Category Archives: physicians

Single Payer Supported by Majority of Physicians

A shout-out to Dr. Don McCanne for posting the following article from Merritt Hawkins.

Merritt Hawkins
August 14, 2017
Survey: 42% of Physicians Strongly Support a Single Payer Healthcare System, 35% are Strongly Opposed
By Phillip Miller
A plurality of physicians strongly support a single payer healthcare system, according to a new survey by Merritt Hawkins.
The survey of 1,033 physicians indicates that 42 percent strongly support a single payer health care system while 14 percent are somewhat supportive. Over one-third (35 percent) strongly oppose a single payer system while six percent are somewhat against it. The remaining three percent neither support nor oppose single payer.
The results contrast with a national survey of physicians Merritt Hawkins conducted in 2008, which indicated that 58 percent of physicians opposed single payer at that time while 42 percent supported it.
In Merritt Hawkins’ experience, there are four reasons why a growing number of physicians are in favor of single payer. First, they are seeking clarity and stability. The fits and starts of health reform and the growing complexity of our current hybrid system are a daily strain on most doctors. Many of them believe that a single payer healthcare system will reduce the distractions and allow them to focus on what they have paid a high price to do: care for patients.
Second, it’s a generational issue. The various surveys that Merritt Hawkins has conducted for The Physicians Foundation in the past show that younger doctors are more accepting of Obamacare, ACOs, EHR, and change in general than are older physicians As the new generation of physicians comes up, there is less resistance among doctors to single payer.
Third, there is a feeling of resignation rather than enthusiasm among some physicians about single payer. These physicians believe we are drifting toward single payer and would just as soon get it over with. The 14% of physicians surveyed who said they “somewhat” support single payer are probably in this group.
Fourth, there is a philosophical change among physicians that I think the public and political leaders on both sides of the aisle now share, which is that we should make an effort to cover as many people as possible.
However, while single payer has gained acceptance among some physicians, it remains strongly opposed by over one third and strongly or somewhat opposed by over 40 percent. It is still a polarizing issue among physicians and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
So, if a majority of physicians support single payer, and they are the ones we should listen to when it comes to taking care of our health, and if a growing majority of Americans are coming around to this idea, then the only ones standing in the way are our politicians.
POTUS, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and the medical-industrial complex of insurance companies, drug companies, and medical device manufacturers are all opposed and are preventing this nation from joining the rest of the developed world in providing health care to ALL its citizens.
And there is one more obstacle in our way: Wall Street investors and their clients who are funding insurance and medical companies, engaging in adverse selection and determining who lives and who dies. Who gets covered and who goes into bankruptcy.
They need to removed from the equation.
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Another Scheme to Delay the Inevitable

After my last post on my personal health issue and the debate over the health care bills that now have been shelved, I thought I’d share with you the following article in its entirety that is just another scheme to delay the inevitable fact that we will need and have a single-payer, Medicare for All health care system.

The article came to me courtesy of Don McCanne, former President of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP).

Here is the article:

Healthcare Dive
August 2, 2017
Health reform driving payer-provider partnerships
By Les Masterson
Payers and providers have for decades stayed in their silos, leading to a more fractured and adversarial healthcare system. That relationship, however, is starting to soften for many in the industry. Payer-provider partnerships put the two groups on the same team in hopes of reducing costs and improving care and outcomes through sharing data and better communication.
A major driver of these partnerships is the move away from fee-for-service payments and toward valued-based payments and population health management.
The payer-provider partnerships popping up across healthcare vary in type, size, location and model. There are 50/50 joint ventures with co-branding, and less intensive partnerships like accountable care organizations (ACO), patient-centered medical homes (PCMH), pay for performance and bundled payments.
The first step in these partnerships is building trust between payers and providers.
Another key is communication. (Chuck Lehn, president of Banner Health Network) acknowledged that communicating across systems and platforms between two organizations and healthcare providers requires time, attention and resources.
Caring for the whole patient works best when payers and providers share data, so there is improved care management, better interventions and better analytics around population health.
The two sides can go much deeper into care for patients by going beyond claims. In partnerships, payers shouldn’t have to wait for claims to see how their members are doing and doctors shouldn’t have to hope that their patients tell them when they have received care elsewhere.
In addition to regular back and forth, payers and providers need regular meetings, whether monthly or quarterly, that focus on strategic issues about the partnership, said (James Leatherwood, marketing communications manager at Availity).
One barrier that still needs resolution in partnerships is moving providers away from phone communication.
Leatherwood said a more efficient way is a queue system. In this system, a provider could check the status of all claims and get alerts when they need to provide more information. The system would allow providers to look in one queue, update the claims information and then move on with their day. Payers would have their own queue and would get alerts when providers have questions. This would reduce phone calls and create immediacy.
Leatherwood said the healthcare system is stuck in a “chart chase” between providers and payers, and moving to an automated queue system would be a gamechanger.
“I think in the near-term what we’re going to see is larger healthcare providers are going to be more strategic, working directly with payers. The health plans are going to be more interested not just in working with the staff level, but executive levels,” said Leatherwood.
The third part of a successful partnership is aligning incentives that focus on keeping people healthy and creating a positive healthcare experience, said (Thomas Robinson, partner at Oliver Wyman).
Partnerships must provide patients the right incentives, integration, investment, insight and innovation to work with the plan to deliver improvements across cost, quality, outcomes and experience, said Robinson.
“The point of these partnerships is to create something new, rather than just building the same old offerings with a narrow network. Successful partnerships will take the opportunity to innovate around the product and experience now that the incentives, insight, investment and integration are all for it,” said Robinson.
Aetna and Banner Health agreed on the partnership in October 2016 and have been laying out the groundwork before its launch this month in Maricopa and Pinal counties in Arizona. The two companies hope to expand the program statewide ultimately.
To prepare for the partnership, Tom Grote, who became CEO of Banner/Aetna joint venture in May, told Healthcare Dive that Banner Health and Aetna have developed joint operating committees, including marketing/sales and population health, that include members from both organizations.
The partnership looks to improve consumer experience by fully integrating providers, Aetna and administrative services, while eliminating redundancies in care and administrative problems. Aetna and Banner Health expect streamlining care and services will lead to savings for patients and employers.
(Brigitte Nettesheim, president of transformative markets for Aetna) said the partnerships are about “each side playing to its strengths, aligning incentives and driving scale.”
(Tom Leyden, director II of the Value Partnerships Program at BCBSM) said providers want to be active participants in system transformation.
“This requires ongoing support from the payer and demonstrated evidence of practice transformation and clinic results from the provider community,” said Leyden. “Administration of these programs is an integral aspect of measuring performance.”
Leyden said the payer strives to make the programs as manageable as possible because physicians need to perform many administrative tasks on an ongoing basis. BCBSM regularly solicits feedback from providers during quarterly meetings and phone calls, emails, webinars and in-person meetings on what’s working, what’s not and what needs to be changed.
“If we keep the customer — the end user — in mind and build partnerships with that as our North Star, we believe we will have a more successful, efficient and collaborative health system,” said Grote.
McCanne says they are the ones who control the medical industrial complex, and are part of the problem with our health care system. I agree.
And finally, here is a video from MSNBC with Ali Velshi debating a GOP’er on single-payer and Canada. The GOP’er says Canadians flock to the US for medical care, namely surgery, but Velshi disputes that rather forcefully.
Until we get these defenders of the status quo removed from Congress, we will never have the kind of health care all other developed nations have.
Health care is not a business, health care is a human right.

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.

Washington State Workers’ Comp Accepts Foreign Medical Providers

Seven years ago, when I was working on my MHA degree, I wrote a paper which has become the basis of this blog.

During that time, I found the website of the Department of Labor & Industries for Washington State, and was surprised to find landing pages that listed physicians in Canada, Mexico, and other countries. These countries were mentioned in my paper, and I have referred to it in subsequent posts from time to time.

However, in the period since, I have noticed that the landing page for other countries was removed. I contacted WA state a while back and was told they were updating it. Yet, as of recently, it is still not been replaced, so I contacted them again yesterday.

I received a reply from Cheryl D’Angelo-Gary, Health Services Analyst at the WA Department of Labor & Industries. She indicated in her response that she is the business owner of the Find a Doctor application (FAD).

According to Ms. D’Angelo-Gary, “our experience showed that most of Washington’s injured workers who leave the country travel to one of these adjacent nations. Workers who travel further afield are advised to work with their claim manager to locate (or likely recruit) a provider. All worker comp claims with overseas mailing addresses are handled by a team of claim managers who have some extra training to help the worker find a qualified provider.”

I asked her to clarify this statement further in my next email by asking if this means that any claimant who travels outside of North America will have to ask the claims manager to find them a doctor.

She replied, “interesting questions!” She also differentiated between an injured worker who is traveling versus one who has relocated out of country.

She went on to say that, “a worker who is traveling and needs claim-related care would be instructed to seek treatment at an ER or urgent care clinic, where the providers do not need to be part of our network and would not be providing ongoing treatment. To be paid, the provider would have to send us a bill and a completed non-network application (available online). Under no circumstances should the provider bill the worker.”

However, she continued, “a worker who has relocated overseas must send in a change of address (required whenever a worker moves). That allows us to transfer management of the claim to a unit that specializes in out-of-country claims. The claim manager would work with the injured worker to help the worker find somebody in their new location. It’s critical (per state law) that the worker choose their own provider, though the provider must meet our requirements and standards of care. Proactive workers tend to handle this well, and find a provider in very little time; less proactive workers can find this challenging. We’re currently looking at this process to see how we can do this better.”

And in final emails to her last night, I tied the first scenario to medical travel, and the second scenario to ex-pats living abroad, but needing medical care. I also asked about workers who wanted to travel back to their home country for medical care, and said that I write about medical travel for workers’ comp.

As of today, I have not heard back, but it is early, and there is a three-hour difference between us.

It must be pointed out that WA state is what is termed a ‘monopolistic state’ in that the state does all the work of handling workers’ comp insurance and claims. Thus, when Ms. D’Angelo-Gary says that worker must work with the claim manager, the claim manager in question is a state employee, and not an employee of a commercial insurance company.

It may be possible, therefore, for medical travel to be implemented in workers’ comp, and it should be something that the medical travel industry and the state should explore together. Ms. D’Angelo-Gary did say they were looking at this process to do better. What better way to improve the process then by utilizing medical travel?

An Old Topic Returns

Back when I began this blog, I discussed in several posts, the difference between employee and employer choice of physician in each state for workers’ comp.

As reported last week, and elaborated here by Peter Rousmaniere, there is some question as to whether the choice of doctor affects costs.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide what is true.

H-1B Visa Order To Limit Number of Foreign-Born Doctors

Before most of the Risk Management and Workers’ Comp industry goes to Philadelphia for next week’s Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) annual conference, I want to share an article on Kaiser Health News about what the recent executive order on H1-B visas will have on healthcare, and by extension, workers’ comp.

I wrote about this two weeks ago when I said that the travel ban will affect the physician shortage in the United States.

According to Kaiser, limiting the number of foreign doctors who can practice in the US could have a significant impact on certain hospitals and states that rely on them.

A study in JAMA found that more that 2,100 US employers were certified to fill nearly 10,500 physician jobs nationwide in 2016, representing 1.4% of physician workforce overall.

States such as New York, Michigan, and Illinois account for most of the H1-B visa applications for foreign physicians. a third of the total.

North Dakota, on the other hand, had the most applicants as a percentage of its workforce, or 4.7%.

While the focus of the executive order was to clamp down on the loopholes in the program that allowed tech companies to hire foreign workers for high skilled jobs that Americans could take, it will also have a negative effect on how patients will receive care in some US hospitals.

And coupled with the fact that the process of getting to practice here without an executive order is difficult and time-consuming, means that both general health care and workers’ comp patients may not be able to get necessary treatment due to the predicted physician shortage.

So while general healthcare can offer an alternative in the form of medical travel, it is high time that work comp does the same.

Or do you really want your claimant patients to wait months before getting needed surgery or other medical procedures?