Tag Archives: Costs

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 2

Ever since I began my MHA degree, I have analyzed the average medical cost severity for lost-time workers’ comp claims.

The average medical costs for lost-time claims have been rising steadily for the past two decades and only recently had a negative change.

The data for average medical lost-time claims severity comes from all jurisdictions where NCCI provides ratemaking services. The data is valued as of 12/31/2005, and accident year 2016 is preliminary as of 12/31/2016.

NCCI estimated that Accident Year 2016 was 5% higher than the corresponding 2015 value, as seen in Chart 2.

Chart 2.

Chart 2.

Source: NCCI’s Financial Call Data p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

Comparing the above chart with last year’s chart, you will notice that there is a difference of 0.4% for 2015.

Looking at both charts, it is easy to see that the average medical cost for lost-time claims is still going up, and is now closer to $30,000. The trendline has been increasing since 1991.

I have been advocating every year that doing the same things repeatedly, and expecting different results is not only crazy, it is not lowering the average medical cost for lost-time claims.

It is also apparent that the enactment of the ACA has not done much to lower the average; in fact, just the opposite.

avg-med-cost-2016

NCCI went further in analyzing average medical cost by examining the cumulative change in the Medical Lost-Time Claim Severity from 1995 – 2016, as indicated in Chart 3.

Chart 3.

Chart 3.

Sources: NCCI’s Financial Call Data; Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services p Preliminary based on data valued as of 12/31/2016.

The growth in the corresponding Personal Health Care Chain-Weighted Price Index (PHC), a proxy for medical care price inflation that responds to changes in the blend of different medical services over time, varied from 2.6% in 1995 to 1.3% in 2016p.

The takeaways here are:

  • In the latest year, medical lost-time claim severity increased by 5%, compared with a 1.3% growth in the PHC.
  • In 2015, medical lost-time claim severity decreased by 1.4%and the PHC presented its lowest increase in years (0.5%).

When the changes in medical lost-time claim severity is compared to the change in the growth of the PHC index over three time periods, any change over and above the change in PHC is considered a change in the utilization of medical services.

Key takeaways:

  • From 1995 to 2001, PHC increased by about 16% and utilization of medical services increased 56.6% for an overall combined increase in medial lost-time claim severity of 72%.
  • Compared with the prior period, 2002 to 2008 saw a similar rate of increase in the PHC, but utilization slowed
  • In the most recent period, the change in utilization is almost nonexistent.

The key takeaways for the five previous years, 2011 – 2015 are:

  • The majority of the observed changes are increases, indicating that the average medical benefit level across most states was higher in 2015 than in 2011.
  • Mississippi’s relative higher average medical severity change is primarily the result of larger losses.
  • Virginia is in the process of developing a medical fee schedule, which may put downward pressure on that jurisdiction’s average medical lost-time claim severity.

What does this mean for you?

This is the eighth Annual State of the Line report I have examined, and from all the data I have seen in this period, the average medical cost for lost-time claims has never shown a marked decrease with all the various methods employed to lower costs so many in the industry have touted.

And while there have been cases where costs have gone down for individual employers and states; overall, this is not the case. Perhaps it is due to medical cost inflation, or perhaps to the cost of health care generally, but either way it is not getting better.

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.

Integral Healthcare

Doubling down on contentious issues is not just confined to the realm of politics.

An article in Monday’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that single payer for the United States is politically infeasible, and concludes that to achieve universal coverage without single payer, enforcing the individual mandates and assessing real penalties for not purchasing insurance is the best option.

To bolster their argument, the authors, Regina E. Herzlinger, Barak D. Richman and Richard J. Boxer, point to three countries that have a private-sector insurance system. These countries are Switzerland, Singapore, and Germany.

After exploring two other options, creating risk pools for enrollees with preexisting conditions, and pooling costly patients into Medicare, the authors contend that the individual mandate, which the Supreme Court characterized as an annual tax, would be assessed against individuals who did not purchase health insurance within that calendar year.

The authors believe that while it is vilified by some, it is attractive for the following reasons: it is easy to implement, is effective in pooling risk, and reflects the values of individual responsibility (more on values later).

But the authors are mistaken. Many Americans will balk at paying for health insurance, with or without penalties, for individualistic, libertarian reasons. Also, those individuals who are unemployed and who have not filed tax returns for several years, at least under the ACA as it is now enacted, will not be able to get even a subsidy to pay for it. (my own situation that I contacted my Congressman about twice)

Per the authors, Swiss citizens must purchase health insurance, if they do not, the government does it for them. And the insurers can implement debt enforcement proceedings against anyone failing to pay for insurance, collect a penalty and any back premiums.

Singapore has compulsory contributions from employers on behalf of their employees to create medical savings accounts, and it is up to the employee to maintain these accounts for expenses such as health and disability insurance premiums, hospitalization, surgery, rehabilitation, end-of-life care, and outpatient services. Failure to do so are subject to garnished wages and other legal actions. The unemployed, or poor are eligible for subsidies.

Lastly, German insurance is funded by compulsory contributions to private insurers levied as 7.3% of income. Those who are unemployed have theirs taken out of their benefits plus means-based sliding-scale subsidies, and uninsured, self-employed individuals who try to purchase insurance are faced with payment of back premiums for the uninsured period.

Some of the methods described above have been suggested here in the US, or are part of the ACA already, but is not sufficiently strong enough for the authors, or maybe part of the “repeal and replace” packages now stalled in Congress. Therefore, the authors have decided to double down on the one part that the GOP wants to eliminate and that many Americans find onerous, paying a penalty for not having insurance.

But is this really the right way to go, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t.”

To answer that question, I would like to introduce you to Spiral Dynamics and the next generation economic system, MEMEnomics.

Spiral Dynamics is a biopsychosocial theory of human development based on the research of the late psychologist, Clare W. Graves. Graves was a contemporary of Abraham Maslow, whose “hierarchy of needs” was the first psychology model of a hierarchical nature of human development.

Graves’ framework, called the “Levels of Human Existence”, relates to Maslow’s needs, but Graves realized that Maslow’s model did not adequately express the dynamics of human nature, the process of emerging systems, or the open-endedness of the psychological development of a mature human being.

“Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order systems to newer, higher-order systems as an individual’s existential problems change. Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology, which is particular to that stage. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, believe systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental health is and how it should be treated, conception of and preference for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate to that state.”

Graves proposed that all the forces shaping the marketplace, whether individuals, groups, or cultures, should be looked at from a more integral view that includes the biologic, psychologic, and sociologic aspects, and to examine them in an ever-evolving dynamic culture. He placed these dimensions into eight known hierarchical levels of existence called value systems.

Graves’ ideas would have remained confined to the academic world if it was not for his colleagues, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, who patented Graves’ work into what they called Spiral Dynamics, taking the name from Graves’ explanation of human psychology. They even wrote a book by that title, which should be read first to gain full understanding of the theory.

When they began their work, they translated Graves’ levels (he used pairs of letters starting from “A” to “H” and from “N” to “U” to represent the life conditions and ways in which humans solved their existential problems) to colors (Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Turquoise). This was a way to better memorize the vMEMEs, borrowing the term, meme, from Richard Dawkins, or value systems.

The following table shows the vMEMEs and the percentages found in the population, plus the percentage of power they have in human society. It is important to note that the American population can be found in the last three levels. It is the Blue/Orange vMEMEs that control much of the political, social, and economic agenda of the US, and explains why Green’s values have had a hard time getting accepted, which is why the US is unable to make the leap to the next tier.

sd-population

Colors of thinking.png

Dawkins described memes as “a unit of cultural information that is capable of self-replication and uses the human mind as a host.” For Beck and Cowan, vMEMEs, or value-systems memes begin to shape how individuals, organizations, and cultures think. Along the way, Beck partnered with philosopher Ken Wilber, whose Integral approach was adapted to Spiral Dynamics into Spiral Dynamics Integral.

The following chart illustrates the AQAL model of Spiral Dynamics Integral.

sdi-aqal-1024x690

There are two alternating types; individualistic and expressive, and group-oriented and sacrificial. Both types alternate, and with the passage of time, existential problems arise within each value system that can no longer be solved at the current level. The pressure and energy created by the value system’s inability to solve its problems leads to the emergence of the next level, spiraling upwards and alternating between the types.

So, for example, Capitalism is an individualistic vMEME system, whereas Socialism is a collective vMEME system.

Which brings us to discussing MEMEnomics. MEMEnomics is a composite of the words “meme” as we have been discussing, and economics. The book titled MEMEnomics, by Said W. Dawlabani, is sub-titled, “The Next-Generation Economic System.”

I have read it once, and in the process of re-reading it for better understanding, and explains clearly through Spiral Dynamics why the financial difficulties of the last decade occurred, and guides us to a better, integrated, and holistic future. Dawlabani says that the difficulties the US is facing today (published in 2013) are a result of the evolution from one system to another.

But most importantly, Dawlabani examines the history of the American economy from colonial times to the present day through a memenomic framework, that corresponds to the levels of human existence found in Graves’ work.

These two charts illustrate MEMEnomics and Spiral Dynamics better.

memenomics

memenomicsspiralchart-e1388953833163

Already, there are changes occurring in the economy that signal that there is an evolution. The emergence of the sharing economy found in companies like Uber and Lyft, and Airbnb, are just some of the examples of this emergence. The green economy, as in environmentally friendly, is an example of the healthy side of the Green vMEME, and even exhibits some aspects of Yellow Sustainability.

So where does health care fit in all this?

Health care as it is provided for in the US, is mostly through employers, government programs aimed at specific demographic groups such as the poor, elderly, and children, and through private insurance sold by insurance companies.

The reason for the passage of the ACA was to eliminate some of the disadvantages in employer and private health insurance plans, and to ensure coverage for all by making people purchase coverage. But that has angered many, and is the main reason for the repeal and replace rhetoric in Washington.

The authors of the JAMA article, like many before them, are doubling down on a method of providing coverage that is trapped within the Orange vMEME system. Yet, as Spiral Dynamics and MEMEnomics has shown, there must be an evolution in the way we think about many aspects of human life, health care and its provision included.

We must build the health care system of the future now, not the health care system of the past. Spiral Dynamics and MEMEnomics points us to a future where all aspects of human civilization is integrated and holistic, and health care is a part of that integration.

Any doubling down on the value systems of the past as human development spirals upward is unhealthy and must be avoided. If we continue to require the purchase of a commodity such as health insurance (Orange vMEME – value system) when human development has transcended and included Orange and moved on past Green into Yellow or Turquoise, it would be like Americans living today living like their ancestors did back in Roman times.

I don’t think that is possible, nor is it desirable. And neither is the solution the authors have recommended. We must integrate all our current health care systems into one integrated system, including Workers’ Comp, not because it will save money (which it will), but because human development is headed in that direction.

Not to do so is harmful to the spiral and to human development.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Winston Churchill

“Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Winston Churchill

 

Veering away from the usual topics covered in this blog, I thought about some recent articles I saw about the attempt to repeal and replace, or to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the current political regime wants to do.

The first article, in yesterday’s [failing] New York Times, warned that repealing the ACA would make it harder for people to retire early. Those who retire early, before reaching 65, can get retiree coverage from their former employers, but not many companies offer that coverage.

Those early retirees poor enough could turn to Medicaid, and everyone else would have to go to the individual market. Without the ACA, health care coverage would be more difficult to get, cost consumers more where available, and provide fewer benefits.

According to the article, if the ACA is repealed, retiring early would become less feasible for many Americans. This is called job-lock, or the need to maintain a job to get health insurance.

This is one of the concerns the ACA was supposed to address, in that it would reduce or eliminate job lock. Repealing the law could, according to the article, affect employment and retirement decisions.

The second article, from Joe Paduda, also from yesterday, reported that improving healthcare will hurt the economy, and Joe lays out the arguments for doing something or doing nothing to improve health care and what effect they would have on economic growth.

For example, Joe states that healthcare employs 15.5 million full time workers, or 1 out of every 9 job. In two years, this will surpass retail employment. As Joe rightly points out, those jobs are funded by employers and taxpayers. He suggests that some experts argue that healthcare is “crowding out” economic expansion in other sectors, thereby hurting growth overall.

But Joe also points out that by controlling health care costs, employment will be cut, and stock prices for pharmaceutical companies, margins for medical device firms, and bonuses at health plans will also be affected.

So, if cost control and increasing efficiency works, these lost jobs, reduced profits, and lower margins, Joe says, will hurt the economy. The economy will suffer if the health care sector is more efficient, and since healthcare is also a huge employment generator and an inefficient industry, fixing that inefficiency will reduce employment and growth.

Thus, the title of this article, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, a certain quote has been making the rounds through the media. It was uttered by Number 45. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Yes, it is complicated and complex, but does it have to be so? If we consider the second Churchill quote above, and realize that the UK, France, Germany, Canada, and many other Western countries have some form of single payer, then one must conclude that it is only the US that has complicated and made too complex, the providing of health care to all of its citizens.

There are many reasons for this, which is beyond the scope of this article or blog, but there is one overriding reason for this complexity…GREED. Not the greed of wanting more of one thing, but the greed of profit, as one executive from an insurance company stated recently.

This brings me to the last of the articles I ran across yesterday. It was posted on LinkedIn by Dave Chase, founder of the Health Rosetta Institute. He cited a segment on the Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson program, in which Carlson interviewed a former hospital president who said that pricing was the main problem with the US healthcare system.

Mr. Chase does not solely rely on Carlson’s guest in his article, but cites other experts in the field as evidence that pricing failure is to blame.

If we are to except this as true, then it buttresses my point that the overriding problem is greed, for what else is the failure to control prices but a symptom of greed inherent in the American health care system, and something that does not exist elsewhere in the Western world.

Which brings me to Churchill’s first quote above. Since we Americans have tried the free market system of health care wanting, and have tried a reformed free market system, perhaps it is time to go all the way to a government-sponsored, Medicare for All, single payer system.

The bottom line is: we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. The question is, which is the lesser of two evils.

UPDATE: Here is Joe’s take on what will happen to the ACA in the next two years. I agree with his assessment.

Americans Forego Treatment Due to Debt: Where is Medical Travel?

A report from the Kauffman Family Foundation, as mentioned in last week’s The Atlantic, stated that more than a quarter of Americans indicated that someone in their family is struggling to pay medical debt.

Higher rates of individuals are found among low-income and uninsured people, and many are not suffering from chronic illnesses, but rather from sudden or one-time illnesses, according to Gillian B. White.

This isn’t surprising, Ms White writes, given the state of most Americans’ finances. She says that most people are ill-prepared to deal with any financial shock.

Another report cited in her article from the J. P. Morgan Chase Institute (hey, didn’t they cause some of the financial shock Americans are experiencing?), looks at how medical costs factor into household financial instability.

They looked at 250, 000 Chase checking accounts where they could categorize about 80 percent of the expenditures, and found that for a median-income household (around $57,000 a year), expenses fluctuated by an average of 29 percent, or $1,300 month to month.

The authors of the study examined extraordinary medical expenses: large (more than $400 and more than 1 percent of annual income) and unusual ( falling more than two standard deviations outside a normal household’s spending for a month).

40 percent of middle-class and older families faced an extraordinary expense of $1,500 or more due to a medical expense, and around 16 percent of middle-income households had one large expense during a one year period. The authors found that these expenses tended to show up when they experienced an uptick in income.

Ms. White concludes her article by debunking the idea that having Americans spend a significant amount of their own money up front will encourage them to shop around for better health care deals. The reality, she states, is that they will forego treatment if they cannot afford it.

So What Does This Mean For You?

Well, for those in the medical travel industry it means that you need to focus on getting those middle-class families to get their treatment abroad where the costs are lower, and to concentrate less on cosmetic, plastic, reconstructive and augmentation surgeries, fancy medical treatments of dubious value, and concentrate on offering the kinds of treatments Americans are foregoing.

Debating whether or not certifications are valid or worth the paper they are printed on, is a nice academic exercise, but real people are skipping vital medical care while you debate and hold conferences around the world.

I’ll say this again: the market will not come to you, you must go to the market.

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.

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