Category Archives: Providers

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?

A Simple Friday Morning Health Care Philippic – (With Apologies to Simon & Garfunkle)

Health Affairs blog today posted an article about the new rules CMS released on Wednesday that would establish key parameters for the new Quality Payment Program, a framework that includes the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and Alternative Payment Models (APMs). These policies were established by the latest, permanent ‘doc fix,’ the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA).

My writing this morning is not about the proposed rule, the Quality Payment Program, the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), or the Alternative Payment Models (APM’s).

But rather, it is about something I first encountered during my first MHA class on Health Care Quality. Reading the assigned readings in the one textbook we were given, I noticed that throughout the last several decades, CMS has released and created many rules, programs, models, and whatnot, that made my head spin. No doubt that is what the good folks at CMS intended, because these rules, programs, models, schemes and “solutions” have only seemed to make the American health care system more complex, confusing, bureaucratic, wasteful, idiotic, and expensive.

When supporters of the current challenger in the Democratic Party presidential primaries say that their candidate will give them free health care, do they really understand and realize how much of a house of cards the entire system is, and one that will collapse if given enough time?

How so, you ask? Well, if you know of any other human-devised system that is so top-heavy, so convoluted, and so complex that the sheer weight of its rules, regulations, laws, programs and models will cause it to collapse, let me know, because the US health care system is the only one I see.

What those who advocate Medicare for All don’t realize (I am one too, but I realize what is at stake), is that even with all of this complexity, people are profiting from the ever continuing releasing of proposed rules, programs and models, and that to simply do away with them is equally as bad as letting it collapse, but at least when it does collapse, we can start all over again and provide the single payer system they want.

Yet, if we scrape it now, those who just got health coverage will lose it, those who never had it will never be able to afford it, and the entities that profit from it will work day and night to prevent the scraping of their “golden goose”.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this, too many rules, programs, incentives, models, schemes, etc, etc, and so forth, only makes things worse, not better. I don’t remember learning about other nations’ health care systems being so top-heavy and so complex, and maybe, in the final analysis, is why their systems work, and ours does not.

When an American citizen goes abroad and needs medical care in a country such as France (I read one person’s account of what they experienced), the bill they received after treatment was only a few dollars, not hundreds or thousands. Why is that? Maybe because they don’t have a CMS screwing it up.

Maybe it’s because their doctors don’t wave expensive watches in the faces of their patients, or describe their recent safaris where they shot some endangered species in Africa because they were wealthy and believe they have the right to do so, as a Midwestern dentist did last year to a prized lion.

I also remember that during the run-up to the enactment of the ACA, many senior citizens demanded that the government keep its hands off of their Medicaid, and that they did not want some government bureaucrat to make health care decisions for them and their families. Who do they think makes these decisions in health insurance companies? Do they know any corporate “bureaucrats”, or do they think that because they work for a private company, that they are not part of a bureaucracy?

I’ll end this philippic here, but it makes me wonder why we haven’t gotten wise to the fact that too many cooks, too many rules, etc., only make things worse, not better. We need to wake up and join the rest of the industrialized world.


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’ Blog is now viewed all over the world in 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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Fee Schedules May Increase Number of Work Comp Claims

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) published a new study that examined whether fee schedules increase the number of workers’ compensation claims.

In previous reports, the WCRI found that in many states, workers’ compensation pays higher prices than group health.

Another study they issued, found that in some states, workers’ compensation prices were two to four times higher than group health prices.

Moreover, in most states, WCRI found, the workers’ compensation systems rely heavily on the treating physician to determine whether a specific patient’s injury is work-related or not.

Dr. Olesya Fomenko, the author of the report and an economist at WCRI, said that, “Policymakers have always focused on the impact fee schedules have on access to care as well as utilization of services. This study shines a light on an issue that policymakers and other system stakeholders might not be thinking of, which is that physicians may call an injury work-related in order to receive a higher reimbursement for care he or she provides to the patient.”

Two of the findings from the study are as follows:

  • If the cause of injury is not straightforward (e.g., soft tissue conditions), case-shifting is more common in the states with higher workers’ compensation reimbursement rates. In particular, the study estimated that a 20 percent growth in workers’ compensation payments for physician services provided during an office visit increases the number of soft tissue injuries being called work-related by 6 percent.
  • There was no evidence of case-shifting from group health to workers’ compensation for patients with conditions for which causation is more certain (e.g., fractures, lacerations, and contusions).

What does this mean?

It means that physicians seeking higher reimbursements are classifying some injuries as work-related, and that there is no evidence of case-shifting from group health where the cause is more determinable.

What it also means is that no matter what the industry tries to do to lower medical costs, there is always a way for physicians and other stakeholders to do the opposite for their own benefit.

And given that, you have to wonder why the industry is deaf, dumb and blind to alternatives that apply basic economic laws to saving money. If you can get a good or service at the same or better quality, and at lower cost, no matter where that is, you go there.

It works that way when buying cars in one state, when the buyer lives in another state, and it should work that way with medical care, particularly regarding surgery.

The industry should not listen to certain individuals who dismiss this idea, and call the locations where better or equal care can be obtained at lower cost, “Turkishmaninacanstans“.

It demeans the hard work and dedication of medical professionals and business people who have spent years and money on building a business to provide health care that is affordable and of the highest quality.

It insults the education and training of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians in those countries who otherwise might not be working in such a highly respect profession as medicine.

It only proves that the author of that canard is a coward, a racist, and dead wrong.

 

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?

California Work Comp: What a Mess!

Kevin Tremblay, V.P., National Accounts for SMS National Solutions in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and a connection of mine on LinkedIn, penned the following article about California work comp and liens.

Normally, I shy away from articles involving California work comp, but on one or two occasions have written articles about it that I feel fit the subject of this blog. This article is one of those, but is more about the mismanagement of one state’s work comp system, rather than the state of affairs of the entire system nationwide.

Here is Kevin’s article in full:

California Workers Compensation System – Liens, Waste and Medical Provider Billed Charges

The California workers’ compensation system is unique like no other state in the country. There are two distinct sides of the equation in California workers’ compensation, Applicant and Defense.

Applicant-The party, usually the claimant that opens a case at the local Workers Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) office by filing an application for adjudication of claim.

Defense-The party, usually the employer or its insurance company opposing the claimant in a dispute over services and benefits.

Lien-A right or claim for payment against a workers’ compensation case. A lien claimant, such as a medical provider, can file a form with the local Workers Compensation Appeals Board to request payments of money owed in a workers’ compensation case.

OMFS-The official medical fee schedule is promulgated by the DWC, Department of workers Compensation administrative director under labor code section 5307.1 and can be found in section 9789.10 of title 8, California code of regulations. It is used for payment of medical services required to treat work related injuries and illnesses. The California Official Medical Fee Schedule is considered prima facie evidence of reasonableness.

A lien claimant has the burden of proving that any amount charged is reasonable, and a lien claimant must prove that there are “extraordinary circumstances” that justify a fee that exceeds the Official Medical Fee Schedule.

According to some recent reports, an expected 500,000 liens will be filed by treating medical providers in the California Workers Compensation system in 2015, costing employers and insurers an estimated $200 million dollars in loss adjustment expenses and delaying claims adjudication.

Some of these liens forces some employers or insurance companies to settle liens they may not be legally obligated to pay simply to settle and close the claim to avoid paying additional disability, administrative and legal costs. Emphasis here on, ‘forces

Some additional statistical findings reported by the DWC are:

  • Medical treatment liens account for more than 60 percent of the liens filed, and 80 percent of the dollars in dispute.
  • $1.5 billion per year is claimed in medical lien disputes after adjusting for amended lien files.
  • One-third of medical liens involve disputes over the application of the Official Medical Fee Schedule.
  • Authorization for treatment was in dispute in seven out of 10 medical liens surveyed.
  • Reasons treatment was not authorized were: 37 percent provider not authorized to treat (mostly out-of-network); 7 percent denied claims; 6 percent medical necessity of treatment rejected by utilization review; 1 percent contested body parts; 20 percent authorization status unknown or not stated.
  • The volume of liens filings is sensitive to procedural changes, such as the adoption or repeal of a $100 filing fee and the adoption of new filing procedures.
  • Up to 30 percent of medical liens are prematurely submitted before the time has elapsed for the claims administrator to pay or object to the provider’s bill.
  • Ten percent of medical liens are submitted on the date the service is provided.
  • Nearly one quarter of medical liens are filed more than two years after the last date of services for which payment is claimed, including 6 percent that are filed five or more years after the last date of services.

The report was based on information provided by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, and was an attempt to characterize the problem so policymakers can propose solutions to the lien problem.

Source: CHSWC/InsuranceJournal.com

The Lien System Game:

Bill ($5,000) – Paid ($1,000)-in accordance with OMFS

Fee to file the lien the claim in court by medical provider $150.00

Lien balance $4000

Demand: $3800

Offer: $2000

Negotiation continues

Collector says $3200 is the bottom line for him

Adjuster forced to pay and settle to avoid additional claim cost agreement at $3200

So while the DWC and legislators continue to sort over of resolve the issues of the lien process, what can adjuster’s implement to mitigate the process and reduce claims costs? The following strategies are a good place to start:

  • How much is the lien?
  • How much is the OMFS or reasonable value of the lien?
  • What are your lien defenses?
    • AOE/COE
    • MPN
    • OMFS or other fee schedules / IBR
    • Reasonableness & Necessity
    • UR / IMR
    • Other technical issues
  • What evidence do you have to support your position? Objection letters? MPN Notices?
  • Did you serve your evidence on the lien claimants and/or your counsel?
  • What are the probable economics of your decision to settle or fight?
  • How much are you willing to pay to settle or resolve the lien?
  • We paid per OMFS & DOS is after 1/1/13
  • You failed to request 2nd review within 90 days (LC 4603.2(e)(2))
  • You failed to request IBR within 30 days from 2nd review (LC 4603.6(a)
  • You are done. The Code says: “the bill shall be deemed satisfied and neither the employer nor the employee shall be liable for any further payments.”
  • Any appearance at the board on your lien will result in a petition for costs & sanctions! [LC 5811 & Valdez decision (en banc) (77 CCC 1113)]

The State of California has taken recent measures with the advent of SB863 and labor codes 9792.5.12 and 4903.1(b) regarding independent bill review process and tighter lien submission rules. California legislators need to continue to act and close the loop holes in existing laws to mitigate and eventually eliminate the magnitude of waste and abuse by certain medical providers that is currently taking place and plaguing the workers’ compensation system.

The lien process is certainly unique to the rest of the country’s state by state workers’ compensation system. So what is it? Unethical gaming of the system and adding tremendous unnecessary costs and clogging the California courts and workers’ compensation system, no question. Anything more, you decide…..

Challenges Facing Work Comp

In three weeks, members of the medical tourism industry will gather in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to attend the 6th Mexico Medical Tourism Congress.

You may recall that I was invited and attended the Congress last year, and was invited again this year. However, due to personal and financial reasons, I am not attending this year.

I am however, posting my PowerPoint presentation below for your viewing, with narration by yours truly. I hope you find it interesting and informative.

Challenges Facing Workers’ Comp (PowerPoint)

Challenges Facing Workers’ Comp (video)