confusion

Highlights from Wide-Ranging Interview with Atul Gawande, Head of the New ABJ (Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase) Healthcare Endeavor, Provides Glimpse of Vision and What They Hope to Accomplish

(Note: In keeping with our 2 Minute Drill mantra, we’ve broken this into two parts. Today in Part 1 we’ll highlight Gawande’s view of the three big systemic problems with healthcare. Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll summarize his vision for the ABJ-HCE.)

Last week Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase announced the appointment of renowned author, surgeon, and researcher Atul Gawande to head up their ambitious new “Amazon/Berkshire/JP Morgan Chase healthcare endeavor” (still unnamed, we’ll refer to it as ABJ-HCE for now). In a long form interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival Gawande expounded on his view of the problem facing the U.S. healthcare system and his thoughts on what the ABJ-HCE can do to make the whole system work better.

Here are few of Gawande’s thoughts that struck me as I watched the interview:

  • While healthcare comprises 18% of the U.S. economy, 30% of those expenditures are of no benefit to the patient.
  • The three biggest sources of waste are:
    • Very high administrative costs. He said there are a lot of “middlemen” in the system some of which must be taken out of the system to simplify the equation.
    • Pricing (I think he’s referencing the price of healthcare services and the method of paying providers for the services)
    • Mis-utilization of treatment. This is identified as by far the biggest of the three buckets. He defined mis-utilization as the wrong care, delivered at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.
  • On the reality of our healthcare system:
    • It was built in the 1940’s and 1950’s when there were only a handful of treatments.
    • Then: A system where the clinician could be expected to do it all – administer the right medicine and treatment. Add in some staff and a place for the patient to recover otherwise leave the clinician alone to do it all.
    • Now: We’ve discovered in the last century that the number of illnesses we can have and the number of ways the human body can fail exceeds 70,000 (covering 13 organ systems).
    • And, in the last fifty years we’ve generated 4,000 new surgical procedures and 6,000 new drugs.
    • Yet, we’re still deploying all these new discoveries and capabilities on a 40’s and 50’s system where the clinician will take care of it.

Gwande points to a broken system. Healthcare is now so complex “that everybody involved feels it’s out of their control – payors, patients, and providers — with no real influence over the end results. “Obamacare is on life support” and “even though I’m going to work for a bunch of employers, employer-based care is broken”.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Gawande on what’s needed, what ABJ-HCE brings to the table, and achieving his goal for the endeavor:  “Scalable solutions for better healthcare delivery everywhere”.

About High Deductible Health Plans — Say It Ain’t Always So Joe!

Great friend, colleague, and highly respected industry consultant Joe Paduda writes today in his widely read Manage Care Matters column about the possible cost and claim shifting implications of uninsured and underinsured workers. In it he makes specific reference to HDHP’s.  Among the points Joe makes about ‘High’ deductible health plans are the following:

“44% of working-age adults were covered by high-deductible plans – but more than half of them don’t have health savings accounts needed to fund those high deductibles.”

“ ‘High’ deductible health plans aren’t much different than no insurance at all if the patient can’t afford the deductible – and over half can’t. So, more incentive to cost- and claim-shift.”

I have great respect for Joe and his point of view. He’s as smart as they come, his points are always thoughtful, well-supported by research, and totally authentic (well maybe except for April 1 every year).

However, when it comes to high deductible plans I’d like to remind Joe and others — let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some innovative and practical uses of HDHP’s to lower costs and deliver better coverage that are most times overlooked by the national stats, commentators and think tanks.

As famed radio commentator the late Paul Harvey used to always say “And now for the rest of the story”.

The “rest of the story” is this: HDHP plans can be and are often used, at least in our little slice of the healthcare world, by savvy and practical employers to lower costs while still providing strong benefits. There’s a core of strong employers out there — many that we are very grateful to count as clients — that are utilizing high deductible plans in combination with reimbursement plans like our own SharedFunding  to reduce costs AND provide better coverage to their employees.

Comments like these from a recent conversation among a group of CEO’s speaking to a fellow CEO about SharedFunding are not unusual:

“Helped us tremendously with health costs.”

“We have had zero increases in premiums in the last 4 years.”

“We hired them last year (our year 1) to replicate the comprehensive plan most of our employees had……….. They did it – even using same insurer.”

“Here’s the key – they contract a very high deductible plan (like $11,000 for a family), and then manage all claims & reimbursements. All the paperwork flows through them. Our employees have much lower deductibles and copays they have to meet….”

Just sayin’.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.

Wonder Why Our Healthcare Costs Are So High?

Bob Laszewski is an insurance health industry expert we regularly track to stay up to speed on the national healthcare picture. His typically even-handed analysis has been consistently the most accurate of any of the opinion leaders we follow.  Here’s how Laszewski summed up the primary reason for our country’s runaway healthcare costs during a recent interview broadcast on the national news program Full Measure in a segment entitled Zombiecare: 

The healthcare establishment has been getting unlimited dollars from government, from employers, from consumers. They built this incredible infrastructure now that’s very expensive. And the only way we’re going to make healthcare more affordable is to deal with all this infrastructure we’ve got and get it to an efficient place.

 When asked how we address this infrastructure problem, here’s the pragmatic Laszewski take:

“We’re going to have to do it over many years. In the private sector and the public sector, we’re going to have to put them on a diet. It really is the prices we charge. We’re going to have to, in real terms, ratchet those back so that hospitals and doctors understand there’s going to be less money in the years to come.”

During the interview Laszewski addressed several things related to the current status of health insurance and the Affordable Care Act. Among the items he addressed:

The Individual Mandate and Paying the Penalty

“The law technically says that you have to have health insurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you will pay a fine. But the Trump administration has told the Internal Revenue Service, who is in charge of collecting the fines, that when people file their tax returns, if they refuse to say whether they have health insurance or not, the IRS should not pursue them. You technically have to pay it. Your accountant’s probably going to tell you, you technically have to pay it, but it’s not being enforced.”

ObamaCare as Zombie Care(because a Zombie is the walking dead)

“Obamacare is still there, it’s still walking around. It’s still selling health insurance plans to people. But it has no chance in its present form of ever offering affordable and attractive health insurance. And more and more people are just exiting it and going uncovered because they can’t afford it.”

Our takeaway from all this? Be smart.  Stay incredibly vigilant.  Take full advantage of every tool we have at our disposal to do the best we can to help our clients control costs and navigate the turbulent healthcare waters.

There’s still no clear big picture path anywhere in sight.

To watch the entire interview or to read the full transcript, go here.

The Check’s in the Mail — MLR Premium Rebate Checks and What Do We Do with Them

Some BBG employer clients are reporting that they have received MLR rebate checks from their carrier.

What are MLR rebate checks and why do only some employers receive them?

Affordable Care Act rules stipulate that insurance carriers must spend a certain percentage of health insurance premiums on medical claims and other specified related activities. This is referred to as a Medical Loss Ratio (MLR).

The MLR ratio for small groups is 80/20, For large groups it’s 85/15.

If an insurance company spends less than the MLR amount designated by Obamacare then the insurance company must rebate the unspent portion back to the employer sponsoring the plan.

Wondering what to do if you are one of those employers receiving an MLR rebate check?

There are rules established by the Department of Labor governing distribution. Employers must use these as guide when allocating and distributing the rebate dollars. The rules can be found here http://dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/tr11-04.html.

In a nutshell:

Employer groups are required to treat the rebate as a plan asset.  Uses may include, but are not limited to, reducing future premiums or premium increases, or rebating a portion back to the subscribers.  The rebate is required to be used for the benefit of the subscribers in one of the following ways:

• To reduce subscribers’ portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for all subscribers covered under any group health policy offered by the plan;
• To reduce subscribers’ portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for only those
subscribers covered by the group health policy on which the rebate was based; or
• To provide a cash refund only to the subscribers who were covered by the group health policy on which the rebate is based.

A more thorough review of what to do with MLR Rebate Checks can be found by clicking here How Employers Should Handle MLR Rebates

Clients can contact BBG for assistance.

Example Rebate Check

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