Archive for the ‘Medical Issues’ Category

The GB Journal: Pithy, Trenchant and Chock Full Of Stuff You Can Use

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

In March of this year, friend and colleague Dr. Gary Anderberg, Senior VP of Claim Analytics for Gallagher Bassett Services, had another one of his good ideas: Publish concise and useful information for risk managers who don’t have a lot of spare time to wade through oodles of research. In Gary’s words:

The basic purpose of The GB Journal is to keep our clients informed on new developments that impact WC, A/L, G/L and property coverages. The idea is that most risk managers are more than a little pressed for time, so a neat synopsis with a link or two for those interested in more details, will be helpful. We also see this as a neat vehicle for generating useful conversations between our account managers and our clients concerning important issues. I try to keep the average item to about 350 to 400 words and no more than three items per issue. That’s no more than five minutes of reading time total.

And presto, his GB Journal was born.

GB 11 August

I love the tagline: We deal in conclusions, not opinions.

Gary says the Journal is for clients of GB, but anyone can subscribe. He’s the sole author and publishes every other Thursday. The current issue summarizes the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute’s recent analysis of eight state’s attempts to curb physician in-office dispensing and discusses the new term of the day, BoT – Burden of Treatment.

At the Insider, for years we’ve been doing something similar when Julie Ferguson posts her News Of Note, but we have no set schedule for that and don’t limit it to three items. Gary’s approach is different, but certainly worthwhile and effective.

I like what Gary is doing. It’s good for GB’s business, but it’s also good for the workers’ compensation community at large. If you’re not already a subscriber, I recommend you become one.

 

2016 White Paper Evaluates Commonwealth Care Alliance

Monday, July 18th, 2016

In April, 2016, I authored a post about Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), a Massachusetts HMO dedicated to serving the Dual Eligible population. Duals qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid, and CCA has been the nation’s incubator for how to do that. The Boston-based HMO operates a Senior Care Option plan for Duals over the age of 65 and an Affordable Care Act demonstration project, called One Care, for Duals younger than 65. I’ve been a CCA Director since its inception in late 2003.

Now, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, JSI Research & Training, Inc., has published an extensive evaluation of CCA’s visionary and groundbreaking efforts to treat the nation’s sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor.

In JSI’s words:

The provisions in the ACA were designed to achieve the Institute of Health Improvement’s Triple Aim of improving patient experience of care and the health of populations while reducing the overall cost of health care.

The 22-page White Paper’s thrust centers around CCA’s “Social ACO” model of care. JSI describes the Social ACO approach this way:

These approaches are based on the idea that improving health and cost outcomes of vulnerable populations will necessitate incorporating health, behavioral health, and social services into the ACO model. Social ACOs serve populations with complex and often unmet social and economic needs that impact health outcomes and health system utilization, including needs related to housing, food security and nutrition, legal assistance, employment support, and/or enrollment assistance.

As I noted in April, Duals represent only 4% of the nation’s population, but consume 34% of its health care dollars. They present a societal problem begging for a solution. The Affordable Care Act offers revolutionary innovators like CCA the chance to prove their worth. So far, as the JSI paper suggests, CCA’s approach is spot on. Here’s JSI’s conclusion:

As a pioneer of the social ACO approach, its (CCA’s) story offers insights into the factors and processes that promote successful realization of the Triple Aim for other emerging ACOs focused on complex patient populations.

Payment and delivery reform promises to transform care for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens. This is needed more than ever given rising healthcare costs and continued fragmentation of the care system. CCA’s social ACO model represents one approach to caring for some of the highest risk populations, though even this approach has had to be adapted extensively for the dual-eligible population under 65. Given its longevity of refining a care model, a global capitation payment model and a culture of innovation to care for high-risk, vulnerable populations, CCA’s experience is relevant to any provider organization seeking to transform care for high-risk populations.

Achieving the Triple Aim of improving the health of America’s dual population while lowering the cost of doing so is a rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick of the first order, but, at least to this point, Commonwealth Care Alliance seems to be onto something that will do just that.

One final thought: On the eve of our two presidential conventions, it would be nice if, at some point in all the bloviation, a cogent discussion regarding health care were to be had. And I’m talking about something other than, “On Day 1 we’re going to repeal Obamacare.”

But I wouldn’t bet on that happening. Would you?

More on the opioid crisis and the fentanyl factor

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Here in the state where the world headquarters of Lynch Ryan is housed, we learn the unsettling news that Massachusetts has seen a 190% increase in opioid deaths in five years. Jessica Bartlett of Boston Business Journal notes:

“Despite Gov. Charlie Baker releasing a $27 million plan to address the opioid epidemic in June, opioid deaths have continued to rise, with recent data from the Department of Public Health showing a 12.5 percent increase in estimated deaths in 2015 compared to the year before.

Compared to just five years ago, the estimated 1,526 unintentional opioid-related deaths in 2015 represents a 190 percent increase.”

Things might have been even worse. In 2015, the “opioid antagonist” Naloxone was administered 12,982 times, so we can only guess what the tally might have been without such intervention. It doesn’t look like 2016 will bring much relief: An estimated 400 deaths have have already occurred in the first three months of the year.

Bartlett notes a disturbing trend:

“While the high number of deaths is nothing new, the state has for the first time released the number of deaths with a confirmed presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Of the 1,319 confirmed opioid deaths in 2015, 754 of them tested positive for fentanyl.”

Felice J. Freyer and J.D. Capelouto recently reported on this in the Boston Globe: Fentanyl factored in more than half of 2015 OD deaths, state reports

A Massachusetts law criminalizing fentanyl trafficking took effect in February, with sentences of up to 20 years in prison for selling more than 10 grams.

The health department data released Monday provide the most reliable portrait to date of the opioid crisis in 2015, confirming that 1,379 people died from overdoses. A deeper analysis of cases from 2014 raised the number of confirmed fatal overdoses for that year, to 1,282.

The state’s findings do not distinguish between heroin overdoses and those caused by prescription opioids. Health officials are unable to make that distinction because most prescription opioids, as well as heroin, break down into morphine in the bloodstream. But fentanyl, a synthetic drug, turns into a substance that can be detected by a test.

Southern California Public Radio features a story on Why it’s so hard to track the powerful opioid fentanyl. Rebecca Plevin reports:

First, doctors treating overdose victims are mainly looking for the better-known opioids, like Vicodin. And when they check for drugs, standard tests often miss fentanyl. A special lab analysis is often necessary, and doctors – especially in busy ER’s – don’t always think of that. Another problem is that not all hospitals are set up to conduct the special lab analysis.

All of this is complicated by the fact that illegally manufactured fentanyl may be mixed with heroin or counterfeit pills that look like normal prescription medications, so people may not be aware that they’re exposing themselves to the drug.

The rise in fentanyl use has health officials particularly worried, given its tremendous potency. To try to get a handle on the problem, the state has asked all local hospitals to report suspected fentanyl overdoses. State officials have also asked providers to test for fentanyl when ordering drug screening in cases of suspected overdose.

This is a disturbing news in the worsening opioid crisis. A simple search of Google news will show that officials in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states are seeing surges in fentanyl overdoses.

In his post Opioids, spines, and dead people, Joe Paduda talks about physicians and prescribing, giving context to the issue:

In a related piece, Michael Van Korff ScD andGary Franklin MD MPH summarize the iatrogenic disaster driven by opioid over-prescribing. Over the last fifteen years, almost 200,000 prescription opioid overdose deaths have occurred in the US, with most deaths from medically-prescribed opioids.

Doctors prescribed opioids that killed well over a hundred thousand people.

Today, about 10 million Americans are using doctor-prescribed opioids; somewhere between 10% – 40% may have prescription opioid use disorder – they may well be addicted.

Van Korff and Franklin note that 60% of overdose fatalities were prescribed dosages greater than a 50 mg morphine equivalent.

In days gone by, drug deaths were primarily associated with illicit or street drugs, but today, it’s prescription drugs – and prescriptions are seen as the gateway to street drugs, rather than the reverse.  We now lose more people annually to drug overdoses than by car crashes or firearms.

In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, 46,471 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, and more than half of those deaths were caused by prescription painkillers and heroin.

That compares with the 35,369 who died in motor vehicle crashes and 33,636 who died from firearms, as tallied by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Combating the public health scourge of prescription drug-related addiction and deaths will require a concerted effort on all fronts: physicians as prescribers; employers and insurers in the workplace; public health, elected officials and law enforcement in our communities. On that front, there have been some promising approaches in moving from a crime to a treatment approach: Connecticut Cops Consider ‘Angel’ Program to Combat Heroin Scourge

Another approach, pioneered in Gloucester, Massachusetts, shows promise and has been attracting increasing attention around the country. In Connecticut, Groton has adopted it and Manchester is considering a similar program.

Launched on June 1, the Gloucester Angel Initiative makes police the point agency in moving addicts directly into treatment. Addicts are allowed to surrender any drugs and needles they have with the understanding that they will not face arrest and that police and community volunteers called “angels” will help them toward recovery.

About 350 admitted addicts have sought help in Gloucester through the program, department spokesman John Guilfoil said on Jan. 8. As a side benefit, crime fueled by addiction, particularly thefts, dropped 33 percent last summer compared with the summer of 2014, Guilfoil said.

Fifty-three police agencies in the country have adopted similar programs, and two to three more join each week through a partnership called the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, Guilfoil said.

Prior related posts:

 

The Sickest Of The Sick, The Poorest Of The Poor

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

They comprise less than 4% of the nation’s population, yet consume nearly 34% of health care dollars. Sixty percent are age 65 or older. About 40% are younger people with ADL-qualifying disabilities. More than half fall below the federal poverty level. Almost half never graduated high school. Nearly two-thirds are female. Fifty-eight percent are white/non-hispanics.

They are America’s “Dual Eligibles,” our fellow citizens who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Technically, because they’re Duals, they are not the “uninsured.” Still, they sit smack dab in Obamacare’s bulls eye.

In 2003, here in Massachusetts, a pioneering visionary decided to create a non-profit HMO that would offer as its sole product a Senior Care Option plan aimed at the over-65 Dual population. As a former head of the Long-Term Care Division within the Commonwealth’s Medicaid Program, Mass Health, Dr. Bob Master knew a lot about the Duals and the many challenges they presented. Somehow, he convinced a few academics and business people to join his brand new Board of Directors for his Quixotic quest. I was one of them.

In the early days, the hunt for funding was all-consuming, but against considerable odds, funding was found, and, with the support of CMS and Mass Health, an incubator for the nation was born – Commonwealth Care Alliance.

Bob immediately set out to prove that Duals could achieve significantly better health and well-being at lower cost if they were cared for in a home-based regimen by highly trained teams of providers. And between 2003 and 2014, CCA produced eye-popping proof of concept results. For example, thirty-day hospital readmission rates for these sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor consistently beat Medicare’s overall rate. CCA achieved annual Medicare star ratings of 4.5 or better (Because of Senior Care Option demographics, it is statistically impossible for the company to achieve a higher rating).

CMS took note. And when medical, academic and political luminaries were crafting the Affordable Care Act, Bob was instrumental in convincing them Duals were a target not to be missed.

Consequently, the Affordable Care Act created demonstration projects in nine states from California to Massachusetts to see whether it’s possible to improve the health of all Duals, those over the age of 65 as well as under it, while reducing their health care costs. A tall order, indeed, because it had never been done before.

CMS and Mass Medicaid issued a humongously big RFP. Commonwealth Care Alliance answered it and won the right to play in the new sandbox, called One Care. The year 2014 was spent in preparing. For example, in order to be ready, the company had to double the size of staff (there are now more than 800) and train the newbies to successfully manage CCA’s unique model of care. That was not easy.

In early 2015, we opened the floodgates to the state’s thousands of Duals under the age of 65. Since then, it’s been a thrilling ride, because throughout 2015 CCA had a few near-death-experiences. But with the help of both CMS and Medicaid we were able to negotiate the potholes and speed-bumps, and now, after more than a few sleepless nights, the company cares for more than 17,000 Duals with Medicare and Medicaid premium of more than $850 million. In essence, CCA is beginning (barely) to do well by doing good. To my mind, if the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, does nothing more than significantly improve the lot in life of the nation’s Duals while lowering their cost of care, it will be a success of the first order.

Now, it’s time to turn the reins over to a new era of leadership. Last Friday, we had a retirement party for Bob Master where CCA employees who could free themselves from work for a couple of hours came to Boston to say hail and farewell. Many came on their own time. There was a great big cake and a lake-full of diet soda and coffee, but no dignitaries, just current staff and a number of Directors. The Chair of the Board said nice things about Bob and the ride we’d all been on. I described how, after all this time, Bob and I had discovered less than a year ago over lunch that, in addition to growing up in the next town to each other, we had been comrades in arms back in the late-60s in Vietnam; in the same Division, even, at the same time. Funny, that.

Many employees read stories they’d prepared for the occasion. Honest tears were shed. Bob gave an extemporaneous speech that was heartfelt and touching. He thanked all who had joined in the noble quest, many by name. Then he rode off into the sunset.

But the work goes on.

 

 

 

 

WCRI – Day One, Part One

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Day One of the WCRI’s annual conference began with WCRI’s Chairman, Vincent Armentano, of The Travelers Companies, introducing new President and CEO John Ruser. He presented the first session (preliminary finding, subject to change) on the Impact of Fee Schedules on Case Shifting in Workers’ Compensation.

It should come as no surprise that there is substantial variation in fee schedules and prices across the states and that workers’ comp fee schedules and costs continue to be higher than group health costs, in some states significantly higher. Bottom line here: States where workers comp pays higher medical reimbursements have a much greater chance of a soft tissue injury being classified as work-related. Not so much for traumatic injuries, such as fractures. In otherwords, states that have higher reimbursement for workers’ comp than group health have greater incidence of cost shifting to worker’s comp. Follow the money.

Next up, Dr. Bogdan Savych on comparing worker outcomes across fifteen states. Interesting news: Between 9% and 19% (median is 14%) of injured workers “had no substantial return to work” (meaning returning to work for at least 30 days) three years post-injury. These, again, are preliminary findings and subject to change, but 14% is a huge number. This study, based on 6,000 injured worker interviews, raises many questions. For example, what role do differing state workers’ comp benefits play in this. Also, Savych divided the workers into six age cohorts. The older group had more injuries without substantial return to work. What role did their age play in that?

Alex Swedlow, President of the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, delivered a mesmerizing presentation on Independent Medical Review and Dispute Resolution in the state, which, if it were a country, would have the sixth highest GDP in the world. Not surprising, to quote Swedlow, “Size matters.” California’s been trying to control medical costs for decades, and it keeps trying. I can’t begin to cover the totality of  the Swedlow presentation, but here’s one takeaway: Ten percent  of California’s medical providers account for 85% of Independent Medical Review decisions. Again, follow the money.

Kudos And Thanks To Work Comp Central’s Greg Jones

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Work Comp Central’s Greg Jones has relentlessly followed and reported on the Michael Drobot case in Southern California, a case that fairly oozes greed and sleaze.

For the uninitiated, Michael Drobot’s Pacific Health Corporation owned two hospitals, Pacific Hospital of Long Beach and Tri-City Regional Medical Center in Hawaiian Gardens. For around 10 years, he paid kickbacks to a number of doctors for referring spinal fusion patients to Pacific Hospital of Long Beach for surgery. In February, 2014, Drobot pleaded guilty to making the kickbacks, which are illegal, and for charging California’s workers’ compensation system, the U.S. Department of Labor and about 150 workers’ compensation insurers somewhere in the vicinity of $500 million dollars for the surgeries over the ten year period. At that time, we wrote about this with Honor Sold, Trust Betrayed: Unbridled Greed in California.

Drobot is also charged with bribing state senator Ron Calderon for his help in easing one of the SB 863 requirements, which we don’t need to go into here. Calderon has pleaded not guilty, and that case is moving through the system.

Throughout this sordid business, Greg Jones has been there, providing a valuable service with his spot-on reporting, most recently last week with his story (subscription required) that a number of the doctors who took the kickbacks, at $15,000 a pop, also had filed “more than 15,000 liens with a total claimed value of $93.8 million.” To get that story, Jones had to wade through what must have been a steamer trunk full of documents.

Personally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Jones. He found two errors in my post of 30 November, Workers’ Comp Fraud: The Michael Drobot Case Grinds On. I had written that the kickback scheme involved both of the Drobot hospitals. That was wrong. They only happened at Pacific Hospital at Long Beach. Also, I had written that Drobot had pleaded guilty to bribing Calderon. He did not. He is charged with doing it, and both he and Calderon have pleaded not guilty. Before Work Comp Central ran my post, Greg found the errors and made edits to correct them, for which I am grateful.

The Drobot case is complicated and it represents the bottom of the workers’ compensation bird cage. However, the solid reporting of Greg Jones shines an arc light on the sorry mess and will help to improve the system so that in the future the Drobots of the world will think twice about this kind of criminality.

 

 

Misunderstanding the business of workers comp

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Anyone who is familiar with Joe Paduda’s blog know that he is pretty forthright and frank in putting forth his opinion, apologies to no one. His strong point of view combined with his deep expertise on the medical side of comp makes Managed Care Matters a compelling read and one of our most frequent blog stops.

So when we find an article by Joe that starts off with an alert that what he is about to say runs the risk of alienating most people in the workers comp world, well, we take notice. Nothing we like better than a good workers comp controversy.

The article: What Is the Business of Workers’ Comp? posted at Insurance Thought Leadership.

The controversy:

“Most workers’ comp executives – C-suite residents included – do not understand the business they are in. They think they are in the insurance business – and they are not. They are in the medical and disability management business, with medical listed first in order of priority.”

We agree with Joe and we fail to see the controversy! We’re a little disappointed because we envisioned a work comp mud wrestle but he lays out a clear case that’s pretty hard to dispute.

Joe points to a graveyard littered with household-name healthcare insurers of yesteryear who mistook their core deliverable and he makes the parallel with property casualty work comp insurers of today.

For us “olds,” we started in an industry where indemnity or wage replacement was about 60 percent of the claims dollar. In recent decades, that has upended and the medical costs dominate most claims. But even in that seemingly simpler time, you could make the case that the industry focus was misdirected. And if the insurance CEOs have a misunderstanding about their core deliverable, perhaps it is partly because they have been aided and abetted by employers, who have all too often misunderstood what they are buying.

Lynch Ryan came into being because what was essentially an unmanaged human issue was largely being handled as a financial transaction: people were getting hurt at work and there was no consistent, effective process to get them well and get them back to work. Those were the bad old days before “return to work” had entered the industry lexicon in any meaningful way. Employers were essentially outsourcing their core responsibilities to insurers and washing their hands of the process. Today, thankfully, most employers are much more enlightened about workers comp and the hand-on role they must play.

But all too often, buyers are still shopping for the cheapest work comp “solution” and the biggest network discount, sacrificing the immediate micro gain for the big picture.

Joe raises some good challenges and we think they are good ones for the buyer every bit as much as for the seller:

“Then why is the industry focused almost entirely on buying medical care through huge discount-based networks populated by every doc capable of fogging a mirror (and some who can’t)? Even with those huge networks, why is network penetration barely above 60% nationally? Why has adoption of outcome-based networks been a dismal failure? Why do so few workers’ comp payers employ expert medical directors, and, among those who do, why don’t those payers give those medical directors real authority? Why do non-medical people approve drugs, hospitalizations, surgeries, often overriding medical experts who know more and better?”

 

Are We Only Paying Lip Service To Psychosocial Issues In Workers’ Compensation?

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

It is a cliché in the workers’ comp industry that claims adjusters never want “to buy a psych claim.” Perhaps that’s why they rarely resort to psychologists until the horse is out of the barn and grazing four pastures over. By then it’s a last resort kind of thing.

I was reminded of this last week in Idaho at the Industrial Commission’s annual conference when Bob Wilson opined during his presentation that he considers the “psychosocial” issue one of the most difficult facing the workers’ comp industry today, one that will become even more problematic tomorrow, a veritable iceberg dead ahead.

I could not agree more.

So, why is it adjusters don’t want to “buy a psych claim?” Pretty simple, really. Most claims adjusters have had the unfortunate experience of referring an injured worker to a psychologist after all else has failed only to discover that the injured worker turns into the psychologist’s lifetime annuity and the adjuster’s worst nightmare. Treatment goes on forever. Also, it often turns into an attitude thing. Claims adjusters consider “going on forever” claims their “problem children.”

That’s a logical inference. The steady march of time is a formidable opponent as one tries to assist an injured person to return to the bosom of the workplace. The longer a worker stays out of work, the more difficult the problem becomes. Comorbidities begin to sprout like the weeds in my woebegone garden. In many cases, staying out of work becomes the new full-time job. What’s an over-burdened adjuster to do?

Perhaps on Day 1 of the claim giving strong consideration to the psychosocial would help. Unfortunately, as adjuster pros know, the First Report of Injury won’t give many clues here. Deep digging is required. If available, predictive analytics can be the adjuster’s best friend. Still, an even better bosom buddy is experience. Over thousands of conversations with injured workers, an experienced claims adjuster will acquire a profound recognition of nuance. Not settling for the basic questions, but rather peeling the injured person’s personality onion to discover what really matters will allow for early detection of those relatively rare cases where speedy referral to a qualified psychologist might make all the difference.

And psychologists need to shoulder some responsibility here. Most know not even the first thing about workers’ compensation and give every indication of being proud of it. The only insurance premium that matters is the one labeled “Malpractice.” Experience Modification is nothing more than an oxymoron. Many do not understand, and do not want to understand, that helping someone become as mentally healthy as the day of exiting the womb is not the same thing as maximum medical improvement.

And what if payers and psychologists could agree to the rules of the road right up front. For instance, coming to an understanding about qualitative and quantitative goals, about the need for a finite number of sessions, about agreeing that there are certain signs which, if manifested at the beginning of a claim, suggest that the claim would benefit from early psychological intervention? And what about the idea that entrance into a payer network should not be determined solely by a License to practice and the forced acceptance of a ridiculously low fee? Quality and results matter.

There’s a fair amount of education that ought to go on here. Payers would be wise to begin that education today. Why? Because identifying early and resolving quickly the factors that have the potential to turn physical injuries into mental health problems will save employers, the folks who pay the bills, a significant amount of money and adjusters, whose goal it is to put the toothpaste back in the tube, considerable otherwise wasted time.

Peter Rousmaniere Takes On The Opioid Controversy And Offers A Prescription For The Future

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Work Comp Central has published We’re Beating Back Opioids – Now What? written by columnist Peter Rousmaniere in cooperation with CompPharma, a consortium of workers’ compensation Pharmacy Benefit Managers.

To say the Mr. Rousmaniere is a “workers’ compensation thought leader” is a little like saying Ted Williams was a pretty good baseball player. In this provocative analysis he expertly  chronicles the increasingly alarming rise in opioid usage to treat work injuries from the early 1990s through the first decade of this century, what he calls “the twenty year crisis.” He describes how Purdue Pharma’s introduction and heavy-handed marketing of Oxycontin in 1996 lit the fuse of the opioid rocket ride to the moon, setting off a series of  cataclysmically destructive personal odysseys on a grand scale. Lives ruined, families torn apart. And he documents the myriad counterattacks mounted by responsible parties around the country, most notably Dr. Gary Franklin, the neurologist and medical director for the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, who, by anyone’s standard has been a torchbearer in the battle.

Rousmaniere describes how the responsible physician community, recognizing that things were getting more than a little out of control, began to question the effectiveness of opioids in treating pain:

In 2013, the American Medical Association published a review of pain medications, in which it concluded that “Narcotics provide little to no benefit in acute back pain, they have no proven efficacy in chronic back pain, and 43% of patients have concurrent substance abuse disorders, with aberrant medication-taking disorders [in] as high as 24% of cases of chronic back pain.” The “no evidence” concept has been stretched to raise more questions, as in this conclusion published in early 2015: “There is no evidence that opioids improve return to work or reduce the use of other treatments. They may even limit the effectiveness of other treatments.”

Finally, he tells the story of how the federal government as well as almost all the states, the insurance industry, the American Medical Association and workers’ comp pharmacy benefit managers took definitive action to bend the opioid curve to the point where all of the leading indicators have been significantly slowed or reversed.

But Peter Rousmaniere’s report up to this point, the halfway mark, is merely preamble to the real thrust of We’re Beating Back Opioids – Now What? It’s the “Now What?” that concerns Mr. Rousmaniere. The “baby and the bathwater” question. He writes:

The workers’ comp industry was victimized by opioids and their well-resourced purveyors and ardent advocates. But it also made a costly, unforced strategic error. It paid more attention to wrestling with this flawed solution than to the underlying problem: chronic pain.

In short, Rousmaniere says, “We have equated pain management with drug use.” He isn’t shy about making his point:

Too much attention was diverted to fighting the opioid threat. For example, when states introduce hard hitting formularies, such as Texas did and others are doing, hardly any thought is given to making sure patients and physicians have access to a balanced array of non-opioid treatment. This needs to change – now.

Well, chronic pain is real. So, if not with opioids, how should the medical community be treating it?

Rousmaniere’s prescription is an elastic version of conservative care. He describes the approach of California’s second largest private employer, Albertsons / Safeway / Vons, who “learned through experience” that every injured person is a unique individual and that new ideas need to be brought to the recovery process.

For example, it’s almost a cliche  to say that chronic pain sufferers tend to depression as well as other mental and behavioral health issues. Consequently, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an underused treatment because of its perceived fuzziness, is gaining traction within the world of claims management.  As is the idea of treating injured workers in a biopsychosocial way. And, because opioid treatment is still an option, many in the medical community are saying that before any injured workers receive opioid prescriptions they should be screened for depression.

Rousmaniere argues persuasively that “one size fits all” treatment just doesn’t work for many people and that the solution to this thorniest of workers’ comp problems will take a heretofore unheard of level of cooperation and coordination among and between the industry’s disparate factions. He even goes so far as to compare the effort required to the largest single public infrastructure project in the nation’s history, Boston’s Big Dig. Although, having lived through the Big Dig and its daily remapping of Boston’s streets, that’s a bit of a long pull for me. But I get his point:

The goal of the Big Dig was to improve the livelihood of the Boston metropolis – more than reworking traffic flow. The goal of a chronic pain initiative is to keep workers productive – more than managing drugs.

Peter Rousmaniere’s  We’re Beating Back Opioids – Now What? is a compelling, stimulating and thought provoking work by a person with 30 years in the workers’ comp trenches and the scars to prove it. It should be required reading for anyone whose job it is to help injured workers return to the productive future each deserves.

 

 

Hospital Medicare Charges: You Don’t Always Get What You Want

Monday, June 8th, 2015

In early June of this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) let loose a treasure trove of data. One data set lists inpatient charges of 3,000 hospitals for the 100 most frequently billed diagnoses of 2013. The differences between what the hospitals billed and what Medicare paid are eye-popping, as are the differences between what hospitals within just a few miles of each other charged.

The inpatient data shows Medicare paid about $62 billion to cover more than 7 million discharges. Our good friends at Modern Healthcare have analyzed the data. This, from Modern Healthcare’s Bob Herman:

Hospitals have been under intense scrutiny for their billing practices, often triggered by extremely high charges—or sticker prices—for common procedures. Consumer groups and patient advocates argue hospital pricing is shrouded in secrecy, which has put patients on the hook for costly bills. But hospitals have said the listed charges are irrelevant because they only serve as a starting point for negotiations with insurers and that patients rarely, if ever, pay those prices.

The CMS data is shining a light on the process. The agency has now released data from 2011, 2012 and 2013. Charges for various inpatient and outpatient procedures differed significantly again in 2013 as they did in prior years. In many instances, charges fluctuated greatly among hospitals in the same region.

A Modern Healthcare analysis of the inpatient payment data shows Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., had the largest gulfs in charges between the top and bottom hospitals. For example, in Philadelphia, the average difference in average hospital charges across all procedures was $123,847. In Los Angeles—an area rife with academic medical centers such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center—the average difference between the highest-charging hospital and the lowest-charging hospital was about $112,000.

Did you catch the part about the listed charges being irrelevant, because they’re only starting points for negotiations? Reminds me of the last time I bought a car.

You might be tempted to say, “That’s crazy! Why do hospitals do that?” Let me answer with a little story.

A few years ago, I was a Trustee at a major teaching hospital in Massachusetts, a tertiary care facility, one of the biggies. At one Board meeting early on in my trusteeship I asked the CEO how the hospital was compensated for uninsured people who were indigent. His answer? “We charge them the moon.” Note to reader: he’s talking about the indigent patient, here. “Then, when the state’s uncompensated care pool gets around to paying us, we’ll get a lot more than if we just charged them what the procedure cost, in which case we’d get a lot less than what the procedure cost.” I never forgot that lesson in hospital economics.

So, you see, when hospitals say their charges are “starting points,” they’re telling the truth. And that is one spooky scary example of what a first-class horrendoma the American healthcare system (if you can call it that) has become.