Category: Healthcare

Why Budgeting For Health Care Is Near Impossible

DataHealthcare

The average millennial will spend between 1/2 and 2/3 of their lifetime earnings on healthcare. This jaw-dropping estimate, outlined in David Goldhill’s book Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know about Health Care Is Wrong, is the perfect picture of how, for Americans, the new normal involves personally budgeting for healthcare expenses. Unfortunately it’s not an easy task to break healthcare costs down to what comes out of our personal pockets.

Divided equally among each person in the U.S., healthcare’s overall price tag averages out to over $10,000 per person each year—a whopping 18% of U.S. GDP. Since employers provide 48% of the healthcare coverage in the U.S. this burden has fallen heavily on their shoulders, and, as a consequence, they have shared this cost burden with employees. The growing popularity of high deductible health plans and copays means employees are sharing a larger portion of these healthcare costs, and as such, the average person needs to budget for these costs in their financial planning.

Healthcare Costs: What Employers Pay, What Employees Pay

The Milliman Medical Index estimates medical costs each year as they relate to employer and employee contributions. Based on data from 2018, healthcare for a family of 4 in the United States costs $28,166. Of this total cost, $15,788 comes from the employer, while the employee contributes on average $7,674, with an additional $4,704 paid by the employee for out of pocket for deductibles and copays.

Here’s a snapshot of the cost breakdown for employer-sponsored health insurance:

The 2018 Milliman Medical Index estimates the total cost of healthcare for a family of 4 to be $28,166; $15,788 of this comes from the employer, $7,674 comes from the employee, and an additional $4,704 is paid by the employee in the form of deductibles and copays.

*2019 ACA Out of Pocket Maximums are $7,900/individual and $15,800/family.

These estimates are sound breakdowns based on large amounts of employer-sponsored plan data from Milliman. But do they truly inform how an individual can budget for their own healthcare expenses? Unfortunately the answer to this question is not so easy.

What Factors Influence Individual Health Spending

To understand how to budget for individual health expenses, we need to look at the levers that influence healthcare costs. And there are several factors which could cause individual health costs to largely vary. These factors are:

1.      Age and Gender. Not surprisingly, actual health costs can vary greatly based on an individual’s age and gender. The figure below from the Peterson Kaiser Health System Tracker breaks down the American population by age, and then demonstrates each age group’s share of overall health spending.

The Peterson Kaiser Health System Tracker breaks down the American population by age, and then demonstrates each age group's share of overall health spending.

2.      Individual health status. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer have a marked impact on someone’s personal healthcare costs. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) report that 90% of the nation’s $3.3 trillion dollars in healthcare spending is for people with chronic and mental health conditions.

3.      Geographic area. Differences in the costs of labor, rents and taxes in different geographic regions affect healthcare costs. Furthermore, areas of the country with more technological advances will have higher utilization rates of healthcare, further contributing to cost differences.

4.      Provider variation. A frequently criticized hallmark of the healthcare industry is that provider costs can vary widely depending on where an individual goes to seek treatment. Furthermore, different payment methodologies, pre-negotiated payment rates and capitated rates can affect healthcare costs.

5.      Insurance coverage. Richer health insurance plans tend to have higher utilization rates than budget options with less coverage. In addition, who is paying for the procedure can affect the ultimate cost. For example, what a provider is paid from Medicare (which, as demonstrated in the figure below, provides 14% of all coverage in the U.S.) and what they are paid under an employer-sponsored plan for the same exact procedure could be two different costs.

CMS breaks down the source of health cost coverage in the United States by coverage provided by employers, Medicare, Medicaid, the individual market, and other forms of coverage, while also factoring in the number of uninsured in the U.S.

What Healthcare is Costing and What is Coming Out of Our Personal Pockets Are Two Completely Different Things

In short, the reason why budgeting for individual health costs is so challenging is because our system of how we pay for healthcare masks the true cost of healthcare. The subsidization in the health insurance market muddies the waters for anyone trying to budget for their own personal healthcare costs. And just in case this wasn’t confusing enough, the rules that govern this system which determine things like out of pocket maximums, in addition to insurance rates, change every year.

An individual trying to budget for their own expenses can use a best-guess of looking at their annual share of healthcare premiums and their average out of pocket costs each year. This assumes that their own past health expenses are the best way to predict future expenses. But even this approach is not perfect. Understanding how the $170/person cost of healthcare in 1960 made up only 5% of US GDP, compared to healthcare’s current share at 18% of GDP…the past might not always be the best predictor of the future where healthcare is concerned.

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About BetaXAnalytics:

We combine data science with clinical, pharmacy and wellness expertise to guide employers and providers into a data deep-dive that is more comprehensive than any data platform on the market today. BetaXAnalytics uses the power of their health data “for good” to improve the cost and quality of health care. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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Analytics For Employers: A Tutorial (Part 2)

Healthcare

A succinct guide on how to use analytics to save money on healthcare.

Over the past 3 years, the most common question we have heard from employers and brokers is this: health analytics is good, but what do we do with the dataWell, we are going to answer that question in this very post. That’s right, we’re sharing all the most actionable areas we look at for self-insured employers to help them to gain control over their spending. Some may say that we’re giving away our secrets, but we don’t see it that way. Our mission for employers is to make them savvy health care consumers, so making information transparent is what we do. Furthermore, it’s important to open up conversations on how organizations are using analytic data, because these conversations will help to advance insight and foresight so employers can use their data to create, track and refine a long-term strategy for the benefits they offer.

In Part 1 of this post we established that for employers, the best strategy for using health analytics moves beyond simply looking at spending to enter the realm of strategic benefit planning. This is the limitation of traditional healthcare analytics. Over the next decade, we will continue to see employers move away from watching spending go up and down and move towards looking at data in a way that provides both insight and foresight into population health. The next evolution of employer analytics informs a deeper understanding of who associates are, the benefits that will attract the best talent, and identifying the optimal strategy for funding these next-generation benefits packages.

To start, we pulled together a list of areas that any employer can explore if they want to ensure they’re using data to guide their spending decisions on health benefits. We’ve broken this into 3 sections: 1) Goals, 2) What’s Actionable? and 3) Areas of Insight.

Beginning with the end in mind, here are the top goals that self-insured employers have when it comes to monitoring their health spending:

Goals:

1.      To cut excess and wasteful healthcare spending and to accurately project future spending. Approximately 20% of an employer’s healthcare spending is wasted due to unnecessary and preventable costs. Open access to data helps to inform employers on exactly what areas are driving wasteful spending and how to better predict future spending.

2.      Identify strategies to support associates on their health journeys. While 5% of people drive 51% of health costs, 50% of plan members account for only 3% of health spending. Understanding how to support the unique, complex health needs of members affects a company’s bottom line in both healthcare costs and employee productivity.

3.      Track progress on the current healthcare and wellbeing strategy. An unbiased evaluation of a healthcare program is eye-opening. Not only does it guide the strategic evolution of an employer’s healthcare strategy, it may reveal opportunities to recoup hefty vendor performance guarantees.

4.      Make sure members are getting the preventative medical attention they need. We consistently see that between 10%-20% of members never see a doctor. It’s within this group of people who are notdriving costs today where an employer’s greatest future healthcare risks can lie.

In order to meet these goals, an organization needs to identify what exactly can be actionable. It’s easy to spot the costs that stick out, but when is it too late to intervene on a cost-driver? Here are the most common areas where employers can focus to influence spending, care quality, preventative care, and effectiveness of condition management.

What Is Actionable?

·        The plan’s pharmacy formulary (with some limitations based on the PBM partner).

·        The plan’s rules surrounding specialty medications.

·        The healthcare partners the employer selects (health plan, PBM, condition management services, smoking cessation, behavioral health services, direct primary care, centers of excellence).

·        Plan contributions, deductibles and coinsurance paid by employees for their healthcare benefit, emergency room surcharges, spousal surcharges, smoker surcharges, stop loss arrangements.

·        Cost variation among high cost and/or high volume services (MRIs, musculoskeletal surgeries, cancer care, etc).

·        Effectiveness of member education on health benefits.

·        Targeted wellbeing services offered to members.

Now that we’ve laid out the goals of using data and the areas that are actionable, here are some specific questions to answer when looking at the data.

Areas of insight.

1.      Which conditions and medications represent the largest population health risks? How do these conditions vary by both dollars spent and number of people affected?

2.      Can amending prescription drug policies surrounding step therapy, specialty drugs, generics, place of service/purchase lead to savings for members?

3.      Does the member base have a problem with emergency room (ER) misuse and are certain locations or member categories driving ER costs?

4.      Do changes in member risk score, medication adherence and prevalent disease states such as diabetes show that your investments in condition management, smoking cessation and wellbeing interventions are working? Could performance guarantee fees be recovered from vendors?

5.      Are there trends noticeable related to members who are not engaging with physicians at all? Through looking at healthcare utilization among work location, salary bands, plan types—can we identify trends as to why certain people are not using necessary health services? These barriers to accessing care could be cost, lack of understanding of benefits, and even corporate culture, among others.

6.      What percentage of people are receiving preventative care and age-appropriate screenings among various member demographics?

7.      What are the largest cost variances that can be actionable? For example, could costs associated with procedures such as joint and hip replacement surgery or even MRIs be standardized via options that are available to your members? (Could centers of excellence be leveraged?)

8.      Could a direct primary care model have benefit for the member population?

9.      Are there actionable insights with respect to absence data and workers compensation claims?

10.  What is the size and scope (in dollars and members) of opioid use and dependency-related costs?

In the same way that reading an abstract is not the same as reading the book, please keep in mind that this is a very brief overview of a complex subject.* Every employer has unique challenges related to population health and health spending, so there’s is no real “one size fits all” approach. The data drives the discussion in a unique direction for each employer.

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About BetaXAnalytics:

We combine data science with clinical, pharmacy and wellness expertise to guide employers and providers into a data deep-dive that is more comprehensive than any data platform on the market today. BetaXAnalytics uses the power of their health data “for good” to improve the cost and quality of health care. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

* A Note on Data Privacy The purpose of using health analytics is to identify actionable areas to target costs and to improve effectiveness of care options on an aggregate level. This is done by looking at trends in data and under no circumstances should insights be presented to an employer in a way where data is individually identifiable. There are a number of data-related best practices that we recommend to remain adherent to privacy laws. Any employer, broker or consultant who is using health analytics should do so under strict adherence to HIPAA regulations and under the advisement of an experienced data privacy attorney.

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Analytics For Employers: A Tutorial (Part 1)

DataHealthcare

It’s been almost 3 years since we started BetaXAnalytics with the goal of using data science to offer strategic guidance to employers and providers on healthcare spending and services. Since opening our doors, we’ve spent a lot of time talking with companies who pay for healthcare for their employees, as well as the brokers and consultants who help to guide these decisions. At the same time, we’ve spent time taking a look at many of the analytic tools that are on the market right now—these are the technology platforms that provide spending transparency to employers and their brokers.

From day 1 when we started these customer interviews, one resounding theme was apparent. The biggest question we heard from employers and their brokers is simply this: Having data is good…but what do you do with it?

3 years later, this is still the most common question we hear. We see this recurring question from employers and their brokers as a symptom of the early-stage maturity of the employer health analytics market. In short, over the past decade as more self-insured employers use health data to help to manage their spending, we haven’t moved too far from the starting line.

Anyone who is familiar with the general progression of analytics will recognize the analytic maturity model below.

At its most basic level, health care analytics is often pigeonholed into “counting things.” Counting dollars, counting medications, counting members…and watching these numbers go up and down. So every time we get the question, “What do you do with the data?” this just reaffirms that most employers are still in the dark with respect to using data to drive their benefits strategy. This type of “analytics” examines only the past and gives very little insight into the 4 critical areas of focus as a healthcare purchaser (which we explain in Part 2 of this post).

After seeing many of the analytic tools on the market today, we can confidently assert that that the market for using health analytics to control employer healthcare spending is here:


Having data is good…but what do you do with it? This recurring question is a symptom of the low analytic maturity of the current state of employer health analytics—that is to say, we pay for access to data, but it’s rarely actionable. “Analytics” in this stage is synonymous with “counting” and data is hindsight-focused on reporting what has already happened.

The current state of employer analytics is a good start, but it barely scratches the surface of the strategic potential of analytics. Tracking spending is important, but true analytics go far beyond just spending to understand insights into your population health, designing and tracking programs to target conditions and support mental health, and even to provide insight into how well benefits are being communicated to employees. When we move past hindsight analytics to incorporate insight and foresight, we move past counting things, and to the realm of strategic benefit planning. This means developing a deeper understanding of who associates are, the benefits that will attract the best talent, and identifying the optimal strategy for funding these next-generation benefits packages. As with so many initiatives that fall under the Human Resources / Human Capital umbrella—including talent acquisition and retention, compensation, healthcare, engagement, benefits, wellbeing—the most strategic analytics should consider all of these areas. This is the future of analytics—and the future is here.

About BetaXAnalytics:

We combine data science with clinical, pharmacy and wellness expertise to guide employers and providers into a data deep-dive that is more comprehensive than any data platform on the market today. BetaXAnalytics uses the power of their health data “for good” to improve the cost and quality of health care. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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Healthcare’s Next Disruptors: Employers

Healthcare

The cost of healthcare in the United States is rapidly rising with no end in sight, and this cost problem is hitting the American worker’s pocket in a more profound way than ever in history. Healthcare in the U.S. is now at 18% of US GDP at a cost of over $10,000 per person annually. To put this into perspective, healthcare costs in 1960 were 5% of U.S. GDP ($170/person). 

Here’s what not everyone knows: on the other side of this problem of rising healthcare costs are pockets of people effecting serious change—these people are employers.

Forward thinking employers and the HR leaders responsible for making their healthcare decisions are thinking outside of the box to find health care models that are more effective at keeping employees healthy. These are people who are rejecting the traditional benefits model of disjointed, piecemeal solutions. Instead, these employers are using data to form a comprehensive strategy to ensure their healthcare dollars are keeping members healthy.

Consider the following developments in 2018 alone as an indication of the trends we’re seeing in the employer market:

  • Solution Scale: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced in early 2018 their formation of a healthcare alliance to tackle finding more effective care models for their combined employee base of 1.2 million people.
  • Accountability: The National Drug Purchasing Coalition (NDPC), whose members include employers like PepsiCo and ExxonMobil, has partnered with Express Scripts to form a fully-transparent model where the NDPC pays what Express Scripts pays for prescription drugs. In turn, Express Scripts will administer a pay-for-performance clinical care model that shifts the financial risk previously borne by employers onto the prescription drug plan administrator.
  • Emphasis on Health Outcomes: GM announced a deal with the Detroit-based hospital system Henry Ford Health System for a direct contracting healthcare model for its 24,000 employees and family members
  • Using Data to Guide Health Strategy: Morgan Stanley recently announced that they have created a chief medical officer role to oversee their use of HR data and analytics. Said Morgan Stanley’s Chief Human Resources Officer Jeff Brodsky, “Harnessing our HR data, we can achieve better wellness for our employees and address rising healthcare costs.”
  • Making Healthcare Easier for Employees: Amazon and Apple have joined the 30% of employers that offer onsite medical clinics for employees and their families.

If your company is looking to help to effect change in this healthcare revolution, here are a few ways to start:

1.     Shift financial risk. Seek partners who are willing to step outside of the traditional fee-for-service healthcare models that currently put the highest financial risk on the employer (and in turn, employees). Instead, shift financial risk to care providers and other partners who directly impact health outcomes. Direct primary care is a great example of this type of accountable care model. 

2.     Gain data transparency. Get access to timely and ongoing data to drive your healthcare benefit decisions. It is easy to get inundated by mountains of complex data and trying to aggregate it with location and other benefits data, so we recommend that employers assign a strategic data subject matter expert to drive the discussion. This is what the team at BetaXAnalytics does—as data scientists with clinical, pharmacy and wellness expertise, our deep-dive into employer data is more comprehensive than any data platform on the market today.

3.     Remove barriers. Think about ways to remove the barriers that prevent employees and their families from getting the care that they need—the financial barriers, the time constraints and convenience barriers. Onsite clinics and telemedicine are just a couple of examples of strategies to make healthcare convenient and inexpensive for employees.

“Employers taking healthcare into their own hands is the most meaningful way we can change healthcare in this country”


~Bret Jackson, president of The Economic Alliance for Michigan, a member of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions

This week we presented at the Strategic HR Conference at Mount Washington to Chief Human Resource Officers and HR leaders throughout the Northeast to share best practices on how HR leaders can use data to drive their health and benefits strategy in a way that maximizes their healthcare budget. If you’re interested in learning more, email me.

Who pays for healthcare in the U.S.? We all do. By way of taxes and out of pocket premiums, we all contribute to these costs that flow largely through the government and employers. And the more informed the people are who are paying for healthcare become, the more we can effect change.

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About BetaXAnalytics:

If you’re an employer who feels there’s got to be a better way to control health care costs, you’re on to something. And we can help. BetaXAnalytics partners with employers to use the power of their health data “for good” to improve the cost and quality of their health care. By combining PhD-level expertise with the latest technology, they help employers to become savvy health consumers, to save health dollars and to better target health interventions to keep employees well. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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Employers Are Using an Innovative Way to Soften the Financial Burden of High Deductible Health Plans

Healthcare

As a healthcare data technology company, the most common question we hear from employers is, “how can we lower our healthcare spending?” The high cost of healthcare has a significant impact on employer expenses. The Milliman Medical Index projects that in 2018 the average premium for a family of four is $28,166. While the magnitude of health costs is a reality for our employer clients, finding an effective way to manage these high costs is often their first priority.

When we drill down into cost-drivers, we consistently see a startling theme across employers—that only 5% of people are driving 51% of healthcare spending. A very small group of people with chronic conditions (such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer) are contributing to half of the total health spending. While this disproportionate spending is a reality within employer populations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, this also holds true for Americans as a whole.

As a way to manage the rising cost of healthcare, nearly 40% of adults are covered by what is known as a high-deductible health plan. Under this model, employees share in a greater share of their health expenses, responsible for on average $5,248 of out of pocket medical costs each year. The thinking behind this way of cost-sharing with employees is that when employees are responsible for paying a greater share of their health expenses, that they will become better healthcare consumers by shopping for the best prices and avoiding unnecessary procedures. 

Unfortunately, in many of these cases the high out-of-pocket medical costs cause financial hardship on many people. A survey from the Kaiser Family Health Foundation found that 1/3 of adults have trouble paying their medical bills, and 73% have cut back on spending on food, clothing or basic household items to pay their medical bills. The Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households, an annual survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board, found that 44 percent of adult Americans claim they would not have $400 in case of an emergency without turning to credit cards, family and friends, or selling their own possessions. When those who are financially strapped have mounting healthcare bills, the consequences can be personally devastating. A 2015 poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 26 percent of those who took part in the survey claimed medical bills caused severe damage to their household’s financial wellbeing.

Because the impact of high healthcare deductibles causes such a financial hardship for individuals and their families, many recent studies have shown that this type of health plan causes individuals to delay necessary healthcare. Researchers from UC Berkeley and Harvard studied the results of a large employer’s choice to offer a high deductible plan over 2 years. Instead of finding evidence to support the theory that high-deductible plans make people take more charge of their health spending, they found no evidence to show that employees were comparing costs or cutting unnecessary services once they had a high healthcare deductible. They cut low-value health services at the same rate as they were cutting important medical services, causing the employer to question whether members were making the right choices for their long term health. Additional studies have found that the danger of high deductible health plans is that their members with the highest health risks have shown that they avoid necessary care and medications due to cost. 

On the other side of the phenomenon that 5% of people drive 51% of health costs, we see another theme that is equally surprising—half of plan members contribute to only 3% of total health spending. That’s right—a large proportion of costs come from a small number of people, yet a large number of people contribute very little to overall costs. Why is this? 

At BetaXAnalytics, when we look at employer utilization of health services we consistently find that between 10%-20% of members never see their doctor. These are the employees who either feel they simply “don’t have time” to see the doctor or “don’t have the money” to spend into their annual deductible. But it’s within this group of people who are not driving costs today where an employer’s greatest healthcare risks can lie. 

The answer for employers? Make it as easy as possible for members to get the care they need. One effective way to ensure that people aren’t avoiding necessary care is to remove the traditional financial and convenience barriers that prevent employees from seeing the doctor. Hooray Health provides a template for employers to solve this problem. They afford first dollar coverage for preventative, basic and urgent care visits with $0 deductibles, and $25 copays for all in-network visits. Their innovative network consists of over 2,400 retail clinics and urgent care centers across the country with extended hours and no appointments necessary. They also provide access to telemedicine visits via phone 24-hours a day, 7 days a week at no cost which makes getting necessary care quick and easy, even when work and family schedules make it difficult to go into a doctor’s office. Their app-based tools and live medical concierge are available 24/7 make finding care easy and convenient. As an added benefit to address employee concerns about prescription costs, Hooray Health offers a prescription discount card to ensure employees that they are receiving competitive prices for their medications.

Hooray Health removes financial and convenience barriers that prevent people from getting the care they need by making access to necessary care easy, convenient, and free for employees. This type of solution is particularly useful for employers with high deductible health plans where high out of pocket costs may deter employees and their families from seeking the necessary care that they need. While solutions like these remove barriers to care, they also save employers money by providing an affordable alternative to many of the care services needed by their members. Providing easy-to-use concierge-based access to a network of retail clinics, urgent care centers and telemedicine doctors ensures that employee health won’t neglect their health due to lack of money or lack of time. You can learn more by contacting them at info@hoorayhealthcare.com

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About BetaXAnalytics:

If you’re an employer who feels there’s got to be a better way to control health care costs, you’re on to something. And we can help. BetaXAnalytics partners with employers to use the power of their health data “for good” to improve the cost and quality of their health care. By combining PhD-level expertise with the latest technology, they help employers to become savvy health consumers, to save health dollars and to better target health interventions to keep employees well. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

About Hooray Health:

Since its founding in 2017, Hooray Health has been committed to disrupting the health insurance industry by providing employers, individuals and their families with the assurance that their basic healthcare needs are covered. Here at Hooray Health, we believe that healthcare should be simple, honest, and affordable, that’s why whether you apply online or over the phone, the process is always simple, and acceptance is guaranteed. Partnered with over 2,300 urgent care and retail clinics, and a 24/7 medical concierge team, Hooray Health members know that no matter where they are or what time it is, their healthcare is there for them. Starting plans have a low monthly cost with no annual deductible, an affordable copay, and no surprise balance bills. Every day, Hooray Health is smashing the industry norms and bringing healthcare to all.

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Risk Adjustment: 5 Things You Should Know About the Latest in the Unraveling of the ACA

Healthcare

$10.4 billion is in limbo, representing roughly 11% of individual market health insurance premium dollars. This is the latest headline on the unraveling of the Affordable Care Act as the government recently made a disruptive announcement that they would be freezing risk adjustment payments that were expected to be paid in the fall. While on the surface this sounds like a doomsday scenario, healthcare’s future in America may look less bleak than it sounds. Here are 5 things you should know about this trending topic.

1.      What is Risk Adjustment?

Risk adjustment has played a big part in the ACA to encourage insurers to cover people regardless of their health status instead of cherry-picking the healthiest people. This is not to be confused with other ObamaCare subsidy programs. Instead, risk adjustment payments shuffle money from insurers with relatively healthy populations to insurers with unhealthy members. As a way to keep this system fair, insurers with the healthiest members pay money to those with the least healthy members to cover their more expensive costs of care. This system was designed to remain budget-neutral. This most recent decision to freeze risk adjustment payments equates to $10.4 billion tied to the individual and small group health insurance markets for the 2017 plan year. For reference, risk adjustment transfers play a large role in the current insurance system, comprising 11% of total premium dollars in the individual market in 2016. 

2.      What led to this announcement that risk adjustment payments would be suspended?

The government has announced that risk adjustment payments expected for the fall of 2018 would be frozen due to a February 2018 ruling of the US District Court for the District of New Mexico. This ruling pertained to a complaint made by a New Mexico insurer who claimed that the risk adjustment formula was inaccurate and was disproportionately rewarding larger insurers. The New Mexico federal judge on the case ruled that the risk adjustment formula is unfair because it uses the statewide average premium in the calculation, whereas some have argued that using the carrier’s own average premium would be fairer. It is interesting to note that this New Mexico ruling from February 2018 conflicts with a ruling in a similar case from just one month earlier in Massachusetts, where the federal court sided in favor of using the statewide average premiums in the risk adjustment methodology.

3.      Why should we care?

An announcement like this spreads chaos that comes with uncertainty during an already challenging time for American healthcare. Payers who were expecting risk adjustment payments prior to this freeze would lose billions, as presented in CMS’s recent summaryreport of the 2017 risk adjustment program.

Insurers’ 2019 rate filings are in progress, and the $10.4 billion in risk adjustment payments factor heavily in how these health insurance plans are priced. Furthermore, suspension of these payments in 2018 could lead to financial solvency challengers for insurers, which would lead to higher premiums.

4.      What do the experts say?

Despite the current uncertainty, many policy experts believe that the risk adjustment payment freeze will be lifted, and payments will be ultimately made in the fall. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a statement saying that the agency has asked the New Mexico court to reconsider its decision and expressed hope for a prompt resolution of the issue. 

5.      Where do we go from here?

The government could do a few things that would immediately fix this issue:

·        File an interim final rule which could address the risk adjustment formula concerns raised by the court  

·        Ask for a stay on the impact of the New Mexico court ruling

·        Appeal the ruling

·        Ask the court to clarify that the ruling only applies to plans sold in New Mexico

Whether any of these things will actually happen is still unknown. We can expect to hear the result of CMS’s request for reconsideration of the New Mexico decision, as well as CMS’s further clarification on the status of the risk adjustment payments in the near future.           

For more information on risk adjustment, the following sources provide a well-rounded view of the issue:

Politico – Obamacare Insurance Rate Hikes

CMS 2017 Summary Report Risk Adjustment 2017

Wall Street Journal – Trump’s Latest Affordable Care Act Move Adds to Insurers Uncertainty

The Incidental Economist – Taking a Dive on Risk Adjustment

Fierce Healthcare – Examining the Future of the ACA

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BetaXAnalytics combines clinical data science with emerging technology to improve the cost and quality of health care for payers, providers and employers. Our risk adjustment natural language processing tools help payers and providers to improve coding accuracy and to maximize their financial performance. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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How Much of Our Healthcare is “Waste”?

Healthcare

It’s no secret that healthcare costs in the United States are skyrocketing, as the latest estimates put our annual healthcare spending at 18% of the U.S. GDP. Furthermore, the health of Americans ranks among the worst compared to health outcomes in similar developed countries. This complex reality is aggravated by a number of problems. Much of the care that we receive is known as “fee-for-service”—we pay for each medical service or test we receive. What this means for patients is that the more they see their doctor, the more they pay. This is problematic for many Americans, as nearly 40% have a high deductible health plan where individuals are responsible for on average $5,248 of out of pocket medical expenses each year. A survey from the Kaiser Family Health Foundation found that 1/3 of adults have trouble paying their medical bills, and 73% have cut back on spending on food, clothing or basic household items to pay their medical bills. With the cost of healthcare in the U.S. being such a recognized problem, one of the many concerns that contributes to this issue is what is known as “low value care,” or in other terms, wasteful healthcare services. 

Choosing Wisely® is an international initiative that promotes facilitating conversations between patients and their doctors about the clinical need for low value care. The goal is to reduce wasteful medical tests and unnecessary health services.  As part of this initiative, over 80 partners have published an extensive list of clinically-vetted recommendations that represent medical best practices. A 2014 study of the Virginia All Payer Claims Database applied a list of these clinical recommendations and found that low cost, high volume health services contribute the most to unnecessary health spending; wasteful spending in this study was estimated at $538 million.

What does spending on wasteful healthcare services look like at an employer level? One of our clients, a large, self-insured employer, was interested in understanding if wasteful health spending was an area of concern for their members. To answer this question, we looked through 3 years of their medical and pharmacy claims to pull out services that were deemed “clinically wasteful.” From this data, we narrowed our focus to 11 specific measures of wasteful services which are based on areas of waste that are clinically validated under both the Choosing Wisely® initiative and HEDIS. These 11 areas are as follows:

  1. Don’t do imaging for an uncomplicated headache.
  2. Don’t perform PAP smears on women younger than 21.
  3. Don’t perform PAP smears on women who had hysterectomy for non-cancer disease.
  4. Don’t perform routine annual PAP tests in women 30–65 years of age.
  5. Don’t diagnose or manage asthma without spirometry.
  6. Members with a primary diagnosis of low back pain should not have an imaging study (plain x-ray, MRI, CT scan) within 28 days (4 weeks) of diagnosis.
  7. Don’t indiscriminately prescribe antibiotics for uncomplicated acute rhinosinusitis.
  8. Don’t order sinus computed tomography (CT) for uncomplicated acute rhinosinusitis.
  9. In the evaluation of simple syncope and normal neurological examination, don’t obtain brain imaging studies (CT or MRI).
  10. Don’t do CT for evaluation of suspected appendicitis in children until after ultrasound has been considered.
  11. Don’t recommend follow-up imaging for clinically inconsequential adnexal cysts.

Out of the entire member population consisting of employees, spouses and children who were covered under the company’s health benefits, there were 2515 members who received care in the 11 categories of care that we studied. Our study found that half (1274) of these people received medical services that are considered clinically wasteful.

15.5% of spending in these 11 categories was considered to be wasteful. Out of $1.47 million spent on care within these 11 categories, $229k was spent on these clinically wasteful services. 

There are a few limitations to keep in mind while evaluating these measures of waste. First, we examined 11 out of over 500 clinical best practices. This is because we wanted to focus on data points that were more accurately represented by claims data, as EMR notes were not available as part of this study. What we measured were specific types of waste and we did not calculate the total amount of “healthcare waste” in this employer’s spending. Furthermore, our study examined direct claims-based costs and made no assumptions of additional downstream medical costs for those who received low value care services. 

What do these findings mean for this company and others who are paying for healthcare? Healthcare waste (low value care) is a reality in our healthcare system today. Patients, providers, and those paying for care are all affected. Even in this study that examined health spending in one company, out of the 11 areas of clinical waste we studied we found that half of the people receiving care in these categories received low value services. Initiatives such as Choosing Wisely® are effective in raising awareness of low value care and opening conversations between patients and their doctors to avoid unnecessary medical tests and treatments. You can find more information on this educational initiative at www.choosingwisely.org

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BetaXAnalytics is a healthcare data consulting firm that helps payers and providers to maximize their CMS reimbursements and helps employers to reduce their healthcare spending through proven strategies to contain costs. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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The Missing Piece of Corporate Well-being—How We Treat Each Other

Healthcare

What has the greatest impact on employee well-being? Often when we hear the word “well-being” we instantly think of health screenings, nutritional education, fitness challenges, and online health risk assessments. But imagine you have the best-designed wellness program at your company.  Would your employees all be at their peak of health and productivity?

Consider my personal story. I worked at a wellness company—it was a lot of fun! Inside the company’s walls you saw daily company-wide walking breaks, ping pong tables in the break room, and a massive gym on-site. The whimsical environment came along with a mission to change people’s lives through improving their health. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone floating from reception to the call center on a skateboard. Your dog is snuggling at your feet below your desk. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a health utopia, right? 

Well get this—I gained weight while working at this wellness company. Why? Stress! Along with this fun environment came a lot of stress which was natural at any rapidly-growing startup. The stressful environment wasn’t because the company didn’t offer enough healthy programs and perks. We worked in a metaphorical test-kitchen for corporate wellness program best-practices. But none of this cancelled out the abundance of meetings where our days would be spent sitting in a chair, the long hours fixing issues, and a daily obsession with identifying who was responsible for these issues. There was frequent travel which increased pressure to get even more accomplished while in the office. And let’s not forget the ever-important foundation that how we treat each other in the workplace is essential to creating engaged, happy, high-performing teams. No wellness program can create this—the values exhibited by a company’s culture are strategic, deliberate, and are fostered by people from the top to the bottom of an organization. 

Well-being encompasses the whole person—not just a person’s body, but their mind as well. In this sense, a health check on company culture is just as important, and perhaps even more important, than offering programs to ensure physical health. An environment where employees are happy is one where there is respect for people. Emotionally healthy workplaces are marked by trust, kindness, and forgiveness. Hundreds of studies by pioneers of positive organizational psychology including Adam Grant at Wharton, and Jane Dutton and Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan, have found that a positive work culture characterized by humanity improves employee loyalty, engagement, productivity and performance. With three quarters of the U.S. workforce disengaged when they’re at work, how can we expect them to engage in the company’s wellness program? 

Even beyond considering an employee’s emotional well-being, stress in the work environment impacts physical health. A large study by Anna Nyberg at the Karolinska Institute found the link between a harsh boss and heart problems in employees. A separate study found that bad bosses significantly increase employees’ risk of heart attack. And after examining 279 different studies, the Journal of Applied Psychology linked an employee’s perception of unfairness at work to physical health. An unfair work environment was linked to mental health issues, sleep disorders, high blood pressure and obesity. 

There is an abundance of data that supports the link between a positive work environment and physical health.  So how do companies miss this when shaping their wellness strategy? Unfortunately in many cases we mislabel “work environment” as a place instead of a feeling. Creating a positive work environment could be mistaken for building a Zen space, adding a foosball table to your break room or instituting Puppy-Snuggle Fridays. In reality it might mean processing employee feedback, crafting a meaningful company culture, and making developing leaders a core competence. The most important step to improving employee health could be as simple as examining the employee experience. A work environment that fosters well-being gets to the core of workplace culture—how we treat each other

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 Shannon Shallcross is Co-Founder and CEO of BetaXAnalyticsa healthcare data consulting firm that helps employers to cut their healthcare spending through proven strategies to contain costs. 

For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and well-being decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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Medications that Don’t Work and Costs that Vary by 865%: Here’s What We Found Hiding in 1 Employer’s Healthcare Spending

Healthcare

Approximately $2 billion of employer-sponsored health care spending is wasted each year due to unnecessary or preventable costs across the continuum of care. This is approximately 20% of total health spending by employers each year, according to the American Health Policy Institute

Wasteful spending was a concern that one of our clients was facing when we met them. Their healthcare spending was increasing year over year in line with the healthcare industry trend, which is right now at +6% to +7% each year. Like most employers, a small group of people was driving a large percentage of their healthcare costs. And as, year over year, they were footing the gargantuan bill for their employees and their families, they were left with some very reasonable questions:

“Is the money we’re investing in our wellness program even making people healthier?”

“Is our diabetes-management program working?”

And, quite literally, the million dollar question…

“Where can we save on our healthcare costs?”

This employer partnered with us because of our team’s background in healthcare and wellness data science, as well as our team’s experience in advising large employers on their health spending strategy. We studied several years of their health and pharmacy data and we looked at this data by member status (employees, spouses, children) and by work location (corporate office, field offices, distribution center). We brought in absence data and we looked at the smoking status for each member. Here’s just a sampling of some of the highlights we found:

Diabetes is a major cost driver, but it could be costing less. Diabetes test strips, which were one of their top prescription drug cost-drivers, have costs that can vary by brand by up to 865%. The high cost variability of these test strips is not necessarily correlated to their quality. On one hand, an employer wants to make it as easy as possible for employees to access the diabetic supplies they need. However, without controls around this spending this could be a source of health spending leakage.

Members are not being driven to cost-effective medications. Pharmacy costs for diabetes medications were increasing year over year while medication adherence was decreasing. That right…the employer was paying more for less pills. What we found was that fewer people were taking their medications (adherence was decreasing). And of those who were taking their medications, they were being driven to the “preferred” brand of medication, but this brand was not the cheapest. This explains why they were paying more for less pills. This is also an indication that their medication formulary needs to be revised. 

An expensive method to quit smoking was not working. A costly and well-marketed medication to quit smoking was costing in excess of $63,000. When we examined adherence, very few of the people who took this medication completed treatment. This was most likely due to the medication’s unpleasant side effects. In fact, of the 58 people who started taking this medication, only 3 completed the recommended round of treatment. Clinical evidence indicates that 1 in 2 patients completing this therapy will quit smoking. This means that it cost this company $63,000 for 1 or 2 people to quit smoking. This expensive (and, in this case, ineffective) medication was on the plan’s preferred drug list. If the pharmacy plan had step therapy in place, people looking to quit smoking would be directed to use effective, yet less expensive medications before moving to more costly medications.

The Emergency Room is a cost-driver, while very few members use Urgent Care. Emergency Room visits were on average 4 times more costly than visits to Urgent Care. Not only were very few members ever using Urgent Care, there was a long list of Emergency Room “frequent flyers.” This informs the employer’s communication strategy on educating their members on the purpose of Urgent Care, as well as how to identify when a trip to the Emergency Room is necessary.

Employers typically have two goals when it comes to paying for employee healthcare: they want to support employees in improving their health, and they want to control costs. As a former veteran of the corporate wellness industry, I will be the first person to tell you that lots of companies will promise to make employees healthy and to save them money. Very few will actually deliver. This is because employers want a partner who will help them to control health costs, not just to deliver a program. 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand an employer can wave to suddenly reverse everyone’s chronic diseases. But there are many opportunities to ensure condition management programs have a positive return on investment. Furthermore, there are subtle clues hiding in their data that can show them areas where they are losing money where they shouldn’t. These are the many little holes where there’s healthcare spending leakage. It is our job is to find these holes for employers.

The good news for any employer looking to reduce wasteful health spending is that the insights we find are actionable. In this example, what we uncovered in this data is now being used by this employer to save money. Their Chief Human Resource Officer deserves enormous credit for not accepting the status quo with respect to their healthcare spending. He is among a growing number of HR professionals who understand that with the high cost of healthcare comes a responsibility to closely manage these costs. Their data drives a holistic strategy around health and wellbeing services that aligns with the strategy of the business. We are proud to partner with them to provide the actionable transparency they need to achieve their wellbeing goals.

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BetaXAnalytics is a healthcare data consulting firm that helps employers to cut their healthcare spending through proven strategies to contain costs. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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This week in healthcare news: Warren Buffett, CVS, Aetna all talking about lowering costs—who will succeed?

Healthcare

February 27, 2018

Warren Buffett Shares Details on His Healthcare Alliance with Amazon, JPMorgan

Warren Buffett made some bold statements for CNBC on Monday about Berkshire Hathaway’s healthcare alliance with Amazon and JPMorgan. Buffett stated, “I love the idea of tackling what I regard as the major problem in our economy,” referring to the rapidly increasing proportion Americans are paying for healthcare. He goes on to explain that in 1960, healthcare was 5% of GDP ($170 per person), and this spending has increased to today’s rate of 18% of GDP (over $10,000 per person). For Warren Buffett, this is a competitive disadvantage for America. 

Speaking of the goals of Berkshire Hathaway’s alliance with Amazon and JPMorgan he states, “It would be very easy to shave off 3-4% just by negotiating power…we’re looking to do something much bigger than that.” They want to halt healthcare’s increasing share of U.S. GDP by finding a way to deliver better care at a better cost. See the 5-minute interview here: Buffett Shares Details on Healthcare Alliance.

Today: CVS and Aetna’s General Counsels Testify Before Legislators in Washington

Amid investigations in numerous states of accusations of unfair claim denials and unfriendly patient practices, Aetna has been getting its fair share of negative press in the last month. But on Tuesday, February 27th Aetna’s and CVS’s General Counsels testify before the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on CVS’s planned acquisition of Aetna. Their goal? To convince this subcommittee that CVS and Aetna’s combined forces are good for healthcare and good for consumers. The testimonies, both published in full on sec.gov, paint a very different picture of Aetna’s future goals from what’s currently volleying through the media.

The testimony of Thomas Sabatino, General Counsel for Aetna, starts by acknowledging that the U.S. healthcare system is inherently flawed; he explains it was formed in the mid-20th century for the benefit of hospitals, employers and insurance companies—not for the benefit of patients. He acknowledges that the U.S. is “the most expensive system in the world,” yet half of American adults are affected by chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. With rapidly rising health costs and deteriorating health, he says that Aetna recognizes that “the status quo is not sustainable.” But he goes on to assert that now, with increasing consumer demands and rapidly advancing technology, that it’s time to focus on the consumer.   And, as his testimony states, CVS and Aetna are the players that will make that possible. With compelling figures that 70% of Americans live within 3 miles of a CVS store and 5 million people visit a CVS every single day, he lays out how the retail chain is poised to be a community-based health center to address the areas of the World Health Organization’s holistic view of health (“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”) He states, “the key to our strategy is more regular, individualized, and effective engagement with health care consumers not just when they are sick, but as they take steps to maintain and improve health.”

Same Goal, Two Very Different Strategies

Buffett’s healthcare alliance and CVS’s Aetna acquisition are two completely different strategies to tackle rising healthcare costs, but at the helm of these initiatives is a goal to accomplish the same thing—to provide better care for Americans at a lower cost. It’s an exciting time for healthcare with big changes on the horizon. Stay tuned to see if these initiatives live up to their hype.

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BetaXAnalytics is a healthcare data consulting firm that helps employers to cut their healthcare spending through proven strategies to contain costs. For more insights on using data to drive healthcare, pharmacy and wellbeing decisions, follow BetaXAnalytics on Twitter @betaxanalytics, Facebook @bxanalytics and LinkedIn at BetaXAnalytics.

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@SRShallcross on Twitter

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 at 9:03am
Amazing specimen of our time: special NYT section yesterday on “The Cutting Edge of Wellness” — focused on ways to heal our “tech-poisoned” lives by putting some space between us and our technologies. And the ads are all from...Google. https://t.co/xTtchcrdpW SRShallcross photo
Monday, October 21st, 2019 at 11:58am
“Two-thirds of CEOs ignored insights provided by data analysis or computer models in the past three years because it contradicted their intuition.”

Great perspective from @johndstoll

https://t.co/YDUzyyaI9p
Saturday, October 19th, 2019 at 10:35pm
“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” –Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO

#getstartedri #entrepreneur #business #entrepreneurship
#wontstop #mindset #hustle #success #freedom

https://t.co/lEQf4zkZLS https://t.co/VkQUrHdIKG
SRShallcross photo
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 at 11:17am
Nope. It’s the Wild West here. The only thing that will protect our privacy is laws to ensure the ethical use of our data. https://t.co/ueEcUQM9hp SRShallcross photo
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 at 3:22am
Could Alexa have a future as a marital moderator?

A new study used AI to track couples’ conversations, detecting conflict with 87% accuracy.

https://t.co/OcoL0Tk0x1

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