Proposals on Many Wish Lists

self-fundingNow that the makeup of the new Congress has been decided, many employers are hoping Washington can work together to address a few of their important concerns. High on many lists, especially those belonging to large employers, would be doing away with the Cadillac Tax on high-cost health plans once and for all. While implementation has been delayed until the 2022 tax year, the law will require insurers and large employers to pay a 40% excise tax on the costs that exceed $11,100 for employee-only coverage and $29,750 for family coverage.

Other items that employers have been talking about for a long time include making HSAs considerably more user friendly and easing ACA reporting requirements to allow employee statements to be provided electronically rather than by mail.

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What Good Is Information If People Can’t Use It?

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma calls the new rule a small step. We couldn’t agree more!

According to recent reports, what was touted as a giant step for healthcare cost transparency has turned out to be little more than a puzzle few can solve. The rule, which took effect on January 1, 2019, requires that hospitals post their prices online in a machine-readable format for consumers to download. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into retail-priced, coded components that are meaningless to the general consumer.

A law professor describes chargemasters as huge spreadsheets containing complex codes that only a billing expert could interpret. Determining the cost of a visit to the ER, for example, would require knowing the codes and locating the costs for all parts involved in the visit. Really? If the goal is to help people understand what medical services really cost, shouldn’t hospitals display prices they accept from health plans, or at least a typical range from low to high?

The Goal Is to Help Who?
HHS is currently seeking public comment on whether or not patients should have the right to see discounted or negotiated prices before choosing a provider. While most providers and payers and their respective associations cite antitrust violations and other concerns, it seems that providing healthcare consumers with price information in an easy-to-understand format could be a BIG step towards lowering costs for health plans and plan members. Isn’t that what healthcare cost transparency is supposed to do?

Tell Us How You Feel!

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UnitedHealth will begin passing drug discounts to plan participants

This article was published on March 13, 2019 on BenefitsPro written by Max Nisen.

The health-care policy environment is shifting in a dangerous way for insurance giants. A seemingly small change in how drugs are paid for could be the beginning of a response.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, announced Tuesday that its pharmacy-benefit management arm OptumRX will mandate that all new employer health-plan clients pass the drug discounts it obtains for them directly to plan participants. That’s a big shift from the current system, under which OptumRX and other PBMs negotiate prices with drugmakers and hand the resulting rebate checks to clients to use as they wish. PBMs profit from this arrangement, and have an incentive to favor heavily rebated drugs. That pushes drugmakers to hike prices, and patients are exposed to artificially inflated costs.

UnitedHealth’s new policy means lower drug costs for more people. But it has broader implications. It smartly preempts Trump administration efforts to reform rebates, and shows that the industry can make needed changes ahead of pushes for an even bigger government-led overhaul of the way they do business.

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Increasing costs and unhappiness with the status quo are motivating the administration’s regulatory effort to end rebates in Medicare. It is also thinking about forcing insurers to reveal the hidden prices they negotiate with hospitals, which would wreak havoc on their ability to negotiate. Consumer dissatisfaction also behind broader reform efforts championed by Democrats, such as Medicare for All. Such plans are distant threats, but they are present and existential enough to weigh on shares.

Making the switch to so-called point-of-sale rebates for new clients is a big and unique step for UnitedHealth, and it builds on its January transition of a different subset of its business. While the impact will be small at first as existing clients can stick to the old system, the new model could eventually impact as many as 18 million Americans, according to a research note from Royal Bank of Canada analyst Frank Morgan.

UnitedHealth says people already on its point-of-sale plans save an average of $130 per eligible prescription and that medication adherence is up by as much as 16 percent. People are happier and healthier when they can afford to take their medicine, and are more likely to avoid larger medical costs down the line.

If the administration’s efforts on rebates succeed, UnitedHealth will face less disruption and have more experience in making a new business model work. Slower rivals such as CVS Health Inc. and Cigna Inc’s Express Scripts – which offer point-of-sale rebates as an option but don’t mandate it – may suffer. Already in February, CVS attributed part of its weak 2019 guidance to the impact of shifting drug-pricing trends on its PBM as drugmakers held back on price hikes under political scrutiny.

Plans that offer point-of-sale rebates have a chance to focus more on reducing overall costs for both patients and payers, especially when integrated with an insurance plan. This isn’t going to make insurers and PBMs beloved overnight, or produce instant systemic cost-savings. But UnitedHealth is taking a needed and bigger step toward a better and more patient-friendly system.

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How Is Your Health Plan Responding to Millennials?

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You might be surprised to hear that millennials represent one third of the American workforce, but Pew Research Center confirms it. If your health benefit plan hasn’t adapted to the needs and lifestyles of these young people, you’re missing an opportunity to boost retention, build loyalty and enhance wellness.

For starters, it’s important to realize that 45% of young adults age 18 to 29 do not have a primary care doctor. They do, however, have a smartphone and you can bet they use it to access the internet constantly. With online sources like WebMD offering so much healthcare information, it’s no wonder that millennials are likely to self-diagnose and even treat one another at home before seeing a doctor. If young people can find much of the healthcare information they need in the palm of their hand, you can bet they expect to find benefits and enrollment information easily accessible as well.

They Want Information Now
Just like so many of us who have come to expect an immediate response to everything, millennials who do need a doctor expect the visit to happen quickly and easily. According to PNC Healthcare, this explains why 34% of millennials prefer to use a retail clinic rather than waiting several days to see a primary care physician in their office – a rate twice as high as baby boomers. It would also seem to point to an increased use of telemedicine.

Cost Matters to Millennials
Millennials face more than their fair share of financial pressures and take their finances seriously. Surveys show they are more willing to request a cost estimate prior to choosing a treatment option than baby boomers or seniors ever were. This not only makes cost transparency tools important, but it’s a very positive trend that should contribute to lower claim costs going forward.

Whether it be treatment options, provider access or cost of care, the demand for health and benefit plan information will only increase as more and more millennials enter the workforce. In order to respond to change, self-funded employer groups will need the resources of an independent TPA that can combine the right plan design with more personalized, interactive communications and more innovative ways for younger employees to access the more personalized care they will need going forward.

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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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