Category Archives: physicians

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?

 

Travel Ban to Affect Physician Shortage: What Medical Travel Can Do

The following post, from fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, who has a guest post from former WCRI CEO, Dr. Rick Victor, states that the current political regime in Washington’s ban on travel from certain countries and ban on allowing a certain religious minority into the country will further exacerbate the already projected physician shortage that this writer had previously discussed in earlier posts on the subject.

Here is the link to Joe’s and Dr. Victor’s posts.

If there ever was a good enough reason for the implementation of medical travel into general health care, and into workers’ comp medical care, this is it.

Do you really want to see injured workers go without treatment or without needed surgeries because there aren’t enough US-born physicians and surgeons, because some narcissistic, egomaniacal, billionaire con artist has banned needed foreign-born physicians from entering the country?

Who knows? Maybe one of these doctors has a revolutionary new treatment or therapy that can bring relief to millions of Americans, or can cure a terrible disease?

Banning them only makes America weaker, not Great Again.

P.S. Here is a follow-up post from Peter Rousmaniere’s Working Immigrants blog.

 

ACA Repeal Opens Up Medical Travel: A Second Look

Note: Here is Laura’s second article on repeal of the ACA and its’ impact on medical travel. She breaks the article down by areas of the healthcare industry that will be affected by repeal and that might benefit from medical travel.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act Impacts International Medical Travel
by Laura Carabello

wphealthcarenews.com- The repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been met with considerable market uncertainty. As the transition gets underway, many Americans will be scrambling to access affordable, quality care.

Fortunately, the international medical travel industry -“Travel for Treatment” – may finally gain the attention it deserves from the American public and U.S. employers. Experts predict that the number of Americans traveling abroad for medical care or episodes of treatment is expected to increase 25 percent annually over the next decade.

Medical travelers are likely to come from every market sector: the growing ranks of uninsured individuals, self-insured employers facing higher healthcare expenditures, disenfranchised Medicaid beneficiaries, as well as Medicare enrollees with high out-of-pocket expenditures and the loss of coverage for preventive care.

Individual Consumers
Once “minimum essential healthcare coverage” is no longer mandated, the burden of payment will transfer onto healthcare providers and systems that will be forced to continue cost shifting onto the backs of paying customers.

Fewer insurance companies will be willing to underwrite coverage in the exchanges. In fact, many will leave the individual marketplaces altogether because of the potential loss of federal subsidies for both beneficiaries and insurance companies themselves.

Burdened by hefty cost-shifting, more Americans will be forced to pay out of their own pockets for surgeries or treatments in the U.S. Those who can afford a plane ticket will find it increasingly attractive to travel outside the country for quality, affordable options, such as joint replacement, cardio-thoracic surgery, oncology, bariatrics, and a host of other medical procedures, including treatment for Hepatitis C.

Low-Income (Medicaid) and Seniors (Medicare)
For Medicaid beneficiaries who remained optimistic that their home state would offer expanded coverage, their prospects look dim. The unraveling of the ACA will leave millions of the poorest and sickest Americans without insurance. Many states may either abandon Medicaid expansion or be forced to significantly redesign their programs to ensure that individuals below 400 percent of the federal poverty level can receive affordable healthcare coverage and services.

While these low-income families may not have cash reserves to fund expensive care in the U.S., they might be able to gather the resources to access needed surgeries overseas – and pay less than half of the US rates. Those who have emigrated from Latin American countries, in particular, will take advantage of opportunities to travel to their homelands to gain access to care that is substantially less expensive, and in a familiar setting.

The 57 million senior citizens and disabled Americans enrolled in Medicare could also benefit from accessing international medical travel. Under a full repeal of the ACA, seniors face higher deductibles and co-payments for their Part A, which covers hospital stays, and higher premiums and deductibles for Part B, which pays for doctor visits and other services. Medicare enrollees may also lose some of their free preventative benefits, such as screenings for breast and colorectal cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The opportunity to access quality care at lower costs – plus prescription drugs that are sold at far lower price points outside the US – present attractive options.

Employers
Healthcare will continue to be driven through employers, and cost pressures will push high-deductible plans, risk-based contracting and consumerism. In the United States today, even a negotiated, discounted rate for a total knee replacement at a local hospital may well exceed $45,000, $60,000, or more. The bottom line for self-insured employers – the coverage model that now dominates the marketplace: even after factoring in the cost of travel and accommodations for the patient and the companion, as well as waiving deductibles and co-pays as incentives to program adoption, the savings on surgical procedures such as joint replacement are significant.

Employers will also be more likely to send workers to emerging COEs outside the country in light of the many partnerships that are underway between US providers and foreign hospitals. These collaborative programs are bringing American ingenuity, sophisticated technology and advanced levels of care to institutions throughout the world.

Quality and safety standards at many institutions are now equal to or exceed US benchmarks. Many foreign hospitals are accredited by Joint Commission International, an extension of the US-based Joint Commission. Select hospitals outside the country adhere to US clinical protocols.

In fact, one organization that serves self-insured employers – North American Specialty Hospital in Cancun – even offers U.S. surgeons with US malpractice insurance who perform pre- and post-operative care in the US and then travel to Cancun for surgery. This ensures continuous engagement and continuity of care.

Hospitals
The ACA has contributed to hospitals experiencing higher volumes of insured patients, but those volumes would drop with the law’s repeal. It could also cause fewer people to keep prescription coverage, which would be modestly negative for the pharmaceutical industry.

Experts believe the majority of primary care physicians are open to changes in the law but overwhelmingly oppose full repeal, according to a survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Insurance coverage for the 20 million people who obtained insurance from the exchanges sparked growth in patient numbers for hospitals, which offset lower payments. Without this, hospitals can expect deepening economic problems. This could lead to higher prices, and greater impetus among individuals to seek medical care outside of the U.S.

Key Destinations for International Medical Travel
With the growing ranks of uninsured, medical travel options are likely to emerge as a critical solution to healthcare cost woes. Hospitals and providers in nearby locations such as Latin America – known as the LAC Region – are likely to become destinations of choice: less expensive travel expenses, reduced language barriers, and cultural familiarity. Individuals and employers will require guidance in terms of choosing the right providers and determining costs to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

To view the original article, click here.