Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Deductibles, Dependency, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Employee Benefits, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Individual Market, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Medical Practice Models, Organizational structure, outcomes measurement, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Self-Insured Companies, Self-Insured Plans, The Triple Aim, Uncategorized

U.S. Healthcare: A Case Study of What Happens When “Insurance” Supplants Price-Transparent Markets

By Robert Nelson, MD

Our health insurance-based third-party payer protocols have pernicious and nefarious economic consequences on the cost of medical care; and in many ways has diminished access due to regulatory complexities that accompany these interventions.

The undeniable result continues to be a rampant increase in healthcare prices, which is catalyzed by the economic distortions of the 3rd party payer effect and perpetuated by the price-obscuring distortions of the CPT billing cycle.

We have taken the concept of insurance, designed to pay out rare higher-priced claims on unpredictable events, and turned it into a product whose design promotes an incentive for everyone to use it as often as possible.

Insurance is sustainable only when the financial risks of individually rare events are spread over a large population. When it also becomes a funding source for anticipated and affordable events, combined with a perverse incentive to utilize it to the margin, the result is the creation of a perpetual payout fund.

The costs of sustaining this model are never satisfied, being squeezed by patients who are chasing the benefits and providers who chase the billing codes to achieve maximal reimbursement.

As evidence for the negative consequence of misusing insurance as a pass-through system for virtually every healthcare expense (accelerated by passage of the ACA), we can examine the employer-sponsored group market premiums.

From 2007 – 2017 the average premium for family coverage increased by 55% and employee contribution rate as a share of premium cost increased by 74% over the same 10-year period; while median household income went up by only 3%.

To add financial injury to insult, the percentage of employees with an out-of-pocket maximum of greater than $3,000 doubled, going from 30% to 60% of employees.

“Eighty-one percent of covered workers have a general annual deductible for single coverage that must be met before most services are paid for by the plan. Among covered workers with a general annual deductible, the average deductible amount for single coverage is $1,505.” ~KFF.org

Between 2012 – 2017, the percentage of covered workers with a general annual deductible of $1,000 or more for single coverage has grown substantially, increasing from 34% in 2012 to 51% in 2017. Thirty-seven percent of covered workers in small firms are in a plan with a deductible of at least $2,000, compared to 15% for covered workers in large firms.

In the ACA individual market insurance exchanges, single coverage premiums (unsubsidized) increased by 62% and family coverage premiums increased by 75% just since implementation of ObamaCare!

Our third-party payer system has created a dependency paradox!

The same funding method that contributes to runaway costs also causes us to be more dependent on it for access. This guarantees that Healthcare will cost significantly more than the sum of its individual parts, and will continue to escalate faster than our ability to pay for it.

The costs associated with health plan premiums (aka insurance) have become a surrogate for health-care costs.

Now let that sink in!

In what other market does the cost of an insurance product act as substitute for the aggregate cost of the product or services that it insures?

Now apply a similar scenario to the auto insurance market. It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate how that would play out. But if you want some help visualizing the scenario, here’s a brief vignette. https://lnkd.in/eUGeCKv

Self-insured employer health plans are in a unique position to break out of this dependency paradox.

By contracting with a Direct Primary Care practice and re-routing subsequent encounters away from the more expensive insurance-based protocols, Self-insured employers can utilize creative plan designs to cut costs and improve employee satisfaction.

Data from the Qliance experience, and supported by other self-insured employer’s experiences, utilization of efficient primary care via the DPC model reduces unnecessary downstream care by approximately 50%, with the resultant aggregate cost savings of nearly 20%.

The caveat being, as we double the number of primary care visits combined with longer visits to adequately address problems, the need for emergent visits, ER visits and specialty intervention drop significantly.

A similar level of savings for direct-pay lab tests was noted in data published in 2014 by CMT journal comparing lab fees charged to a Direct Pay practice by the lab vs. the CPT billed charges by the lab (assuming patient had no coverage or had not met their deductible). For five common blood tests the savings was 89% by not using insurance, with lab billed charges of approximately $782 compared to a direct pay cost of $80. Plum Health, a direct primary care practice in Detroit, shows similarly impressive lab test savings of 87% on six common blood tests; $811 vs $106.

Many Self-insured companies are beginning to discover the value and savings in this approach, while breaking free of the coverage trap and the myth that health insurance equates to health care; and the realization that so-called “access” to inflated pricing and the phony discounts used to fleece the buyer is no longer a conversation they are willing to have.

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Consumer-Driven Health Care, CPT billing, Defined Contribution Benefit Plans, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Uncategorized

Why Value-based Payment Methods Won’t Fix Healthcare

I’ve read several posts today on so called “Value-based payment” strategies and I couldn’t resist adding my 2-cents.

VBP can’t fix these fundamental problems because it is still based on a price-opaque shell game I like to call Fee-for-Coding, which results in:

1) Price insensitivity on the utilizer’s part.

2) Misaligned incentives on the provider’s part.

3) Lack of important price signals between buyers and sellers due to lack of advance pricing capabilities.

VBP utilizes the same fundamentally flawed economic system as our current billing model.

Moving to value-based care will require…

1) A system where prices are known in advance of care (not trauma or emergency care where extent of injuries or illness are unknown at onset – but even still a lot of those can be estimated ahead of time based on scenarios).

2) …that physicians be paid to be available to solve our problems, where payment is not tied to documenting work in a chart.

3) …that we move to a system that is based on defined contributions as opposed to defined benefits. As John C. Goodman is fond of saying, “money should follow people”, not programs and insurance policies.

Value will be elusive until we let the discipline of the market work in healthcare.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-value-based-payment-methods-wont-fix-healthcare-robert-nelson-md/

Posted in Access to healthcare, Accountable Care Organizations, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Economic Issues, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Independent Physicians, Influence peddling, Medical Costs, Medicare, Patient Choice, Patient Safety, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Uncategorized

Wax: Making a Killing in American Health Care, a Step-by-Step Guide

Master this how-to guide and you’ll be on your way.

https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2019/12/03/craig-m-wax-do-making-a-killing-in-american-healthcare-a-step-by-step-guide/

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Deductibles, Economic Issues, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, medical inflation, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Uncategorized

On the Importance of Price Transparency

Dollar-under-magnifying-glass-1024x910On the importance of transparency… may I present exhibit A: https://www.medpagetoday.com/publichealthpolicy/ethics/83459

Pay particular attention to the content of the last paragraph!!! 

“The Affordable Care Act mandates that health insurers cover all federally recommended vaccines…at no charge to patients,…

Kaiser Health News looked at what its own insurance carrier, Cigna, paid for those free flu shots. At the high end, it shelled out $85 for a flu shot given at a Sacramento, California, doctor’s office that was affiliated with Sutter Health, one of the largest hospital chains in the state. Further south, in Long Beach, Cigna paid $48 for a shot.

Prices in the Washington, D.C., area went even lower, to $40 per shot at a CVS in Rockville, Maryland, and to $32 per shot at a CVS in downtown Washington that’s less than 10 miles away from the Rockville location.

Picture1.pngOne expert told KHN that the variation has nothing to do with the cost of the drug, but stems from secret negotiations between health plans and providers. While patients are expected not to care since the shot is free to them, these costs come back to bite in the form of higher premiums — which is one of the major complaints about the ACA.”

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, CPT billing, Economic Issues, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, Medicare, Network Discounts, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Uncategorized

Fallacy of the Discount: Why Price Transparency Matters

Why is the price of a CT scan 33 times higher in a hospital emergency room than in an outpatient imaging center just down the street?https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/09/598794123/bill-of-the-month-a-tale-of-2-ct-scanners-one-richer-one-poorer

Hynden was shocked when he got the second CT scan in January, and the listed price was $8,897 — 33 times what he paid for the first test.

Gulf Coast Medical Center is part of his Cigna insurance plan’s approved network of providers. But even with Cigna’s negotiated discount, Hynden was on the hook for $3,394.49 for the scan. The additional ER costs added $261.76 more to that bill.

The higher price from Gulf Coast and its parent company could be a result of their enormous pricing power in Fort Myers, says Gerard Anderson, a professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University.

Lee Health owns the four major hospitals in the Fort Myers area, as well as a children’s hospital and a rehabilitation hospital, according to its website. It also owns several physician practices in the area. When you drive around Fort Myers, the blue-green Lee Health logo appears on buildings everywhere.

“Anybody who’s in Fort Myers is going to want to get care at these hospitals. So by having a dominant position, they have great bargaining power,” Anderson says. “So they can raise their rates, and they still do OK.”

Anderson says his research shows hospital consolidation has been driving prices higher and higher in recent years. And because more and more people, like Hynden, have high-deductible insurance plans, they’re more likely to be on the hook for huge bills.

So Lee Health and other dominant hospital systems mark up most of their services on their master price lists — the list that prices a CT scan at Lee Health at $8,897. Anderson calls those lists “fairy-tale prices” because almost no one actually pays them.

“Everybody who’s taken a look at it agrees — including the CFO of the organization — that it’s a fairy-tale thing, but it does have relevance,” Anderson says.

The relevance is that insurance companies usually negotiate what they’ll pay at discounted rates from list prices.

So from the master price of $8,897, Cigna negotiated Hynden’s bill down to $5,516.14 — a discount of almost 40 percent. Then Cigna paid $2,864.08, leaving Hynden to pay the rest.”

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/09/598794123/bill-of-the-month-a-tale-of-2-ct-scanners-one-richer-one-poorer

Posted in Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Crony Capitalism, Economic Issues, Free-Market, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Insurance subsidies, Medical Costs, Medicare, Policy Issues, Reforming Medicare, Tax Policy, Uncategorized

Watch “Milton Friedman – Monopoly” on YouTube

The Healthcare industry, or medical-industrial complex, wears the armor of Government-sponsored protectionism; chinked together by pieces of the tax code, The McCarren-Ferguson Act, Certificate of Need laws, Medicare billing regulations, HIPAA, HITECH, and the ACA.

You would be hard pressed to find a more entrenched, impenetrable cartel.

Posted in Access to healthcare, CPT billing, DC & Related Shenanigans, Economic Issues, government incompetence, Government Regulations, Healthcare financing, Leadership, Medical Costs, Medicare, News From Washington, Reforming Medicare, Uncategorized

Judge tosses CMS’ site-neutral pay policy | Modern Healthcare

Forum for Healthcare Freedom writes:

When central planners interfere with markets, as happened in 1965 and which continues to this day, the toxic distortions on pricing mechanisms weave their way extensively through the entire industry. The long term damage is insidious. It clouds our view of reality and tricks us into thinking the abnormal is normal; what is unjust is legal; what seems unfair is rationalized away.

So even when we try to undo the damage, even in a small way, the complexities of labyrinth often render us incapable of reversing course. When government gets too big & powerful, only the big & powerful (AHA) can manipulate it.

The judge in this case is probably correct from a technical/legal/legislative/regulatory standpoint, but alas, our problem of price disparities favor the status quo and continuation of a non-transparent billing protocol, which ironically has been codified by HHS/CMS…the same department that is now attempting payment reform. You can’t make this stuff up!

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/payment/judge-tosses-cms-site-neutral-pay-policy

 

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), CPT billing, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Free-Market, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Independent Physicians, Medical Costs, medical inflation, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Uncategorized

Surprise Medical Bills: We Know the Cure…Few Are Using it

This whole issue of “surprise bills” is a symptom of a more pernicious economic disease which has been driving prices in healthcare for decades; that being, a lack on discoverable, actionable meaningful prices for bundled medical services.

Moreover, the lack of transparent/actionable pricing in healthcare is a derivative of the manner in which we have chosen to code, bill and get paid for medical services.

And most of the legislative and regulatory fixes proposed do NOT correct the core problem.

The corollary being, there are no surprise bills when we use real honest pricing strategies!

Dr. Keith Smith and Dr. Steve Lantier

Case in point…you will never have a surprise bill from Surgery Center Of Oklahoma. They publish easily discoverable all-inclusive prices for their surgical procedures. And, they offer same price to any willing buyer, because they aren’t controlled by network contracts.

Price setting or caps is not the correct response to the problem of this form of price gouging. This knee jerk visceral reaction is shortsighted. Price setting ALWAYS distorts markets in negative ways which are not always apparent; shortages or supply chain inefficiencies/interruptions/gaps are inevitable.

It is NOT the cost of medical care & and pharma that is the problem…It is the simultaneous lack of both transparent & actionable prices, combined with using proprietary contractual formulary agreements as a substitute for honest pricing, which has brought us to this dangerous fiscal precipice. Hiding costs by shifting them or redistributing them is same economically illiterate strategy which brought us Obamacare.

We can do better.