Insight, analysis & opinion from Joe Paduda

Mar
30

HMO enrollment and open access

The backlash against managed care did not reduce HMO enrollment in the late nineties. Although there was a lot of “talk about backlash


Mar
29

AIG’s other challenges

While AIG is publicly wrestling with the big issues of what to do about ex-Chair Hank Greenberg, questionable financial transactions, and its plummeting stock price, it also has a few managed care and claims functions that need to be addressed.
Tops among these is the fallout from consolidation of medical bill processing (for workers comp) from the individual claims offices to two central locations in Georgia and Kansas. While the move has been completed, there appear to be significant issues related to bill processing accuracy and timeliness that have yet to be resolved.
Some of this is to be expected, as moving operations, starting new offices and hiring new staff is bound to create a learning curve. However, it appears that the learning curve is quite a bit longer than providers or regulators are willing to tolerate. A/R issues abound, and sources indicate the centers are inundated with calls from providers seeking information about long-overdue bills. Early reports were that there were problems with the new bill review system’s (implemented last summer) impact on productivity; this is getting better as staff learn the system and fixes are implemented.
AIG has never been known for its claims-paying speed or investments in technology, preferring to focus on underwriting and creativity in identification and exploitation of business niches. It has been the best in the business at the tasks it has chosen to pursue, but will need to direct some of its considerable talent to the basics of bill processing if it is to achieve even average status in that critical area.
What does this mean for you?
Plan transitions carefully, as the old saw goes, “if you don’t have time to do it right in the first place, what makes you think you’ll have time to fix it later”.


Mar
27

Access v. Cost

For consumers, managed care is a choice between limited access to providers and premium costs; the greater the access, the higher the premium; the more limited the choice of providers, the lower the premium. In the late nineties, the so-called “managed care backlash” occurred when cost increases moderated, and consumers demanded access to any provider.
This spawned the “open access” HMO model, tiered benefit plans, and the explosion of PPOs. Now, with costs once more on a double-digit inflation path, there appears to be more willingness on the part of consumers to trade access for lower cost.
The Center for the Study of Health System Change released a national report entitled “More Americans Willing to Limit Physician-Hospital Choice for Lower Medical Costs“.
The Center reported that “Between 2001 and 2003, the proportion of working-age Americans with employer health coverage willing to trade broad choice of providers for lower out-of-pocket costs increased from 55 percent to 59 percent


Mar
26

Medicare drug program to cost states $$

In a posting on www.signalhealth.com, John Rodat has written an excellent summary of the unintended (or perhaps not…) consequences of the Medicare Drug program. Namely, and I quote…
–“Lots of Medicaid clients are also Medicare clients.
–Lots of these “dually eligible” folks are sick and use lots of pharmaceuticals.
This is especially so for those in nursing homes
–So when the Federal government created the new pharmaceutical benefit, it recognized that it would be paying for drugs that were previously being paid for under Medicaid. That would simply have shifted the cost from states to the Federal government
To offset that effect, the new law includes a provision (tenderly called the “clawback”) that establishes a formula by which the states pay the Federal government.”
And, this formula may well cause some states to pay the Feds more than they gain from the Medicare Drug program…
Kudos to Mr. Rodat for his insight.
What does this mean for you?
More supply-fueled demand for drugs means higher total Rx costs.


Mar
25

Blog News

In response to inquiries and questions re “what does this mean to me and my job/company/business?” I’ll be adding a “what does this mean to you” statement at the end of some postings.
I recognize that “you” may not (and will not) apply to all readers, but I simply don’t have the time to respond to all individual inquiries re “so, what are the implications of pharma pricing/California managed care laws/Medicaid/CorVel financials/etc. for my company/business plan/employee benefits plan/future costs?”
Feel free to continue to send questions etc and I’ll get to them as time allows. If I don’t respond with a lengthy message, don’t interpret that as a lack of interest.


Mar
25

Taxation of health benefits

The Presidential Panel on Federal Tax Reform heard testimony from two economists that “federal tax subsidies to employers and employees for health insurance, flexible spending accounts and new health savings accounts do not promote the expansion of basic health coverage and increase the number of uninsured residents.” (source California HealthLine)
The Panel, chaired by ret. US Sen John Breaux (LA) is working to assess the impact of the Federal tax deduction for health care benefits, which amounts to a $188 billion subsidy today and will reach $250 billion “in several years.”
The reasoning behind the testimony and hearings lies in the apparent disconnect between the subsidy and it’s impact on the uninsured. Simply put, higher income individuals benefit from the subsidy, while lower-income people are more often uninsured as their employers do not offer the benefit, they are marginally employed, or cannot afford their employer-sponsored coverage.
To address this disconnect, one of the economists testifying recommended “limited subsidies for health insurance in combination with refundable tax credits to help low-income and uninsured residents purchase coverage.”
Why is this important to you?
The President has promised to halve the Federal deficit over the next four years, and huge subsidies for health insurance are likely to be a leading target. The perception in Washington is that the subsidy works to minimize individuals’ concern about and focus on managing their health care; think “ownership society”.
If Bush is truly committed to deficit reduction and the ownership society, health insurance tax benefits are a likely target.


Mar
24

Medicaid Round Four

The Senate and House have very different ideas of what to do with Medicaid in coming years; this difference of opinion may deadlock the two bodies on overall budget negotiations.
Briefly, the Senate passed a budget with no cuts in Medicaid funding; the House version has $20 billion in budget reductions. The latest news indicates the Senate may be willing to compromise, but conservatives in the House appear to be less interested in restoring the funding the Bush Administration has axed from Medicaid.
As reported in California HealthLine;


Mar
22

Prescription Drugs in Workers’ Comp

HSA has completed the Second Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Compensation.
Respondents represented a wide range of payers, with annual prescription drug spends ranging from $772,000 to $156 million. Total estimated drug costs provided by the respondents amounted to $645 million, approximately 18% of the annual total workers’ compensation drug spend. Together, the carriers participating in the survey represent 35% of all private-payer workers’ compensation insurance in the United States.
If anything, awareness of this problem has grown significantly over the last year. In fact, 20% of respondents, mostly from larger payers, indicated that prescription drug costs were “much more” significant than other medical cost issues.
The results of this survey indicate a significant awareness of the importance of prescription drug costs in workers’ compensation, a focus on PBMs as the primary solution, but a lack of distinction among the PBMs themselves. Clearly, the workers’ compensation industry is looking for solutions that emphasize customer service, utilization control, seamless processes and assistance in working with and educating payer staff and their customers.
There is also a rapidly growing recognition that the treating physician is central to addressing this issue. This recognition has grown dramatically over the last year and although there is not consensus on how to address the issue, there is no mistaking the level of interest in doing so.
Copies of the Survey Report may be obtained by emailing me at jpaduda@HealthStrategyAssoc.com.


Mar
22

Vioxx lawsuits

Merck announced last week that almost 1400 lawsuits have been filed related to Vioxx to date. Many of these have been consolidated in US District Court in New Orleans, including over a hundred that are class-action suits.
Over 20 million Americans have taken Vioxx, and Merck expects the volume of lawsuits to increase substantially.
In comparison, Wyeth Labs’ “Fen-phen” diet drug has resulted in over 60,000 lawsuits as the company has reserved over $21 billion to cover the litigation.
Source Insurance Journal


Mar
18

Medicare pay for performance gets a push

Even though it’s just a small one, it is stilll significant. Rep Nancy Johnson (R) CT (my home state) is promoting a drastic change in the way Medicare pays physicians. Rep. Johnson is calling for a pay-for-performance scheme to replace Medicare’s fee schedule arrangement.
Details below, but in case you can’t read that far, think of this.
1. many state workers comp fee schedules are based on Medicare’s. What are the implications for state programs?
2. Group health reimbursement is often tied to Medicare as well…
3. Medicare is based on paying for services needed for and delivered to a population that is over 65. If the reimbursement arrangement changes, and it factors in some kind of “performance” metric, will it even be possible to adapt that to younger populations?
Now that your head hurts, here’s the details…
According to California HealthLine;
“Johnson said that, although physician performance measures and systems to collect data on performance are not perfected, lawmakers must move to address the issue because of scheduled reductions in Medicare physician reimbursements over the next several years. Elimination of the SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate) system “is the only possibility,” Johnson said, adding, “It’s unfortunate that we have to do this two years in advance of the technology.”
Johnson also indicated that lawmakers could enact “a one-year fix of physician payment while a more permanent system is being designed,” although she hopes to enact permanent revisions to the Medicare physician reimbursement system this year, CQ HealthBeat reports. She estimated that the replacement of a 1.5% reduction in Medicare physician reimbursements for fiscal year 2006 with a 1.5% increase would cost $11 billion over five years.”


Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates

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