Category Archives: Group Health Plans

An Old Story Resurfaces

My loyal readers may recall that in two separate occasions, I discussed a company in North Carolina called HSM that chose to send its employees to India and Costa Rica for medical care under their self-insured health care plan.

The two previous articles, US Companies Look to ‘Medical Tourism’ To Cut Costs and Self-Insured Employers and Medical Travel: One Company’s Experience came out of an interview in Business Insurance.com that was conducted by the author and the Director of Benefits for HSM, Tim Isenhower.

This morning, my good friend Laura Carabello of US Domestic Medical Travel.com published another interview with Tim, adding two more locations to their medical travel portfolio, Cancun and the Cayman Islands.

The interview is reproduced verbatim below, and pay attention to one point Tim makes about his company’s workers’ comp costs, a point I mentioned previously and cite as a basis for considering implementing medical travel into workers’ comp.

Here is the interview:

SPOTLIGHT: Tim Isenhower, Director of Benefits, HSM
Spotlight U.S. Domestic by Editor – March 20, 2018

About Tim Isenhower

Tim Isenhower, Director of Benefits – has worked with HSM and their self-insured health insurance for the past 25 years. Managing a self-insured health plan through the 90’s to today has provided him the opportunity to think out of the box for reduced healthcare cost programs including direct contracting, on site clinics, chronic disease management, and medical tourism. With IndUShealth, Tim and HSM were pioneers in self-insured companies offering medical tourism, as was presented on ABC News and Nightline.

About HSM

HSM is a privately-owned holding company based in Hickory, North Carolina, that specializes through its subsidiaries, in the manufacture of components for the furniture, bedding, transportation, packaging and healthcare industries, and the design and construction of automated production machinery for the bedding, apparel, aerospace and other industries.

Medical Travel Today (MTT): As a pioneer in the medical travel phenomenon, your story and your company’s role is so intriguing.

Tim Isenhower (TI): We are a manufacturing company and have had facilities coast to coast, as well as technologies in small towns and big cities. We were negotiating discount rates with hospitals across the country, where prices varied based on location.

I went to a human resource seminar in Raleigh in 2007 and Rajesh Rao’s company, Indus Health, was presenting medical travel to India as an option for employers. I went to India with Raj and his team, and got a physical exam which took less than six hours. In the U.S., this type of physical would have taken a month, from schedule to results.

So, we began offering medical travel to India for our employees during our annual enrollment process. We told them that if they chose to have a medical procedure done in India we would pay 100 percent, including travel with a companion.

We got no takers in the beginning. But at one of our final meetings, a fork lift driver from one our plants volunteered to have a knee replacement done in India – he simply couldn’t afford to have it done in the U.S.

He had never even been inside an airport, so I went with him and his travel companion. I was a little nervous because he had no experience traveling. But we got to India, and he actually did very well. He was impressed by the level of treatment he received.

When he returned home, he wrote a testimonial for our company newsletter. After that, more of our employees started traveling to India.

Soon word-of-mouth inspired more of them to get their surgeries in India because they saw what a positive experience it was.

MTT: So why did you shift your destination away from India?

TI: The cultural differences and distance resulted in many of our employees becoming homesick.

So, we started looking closer to home for medical care options. We have a large Hispanic population and Costa Rica had a history of high quality healthcare. We chose that area as the new medical travel destination.

Mostly, we send people for gastric procedures, joint replacements, back surgeries, hernia surgeries – a wide gamut of procedures.

Positive word-of-mouth has kept up the level of interest, and we also visit every location each year to promote the medical travel offering so more employees can understand its benefits.

MTT: And now you have expanded to Cancun. Do you find that there are other opportunities?

TI: We have. We had a patient go to Cancun just a couple of months ago. She did very well and that was a little different concept because it was an American doctor who flew down to Cancun to do her hip replacement. She was very happy with the services, pricing and results. We also send people to the Cayman Islands for various surgeries.

MTT: What has this experience meant to you, as an employer, beyond the cost savings?

TI: It’s really benefitted employee morale, to have a chance to travel to a place like Costa Rica, Cancun or the Cayman Islands. They come back and tell everyone about what a positive experience it was.

We’ve also been able to use our medical travel option as a recruitment tool.

What’s more, we saw our worker’s comp costs decline. [Emphasis mine]

I get thank-you notes from our medical travelers all the time, and we publicize these positive experiences within the company.

There’s no charge to the employee, and we give them a bonus when they return of 20 percent of what they saved the company.

MTT: Wow! That’s very generous.

TI: Up to $10,000. We are just trying to be a good employer, and this is just one way of doing that.

MTT: Do you know how many of your employees travel for surgery every year?

TI: I have lost count. We have roughly 2,500 employees now, and we’ve probably sent about 500 of them during the period of time that we have been doing this.

MTT: Did you ever have any unexpected outcomes?

TI: We’ve had people who had issues with back surgery, and they weren’t allowed to come home until the issue was resolved. But it was resolved.

They got better, came home and are doing very well.

That doesn’t always happen in a U.S. hospital. Here if a patient has issues down the road, they are on their own.

MTT: No legal issues?

TI: Fortunately, no. And the program is growing.

We’ve had everybody from executives to line workers utilize the program. Not everyone qualifies. A few have been eliminated because they have comorbidities that makes traveling for surgery unsafe, so these few were turned away.

MTT: And if you had to improve the program in any way, what would you suggest?

TI: I don’t know how I’d improve it.

Everybody that comes back is ecstatic about the program. The folks at Indus Health make it work. I know other administrators who couldn’t make it work. But Indus Health’s nurse case managers and screening process make it a no-brainer.

Rajesh Rao: We work very hard to make sure our patients are happy with our services. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver.

We work hard with our destinations to make sure we can provide assistance and high quality outcomes because that is what sells the program.

Jim Polsfut: I would like to add that it is a pleasure to work with Indus Health for all the reasons that Tim mentions. Their expertise and thoroughness have worked out very well with us.
We focus on three main objectives.

First, the quality outcomes.

Second, the satisfaction that we get from helping patients save money. In the U.S., it is so expensive to receive medical care even when you have a health plan. In that regard, the patient benefits in a significant way.

Finally, the cost benefit to the employer. For self-insured employers, this is important because of the hyperinflation of medical costs in the U.S. It’s difficult for employers to avoid the impact of healthcare expenses.

All of these factors motivate us, and give us a lot of satisfaction to provide a quality medical travel option.

Here is the link to the original: http://medicaltraveltoday.com/spotlight-tim-isenhower-director-of-benefits-hsm/

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CMS Proposes to Allow States to Define Health Benefits

A connection of mine today posted a link to a CMS Fact Sheet in which they propose to allow states to define essential health benefits beginning January 1, 2019.

According to the fact sheet, this rule is intended to increase flexibility in the individual market, improve program integrity, and reduce regulatory burdens associated with the PPACA in the individual and small group markets. (See my post, “Regulation Strangulation“)

The rule also includes proposals that would provide states with more options in how the essential health benefits (EHBs) are defined for their state, it would also enhance the role of states related to qualified health plan (QHP) certification, and to provide states with additional flexibility in the operation and establishment of Exchanges, particularly the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges.

Finally, they propose to permit states to reduce the magnitude of risk adjustment transfers in the small group market to minimize unnecessary burden, and proposes other changes that would streamline the Exchange consumer experience and the individual and small group markets.

What does this really mean?

Anytime the federal government attempts to allow the individual states to determine or define certain social benefits, we end up with a hodgepodge of rules, regulations, costs of impairment, etc.

We know that in certain states, the loss of a body part in one state has an impairment value different from the same body part in another state, according to the ProPublica report .

So when I see that CMS wants to allow states to define what essential health benefits are,  we have to ask ourselves, what do they mean by essential, and is one state’s essential health benefits, another state’s burden?

I understand that certain states, particularly so-called “Red” states with conservative governors and legislatures, will be free to decide that certain treatments and procedures are just too expensive for them to cover, or that they violate the ethical or moral sentiments of the community in the state, i.e., abortion, birth control, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Allowing states to define and decide what is essential and what is not, may be harmful to the health of many of their citizens, even if it saves the state money.

And I am rather leery of CMS’s desire to “strengthen” the individual or small group markets, because who decides what constitutes strengthening, and who makes those decisions and under what circumstances.

Rather than allowing legislators and governors to decide what medical care their citizens can receive in their state, rather than trying to shore up a market, whether it is the individual market or the group market, we should move to provide all Americans with the same health care and the same medical benefits, coast to coast, under a Medicare for All plan.

Anything less would be worse than what we have now, and would be more costly and more complex and confusing. This rule should be scraped.

Fam Tours for Self-Insured Employers

The subject of medical travel for self-insured employers is one that this blog has rarely discussed from the point of view of the medical travel facility.

Previous posts here have discussed a possible scenario for medical travel by self-insured employers under workers’ comp, the experience of one company that did so for its employees under their group health plan, and why self-insured employers are failing to adopt medical travel, as well as other posts that briefly mentioned self-insured employers.

Yet, at no time has this reviewer, in the position of content writer, ever discussed how the medical travel facilities can market their services to potential self-insured customers.

A new book by Maria Todd, her sixteenth in fact, does exactly that. Organizing Medical Tourism Site Inspections for Self-Insured Employers is a well-written manual for medical travel facilities seeking to highlight the services they offer by hosting site inspections, or more colloquially known as “fam tours,” or familiarizing tours.

Note: This writer had participated in only one fam tour to medical facilities when I spoke at a medical tourism conference in Mexico in 2014.

Knowing the Customer

Dr. Todd’s book focuses on the ways medical travel facilities can know their customers by knowing which self-insured employers are more likely to develop a medical travel program for their plan beneficiaries, and the criteria the Plan Administrators will look for to engage their services and the conditions under which such travel is possible.

One example given is if flying time to a medical tourism destination is less than three hours by plane. For American workers, who have US passports, longer distances would eliminate travel to parts of Asia, the Middle East, parts of South America, and Russia. Such locations would be possible if the employees were working there or nearby, and they were the closest facilities available.

She also discusses what will attract multinational employers who have workers around the world to select facilities that can handle industrial accidents, as well as general health and rehabilitative services. Some employers may be self-insured for their domestic employees, but purchase an insurance cover called an International Private Medical Insurance, or “IPMI.”

Selling Solutions

To educate hospital executives and managers on how to sell solutions to Plan Administrators, Dr. Todd includes a chapter on a topic she says executives and managers often do not consider important.

The chapter focuses on what not to say or do when conducting a site inspection. You, as the seller might consider certain areas of your facility important to highlight, or is one that you take pride in, but may not be something your guests are particularly interested in.

One such area is Accreditation. Not knowing abbreviations for accrediting organizations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), or what the big deal is about accreditation, is something the executives and managers need to be aware of beforehand and to be prepared to explain why it is important.

Proper accreditation will go a long way to ease their minds over deciding to use that facility, and being presented with an unfamiliar or disreputable accreditor, or one whose certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on, is something to be aware of also.

Another area of concern when hosting a site inspection is scientific presentations. It is quite possible that some of your guests may be physicians and nurses who will benefit from seeing such presentations, but for those Plan Administrators who are not medical personnel, such tours maybe considerably boring, if not completely too technical for them to comprehend.

Technology Tours

A similar mistake made is taking business-focused guests to see the technology the facility has installed and uses. Dr. Todd recommends they create a spreadsheet of the expensive equipment they have and write a short blurb about each.

Her main point is this: Plan Administrators are seeking three things: transparency, good value, and superb, culturally-sensitive customer service.

Other areas to avoid on Fam tours

The Emergency Department, laboratory, radiology and imaging department, cardiac catheterization lab, and the PET/CT, and PACU’s are a waste of time, per Dr. Todd, and may even disturb the patient’s privacy and recovery.

Final five chapters

The final five chapters deal with developing relationships, the contracting and provider network criteria (where to get preliminary data, contract terms and payment agreements, and avoiding payment hassles with the right language), the basics of ERISA (ERISA fiduciary responsibilities, self-insurance plan sponsorship not limited to the US, and government employers pay for healthcare services outside of their countries), how to prepare for site inspections, and lastly, rate proposals.

Closing

Dr. Todd’s book is a must for any self-insured employer considering a medical travel program for their beneficiaries. For those employers who self-insure for general health care, this book provides them with the knowledge they need to have to explore doing so. For those self-insured employers who self-insure for workers’ comp, this too is an important book.

The likelihood that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed or replaced, with something worse, or with nothing at all, grows stronger every day now. Once that happens, premiums will rise, and alternatives such as medical travel will seem much more plausible and cost-effective.

While this book was written from the perspective of the seller of healthcare services, purchasers of such services, either domestically or internationally, can benefit from reading it. Not knowing what to look for will only cost you time and money and be harmful to the health of your plan and your employees. I highly recommend this book to you.

Interesting Article on PPO’s

Forbes.com has published an extensive article claiming that PPO’s have perpetrated a great heist [author’s words] on the American middle class.

According to the article,  trillions has been redistributed from the American workforce to the healthcare industry, creating an economic depression for the middle class.

The article consists of an interview conducted by author Dave Chase and Mike Dendy, Vice Chairman and CEO of Advanced Medical Pricing Solutions, Inc., a healthcare cost management company.

Here is the link to the full article:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/davechase/2016/09/05/have-ppo-networks-perpetrated-the-greatest-heist-in-american-history/#25489cd66d00

Is it any wonder why work comp is also so screwed up? Too many cooks (or is that crooks?) taking their “cut” out of the middle class.

But we keep insisting that we have the best health care system in the world, that our workers get the best care when they are injured and don’t need to have any alternatives explored to improve the care and treatment they get, and that the free market is the best way to provide health care. It’s free alright. Free for the greedy to become more greedy. But not for you and me.

“Florida, We Have a Problem”

Tuesday, Judge David Langham, Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims and Division of Administrative Hearings, wrote a rather lengthy post about the differences between cost-shifting and case-shifting in workers’ comp.

Much of what the Judge wrote were subjects that I already discussed in a number of previous posts about cost-shifting and case-shifting, so I won’t go into it here. I am only focusing on the parts that relate to Florida workers’ comp. You can read the entire article yourselves.

But what caught my attention was what he said about Florida and what the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) reported in some of their studies on these issues.

As Judge Langham wrote this week, he wrote a post two years ago that asked the question “Why Does Surgery Cost Double in Workers’ Compensation?”

Judge Langham noted in that post that Florida employers have been documented paying almost double for shoulder or knee surgery that is paid for under workers’ compensation, compared to group health costs.

The implication of case-shifting in Florida, he says, could arguably be a doubling of cost.

He cited a WCRI report released earlier this year that suggests however that case-shifting is perhaps not as likely in Florida.

According to the report, Judge Langham continues, “as of July 2011, six states had workers’ comp medical fee schedules with rates within 15% of Medicare rates. They were California, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Hawaii.”

However, Judge Langham pointed out that the WCRI concluded that case-shifting is more likely in states where the workers’ compensation fee schedule is 20% or more above the group health rates, and not in Florida.

Judge Langham stated that this analysis of workers’ compensation fee schedules does not appear to include analysis of the reimbursement rates for hospitals, and that It also seems contradictory to the assertions that Florida workers’ compensation costs for various surgeries have been documented as roughly double the group health rates (100% higher, not 15% higher).

Injured workers who missed work in the Florida workers’ compensation system could be compensated in 2016 at a rate as high as $862.51 per week, the “maximum compensation rate.”

So, if recovery from such a “soft-tissue” injury required ten weeks off-work, he wrote, the case-shifting to workers’ compensation might add another four to nine thousand dollars to the already doubled cost of surgical repair under workers’ compensation.

This could be directly borne by the employer if the employer is self-insured for workers’ compensation; or, if the employer has purchased workers’ compensation insurance, the effect on the employer would be indirect in the form of potentially increased premium costs for workers’ compensation following such events and payments, Judge Langham states.

According to WCRI, the Judge quotes, “policymakers have always focused on the impact (workers’ compensation) fee schedules have on access to care as well as utilization of services.

This has been a two-part analysis, he says:

First, fee schedules have to be sufficient such that physicians are willing to provide care in the workers’ compensation system; and second, the reimbursement cannot be too high, or perhaps overutilization is encouraged.

Lastly, Judge Langham points out that the disparity between costs has also been noted in discussions of “medical tourism.”

The last question he posits is this, “might medical decision makers direct care to more efficient providers, across town, across state lines?”

What about national borders?


I am willing to work with any broker, carrier, or employer interested in saving money on expensive surgeries, and to provide the best care for their injured workers or their client’s employees.

Ask me any questions you may have on how to save money on expensive surgeries under workers’ comp.

I am also looking for a partner who shares my vision of global health care for injured workers.

I am also willing to work with any health care provider, medical tourism facilitator or facility to help you take advantage of a market segment treating workers injured on the job. Workers’ compensation is going through dramatic changes, and may one day be folded into general health care. Injured workers needing surgery for compensable injuries will need to seek alternatives that provide quality medical care at lower cost to their employers. Caribbean and Latin America region preferred.

Call me for more information, next steps, or connection strategies at (561) 738-0458 or (561) 603-1685, cell. Email me at: richard_krasner@hotmail.com.

Will accept invitations to speak or attend conferences.

Connect with me on LinkedIn, check out my website, FutureComp Consulting, and follow my blog at: richardkrasner.wordpress.com.

Transforming Workers’ Blog is now viewed all over the world in 250 countries and political entities. I have published nearly 300 articles, many of them re-published in newsletters and other blogs.

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Fee Schedules May Increase Number of Work Comp Claims

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) published a new study that examined whether fee schedules increase the number of workers’ compensation claims.

In previous reports, the WCRI found that in many states, workers’ compensation pays higher prices than group health.

Another study they issued, found that in some states, workers’ compensation prices were two to four times higher than group health prices.

Moreover, in most states, WCRI found, the workers’ compensation systems rely heavily on the treating physician to determine whether a specific patient’s injury is work-related or not.

Dr. Olesya Fomenko, the author of the report and an economist at WCRI, said that, “Policymakers have always focused on the impact fee schedules have on access to care as well as utilization of services. This study shines a light on an issue that policymakers and other system stakeholders might not be thinking of, which is that physicians may call an injury work-related in order to receive a higher reimbursement for care he or she provides to the patient.”

Two of the findings from the study are as follows:

  • If the cause of injury is not straightforward (e.g., soft tissue conditions), case-shifting is more common in the states with higher workers’ compensation reimbursement rates. In particular, the study estimated that a 20 percent growth in workers’ compensation payments for physician services provided during an office visit increases the number of soft tissue injuries being called work-related by 6 percent.
  • There was no evidence of case-shifting from group health to workers’ compensation for patients with conditions for which causation is more certain (e.g., fractures, lacerations, and contusions).

What does this mean?

It means that physicians seeking higher reimbursements are classifying some injuries as work-related, and that there is no evidence of case-shifting from group health where the cause is more determinable.

What it also means is that no matter what the industry tries to do to lower medical costs, there is always a way for physicians and other stakeholders to do the opposite for their own benefit.

And given that, you have to wonder why the industry is deaf, dumb and blind to alternatives that apply basic economic laws to saving money. If you can get a good or service at the same or better quality, and at lower cost, no matter where that is, you go there.

It works that way when buying cars in one state, when the buyer lives in another state, and it should work that way with medical care, particularly regarding surgery.

The industry should not listen to certain individuals who dismiss this idea, and call the locations where better or equal care can be obtained at lower cost, “Turkishmaninacanstans“.

It demeans the hard work and dedication of medical professionals and business people who have spent years and money on building a business to provide health care that is affordable and of the highest quality.

It insults the education and training of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians in those countries who otherwise might not be working in such a highly respect profession as medicine.

It only proves that the author of that canard is a coward, a racist, and dead wrong.

 

Colorado Gets Real on Workers’ Comp and Health Care

A shout out today to David DePaolo of Workers’ Comp Central for publishing an article today about a subject I discussed about a year ago, the combining of the silos of workers’ comp and general health care.

Voters in Colorado, the first state to legalize pot (talk about a real ‘Rocky Mountain High’) will decide in November on a ballot initiative that would create ColoradoCare,  a state-run program that will would pay for medical treatment provided to all residents of the state, including those who are hurt on the job.

According to the initiative, “ColoradoCare shall assume responsibility for payment of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred by workers who suffer injuries or illnesses arising out of and in the course of their employment after the date ColoradoCare assumes responsibility for health care payments,”

The law, David writes, will levy (must be Jewish?)  a 3.33% payroll tax on workers and a 6.67% payroll tax on employers, as well as a 10% health care premium tax on non-payroll income to raise $25 billion to pay for medical care.

A 21-person board of trustees would be created to oversee the program. And, employers would still have to carry workers’ comp insurance to cover indemnity benefits (lost wages).

This would be something left up to legislators to figure out, says DePaolo, because the law is only intended to consolidate health care and eliminate the myriad of silos that create delay, confusion and ultimately heath care consumer angst.

It is David’s opinion that the measure will pass, but that is up to the voters of Colorado to decide (are you listening, Maria?).

So what this will mean is this: should the measure pass in November, it is possible that injuries sustained on the job that requires surgery could be achieved through medical travel, since what is possible now under health care would also be possible in workers’ comp (see my post, “Medical Tourism and Workers’ Comp: What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander“).

When it passes, the following warning should be issued to all potheads in Colorado:

Before going abroad for surgery under the provisions of ColoradoCare, should they allow you to do so, please leave all of your “medicine”, in whatever form you take it in, and the paraphernalia that goes with it home, or else you will end up like Billy Hayes in a Turkishmaninacanstan prison.

But the hospitals in Turkishmaninacanstan are much better, and that is one reason why you are going there in the first place. For world-class health care at a lower cost.