Insight, analysis & opinion from Joe Paduda


Aon’s workers compensation consulting

Two Aon execs have published a piece on workers compensation managed care in Risk Management that is uninformed, self-serving, and reflects a lack of appreciation for the true cost drivers in comp. I try not to comment on other consultants’ work, but this article demands a response .
Briefly, the article by Charles D. Reuter, senior vice president and Heidi Mader, assistant vice president with Aon Consulting, Inc in New York office calls for workers comp insurers to either “follow the herd as the industry has become accustomed or


Growth in limited health plans

Limited health plans, covering only routine, non-hospital care, appear to be growing in popularity. The plans, with little to no underwriting and guaranteed level premiums, limit coverage by capping expenses at levels from $1000 to $20,000.
Companies such as Intel, Sears, and IBM, in addition to a number of other large employers, are slated to begin offering these plans next year.
I can’t figure out why anyone would buy one of these plans. The big fear that drives health insurance coverage is catastrophic care; as people buy insurance based on fear, the limited plans do little to meet the market’s need.
One potential impact if these plans grow in popularity is the reduction in the number of those uninsured. However, that would be a highly misleading finding, as the low coverage limit will undoubtedly lead to uncompensated care. One could also argue that insureds will be more likely to pursue more expensive care, as they are not disincented from routine office visits, diagnostic lab and x-ray, and other medical services that may find potentially expensive medical conditions.


Aetna, data, and care management

Aetna’s acquisition of ActiveHealth Management is part of a growing trend wherein large health plans are seeking to mine their data for better ways to manage cost and care and enable their providers to better utilize “evidence-based medicine”. ActiveHealth has strong assets in these two primary areas, both based on their CareEngine technology.
In part, the acquisition reflects an understanding and appreciation on the part of Aetna senior management that the present use of medical guidelines and pathways is not working. Companies such as Interqual/McKesson, Milliman and Robertson, and IDG all promote their clinical guidelines, and most providers and payers use some form of guideline in the delivery or management of care. However, payers are noting:
– the health care inflation rate is twice that of overall inflation;
– provider practice pattern variation continues to frustrate regulators, academics, providers, and payers alike:
– providers continue to voice their displeasure with what they perceive to be overly-intrusive “management” by “bureaucrats”;
– the chief complaint from providers is the present guidelines are “cookbook” medicine, which treat all patients alike regardless of individual characteristics; and
– the “return on investment” of utilization review and case management continues to diminish (in general).
In addition, payers are finally starting to understand that one of their key assets is the data resident in their claims and managed care information systems. Leaving aside the (rather significant) issues of data accuracy, consistency, and completeness, one of, if not THE key asset of most payers is their database of information on how providers treat, which providers have better outcomes for which types of patients and diagnoses, billing practices, and the like. This asset has been underutilized, to say the least.
If managed care companies/health plans/HMOs are going to be successful, they are going to start utilizing their data to determine the best way to deliver care, and utilize technology similar to ActiveHealth’s to assist in that care delivery.
What does this mean for you?
If Aetna, UnitedHealthGroup, and others are starting to finally take meaningful steps, perhaps you should too. If you are a provider, you would do well to follow this trend carefully, because there is no doubt you will be affected by it.


Surgeons and carpenters

A very interesting post from a surgeon defending his profession from an attack by someone stating that surgeons are no different from carpenters plumbers and engineers.
Those of us on the payer side of the table would do well to remember that there are passionate, highly intelligent, motivated and great people on the “other” side. Perhaps we should make that table round instead of rectangular?
What does this mean to you?
We are in this together, and insulting comments, intended or not, damage our mutual desire to deliver for our mutual customers.


Premium increases’ impact on uninsurance

If health insurance premiums continue to increase by 10% annually, the percentage of working adults in California with employer-based coverage will decrease from 58% to 53% within five years. The finding, from a study by the University of California-Berkeley, also noted:
— for every 10% increase in premiums, 910,000 Americans lose employer-sponsored coverage
— of those who lose coverage, 75% are uninsured and 20% are insured by Medicaid
— the average premium increase over the last five years has been 11% nationally
According to the Contra Costa Times, 6/2Anthony Wright, director of Health Access, said, “We’re getting close to the tipping point. … Employers who do provide coverage (now) won’t because no one else is”.
I’ve been noting the convergence of a number of factors that seem to indicate growing pressure to come up with some national consensus on health care coverage reform. When middle class voters start to lose their health insurance, the “tipping point” will be reached. And when that happens, there will be reform.
What does this mean for you?
A reform that includes universal access would have relatively little impact on total medical costs (less than $90 billion annually) with significant improvements in health status of the presently uninsured. In addition, there would likely be less incentive for providers to cost-shift, thereby reducing the “hidden tax” inherent in today’s dysfunctional health care funding mess.


Texas workers comp reform bill signed

Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a Workers Comp reform bill into law yesterday, authorizing the use of networks for treatment of injured workers.
To quote the Dallas Star Telegram;
“The revised law will create physician networks like those in commercial health plans and provide a small boost in benefits paid to injured workers. Texas has the country’s third-highest workers compensation costs and the highest rate of injured employees not returning to work. The law replaces the Workers’ Compensation Commission with a single, appointed commissioner housed in the Texas Department of Insurance and creates an Office of Injured Employee Counsel as an advocate for workers.”
What does this mean for you?
At long last, perhaps meaningful reform of the one of the nation’s worst workers comp environments. I’ll be taking a much closer look at this legislation and potential impacts of same in the near future.


Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp’s latest problem

Jon Coppelman at Workers’ Comp Insider has an intriguing post about the problems at the Ohio Bureau of Workers Comp. Kudos to Jon as he appears to have scooped the New York Times, who published their article a couple days later. To quote Jon;
“The workers compensation bureau has invested $50 million in rare coins, working through Tom Noe, a man prominent in Republican fund raising circles. Indeed, Mr. Noe has been recognized by the Bush-Cheney campaign as a “Pioneer,” as he raised over $100,000 for the President’s re-election campaign.
Realm of the Coin
At this point, it appears that some of the coins purchased by the state fund are missing. Two of the most valuable, totaling a quarter of a million dollars, were “lost in the mail” according to Noe. An additional 119 coins were “misappropriated by an employee.” The coins “went missing” back in 2003, but Noe neglected to tell anyone. The initial estimate for the missing coins was $400,000. Now, according to Noe’s own attorney, the figure is somewhere between $10 and $12 million.”
Despite the very troubling implications of this debacle, it does make for highly entertaining reading. Following the comedy of errors (being kind) perpetrated (or should I say committed) by elected and appointed officials will being a chuckle and shake of the head to most readers.


Medicare Part D winners and losers

Kevin Piper summarizes the good, the bad, the ugly, the winners and losers from the new Medicare Part D program in his blog “the Piper Report”. As more information has become available, it is clear that there will be substantial changes to the pharma supply chain, with most entities seeking to better understand utilization and price drivers and squeeze margins wherever possible.
Piper notes winners will include:
–low income Medicare recipients without Rx coverage today
private employers with generous retirement medical plans will reap a multi-billion dollar windfall, although legislation may reduce this.
large national insurers seeking to expand market share in this rapidly growing market of seniors
–lobbyists actuaries and consultants.
That may be true, but the fundamental problem of adverse selection still exists. It is getting lonelier by the day out here in the “but the business model just does not make sense” woods, but I have yet to hear anything that makes it sound like Part D providers will be protected from adverse selection.
What does this mean for you?
I’d be very careful of Part D; just because others seem to believe in this does not mean you should not carefully assess the risks.


Federal government and pharma pricing

Legislation has been introduced in the US Senate that would prevent pharmaceutical companies from including the cost of advertising in calculating drug prices for governmental programs. Moreover, the legislation also requires that the HHS and Veterans Affairs Departments “negotiate reduced prices on drugs that are advertised directly to consumers in other programs” (quote from California HealthLine).
The legislation is sponsored by John Sununu (R NH) and Ron Wyden (D OR), senators that are not exactly on the same philosophical plane on many other issues.
According to Wyden, since companies’ advertising expenses are already a tax deduction, “[t]axpayers shouldn’t have to further subsidize the drug companies’ marketing efforts through Medicare and Medicaid.”
My sense is this is a backdoor way for Congress to encourage HHS to negotiate prices with pharma. The Medicare Reform Act specifically prohibits HHS from negotiating prices, a situation that rankles many legislators and taxpayers. Of course, Sununu et al are quick to claim this is not the intent. Regardless, it is a clear indication that some in Congress are looking for creative ways to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals to the government, and taxpayers as well. With the present budget deficit and focus on same, look for this motivation to result in some meaningful price discussions.
What does this mean to you?
Watch pharma pricing carefully; due to the “flexible” nature of Average Wholesale Price (AWP), (sometimes referred to as “Ain’t What’s Paid”) price reductions in one sector can often be offset by increases to other payers. And as we have noted before, price is but one component of the pharma cost equation of price X utilization X frequency = total cost.


Emergency department usage increases

There has been a substantial increase in the use of emergency departments in recent years. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates the number of ED visits reached an all-time high of 114 million in 2003.
The increase was attributed to adults, and more specifically Medicaid recipients who used EDs four times as often as those with private insurance. One of the report’s editors noted that the ED has become the provider “of first resort” for many of the poor and uninsured.
With the present political wrangling over the future of Medicaid and the uninsured, this report points out one of the most troubling aspects of the “delivery systems” used by the poor. Care delivered through the ED is typically more expensive, time-consuming, and less coordinated than care delivered through a primary care provider. Tests and imaging are often duplicated, there are often problems with continuity of care, and patients with chronic conditions seek care for acute episodes in the ED rather than through their primary doc.
It is impossible to calculate exactly how much money is wasted in this process, but it is certainly in the billions of dollars.
Clearly the industry needs to do a better job of directing patients to appropriate levels and locations of care. Having been involved (albeit years ago) in a state Medicaid reform effort, I have some understanding of the problems involved. However, it is clear that the quality of care delivered is too low and the cost of that care is too high when it is provided at an emergency department.
What does this mean for you?
Redouble efforts to direct patients to primary care. Work with providers to set up streamlined primary care access next to the ED. Yes this is a big problem with lots of issues, but we can’t afford to not address it.

Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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