Coventry’s management has added an old colleague, Skip Creasy, to the executive team. Creasy worked with many of the present Coventry team in a prior life at Travelers’ Health Company; Shawn Guertin, Harv DeMovick, Tom McDonough, CEO Dale Wolf, and others were all affiliated with either Travelers, successor MetraHealth, or UnitedHealthCare after UHG acquired MetraHealth.
According to the press release, Skip “Creasy will be responsible for the development of Coventry health plans in new markets, including those markets to be added in the pending acquisition of First Health.”
Perhaps Eliot Gerson is next?
The long-awaited acquisition of First Health by Coventry for cash and stock totaling $1.8 billion or so has closed. The “old” FH management (Wristen, Dickerson, Dills et al) has departed as of 1/28/05, leaving Mary Baranowski as the remaining SVP and Art Lynch as VP Workers Compensation.
Now, the only question is what will McDonough et al (Coventry exec tasked w managing the acquisition) do with the various pieces of First Health.
We’ll be paying close attention, as FH is the dominant player in the WC managed care business, has a major presence in the group health world, and has several ancillary businesses.
Bob Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates (no affiliation with HSA) notes that CMS’ latest health care cost report includes the following:
“in 2002, the percentage of health insurance premiums spent on profit and admin expense was 12.8%; in 2003, the expense and profit ratio had rised to 13.6%. Undoubtedly, this gain is not in expenses but in health insurance company profits.”
This occured at a time when overall health care costs were still increasing by almost 9% a year.
At the risk of stating the obvious, profits and admin expenses have increased at a rate greater than that of total medical expenses. Not only does this not say much for the “efficiency” of the private market, it also may add fuel to the argument againts private insurance.
We’ll have more details on the CMS report’s notable findings in a future post.
Managed Healthcare Executive magazine published their annual survey of HMO enrollment in December.
The numbers show that most states actually experienced a decline in HMO enrollment, and nationally there was a decline of some 3 million members. Part of this may well be definitional issues, as HMOs have morphed into “open-access” HMOs, “closed network” PPOs, and the like. Regardless, this is an interesting development; early (albeit anecdotal) indications are that enrollment in more tightly managed plans may actually be increasing, as employers battle significant trend rates.
January 28th is the date set for the First Health shareholder vote on the proposed acquisition by Coventry. With regulatory approvals out of the way, the vote should be a formality.
The last remaining obstacle was the outstanding shareholder lawsuit demanding more information about the deal, which executives get what benefits, and may even lead to a public airing of FH’s financial adviser.
The reasoning behind the lawsuit appears to be FH shareholders’s (and Coventry owners as well) objecting to FH executives’ payouts under the deal, coupled with a perception that FH may not have marketed itself effectively.
Regardless, the deal is done. The next, and much more interesting phase, will be to see what Tom McDonough, the Coventry exec tasked with managing the acquistion, does next.
Bill McGuire, MD, chairman and CEO of UnitedHealthGroup, was interviewed by the journal “Health Affairs” recently, including, amongst other topics, UHG’s work in the area of physician practice pattern variation, .
UHG’s approach seems to be to identify centers of excellence for (primarily inpatient) high dollar claims, such as transplants, cancer, orthopedics, etc, and to encourage employers to preferentialy utilize these centers. UHG’s philosophy is to present the information to the employer, and give the employer the option of encouraging the utilization of the preferred centers. The tools available to the employer include benefit design, network customization, and cost sharing.
Not noted in the conversation is any attempt by UHG to provide feedback to non-center of excellence physicians on their practice patterns, the outcomes thereof, and associated costs. Instead, UHG is identifying those providers, down to the surgical team level, that have the best outcomes, and promoting those providers.
Interestingly, McGuire does not promote the use of narrow networks of a few highly-credentialed physicians with best-in-class outcomes.
To quote McGuire;
“I’m not sure that narrow networks get significant savings. Primary care gatekeepers did not lower costs. If people want narrower networks for some reason, we are in a position to facilitate that. But, philosophically, our desire is to bring the overall level of care, by a broad population of care providers, to a higher standard
The pending acquisition of First Health by Coventry is due to close within the month. First Health’s shareholders are scheduled to vote on the deal Jan 28th (evidently there is no need for a Coventry shareholder vote).
The announcement signals that all regulatory approvals have been obtained.
The deal had received a response from the analysts and financial markets that can only be described as lukewarm to downright cold, as Coventry’s stock value plummeted after the announcement on October 14. However, the price has recently recovered, and is now essentially unchanged from the pre-announcement level.
While it is impossible to precisely identify the reason for the increase, one can only assume it is due to confidence in Coventry’s management and their ability to turn around an under-performing asset. To quote S&P;
“Standard & Poor’s believes Coventry maintains a good financial and market profile, partly because of its sustained pricing discipline and strong focus on the fundamentals of its business. Standard & Poor’s also believes Coventry is capable of integrating First Health in a methodical way that limits operational disruption to the consolidated enterprise. ”
A recent post on the HealthBeat blog concerns a 2002 survey of employees of the US FDA. The survey indicates many FDA scientists are concerned about drug safety after approved drugs were on the market.
The study found that fully 2/3 of FDA scientists “lack confidence in the agency’s process for ensuring drug safety…(and) Nearly one in five said they had been pressured to approve or recommend approval for a drug despite safety and quality reservations.”
Other findings addressed drug labeling concerns:
“Only 12% of scientists were completely confident that FDA “labeling decisions adequately address key safety concerns” while 30% were not at all or only somewhat confident”
and perhaps most troubling, internal political pressure to approve new medications:
“Nearly one in five scientists (18%) said that they “have been pressured to approve or recommend approval” for a drug “despite reservations about the safety, efficacy or quality of the drug.”
The full study, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of DHHS, reports on potentially dangerous gaps in the approval and marketing of prescription drugs.
As pressure grows on the FDA in the wake of the Cox-2 fiasco (Vioxx and Celebrex to the layperson), it is likely this survey will get increased attention.
Of note, the present head of CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dr. Mark McClellan, was formerly the Commissioner of the FDA.
McClellan was Commissioner from 11/2002 to 3/2004, so his tenure post-dated the survey.
Why do doctors contract with large networks to provide care at a deep discount? Do they expect to get more business from those relationships? If so, does that additional business ever arrive at their examining room? How many other physicians in their area are also contracted with that network? If there are many, are they merely joining to maintain their patient base?
Have they actually done the math to determine the impact of the discount on their finances?
Here’s an admittedly simplistic analysis of the financial impact of a discounted patient visit.
- The “non-discounted” price would be $100
- The discount is 20%
- The net profit on the average patient visit (non-discounted) is 30% (an unreasonably high number, but easier to work with for our purposes)
The doctor makes a profit of $10 per discounted patient visit, and therefore must see three times as many patients to justify that 20% discount. And that’s before one factors in the additional fixed costs associated with the larger patient load – more parking, more staff, a larger waiting room, more examining rooms, and more of his/her professional time.
Perhaps more physicians are “doing the math”, and that is why managed care firms are having a much tougher time getting discounts.
The network deep discount model has other fundamental flaws, flaws that are only now beginning to be fully appreciated.
It looks like the Anthem-Wellpoint merger is going to go through after all. John Garamendi, the Insurance Commissioner of California, was holding up the merger, claiming it would cost California’s members in both dollars and health care quality.
Garamendi successfully negotiated with the merger parties, getting them to provide over $100 million in payments to fund rural health, child health, nurse training, and other initiatives. In addition, Anthem-Wellpoint promised to not raise CA premiums to pay for the merger; the actual language mentioned that the entity will not pass along merger costs to Blue Cross (Anthem) customers in CA.
This is exactly what we had predicted would occur; the only surprise is it took longer to get the deal done than I thought.
What does that mean? Maybe something, perhaps not much. There are any number of reasons for premium increases, and lots of ways to change premiums that could be used to “hide” merger-associated costs. These could include:
–plan design changes
–different provider panels
–amortization of capital expenses
–different risk pooling
–increased distribution expenses
— and on and on.
The net is this – Garamendi got some additional concessions, the “rate increase” deal is probably unenforceable, and he, and Anthem-Wellpoint, can move on to other priorities. For Garamendi, it may likely be contingent commissions, sham-bidding, and other broker-consultant games. Your author’s opinion is this elected official can’t stand to be upstaged by another regulator, and Mr. Spitzer’s press is likely driving Mr. Garamendi nuts.
While Anthem and Wellpoint are free to move on, brokers, agents, et al are likely to feel the “wrath of a regulator scorned.”