Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Major Surgery Wait Times for Workers’ Comp: Can Medical Travel Assist?

Last week, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) released their FlashReport — Time from Injury to Medical Treatment: How States Compare, and I requested a copy.

While the report is rather lengthy, covering slightly more than fifty pages, I decided to focus on one aspect of the report that related to the length of time from injury to medical treatment with major surgery.

The report examined the time from injury to treatment in 18 states, and each of the services studied were ranked by median number of days from injury to medical service for each service. The report looked at claims from 2015/2016 with more than seven days lost time.

I wanted to make the medical travel industry aware that major surgery under workers’ compensation was not something that happened immediately after an on-the-job injury, and to alert the industry to figure out how they can improve the wait times for such surgeries.

Here is the summary of key findings from the report:

  • Considerable variation across states in the time from injury to first treatment for physical medicine and “specialty” services such as major radiology and pain management injections across injury types.
  • Patterns in time to first medical treatment were fairly consistent for some states; that is, some states tended to show shorter or longer time to first treatment across injuries and services.
  • Little variation in time to first medical treatment for “entry” services (such as emergency, office visits, and minor radiology) for most injury types.
  • Initial medical treatment was slightly faster for objective injuries (like fractures) than for subjective injuries (like sprains and strains).
  • Timing of medical services varies by type of injury, likely a reflection of different treatment patterns.

Based on the analytical approach WCRI used for other services, they identified Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin as having a shorter median number of days to the first major surgery.

California, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas had the longest median number of days to first major surgery and was based on the number of days average in rank order. Arkansas and Louisiana were excluded due to small cell size.

Major surgery was ranked third by type of non-entry service by maximum number of days from injury to first medical service: 118 days. Major surgery was ranked sixth by percentage of claims receiving medical services by maximum number of days at: 36.5%. Indiana had that distinction.

Major surgery was defined by WCRI as including invasive surgical procedures, as opposed to surgical treatments and pain management injections. The most frequent surgeries in this service group include, but are not limited to, arthroscopic surgeries of the shoulder or knee, laminectomies, laminotomies, discectomies, carpel tunnel surgeries, neuroplasty, and hernia repair.

Five types of injuries had the maximum medium number of days from injury to first major surgery: Neurologic spine pain, Inflammations, Upper extremity neurologic, Other sprains and strains, and Knee derangements.

The table below illustrates the maximum for each injury with the corresponding minimum, in order of maximum number of days.

Type of Injury

Maximum

Minimum

State

Neurologic spine pain

187

105

CA

Inflammations

173

96

CA

Upper extremity neurologic

169

85

CA

Other sprains and strains

140

69

CA

Knee derangements

133

52

CA

What does this mean?

This report is by no means conclusive as it relates to length of time for major surgery in the other states that were not analyzed. Yet, it is instructive to both the workers’ comp industry and the medical travel industry that given predicted shortages of both physicians and nurses, it would be prudent to explore other avenues so that the maximum wait times can be lowered, which would enable the injured employee to return to work faster.

Not doing so will be more expensive in the long run and will be detrimental to the well-being of the patient.

To purchase a copy of the report, click here.

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Ten Most Reported Worker’s Compensation Injuries – Machine Safety Blog

Back in March of 2015, I wrote about the top 10 causes of workplace injuries. I posited the idea that medical tourism (medical travel) could save employers money so that the workers’ comp industry would take medical travel seriously as an option for injured workers. The same holds true for the medical travel industry, as they seem to be AWOL when it comes to workers’ health.

Here is an updated report on the Machine Safety Blog from Rockford Systems, LLC:

Last year in America 2.9 million employees (U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics) suffered a workplace injury from which they never recover, at a cost to business of nearly $60 billion (Liberty Mutual Insurance). These statistics are staggering. To help gain a better perspective on the realities of workplace danger, we have compiled a list of […]

Source: Ten Most Reported Worker’s Compensation Injuries – Machine Safety Blog

Accidents at Amazon: workers left to suffer after warehouse injuries | Technology | The Guardian

“Alexa, you have some explaining to do.”

Guardian investigation reveals numerous cases of Amazon workers being treated in ways that leave them homeless, unable to work or bereft of income after workplace accidents

Source: Accidents at Amazon: workers left to suffer after warehouse injuries | Technology | The Guardian

Cayman Islands Hospital Delivers Lower Cost Care

This morning’s post by fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, contained a small paragraph that linked to an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) about a hospital in the Cayman Islands that is delivering excellent care at a fraction of the cost.

Joe’s blog generally focuses on health care and workers’ comp issues, and has never crossed over into my territory. Not that I mind that.

In fact, this post is a shoutout to Joe for understanding what many in health care and workers’ comp have failed to realize — the US health care system, which includes workers’ comp medical care, has failed and failed miserably to keep costs down and to provide excellent care at lower cost.

That the medical-industrial complex and their political lackeys refuse to see this is a crime against the rights of Americans to get the best care possible at the lowest cost.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, the average medical cost for lost-time claims in workers’ comp has been rising for more than twenty years, even if from year to year there has been a modest decrease, the trend line has always been on the upward slope, as seen in this chart from this year’s NCCI State of the Line Report.

The authors of the HBR article asked this question: What if you could provide excellent care at ultra-low prices at a location close to the US?

Narayana Health (NH) did exactly that in 2014 when they opened a hospital in the Cayman Islands — Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). It was close to the US, but outside its regulatory ambit.

The founder of Narayana Health, Dr. Devi Shetty, wanted to disrupt the US health care system with this venture, and established a partnership with the largest American not-for-profit hospital network, Ascension.

According to Dr. Shetty, “For the world to change, American has to change…So it is important that American policy makers and American think-tanks can look at a model that costs a fraction of what they pay and see that it has similarly good outcomes.”

Narayana Health imported innovative practices they honed in India to offer first-rate care for 25-40% of US prices. Prices in India, the authors state, were 2-5% of US prices, but are still 60-75% cheaper than US prices, and at those prices can be extremely profitable as patient volume picked up.

In 2017, HCCI had seen about 30,000 outpatients and over 3,500 inpatients. They performed almost 2,000 procedures, including 759 cath-lab procedures.

HCCI’s outcomes were excellent with a mortality rate of zero — true value-based care. [Emphasis mine]

HCCI is accredited by the JCI, Joint Commission International.

Patient testimonials were glowing, especially from a vascular surgeon from Massachusetts vacationing in the Caymans who underwent open-heart surgery at HCCI following a heart attack. “I see plenty of patients post cardiac surgery. My care and recovery (at HCCI) is as good or better than what I have seen. The model here is what the US health-care system is striving to get to.

A ringing endorsement from a practicing US physician about a medical travel facility and the level of care they provide.

HCCI achieved these ultra-low prices by adopting many of the frugal practices from India:

  • Hospital was built at a cost of $700,00 per bed, versus $2 million per bed in the US. Building has large windows to take advantage of natural light, cutting down on air-conditioning costs. Has open-bay intensive care unit to optimize physical space and required fewer nurses on duty.
  • NH leverage relations with its suppliers in India to get similar discounts at HCCI. All FDA approved medicines were purchased at one-tenth the cost for the same medicines in the US. They bought equipment for one-third or half as much it would cost in the US.
  • They outsourced back-office operations to low-cost but high skilled employees in India.
  • High-performing physicians were transferred from India to HCCI. They were full-time employees on fixed salary with no perverse incentives to perform unnecessary tests or procedures. Physicians at HCCI received about 70% of US salary levels.
  • HCCI saved on costs through intelligent make-versus-buy decisions. Ex., making their own medical oxygen rather than importing it from the US. HCCI saved 40% on energy by building its own 1.2 megawatt solar farm.

And here is the key takeaway:

The HCCI model is potentially very disruptive to US health care. Even with zero copays and deductibles and free travel for the patient and a chaperone for 1-2 weeks, insurers would save a lot of money. [Emphasis mine]

US insurers have watched HCCI with interest, but so far has not offered it as an option to their patients. A team of US doctors came away with this warning: “The Cayman Health City might be one of the disruptors that finally pushes the overly expensive US system to innovate.”

The authors conclude by stating that US health care providers can afford to ignore experiments like HCCI at their own peril.

The attitude towards medical travel among Americans can be summed up by the following from Robert Pearl, CEO of Permanante Medical Group and a clinical professor of surgery at Stanford: “Ask most Americans about obtaining their health care outside the United States, and they respond with disdain and negativity. In their mind, the quality and medical expertise available elsewhere is second-rate, Of course, that’s exactly what Yellow Cab thought about Uber. Kodak thought about digital photography, General Motors thought about Toyota, and Borders thought about Amazon.”

Until this attitude changes, and Americans drop their jingoistic American Exceptionalism, they will continue to pay higher costs for less excellent care in US hospitals. More facilities like HCCI in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caymans, and elsewhere in the region need to step up like HCCI and Narayana Health have. Then the medical-industrial complex will have to change.

Hospital Outpatient Payments Rising — Again

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) released a study today that indicated that hospital outpatient payments were higher and growing faster in states with percent-of-charge-based fee regulations or no fee schedules.

This study is an annual study that compares hospital payments for a group of common outpatient surgeries in workers’ compensation across 35 states from 2005 to 2016.

According to WCRI’s executive vice president and counsel, Ramona Tanabe, “Rising hospital costs continue to be a focus for public policymakers and system stakeholders in many states.”

The study found that states with percent-of-charge-based fee regulations had substantially higher hospital outpatient payments per surgical episode than states with fixed-amount fee schedules.

Percent-of-charge-based states were 30 — 196% higher than median of the states with fixed-amount fee schedules in 2016.

States without fee schedules also had higher payments per episode; 38 — 143% higher than the median of fixed-amount states in 2016.

Lastly, WCRI found that hospital payments per episode in most states with percent-of charge-based fee regulations or no fee schedules, grew faster than states with fixed-amount fee schedules.

The study also compared payments for workers’ comp with Medicare rates for the most common group of surgical procedures across states. The following chart highlights the variation in the difference between average workers’ comp payments and Medicare rates. The variation was as low as 38%, or $2,012 below Medicare in Nevada, and as high as 502%, or $21,692 above Medicare in Alabama.

Source: WCRI

So, what does this mean?

It means that hospital outpatient payments for the most common group of surgical procedures in Workers’ Comp are not decreasing, and are likely adding to the slow, but steady rise in the overall total average medical cost for lost-time claims, a development I have followed for some time now with the release of NCCI’s State of the Line Reports.

This is not the first time I have discussed this topic, and probably won’t be the last, as I keep reminding you that surgical costs for most common workers’ comp surgeries are a fraction of the cost here in the US in countries that provide medical travel services.

If this study is right, wouldn’t you rather pay for a surgical procedure in Costa Rica, for example, that costs $12—$13,000, than paying $21,692 in Alabama? Eighteen out of thirty-five states listed on the above chart have higher payments than the median of 100. This represents 51.4% of all the states examined in the study. Just more than half.

And this idea of medical travel is stupid, ridiculous, and a non-starter? Ok, keep shelling out more money for hospital outpatient procedures. After all, it ain’t your money, is it?

To download this study, visit WCRI’s website at https://www.wcrinet.org/reports/hospital-outpatient-payment-index-interstate-variations-and-policy-analysis-7th-edition.

Mad Dog Attacks Public Transport

Tom Lynch of LynchRyan’s Workers’ Comp Insider blog, wrote an article this morning that follows on the heels of my post from yesterday about the Justice Department not defending portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to Tom, the GOP finally figured out how to fight the ACA, and he discusses three events beginning with February of last year in which the GOP-led Congress attacked the ACA. The three events are:

February 2017 – tax cut law that zeroed out the penalty for not having insurance.

February 2018 – getting 20 states to sue the federal government and contend that repeal of the penalty obviates the individual mandate making the entirety of the ACA unconstitutional.

And just last month, as I wrote yesterday, got the Justice Department to not defend the government in the suit.

Tom continues to say that if the 20 states win, pre-existing conditions, which the ACA protects, goes out the window. There are about 133 million Americans under the age of 65 who fall into that category. I am one of them.

Insurance companies are not happy either, Tom reports, and the trade association for the health insurance companies, America’s Health Insurance Plans, supports the provision under the ACA, and is quoted thus: “Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019,” according to a statement released by AHIP.

Finally, Tom asks the question — what happens if the 20 states win their suit? His answer, the 1.25 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes are waiting for an answer.

Yet, they and others don’t really have to wait for an answer, because the answer is staring us right in the face, but we refuse to see it, or even acknowledge its presence. Instead, we keep doing the same things over and over again, thinking the free market has the answer.

That is patently not true. A real, comprehensive, universal single payer system or an improved Medicare for All system that does not force those who are ill and don’t have a lot of money to pay for parts of the coverage, either the medical portion, or the 20% not now covered by Medicare, is the answer. Anything less is just a dog chasing a bus, catching that bus, and the dog and bus getting hurt.

A Well-Constructed, If Unintentional Argument for Single Payer

While not intending to do so, my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda has made a well-constructed argument for single payer health care, all the while examining the impact of health insurance status has on workers’ comp.

Rather than give you my take on what Joe wrote, I am providing the reader with his entire post below:

Health insurance status and workers’ comp

The headlines were comforting – not much change in the number of Americans without health insurance.

Before you breathe that sigh of relief, you’d be well-advised to dig a bit deeper, because there’s plenty of bad news just under the headline.

While the national number of uninsured stayed about the same, that’s irrelevant to you – because healthcare is local. Here’s what I’d be worried about.

Young adults are almost twice as likely as older adults to be uninsured – about one in six younger adults don’t have coverage.

  • Takeaway – no health insurance = more incentive to file work comp claims
  • Over a quarter of working-age Texans don’t have coverage. Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina are not far behind

Takeaway – no health insurance = poorer health status, more comorbidities, more charity care for providers thus more incentive to cost- and claim-shift.

  • 44% of working-age adults were covered by high-deductible plans – but more than half of them don’t have health savings accounts needed to fund those high deductibles

Takeaway – “High” deductible health plans aren’t much different than no insurance at all if the patient can’t afford the deductible – and over half can’t. So, more incentive to cost- and claim-shift.

What does this mean for you?

Workers’ comp will be affected by the Administration’s ongoing behind-the-scene effort to hollow out the ACA and cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid.

But what it also means it that single payer will be the only way every American can be assured of access to health care that is affordable and available when they need it, and is not a luxury they can do without,

It may also mean that the workers’ comp silo may have to be folded once and for all into the health care silo that will cover the elderly, the poor, children, the military and their families, and everyone else not currently covered under any insurance, or under employer-sponsored insurance, which would be done away with.

So, Joe gave us an unintended gift by showing how health insurance status and workers’ comp may lead to the implementation of single payer health care.