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.

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Is Your Health Plan a Victim of Pharmacide?

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Over the past several months, the Trump administration has introduced several ideas intended to fight skyrocketing prescription drug prices – everything from forcing manufacturers to display prices in their television commercials to having Medicare base payments for costly drugs on average prices in other industrialized nations, which are much lower than in the U.S.

While some prefer to criticize or sit silently by as prices keep rising, we say keep the ideas coming. This is a crisis requiring aggressive action, like our Pharmasense program, that tackles the real problems driving the cost of specialty drugs used to treat complex medical conditions.

Prior Authorization (Pre-Certification) is at the core of Pharmasense. It helps self-funded health plans avoid potential conflicts of interest that enable massive mark-ups and other abuses go unchecked. Pre-certifying specialty drug prescriptions prevents hospitals or PBMs from reviewing authorizations and dispensing specialty drugs without any independent review process. The same is true when providers submit specialty drug prescriptions as claims under the medical plan rather than the prescription drug benefit plan. As an independent TPA, we use these tools to deliver quality patient outcomes and significant cost savings by avoiding the kinds of conflicts described above.

If your prescription drug costs are spiraling out of control, it’s time to take serious action. Talk to us about ways to prevent Pharmacide today!

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3 reasons self-funding is a great option for smaller companies

This article was published on September 10, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Darick Bradford.

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Source: BenefitsPro

“Wait, what’s a self-funded plan again? And why does it make sense for my clients?”

These are questions I hear from brokers all the time. And I get it. Self-funding can be complex. But it’s time to get smarter about self-funded health benefit plan designs as this type of product could be a game-changer for your smaller clients.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a self-funded plan? Self-funding is an arrangement where an employer sponsors a self-funded health benefit plan and is financially responsible for employee covered claims up to a certain dollar amount. Covered claims in excess of this dollar amount are reimbursed to the employer through stop-loss insurance.

Larger organizations have used self-funding for years as a way to save costs, but more recently we’re also seeing smaller businesses offering self-funded health benefit plans to their employees.

The numbers back it up. Between 2013 and 2016, the percentage of small employers offering at least one self-funded health benefit plan increased from 13.3 percent to 17.4 percent—a 31 percent increase.

Why are more small businesses offering self-funded health benefit plans? I see three big reasons:

1: Self-funding can be a great tool to attract and retain employees.

When it comes to health care, employees want choice and affordable options. Self-funded health benefit plans can give your employees both. From comprehensive medical to preventive-only coverage, your employees will have a variety of options. And, they’ll have those choices at affordable prices. That can be a key tool to attracting and retaining employees in an increasingly tight labor market.

2: Self-funding provides flexibility.

Employers can customize their self-funded health benefit plans with different deductibles and coinsurance choices to fit their needs, whether it’s a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan design, consumer-directed health plan (CDHP) design, or a reference-based pricing or preventive-only plan design.

3: Self-funding can help lower employer costs.

There are a variety of ways self-funded health benefit plans can help employers lower costs. First, employers can receive refunds if there is a surplus of claim dollars in their prefund account at the end of the plan year. Second, claim dollars are not subject to state health insurance premium taxes, which can help lower costs (premium taxes average around 2 percent). And finally, self-funded health benefit plans give employers access to aggregate health claims data and demographic information. This data — available exclusively under a self-funded arrangement versus traditional health insurance — allows employers to better manage costs and encourage cost-savings measures their employees can practice, such as switching to generic medications, using in-network providers, and selecting a different level of care.

In the end, better understanding the ins and outs of self-funding will mean more choices for your small employer clients—and more success for you.

With some research and education on how self-funding works and the carriers/TPAs that offer administrative services, self-funded health benefit plan designs and stop-loss insurance, you can become well-versed in what’s available in the marketplace and learn if and when a self-funded health benefit plan design could be a potential fit for your smaller clients. Having a solid knowledge is a good start to have the advantage over another broker who didn’t evaluate self-funding as a viable option.

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Considering a TPA to administer your health plan? Ask these 8 questions first

This article was published on August 7, 2018 on Employee Benefit News, written by Corte Larossi.

We all know that making changes to your health plan can have major consequences for your company. It can impact your medical costs and company bottom line, the health and welfare of your employees, employee satisfaction and performance, as well as your ability to hire and retain high performing staff. If your health plan is currently self-funded — or you are considering moving to a self-funded arrangement — the stakes can be even higher since you’re responsible for part or even all the medical costs, depending on the size of your company and risk tolerance.

One of the most critical functions is the administration of your medical claims. Your claims payer — whether a traditional insurance carrier or a third-party administrator — can help make or break the success of a self-funded plan. Many times, these entities also will provide other services directly, or through strategic partnerships including pharmacy benefits management, medical management, stop-loss, employee and provider portal access, voluntary products and telemedicine — just to name a few.

For many small to medium-size employers (25-1,000 employees), and even some larger companies, a TPA may be a good option. The advantage of the traditional carriers is often the medical claim discounts they offer along with nationwide access, which is clearly important, but they might not provide the flexibility smaller employers may need to meet their plan objectives. Additionally, some carriers do allow TPAs to access their networks, which can provide TPA clients deeper savings than may be available through rental PPOs.

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Photo Source: Employee Benefit News

Here are eight important questions employers should ask when vetting TPA partners.

1. What is their claims administration platform?

This is one of the most critical issues when choosing a TPA. Do they have an older legacy system that may be less flexible, or are they using a platform that provides the ability to manage newer, more sophisticated products? Also, can they adjudicate a high volume of claims on an automated basis, or is the process more manual? This is not to say that manual processing isn’t necessary since there could be plan nuances and exceptions that need to be addressed outside of the standard adjudication process. But in general, the higher degree of automation, the more cost effective the process for both the TPA and the client.

Can they easily and accurately manage service/provider carve outs or additions? What is their process and commitment to meeting your objectives? Can they administer other types of services including, but not limited to dental, vision, HRAs, HSAs, COBRA, subrogation and COB? Continue reading

How Much Is Fraud & Abuse Costing Your Health Plan?

newspaper-headlinesFrom a drug manufacturer that contributes money to a non-profit Copay Assistance foundation and then steers Medicare patients taking their drugs to that foundation to a diagnostic lab that pays doctors for every blood test they refer, disguising the payments as “processing and handling fees”, there seems to be no end to the costly schemes plaguing our healthcare system. What is an employer group to do?

For starters, use partial self-funding to provide health benefits to your workers – even if your group is small. It’s the only way to know where your health plan dollars are going from month to month and year to year. Choose an independent TPA to design your plan, manage costs and advocate for your members. This way, you and your plan will have a dedicated, experienced team looking out for your best interests, rather than those of a provider or a large health plan (who may both be part of the same organization).

We can’t keep fraud and abuse out of the healthcare system. But by paying claims in strict accordance with your plan document, providing special handling for members with a serious condition or chronic illness, and helping your members choose high quality, high value providers, we can do everything in our power to keep it from impacting your health plan directly.

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Is Value Based Pricing Here to Stay?

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With More Families Forced to Choose Between Healthcare & Housing, It May Be the Future

As a TPA, employer groups count on us to make their health benefits work. While that sounds easy enough, it can be anything but easy when ordinary working families face hospital bills they can’t handle.

One couple recently found themselves confronted by a hospital that rejected their coverage, demanding an advance payment of $9,000 for their child’s tonsillectomy, with a $10,000 balance due following the procedure. Because the employer has replaced their PPO network with Value Based Pricing (VBP), we were able to work with the parents, their regular pediatrician and ELAP Services to arrange for the procedure to be performed at a local, affiliated surgical center. Their total cost was less than $2,000 – a fraction of the original price.

While a great deal of work and cooperation were required to achieve this outcome, Value Based Pricing made it possible, by defining pricing limits in advance and encouraging dialogue between the patient, the provider and us as the TPA.

In a time when too many hardworking Americans are facing extraordinarily difficult healthcare decisions, helping employers and hospitals agree on pricing schedules for covered benefits may be the only way to keep quality healthcare within reach for small and mid-sized employers and the workers they depend on.

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How a Broken Healthcare System Impacts People’s Lives

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As a Third Party Administrator, employers and plan members count on us to make their health benefits work. While that sounds easy enough, it can be anything but easy when ordinary working families are forced to face exorbitant hospital bills.

One couple recently found themselves confronted with a very difficult situation when their son needed a medical procedure that would be considered routine in ordinary circumstances. However, what happened was anything but ordinary. The hospital rejected the couple’s insurance, saying that because they had gone out of network, they would be required to pay $9,000 up front for their child’s tonsillectomy and another $10,000 or more immediately following the procedure.

Their health plan, which we manage for their employer, has been partially self-funded for several years. In addition, the employer recently replaced their PPO network with reference based (or cost plus) pricing, a strategy that enables the plan to define pricing limits and ensure a much more transparent view of healthcare expenses.

In this particular case, we worked with the parents, their regular pediatrician and ELAP Services to arrange for the procedure to be performed at a local, affiliated surgical center – at a fraction of the price quoted by the original hospital. Their total cost was less than $2,000, approximately one tenth of the cost the original provider intended to charge. It took a great deal of work and cooperation to achieve this outcome, but the case serves as an excellent example of what can be done when a health plan has been designed to encourage open dialogue between patients, trusted advisors and providers.

More and more, hardworking Americans are facing extraordinary healthcare costs and struggling to pay their bills. NerdWallet Health conducted a study and found that a debt collection agency will contact 1 in 5 American adults regarding medical debt. This means there are approximately 51 million people who are unprepared and unable to deal with the rising cost of healthcare.

Another aspect of healthcare that is seldom discussed is the challenge facing small and mid-sized employers struggling to provide adequate healthcare to their workers. Rising costs have made it nearly impossible for many companies to hire new employees or invest in their businesses in other ways. Sadly, millions of Americans have seen their standard of living eroded by the cost shifting that has occurred.

As these parents and their employer have discovered, alternatives like reference based pricing are helping to build bridges between employers and hospitals. “While a good deal of experience is required to design these plans and manage them over time, the opportunity for cost savings is so significant that more and more employers are moving in this direction,” said Brooks Goodison, President of Diversified Group. One of New England’s most experienced Third Party Administrators, Diversified Group has responded to the growing demand. “With or without reference based pricing, Diversified has long been committed to pursuing mutually rewarding partnerships between employers and community-based health care facilities,” added Goodison. “Open communication, cooperation and innovation by businesses and healthcare providers are musts if the issue of runaway healthcare costs is ever going to be resolved.”

As cases like this have long shown, the price for a given healthcare procedure in the same locale can vary greatly, often with little difference in quality. When employers use reference based or cost plus pricing, the plan and area hospitals typically agree on a pricing schedule for covered benefits by using Medicare plus a predetermined margin. Visit Diversified Group online to learn more about reference based pricing and view a brief educational video by ELAP Services, Inc.