Lost in the weeds of President Obama’s budget proposal is a 10-year, $11 billion reduction in Medicare funding for graduate medical education (GME). GME is the “residency” part of medical training, in which medical school graduates (newly minted MDs and DOs) spend 3-7 years learning the ropes of their specialties in teaching hospitals across the country.
Medicare currently spends almost $10 billion annually on GME. One-third of that is for “Direct Medical Education” (DME), which pays teaching hospitals so that they in turn can provide salaries and benefits to residents (current salaries average around $50,000/year, regardless of specialty; there are variances by region). No problem there.
The proposed cuts come from the Medicare portion known as “Indirect Medical Education” (IME) payments. Though IME accounts for two-thirds of the Medicare GME pie, it’s not easy for hospitals to itemize what exactly it is they provide for this significant amount of funding. Instead, hospitals bill Medicare based on a complex algorithm that includes the ‘resident-to-bed’ ratio, among other variables.
A 2009 Rand Corporation study commissioned by Medicare to evaluate aspects of residency training called on the government to tie IME payments directly to improvements in educational and hospital quality, lest the money be perceived to be going down a series of non-specific sinkholes. That idea has caught on, and legislators in both parties now see the healthy IME slice of Medicare education funding as a plum target for cost-cutting, as the direct benefits are difficult to enumerate, let alone quantify.
This has medical educators very worried that we will have to do more with much less (disclosure: I am one).
The Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) policy written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires health insurance companies to deliver more direct value to consumers by mandating that they spend a higher percentage of premium dollars collected on medical care, as opposed to administrative costs.
The new law requires that at least 85 percent of all premium dollars collected by insurance companies for large employer plans be spent on healthcare services and quality improvement. For plans sold to individuals and small employers, at least 80 percent of the premium must be spent on benefits and quality improvement. If insurance companies do not meet these goals because of administrative costs or high profits, they must provide rebates to consumers starting in 2012.
While much debate exists on if this is requirement is “fair,” those on both side of the argument can agree that any reduction in administrative costs is a step in the right direction, especially if it frees up dollars to be spent in areas that will directly impact members. Moving beyond politics and percentages, payers can save up to 30-50 percent in operating costs when working with a partner to streamline back office processes. Examples include:
- Claims processing, billing and provider maintenance: By outsourcing standard transactional services, payers can increase data quality and accelerate turnaround time on claims processing and lower costs.
- Enrollment processing: Payers can turn to partners to handle standard enrollment functions including setting up new member accounts, staffing call centers for member questions and issuing satisfaction surveys.
- Auditing solutions: Recovering funds from incorrectly paid claims is a service payers can outsource that can recoup funds by having an outsourcing partner track and even litigate wrongful payment claims on an insurance company’s behalf.
- Customer care: Using a partner to help communicate plan information and answer questions from members allows payers to focus on quality of care and new product introduction, while reducing costs and complying with regulatory demands.Continue reading…
Senator Max Baucus recently admitted that he never read the new health care law. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to re-write it after the fact, in a way that would drive more health plans from the market and give consumers less choice.
The new law reduces choice of health plans by giving government the power to control the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) — the amount of dollars an insurer spends on medical care divided by the total premiums. Policies that cover large businesses will have to achieve an MLR of 85 percent, while those for small businesses and individuals will have to achieve an MLR of 80 percent. This sounds simple but leaves many issues unresolved.
Calculating he MLR can be quite complicated — especially when the government gets involved. Suppose, for example, an insurer invests in information technology that it gives to patients or providers in its network in order to improve co-ordination of care. Is that a medical cost?
Furthermore, the MLR regulation is deadly for increasingly popular consumer-directed plans. Suppose a traditional policy costs $4,000 and spends $3,400 on patient care, for an MLR of 85.00. With the consumer-directed policy, the patient controls $800 more of the medical spending than with the traditional policy, through a higher deductible, and his premium goes down by $800. In this case the MLR goes down to 81.25 ($2,600/$3,200). There is no real difference, but the new regulation could require insurers to rebate $120 — the amount by which the ratio falls short of the required MLR. (In real life, the consumer-directed plan would have lower total costs than in this simple arithmetical example, because cutting out the middleman and giving more health dollars to patients to control themselves motivates them to get better value for money.)