Category Archives: Patient Outcomes

Tug-of-War Over Ailing American Knees: What the Medical Tourism Industry Should Know

Total knee replacements in the US is growing, according to an article today in Kaiser Health News.

660,000 are performed each year, and will likely grow to two million annually by 2030, as reported by Christina Jewett. Knee surgeries are one of surgery’s biggest potential growth markets, and one that the medical tourism industry needs to be aware of.

Ms. Jewett described how an orthopedic surgeon from the Bronx, underwent his own knee surgery in a Seattle-area surgery center performed by a friend of his. The surgery began at 8 am, and by lunch, the doctor was resting in his friend’s home with no pain and a new knee.

Medicare is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee surgeries outside of hospitals, either in free-standing centers or outpatient facilities. Several billions of dollars are spent every year by Medicare for knee replacements, so what may be a bold experiment, may soon be more standard.

However, this issue is dividing the medical world, and the issue of money is just as important as the issue of medicine, according to Ms. Jewett.

Some physicians are concerned that moving surgeries out of hospitals will land vulnerable patients in the emergency room, but proponents say it will give patients more choice and better care. In addition, they contend that it will save Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars.

An “overwhelming majority” of commenters, Ms. Jewett states, said they want to allow the surgeries out of hospitals, as specified in recent rule-making documents.

Even if a policy change is made, according to the article, Medicare would still pay for patients to get traditional inpatient surgery. There would be a huge shift in money, the article reports, out of hospitals and into surgery centers.

Medicare could save hundreds of millions of dollars if it no longer paid for multiple-day stays in a hospital, and investors at outpatient centers could profit greatly, as well as some surgeons, especially those who have an ownership stake in the facility.

An open question remains as to whether this shift is beneficial for patients. Patients on Medicare tend to spend nearly three days in a hospital, and forty percent also spend time in a rehabilitation facility for further recovery.

Data from 2014 suggests that Medicare patients are taking advantage of the post-operation support at hospitals and aftercare centers. However, it is unclear what the percentage of eligible patients would choose outpatient care.

Of equal concern to patients are the financial consequences, and here is where the medical tourism needs to pay attention, because even though less care is given, outpatient procedures require higher out-of-pocket costs.

Medicare covers inpatient procedures 100%, with no co-payment, but outpatient procedures require a 20% co-payment, which could easily add up to thousands of dollars for knee surgeries.

One surgery center in California advertises a knee replacement surgery for $17,0300, and those who support the change in policy believe that a strict criteria should be used by doctors to choose which patients are good candidates for outpatient surgery.

All this began in 2012, Ms. Jewett states, when Medicare first considered removing the surgeries from its “inpatient only: list. At that time, many doctors and hospitals protested, calling the proposal “ludicrous” and “dangerous”, and Medicare abandoned the idea.

Another objection cited research that showed that patients who received such surgeries as outpatients were twice as likely to die, and that even one-day stays were twice as likely to need follow-up surgery.

A panel recommended that Medicare remove the procedure from the “inpatient only” list in August, but if they make a change, it will not go into effect for a year or so later.

It is quite obvious to this writer what you in the medical travel industry need to do, but then again, when did you ever listen to what I say?

Self-Insured Employers Fail To Adopt Medical Travel

When I began my writing, one of the ways I saw medical travel could be implemented into workers’ comp was through employers who self-insure.

There are not that many companies who do self-insure for several reasons, one of which is the administrative costs and extra hoops they would have to go through just to get approval from state regulators to be self-insured. This is something most small employers will not do. More on what I think about this later.

Today, Irving Stackpole, President of Stackpole & Associates (a LinkedIn connection of mine), wrote an article in the International Medical Tourism Journal (IMTJ) about why US employers have failed to adopt medical travel benefits.

For the sake of transparency and honesty, I have never met Irving, but have had discussions with him a few times on LinkedIn in some of the groups we have in common. I have met his co-host of his radio show, Elizabeth Ziemba, when we both attended the 5th Medical Tourism and Wellness Business Summit in Reynosa, Mexico in November 2014.

In his article, Irving mentions that while some small employers such as HSM (who I have written about in earlier posts), Hannaford Supermarkets, the Casino and Hotel of the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe in Northern California, and IDMI Systems have added medical travel to their health plans, he does not know of any large employers who have.

When I attended the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in 2012, large employers such as Disney Institute, American Express, and Google sent representatives to speak at the Congress. If they attended, then surely their companies must be involved in some degree with medical travel? What did they discuss? Certainly not the weather (Hurricane Sandy was right outside the hotel).

But I digress, yet again.

According to Irving, six percent of firms offering fully-insured plans reported that they intend to self-insure because of the ACA. So, he is correct in that not many companies are self-insured.

However, Irving also states that it is estimated that the average self-funded plan covers between 300-400 employees, and that 59% of them in the US self-fund as part of their health plan.

And he goes on to say that many small companies are looking to self-fund to reduce their share of the cost burden, but that because small employers are not able to assume the same risk levels, stop loss rates are rising. This pressure, he adds will serve as a limitation on the expansion of self-funded health insurance into the smaller market.

Irving concludes that there are four reason why large self-insured companies would add an additional medical travel benefit to their insurance plans:

  • Current implementation of the ACA has distracted or absorbed attention of insurance markets, including self-insured companies. Many companies are wrestling with far issues of how many employees will be included/excluded, potential penalties, and avoiding fines under the ACA;
  • Self-insured plans are exempt from many of the more costly and burdensome requirements of the ACA as long as they don’t make significant changes, therefore they are careful about keeping their plans unchanged;
  • Reinsurance, or stop loss coverage may be limited for plans offering a medical travel benefit, and;
  • There is no history of outcomes , evidence or actuarial models to support the case among employers for a disruptive change such as international medical travel. Reports suggesting cost savings and quality outcomes are not yet supported by evidence.

One other factor Irving suggests as to why many employers have avoided medical travel is because many find it necessary to contract with a third party administrator (TPA) to collect premiums, manage membership enrollment, claims adjudication and payment. These TPA’s are sometimes referred to as providing “Administrative Services Only” contracts or “ASO” contracts, where they provide typical third party administration services, but assume no risk for claims payment.

Because of these contracts, Irving says that while economic logic suggests that self-funded employers should be interested in high quality, lower cost destinations, it is necessary to convince both the benefits manager and the TPA/ASO  of the value of being a destination provider, and the low risk associated with accessing international medical travel.

Okay, now it’s my turn.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Muhammad Ali

While everything Irving wrote about appears to be factually true at the moment, and I cannot dispute what he says, the fact that employers have been unwilling to pursue medical travel is more complicated than the reasons he gives above.

True, the ACA has many things in it that may or may not seriously impact health care and the health insurance industry, but what he does not mention is that many of the things holding employers back pre-date the enactment of the ACA, and are more concerned with keeping health care the purview of those along the supply chain who profit the most from the system we have created, and not concerned with providing people either under health insurance or workers’ comp, with the best medical care possible, at the lowest cost, no matter where it comes from.

TPA’s and ASO’s and ERISA, and many other mechanisms such as stop loss insurance, and risk avoidance, etc., are mere barriers to the implementation of medical travel into both health care and workers’ comp.

Using my oft-time quoted analogy of going to the Moon, imagine if the baby steps we took to get there such as the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo programs were not baby steps to the Moon, but actually barriers set up so that we are thwarted every step of the way to getting there or to go even further, such as landing humans on Mars. Don’t you think there would be people just like Irving who would say that it cannot happen?

That is why I quoted the late Muhammad Ali. For a poor black kid from Louisville, he sure had a better understanding of what can be than most folks who did not grow up like he did.

But this does not let the medical travel industry off the hook. I said so in my post, “Ensuring Patient Safety: Making Sure Medical Tourism Puts Its Money Where Its Mouth Is“.

But it is not just the industry itself that needs to come clean. Foreign governments and their travel ministries, the medical travel facilities, the providers, and the facilitators must present hard evidence that better quality and lower cost is possible, and so that when some of the dire predictions of the impact of the ACA are fully realized, or the US health care system collapses of its own weight (see my post, “Colorado “Single Payer” in Health Care Industry’s Sights“), medical travel as an alternative will become more acceptable to US employers, large and small, and not just for health care, but for workers’ comp as well.


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’ Comp Blog is now viewed all over the world in over 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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Five Reasons I Believe in Medical Travel for Workers’ Comp

Throughout the past three years, I have written much about why I believe medical travel should be implemented into workers’ comp, and have often used various issues in both health care and workers’ comp to drive home my message.

Yet, lost in all of the text and the sentiment behind it, is the real reasons I believe in medical travel for workers’ comp. This article will explore these reasons.

First, it has been shown by myself and others, that surgical costs for common workers’ comp injuries are less expensive in many medical travel facilities in Latin America than what is the average cost for those same surgeries in the US. And we also know, that the domestic costs can vary wildly even within the same city, let alone the same state, or in a neighboring state.

Second, medical care in these medical travel facilities are equal to, or better than the care received domestically, and many of the physicians were trained in the US or in Europe, so the medical care is up to Western standards, and may even exceed them in certain treatments and with regard to certain disease modalities. Employers would thus get back employees who are ready, willing and able to work after recuperating in pleasant surroundings.

Third, medical travel for workers’ comp will allow the middle and working class to gain a better understanding and appreciation of foreign cultures and people, especially in this political campaign cycle where one leading candidate is disparaging our southern neighbors and those from the Middle East, as well as many others. While my idea for medical travel is limited to the Western Hemisphere, nonetheless, having such a better understanding and appreciation for our Latin neighbors will lead to less demonizing of people from Latin American countries.

Fourth, it will allow workers to see the world that belongs to all of us, not just to the rich and wealthy. Allowing medical travel in workers’ comp will make it easier for better people to people contact, which will improve the views foreigners have of Americans, and vice versa, and will lead to the fifth reason:

Fifth, taking a step towards world peace, because as new technology makes air travel faster from the US to other regions, the more people will be able to travel abroad and see those parts that are too far away and too expensive for the average working person. This will bring the world closer together than any social media applications can ever do. And that is a good thing.

As I have said before, it will not be easy, and will take a lot of work, especially to change outdated laws, regulations, rules and statutes written nearly a hundred years ago, but if enough people work at it, it is possible that such change can and will happen. We just need the will to make it so.

Health care delivery varies a LOT – and there’s your opportunity

So, medicine is a science right? If it is, then the delivery of care should be consistent across the country for patients with identical conditions, right. Absolutely not. That’s the quick takeaway from a terrific panel this morning at WCRI; … Continue reading →

Source: Health care delivery varies a LOT – and there’s your opportunity

Joe Paduda, blogging from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) annual conference in Boston, has shined a light on where medical travel providers can prove that their lower cost, high quality medical care can produce better outcomes for both patients (injured workers) and their employers.

If what Joe says about a huge variation in medical care delivery across geography – why medical care for identical conditions for the same type of patient varies greatly from place to place is pervasive, fascinating, and, more to the point, driver of low quality and high cost care is true, then it would provide an opportunity for international medical providers to stress in their marketing that they do not have different kinds of treatment for the same type of patient, no matter where the medical care is received.

The rest of his article should give international medical providers a better understanding of how to attract not only patients (injured workers), but their employers and insurance companies.

Proving that, for example, disc replacement provides a better outcome than spinal fusion and is lower cost in your facility outside the US, will go a long way to convince both patients and employers and payers of the efficacy of medical travel.

Knowing that there is such a wide discrepancy in delivery of care across the US for the same type of patient and is responsible for lower quality and higher cost is a strength the medical travel industry can exploit.

What do you think?

Ten Facts About Medical Travel

Maria Maldonado has put together a list of ten facts about medical travel that people in the workers’ comp world should know about.

While it is true that there have been serious medical issues abroad, the same medical errors can and do occur right here at home. One particular one that stuck in my mind some years ago was a patient at a hospital in Tampa who had the wrong body part removed.

Also, there may be some who question whether the JCI’s accreditation is sufficient enough to justify patients going abroad, but absent any other reputable institutions, the JCI will have to suffice as a starting point or floor to which any such future institutions will have to better.

Here is the link to Maria’s post:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-things-you-should-know-medical-tourism-maria-maldonado?trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_ARTICLE_POST

Final Rule for Bundled Hip and Knee Replacements Published

Four months ago today, I wrote a piece called, “CMS to Require Bundling of Reimbursements for Hip and Knee Surgery”, that said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will require the bundling of reimbursements for hip and knee surgeries.

Today, Health Affairs blog published an article reporting that CMS has recently published the final rule for the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) model, which is a mandatory bundled payment model for lower extremity joint replacement (LEJR) services in certain geographic areas.

The article, by Patrick H. Conway, Rahul Rajkuma, Amy Bassano, Matthew Press, Claire Schreiber and Gabriel Scott, said that hip and knee replacements are the most common inpatient surgery procedures for Medicare beneficiaries, and can require long recovery and rehab periods.

The authors said that in 2014, more than 400,000 beneficiaries received hip or knee replacement, which cost more than $7 billion just for hospitalization.

They also reported that the quality and cost of care for these surgeries varied significantly by region and by hospital, and was true for both the care received in the hospital and for post-acute care outside.

The variation, they said, is due to the way Medicare pays for this care today, spread among multiple providers, with no single entity accountable for the total patient experience.

Care can be fragmented, they wrote, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Here are the key takeaways from the final rule:

  • the CJR model seeks to incentivize Medicare providers and suppliers to work together to improve the quality and reduce the costs of care for patients undergoing lower extremity joint replacement
  • the acute hospital where the procedure occurs will be accountable for aggregate Medicare expenditures and the overall quality of related care
  • the model will include participant hospitals located in 67 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) throughout the country
  • acute hospitals paid under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and located in the selected MSAs will be included in the model, with the exception of hospitals currently participating in Model 1 or Models 2 or 4 of the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative
  • depending on the hospital’s quality and aggregate spending performance, the hospital may receive an additional payment from Medicare, or need to repay Medicare in the second year if spending exceeds targets
  • hospitals will need to work with physicians and post-acute care providers, such as home health agencies and skilled nursing facilities, to ensure patients get the care they need

This is in contrast to what I reported on in July, when I said that a former CMS official was cited in the Freeman article as saying that mandatory bundled payments for hip and knee surgeries would shutter one in four skilled nursing facilities and trigger “demand destruction in areas such as diagnostic testing, hospital stays, and avoidable readmissions.”

Whether or not this final rule will do what the authors of the Health Affairs article says it will do remains to be seen, but judging by past CMS programs to affect quality and costs, this may be wishful thinking on the part of the authors.

The insistence that one more new initiative, or more incentives, or one more new model or new rule will change the way health care is being provided in the US, just goes to show that until we adopt a single-payer, “Medicare for All” system with less rules and less incentives, some people will continue to game the system, then we will see a radical change in the American health care system.

And if workers’ compensation follows changes in health care under Medicare, especially how it determines reimbursements for hip and knee surgeries, which are also common to workers’ comp, we can expect to see issues in workers’ comp.

Alternatives must be considered to an ever expensive and poor quality of health care for workers’ comp. That alternative is medical travel.

Sluggish Hospital Improvement

Modern Healthcare published the following article that stated that there was sluggish improvement in patient safety in the nation’s hospitals.

Here is the link to the article:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20151028/HOLD/151029895/leapfrog-hospital-improvement-sluggish-despite-some-stars?utm_campaign=socialflow&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

Still believe we have the best hospitals in the world, or just the most expensive?

It’s your choice, poor quality and high cost, or low cost and better quality somewhere else.

Or maybe the injured workers should make that choice.