Honest Pay for Honest Work.
Times have changed. And it’s time they change again.
In the past, medical care was more episodic than it is now. People went to see the doctor when they felt unwell. Diabetes affected mostly older patients, who didn’t live long enough with the disease to develop complications.
There were no blockbuster drugs for high cholesterol, Hepatitis C, fibromyalgia or chronic heartburn; we didn’t manage nearly as many patients on multiple medications as we do now.
In those times, a payment scale based on the length and complexity of the visit made sense, and there wasn’t much doctor-patient interaction between visits.
Today, we manage more chronic conditions, use more medications, do more laboratory monitoring, more patient education, and more administrative work on behalf of our patients than before.
Payment scales based only on what we do in the face-to-face visit have become hopelessly antiquated and stand in the way of the new demands of society – physicians providing longitudinal care for chronic conditions in patient-centered medical homes.
A few observations from my travels and conversations in the marketplace:
About half of the enrollments are coming from people who were previously insured and half are not. When I try to gauge this, I go to carriers who had high market share before Obamacare and have maintained that through the first open enrollment. Some carriers have said only a small percentage of their enrollments had coverage before but health plans only would know who they insured before.
By sticking to the high market share carriers who have maintained a stable market share and knowing how many of their customers are repeat buyers, it’s possible to get a better sense for the overall market. Other conventional polls have suggested the repeat buyers are closer to two-thirds of the exchange enrollees.
The number of those in the key 18-34 demographic group improved only slightly during the last month of open enrollment so the average age is still high. The actuaries I talk to think this issue of average age is made to be far more important than it should be. It is better to have a young group than an old group. But remember, the youngest people pay one-third of the premium that older people pay.
The real issue is are we getting a large enough group to get the proper cross section of healthy and sick?
The bigger concern continues to be the relatively small number of previously uninsured people who have signed up compared to the size of the eligible group. The recent report released by Express Scripts reporting on very costly pharmacy claim experience from January and February enrollees is far more concerning than the average age.
A few weeks ago I parsed an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) I received from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts after a visit to Sports & Physical Therapy Associates, an excellent physical therapy center with 14 locations in Greater Boston. The post (What does an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) actually explain?) generated a number of comments and questions on the Health Business Blog itself and when it was cross-posted at KevinMD. In particular:
- What would a cash paying patient be asked to pay?
- How is the $225 in “charges” derived? Is it determined by Medicare?
- Does the provider lose money on the Blue Cross contracted rate?
I’m not a billing expert so I sent an email to Sports & PT to ask them to respond directly. I was impressed with their informative and thorough response, which I am posting here with their permission.
We would be happy to provide you with some insight into how insurance claims are processed. Please find your questions with the corresponding answers below.
When a patient first comes to our clinics, we provide them our Policy Disclosure document. I think you will find it valuable in understanding the relationship between patient and provider, patient and insurance carrier, and lastly, provider and insurance carrier. Here is the first paragraph:
“Sports and Physical Therapy Associates (SPTA) is pleased to participate in your health care and we look forward to establishing a lasting relationship as your physical therapy provider. As part of this relationship, we wish to establish our expectations of your financial responsibility as outlined in our Financial Policy. Letting you know in advance of our Financial Policy allows for a good flow of communication and enables us to better satisfy you. Your medical insurance is a contract between you and your insurance company; we are not a party to that contract. We can often help with providing information about your benefits, but you are primarily responsible for knowing what type of coverage you have and for any charges that you have incurred as a patient with us. Please review and sign the following Financial Policy prior to your first visit.”