Tag Archives: Costs

Federal Spending Increased Due to Medicare ACO’s

Once again, a topic previously discussed here has raised its head.

This time, it is the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), Medicare’s largest alternative payment model (APM).

Readers of this blog will recall previous posts about this topic. The first, from September 2015, Shared Savings ACO Program Reaps the Most for Primary-care Physicians reported that primary-care physicians were benefiting the most from the shared savings.

The next post, Challenges Remain in Physician Payment Reform, which followed on the heels of the first, discussed the challenges that remained in reforming physician payment, after then President Barack Obama (the good ole’ days) signed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) back in April.

MACRA repealed the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) mechanism of updating fees to the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), and had been blamed for causing instability and uncertainty among physicians for over a decade, and that led to 17 overrides of scheduled fee cuts, at a cost of over $ 150 billion.

In Models, Models, Have We Got Models!, I suggested, rather strongly that all these models were not living up to their promise and was only creating more complexity, confusion, and dysfunction in an already dysfunctional health care system.

A post from January 2017, Illogical!, reported on yet another asinine model introduction by CMS at the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (LAN) Fall Summit by Adminstrator Seema Verna.

So when I received an email today from Dr. Don McCanne, former president of the Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) that mentioned a press release from Avalere Health indicating that Medicare ACO’s have increased federal spending despite projections that said they would produce net savings.

According to the press release, the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) has performed considerably below the financial estimates from the CBO that was made in 2010 when the MSSP was enacted as part of the ACA.

Avalere’s press release said that this has raised questions about the long-term success of Medicare’s largest alternative payment model (APM).

The MSSP has grown from 27 ACO’s in 2012 to 561 in 2016, and most of them continue to select the upside-only Track 1, the release continued, which does not require participants to repay CMS for spending above their target.

As seen in the figure below, Avalere’s research found that the actual ACO net savings have fallen short of initial CBO projectios by more than $2 billion.

However, in 2010, the CBO projected that the MSSP would produce $1.7 billion in net savings from 2013 to 2016. Yet, it actually increased federal spending by $384 million over that same period, a difference of more than $2 billion.

Josh Seidman, senior vice president at Avalere said, “The Medicare ACO program has not achieved the savings that CBO predicted because most ACO’s have chosen the bonus-only model.”

Avalere also found that while the MSSP was overall a net cost to VMS in 2016, there is evidence that individual ACO performance improves as they gain years of experience. Avalere found that MSSP ACO’s in their fourth year produce net savings to the federal budget totaling $152 million, as shown in the next figure.

Avalere’s analysis also showed that the downside-risk models in the MSSP experienced more positive financial results overall. This indicates that there is potential for greater savings over time to CMS as the number of downside-risk ACO’s increase.

The upside-only model increased federal spending by $444 million compared to the downside-risk ACO’s $60 million over 5 years.

“While data do suggest that more experienced ACO’s and those accepting two-sided risk may help the program to turn the corner in the future, the long-term sustainability of savings in the MSSP is unclear. ACO’s continue to be measured against their past performance, which makes it harder for successful ACO’s to continue to achieve savings over time,” said Avalere’s director, John Feore.

The weird part is that despite the MSSP increasing federal spending, ACO’s are still reducing spending compared to projected benchmarks.

If you are increasing spending, then how can you at the same time be reducing spending? Isn’t this a health care oxymoron?

Which brings me back to my previous posts. CMS is a clusterfudge of programs, models, rules, regulations, and schemes that have done nothing to improve the health care system in the US. In point of fact, it has only added to the confusion, complexity, dysfunction, and wastefulness of a system no other nation has.

When are we going to wake up from this nightmare and deep six the market-driven disaster that is the American health care system? There are saner alternatives, but we are so mentally ill and obsessed with profiting from people’s illnesses that nothing changes.

Einstein was right. The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We are crazy to continue with this mess.

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Americans Are Skipping Health Insurance

Bloomberg on Monday published an article by John Tozzi that reported that some Americans are taking a risk and skipping health insurance because of the cost.

In the article, “Why Some Americans Are Risking It and Skipping Health Insurance”, Bloomberg interviews three families; the Buchanans of Marion, North Carolina, the Owenses of Harahan, Louisiana, and the Bobbies in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Buchanans decided that paying $1,800 a month was too much for health insurance and decided to go without it for the first time in their lives.

Doubling insurance premiums convinced the Owenses to do so as well, and Mimi Owens said that, “We’re not poor people but we can’t afford health insurance.”

Saving money to pay for their nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who was born with five heart defects, forced the Bobbies to go uninsured for themselves and their son Joey.

These three families are but a small part of the dozen other families Bloomberg is following to understand the trade-offs when a dollar spent on health insurance cannot be spent on something else. Some are comfortable financially, others are just scrapping by.

According to Tozzi, the share of Americans without insurance is near historic lows, the current administration is rolling back parts of the ACA. At the same time, Tozzi reports, the cost for many people to buy a plan is higher than ever.

In the case of the Buchanans, wife Dianna, 51, survived a bout with cancer 15 years ago, her husband, Keith has high blood pressure and takes testosterone. Both make more than $127,000 a year from an IT business and her job as a physical therapy assistant. They have additional income from properties they own.

However, their premium last year was $1,691, triple their mortgage payment, and was going up to $1,813 this year. A deductible of $5,000 per-person meant that having and using coverage would cost more than $30,000.

What made the Buchanans take this step was when Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and the major hospital system in Asheville, could not reach an agreement, putting the hospital out of network. Keith Buchanan said, “It was just two greed monsters fighting over money.” He also said, “They’re both doing well, and the patients are the ones that come up short.”

The Buchanans are now members of a local doctors’ practice, for which they pay $198 a month. They also signed up for a Christian group that pools members’ money to help pay for medical costs. For this membership, it costs the Buchanans $450 a month, and includes a $150 surcharge based on their blood pressure and weight.

After dropping their coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Keith injured his knee, went to an urgent care center and was charged $511 for the visit and an X-ray. “If we can control our health-care costs for a couple of years, the difference that makes on our household income is phenomenal,” Keith said.

There is evidence, Tozzi writes, that having insurance is a good thing. People with insurance spend less out of pocket, are less likely to go bankrupt, see the doctor more often, get more preventive care, are less depressed and have told researchers they feel healthier.

Yet, some 27.5 million Americans under age 65 were uninsured in 2016 (myself included), about 10 percent of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The most common reason cited by KFF was that the cost was too high. A Gallup poll suggested that despite declining for years, the percentage of adults without coverage has increased slightly since the end of 2016.

However, other data, Tozzi writes, showed no significant change.

The following chart outlines the household income and health insurance status of people under 65 who qualify for government help with having insurance.

For the Bobbie family, the current administration’s proposal to make it easier for Americans to buy cheaper health plans could open options for the rest of the Bobbie family, but with over $1 million in medical costs for Sophia, these less-expensive choices would lack some of the protection created by the ACA that allowed her to get coverage.

The tax scam that became law in December will lift the ACA’s requirement that every American have coverage or pay a fine.

Some states are trying out the new rules, offering plans that don’t adhere to ACA requirements. This is the case in Idaho where the state’s Blue Cross insurer attempted to offer a so-called “Freedom Plan” that had annual limits on care and questionnaires that would allow them to charge higher premiums to sick people or those likely to become sick.

The current administration judged reluctantly that this plan violated ACA rules.

The Owenses decided to do something like what the Buchanans did. They tried a Christian health-sharing ministry for a few months, but joined a direct-primary care group, which Mimi Owens called, “the best care we’ve ever had.”

The three American families are by no means not alone in having to decide whether to have insurance or to take the risk and forgo paying huge premiums to save money or to use it for another family member with more pressing medical issues.

Two of these families are not low-income, as they both earn over $100,000 a year and could afford to buy health coverage if it was affordable. But the reality is that premiums have risen and will continue to rise and will price them out of the market.

Except for the Bobbies, no one in the other two families have serious medical issues that are exceedingly expensive, and they have found lower cost alternatives, but for many other families in the U.S., that may not be an option.

The only real solution is universal health care. Then the Buchanans, Owenses, and Bobbies of America will not have to worry about how they are going to pay for medical bills if some serious medical condition arises. We can and should be better than this.

Tax Benefits of Medical Travel

An online newspaper, Medical Tourism Daily posted an article today from The CPA Journal examining the tax benefits medical travelers could receive if they sought medical care outside of the US.

This article is a further elaboration of an earlier article written by an ERISA lawyer and that I wrote about four years ago, Beware the IRS: What to Know Before Using Medical Tourism for Group Health Plans.

Today’s article was authored by three CPA’s and PhD’s from the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville.

The authors discussed the additional savings for taxpayers who seek medical care abroad, above the savings from the medical care itself.

The main takeaways from the article are as follows:

  1. Deductibility of Medical Expenses – generally, the deductibility of medical expenses is determined without regard to where the expenses are incurred. Taxpayers seeking medical care abroad are subject to the same rules and regulations as those who seek medical treatment in the US. There may be some differences in the types of expenses incurred. Example: medical travelers generally incur travel and lodging expenses not associated with domestic medical care. The type and quality of medical care vary from country to country; some treatments, therapies, or drugs administered in other countries may be seen as experimental in the US. Medical facilities may also be different, with services performed on both an in and outpatient basis. Lastly, some overseas providers may require a significant, upfront, lump-sum payment, which would make determining deductibility of expenses.
  2. Allowable Medical Expenses – in order to deduct the cost of medical travel, the expenses incurred must qualify as medical expenses rather than as personal or vacation expenses. To qualify as a medical expense, costs must be incurred for the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of a mental or physical illness or injury. The cost of equipment, supplies, medicines, and materials needed for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, or cure of illnesses and abnormal conditions may include, but are not limited to some of the traditional medical expenses. Medical insurance premiums are also allowed to be deducted, as well as long-term care services and transportation costs related to treatment are also deductible. For medical travelers, transportation expenses and meals and lodging expenses are also deductible, under certain conditions (meals and lodging only).
  3. Potential Tax Benefit – in order for a medical traveler to derive any benefit from medical expenses, the taxpayer must have allowable medical expenses that exceed 10% of adjusted gross income (AGI) and must itemize. Choosing to itemize actual expenses implies that the taxpayer has expenses that exceed the standard deduction. They cannot deduct both the standard deduction and itemized expenses in the same tax year.
  4. Paying for Medical Care Abroad – paying for medical expenses while living or traveling abroad is different from paying for medical expenses domestically. Many providers out of the US do not bill insurance companies directly. US citizens living and working abroad may want to fund medical care through high-deductible medical plans in conjunction with health savings accounts (HSA’s). US citizens are taxed on all income worldwide; therefore establishing an HSA can provide significant tax benefits in addition to effectively fund out-o-pocket costs. They can also be used by US citizens traveling abroad for the sole purpose of medical care, as long as the services qualify for the treatment of medical expenses in the US.

The authors conclude their article by advising medical travelers planning to travel for the purpose of medical treatment to carefully consider all factors involved with the tax treatment of their expenses. Lastly, they should keep detailed records and documentation.

It is incumbent on the patient, and not the facilitator to thoroughly educate themselves about the benefits and liabilities they may face if they fail to properly account for all of there medical travel expenses. It would be a wise and customer-focused facilitator, well-versed in tax issues to advise all medical travelers so that they can realize even greater savings from the medical care they receive.

New Study Concludes States with Employer Choice Have Higher Claim Costs

While scanning LinkedIn yesterday afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a link to an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) early last month.

The abstract stated that the financial impact of choice of physician within workers’ compensation had not be well studied, and that the purpose of the article was to assess the difference in cost between employer and employee directed choice of physician.

As many of you will recall, this subject was one of the first topics I covered when I began my blog over five years ago.

The following articles are linked here for your review:

Employee vs Employer Choice of Physician: How best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation

Employee vs. Employer Choice of Physician Revisited: Additional Commentary on How Best to Incorporate Medical Tourism into Workers’ Compensation

Employer Choice States See Lower Claim Costs

Follow-up to Employee/Employer Choice: Three Years Later

The authors, Tao, Leung, Kalia, Lavin, Yuspeh, Bernacki (2017) analyzed 35,640 indemnity lost time claims from a 13-year period at a nationwide company, using multivariate logistic regression to determine association of medical direction with high-cost of claims.

Tao et al. found that states that have employer-directed choice of physician have lower risk of having high cost claims, greater than or equal to, $50,000, but had higher attorney involvement compared to employee direction. Their results showed that the net effect of attorneys offset the benefits of employer choice.

This study may be in line with the WCRI study I cited in the article above, “Employer Choice States See Lower Claim Costs”, but because of higher attorney involvement, the benefits are negated.

They concluded that states that permit employer selection of treating physician have higher cost due to greater participation by attorneys in the claims process.

No Paradox

Sometimes, the solution to a problem is staring you right in the face, but you refuse to see it because you are blinded by your perceptions, your beliefs, or the distortions others have placed in your mind by lies and falsehoods spread about the real benefits of the solution, or the downsides.

Case in point, the question of single-payer health care in the US. The health insurance industry and their lobbyists and defenders in Congress have done a great job poisoning the minds of many Americans against the idea of single-payer, whether on ideological or economic grounds.

Yet, many of these same Americans are getting some form of government-sponsored health care, either Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, or health care through the Veterans Administration. So, it was striking that before the enactment of the ACA, many Tea Party protesters shouted or carried signs that read, “Keep your hands off of MY Medicare!”

What they did not know or realize, was that it wasn’t THEIR Medicare, but the government’s Medicare. They were ones receiving the benefits.

So, it struck me this morning when I read an article by Tom Lynch of the Lynch Ryan blog, Workers’ Comp Insider.com.

The article, The American Health Care Paradox: A Lot Of Money For Poor Results, compares the US health care system with the health care systems of the OECD nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

The OECD has 35 members, of which the US is one, and was formed in Paris in 1961. They promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It also performs annual comparative analyses of issues affecting its members.

Health care is one such issue, as is life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, and death rates from cancer, among other health care-related topics.

But regarding health care, as Tom reports, on a per capita basis, we spend 41% more on health care than our wealthy nation peers in the OECD, and 81% more than the entire OECD average.

The following graph indicates amount of public versus private funding of health care among the OECD nations, as well as the OECD average. The light blue bars indicate private funding; the dark blue bars indicate public funding.

OECD Health Care Funding — 2015

According to Tom, while our public funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is comparable to many of the other countries in the OECD, private funding in the US is more than 100% greater tham Switzerland, and 300% greater than the OECD average.

Life expectancy:            US: 78.8 years (76.3 men, 81.2 women)
UK: 81 years (79.2 men; 82.8 women)
Japan: 83.9 years (80.8 men; 87.1 women)

Infant mortality:          US: 6.1% (per 1000 live births) 45% higher than UK at 4.2%, and 265%                                                higher than Japan’s at 2.3%.

Obesity and overweight rate is exceeded only by New Zealand. Finally, the rate of death from cancer per 100,000 people is 188, Mexico’s is 115, Japan’s is 177. But we lead the world in smoking cessation (whoopee!). So, I guess we can all breathe easier now than the rest of the world, especially the third world where so many start smoking at a very young age.

Into this discussion, Tom throws the current Republican tax plan, which he rightly says will throw 13 million people off of health care, and see $25 billion cut from Medicare.

Tom says that fixing health care will take time and a lot more money, and he is skeptical that the GOP tax scam will do that.

Duh! Of course it won’t. That’s the whole point of the tax scam and the umpteenth attempts to scuttle the ACA. They don’t believe in health care as a right for all Americans. It is in their DNA as Libertarian Conservatives. They are not Republicans, at least not like the two Republican presidents who tried to get health care passed, Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon.

No, they want the money for their fat cat donors. They even said so publicly and bragged about it. And if all those votes to repeal and replace ACA didn’t convince you that they are fundamentally opposed to any government-sponsored health care, except their own, then you are blind.

The solution is staring you in the face on the above chart, Every other OECD member nation spends more publicly for health care than we do privately, and we are getting bad outcomes. Why is that? It is because health care is not like other consumer goods, and therefore should not be funded or marketed by private companies.

It is long past the time we should follow suit and do what every other OECD country has done, create a single-payer, improved Medicare for All system and stop fooling ourselves that the private market works. It does not, and the proof is in the metrics on cost, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and cancer deaths, etc.

Executive (Dis)order

The signing this morning of an executive order by the Orangutan will have, in the opinion of some of the bloggers and politicians, spell disaster for the nation’s health care system.

It will, if carried into action, likely siphon healthy people from the Affordable Care Act-compliant market, continuing a pattern of regulatory actions under the Trump administration that have undermined the ACA.

The rationale for such a move that has been given is that since Congress has not been able to repeal and replace the ACA, an executive order will, piece by piece.

Coupled with the recent budget move to eliminate the CHIP program for children’s health (New York State faces dire consequences if Congress does not act on CHIP), and cut backs to Medicare and Medicaid, the intent here is to privatize health care for some, and eliminate it for others, and to get government out of health care providing altogether.

There are provisions in this order for greater competition, short-term coverage, and lower premiums with less coverage. Why this is better is beyond me, unless the Orangutan is seeking to destroy health care so that single-payer will be the only option.

Cutting healthy people out of the ACA means leaving sick people to struggle with a health care law that many say needs to be fixed, not repealed and replaced. But because the Tea Party ranted and raved before it was enacted, and the Orangutan and the GOP campaigned on getting rid of it, they had no choice but to sabotage it if they could not do so through legislation.

I predict that we will soon see the total collapse of our health care system thanks to this stupid, overreaching, and ill-advised Executive Order. I even read today that the Vice President had to remind the Orangutan to sign the darn thing, something that almost slipped what is left of his so-called mind.

Welcome to Crackerbox Palace.

Another Scheme to Delay the Inevitable, part 2

Last week, I reported on an effort to create payer-provider partnerships, and said that it was another scheme to delay the inevitable move towards a Medicare for All, single-payer system.

Thanks again to Dr. Don McCanne for this week’s article from Modern Healthcare, on yet again another delaying tactic. This time it is from Congress, and while it purports to be “bipartisan”, it really isn’t, because they are very partisan in Congress today; partisan to the health care industry’s profit-making off of sick people.

Without further ado, here is the article in full:

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170803/NEWS/170809957

IT IS HIGH TIME TO STOP WASTING TIME, WASTING ENERGY AND THE PATIENCE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WITH “SOLUTIONS” THAT ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE, NOT BETTER. IT IS TIME TO EXPAND MEDICARE TO EVERYONE, WITH NO BUY-IN, AND BE DONE WITH IT.