Dec
12

Proof – health insurance saves lives

Having health insurance reduces your risk of dying.

Intuitively, this makes sense; you get cancer diagnoses and treatment, colon cancer screening, access to drugs and behavioral health treatment and flu shots.

You can read the details here, but the net is individuals who received a letter from CMS telling them they’d paid a penalty for not enrolling in health insurance were more likely to sign up than a control group that did not get a letter.

And, those who signed up had a lower mortality rate.

From NYTimes:

gaining coverage was associated with a 12 percent decline in mortality over the two-year study period (the first months of coverage seemed to be most important, presumably because people could get caught up on various appointments and treatments they might have been missing). [emphasis added]

This is the first conclusive, unequivocal research showing health insurance impacts your chance of dying.

From the Treasury Department’s study; the control group did NOT get the letter:

Two things of note.

  1.  The Trump Administration has cut the healthcare outreach budget by 72 percent.
  2. Republicans killed the individual mandate which forced people to get health insurance or pay a penalty.

What does this mean for you?

One can argue whether it is government’s role to provide or ensure coverage, one cannot argue this: more people will die due to this Administration’s policies.


Dec
10

in which I cover newsworthy stuff that happened this week…

Uh…that’s why you buy insurance

From Politico we hear CMS Administrator Seema Verna asked us taxpayers to pay for $47,000 worth of jewelry and other stuff stolen “during a work-related trip.” Among the valuables gone missing – that she wanted us to pay for were a $325 moisturizer (!!!) and $349 for noice-canceling headphones – plus a $5,900 Ivanka Trump pendant.

Yep, the person who runs the biggest insurance entities in the world wants the government to bail her out because she decided to NOT buy insurance. (update – good news, we aren’t paying for Ms Verma’s bling)

Physical therapy in workers comp

MedRisk released its third annual report on PT in WC earlier this week.  560,000 work comp patients were served by MedRisk so far this year; the average duration of care has shrunk to 11.2 visits over 48 days.  Better news – 98.1% patient satisfaction rate and 97.7% of providers agree with MedRisk’s clinical recommendations.

There’s an old business meme that comes to mind – “stick to your knitting.”

At a time when other service companies were seeking to become everything to everyone, Shelley Boyce, Mike Ryan and their colleagues at MedRisk went the other direction, focusing narrowly on work comp physical medicine. Along with the best management team in the business, they executed the plan to perfection. (While MedRisk is an HSA consulting client, all the credit goes to those folks).

Meanwhile all the caterwauling about drug prices turns out to be much ado about nothing (I’m looking at you, AARP) . This from the estimable Adam Fein PhD’s discussion of CMS’ review of healthcare costs:

    • For 2018, spending on outpatient prescription drugs grew by 2.5%—below the spending growth rate on hospitals, physician services, and overall national healthcare costs.
    • CMS significantly lowered its previously reported drug spending figures by billions after incorporating new data on manufacturers’ rebates.

More news showing hospital consolidation raises your healthcare costs.

From NIHCM comes a terrific slideshow – my favorite is this one – key takeaway is prices ALWAYS GO UP after mergers.

 

 


Dec
6

AARP, healthcare costs and drug prices

AARP has rather strange positions on drug prices and healthcare costs.

AARP positions itself as an advocate for seniors (and no, while I’m eligible, I’m not a member). The latest PR effort by the huge organization touts its lobbying to “help Americans afford high healthcare costs.”

Rather than lobbying for extensions on tax breaks for healthcare costs, AARP would serve its members better by doing something to actually reduce the cost of healthcare. Here are a few suggestions:

  • vigorously promote value-based care with reimbursement more closely tied to valid outcomes including functional ability
  • aggressively regulate healthcare system expansion, and specifically require reductions in costs after mergers
  • promote higher reimbursement for primary care, reduced reimbursement for questionable specialty care
  • focus attention on transparency in drug pricing – including rebate payments to plan sponsors

On this last suggestion, I’d note that AARP consistently moans about the retail price of drugs, while refusing to acknowledge the very real impact of rebates on brand drugs – which aren’t passed on to consumers.

Frankly, AARP’s stance on drug prices is misleading.

AARP’s “research” doesn’t discuss rebates – and the fact that plan sponsors are getting rebates, which drastically reduces the prices those sponsors pay for drugs.

As a result, consumers pay the higher retail prices, while plan sponsors – AARP partners among them – keep the rebates.

(thanks to Adam J Fein, PhD, for his work on this.)

I emailed AARP, indicating my concern with this.  This was the response:

“While AARP appreciates the potentially distorting effects of rebates, evidence indicates that plan sponsors are sharing rebates with consumers in the form of lower premiums. For example, a recent CBO analysis of a proposal to eliminate rebates under Medicare Part D that found that premiums would increase for all enrollees and that federal spending would increase by nearly $200 billion, primarily due to increases in federal subsidies for premiums.

“Further, AARP has consistently said that it would be happy to run these analyses based on net prices. Unfortunately, no drug manufacturers have been willing to take them up on the idea.”

Well, no.

First, there’s a megaton of evidence out there that some individual/group health and Medicare Part D insurers are getting rebates, and are NOT passing them on to consumers.

This from the estimable Dr Fein; (note the rebate percentage accruing to Plan D (senior drug card) sponsors):

Second, AARP could easily ask its “partners” (Part D plan sponsors among them) if they are getting rebates (which they are), and if so are they passing the savings along to consumers and what is the impact on those consumers’ drug costs. That would allow AARP to ” run these analyses based on net prices.”

AARP positions itself as an advocate for seniors. I’d suggest failing to address this is not helpful to their members.

What does this mean for you?

Does AARP benefit from rebate payments? I dunno…

 


Dec
2

Time for an effective workers’ comp opioid solution for Louisiana

Today’s WorkCompCentral arrived with William Rabb’s report on the use of opioids by workers’ comp patients in Louisiana. [subscription required]

A few notable findings:

  • Louisiana work comp patients get more opioids, and they get them for longer periods of time than any other state studied
  • Employers and taxpayers pay significantly higher prices for drugs than in other states
  • 7 out of 10 claims included an opioid prescription
  • Louisiana patients get twice as many opioid scripts than the average state.

For some reason, some “claimant attorneys” don’t see the wisdom of formularies/guidelines intended to reduce inappropriate opioid use, citing spurious claims from the pain industry in attempt to validate their complaints.

Louisiana has had treatment guidelines in place for several years, however they have not been revised or updated in memory and are very difficult to enforce. Compared to other states, the Pelican State has made little progress reducing inappropriate opioid use by work comp patients.

Back in 2017 I cited Sheral Kellar, Director of Louisiana’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration discussing the opioid issue in her state.

Ms Kellar knows a formulary is NOT a panacea, rather a critical tool in the armamentarium which includes:

  • Prescription drug monitoring programs that require and facilitate pharmacist and physician participation,
  • Strong and well-designed utilization review programs,
  • Flexibility for PBMs and payers to customize medication therapy to ensure patients get ready access to appropriate drugs and reduce risks from inappropriate medications,
  • Carefully-planned implementation,
  • Drug testing, opioid agreements, and addiction/dependency treatment

Over the last decade I have spoken with many individuals heavily involved in Louisiana workers’ comp; each frustrated and saddened by the lack of meaningful progress in attacking the overuse of opioids by workers’ comp patients. 

What does this mean for you?

Here’s hoping Louisiana is able to make real progress on reducing opioid usage. Families, communities, employers, and providers have all waited long enough.

 

 


Nov
19

In which I read current research and summarize key takeaways so you don’t have to…

Stress over healthcare costs doesn’t go away when you are on Medicare

HealthAffairs reports that more than half of Medicare recipients with a serious illness reported “serious financial distress” due to medical bills. Drugs are the most common cause, followed by facility bills.

This is important because:

Medicare for All is NOT a panacea; politicians advocating for MFA should understand Medicare needs major improvements before it is “ready for prime time.”

Oh, and a third of all credit card holders are in debt due to medical bills.

Immigration and healthcare

If you or a parent have a healthcare aide, listen up. The bruising battle over immigration and the “Dreamers’ will affect healthcare – particularly for older Americans who rely on home health aides and other lower-level clinical support.

27,000 Dreamers work in healthcare and healthcare support, many providing individual care. The Trump Administration is trying to end this program and force Dreamers to leave the U.S.

The shortage of home health workers is particularly acute in older states such as Maine and the upper midwest. With immigrants filling one of every three home health positions, ending DACA and further restricting immigration would leave thousands of older Americans without care. 

What does this mean for you?

When a politician says something is simple, or their claims just seem to make sense, your alarm bells need to ring.

Medicare will need huge and expensive changes to work for all of us. 

If you don’t want immigrants in the US, then you get to care for your parents without any help.


Nov
18

Work comp rates are still too high – and will continue to drop

Today, I’m going to convince you that despite years of continued decreases, work comp premiums are still too high.  And will likely remain too high for the next few years.

That’s how long it will take the impact of reduced opioid consumption to work its way through comp financials. Sure, continued declines in frequency and high employment along with declining worker benefits are also factors – but I’ll argue what’s way more important is the drop in opioid prescriptions.

A decade into this, the dramatic drop in work comp opioid prescriptions is continuing unabated.

  • CompPharma’s 16th Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp [free to download] shows payers have slashed opioid spend by 40% over the last two years.

  • myMatrixx [HSA consulting client] reported a 15% drop in opioid spend in 2018.
  • Optum Workers’ Comp reported a 2.9% reduction in opioid spend for the first half of 2019 compared to the first half of 2018.
  • CWCI’s just-released report analyzes data from lost time claims incurred between 2008 and 2017:
    • the percentage of claimants receiving opioids dropped 51% over that time period
    • chronic opioid use dropped by 77 percent, from 13% of claimants to 3%
    • acute use declined by 40 percent

My key takeaway from CWCI’s report isn’t the drop in opioid usage, it is that claims without opioids are much less costly, therefore the drop in opioid prescriptions is driving lower claims costs.

Those reductions have yet to be fully factored into work comp rates – so rates will continue to drop.

Key data points:

  • Average benefits for claims without opioids were 30% less than for claims with opioids (at 12 months).
  • Claims without opioids had 25% fewer TD days than claims with opioids.

The net – “Cumulative savings from the decline in opioids are projected at $6.5 billion for 2010 – 2017 claims.”

Report authors Steve Hayes, Kate Smith, and Alex Swedlow provide suggestions for actuaries on page 15 and in Appendix 4.

What does this mean for you?

Rate reductions haven’t caught up with the reality on the ground. 

Barring major unforeseen events, work comp rates will continue to drop for several more years. 

For those so inclined, an extensive discussion of rate-making is here.

 

 


Nov
13

Opioids and work comp premiums

Two seemingly-unrelated papers hit the inbox yesterday; CWCI’s just-completed analysis of opioid usage in the Golden State, and NCCI’s report on 2019 workers’ comp financials.

The key takeaways from NCCI’s report include:

  • Premiums are expected to drop 10 percent in 2019, driven by rate/loss cost filings. In other words, losses are declining which leads to lower insurance costs.
  • This marks the sixth consecutive year of decreased premium levels.
  • Not coincidentally, 2019 is the sixth consecutive year of underwriting profitability.

So, even though premiums are dropping like a rock, insurer profits are better than they’ve ever been.

Why?

Well, declines in frequency are certainly a big contributor. Reduced worker benefits are likely a factor as well – and a big problem we’ll address in a later post.

If anything, investment profits are a drag on profitability (NCCI reports 2018 investment gains averaged 9.2%.

Which brings us to CWCI’s report “The Impact of Declining Opioid Use on Lost-Time Claim Development & Outcomes in California Workers’ Compensation” [emphasis added; disclosure – I provided input as a peer reviewer for the final report]

Key takeaways:

  • “from 2008 to 2017, chronic opioid use…declined from 13% to 3% of all lost-time claims (a relative decline of 77%)”
  • the strength of the opioids dispensed within the first 12 months of treatment, measured in cumulative morphine milligram equivalents, declined 59% for chronic opioid use claims

Tomorrow – the connection between opioid reductions and premium levels – and what it means for the industry and you.

 


Nov
1

What’s up?

The inbox has been stuffed with important new research and news; here’s what most interested me.

Work Comp

Perhaps the best annual summary of the state of the workers’ comp world is just off the press.  The National Academy of Social Insurance’s report is here. Free to download, NASI’s latest finds:

  • Employers’ costs have fallen from just over $1.50 per $100 of covered wages in 1997 to $1.25 in 2017.
  • Worker benefits decreased even more, from $1.17 twenty years ago to $0.80 per $100 of covered wages in 2017.

My takeaway – workers are getting less in benefits than they have in the past – and that’s a bad thing.  It is great that employers’ costs are declining, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of injured workers and their families.

The fine folk at CWCI published their latest research on UR in the Golden State. Despite what some on the applicant attorney side argue;

Results show that 94.1 percent of services performed or requested from January 1, 2018 to October 31, 2018 were either approved (92.5 percent) or approved with modifications (1.6 percent)…

Yup, 17 out of 18 services were approved. 

WCRI’s annual conference returns to Boston – register herenow.  Or risk missing out, as the event fills up every year. Don’t be one of these people!

[I don’t think the guy on the right is Andrew Kenneally…]

Check out WCRI’s upcoming webinar on medical prices paid and work comp fee schedules – lots of great information on facility costs – the biggest problem (outside of opioids) in work comp today.

Drugs!

From Alan Fein at DrugChannels, a most excellent video by John Oliver on everything you should know about compounding pharmacies. You gotta watch this… [can you believe Oliver actually knows about stuff we work comp pharmacy nerds think about???]

The video is both hysterically funny and terrifying. Watch it.

From the funny to the deadly serious; if you haven’t read Gary Anderberg’s most recent GB Journal, you likely don’t know this:

research showed that “57% of those who died from opioid-related deaths had at least one prior workplace MSD. [musculoskeletal disorders]

I’ve long opined the opioid industry has done horrendous damage to the work comp industry, injured workers, taxpayers and employers. Gary’s reporting shows it is even worse than we thought.

When are you going to hold the opioid industry accountable for their criminal actions?

That’s it for now…for those attending the NWCDC next week in Vegas – make sure to say thanks and farewell to Peter Rousmaniere and Roberto Ceniceros.  These gentlemen are both retiring, and our industry will be much the worse for it.

I’ve known them both for decades, learned much from them, and deeply respect their contributions to our industry. They’ve certainly earned a respite…here’s hoping Peter and Roberto weigh in from time to time. Their wisdom and experience are irreplaceable.

I won’t be there – family vacation in Zion Utah…with three grown kids, we have to work around their schedules, proving once again that I am completely not in control of anything.

 


Oct
7

What’s up with California work comp?

Friend and colleague Alex Swedlow took the podium at the California Self-Insurers’ Association to discuss what’s going on in the Golden State, and what you need to do to manage your program.

First up – why are California’s admin expenses so unbelievably high?

Well, the medical delivery system is quite expensive.  The volume of medical services delivered is just high – especially for pretty expensive services.

Second, there are few controls that limit demand – we’re talking deductibles and copays – and no shortage of supply of providers willing to meet that demand.

Third, dispute resolution is challenged by lots of litigation, by a UR/IMR process that is expensive and (my words not his) abused by a relatively small number of docs and attorneys.

Fourth – this all drives medical management expenses up.  Waaaaay up.

The result – medical payments that are 58% higher than the median state – and second highest of all states.

Myth bust – there’s no association between Fee Schedule levels and medical costs – so it isn’t a problem fixable by cutting the fee schedule.

Of course, some protested that the reforms – UR, employer direction, IMR, MTUS (clinical guidelines) etc – were going too far and harming workers. Citing the huge influx of UR, they contended a lot of needed care was being blocked.

Except that wasn’t true. In fact, the vast majority of care performed and/or reviewed was delivered – that includes the 95% of IMR requests submitted by applicant attorneys.

The good news is there are fewer UR/IMRs for drugs these days – which tracks a similar trend in drug spend overall  – and in particular a major decline in opioid consumption.

Shout out to Peggy Sugarman who runs work comp for the City and County of San Francisco – she moderated the session, which in this case meant she clarified, provided her own insights, interpreted, and generally added a ton of value. Peggy made me re-think the “moderator” role.

CWCI will be releasing an update on current goings-on in the UR/IMR space, providing stakeholders with specific attention paid to modifications rather than approvals or denials.

What does this mean for you?

Costs can be driven up by admin expense- but without those admin expenses, costs would be even higher.


Sep
24

Guns and public health

Guns are a major public health and safety problem. Guns are associated with tens of thousands of deaths every year, most preventable.

And we Americans are among the world leaders in death via firearm.

Before you make any assumptions – I own guns. I hunt – although I’m a pretty poor hunter.

My dad taught me to shoot, and handle firearms, and gun safety. Among the guns I own are his service rifle – a 1903 Springfield – from WW2 and the revolver he carried while flying in B-17s over Europe. They mean a lot to me, and one day I’ll pass them down to my kids.

A couple key factoids that are worth considering.

  1.  Most Americans – and most Republicans – want background checks and “red flag” laws.  And most Americans want stricter control of gun sales in general.

2. Firearms are used to commit far more suicides than homicides.

3.  People who attempt suicide with a gun are much more likely to die than those who use other means.

4. There’s a strong correlation between higher rates of gun ownership and higher suicide rates.

5.  Lastly, every day 65 people use guns to kill themselves.

Guns are a major public health concern, yet no other public health menace gets the same public support.  As a gun owner, I’m deeply troubled by the willingness of some to advocate positions that will get more guns into more hands – which will lead to more unnecessary tragedies.

What does this mean for you?

The data is clear – people want stricter gun laws – and for very good reason.