Category Archives: Health Care Costs

Trumpcare and Medical Travel: What Will Happen

The following infographic shows what will happen to the US healthcare system when the Senate rams the ACHA down our throats, as many are indicating will occur because McConnell and a group of GOP Men are hiding behind closed doors and won’t even tell their own party what’s in the bill they are writing.

What this will mean for medical travel is not hard to figure out. For some, it will offer an opportunity to seek lower cost medical care due to premiums that will increase and costs rising as well.

This will be especially true for self-insured employers who will want to save money by offering this to their employees.

Here is the infographic:

fa97feb3-c0f5-4fdb-9c79-6cfe82add29e-original

A Deeper Dive into Medical Cost Rising for Lost-Time Claims

It is said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I have ten pictures, courtesy of NCCI’s Barry Lipton’s presentation on that subject.

It was brought to my attention by my fellow blogger, James Moore, of J&L Risk Management Consultants. I met James back in February at the NCCI 2017 Data Education Program in West Palm Beach.

Mr. Lipton is the Senior Actuary and Practice Leader, and his presentation was called, “Medical Cost Trends Then and Now.

Yesterday’s posts regarding the slight increase in the average medical costs for lost-time claims only scratched the surface of the subject. I hope this post will dive deeper into it, so that we can see the whole picture.

In my first post from yesterday, “Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 1”, I discussed how physician costs and prescription drug costs impacted medical costs for lost-time claims.

On the issue of physician costs, Mr. Lipton showed that there was a decline in the 2015 medical payments per claim due to physician costs, but as the following chart proves, despite this decline, physician costs contribute a larger share of the total costs.

Chart 1.

Chart 6.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

According to James, the main reason for the reduction in costs is the physician utilization per claim. Even though it is only a3% reduction, it is significant, James says, in a time of upward spiraling medical costs. Chart 2 bears this out.

Chart 2.

Chart 7.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

The second part of my post yesterday, “Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 2”, looked at the steady rise of the average medical cost for lost-time claim.

If we compare the chart from yesterday’s post to the one Mr. Lipton presented, we will see that his chart does show increases and decreases over time in the average medical costs per lost-time claim, but my chart indicates that ever since 1995, it has been rising steady.

Both charts, do show that the average medical cost per lost-time claim is hovering around $30,000, and if the numbers are consistent with ones for earlier years, represents almost 60% of the total claims cost.

My Chart.

Chart 2.

Chart 3.

Chart 4.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

To examine this in greater detail, Mr. Lipton broke down the Accident Years into three separate periods and slides, to show the change in medical cost per lost-time claim. He compared the change in Personal Health Care (PHC) Spending per Capita with the Medical Cost per Lost-Time Claim.

In the period, 1995-2002, the average growth rate (AGR) for WC was 9%, and the AGR for PHC was 6%. In the next period, 2002-2009, WC AGR was 6%; PHC AGR was 5%, and finally, in the last period, 2009-2015, the WC AGR was 1%, while the PHC AGR was 3%, as seen in chart 4.

Chart 4.

Chart 10.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

To understand what was driving the decline in Accident Year 2015, Mr. Lipton identified six different drivers, as indicated in chart 5.

Chart 5.

Chart 8.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

Finally, Mr. Lipton discussed how hospital costs contributed to medical cost per lost-time claims by highlighting the difference between inpatient and outpatient costs, which are rising.

The following chart looks at the four years prior to the 2016 Accident Year, 2012-2015.

Chart 6.

Chart 9.

Source: NCCI Annual Issues Symposium 2017

In 2012, Hospital Inpatient Paid per Stay amounted to $19,514, in 2013, it rose to $22,944 (18% increase), in 2014, it was $24,558, or a 7% increase, and last, in 2015, it was $25,320, or 3% increase over the previous year.

As for Hospital Outpatient Paid per Visit, the number are considerably lower for each year when compared to Inpatient Stays, but nonetheless have been rising.

So perhaps this, at the end is why the average medical cost per lost-time claim has been rising over a period of over twenty years, from 1995 to 2015.

I wrote to James last night when I saw his recent posts on this presentation, and he responded that we are both correct in our analysis, but looking at it from different points of view.

My conclusion after reading this presentation and my discussion with James suggests to me that there are two things going on here. One, when a worker is injured and receives medical care, unless and until he or she goes to a hospital, the best way to lower costs is through what James calls one of his six keys to reducing workers’ comp costs. One of those keys is medical control by the employer, which James said reduced cost by 75%.

But I also realized that when an injured worker goes to the ER or an Ambulatory Service Center as an Outpatient, has an Inpatient stay, that this is where the medical costs go up.

Naturally, Workers’ Comp medical spending is only a fraction of the overall health care spend of the US, and as costs for health care in general rise, so too does costs in workers’ comp.

So, while many have argued or shown that they can lower costs on the front end, from time of injury to return to work for most claims where no surgery is required, one of the largest reasons for the steady rise in the average medical cost per lost-time claims is hospital costs.

On this, both James and I agree. However, it is important that many in the industry see this as well. Keep thinking that it will change by doing this or that has not worked, the numbers prove that. Maybe it is time for something out of the box.

Slight Increase in Average Medical Costs for Lost-Time Claims, Part 1

It’s that time of the year again, the time when I review the NCCI State of the Line Report.

As an added feature this year, I am including a look at the Medical Cost data, a new subject which I heard about back in February, when I attended NCCI’s 2017 Data Education Program.

First up is the distribution of medical costs by category. NCCI supports regulatory and legislative initiatives by providing State Medical Data Reports using data from their Medical Data Call.

For Service Year 2015, the distribution of payments across the various categories is based on data for all jurisdiction where NCCI provides ratemaking services, except Texas.

The key takeaway, as the following table will show, is that in 2015, physician costs were almost 40% (38%) of total medical costs, combined inpatient and outpatient hospital costs were approximately 30% (31%), and prescription drug costs were about 11%.

Table 1.

Table 1.

Source: NCCI’s State Medical Data Reports

Drilling down further, the distribution of physician costs for Service Year 2015, indicates that the bulk of the costs were associated with physical medicine, 30%, and surgery was associated with 24%, 10% associated with radiology, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2.

Table 2.

Source: NCI’s State Medical Data Reports

Getting even further, the next area the report covered was prescription drug payment changes over time.

The key takeaways here are the following:

  • In 2011, generic equivalents represented 47% of payments for all drugs prescribed. This increased to 58% by 2015, and driven largely by brand-name drugs.
  • Repackaged drugs now represent a small portion of overall drug payments because several states have implemented regulation on reimbursement.

Table 3.

Table 3.

Source: NCCI’s Medical Data Reports

NCCI analyzed the impact of prescription drug fee schedules on the cost of drugs by classifying states into one of four categories. States that had fee schedules were classified as Low, Medium, or High, based on the size of the Average Wholesale Price (AWP). The fourth category were states without a schedule.

The key takeaways here are:

  • Transitioning from not having a schedule to a low-fee schedule significantly reduces prices for WC prescriptions
  • Moving from no schedule to a high-fee schedule may increase drug costs, as shown in the following chart.

Chart 1.

Chart 1.

Source: NCCI’s Medical Data Reports

NCCI also looked at physician payments as a percentage of the Medicare reimbursement rate. In most states, they said, WC physician services are subject to fee schedules, just like the ones in group health and Medicare.

One way to measure physician costs across the states is to compare WC payments to the Medicare reimbursement rate.

The key takeaway from this is:

  • Prices paid relative to Medicare vary widely, from about 100% (Florida – 101%) to over 250%
  • Of the five jurisdictions with the largest percentage, all but Alaska (263%) are currently operating without a fee schedule
  • Countrywide the average is 150%

What does this mean for you?

While there are some positives in these numbers, especially with the cost savings from going to a low fee schedule for drugs, and an increase in the use of generic over brand-name drugs, and a decline in the percentage of repackaged drugs, medical costs are still very high for workers’ comp.

In the next post, I will look at the medical lost-time claim severity.

Infographic on Mobile Health

Here’s an infographic courtesy of URAC. What will this mean for workers’ comp, health care and medical travel?

Millennials and Mobile.png

Despicable!

“Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.”

Karl Marx

“Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”

Winston Churchill

 

Here we have two quotes dealing with the same subject. The first quote is from the father of Scientific Socialism, i.e., Marxism and Communism, and the second quote is from the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, who was a staunch anti-Communist.

But what transpired today in Washington, is far from the view of Marx, or the view of Churchill. In other words, it is DESPICABLE!

Never before in the history of the United States, has the government of the people, by the people, and for the people ever taken away something the government gave them in the first place.

Not even the enactment of the 18th Amendment outlawing the sale and production of alcohol, stoops to the level of total disregard for the health and welfare of the American people. Alcohol was never something the government had to give to people, they produced it themselves. Our founding fathers were brewers and distillers of alcoholic beverages.

But the vote this afternoon represents a step towards a society this nation has not seen in many decades. You hear that Republicans want to take the country back. The obvious place they want to take us to is the 19th century, when no one had health care, there was no Medicare or Medicaid, or Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers’ Comp.

There are specific reasons for this, which I will discuss.

First, pure and simple, it is greed. They want the money dedicated for health care and the other medical plans for a huge tax cut for their wealthy friends.

Second, the health insurance companies can now get to pick and choose who they want to cover, what they will cover, and what they will charge you if you have a serious pre-existing condition or a life-threatening disease. We know this as adverse selection.

Third, they don’t believe in giving “entitlements” to anyone except the military and the wealthy.

Fourth, their libertarian, puritanical, Calvinism teaches them that the poor are undeserving of the benefits that money brings, so let them die, and who cares if they are poor, it is a sign of a moral failing.

Another quote from Churchill says that you can always trust the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.

Well, after today, we have tried everything else. We have given employers the right to offer health insurance to their employees, we have allowed private insurance companies to sell policies to individuals, and we have created separate health care plans for children, the elderly, the military and their families, members of Congress, and the poor.

But for all the reasons I have given above, and many more, this nation refuses to enact single payer health care, the only thing we haven’t tried, and the one form of universal health care every other Western nation provides its citizens.

One fellow blogger last year during the Democratic Primary, said that while he liked Bernie Sanders, he knew that the health insurance companies were not going to scrape their businesses and start from scratch.

But maybe they should. It is because the capitalist profit motive is at the heart of what, in the words of Walter Cronkite, our health care system really is. “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” Too many are profiting from other people’s misery, and driving many into poverty. This is the richest nation on Earth, and this is how we treat our fellow citizens.

It is strange that the Conservative Party of Great Britain believes in single payer, but the American Republican Party does not. The truth is, they are no longer the Republican Party but the Republican Libertarian Party.

Once upon a time, members of their right-wing decried the nation’s drift towards “Creeping Socialism.” With this vote, and with executive orders flowing from 1600 every day, we are witnessing “Creeping Fascism.’ The new Secretary of Labor comes from the fast food industry where workers were mistreated, and still are in some places.

Worker’s rights are being eroded with new overtime rules, wages are stagnant, unemployment is still too high despite what the government says.

One other reason for enacting single payer is that doing so will free employers from having to provide it to their employees, and workers over forty will not have to face losing their jobs and careers they spent their lives in.

We, as a nation, must decide; either we take away health care for millions of Americans, or we make sure everyone has it. There can be no half-measures. Many pundits have said the AHCA (Zombie Health Care Bill) will not pass the Senate, but that is what they said about the House of Representatives.

I hope the Senate will defeat this, but if they don’t, the only option left is single payer.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Winston Churchill

“Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Winston Churchill

 

Veering away from the usual topics covered in this blog, I thought about some recent articles I saw about the attempt to repeal and replace, or to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the current political regime wants to do.

The first article, in yesterday’s [failing] New York Times, warned that repealing the ACA would make it harder for people to retire early. Those who retire early, before reaching 65, can get retiree coverage from their former employers, but not many companies offer that coverage.

Those early retirees poor enough could turn to Medicaid, and everyone else would have to go to the individual market. Without the ACA, health care coverage would be more difficult to get, cost consumers more where available, and provide fewer benefits.

According to the article, if the ACA is repealed, retiring early would become less feasible for many Americans. This is called job-lock, or the need to maintain a job to get health insurance.

This is one of the concerns the ACA was supposed to address, in that it would reduce or eliminate job lock. Repealing the law could, according to the article, affect employment and retirement decisions.

The second article, from Joe Paduda, also from yesterday, reported that improving healthcare will hurt the economy, and Joe lays out the arguments for doing something or doing nothing to improve health care and what effect they would have on economic growth.

For example, Joe states that healthcare employs 15.5 million full time workers, or 1 out of every 9 job. In two years, this will surpass retail employment. As Joe rightly points out, those jobs are funded by employers and taxpayers. He suggests that some experts argue that healthcare is “crowding out” economic expansion in other sectors, thereby hurting growth overall.

But Joe also points out that by controlling health care costs, employment will be cut, and stock prices for pharmaceutical companies, margins for medical device firms, and bonuses at health plans will also be affected.

So, if cost control and increasing efficiency works, these lost jobs, reduced profits, and lower margins, Joe says, will hurt the economy. The economy will suffer if the health care sector is more efficient, and since healthcare is also a huge employment generator and an inefficient industry, fixing that inefficiency will reduce employment and growth.

Thus, the title of this article, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, a certain quote has been making the rounds through the media. It was uttered by Number 45. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Yes, it is complicated and complex, but does it have to be so? If we consider the second Churchill quote above, and realize that the UK, France, Germany, Canada, and many other Western countries have some form of single payer, then one must conclude that it is only the US that has complicated and made too complex, the providing of health care to all of its citizens.

There are many reasons for this, which is beyond the scope of this article or blog, but there is one overriding reason for this complexity…GREED. Not the greed of wanting more of one thing, but the greed of profit, as one executive from an insurance company stated recently.

This brings me to the last of the articles I ran across yesterday. It was posted on LinkedIn by Dave Chase, founder of the Health Rosetta Institute. He cited a segment on the Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson program, in which Carlson interviewed a former hospital president who said that pricing was the main problem with the US healthcare system.

Mr. Chase does not solely rely on Carlson’s guest in his article, but cites other experts in the field as evidence that pricing failure is to blame.

If we are to except this as true, then it buttresses my point that the overriding problem is greed, for what else is the failure to control prices but a symptom of greed inherent in the American health care system, and something that does not exist elsewhere in the Western world.

Which brings me to Churchill’s first quote above. Since we Americans have tried the free market system of health care wanting, and have tried a reformed free market system, perhaps it is time to go all the way to a government-sponsored, Medicare for All, single payer system.

The bottom line is: we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils.

UPDATE: Here is Joe’s take on what will happen to the ACA in the next two years. I agree with his assessment.

Americans Forego Treatment Due to Debt: Where is Medical Travel?

A report from the Kauffman Family Foundation, as mentioned in last week’s The Atlantic, stated that more than a quarter of Americans indicated that someone in their family is struggling to pay medical debt.

Higher rates of individuals are found among low-income and uninsured people, and many are not suffering from chronic illnesses, but rather from sudden or one-time illnesses, according to Gillian B. White.

This isn’t surprising, Ms White writes, given the state of most Americans’ finances. She says that most people are ill-prepared to deal with any financial shock.

Another report cited in her article from the J. P. Morgan Chase Institute (hey, didn’t they cause some of the financial shock Americans are experiencing?), looks at how medical costs factor into household financial instability.

They looked at 250, 000 Chase checking accounts where they could categorize about 80 percent of the expenditures, and found that for a median-income household (around $57,000 a year), expenses fluctuated by an average of 29 percent, or $1,300 month to month.

The authors of the study examined extraordinary medical expenses: large (more than $400 and more than 1 percent of annual income) and unusual ( falling more than two standard deviations outside a normal household’s spending for a month).

40 percent of middle-class and older families faced an extraordinary expense of $1,500 or more due to a medical expense, and around 16 percent of middle-income households had one large expense during a one year period. The authors found that these expenses tended to show up when they experienced an uptick in income.

Ms. White concludes her article by debunking the idea that having Americans spend a significant amount of their own money up front will encourage them to shop around for better health care deals. The reality, she states, is that they will forego treatment if they cannot afford it.

So What Does This Mean For You?

Well, for those in the medical travel industry it means that you need to focus on getting those middle-class families to get their treatment abroad where the costs are lower, and to concentrate less on cosmetic, plastic, reconstructive and augmentation surgeries, fancy medical treatments of dubious value, and concentrate on offering the kinds of treatments Americans are foregoing.

Debating whether or not certifications are valid or worth the paper they are printed on, is a nice academic exercise, but real people are skipping vital medical care while you debate and hold conferences around the world.

I’ll say this again: the market will not come to you, you must go to the market.