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 trap!  The same financial tool we rely on to pay our healthcare providers also contributes to runaway costs; making us 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, 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, Consumer-Driven Health Care, CPT billing, Deductibles, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Independent Physicians, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Network Discounts, Patient Choice, Patient-centered Care, Quality, Uncategorized

Healthcare costs…time to rethink the calculus!

For anyone still laboring under the myth that insurance carriers are motivated to hold down costs in healthcare OR that health insurance is expensive BECAUSE health-care is expensive OR that insurance helps PROTECT us from high billed charges, consider the following facts and figures presented in this common Gynecologic surgery example.

Let’s compare a not-for-profit hospital-owned facility that has in-network insurance agreements with that of a physician-owned private facility that does NOT have any insurance contracts for payment such as Surgery Center of Oklahoma.

A broker consulted me on cost-containment strategies on behalf of a client/patient who needed a hysterectomy (CPT codes provided).  She has a high deductible indemnity plan and a faith-based health share plan. The surgeon’s (Gyn physician) fee was $7,000.  The hospital facility charge for O/R suite was estimated at $30,000 and they required $15,000 payment upfront.

Based on analysis of claims payment, it would be reasonable to assume the reimbursement would be around 60% of billed charges (+/- 10%).  So the final payout could easily be between $18K – 26K. That total does NOT include anesthesia and may not include surgeon’s fee. What a fantastic discount! In some markets, we see hysterectomy reimbursement as high as $54K.

The all-inclusive fee at SCO is $8,000 and includes an over-night stay if needed.  That price includes everything needed to perform the surgery, including professional fees.

2019-04-29 (1)

All of the effort, time and resources at SCO go to medical care; not buying practices or employing physicians or 7 figure CEO salaries! And no fake discounts designed to foster dependence on the same products that keeps prices higher than they need to be.

That is how you reduce the cost of healthcare!

 

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), British National Health Service, Deductibles, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Employee Benefits, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Free-Market, Government Regulations, Health Insurance, Healthcare financing, Individual Market, Individual ObamaCare Market, Insurance subsidies, Large group insurance market, Medical Costs, medical inflation, Medical Practice Models, Medicare, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Quality, Subsidies, Third-Party Free Practices, third-party payments, Uncategorized

Lies That Won’t Die: Health Insurance Costs and Healthcare – Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference—the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.  ~Frederic Bastiat

The results of the immediate/ intended effects (the seen) and the subsequent/ unintended effects (the unseen) of U.S. healthcare policy are clearly instantiated by examining the way we use, and misuse, health insurance.  

Despite the ostensibly good intentions to improve access by expanding coverage for various medical services, the “ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.”

Our insurance-based third-party payer protocols have pernicious and nefarious economic consequences on our healthcare system.  This manifests as rampant healthcare inflation catalyzed by the macro-economic market distortions of the 3rd party payer effect and perpetuated by the micro-economic price-obscuring distortions of the billing cycle.

As evidence for the negative consequence of misusing insurance as a pass-through system for virtually every healthcare expense, 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

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

And between 2002 and 2016, medical costs for a family of four in an employer-sponsored PPO plan increased 180%! 

Given that household income has barely budged in real dollars since 2002, these increases are clearly not sustainable. By contrast, the auto insurance market (a real indemnity product) increased by only 17% from 2007 – 2016, while deductible offering ranges remained stable, averaging $500.

The refusal of some to recognize the valid comparatives between the health insurance market & the auto insurance market (ostensibly because healthcare is SO different) is not an argument suitable to justify the dysfunction and high costs of Healthcare; nor does it explain why health insurance premiums have become an unwelcome surrogate for total healthcare costs! The irony being that a competitive cash market for all things related to driving and keeping a car in working order, which are not paid for at all by insurance, is exactly why the auto insurance market is affordable and sustainable! Based on data from 2014, auto insurance accounts for about 15% of the cost of ownership of a nicer car for an average safe driver. Stated differently, the cost of insurance adds about 18% to the cost of ownership compared to not having insurance.

Health insurance, on the other hand, adds about 50% to the cost of healthcare compared to no having insurance. Now consider that cost ratio in light of the NIHCM 2012 study on the concentration of healthcare spending.

“… mean annual spending for the bottom half of distribution was just $236 per person, totaling only $36 billion for the entire group of more than 150 million people… 15% of the population had no spending whatsoever in the year.”

So in any given year, 150 million of us spend less than $300 per person on actual medical care. Even more striking is the statistical likelihood that roughly 15% of the population (nearly 50 million) will have no personal health expenditures in a given year (we have no reason to believe the year in question was an aberration)!

The flip side to this story – and one that is often used to justify the way we use health insurance – is that about 81% of the spending comes from 20% of the population, which holds largely true in almost any given year. But this is the rule for almost any market and is not unique to healthcare. Most of the cars or new homes or new roofs or refrigerators or new tires or new windshields are purchased by a small percentage of the population each year; but it is not by the same people every year.

This is precisely why insurance is necessary and valuable; but also precisely why insuring too many things that are more affordable in a cash market is a horrible financial strategy! Yet we continue to commit to paying for all the small stuff, plus the unpredictable catastrophes, with this expensive proposition we call health “insurance”!

So maybe should re-frame how we look at healthcare and ask…”What have we done TO healthcare to make it behave the way it does?”

Instead of blaming “market failure” – or any of the usual suspect villains – for the high costs & low quality of healthcare, maybe we need to re-frame how we view the provision of healthcare. And when it comes to blaming the “free-market”, how do you blame something that is wholly absent? Because almost NONE of the factors which define a normally functioning free market system (discoverable, actionable prices and outcomes data with competition based on price & quality) are operational in healthcare today.

Rather than market failure, a more productive and accurate way to view healthcare would be as a massive, systemic, well orchestrated pricing failure…brought to us almost exclusively by the central planners in Washington DC, And the perverse incentives that are baked into the system.

Dr. John Goodman, economist and healthcare policy expert, has
this to say
about the consequences of this [“pricing failure”].

“In every  profession outside medicine – law, accounting,
engineering, architecture, etc. – providers are able to repackage and reprice what they offer to the market…Doctors by contrast are slaves to a third-party payer system that has been shaped and molded by government.

Many of the problems begin with Medicare, which pays doctors today the
same way it paid in the last century – long before there were emails or
iPhones. Most private insurers and most employers pay the same way. State governments pile on. Sometimes they make consultations with patients by phone or by email or by Skype illegal. In most places, doctors can’t freely practice across state lines.” –
Dr. John C. Goodman

Collectively, these interventions add excessive costs of our healthcare system. It is important to remember that many of these cost over-runs are manifestations of the applied distortions, not intrinsic to healthcare itself.

One of most pernicious of these pricing failures can be traced to the bizarre way in which we utilize health insurance; which brings me to our featured “lie that won’t die”, and it goes like this…

“Health insurance is expensive because Healthcare is expensive.”

NOT!

But like all effective fallacies, it contains just enough truth on the surface and enough logical coherency to be believable. Let’s explore why this commonly held doctrine in healthcare circles is not only wrong, but counterproductive to useful healthcare reform.

Insurance should be the financial fireman that protects us from the consequences of catastrophic events.  But for insurance to work, these catastrophic events must be infrequent & unpredictable, thus spreading the risk of these infrequent events across a large population; so at any given time, only a few are affected.

When insurance becomes a funding source for the routine – the predictable – the affordable events, then we actually concentrate risk rather than spreading it! This model changes “insurance” into a perpetual payout fund, violating every tenet of insurance! And to compound the effect, the contractual obligations on both the demand side and supply side promote the incentive for everyone to utilize their health plan as often as possible.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in economics to predict that the costs of sustaining such a model are never satisfied, always being squeezed by patients who are chasing the benefits and providers who chase the billing codes for reimbursement.

So health insurance is definitely the Fireman or “lifeguard” when we have a costly health crisis; but when it becomes an expensive medical maintenance plan, insurance also becomes the arsonist.

We have taken a tool designed to pay out rare higher-priced claims on unpredictable events, and turned it into an inflation-prone product whose design promotes an incentive for everyone to use it as often as possible. That makes about as much sense as trying to buy insurance for a car that is regularly used in a demolition derby.

Our third-party payer system has created a dependency paradox; the same funding method (health insurance) that contributes to runaway costs also causes us to be more dependent on it for access.

The result is a healthcare system that costs way more than the sum of its parts. This is why playing the blame game does not solve the problem. American doctors could take a 50% pay cut and we could eliminate the spend equal to all care during last 12 months of life and we would still spend more per capita than any other country. You can go down the list of culprits and repeat the calculations, which I’ve done, but the math doesn’t add up; it doesn’t reconcile.  

The introduction of DPC has deflated these cost escalations considerably.  In the individual market, data from several sources bears this out.  CovenantMD, a Direct Primary Care practice in Lancaster, PA illustrates the potential savings based on a typical family’s utilization.

They compared the total costs incurred using a Bronze ACA plan with $6K individual/$12K family deductibles without and with a DPC membership at CovenantMD.  Pairing a Bronze Plan with a DPC membership resulted in an out-of-pocket savings of $7,267, even after the cost of the membership was counted.  That is a 65% reduction in out-of-pocket costs!

Zenith Direct Care did a similar analysis for a typical family of five with an 80/20 plan with $3,000 deductible.  They compared annual costs for this scenario with a Zenith Direct Care membership plus a Health Cost-share Plan (health-sharing member).  Estimated out-of-pocket costs with the traditional insurance alone was $18,343 compared to $6,160 with the Zenith/HCS combination.  A savings of 66%!

Core Family Practice, a DPC practice in Kennett Square, PA, compared a 90-day supply of four common primary care medications purchased through Aetna’s Mail-order supplier with the prices their members pay for same quantity.  The annual cost for the Aetna mail-order came to $2,248.68 compared to only $850.80 for the same medications from Core’s generic supplier, which were dispensed in the office. That $1,397.88 savings equates to a 61% reduction in out-of-pocket costs for the married couple!  They also looked at the costs of obtaining three sets of commonly ordered lab tests for the same couple.  Out-of-pocket costs using their high-deductible plan (QHDHP) was $480 in lab test responsibility. The same tests drawn and paid at time of services to Core FP totaled $63.17 yielding an incredible 87% reduction.

All components of healthcare spending add to cost of care. But the overwhelming cost drivers for the U.S. healthcare system are embedded so deeply within the way we access and pay for medical services that we often overlook them, choosing instead to blame the symptoms for the disease rather than the disease for the symptoms.

So the next time you hear someone say or pen the words, “health insurance is expensive because healthcare is expensive”, please gently remind them of the facts. It is the unwise use of a pre-paid, highly regulated & gated access model, masquerading as insurance, that causes medical care to be more expensive than it needs to be; and the same payment model suppresses the market for more cost-effective alternative pathways to access healthcare.

Posted in Access to healthcare, Consumer-Driven Health Care, Deductibles, Economic Issues, Employee Benefits, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Health Insurance, Health Savings Accounts (HSA's), Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, Medical Practice Models, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Price Tansparency, Uncategorized

Deductibles and HSA’s: The Devil (and the truth) is in the Details | LinkedIn

AKA…

HSA’s: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected

free-money1

The quote below is worth pondering.

We find no evidence of consumers learning to price shop after two years in high-deductible coverage. Consumers reduce quantities across the spectrum of health care services, including potentially valuable care (e.g. preventive services) and potentially wasteful care (e.g. imaging services).                                                                                  What Does a Deductible Do? The Impact of Cost-Sharing on Health Care Prices, Quantities, and Spending Dynamics Zarek C. Brot-Goldberg, Amitabh ChandraBenjamin R. HandelJonathan T. Kolstad

These findings seem to contradict, or at least not support, another large study that clearly show a trend towards substantial savings when patients are spending more of their own money or when trying to make their deductible dollars go further.

If the conclusions are valid and can be broadly applied, it would call into question a presupposition that most healthcare economists have held for quite some time: That being, when patients become medical consumers and are confronted with choices of how to spend their own money, they shop around and find better value and also don’t consume unnecessary medical services.

The summary of this newer study  published by the National Bureau of Economic Research seems to indicate that they don’t shop smarter, they don’t shop at all; but instead all the savings was from simply cutting back on all care.

This is potentially troubling on the surface. It appears to indicate that when presented with high deductibles, that patients just stopped getting as much care! Could this really be true?

Before we delve into the internals of this study, lets look at what other studies have shown. RAND Health researchers compared families before and after moving to a consumer-directed plan with similar families remaining in traditional plans to see how behaviors change in response to switching to a high-deductible plan.

  • In the most comprehensive study to date on this topic, researchers looked at claims and enrollment data for more than 800,000 households insured through 59 large employers across the U.S. in a study funded by the California HealthCare Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The analysis shows clear cost reductions, but with potential areas of concern for the long-term health of enrollees.”
  • Families with HDHPs had 17 – 21% reduction in health care costs
  • …”those in CDHPs initiated less care, and when they did, they used fewer or less expensive services in a given episode of care. Enrollees used 4.9 percent fewer name-brand drugs, made 6.5 percent fewer visits to specialists, and had 17.7 percent fewer hospital stays…”
  • Vulnerable populations are not adversely affected by use of HDHPs…“key finding is that in almost all cases, CDHP benefit designs affect lower income populations and the chronically ill to the same extent as non-vulnerable populations. These effects include significant reductions in overall spending that increase with the level of the deductible and greater reductions for high deductible plans when paired with health savings accounts (HSAs) in comparison to health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

 

Now let’s take a closer look at the newer NEBR study and see what it really tells us. Here is the description of the circumstances of this observational study: 

  • “Kolstad and his co-authors looked at the case of a large, unnamed company that shifted more than 75,000 workers and their dependents from a plan with no deductible to one with a $3,750 deductible. When the change happened, workers received a $3,750 subsidy to a health savings account — money they could spend freely on whatever health costs they incurred. The company also gave workers online tools to look up prices for doctor visits, tests, and other services they might need.”
  • Here are some data from the study: “Average per-patient spending fell from $5,222.60 in 2012 to $4,446.08 in 2013. That’s about a 15 percent decline in a single year — and it held true across all types of health services. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a 25 percent drop in emergency room spending, an 18 percent decline in physician office visits, and a 6 percent decrease in mental health services.” “But when the researchers looked at why spending dropped, they found it had nothing to do with smarter shopping. The average price of a doctor visit wasn’t dropping. Instead, under the high-deductible plan, workers just went to the doctor way less. The paper finds that “spending reductions are entirely due to outright reductions in quantity.”

This is an odd, but interesting study, at the same time. It was designed to judge patient’s responsiveness when given choices of how to spend their healthcare dollars and to see if they would be better shoppers due to having a high deductible. Yet the employer funds the HSA with amount equivalent to the deductible.

Stay with me… So they go from zero price barrier situation where we have no idea how much of that consumption was unnecessary where the employee is completely price insensitive… to a situation where they have a high deductible fully financed by their employer in form of an HSA that the employee owns. That is free money that grows forever tax-free unless they take it out for something other than qualified expense. If they cash it out, they pay penalty and the tax, but it is still their money.

But why would the authors of the study anticipate a drop in the cost of the average doctor’s office visit due to “smarter shopping” when the deductible payments are coming from an account funded by someone else’s money? Who’s the smart one now?

Recall from above that the employer funded the HSA fully and in advance. And for those that made a prioritized decision not to go to the doctor as much as they did in the co-pay only scenario, they got to keep that deductible money because they own the HSA forever, as opposed to an Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) or Flexible Spending (FSA) which are both use-it-or-loose-it propositions and unused funds are retained by the employer.

Here is something else to consider. Were there even any cash-friendly or alternative practice such as DPC available for them to chose? If the network was fairly tight with high level of provider participation, I would not expect posted CPT prices to vary all that much. And they likely ran all encounters through the billing cycle so they were billed out at the regular CPT posted rates.

Access to healthcare is often defined by how much of another person’s money is used to subsidize it; rather than focusing on reducing the real price or ways to be more efficient!

Also, notice that the employees moved from a zero deductible plan to a fairly high deductible plan. We really have no way of knowing how much unnecessary or redundant care they might have consumed under the zero deductible plan, so we can’t speculate except to say it is hard to believe very much thought was given regarding necessity under the old plan when out-of-pocket cost were basically just co-pays.

If I were the employee in that situation, here is my thought process when it comes to spending my HSA money: If I really need medical care or want to get something done or want a certain test, who cares how much it costs, I’m not out anything really. And, If I don’t really need care, I get to keep the “free” money in an account I own forever even if I change employers . 

The design of the health plan causes a situation where there is simultaneously both price insensitivity when spending was needed AND an incentive not to spend as much due to the fact that the employer funded the deductible and because of the savings vehicle chosen, that being an HSA. Is it any wonder the study results show that the employees did not learn to price-shop?

This employer-funded HSA is extremely important when analyzing what happened. Remember, they went from essentially nearly free care to an employer-funded HSA that covers their entire deductible… and an HSA is the EMPLOYEE’S money once it hit the account.

So the design of the plan resulted in the employer essentially paying the employee NOT to consume medical services! And when they did spend their deductible dollars, they had no incentive to care about price because it was “free” money basically like a pre-paid gift card!

The study authors apparently failed to recognize this reality and instead proclaimed that high deductibles don’t lead to better consumers, just less consumption!

Let that sink in. One one hand the employees simply made a choice that favors their own economic self-interest by accumulating someone else’s cash in their HSA if care wasn’t really necessary in their view; and on the other hand they spent freely if the need arose for the same reason.

And how many people honestly would let their own health suffer when they could have used someone else’s money to pay deductible expenses? So what does that tell you about how much potentially unnecessary care was consumed in the zero deductible plan? Furthermore, there is no data indicating anyone suffered because of less consumption under the high deductible plan.

Now if they had offered employee a percent of savings in any given expenditure, paid as cash award, then you bet you would have seen some savvy shoppers.

Let me be clear, HDHPs are not the answer to controlling healthcare cost and will not result in a total alignment of priorities and incentives. Do they help move the needle in the right direction? I think yes. But the answer lies in establishing a real non-insurance market for routine care that is free of the baked-in inflation and price confusion/dishonesty of our billing protocols. Only a market with real prices will allow consumerism to work its magic. We are not there yet.

Based on the design of the health plan in this study, it is impossible to conclude that high deductible plans don’t produce smarter shoppers, because their was an incentive NOT to spend built into this particular plan and there was no reason to care about price because the deductible was funded by employer money. It their attempt to neutralize the potential negative effect of the deductible on medically necessary utilization, the plan design made the outcome a foregone conclusion. But the study does show that the employees outsmarted the authors of the study by simply acting in their own self-interests and exercising good judgement.

This study does teaches us four important things:

  1. People can easily be paid to do nothing to accumulate someone else’s money (legally).
  2. We tend to spend “free” money or other people’s money with less discrimination than when it is our own.
  3. Access to healthcare is often defined by how much of another person’s money is used to subsidize it; rather than focusing on reducing the real price or ways to be more efficient!

  4. Never take a headline at face-value or believe a study without reading it yourself.

Source: Understanding Healthcare Economics: The Devil (and the truth) is in the Details | LinkedIn

Posted in Access to healthcare, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), Deductibles, Economic Issues, Health Insurance, Health Savings Accounts (HSA's), Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Policy Issues, Tax Policy, Uncategorized

A New Approach To High Deductibles

John C. Goodman

Is this a good deal? If you are a high-income individual with a lot more than $10,000 in the bank, this product may not be for you. But if you tend to live paycheck-to-paycheck and have trouble saving for medical expenses, insuring against your deductible may make more sense than trying to fund it with a savings account.

Health Matching Services is a very innovative firm, but it has to struggle with tax laws and regulatory regimes that look like they were designed with no thought at all. And of course, the ridiculously high deductibles offered by primary insurers are the perverse result of Obamacare.

In a rational world, the tax law would provide a level playing field for premium payments and deposits to medical savings accounts. Competition in a secondary insurance market would provide consumers with many choices. For example, some might prefer to self-insure for the first $3,000 and buy the kind of secondary insurance described above for the remaining $7,000 gap.

Who knows? But for the perverse incentives of Obamacare and other insurance regulations, primary insurers might offer these choices. A secondary market for health insurance might not even be necessary.

Source: A New Approach To High Deductibles

Posted in Access to healthcare, advance-pricing, Deductibles, Direct-Pay Medicine, Direct-Pay Practice Models, Economic Issues, Healthcare financing, Medical Costs, Network Discounts, out-of-pocket costs, Patient Choice, Price Tansparency

When our model hits home–the proof is in the pudding. – Direct Medical Care

https://directmedicalcare.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/when-our-model-hits-home-the-proof-is-in-the-pudding/

Posted in Access to healthcare, Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), Deductibles, Employee Benefits, Employer Mandate, Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, Essential Benefits under the ACA, Health Insurance, Health Savings Accounts (HSA's), Healthcare financing, Individual Mandate, Individual Market, Individual ObamaCare Market, Individual Underwriting Standards, Large group insurance market, Medicaid, Medical Costs, Medical Practice Models, Medicare, Organizational structure, Policy Issues, Portable Insurance, Pre-existing Conditions, primary care, Reforming Medicaid, Self-Insured Plans, Small group market, Tax Policy, Uncategorized

Obamacare Replacement Act – Senate Bill 222 by Senator Rand Paul – KY

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during an event at the University of Chicago's Ida Noyes Hall in Chicago on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles) ORG XMIT: ILAN114Lots to like and consider here.  We need more details about how tax equalization in the group market vs the individual market will be handled.  The expansion of uses and benefits of HSAs is robust and will go along way to establishing more ways to self-insure and less reliance on networks and government programs; both are a good thing.  The flexible, market-friendly Interstate Market for Health Insurance Cooperative Governing of Individual Health Insurance Coverage will be a welcome change.  Again, devil is always in the details.  Stay tuned for more details and insightful analysis here on the Sovereign Patient; we will post them as available. 

Some highlights:

Effective as of the date of enactment of this bill, the following provisions of Obamacare are repealed:

  • Individual and employer mandates, community rating restrictions, rate review, essential health benefits requirement, medical loss ratio, and other insurance mandates.

Protecting Individuals with Pre-Existing Conditions:

  • Provides a two-year open-enrollment period under which individuals with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage.
  • Restores HIPAA pre-existing conditions protections. Prior to Obamacare, HIPAA guaranteed those within the group market could obtain continuous health coverage regardless of preexisting conditions.

Equalize the Tax Treatment of Health Insurance:

  • Individuals who receive health insurance through an employer are able to exclude the premium amount from their taxable income. However, this subsidy is unavailable for those that do not receive their insurance through an employer but instead shop for insurance on the individual market.
  • Equalizes the tax treatment of the purchase of health insurance for individuals and employers. By providing a universal deduction on both income and payroll taxes regardless of how an individual obtains their health insurance, Americans will be empowered to purchase insurance independent of employment. Furthermore, this provision does not interfere with employer-provided coverage for Americans who prefer those plans.

Expansion of Health Savings Accounts:

  • Tax Credit for HSA Contributions
    • Provides individuals the option of a tax credit of up to $5,000 per taxpayer for contributions to an HSA. If an individual chooses not to accept the tax credit or contributes in excess of $5,000, those contributions are still tax-preferred.
  • Maximum Contribution Limit to HSA. Removes the maximum allowable annual contribution, so that individuals may make unlimited contributions to an HSA.
  • Eliminates the requirement that a participant in an HSA be enrolled in a high deductible health care plan. This section removes the HSA plan type requirement to allow individuals with all types of insurance to establish and use an HSA.
  • This would also enable individuals who are eligible for Medicare, VA benefits, TRICARE, IHS, and members of health care sharing ministries to be eligible to establish an HSA.
  • Allowance of Distributions for Prescription and OTC Drugs o Allows prescription and OTC drug costs to be treated as allowable expenses of HSAs.
  • Purchase of Health Insurance from HSA Account o Currently, HSA funds may not be used to purchase insurance or cover the cost of premiums. Allowing the use of HSA funds for insurance premiums will help make health coverage more affordable for American families.
  • Medical Expenses Incurred Prior to Account Establishment o Allows qualified expenses incurred prior to HSA establishment to be reimbursed from an HSA as long as the account is established prior to tax filing.
  • Administrative Error Correction Before Due Date of Return o Amends current law by allowing for administrative or clerical error corrections on filings.
  • Allowing HSA Rollover to Child or Parent of Account Holder o Allows an account holder’s HSA to rollover to a child, parent, or grandparent, in addition to a spouse.
  • Equivalent Bankruptcy Protections for HSAs as Retirement Funds o Most tax-exempt retirement accounts are also fully exempt from bankruptcy by federal law. While some states have passed laws that exempt HSA funds from being seized in bankruptcy, there is no federal protection for HSA funds in bankruptcy.
  • Certain Exercise Equipment and Physical Fitness Programs to be Treated as Medical Care. Expands allowable HSA expenses to include equipment for physical exercise or health coaching, including weight loss programs.
  • Nutritional and Dietary Supplements to be Treated as Medical Care o Amends the definition of “medical care” to include dietary and nutritional supplements for the purposes of HSA expenditures.
  • Certain Providers Fees to be Treated as Medical Care o Allows HSA funds to be used for periodic fees paid to medical practitioners for access to medical care.
  • Capitated Primary Care Payments o HSAs can be used for pre-paid physician fees, which includes payments associated with “concierge” or “direct practice” medicine.
  • Provisions Relating to Medicare o Allows Medicare enrollees to contribute their own money to the Medicare Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).

Interstate Market for Health Insurance Cooperative Governing of Individual Health Insurance Coverage:

  • Increases access to individual health coverage by allowing insurers licensed to sell policies in one state to offer them to residents of any other state.
  • Exempts issuers from secondary state laws that would prohibit or regulate their operation in the secondary state. However, states may impose requirements such as consumer protections and applicable taxes, among others.
  • Prohibits an issuer from offering, selling, or issuing individual health insurance coverage in a secondary state: If the state insurance commissioner does not use a risk-based capital formula for the determination of capital and surplus requirements for all issuers. Unless both the secondary and primary states have legislation or regulations in place establishing an independent review process for individuals who have individual health insurance coverage; or The issuer provides an acceptable mechanism under which the review is conducted by an independent medical reviewer or panel.
  • Gives sole jurisdiction to the primary state to enforce the primary state’s covered laws in the primary state and any secondary state.
  • Allows the secondary state to notify the primary state if the coverage offered in the secondary state fails to comply with the covered laws in the primary state.

Source: Microsoft Word – Obamacare Replacement Act SBS.docx