Who says your health plan has to cost 5% more every year?

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Done right, self-funding provides the flexibility needed to control costs.

A 2018 Kaiser Employer Survey showed that the cost of employer-based, family coverage rose to $19,616, an increase of 5 percent from the prior year. While this increase may be considered moderate or acceptable by many employers, we work hard to help our self-funded clients raise the bar (or in this case lower the bar).

In contrast to fully-insured plans, partial self-funding gives employers the freedom to write their own plan document. This enables our clients to adopt a totally different mindset – a “take charge” attitude that not only allows a plan to meet employees’ needs but encourages members to do what they can to keep costs in check.

After focusing on plan design and cost management, we turn our attention to claims data. While others may be quick to pay claims, we help clients look closely at claim costs each month. We use the data to identify trends, treatment patterns or chronic conditions that have the potential to result in a high dollar claim. When we see something that raises a red flag, we go to work on it immediately, looking for ways to minimize costs while striving to achieve the best possible outcome.

The bottom line is that sitting back and hoping that healthcare costs won’t increase next year will not accomplish a thing. Managing the rising cost of healthcare takes know-how, expert administration and the ability to act when cost saving opportunities surface. These are the things we do for our clients each and every day. To raise the bar for your health plan, give us a call at your convenience.

Tell Us How You Feel!

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IRS Publishes PCOR Fees through September 2019

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund fee is a fee on issuers of health insurance policies and plan sponsors of self-insured health plans that helps to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The institute assists, through research, patients, clinicians, purchasers and policy-makers, in making informed health decisions by advancing the quality and relevance of evidence-based medicine. The institute compiles and distributes comparative clinical effectiveness research findings. Under the ACA, all medical plans are responsible for paying the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee to the IRS, based on the number of plan participants. If the plan is insured, the insurance carrier pays the fee on behalf of the policyholder. If the plan is self-insured, the employer/plan sponsor must file the Form 720 for the second quarter and pay the fee to the IRS directly.

The IRS recently published its PCOR fee for policy and plan years ending January through September 2019 and the applicable dollar amount is $2.45, which is multiplied by the number of covered lives determined for the appropriate period.

The PCOR program will sunset in 2019. The last payment will apply to plan years that end by September 30, 2019 and that payment will be due in July 2020. There will not be any PCOR fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later.

The PCOR fee is paid by the health insurer for fully insured plans. All self-insured medical plans, including health FSAs and HRAs must pay the fee unless they are considered an excepted benefit:

    • A health FSA is an excepted-benefit as long as the employer does not contribute more than $500/year to the accounts and offers another medical plan with non-excepted benefits.
    • An HRA is an excepted-benefit if it only reimburses for excepted-benefits (e.g., limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage) and is not integrated with the group medical plan.

The PCOR fee is calculated off the average number of lives covered during the policy year. That means that all parties enrolled will have to be accounted for such as dependents, spouses, retirees, and COBRA beneficiaries. Depending on when the plan starts and ends also can determine the fee per form. Participating employees and dependents are counted as covered lives. For HRA and health FSA plans, just count each participating employee as a covered life.

Clients who have elected to have Diversified Group assist with the PCOR fee calculation can expect an email in June 2019 which will include a copy of the completed Form 720 and a PCOR calculation worksheet with supporting documentation. For the current year, clients will need to file the Form 720 by July 31, 2019.

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Pharma cash flows to doctors for consultant work despite scrutiny

This article was published on January 6, 2019 on ctmirror.org, written by Sujata Srinivasan.

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Image Source: ctmirror.org

With physicians’ compensation from pharmaceutical and medical device companies under increasing scrutiny, payments to doctors in Connecticut for consultant work rose to $8.5 million in 2017, up from $8 million in 2016.

Payments for meals, travel and gifts also increased from $3.2 million in 2016 to $3.5 million in 2017, data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show.

Of the total $27.2 million in payments, $4.37 million – or 16 percent – went to 10 doctors holding licenses in Connecticut.

The highest paid doctor was Dr. Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon in Greenwich, who accepted slightly more than $1 million in 2017 in royalty fees, consulting work, and other services from several companies, including Arthrex Inc., and Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of Exparel. The drug, Exparel, is marketed as an alternative to opioid painkillers post-surgery. Sethi frequently takes to Twitter to promote the use of a non-opioid alternative and is listed on the Pacira website in a case study. He did not respond to C-HIT’s request for an interview.

Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, received $524,611 for his work as a director on the boards of Abbott Laboratories and AbbVie Inc. Alpern said that he does not provide paid lectures, does not speak for the pharmaceutical companies, does not see patients or write prescriptions, and that his work on the boards is “fully disclosed to Yale University and Yale New Haven Hospital.”

“I recuse myself from any decisions related to either of these companies,” Alpern said.

The financial relationships between pharmaceutical and medical device companies and doctors, as well as teaching hospitals, have been disclosed since 2013, under the Affordable Care Act. The law is intended to provide transparency into the business connections between health care providers and the industry.

The law is also driving some doctors—like infectious diseases specialist Dr. Roger Echols of Easton—to give up their license to practice medicine. “It’s why I did not revive mine last year,” he said, referring to 2016.

Echols was paid $526,881 in 2017 for his work as a consultant primarily for Japan-headquartered Shionogi & Co., best known as the maker of the cholesterol drug Crestor. Echols said he stopped seeing patients and prescribing medication years ago, when he transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry.

Even practicing doctors, Echols said, are now declining payment when they meet with him to discuss drug research. “They’ve gone so far that they won’t even allow us to provide a bagel or a cup of coffee at a meeting because that has to be reported.”

Overall, non-research payments to Connecticut doctors fell 8 percent from $29.7 million in 2016 to $27.2 million in 2017, the data show. Much of the decline occurred in royalty and license fees on sales of drugs and medical devices, charitable contributions, and ownership or investments in companies.

In research payments to Connecticut doctors, pharma and medical device companies paid $901,196 in 2017, down from $1.1 million in 2016, according to the data.

Nationally in 2017, doctors were paid $2.82 billion by 1,525 pharma and medical devices companies. Research payments totaled $4.66 billion.

Dual role of doctors

The dual role of doctors as providers of health care to patients and marketers for drug and medical device companies has been scrutinized for several years and has been the subject of extensive research.

One report, published in a medical cancer journal that examined several studies concluded, “All the money and attention drug representatives shower on doctors has its intended effect: building relationships with doctors and ultimately changing how they prescribe.”

A study published in October 2017 by the U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; found that gifts from pharmaceutical companies result in higher drug costs: “More prescriptions per patient, more costly prescriptions, and a higher proportion of branded prescriptions.”

“There is strong evidence that pharma payments are associated with higher prescribing of the promoted medications, and with higher costs,” said Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project.

Dr. Bruce E. Strober, a professor of dermatology at UConn Health, said, “Nearly all my colleagues—anybody who is a specialist in the field—do speak for drug companies, and I am compensated for my time, yes. Unequivocally, it does not alter my prescribing habits.”

Strober received $174,279 in 2017 primarily in consulting fees from Eli Lilly and Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Sanofi Genzyme, Novartis Pharma AG and Amgen Inc., among others. In 2016, the latest year on record, Strober made out 61 prescriptions for Amgen’s Enbrel amounting to $239,996, according to a C-HIT analysis of Medicare Part D data.  The same year, Amgen paid him $17,000.

Many doctors see their role as merely educating their peers, and being compensated for their time and expertise.

Dr. Mark Milner, an ophthalmologist in Hamden, received $186,125 in 2017 primarily in consulting and speaking fees from pharma companies specializing in dry eye, including Allergan Inc., maker of the blockbuster drug Restasis.

“There is nothing unethical if I am paid for my time. I give a comprehensive dry eye lecture whether I’m sponsored by Allergan, or Shire [North] or Bausch [formerly Valeant],” Milner said.

Dr. Steven Thornquist, a Waterbury-based ophthalmologist and former president of the Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS), said, “The onus is on the individual physician to be ethical. I don’t think patients should give their doctor the third degree.”

It’s a fine line. Dr. Claudia Gruss, CSMS president, said physicians should decline a cash gift. “At the same time, there are certain physician experts that other physicians look up to, and educational events allow a very frank interchange between physicians in the field. We don’t want to decrease productive collaboration.” In 2017, Gruss received $120.94 in the general category – the category includes food and beverage at medical conferences.

Dr. Niranjan Sankaranarayanan, a nephrologist in Bloomfield, does not accept money for consulting and speaking engagements from pharma companies, though he did earlier in his career. “I was naïve. They invited me to talk about a medication that I was already prescribing, but after one or two talks, I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “This is a gray zone. They entice you with more and more, and there is no ceiling to this,” Sankaranarayanan said.  He received $201.60 in general category in 2017.

Medical ethicists say the public must know that their physicians very often have complex interests. “Medicare has databases but more research needs to be done on incentives ad kickbacks,” said Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor of diagnostic radiology, economics and public health, who often speaks about medical ethics.

“We have to prove cause-causation rather than correlation. It’s pernicious how the money flows,” said Forman.

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Troubleshooting Telemedicine

telehealthThe healthcare landscape is changing as providers increasingly offer virtual care options, and naturally it’s taken some getting used to. A recent study by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found that while patients who have used virtual care reported a 77% satisfaction rate, only 44% felt that their wait time was reduced compared to an in-person office visit. Some offices are designating doctors for virtual care on specific days of the week to circumvent wait times caused by healthcare professionals bouncing between in-person and virtual patients.

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Despite Recent Court Ruling – ACA Enforcement Is Still the Law of the Land… For Now

On December 14th, the U.S. District Court for the Fifth Circuit in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional in light of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which eliminated the tax penalty under the individual mandate. The district court sided with 20 Republican state attorneys general that argued since the individual mandate was eliminated, the entire law was invalidated. The ruling went further and also ruled that all of the consumer protections under the ACA were tied to the individual mandate and they were also unconstitutional. These include the prohibition against insurers charging patients more for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parent’s plans until age 26, and removal of caps on coverage.

What’s Next?

The judge in the case did not rule the law has to be enjoined immediately, however, it is unclear when the ruling would take effect. Sixteen Democratic state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed a motion asking the court to clarify the impact of the ruling and confirm that the ACA “is still the law of the land.” Additionally, a series of appeals will most likely keep the ruling from being enacted anytime in the near future… thus:

  • People can still enroll in ACA health plans in states with extended deadlines (without an extension, exchange enrollment ended on December 14th.);
  • There is no impact on 2019 plans that people may have recently enrolled in. Immediately following the ruling, Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, stated the ruling “has no impact on current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan;”
  • Employers still face IRS deadlines to file forms 1095-B and 1095-C. (1095-B and 1095-C forms must be delivered to individuals by March 4, 2019. The 1094 and 1095 B & C forms must be filed with the IRS by February 28th if filing paper and April 1st if filing electronically);
  • The Employer Mandate is still in force, penalties have been and will continue to be assessed for failure to file these returns;
  • With the Employer Mandate still in force, Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) should continue to follow the Employer Shared Responsibility Rules (ESR) to avoid a penalty. This means offering a plan that meets minimum value and affordability to at least 95% of your full time employees (defined as those working at least 30 or more hours per week).

The case will most likely make its way to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the U.S. Supreme Court before any definitive action can be considered.

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Ever Asked a Hospital What a Procedure Costs Them?

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Can the cost of a hip replacement in Philadelphia really vary from $11,000 to $125,000?

From white papers to published books, much has been written about how difficult it can be to find out what a hospital stay or outpatient procedure will cost. And as Anna Wilde Mathews observed in her article Lifting the Veil on Pricing for Health Care, the mystery surrounding healthcare pricing stems partly from the fact that hospitals and other providers generally don’t publicize how much they’re paid for services, which varies depending on who’s footing the bill.

Much has changed recently. And while it is difficult for websites like healthcarebluebook.com to quote exact pricing, they do suggest what a reasonable price should be based on what insurance carriers have paid hospitals for certain procedures in a certain geographic region.

It’s easy to understand why hospitals are reluctant to share price information. Consider the results of a study on hip replacement surgery published by JAMA Internal Medicine. According to Dr. Joseph Bernstein, professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, while more than half of the 120 hospitals surveyed could not provide a cost for the surgery, those that did quoted prices ranging from $11,000 to $125,000.

How can your health plan achieve price and quality transparency? Treat healthcare expenses like other business expenses! Self-fund with Medicare Reference Based Pricing and partner with a TPA that has the willingness and know-how to hold providers accountable.

These are today’s keys. These are the things we do for our clients each and every day. To take control of your healthcare costs, give us a call at your convenience.

Tell Us How You Feel!

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More Patients Texting

mobile phoneHealthcare professionals that aren’t utilizing text communications are failing to meet their patients where they are. A 2018 survey found 11% of patients would rather communicate via text message, a number that is expected to grow as the Millennial population begins to outnumber Boomers. Text alerts and communications can be used for a variety of services, including preventative care such as periodic appointments and flu shots, post-treatment care information, remote health monitoring and chronic disease management.

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