Sometimes you wonder where the line is in health care. And perhaps more importantly, whether anyone in the system cares.
The last few months have been dominated by the issue of costs in health care, particularly the costs paid by consumers who thought they had coverage. It turns out that “surprise billing” isn’t that much of a surprise. Over the past few years several large medical groups, notably Team Health owned by Blackstone, have been aggressively opting out of insurers networks. They’ve figured out, probably by reading Elizabeth Rosenthal’s great story about the 2013 $117,000 assistant surgery bill that Aetna actually paid, that if they stay out of network and bill away, the chances are they’ll make more money.
On the surface this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t it be in the interests of the insurers to clamp down on this stuff and never pay up? Well not really. Veteran health insurance observer Robert Laszewski recently wrote that profits in health insurance and hospitals have never been better. Instead, the insurer, which is usually just handling the claims on behalf of the actual buyer, makes more money over time as the cost goes up.
The data is clear. Health care costs overall are going up because the speed at which providers, pharma et al. are increasing prices exceeds the reduction in volume that’s being seen in the use of most health services. Lots more on that is available from HCCI or any random tweet you read about the price of insulin. But the overall message is that as 90% of American health care is still a fee-for-service game, as the CEO of BCBS Arizona said at last year’s HLTH conference, the point of the game is generating as much revenue as possible. My old boss Ian Morrison used to joke about every hospital being in the race for the $1m hysterectomy, but in a world of falling volumes, it isn’t such a joke any more.
As I’m back from a week’s vacation, Jessica DaMassa is slowly pulling me back into the groove with questions about Walmart dumping Castlight, yet more money for telemedicine with MDLive adding $50m, and get.health sponsoring a few tickets to health2con. All in 2 minutes, with a bit of filler!–Matthew Holt
Change and American health care have become synonymous. “Change” can be exciting and life-altering when it refers to the innovative new therapies and treatments that improve or extend life, many of those originating in the United States. Change, though, can be a tremendous source of anxiety for families concerned with the affordability of care and stability in their health care coverage choices. It is the tension between these two definitions of change that the United States has struggled to solve over the past three decades.
As we have all witnessed, the health care marketplace has gone through two successive waves of change over the past 30 years, with the third wave now upon us. The first wave was managed care, which sought to rein in cost and quality relative to “unmanaged care.” But while managed care made some gains, it still proved to be unsustainable in its constraint of choice and its focus on financing “sick care” rather than on optimization of health.
The second wave of “reforms” saw companies like Cigna evolve – or change – from “insurance” to a health services focus, with more engagement and support for the individual and partnerships with health care providers and pharmaceutical manufacturers predicated on the health outcomes achieved rather than the volume of services provided. The second wave has seen the health care industry as a whole work together to improve health, lower health risks and improve the cost structure of the employer-sponsored market, which has in turn subsidized the entire system.
In that environment, Cigna has been able to deliver the best medical cost trend over the past five years – below 3 percent in 2017 or half that of the industry. So why risk disrupting a winning formula by acquiring the pharmacy services company Express Scripts? Because the system still isn’t sustainable and maintaining the status quo of rising costs means you are effectively moving backwards.
On February 16 of last year, I was in a New Orleans hotel room preparing for a meeting when my wife Becky called and said simply, “I have cancer.”
We knew it was possible, but that didn’t in any way lessen the impact of those three words.
I have cancer.
Everything that was right and comfortable was in that instant washed away by a million questions with no answers. At a time when we needed nothing more than certainty and clarity, there was only confusion and doubt.
Upon landing in Philadelphia hours later, I called to see how she was doing with her newly diagnosed breast cancer. Feeling numb, I managed to make one other call soon after landing. Not to friends. Not to family. Instead, it was to our insurance company.
That’s right: Other than my wife, the one person I most wanted to speak to in the world was a Cigna call center operator.
We hadn’t even had a chance to meet with her oncologist to discuss potential courses of treatment, but we had questions because we had recently changed our plan to carry higher out-of-pocket costs and lower deductibles. We needed answers to those questions so we could go about worrying about more important things.
What procedures are covered? Are the doctors at the cancer center in plan? What is the maximum out of pocket? What other limits should we know about?
A 15-minute conversation later, we were comfortable that insurance wouldn’t be an issue and had a decent understanding of what our share of the costs would be. At a time of absolute fear and confusion, our insurer provided a moment of comfort and clarity.
That is the kind of financial and emotional stress that millions of people face every day in the United States. That is also the kind of financial and emotional security the Affordable Care Act was supposed to provide — especially to those who currently lack health insurance. Continue reading…
I have a challenge for CIGNA CEO David Cordani. Sometime this week, pick up the phone and be a secret shopper. Call your customer service team and ask them the same thing I asked them on a Friday not long ago: does my plan cover and reimburse for flu shots, and at which participating providers in my area? This is managed care and wellness 101. Just not at CIGNA.
Customer service rep A says shots are covered and reimbursed, but she cannot confirm any place in St. Louis as a par provider that would bill the plan directly for payment. Her stubborn refusal to grasp the meaning of “par provider” was infuriating. She repeatedly reads a list of potential providers (all national companies, such as Walgreens) and then tells me I must call each location to discern its billing practices.
Wrong. Just plainly and simply wrong because they’re all signed to national contracts. Then, while both my German Shepherds headed for cover in another room, she hung up on me. (I was angry but never profane or malevolent.)
Undaunted and now even more frustrated, I call customer service again. Customer service rep B says: shots covered fully and each location noted previously is a par provider that will accept assignment. Done, right? Not yet. Customer service rep A calls me back.
She has not, however, learned anything in the intervening 15 minutes, as she returns to her home base of ignorance with the accuracy of a GPS. Finally, I demand a supervisor. With the supervisor comes enlightenment and lower blood pressure.
In a world where big data plays an important role of monitoring individual health care and wellness, Health 2.0’s CEO and Co-Founder Indu Subaiya had an exclusive interview with Christine Robbins, CEO of BodyMedia on the future of health care in the marketplace as well as the role of big data. As we all know, BodyMedia was recently acquired by Jawbone – and we’re excited to have Christine joining us on the famous “3 CEOs” panel at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference next week to tell us more about it.
Here’s a preview of what you should be looking forward to.
Indu Subaiya: We’re really excited for the Health 2.0 7th Annual Fall Conference and of course, I’ve been following news about you and BodyMedia over the last two months, which is really exciting. Congratulations on the acquisition.
Christine Robbins: Thank you. We’re on to the next chapter.
IS: That’s just amazing to me because BodyMedia in and of itself has had so many chapters and we’ve followed you almost from the very beginning. But what would be great is [if you could give] us an overview of the last year. When we saw you at Health 2.0 last — what you were beginning to present at the earliest stages, I believe, were data that BodyMedia had collected that could then be used in partnership with health plans and larger healthcare organizations.
October 1st marks the first ever public exchange open enrollment season. This means some of the speculation around consumer awareness and understanding, enrollment/uptake, premiums, and payer participation (not to mention the technical readiness of the exchanges) will finally subside and give way to a clearer picture of the PPACA’s initial success in mandating individual health coverage.
Despite this approaching level of clarity, however, several very significant “blind-spots” will continue to persist, principally for the health insurance carriers that choose to participate by offering PPACA compliant plans in the exchange.
This is due to the law’s guaranteed issue mandate prohibiting health carriers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions. As a result, the traditional enrollment process which consists of a comprehensive assessment of each applicant’s health status and risk cast against the backdrop of time-tested underwriting guidelines is completely thrown out.
What takes its place is an extremely limited data set (i.e., the member’s age, tobacco/smoking status, geographic region, and family size) from which carriers can determine pre-approved premiums and variability therein. To use an analogy, health insurance companies no longer have a “bouncer at the door” turning people away, or a sign reading No shirt, No shoes, No service at the entrance.
In other words, everyone, regardless of their risk profile, must now be welcomed in with open arms and with very limited risk-adjusted rates.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the enrolling population comprised a well understood risk pool representing a true cross-section of the population. The reality, however, is that a predominantly unknown and potentially unhealthy population will flood the individual health insurance marketplace in a two weeks just as most states quickly phase out their high-risk pre-existing condition pools and shift them into the exchanges.
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), health insurers are scrambling to reinvent themselves for a new era. In an earlier post, I quoted Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini as saying he wants to create a business model that makes sense under the new rules and regulations. In a recent speech Bertolini explained, “We need to move the system from underwriting risk to managing populations. We want to have a different relationship with the providers, physicians and hospitals we do business with.”
Starting with Aetna, this analysis will examine the ways that insurance companies are trying to reinvent themselves for a reformed health care delivery system that often wonders why we need health insurers at all.
Early this year, Aetna decided to evolve “’from an insurance carrier to a health solutions company.” ”The head of brand and consumer marketing at Aetna stated, “’More and more, the end consumer is who we need to focus on.’” Aetna has developed Care Pass Platform, an agnostic tool that all consumers can use to aggregate and organize their fitness, medical, insurance and nutrition data. Aetna is also partnering with Medicity to provide smartphone apps for providers and iTriage to provide apps for consumers.