Category Archives: Health Care Costs

Follow-up to Insurers Jacking Up Premiums Ahead of End of CSR’s

Health Affairs blog posted the following stating that if the Administration terminates cost-sharing reduction payments (CSR’s), the states can use 1332 waivers to fund their own.

Here is the article in full by Steven Chen:

One of the main causes of instability in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health exchanges, aside from the constant stream of repeal-and-replace efforts, is the uncertainty over the future of the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. CSR and the advanced premium tax credits (APTC) are subsidies created by the ACA to enhance the affordability of the qualified health plans sold on the health exchanges. Whereas the APTC reduces the cost of premiums to beneficiaries with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, CSR lowers the out-of-pocket expenses of beneficiaries with incomes between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Unlike the APTC, whose legal status is not in question, the U.S. House of Representatives had challenged the appropriation status of the CSR payments by filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration, thereby creating doubts about CSR’s future. In addition to the said litigation, the current administration has compounded the uncertainty by often withholding the CSR payments until the 11th hour and threatening to terminate the payments completely.

This uncertainty comes at a cost. Some insurers have cited the uncertainty as one of the reasons for their exodus from the health exchanges while others have referenced the uncertainty as a source for their 2018 premium hikes. While the extent of the premium increase is yet to be determined, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that without CSR payments, the insurers would need to raise silver plan premiums by about 19 percent.

Can States Step In?

What can States do if the administration follows through on its threat to terminate the CSR payments? A simple solution is for the States to provide the CSR payments themselves. In addition to making health insurance affordable, CSR payments are cost effective: The provision of CSR payments by the Federal government lowers the silver plan premiums offered on the health exchanges because the insurers are compensated for the reduced cost-sharing they are required to provide. Without the CSR payments, insurers will raise silver plan premiums—including the premiums for the benchmark silver plans—to offset their losses, which leads to higher APTC for all eligible beneficiaries, ultimately resulting in greater overall Federal expenditure. The aforementioned Kaiser Family Foundation study quantified this effect by demonstrating that if CSR payments were terminated in 2018, although the Federal government would save $10 billion from not making the CSR payments, it would have to pay an additional $12.3 billion in APTC, thus increasing overall Federal expenditure by $2.3 billion.

Creating a State-administered CSR mechanism will undoubtedly require expenditure from the State. While some will argue that the limited resources available in State budgets would render the idea all but theoretical, it would be beneficial to examine how States can use Section 1332 of the ACA to fund—and potentially profit from—providing CSR.

The California Example

The intricacies of a Section 1332 State Innovation Waiver (1332 Waiver) have been explained in depth elsewhere, but on a fundamental level, Section 1332 of the ACA permits a State to apply for a waiver to modify or waive certain provisions of the ACA, such as the individual mandate and the establishment of health exchanges, among others. The waiver application must satisfy four statutory constraints—comprehensiveness, affordability, scope of coverage, and will not increase the Federal deficit—but should an application meet all the criteria, the State is eligible to receive any APTC or CSR that the State would have otherwise received without the 1332 Waiver. In layman terms, if a State can create a system that meets the Federal standard at a cost that is the same or less than the existing Federal model, the State gets to keep the money the Federal government would have otherwise spent.

Using California as an example, Covered California showed that the termination of CSR payments by the Federal government would cause insurance premiums for silver plans in the individual market to increase by 16.6 percent in 2018. The study also showed an inverse relationship between CSR and APTC: The Federal government paid $750 million in CSR payments in 2016, but if it were to defund CSR payments, not only would it not receive any savings, it would incur an additional $976 million in APTC spending. Using these figures as illustration, if the Federal government had terminated CSR payments in 2016 and if California had provided CSR payments through a 1332 Waiver, under this scenario California would have to pay $750 million in CSR payments, but it would receive $976 million from the Federal government in lost APTC payments—payments California would have otherwise received without waiver—ending up with a total net profit of $226 million! California could use the profit to create a reinsurance program to bolster its health exchange, to increase payments to providers, or it could spend the excess on non-health related projects like fixing potholes and infrastructure because there is no restriction on the usage of the excess pass-through funding.

Even without a lengthy legal analysis, it is obvious this waiver satisfies all the statutory constraints: (1) since the waiver does not modify the Essential Health Benefits or any coverage requirements, it meets the comprehensiveness test; (2) since the waiver would lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs, it would actually improve affordability; (3) since the waiver would improve affordability, it is expected to increase scope of coverage; and finally (4) the numbers show that the waiver will not increase the Federal deficit. In fact, it should be intuitive why this proposal would meet the requirements of the ACA — it was built to be part of the ACA to begin with.

While the Administration isn’t obligated to approve any waiver applications, a 1332 Waiver application that creates a State-operated CSR payment mechanism—and uses the excess pass-through funding to finance a State reinsurance program—is conceptually consistent with the Administration’s emphasis on enhanced State flexibility and empowerment. The first executive order by the Administration, for example, promised to provide greater flexibility to the States under the ACA. Moreover, the Secretary of Health and Human Services recently sent a letter to State governors encouraging the application of 1332 Waivers and even provided a checklist to help expedite the process.

Given the cost-saving advantages of CSR payments, it is puzzling that the Federal government would consider terminating this effective subsidy. In addition to the money the Federal government would save, forcing States to spend the time and expense to develop and administer separate CSR operations also argue against ending Federal CSR payments. Indeed, even Republican members of Congress have begun to warm to the idea of continuing CSR payments. However, should the Federal government decide against it, States have a viable, and potentially profitable, means of administering CSR payments to stabilize their insurance markets.

 

Insurers Jacking Up Premiums Ahead of End of CSRs

An article in Healthcare Finance News.com on Friday, said that insurers are factoring in the end of the cost-sharing reduction payments into their rate increases from 2 to 23 percent, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The article states the following:

“Insurers in 20 states and the District of Columbia have filed premium rate requests for the federal exchange ahead of an August 16 deadline, many on the assumption that cost-sharing reduction payments will not be paid and that the individual mandate will either not be enforced or weakly enforced, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report released Thursday.”

According to Kaiser, silver premiums would have to increase by 19 percent on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments.

Susan Moore, the Associate Editor for Healthcare Finance News.com, also said that insurers are building uncertainty into their rates, filing under multiple scenarios involving CSRs and the individual mandate.

The threat from the POTUS to Mitch McConnell to push him to repeal and replace the ACA means that if POTUS does get his way, CSR’s would end and so would the individual and employer mandates. Also, the health insurance tax return in 2018 will add 3 percent to premiums.

You can read the rest of the article yourselves, but consider this. Isn’t time to end this nonsense of charging people insurance premiums that are constantly rising just so that a bunch of greedy health insurance companies and their Wall Street investors profit from people’s health?

When are we going to wise up and put and end to this game of playing with people’s health and forcing many into bankruptcy because they have severe medical issues?

When are we going to realize that health care is a human right, and not a commodity that can be marketed like consumer goods?

Medicare for All will end this constant round of rate increases and shenanigans the health insurers perpetrate on the American people.

Another Scheme to Delay the Inevitable, part 2

Last week, I reported on an effort to create payer-provider partnerships, and said that it was another scheme to delay the inevitable move towards a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

Thanks again to Dr. Don McCanne for this week’s article from Modern Healthcare, on yet again another delaying tactic. This time it is from Congress, and while it purports to be “bipartisan”, it really isn’t, because they are very partisan in Congress today; partisan to the health care industry’s profit-making off of sick people.

Without further ado, here is the article in full:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170803/NEWS/170809957

IT IS HIGH TIME TO STOP WASTING TIME, WASTING ENERGY AND THE PATIENCE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH “SOLUTIONS” THAT ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE, NOT BETTER. IT IS TIME TO EXPAND MEDICARE TO EVERYONE, WITH NO BUY-IN, AND BE DONE WITH IT.

 

 

Now It’s Personal

Last week, some of my LinkedIn connections, as well as several other connections, learned of my recent hospitalization. The reason for this was not mentioned at the time, but I will tell you now.

Not having health insurance through an employer, and being denied renewal of a local county health care program, led to my going from Stage 4 to End Stage Kidney Disease.

The hospitalization last week was to place a catheter in me for peritoneal dialysis, and to repair an umbilical hernia.

My hospitalization was brought to light quite unexpectedly by my friend, Maria Todd. Maria’s sending best wishes for my speedy recovery and quick discharge from the hospital was much appreciated, and the warm words by others in response, and the thirty plus “likes” made me feel that people cared. For that. I am grateful.

But the events of the past month have brought home to me one very important point, given the current activity surrounding the so-called “repeal and replace” of the ACA, and the two Congressional bills that many consider doing more harm than good.

This nation needs Medicare for All.

There, I said it.

I know in the past, I have advocated single payer for others, but my illness has shown that anyone who loses health care for any amount of time, once they have reached adulthood, cannot go without health insurance.

This is what happens when men and women are removed prematurely from the workforce, for whatever reason, employer decides you are no longer wanted, economic downturn or just to eliminate positions that affect the bottom-line of the company, and are generally targeted to individuals in their 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s so that the company can save on health care costs for those employees, and so that younger workers can be hired to replace them.

This is not something new, and not related to automation and artificial intelligence disrupting whole industries, which is inevitable.

My initial view on single-payer was that if employers were no longer responsible for the health insurance of their employees, and they were guaranteed full coverage by the government, some of the job losses of the past decades would not have happened, and many talented men and women out of the workforce would be employed until their retirement.

If you don’t believe me, go to LinkedIn and read the many posts from such individuals who are still unemployed. One fellow in Texas even got turned down from jobs at fast food restaurants.

So, now it is personal for me.

I also know that many of you make your living from the health care system we currently have, and that some of you have expounded on why you think a single payer system is unrealistic.

I get it that your financial outlook depends on working in a broken, free-market system because it pays your salary, but healthcare was not supposed to be a business, nor was it supposed to marketed like any other commodity.

If you don’t believe me, read what Pope Francis said: “health is not a consumer good, but rather a universal right, and therefore access to health care services cannot be a privilege.”

But try telling that to Messrs. McConnell, Ryan, Paul, et al in Congress, and the current POTUS, all of whom want to eliminate medical coverage for millions of Americans they received under the ACA, cut back Medicare and Medicaid, and destroy Social Security.

Now that I will be receiving dialysis, and quite likely will qualify for disability, the prospect of not having those resources is very personal to me, and could literally mean my life.

Look in the mirror, then look at your spouse, your children, your parents, your neighbors, friends, etc. What do you think would happen to them if these programs were eliminated? Would you have enough money to care for them? Would you have money to pay for private insurance?

I lost my mother last month to dementia. She died on her 85th birthday in a nursing home some miles from my home (the home she and my father bought), but if the Republicans in Congress had gotten their way, and she had lived longer, I feared she would have been forced out of that nursing home, with no place to go, and would have been an even bigger burden to me.

So, I really don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Socialist, Liberal, or Conservative, we all need health care at some point in our lives.

One of the friends I met here in Florida back in the 90’s died last July of a stroke. He was 73. He worked out, never smoked, had a good life, three kids, and like many of you, worked in Risk Management, as well as Human Resources, the legal profession, and served in Vietnam. But despite all that, he died prematurely, and went into involuntary retirement because he was in his 60’s. Luckily, his wife worked. But you get the picture.

We must all do our part to see that every American can get health care. Not just access to care, which is a Republican euphemism for being able to afford it, and if you can’t, too bad. But actual health insurance. Medicare for All.

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.