May
5

Comp’s culture of catastrophizing

At the height of the COVID crisis last year, some research organizations, brokers/consultants and “thought leaders” were gravely forecasting how awful this was going to be for workers’ comp.

Sure, we didn’t know what was going to happen, although careful and thorough research would have indicated things weren’t headed towards the “awful”.

Instead, we heard:

  • investment returns were going to suffer;
  • profits were in deep peril; and
  • workers’ comp was going to be the “go to” insurer for COVID due to presumption

These could have happened, but the data clearly indicated these outcomes were pretty unlikely.

Then there’s “social inflation”, a term describing some rather nebulous and ill-defined “drivers” which are allegedly increasing the cost of insurance claims. [There are a host of methodological problems with the research cited in the link and with this study as well]

Social inflation is being blamed for all manner of problems – jury awards (many drastically reduced on appeal), ‘increased litigation”, “broader definitions of liability, more plaintiff-friendly legal decisions.”

This from Fitch’s Robert Mazzouli, [emphasis added]

A high-profile litigation example in the U.S. is the so-called opioid crisis – drug companies have been accused of playing a harmful role in the extensive overuse of opioid medications, with the overuse blamed on both medical prescriptions and illegal sources.

Read that again.

“So-called opioid crisis?” What planet is this guy living on?

Not this one. There is overwhelming evidence against Purdue and other members of the opioid industry.

Not sure where these experts get their information, as research indicates the various “problems” attributed to social inflation are overstated or exaggerated.

What’s abundantly clear about these two issues is workers’ comp insurance people have no idea what’s really driving their business. Instead of doing the hard work to figure out how to address over-spending on claims, too many blame outside forces.

COVID and “social inflation”‘s impact on work comp is insignificant compared to opioids and facility costs.

Opioids drove up workers’ comp rates and claims and claim duration. Yet few work comp insurers have figured out how to help long-term patients reduce or eliminate opioids.

Facility costs are the fastest-growing part of medical spend, driven by:

  • the failure of some states to expand Medicaid;
  • (mostly for-profit) health systems’s amazing ability to over-charge workers’ comp payers and get away with it;
  • changes in reimbursement by Medicare;
  • reliance on PPOs to address facility costs; and
  • grossly inadequate medical bill review

What does this mean for you?

Instead of blaming external issues, work comp execs should focus on understanding medical drivers and how healthcare impacts workers comp.


Mar
8

Data ≠ Insight, Questions ≠ Answers

Data is great, but it is no substitute for seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

That’s my takeaway from a great piece in today’s Harvard Business Review – timely indeed as it comes on the heels of Friday’s post re the decline in service at many workers’ comp “service” companies.

The piece discussed a financial services firm looking to better understand what their customers actually wanted; the firm “conducted a series of client interviews structured in a way that allowed the customer to do the talking and the company to do the listening.”

Here’s a smack-to-the-head finding:

the questions they’d been asking [in previous surveys] were built on managers’ perceptions of what clients needed to answer. They weren’t constructed on what clients wanted to express. This resulted in data that didn’t reflect clients’ real requirements. The list of priorities obtained via client interviews compared to management’s assumed client priorities coincided a mere 50 percent of the time. [emphasis added]

A smart tech exec said we:

“…focus on what customers want to accomplish, not necessarily how they want to accomplish it.” [emphasis added]

That’s point one.

Which leads directly to Point Two – You cannot just do what the client says they want you to do.

The problem with most account managers, and managers of account managers, and customer service goals, and the execs that are responsible for customer happiness/retention/success is they focus on what the customer says – not what they mean.

You know way more than your customer does about your business, your abilities, the supply chain, workflows and processes, which regulations apply and which don’t. You probably know a lot more than your customers’ execs do about:

  • how their IT systems work and don’t,
  • workarounds and the impacts thereof,
  • how and why front-line workers are negatively impacted by archaic processes and management approaches,
  • how your work product is accessed and integrated into outputs, and
  • how you could simplify processes and speed things up and reduce errors.

Your job is to do that – not to do what the customer says, but to deliver what they really need – not what they say they need.

[As one who has conducted dozens of surveys over the last two decades, this will force me to re-think how we do this…]

What does this mean for you?

Asking the right questions is about identifying the problems your customers want to solve.

You – not your customer – are responsible for figuring out how to solve those problems.

 


Feb
9

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.


Nov
9

Updates on the ACA

With the GOP attorneys general’s case to overturn the ACA pending before the Supreme Court, you may want a refresher on what the ACA is, where it is working and when it isn’t, what the problems are.

And more importantly how we can fix it.

One of the nation’s leading experts on the ACA- Charles Gaba – will cover all that stuff tomorrow in a webinar.

The Milbank Quarterly will also be publishing experts’ views on the ACA.

As I mentioned last week, Biden will likely be limited to administrative orders, as the GOP-run Senate (pending the Georgia runoff) is not likely to help him implement structural improvements.

What does this mean for you?

A lot of boring wonktalk about the ACA which is nonetheless really important.

 


Nov
6

Friday catch up

Election week in America – the never-ending show continues…

Here’s what else happened this week.

Online registration for the CompLaude awards opened up; you can sign up here for the December 3 virtual event. Congratulations to all the nominees.

The fine folk at WCRI continue to pump out relevant research; I have a lot of catching up to do but did manage to dive into their analysis of New York’s work comp systems and the results thereof. Quick takeaways:

  • Medical inflation has been pretty flat since 2014, driven by decreasing costs for non-hospital providers. You read that right; costs dropped by about 1 percent per year from 2014 – 2019.
  • Hospital outpatient payments per claim went up 2 percent per year over that period
  • Drug costs in the Empire State have dropped by 9 – 12 percent per year, driven by
  • a 48% drop in morphine equivalents per claim, and a 23 point decrease in the percentage of claims with an opioid script.

Way to go New York.

Addiction treatment

A great piece in WaPo about contingency management, a treatment approach that is yielding promising results. Essentially it rewards drug users with money and prizes for staying abstinent. Some folks don’t like it on moral grounds; they feel its wrong to reward addicts for staying clean.

I’m no ethicist, but this strikes me as a reasonable objection. However, it has to be balanced against the good that comes from helping people recover. Critics’ high morals kind of pale in comparison to keeping people alive.

For now, only the VA is paying for this. It’s long past time private insurers and Medicare/Medicaid stepped up.

All things COVID

I haven’t been paying nearly enough attention to the eruption of COVID; will do a couple posts next week to catch up.  In the meantime, here’s treatment news.

From MedScape, good news; it appears the risk of cardiovascular problems in young athletes recovering from COVID isn’t as high as once thought.

Okay, that’s the good news. The not-good news is the most common version of the virus has mutated and is now more contagious. However, we appear to have dodged a bullet – this version of the virus also mutates much more slowly than other common viruses. It’s really hard to attack a virus that’s constantly changing as scientists are constantly playing catch up.  A relatively stable virus means the development of vaccines and treatments should be a lot more productive.

Lastly, there’s been a lot of misinformation that doctors and hospitals are over-counting COVID cases because they make more money. In a word, that’s a lie. Hospitals do not receive extra funds when patients die from COVID-19. 

Miscoding patients and deaths would be fraud and could result in criminal prosecution.

For the relatively small percentage of patients that don’t have health insurance, there is Federal money available, HOWEVER, healthcare providers can only submit claims that list covid-19 as a patient’s primary diagnosis. Patients with COVID often die of sepsis and other conditions; in those cases providers get paid nothing.

Net – there is zero evidence to support that assertion. None whatsoever.

I find this incredibly offensive; one of our daughters is a nurse working in a major hospital and her husband is a clinician at a VA facility. 1700 healthcare workers have died of COVID – 200 of them are nurses.

These lies are reprehensible.


Nov
5

Enough obsessing…here’s what the election means for healthcare.

Like many, I’ve been spending far too much time obsessing over election results.

It’s a waste of time and energy…and completely useless; rather than dive into Maricopa County absentee ballot trends, time is far better spent figuring out the election’s implications.

I’ll stipulate that come January there will be a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and probably a very narrow Republican majority in the Senate (although that depends on Georgia’s Ossoff – Purdue results and the Warnock – Loeffler runoff).

Here’s what this means for healthcare.

The ACA is here to stay – whether it gets fixed is up to the Senate.

The Affordable Care Act needs work, but gridlock may keep it stumbling along.

Biden’s wish list includes:

  • lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 60,
  • allowing the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over prescription drug prices,
  • spending $775 billion on caregiving to address the need for home health,
  • expanding financial assistance for health insurance,
  • creating a “public option” government health plan, and
  • changing the individual mandate to ensure folks are incentivized to get health insurance.

Without a Democratic Senate, much of the list (lowering Medicare age, public option, $ for caregiving) is unlikely to happen...but Biden can use Executive Orders to address some key problems.

Expect a slew of Orders on issues including:

  • expanding family planning services;
  • expanding value-based care to – perhaps – include pharma (a backdoor way to partially address drug costs);
  • free and expanded testing for COVID,
  • transparency on medical billing, and
  • a mechanism to address surprise bills.

A Biden Administration will double down on the opioid crisis, taking much more aggressive action to make profiteers such as Purdue pay huge penalties. Criminal charges may well be levied against those profiteers along with efforts to reclaim dollars parked overseas by the Sackler family (owners of Purdue).

Of course, this depends on the Georgia runoff, scheduled for January 5 with early voting starting December 20.

What does this mean for you?

Its a lot more productive to focus on the implications and how they may affect you, your family, your community and your business than to worry about stuff we can’t control.


Oct
28

The Sturgis Superspreader Event

Increasing evidence points to August’s Sturgis motorcycle rally as a major contributor to the big increase in infections throughout the upper midwest.

With 400,000 folks spending days talking, drinking, eating, recreating, socializing, dancing, singing, and generally having a great time – mostly without masks, sanitizer and obviously with no social distancing, this should come as no surprise.

Sturgis’ Meade County has experienced a major jump in case infection rates, helping to steepen South Dakota’s infection curve.

Using phone tracking data, researchers found:

counties that contributed the highest inflows of rally attendees experienced a 7.0 to 12.5 percent increase in COVID-19 cases relative to counties that did not contribute inflows.

Sturgis’ location in South Dakota was problematic as the state has done little to encourage responsible behavior, choosing to allow individuals and local entities to decide on public health measures.

The study has been met with some criticism, however other reports indicate outbreaks linked to Sturgis attendees happened in Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, New Jersey, North Dakota and other states.

One can argue about the validity of this study or pick apart specific issue, but one cannot justify 400,000 maskless people mashing together in the midst of a pandemic.

None of us like to be told what to do – me included. The idea of someone telling me what to wear, where I can and cannot go, things I can and cannot do…is why I’ve worked for myself for 25 years.

With that freedom comes responsibility, and the freedom-loving folks who went to Sturgis likely robbed thousands of others of their freedom to live COVID-free.

What does this mean for you?

We are all in this together – for good or ill.

Thanks to Pete for inspiring this post.

 

 


Oct
6

Opioids – Deaths up, Sacklers likely to escape justice

Three news items hit the desk, ranging from bad to awful.

More than 73,000 of us died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending February, 2020. That’s four thousand more deaths than the previous year.

(note graph below is for a slightly different time period)

And it is getting worse.

Preliminary data indicates the death count is up 13% so far this year.

The number of non-fatal overdoses in Vermont tripled this year, with almost 9 out of 10 involving fentanyl.

Meanwhile, the drug dealers directly responsible for much of the horror are about to escape with most of their billions in ill-gotten gains intact.

The drug dealers are the Sacklers, owners of Purdue Pharma. Purdue developed and marketed OxyContin; A recent study,  authored by the Wharton School, Notre Dame, and RAND reported “the introduction and marketing of OxyContin explain a substantial share of overdose deaths over the last two decades.”

This from a New Yorker article:

Behind the scenes, lawyers for Purdue and its owners have been quietly negotiating with Donald Trump’s Justice Department to resolve all the various federal investigations in an overarching settlement, which would likely involve a fine but no charges against individual executives. [emphasis added]

A lawsuit indicated over the last few years, the Sackler family has transferred billions of dollars offshore, effectively protecting those assets from the US justice system. This from the New Yorker:

In a deposition, one of the company’s own experts testified that the Sacklers had removed as much as thirteen billion dollars from Purdue.

The states have asserted in legal filings that the total cost of the opioid crisis exceeds two trillion dollars. Relative to that number, the three billion dollars that the Sacklers are guaranteeing in their offer is miniscule. It is also a small number relative to the fortune that the Sacklers appear likely to retain, which could be three or four times that amount. [emphasis added]

This country has jailed millions of poor people for decades for drug-related crimes; the Trump Administration appears poised to let the white-collar drug dealers most responsible for the opioid crisis walk away with billions of dollars they made addicting America.

What does this mean for you?

The Sacklers should rot in hell, but they will likely live on in unimaginable luxury. We should all be outraged.

 


Sep
29

If the Supreme Court kills “Obamacare”

With President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court all but confirmed, there are huge implications for healthcare. If the Court rules the ACA/Obamacare is unconstitutional, “a host of provisions may be eliminated” including:

  • protections for people with pre-existing conditions,
  • subsidies to make individual health insurance more affordable,
  • expanded eligibility for Medicaid,
  • coverage of young adults up to age 26 under their parents’ insurance policies,
  • coverage of preventive care with no patient cost-sharing, and
  • lower drug costs for seniors using Medicare’s drug benefit.

Today, a brief summary of the court case and analysis of two major implications.

A week after the election the Court will hear the Trump Administration and Republican State Attorneys General argue that the entire ACA/Obamacare must be struck down. Health policy nerds (guilty!) will recall that lower courts ruled that Congress’ elimination of the individual mandate killed the entire ACA; this is the Trump/Republican AGs’ argument.

Democratic Attorneys General have argued that the mandate can and should be separated from the rest of the ACA.

We don’t know how the Court will rule. We do know that after Barrett’s confirmation, the Supreme Court will have a 6-3 supermajority of conservative justices. According to HealthAffairs, writing about the lower court’s ruling, Judge Barrett “does not clearly state her own view but signals support for the dissent’s view (full invalidation of the ACA).” [emphasis added]

Seniors and Hospitals will be dramatically impacted if the Supreme Court overturns the ACA/Obamacare (we’ll address other implications tomorrow).

Seniors

Ending the Medicaid expansion will eliminate benefits for seniors and others in Medicaid expansion states with incomes just above the poverty line.

The ACA closed the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare drug plan, saving a million seniors about $3,200 each. If it is overturned, seniors with high drug costs to treat chronic diseases such as MS, hepatitis C, some cancers, and some autoimmune diseases will see much higher costs.

Hospitals

Many hospitals are already in financial distress, especially in rural areas and states that did not expand Medicaid.

Tennessee and Texas lead the nation in hospital closures, with one-fifth of the Lone Star State’s rural hospitals already closed or close to it. Just north, a grassroots movement in Oklahoma driven by closure of a half-dozen rural hospitals, is gaining traction.

While Becker’s reports all but one of the hospitals going belly up are in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. 

If the Court overturns the ACA/Obamacare, many more rural and smaller hospitals will shut down, leaving healthcare deserts behind.

(Work comp is also affected – albeit indirectly)

What does this mean for you?

If you are a senior concerned about the cost of drugs, and/or live in a rural area, the Court’s decision will have real consequences.

 


Sep
25

Friday catch up

Pre-existing conditions, drug development, COVID-related GI problems, and marketing screwups…

First up, pre-existing conditions

Yesterday President Trump issued an executive order affirming “it is the official policy of the United States government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”

Well, yeah. It is today, because the ACA/Obamacare – which specifically protects patients with pre-existing conditions – is the law of the land, despite dozens of GOP efforts to overturn it. 

Couple other key issues.

  1. Without legislation signed into law, the Federal government – and the President – can’t enforce a “policy”.
  2. The executive order wasn’t released, so we don’t know what it actually says.
  3. The Trump Administration backs a lawsuit that would overturn the ACA and thereby eliminate pre-existing condition protections. 

What this means – don’t watch what someone says, watch what they do.

For more details on GOP and Democratic healthcare plans, click here.

Super-useful research on healthcare prices paid by private healthplans – kudos to RAND for updating their ongoing analysis. RAND compares prices paid by privately insurers – including work comp – to Medicare, allowing you to compare relative prices for individual facilities.

Thanks to Michael Costello for the link.

One takeaway – HCA hospitals are pretty expensive…(you can find prices for pretty much any hospital on RAND’s map)

Drug development

Pretty much all new drugs developed over the last decade relied on research you – the taxpayer – paid for.

That includes $6.5 billion of taxpayer dollars invested in remdesivir, one of the very few drugs found to be useful in treating COVID19.

COVID19

Alarming piece in JAMA yesterday reported patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome caused by COVID19 are at significantly higher risk for major gastrointestinal problems. Pretty solid science behind the research.

An earlier article highlighted the opioid epidemic during the COVID19 pandemic; there are definite limitations to the research due to small sample size and possible clinician bias. With those provisos, key takeaways include:

Good news – J&J will start Phase 3 trials of its vaccine. Unlike some other vaccines, it is a single shot and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 3 months (others require two shots and must be stored at ultracold temps).

Marketing malfeasance

And lastly, an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review about marketing in current times.  A critical takeaway – do NOT just talk about social responsibility; DO it. Kudos to Starbucks; after mandating that workers could not wear anything with Black Lives Matter while working, the company realized it screwed up and reversed course.

For the umpteenth time, if you do screw up, apologize fully and without dissembling.  None of these “I’m sorry if anyone is offended” non-apology apologies; from the article:

With “cancel culture” as pervasive as it is, a one-time reaction is as good as letting an issue get ahead of you. Instead, treat apologies or mea culpas as the first steps of an ongoing dialogue designed to bring about thoughtful and meaningful progress.

Here’s hoping the White Sox turn things around in the upcoming series with the Cubs…and your team wins this weekend.

Be well.