As financial pressures impinge the health care system, the various players sometimes seek legislation to protect their interests. I have heard of two such situations in Massachusetts, and I offer them for your consideration and your comments.
The first involves emergency ambulance service. Earlier this year, several of the major insurers in the state stopped reimbursing out-of-network ambulance providers, and instead started to send the checks to patients who used those ambulances. Those ambulance companies now have to try to collect from people for payments, and they are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
(This only relates to emergency calls, not routine transfers. For routine transfers, ambulance providers already agreed to be reimbursed at agreed-upon rates with insurers and municipalities.)
I can understand why the insurers want to use lower cost ambulance services, but I have trouble imagining a more cruel thing than approaching a patient or a patient’s family after an emergency situation (which perhaps led to long-lasting disability or death) to collect funds that the insurers have sent to the family. It is also inherently inefficient and adds costs if the ambulance companies have to try collect funds from hundreds of individual patients rather than the few insurance companies.
Rep. Jim Cantwell of Marshfield has filed a bill to force insurers to pay EMS providers, and it has a cost-control provision that would give ultimate rate-setting power to local selectmen. The Fire Chiefs Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association and Massachusetts Hospital Association support this bill. This sounds like one that, in legislative parlance, “ought to pass.”
Then there is a proposal that comes out of the growth of tiered networks, in which insurers charge higher co-pays or otherwise limit coverage to patients who choose higher cost providers. Well, it turns out that some of those high-cost providers are seeking legislation that would require insurers to include them in the low-cost tier of the network. The two fields at play are pediatrics and cancer care. The providers’ argument is that they offer essential services not available at other providers, or that they offer similar services but at higher quality.Continue reading…
What makes a state’s health insurance successful for its citizens? It should be affordable, it should cover a lot of people, and it should manage its members well, keeping people healthy as measured both by preventive care as well as actual health outcomes.
It turns out that, using those criteria, the state with the highest Health Insurance Success Score (HISS) is Massachusetts. One would expect high quality, good outcomes and of course close to 100% coverage in the Bay State, but it also — quite surprisingly — ranks 5th in affordability, as described below.
Hawaii is a very close second. (One could also argue that Hawaii’s circumstances are unique and non-comparable because that state differentially attracts and retains healthy residents, but the analysis eschewed all subjectivity and second-guessing of the data.) Texas is last, one point behind Arkansas. In both the best and worst listings, there is a noticeable gap between the two states at the extremes and their respective runner-up pelotons.
Almost everyone thinks we should insure the uninsured.I don’t recall even a single dissenter. Yet it is precisely when everyone agrees on something that thinking begins to get very sloppy. So let me be the devil’s advocate and challenge the idea.
Why do we want to insure the uninsured? Forget about the costs, for a moment. Are there any benefits? What are they? I can think of four candidates. If people are insured:
They may get more health care.
They may get better care.
They will enjoy protection from the financial effects of catastrophic illness.
They will be less likely to be free riders on the charity of others.
The first three items are “it’s for his own good” benefits and, frankly, the case for them is pretty lame — especially in the context of RomneyCare and ObamaCare. If you expand the demand for health care but do nothing to increase supply, people in the aggregate will not be able to get more care. One person’s gain in care will be offset by someone else’s loss. (At least that tends to be the case, when the principal currency patients use to pay for care is time and not money.) Since the costs of non-price rationing will rise in the process, the whole exercise must make society as a whole worse off.
The same objection applies to the idea of “better care.” Better care for one person must be obtained at someone else’s expense, if the supply of medical resources is unchanged.
[I suppose you could make an additional argument: If we insure the uninsured, they will have a better chance of getting a “fair share” of health care. In other words, care will be distributed more equally. While that argument makes sense in the abstract, it doesn’t work if you segregate the previously uninsured into plans that pay providers below-market rates — as both RomneyCare and ObamaCare do — and cause them be pushed to the rear of the waiting lines. See below.]
A “government takeover of health care” is back. At least it is in the mind of New Jersey governor Chris Christie. In an interview with talk radio show host Dom Giordano, the governor, who supports Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, dished out strong clues about how Republicans are going to fight the health reform law. The weapon of choice: Frank Luntz’s focus-group tested messages. On the show Christie showed he was in sync with Romney’s defense of the Massachusetts reform law, which Romney’s administration supported and which later became the model for national reform. But to distance himself from the federal law, Romney has said what was good for Massachusetts at the time may not be good for the rest of the country. And Christie has said that what happened in the Bay State “would not be good for New Jersey.”
On the show, Christie urged the president to tell the truth about the reform law. What truth would Christie tell?
I’d say to the president, in Massachusetts, we didn’t propose to raise taxes, as you proposed to raise taxes a trillion dollars to pay for a government takeover of health care…. Ninety-three percent of the people in Massachusetts had private insurance then and have private insurance now. That’s not what’s gonna happen under Obamacare. It’s gonna be a government takeover of health care.
Really, Governor? As Campaign Desk has repeatedly noted, the health reform law does not call for a government takeover of health care. The law simply brings private insurance to people who are uninsured. You know, the kind sold by those giants of the American insurance business—UnitedHealth Group, Blue Cross, Cigna, and Humana—which just posted a large profit gained mostly from selling private Medicare Advantage plans to seniors.
Much of the national press took a pass last week on another important “study says” story out of Massachusetts. This is the second time in the last month where the national media missed a story with implications for the success of health reform. The latest report, which came from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, showed that Massachusetts residents have different views about what’s causing the high prices of medical care than do the state and national policy wonks who are framing the solutions. What a surprise! We have repeatedly reported that the public is disconnected from what the pols are saying. Why should we be astonished they are not in step with the policy community?
The study, says lead researcher Dr. Robert Blendon, found that the public generally believes the cost problem stems from excessive charges by drug companies, insurers, and hospitals. Why not doctors? “Doctors have managed to present a picture in the state that they are not the reason why costs are rising. It speaks to the efficacy of the physicians’ campaign that their fees are not high enough,” Blendon told me. Indeed, doctors around the country have mounted local media campaigns to build their case that Medicare’s fee cuts will result in patients not getting care. Furthermore, the state media have focused mostly on the duel between hospitals and insurers, and that’s the message the public has received.
Last week the Census Bureau released new numbers showing that 5.6 percent of the population in Massachusetts remained without health insurance coverage. That’s a 42 percent drop in the number of the state’s uninsured since the law took effect in 2006. A new study by the Cambridge Health Alliance, one of the state’s safety net providers, showed who was left out, putting a human face on those without insurance. The findings are illuminating given that the Bay State’s health law is the model for the national law, which takes full effect in 2014, and the Romney-Perry feud often flares up around the topic of health reform in the state.
The local press, primarily the Boston Globe and WBUR, covered the story; the national media whiffed on its implications for federal reform. If reform in Massachusetts cut the number of uninsured roughly in half, the same is likely to happen nationally, according to government data. The latest Census Bureau numbers show that nearly fifty million people have no health coverage; the Congressional Budget Office estimates about twenty-three million will be still be uninsured later in the decade. It was as if the national media has forgotten that Massachusetts is a harbinger of what will happen nationally. Or perhaps it’s easier for the national media to cover the he said/he said back and forth between Perry and Romney.
Why don’t we think about the Exchanges as a place for people to choose their health care, not just their health insurance?
As the Exchanges are being designed, we have a great opportunity to rethink how to help people choose a physician for their care, but our current mindset may get in the way of developing innovative approaches.
Under the Affordable Care Act, each state is expected to establish “health benefit exchanges” for individuals and small employers in order to “facilitate the purchase of qualified health plans.” This is consistent with the concept of health insurance exchanges that has been developed over many decades. In this model – used by many large employers as well as existing exchanges such as CBIA’s Health Connections and the Massachusetts Health Connector – the individual consumer or employee is given a choice among several health insurers.
The consumers are given information about the quality, patient satisfaction, and provider networks of each insurer to help them choose the one that best meets their needs, and healthy competition among the health insurers is expected to drive improved value for consumers. The consumer makes this choice upon initial enrollment and annually thereafter. Once the consumer has chosen an insurer, the second step is to choose a provider from the list of providers with which the insurers has contracts. It is seen as a two-step process: (1) choose an insurer, and (2) choose a provider.Continue reading…
1) Hospital administrators assume that tighter physician-hospital integration (e.g., through employment of physicians) will result in ”captive referrals” by physicians back to the mother-ship hospital.
2) Medicare administrators are assuming that Medicare Shared Savings ACOs will be able to coordinate patient care even without limitations on patients’ choice to go to providers outside of the ACO provider network.
Here’s the data that challenges the validity of BOTH of these assumptions:
Particularly for provider systems where hospitals and physicians are jointly at risk for the quality and cost of patients’ care, and have worked together to coordinate and improve care, we would expect to see physicians referring to their partner hospital more often. However, for the two physician-hospital provider systems in Massachusetts with the most years of experience managing referrals for HMO/POS patients under a global payment, one health insurer’s 2009 referral data shows that only 35-45% of adult inpatient care, as measured by revenue, goes to the partner hospital. That percentage can be even lower for providers with little to no experience managing where their patients receive specialist/hospital care, or under plan designs that do not require referrals. [emphasis added]
Back in 2008, Charlie Baker, then CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and I, then head of a hospital, claimed that the market power displayed by the dominant provider system in the state and supported by the state’s largest insurer resulted in a large disparity in health care payments. We argued that this disparity contributed to unnecessarily high health care costs in the state. We both did this publicly, willing to put our assertions to the test. The quotes in response to this in a Boston Globe story were notable, but they did little to undercut our premises.
About a year later, the Attorney General of the Commonwealth published an investigation of this situation, which had the effect of validating our assertions.
Then, the largest insurer in the state said that the solution to the problem was to move towards a capitated, or global, payment regime. This would control the cost trend.
Again, knowledgeable observers, like the Inspector General, raised concerns. What if the global payment regime also created disparities and locked in higher rates? He noted, “[M]oving to an ACO global payment system, if not done properly, also has the potential to inflate health care costs dramatically.”
I pointed out that, while a global payment plan might have certain theoretical advantages, without a transparent exposition of its effects, how could we know if it had been successful?Continue reading…