Tag Archives: Group Health Plans

“Florida, We Have a Problem”

Tuesday, Judge David Langham, Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims and Division of Administrative Hearings, wrote a rather lengthy post about the differences between cost-shifting and case-shifting in workers’ comp.

Much of what the Judge wrote were subjects that I already discussed in a number of previous posts about cost-shifting and case-shifting, so I won’t go into it here. I am only focusing on the parts that relate to Florida workers’ comp. You can read the entire article yourselves.

But what caught my attention was what he said about Florida and what the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) reported in some of their studies on these issues.

As Judge Langham wrote this week, he wrote a post two years ago that asked the question “Why Does Surgery Cost Double in Workers’ Compensation?”

Judge Langham noted in that post that Florida employers have been documented paying almost double for shoulder or knee surgery that is paid for under workers’ compensation, compared to group health costs.

The implication of case-shifting in Florida, he says, could arguably be a doubling of cost.

He cited a WCRI report released earlier this year that suggests however that case-shifting is perhaps not as likely in Florida.

According to the report, Judge Langham continues, “as of July 2011, six states had workers’ comp medical fee schedules with rates within 15% of Medicare rates. They were California, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina, New York and Hawaii.”

However, Judge Langham pointed out that the WCRI concluded that case-shifting is more likely in states where the workers’ compensation fee schedule is 20% or more above the group health rates, and not in Florida.

Judge Langham stated that this analysis of workers’ compensation fee schedules does not appear to include analysis of the reimbursement rates for hospitals, and that It also seems contradictory to the assertions that Florida workers’ compensation costs for various surgeries have been documented as roughly double the group health rates (100% higher, not 15% higher).

Injured workers who missed work in the Florida workers’ compensation system could be compensated in 2016 at a rate as high as $862.51 per week, the “maximum compensation rate.”

So, if recovery from such a “soft-tissue” injury required ten weeks off-work, he wrote, the case-shifting to workers’ compensation might add another four to nine thousand dollars to the already doubled cost of surgical repair under workers’ compensation.

This could be directly borne by the employer if the employer is self-insured for workers’ compensation; or, if the employer has purchased workers’ compensation insurance, the effect on the employer would be indirect in the form of potentially increased premium costs for workers’ compensation following such events and payments, Judge Langham states.

According to WCRI, the Judge quotes, “policymakers have always focused on the impact (workers’ compensation) fee schedules have on access to care as well as utilization of services.

This has been a two-part analysis, he says:

First, fee schedules have to be sufficient such that physicians are willing to provide care in the workers’ compensation system; and second, the reimbursement cannot be too high, or perhaps overutilization is encouraged.

Lastly, Judge Langham points out that the disparity between costs has also been noted in discussions of “medical tourism.”

The last question he posits is this, “might medical decision makers direct care to more efficient providers, across town, across state lines?”

What about national borders?


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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New Study Confirms ACA May Shift Claims to Work Comp

The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WRCI) released a study today indicating that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may shift claims into workers’ compensation.

Readers of this blog will have read by now the following posts from earlier this year that discussed at length what many in the workers’ compensation and insurance industries said would happen under the ACA.

Here are the posts:

Accountable Care Organizations May Shift Claims into Workers’ Comp

Failure to Expand Medicaid Could Lead to Cost-Shift to Work Comp

Update on Affordable Care Act’s Impact on Workers’ Comp

Challenges Remain in Physician Payment Reform

The WCRI study is quite long, so I will only give you the introduction and summary of findings. You may purchase the complete study by clicking the following link: http://www.wcrinet.org/result/will_aca_shift_wc_result.html.

The study begins by asking the question, “what is the extent to which the move to “capitated” group health arrangements under the ACA leads to cases that previously would have been paid under group health insurance to end up being paid under workers’ compensation.”

They refer to this as case-shifting, as opposed to cost-shifting, and state that if just 3% of group health cases with soft tissue injuries were shifted to workers’ comp, workers’ comp costs in a state like Pennsylvania could increase by nearly $100 million.

In California, the increase would be higher. More than $225 million, and in Iowa, the additional workers’ compensation costs would be around $25 million, or about 5% of the total benefits paid.

One mechanism the WCRI says by which cases would be shifted to work comp is the growth in the number of patients covered by “capitated” health plans.

Medical providers are reimbursed for each procedure in traditional fee-for-service medicine, which is often called, retrospective reimbursement.

Under capitated plans, the study says, medical providers receive a fixed annual payment per patient, which is often called, prospective reimbursement.

As I reported in my previous articles about cost-shifting, a patient covered by a capitated group plan presents different financial incentives about key decisions to a doctor and the health care organization they belong to, compared with a patient covered by a fee-for-service plan.

For example, if a capitated patient has back pain, the provider and the health organization do not get paid for additional care; whereas, for a patient under fee-for-service, the provider and the organization get paid for each service rendered. Workers’ compensation, the study points out, almost always reimburses on a fee-for-service basis.

Another question the study raised was, “to what extent do the financial incentives facing providers and their health care organizations that arise out of capitation influence the determination of whether or not a case is work-related?

The decision of where to send the bill, the study says, should align with the physician’s assessment of whether the cause was work-related or not. It is the amount of uncertainty about the cause of the medical condition that provides the opportunity, according to the WCRI, for the financial incentives to influence the decision.

How the ACA ties into this is apparent in my post, “Accountable Care Organizations May Shift Claims into Workers’ Comp.” According to the WCRI, the ACA promotes the growth of ACO’s, which will increasingly integrate care from all providers under one capitated payment. They will receive one fixed payment regardless of the treatment the patient receives.

This, they say, will provide strong incentives to classify injuries as workers’ comp cases where possible. To date, over 500 ACO’s have been formed since passage of the ACA.

Additionally, the Obama Administration’s proposed moving to “value-based” reimbursement systems for physicians under Medicare (see my post, “Challenges Remain in Physician Payment Reform”), is also cited in the study as another mechanism leading to case shifting.

The WCRI states that the exact definition of this system is unclear, but that it is widely understood that this would imply more prospective reimbursement.

They point to research that indicates that when Medicare changes its payment system, there is a significant price change among commercial insurers. This, too, could further induce shifting of certain cases, they report. (see “Shared Savings ACO Program reaps the most for Primary-care Physicians”)

What are the findings?

The WCRI looked at three groups of states. The first group was states where capitated plans were very common, the second group was states where capitated plans were somewhat common, and the third group was states where capitated plans were less common.

Case-shifting was only found in states where capitated plans were very common, and there was little case-shifting in the other two groups.

Case-shifting to workers’ comp, the study implies, will be expected to increase as capitation becomes more common.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Patients covered by a capitated health plan was 11% more likely to have a soft tissue injury (back pain) called work-related than a patient covered by fee-for-service.
  • Patients with conditions for more certain causes (fractures, lacerations, contusions), there was no difference between patients covered by capitation or by fee-for-service; hence no case-shifting.
  • Case-shifting was more likely in states where a higher percentage of workers were covered by capitated plans. Two reasons for this are: more cases would be shifted if more patients were covered by such plans, and when these plans were more common, providers were more aware of the financial incentives to case-shift. In states where at least 22% of workers had capitated plans, the odds of a soft tissue injury being work-related was 31% higher than workers in fee-for-service.
  • In states where capitation was less common, there was no case-shifting. Providers were less aware of financial incentives when capitation was infrequent.

What does this mean?

This study confirms what I have been reporting on for much of the past half year, that the ACA may lead to more claims (or cases) shifted into workers’ comp, thus adding to the cost of medical care under workers’ comp, and further burdening an already burdened and broken system.

But it also confirms that there are rough times ahead for the industry, and that unless new ideas are brought forth and alternatives are seriously considered, and not outright dismissed just because someone say they should be dismissed, no matter how many years’ experience they have in workers’ comp, things will get worse.

The world is changing. Things once thought impossible are possible. Ideas once ridiculed are now accepted reality. No one can stop change, not by saying so, nor by any action on their part, so you might as well open your eyes, ears and minds to new ideas, and not shut them just because you don’t agree with them. One day soon, you will be gone, and the problems will still be there. The way forward is to embrace change now so that the future is better for all.

Clarification

Some of you may be thrown off by the title of this article as meaning that the study confirms that the ACA will lead to case-shifting. That is not what was meant. What was meant was that the study confirms what had been previously reported by others and that I had written about in the posts I referenced in my article. If there was any misconstruction on my part, I apologize.

Beware the IRS: What to Know Before Using Medical Tourism for Group Health Plans

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From the ‘I didn’t know that department’:

Last week, I happened to find on my computer, a file I downloaded in late January entitled, Medical Tourism and Group Health Plans by Marcia Wagner, an ERISA lawyer in Boston. I am not sure when exactly Ms. Wagner wrote this article, but I was intrigued to find out what she had to say about medical tourism and group health plans.

Much of the first page of her article is basic information that is already known about medical tourism, and some of the data she presents may be debatable, but what I found on the second page was the most interesting part of her article.

The article was written in the form of a question and answer format, so the question at the top of page two, “Are medical tourism benefits taxable to participants?”, was what I focused my attention on.

According to Ms. Wagner, any amounts paid by a group health plan for the hospital stay and expenses associated with the medical procedure are not taxable to the employee. However, costs associated with transportation and lodging are unclear. Ms. Wagner states that costs associated with travel are treated as medical care, as are costs associated with lodging (provided there is not an element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation).

Ms. Wagner cites IRS Code Sections 105(b), 213(d)(1) and 213(d)(2) as proof of this. These sections can be found in the following two IRS documents: Publication 502 – Main Content and Topic 502 – Medical and Dental Expenses.

If the group health plan pays these expenses, Ms. Wagner says, then the payments would not be taxable to the participant. This would go a long way to get employees on-board with medical tourism, yet there is a catch to this as we will soon learn.

This assumes, she continues, that with respect to lodging, there is no element of personal pleasure, recreation or vacation. However, in order to be exempt from taxation, the lodging must be essential for medical care and the medical care must be provided by a physician who is licensed and providing services within the US. (Code Sections 213(d)(2) and 213(d)(4). Therefore, Ms. Wagner states, the cost of most lodging in a foreign country would most likely be taxed to the employee.

This is where some employers may decide it is too risky and too burdensome to bother with to save some money on expensive surgeries.

In addition, if a doctor prescribes an operation or other medical care, and the taxpayer (i.e., employee) chooses for purely personal reasons [Emphasis added by Wagner]to travel to another locality for the operation or other medical care, Ms. Wagner writes, then medical care does not include the cost of transportation or lodging (unless as part of the hospital bill). It is Ms. Wagner’s opinion that any decision to travel to a foreign country for medical care would be considered by the IRS to be for purely personal reasons, especially if the participant receives a financial incentive. Here is where the catch comes in, as she states on the third page.

“Any incentives that group health plans or plan sponsors pay to participants electing medical tourism would be taxable to the participants.”

Ms. Wagner goes on to state that costs for travel and lodging would be taxable to the participant; yet without any guidance, the taxability of transportation and hotel expenses related to medical tourism is unclear currently. Meals, however, are a different story, as they are taxable if they are not part of inpatient care.

Finally, Ms. Wagner discusses the issue of prescription drugs. She says that the cost of a prescription drug is not taxable to the participant if it is a drug or biological which requires a prescription issued in the US by a physician licensed and performs the medical service in the US. Therefore, any prescriptions issued and filled in a foreign country would be taxable.

Ms. Wagner’s article goes on to discuss other issues with medical tourism and group health plans, but it would seem that the IRS has made it somewhat clear, if not yet definitive, that medical tourism under group health plans are taxable to the employee who elects to take advantage of this option offered to them by their employer. How companies currently engaged with medical tourism abroad for their group health plans are dealing with this issue is not exactly clear, and I have not found or heard of any company not doing so because of these IRS rules.

If there are anyone out there who does know how companies are dealing with this issue, it would be very informative to the rest of us. It would seem to this writer who is not a tax accountant, nor a tax lawyer, that until the medical tourism industry here in the US can figure out how to deal with this, they may find getting employers and their employees to choose medical tourism for health care will be difficult, if not impossible. Large employers may just pay the taxes themselves as a courtesy to their employees, but smaller employers may balk at doing so. And that is where medical tourism must look to attracting if it really wants to make an impact on health care in the US.

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Richard