Tag Archives: Workers’ Comp

Five Years

Yesterday marked my five year anniversary as your humble blogger. But all through the month, many of my LinkedIn connections have congratulated me prematurely, only to have me set them straight as to the actual date. LinkedIn does not do a very good job of capturing exact dates on your profile.

But be that as it may, it has been a great five years. Let me recap.

To begin with, I began the blog three days after returning from the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in Hollywood, Florida where I met many people from around the world engaged in the Medical Travel industry.

After attending two more conferences in 2014, one in Miami Beach, and the other in Reynosa, Mexico, where I presented my paper on Medical Travel and Workers’ Comp, my blog was viewed by increasing numbers of people in multiple countries around the world.

To date, my blog is viewed in every continent except Antarctica, and places like Greenland, several countries in Africa, Iran and two of the countries in Central Asia, and North Korea (but who cares?). Even China, with it’s limited access to the internet has viewed my blog.

So it has been a productive five years, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. I know not all of my posts are prize winners, but then again, not every writer wins a Pulitzer every day. You may have noticed that my focus has shifted and my tone has gotten more pointed. I make no apologies for the tone, there are too many bad things happening in this country for me to be silent. And as for the focus changing, my medical condition has personalized the fight for health care for all, and not just for those who can afford it.

Let me know what you think, after all, after five years, you must have some thoughts. Also, if you can help me personally with extra work, I would appreciate it.

Thank you, and here’s to another year, and another five years.

 

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The Fork in the Road in Medical Travel

Returning to the main theme of this blog, I came across the following insightful article by Ruben Toral last week that posed the question, “Is Medical Tourism Dying a Slow Death?”

As someone who has been interested in opportunities in Medical Travel for some time, and  disappointed in not being able to elicit interest in my idea for Medical Travel, I was interested in seeing what Ruben had to say, and to see if it measured up to my views of the industry, as I know it.

According to Ruben, the industry exhibits the traits of a typical product/business cycle, whereby the first and fast movers establish leadership by developing and commercializing the concept, then late adopters pile in to get in on the action.

He goes on to decry the same speakers at every medical tourism event around the world talking about the same things, which is enough to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.

He also laments the lack of innovation, and says that key players are just trying to manage the slow growth rather than investing in the next wave.

VC investors, Ruben says, talk of getting burned on medical tourism investments that simply cannot scale like other businesses, because, as they quickly learn, healthcare is a different animal than retail and you burn through a lot of cash fast trying to buy eyeballs and audience.

And investment analysts ask the same question after pouring through hospital financial reports and see how hospitals are managing and protecting profit margins: “Where’s the growth?” And even large meeting and events companies are not “flogging medical tourism” because attendance and interest is way down.

So, is this the beginning of the end or the inflection point for medical tourism?, Ruben asks. For his part, he does not know, but if it is not the beginning of the end, or an inflection point, it is most certainly a fork in the road.

Where it goes from here is as good a guess as mine and Ruben’s, but it is up to those who are serious and dedicated to growing the industry to regroup and start again to build interest and enthusiasm for medical travel, and to address some of the glaring issues facing the industry.

But that won’t happen until there are changes within and without the industry…in technology and in strategy.

Workers’ Comp Medical Benefits Represent More Than Half of Employer Costs

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) recently issued its 20th annual report on Workers’ Compensation: Benefits, Coverage, and Costs. The study provides estimates of workers’ compensation payments—cash and medical—for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and federal programs providing workers’ compensation.

Much of the study, as reported today by Workers Comp Insider.com, deals with the decrease in benefits as a percentage of payroll, an issue outside the purview of this blog.

But I was intrigued by the graphic at the bottom, which stated that thirty-three states spent more than half their workers’ compensation benefits on medical costs for injured workers.

And the share of total costs of workers’ comp benefits that are medical costs rose from 1980 to 2015, from 29% to 50%.

WC Benefits

While the study does not provide any insight into what that 50% represents, it is conceivable to assume that a good part of it involves surgery to repair the injury the worker suffered.

So, if this study is right, then the only way to begin to bring down the medical costs in workers’ comp is to look at alternatives that as of yet have not been tried because of lack of will, or a belief that alternatives are not realistic, or because we still cling to the notion that our healthcare system is the best in the world. and no one else comes close.

As Puck said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

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.

Infographic on Mobile Health

Here’s an infographic courtesy of URAC. What will this mean for workers’ comp, health care and medical travel?

Millennials and Mobile.png