It’s not that hard, people.

Over the last few years I’ve been involved in multiple engagements with workers comp payers where their “vendors” just weren’t performing.

Responsiveness was…poor.

Problem solving was more client-blaming than taking responsibility.

“Proactive” was a word used in stewardship reports and entirely absent from actual account service.



Sure, every service entity has problems – I’ve dropped the ball more than once myself. And there’s no question a client’s performance may be part of the problem and/or expectations may be unrealistic.

That’s not what I’m seeing, rather consistently poor performance seems to be OK with the execs at some service providers. My sense is there are two general problems. First, some service companies focus on what’s important to them, not to the customer. Increasing revenue, raising prices, selling other services, pulling back on commitments/turnaround times, adding fees for services that were previously part of the package – all are seemingly more important than just making the customer happy.

I recall a site visit to a client’s then-vendor where a senior exec proudly pointed to a wall of accolades for employees. The exec voiced delight at the many notes lauding employee performance. I looked closely…every one referenced an employee adding services, billing more, creating revenue. None referenced a delighted customer, a happy patient, an employer with a solved problem.

Is this what your customers are doing when the video feed is off?

“Success” = more vendor $.

Second, execs – and their subordinates – are not listening to customers. And if they do, all they are listening for is opportunity to sell more stuff. The execs are NOT asking how the client is doing, what they are focusing on, what problems the client is facing, where the client is heading – and what the vendor can do better and how they can improve.

Is this your client?

Many vendor execs aren’t seeking to understand what makes the individual they are working with successful, how they are measured, what is important to them.

Most recently this may be driven by COVID’s impact on claims volumes and the trickle-down reduction in medical services producing fewer visits, fewer medical services, fewer bills, less need for UR and case management and everything else.

But this was happening long before COVID hit.

What does this mean for you?

Understand and solve your customers’ biggest problems, and do it without adding to their workload.

Or fail. 



Drug prices are going up…or not.

Optum’s work comp folks inform us that prices for some brand name drugs went up in January. The list includes medications that often appear on Medicare Set-aside cost projections – including some new-to-the-market meds that are pretty expensive.

As in $34.50 per pill expensive for Vivlodex, indicated for osteoarthritis and pain and almost 50 bucks per tablet for Vimovo, also for arthritis and pain.  As in a 5% increase for OxyContin, 10% jump for Nucynta, and 5% for a brand form of Opioid Use Disorder medication suboxone.

Two takeaways.

First, at least two of these meds should/must be replaced with generics.

VivlodexTM is a brand version of meloxicam, which is available in a generic form at a tiny fraction of the cost. indicates pricing is about 13 cents per tablet…

meloxicam oral tablet 15 mg is around $13 for a supply of 100 tablets

Similarly, there are also generic substitutes for VimovoTM -which is simply a combination of naproxen (aka AleveTM) and omeprazole (aka PrilosecTM). The “substitute” would be to buy these two over-the-counter medications…

[Embarrassing disclosure time – I consulted for Vimovo’s manufacturer for a while till I figured out what the drug really was. Ouch. Lesson learned.]

Second, the price increases noted in Optum’s post do NOT reflect rebates. These can amount to 1/3 or more of a brand drug’s retail price, dollars that flow to the PBM and other entities on the supply chain.  As we’ve learned, all the news about drug price increases must be considered in the context of rebates.

courtesy Adam Fein PhD’s Drug Channels

The left most column reflects rebates etc paid to commercial insurers/PBMs etc

What does this mean for you?

Ask about rebates. There’s beaucoup bucks there.



The CDC’s Opioids for Chronic Pain Guidelines; Myths and facts

After my posts last week it is clear there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the CDC’s opioid and chronic pain guidelines. At MCM we take the old-school approach to these things; we focus on the facts.

So, here they are.

The CDC’s guidelines mandate strict limits on dosage and require tapering  for patients on long-term opioids.

False.  As Dr Beth Darnall of Stanford University noted recently;

some health care organizations and states have wrongly cited the 2016 CDC Guideline as a basis to substantiate prescribing “dose-based limits” or to mandate that physicians and prescribers taper patients taking long-term opioids to specific thresholds (eg, < 90 mg, or < 50 mg). Such dose-based opioid prescribing policies are neither supported by the CDC, nor do they account for the medical circumstances of the individual patient. [emphasis added]


The CDC [issued] a clarifying statement that derided the misapplication of the opioid guideline and discouraged the dose-based policies and practices that fall outside of its scope, as well as use of the guideline to substantiate tapering.

The Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain were developed in secret.

False.  The process fully complied with CDC and AHRQ requirements and standards, and the results were shared with the public and public comment sought prior to promulgation of the final guidelines in 2016.

The Guidelines aren’t working; look at all the opioid-related deaths.


  1. The big increase in drug poisonings (technical term for overdosing) is driven by a rapid increase in the use of synthetic opioids, both prescription and non-prescription. The synthetic opioid death rate increased over 1000% from 2013 to 2019, with the biggest increase in the western US. Fentanyl and Tramadol are examples of synthetic opioids
  2.  There’s been a small but measurable decrease in the death rate (4.4 to 4.2) from prescription opioids that correlates with the guidelines’ publication date.  Of course, correlation is not causation, but clearly the guidelines have been impactful.

3.  Further, when you count the deaths due solely to prescription opioids, the drop in the prescription opioid death rate is even more remarkable. The bold line is prescription opioid-only; the guidelines were introduced in 2016.

The net is those who claim the guidelines are somehow “failing” are conflating law enforcement issues with public health issues, and are ignoring the very real post-guideline decline in deaths from prescription opioids.

The guidelines are killing people.

The guidelines are just that – guidelines.

The guidelines do NOT require or mandate dosage restrictions or tapering. Blaming the guidelines – and those who developed the guidelines – for physicians not following the guideline’s explicit recommendations is wrong, and does nothing to solve the problem of bad legislation and poor physician behavior.

Here’s what the CDC actually said:

Clinicians should evaluate benefits and harms of continued therapy with patients every 3 months or more frequently. If benefits do not outweigh harms of continued opioid therapy, clinicians should optimize other therapies and work with patients to taper opioids to lower dosages or to taper and discontinue opioids. [emphasis added]

There are a lot of anecdotal reports of patients unable to get prescriptions renewed or otherwise forced off their opioid regimen, many with awful consequences. Yes, the guidelines did suggest/encourage/support these tools in certain circumstances, but – as you can read above – these are NOT requirements and require clinicians to evaluate and balance risk and harm.

What does this mean for you?

The real problem with Opioid Guidelines is states, insurers, and other entities – as well as prescribing physicians – failing to use the guidelines as intended.

reminder to commenters – valid email addresses are required, and disagreements are welcome as long as they are supported with credible citations.



Worker comp payers – hold on to your purses and wallets

Two news items hit the virtual desk this morning; hospitals will lose more than $50 billion this year, and consolidation among hospitals and health systems is continuing, isn’t improving quality, and is increasing health systems’ leverage over payers.

The bad awful financial picture for hospitals comes after a pretty bad 2020, a year in which operating margins were slashed in half.

Of course financial problems are the main driver behind consolidation as health systems with stronger balance sheets take over struggling competitors. Physician practices hammered with revenue declines driven by far fewer patient visits, fewer elective surgeries, and more uninsured patients are also being acquired by health systems.

For payers – especially for workers’ comp payers – the balance of power has shifted to providers. With control over many hospitals and thousands of physicians, systems like Sutter Health in California can dictate terms to huge group health buyers.

I find it ironic indeed that the online ads next to the reporting on the consolidation problem in general and Sutter Health in specific include this one. Payers’ ability to control costs in consolidated health care markets is…challenging at best.

What does this mean for you?

If you operate in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas and a bunch of other states, your facility costs are going up. 


CVC acquires a majority stake in MedRisk

International private equity firm CVC Capital Partners will acquire a majority stake in workers’ comp physical management company MedRisk.

The Carlyle Group is the current majority shareholder and will retain a “significant stake” along with MedRisk senior management.

I could not be happier for my many friends at MedRisk; they built a company from a start-up in 1994 to it’s current position as the dominant provider of physical medicine management in work comp.  The speciality network business essentially started with founder Shelley Boyce’s idea that grew from a business school paper (that earned a less than stellar grade). In 27 years, Shelley, Mike Ryan and their colleagues grew Medrisk to a company with hundreds of employees ensuring almost 400 thousand injured workers have received the best possible rehabilitative care.

I know the CVC people well; they are thoughtful, incredibly smart, understand healthcare, and have the resources to ensure MedRisk has whatever capital it needs to continue its growth.

Lessons learned

Focus – While pretty much every other work comp services company (except for PBM myMatrixx) was diversifying, MedRisk stuck to its business. The work comp physical management business is a big one at almost $5 billion, offering plenty of opportunity for growth. This focus enabled MedRisk to concentrate on doing one thing very, very well, instead of distracting management with ventures into “potential opportunities.”

A relentless focus on service also paid off very well. I wrote this some years back:

For years, MedRisk had the niche almost to itself, focusing its sales and service attention on corporate buyers. Along came Align Networks, a start-up that concentrated on the desk-level user, delivering stellar service to each and every adjuster and case manager.  Align was quite successful, eventually becoming the largest vendor in the PM management space.

A misstep by MedRisk helped Align.  Some years ago, MedRisk chose to outsource key functions, including some aspects of IT, billing, and outbound call center functions including patient scheduling. This did not go well, and the resulting dissatisfaction among desk-level users led some customers to switch from MedRisk to Align.

Confronted with the loss of business, MedRisk got back to basics.  The lesson was apparent; a dramatic change in customer service was critical. That involved a major shift in understanding about the central importance of the desk-level customer, the provider and the patient, and a recognition that those customers required, above all, personalized service.

Management – Investors invest in management. MedRisk’s management team is second to none, and has only gotten better with the addition of Danielle Lisenbey as President. CEO Ken Martino stays on as does Executive Chair Mike Ryan and most of the great people who made MedRisk what it is today.




The scammers fighting CDC’s opioid guidelines

Several commenters purporting to be chronic pain patients responded to my post about the AMA’s bemoaning CDC’s opioid guidelines. 

Their stories were tragic; heartfelt; full of pain, suffering, and grief.  All decried the CDC’s guidelines as wildly misplaced, directly responsible for their terrible suffering, a governmental overreach, and a grossly misplaced intrusion of the government into the hallowed doctor-patient relationship.

Several attacked Dr Andrew Kolodny, making all kinds of ugly claims, attacking his ethics and denigrating his motivations. [Dr Kolodny is Executive Director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.]

And all but one came from email addresses that are bogus. I know that because I emailed each of them and asked them to confirm they sent a comment to MCM.  Here’s an example of one response.

I’ve known Dr Kolodny for over a decade. We met at the first few RxSummit conferences where colleagues introduced us. He was one of the first clinicians to raise the alarm about prescription opioids, and PROP has been instrumental in helping states, the CDC, and other governmental entities address the opioid crisis. I deeply respect Dr Kolodny – his relentless effort to stop the devastation caused by opioids has saved countless lives.

I do not know who is behind these attacks on the CDC and the attempts to libel and slander Dr Kolodny. I do not know if they are the product of the Opioid Industry, another example of their insidious effort to legitimize its criminal behavior and its lethal consequences. The Opioid Industry’s tentacles take the form of organizations that sound legitimate but are just mouthpieces for Big Opioids.

Big Opioid sponsors so-called patient advocacy groups, yet another example of Astroturfing (go to p 29, about halfway down, to see a description of the practice; or just search for Astroturf).

I also wrote on this several years ago.

The Astroturfers’ clever messaging convinces some chronic pain sufferers that the solution is more opioids, and anyone who disagrees is a self-serving, uncaring profiteer who is somehow profiting from their pain.

I hate Big Opioid and the people who propagate their lies. They are killing people, devastating families and destroying communities, all in the name of profits.

They are mass murderers – nothing less.





The prescription opioid crisis is far from over

There’s still lots of money in the peddling of opioids, and lots of misinformation out there about opioid control efforts going too far.

Correlated? You tell me.

The American Medical Association sent a letter to the CDC claiming  “the nation no longer has a prescription opioid-driven epidemic...the AMA urges governors and state legislators to take action [to] remove …. arbitrary dose, quantity and refill restrictions on controlled substances.” [emphasis added]

In a letter sent to the AMA that was also published in the British Medical Journal, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing took the AMA to task, noting the AMA’s position is misguided at best:

 There is compelling evidence that many of those currently struggling with opioid dependence and addiction were introduced to opioids through use of medically prescribed opioids used to treat chronic pain. Medically prescribed opioids remain a common gateway to illicit opioid use and are themselves frequent causes of opioid addiction and overdose, even if illicit opioids currently cause the greater number of deaths.

PROP’s letter goes on to state:

Suggested dose and duration restrictions are not “arbitrary”, they are based on considerable evidence of when harm far exceeds benefit.

I do not know why the AMA is mischaracterizing the CDC guidelines. I do know opioid manufacturers are very, very good at working the levers of power, expert at manipulating government officials, and extremely generous in their political contributions.

The AMA’s anti-opioid guideline stance is kind of bizarre, bizarre as in Through the Looking Glass. On the one hand, it is mischaracterizing and decrying CDC guidelines that have been instrumental in mitigating the opioid disaster.

On the other, the AMA is claiming credit for reducing opioid use, deaths from overdoses, and various other positive trends, stating “the [AMA Opioid] task force’s recommendations have led to significant progress…”

That’s rather bold, considering:

And, of course, those CDC guidelines have been widely adopted by states, and are widely credited with reducing the damage done by opioids.

At times the guidelines have been misapplied, doctors have arbitrarily applied them, and patients have been abruptly cut off. That is NOT the fault of the guidelines, that are just that – guidelines. Rather, it is the fault of those mis-applying them to patients.

What does this mean for you?

The opioid crisis is far from over.

Controlling inappropriate use of prescription opioids is as important today as it has ever been.


COVID update #56

COVID is likely to become an endemic disease, one that is with us forever. It will morph, adapt, and change over time, evolving constantly as the virus does what all “living” things do – seek to survive and propagate.  Like all pandemics, our fortunes will wax and wane.  At times new variants will be more or less infectious, more or less deadly, more or less controllable.

We humans will develop immunity to a greater or lesser degree depending on multiple factors; what variant we’re exposed to, how old we are, our unique genetic makeup, other co-morbidities, whether or not we have decent, accessible healthcare, where we live and what we do and who we do it with.

credit Down to Earth

Most important will be whether we listen to science, exercise caution, and protect ourselves and others…or cross the stupid line.

The good news. 

The world’s focus on developing vaccines has been hugely successful; a year after the virus emerged about 150 million people have been vaccinated. That is a truly stunning accomplishment, all the more so because the most successful vaccines to date have relied on a never-before used model (mRNA).

Here in the US we just learned that the Biden Administration has secured enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get every resident inoculated by mid-July. If J&J’s vaccine gets approved, the single-dose mechanism will significantly speed up the vaccination process.

The bad news is 100,000 of us died of COVID in January, and some of the new variants appear to be more infectious and others may be more deadly.

So, we are racing to develop herd immunity before the virus’ ability to adapt and change overcomes current vaccines’ ability to control it. 

What’s worse is this did not have to happen. Between eliminating the budget of a key government entity tasked with early identification of infectious diseases, promoting useless and dangerous COVID treatments, refusing to encourage people to wear masks and politicizing public health, we can clearly see what happens when we elect incompetent politicians.

Trump et al failed us miserably, but they aren’t the only ones at fault. The conduct of a Governor whose administration failed to report nursing home deaths and another Governor (of a state with death rates among the highest in the nation) that actively lied about COVID is reprehensible. In Cuomo’s case, blaming the coverup on fears the Trump Administration would use the death count as a political cudgel is no excuse.

What does this mean for you?

We all need to accept that COVID is never going away.


Hospitals got hammered in 2020

2020 was a really awful year for hospitals.

The median operating margin dropped 16.6% –  and the median facility just barely broke even.

And that was AFTER the billions hospitals received from you and me courtesy of the CARES Act.

Without our largesse, hospital margins dropped…wait for it…55.6%.

Another key datapoint is the use of operating rooms. Usage was down by over 10%; as that’s where hospitals make their money, it’s not surprising that margins dropped even more than operating room usage did.

What does this mean for you?

Nothing good.


We have a very long way to go.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, America, we have a problem. That problem is our healthcare delivery and payment system/industry.

Our healthcare system is a mess.

It is unfathomably complicated, far too expensive, and delivers results that are generally good for wealthier White people and not so good for poorer and non-White people.

This is just the high level stuff…

But wait, Medicare is simple…right??

Then there’s our crappy results.

Americans’ life expectancy has dropped while people in every other developed country are living longer.

Oh, and it’s stupid expensive…Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as the average developed country.

But our healthcare is great…right??

Not for Black babies.

But all of us get far fewer doctor visits…

From far fewer doctors…

While Purdue and the rest of the opioid industry make tens of billions of dollars killing our relatives and friends

The result  – we pay waaaay more than other people and die sooner.

What does this mean for you?

Demand better. And do something about it.