voting rights, interstate speed limits, education standards, firearm background checks), to date states have been left pretty much alone when it comes to workers’ comp.

Is that going to change?

I think not, but reasonable people can make a good case for some national standardization – which would almost certainly require Congressional action. Of course, given Congress can’t even bother to authorize spending to deal with the opioid disaster or take action on Zika, something as tiny and non-problematic as workers’ comp is not likely to get any Congressperson’s attention.  

Here’s where it gets ideologically sticky.

Folks who normally favor small, limited Federal government find themselves advocating for national standards to streamline work comp for insurers and employers. The hodgepodge of state regs creates a whole host of inappropriate incentives;

  • injured employees get higher wage replacement payments depending on the state “where they were injured”
  • while employers get lower rates in states with low wage replacement levels and
  • doctors get paid more to treat workers’ comp patients in Connecticut than in Massachusetts – a LOT more

Those just scratch the surface; talking with Bob Wilson yesterday about this, he noted many payers are most frustrated by EDI rules and regs.  Set up in an effort to normalize state requirements around a set of national standards, Bob noted many states seem to have a need to tweak things just a bit here and there. Once that begins, there’s no such thing as “standard”.

What does this mean for you?

Ideology sometimes conflicts with reality.