Nov
13

Tuesday catch-up

It’s been a very very busy time.

First, I’m pretty darn excited to note my alma mater’s football team goes into it’s match with Notre Dame ranked 12th in the nation. As a long-suffering Syracuse alum, this is territory we haven’t seen in decades.

Perhaps we’ll see Chris LeStage’s LSU Tigers in a Bowl Game???

OK, on to work.

The National Work Comp and Disability Conference is fast approaching. You can get a discounted registration here.

A bit further out on the schedule is WCRI’s annual confab – which will be in Phoenix AZ next February 28 – March 1.  You can get the details here. DO NOT WAIT to register; this always fills up so don’t procrastinate.

Next, a best-in-class work comp safety program is the product of a “great team” led by a very experienced and very competent leader. Joe Molloy at Northwell Health is innovative, focused on the right things, and committed to partnering with service suppliers. Joe’s team has reduced lost work days at a giant healthcare system by a third.

More proof of the ongoing effort by health insurers to move the US to single payer…this insidious plan is bearing fruit as we just received new evidence of its effectiveness – Americans don’t like their health insurance.

According to a national survey by ACSI, consumers rank their satisfaction with health insurance as equal to airlines. “Health insurance satisfaction is flat after two years of gains, staying lowest in the Finance/Insurance sector” Ouch.

I find it increasingly likely we’ll have some form of single payer, perhaps Medicaid for all – within a decade.  Health insurers continue to piss off customers on a regular basis, can’t control health care cost increases, and are lousy at branding.

They do have gazillions of dollars which they will spend to kill MFA or any other version of single payer – and they are pretty darn good at the government lobbying thing.

That said, when things can no longer continue, they won’t.

What does this mean for you?

It’s not a question of “if” we end up with single payer, it’s a question of when.


Sep
18

Why a Texas court case is hugely important to you.

You or your spouse may well have a pre-existing health condition, one that, back in the bad-old pre-ACA days would have made it hard if not impossible to get insurance coverage in the individual and small group insurance markets.

Those days may be coming back.

A Texas court case is scaring the bejesus out of many; the Trump Administration and several state attorneys general are suing to overturn provisions of the ACA that require health insurers to cover pre-existing conditions.

If this scares you, you’re not alone. More than half of people polled are afraid their insurance costs will go way up, and 4 out of ten think they may lose insurance coverage if insurers no longer have to cover pre-existing conditions.

An old athletic injury, skin cancer, stomach trouble, anxiety, a heart murmur, migraines, allergies – all those and many more are pre-existing conditions that, if the lawsuit succeeds, would likely prevent you from getting individual insurance coverage for those conditions – if you could get insured at all.

Before the ACA,

  • you couldn’t leave their job to try something new or retire early – a condition known as “job lock”
  • small employers’ costs went up dramatically if workers got sick or had specific conditions because their insurer wanted to dump them.

Under the ACA, insurers must cover pre-existing conditions, and can’t charge individuals, families, or small businesses more based on those pre-ex conditions.

This strikes me as eminently fair; I had cataract surgery and started getting migraines years go, and until the ACA I had no coverage for ANYTHING related to my eyes or brain. That was pretty scary; any medical care related to those rather important organs was money out of our family budget.

Here are some of the conditions that you are insured for under the ACA, conditions that would not be covered if the lawsuit succeeds.

I’m all for freedom and choice and all that stuff.

What I’m vehemently against is stupid public policy that results in you going bankrupt because an insurer won’t cover your pre-existing condition.

For those who claim the “free market” will fix this – you are smoking crack. No insurance company will cover your pre-ex condition – or your spouse’s, or kids’ – unless they are forced to.

What does this mean for you?

If Trump et al win this suit, your freedom to change jobs just disappeared.

 

 

 


Sep
10

Hypocrisy hits new heights.

The same folks who want to cut $537 billion from Medicare are now claiming only they can “protect” Medicare.

Out on the campaign trail, President Trump and Gov Rick Scott (R FL) are claiming “Medicare for All” would somehow harm Medicare, and seniors need to vote for them to preserve Medicare as it is.

In an obvious attempt to scare seniors, Trump et al are asserting that expanding Medicare – the most-liked health coverage in the nation – will somehow result in seniors losing Medicare benefits. They support this assertion with no logic, no coherent argument, no evidence or data, yet there it is.

This from the same folks who, just a couple months ago, wanted to cut seniors’ Medicare benefits. What’s changed?

Elections are coming, that’s what’s changed.

According to Forbes, the GOP is looking for:

$900 million in cuts to rein in Medicare prescription abuses. Another $5 billion is cuts are specified to address high drug prices, while $286 billion in funding will be pared to reduce excessive hospital payments.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that Medicare is not financially sustainable – especially given the huge tax cuts passed by the GOP.  And yes, we need to figure out how we can keep Medicare viable given the drop in federal tax revenue due to the tax cut.

But to turn around and claim that expanding Medicare for All is somehow damaging to a program you’d like to cut by a half-trillion dollars is, well, the height of hypocrisy.

What does this mean for you?

Medicare for All isn’t a threat to Medicare. 


Sep
7

Healthcare costs and wages

The economy is booming, wage growth is not.

Healthcare is the big reason workers aren’t seeing higher wages – instead of spending their dollars on consumer goods, travel, cars and entertainment, workers are paying higher premiums and deductibles.

More than half of all workers have seen no increase in take home pay – ALL of their pay increases have gone to pay for higher health insurance premiums. And that’s before deductibles, copays, and co-insurance.

(graphs from WaPo)

Deductibles are zooming ever higher because high deductibles mean lower premiums. Think of this as cost-shifting to the sick; healthy folks pay lower premiums but if/when you need health care, BOOM!

You first have to pay for that care yourself, before you start getting some help from your healthplan.

This is even more of an issue for folks who work for smaller employers (<200 workers), where the average deductible for individuals (not families) is $2,069.

What does this mean for you?

You have less money in your paycheck because it is going to doctors, hospitals, pharma, device companies, and insurers.

And it’s going to get worse.

 

 


Aug
17

The Opioid Update

72,000 kids, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, best friends died last year from opioid overdoses.

Things are so bad that despite the ever-climbing death toll, news reports announcing the butcher’s bill manage to sound somewhat positive, citing reductions in deaths in a handful of states. Meanwhile, between 2.1 and 4 million Americans suffer from Opioid Abuse Disorder. 

Fentanyl is now the biggest driver, accelerating a years-long upward trend begun by rampant over-prescribing of prescription opioids.

Researchers cite some reasons for optimism; death rates in the west remain pretty flat – likely because the heroin used there is hard to mix with fentanyl…however there’s evidence that the black tar folks are figuring out how to do just that.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers; debating, pontificating, speechifying – and doing precious little.

To date, they’ve allocated a mere billion dollars to the biggest health crisis we’ve seen in decades.

Here in workers’ comp land, CWCI just released an analysis of polypharmacy among work comp patients in California. (Polypharmcy refers to patients getting multiple drugs.)

Two key takeaways:

  • A combination of  opioids, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories was the most common drug cocktail. (opioids combined with muscle relaxants are very, very dangerous)
  • Shockingly, fully one-fifth of patients prescribed 3 or more drugs have back strains without skeletal involvement. Another tenth have various other sprains.  Yup, strains and sprains account for about a third of these patients.

What does this mean for you?

The next time someone protests the UR/IMR process, ask them how many more patients have to die from opioids before they accept that doctors need oversight.

 


Aug
16

U.S. healthcare vs the world in one chart

How does our healthcare stack up against the rest of the world?

As we think about the possibility of moving to some version of Single Payer, we have to look at all sides of the question – what do we pay, what do we get, and how is that working for us.

Let’s start with a quick snapshot – we pay twice as much as the average country, to get results that are generally worse than average.

Would your business survive if you delivered these results at this cost?

Briefly – we are paying twice as much as the average industrialized country, yet our life expectancy is lower, more of us die from heart disease, far fewer of us have insurance coverage, and too many of us are admitted with breathing problems.

Want more?

It won’t surprise you to see more Americans skipped taking medications because they couldn’t afford them.

Add that to the fact that the US has a higher percentage of adults with diabetes than all but two countries, and we know that the prognosis for many of those diabetics is poor.

Oh, and more American babies die than in most other countries; fortunately we are just a tad better than Russia, land of alcoholism and awful medical care.

That may be because we have a higher rate of obstetric trauma than most other countries…

Our surgical infection rates are also average – although we pay way more than they do in other countries.

 

What does this mean for you?

The US healthcare system is delivering crappy results for way too much of our money. Given what we pay, we should have the fewest infant deaths, lowest surgical infection rates, highest medication adherence, and longest and healthiest lives.

And that’s exactly why Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMOrganChase are taking it on.

*Source for all charts is http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/health_glance-2017-en


Jul
9

High deductible health plans don’t work

High deductible health plans do not work.

These plans, also known as HDHPs are the bluntest of instruments, intended to make patients more cost conscious and better consumers by making them pay the first few thousand dollars of their healthcare bills.

Instead, patients avoid care they should get, go bankrupt trying to pay sky-high deductibles, and even worse, don’t do a damn thing to get high utilizers to modify their lifestyle or care decisions.

Lazy benefits managers and employers looking for a quick fix to rising premiums continue to tout HDHPs despite the warning signs. Now, over a decade after these plans first became widely popular, some employers are finally getting the message.

I’d go so far as to argue that HDHPs help drive health care costs up; sick folks get sicker because they can’t afford preventive and routine care, while the 20% of members who incur 80% of the healthcare costs blow thru their deductible in March and then have no financial inhibitions.

Research shows most of those high utilizers don’t shop for care. I don’t see this as dumb behavior, rather a result of dumb plan design. If you’ve already paid your annual out-of-pocket maximum, you have no incentive to ask what something costs or even if you need that care.

I’ve been railing about this for years…alas, with the same effectiveness as Cassandra

So, if you’re looking to benefit design to control costs, what’s a better alternative?

Simple.  Replace deductibles and copays with co-insurance.  That is, have consumers share in the actual cost.  If treatment costs $100, then the consumer pays $20; if it is $4000, then the consumer pays $800.  This will make the consumer cost conscious without breaking their bank.

I understand that this will require the consumer, provider, and health plan to know what the cost of care is, ideally before treatment.  That is another major benefit of a co-insurance based program; it will speed adoption of transparent pricing and make consumers much more discerning buyers.

Yes, keep an out of pocket limit to protect consumers.  High utilizers will feel the pain of paying co-insurance far longer than they do today.  As a result, they will be better consumers overall.

What does this mean for you?

This isn’t that complicated, nor is it difficult.  Health plans that do this will gain a competitive advantage.

 


Jun
21

Why we’re not solving opioid addiction

The reason opioid abuse disorder (OAD) is such a huge problem is because no one’s figured out how to a) fix it while b) making a shipload of money.

Sure, there are “solutions” that address bits and pieces including:

  • urine drug testing identifies patients who aren’t taking prescribed drugs and/or are taking other licit or illicit medications;
  • Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT) can and does help many wean off opioids without going thru withdrawal;
  • inpatient or outpatient detox is essential for some OAD patients;
  • physical therapy and exercise is helpful for many; and
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is essential for many patients.

But many patients require many of these services, while some do fine with one or two.

There is no single silver bullet.

What we aren’t doing is funding community-based treatment facilities and providers. This is essential because OAD is a long-term chronic disease, and patients need follow up and support for years.

The real issue is three-fold – treating OAD usually requires dealing with the patient’s chronic pain as well; OAD is a lifetime disorder; and every patient is different.

The terror of withdrawal coupled with the dread of chronic pain is hugely difficult to overcome. Patients are justifiably terrified of both, and this fear must be addressed throughout the treatment process. This is a long-term process likely involving different treatment modalities delivered by diverse providers.

Some patients respond to MAT, others do not. Some have family support systems, others are pretty much on their own. Some respond to PT and exercise, others are too afraid the effort will trigger a resurgence of pain. And the only way to find out what works for Patient X is to keep trying different approaches, providers, modalities until you find something that works.

No one has cracked the code, come up with a set process, solution or approach that works for most patients. Until someone figures out how to make gazillions fixing people with substance abuse disorder, I don’t expect the nation will make real progress.

That does NOT mean there aren’t real successes happening every day.

California’s State Fund is one of the leaders, delivering remarkable results through a careful, methodical approach.

Here’s the key – OAD can be a lifetime issue. Do not fear this, rather accept it as reality. It’s far easier to throw one’s hands up at the difficulty of it all rather than dig in and get going, but it’s also what led to hundreds of thousands of workers comp patients with OAD.

What does this mean for you?

Those who are in it for the long haul are going to be the difference makers.


Jun
19

Roads to stability

After eight days with family in Tuscany, it’s back to work.

Before we dive into the mundane, an observation from my travels.

This is a road built by the Romans about 2000 years ago. It’s still pretty functional, as were most of the ones we rode on in the hills and valleys of Tuscany. Sure, it could be smoother and a bit less steep (or a LOT less steep) in places, but it’s still there.

The Romans built these by hand, with nothing but human and animal power, with no electronics or computers or drones or satellite or engineering apps, no internal combustion or hydraulics or steam- or coal- powered machines. And they’re still here.

The Romans built these roads to speed communications, trade, and security. The labor that built these roads was drawn from the poor in the cities, local farms and landowners.

Somehow, that bumpy, narrow road of stones buried in the dirt eons ago felt a lot more…reliable.

All those opioid bills in Congress

Now we know why Congress can’t get anything done – At last count there were about 30 opioid-related bills in various stages in the House or Senate – over 20 have actually been passed by the House. One of the bills that addresses the Institutions for Mental Diseases is pretty contentious.

According to the Washington Post, the “IMD exclusion”  prohibits federal Medicaid reimbursements for inpatient treatment centers with more than 16 beds whose patients are mainly suffering from severe mental illness. The House bill would lift the exclusion for treatment of opioid addiction- but ONLY opioid addiction.

This ignores the very real and pervasive nature of other-substance addiction that has long plagued poor rural, minority and inner-city populations – crystal meth is just one example.

Why we’d pass a bill that doesn’t address crystal meth, which is a disaster in many rural communities from Maine to Arizona, is beyond me.

But there’s another issue here that’s even more troubling; this bill ignores the real problem; community-based treatment has always been starved for funds, unable to help millions of people who endlessly wait their turn for treatment.

Experts believe we need north of $10 billion per year to make a real impact on substance abuse disorder

Fact is, many with substance abuse disorder want to get treatment – there just isn’t any available. And allowing Medicaid to spend billions on care delivered in large institutions sounds a lot like a hand-out of taxpayer dollars to big business-owned “treatment” centers.

The IMD exclusion repeal is just window-dressing, a way for politicians to claim they’re doing something while handing billions to an industry with really good lobbying.

What does this mean for you?

The Romans built very expensive and very solid, stable, and durable roads that led to the long-term survival and success of the Empire.

We give truckloads of taxpayer dollars to big business while ignoring the devastation of the rural and inner-city poor.

Where will our decision lead us?

 


Apr
25

Single payer is inevitable.

Some variation of “single payer” healthcare is going to happen, for one simple reason – the current “healthcare system” is going to blow up.

People are  broke, fed up, and angry – and support Medicare for All.

Health insurance is not useful for most of us: many can’t afford the deductibles, and premiums are just stupid expensive.

The people running Washington aren’t interested in or capable of fixing anything, they just want to blow stuff up.

While most think Medicare for all will happen, I lean more towards a standardized “Medicaid for all” option.  Medicaid:

  • allows for a lot of experimentation by states,
  • serves a much broader population,
  • is focused on the biggest problems in healthcare – the disabled, poor, disenfranchised, chronically ill, addicted, and
  • is a lot easier to understand than the alphabet soup of Medicare A, B, C, D etc.

Our last best chance of keeping the “healthcare system” we had was the ACA, a solution rooted in a Heritage Foundation plan that relied on private insurers. When the GOP gutted it, the writing was on the wall.

Here’s a quick summary of steps Republicans took that harmed ACA. (more here; a LOT more here)

  • Removed funding for risk corridors which kept co-ops and other plans alive
  • Didn’t expand Medicaid in 17 states
  • Hobbled ACA marketing efforts in multiple states
  • Sued the Obama Administration to block premium supports

I don’t know when this will happen, I just know that it will.