Posts Tagged ‘Repeal and Replace’

Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program. Is this a smart amendment to the American Healthcare Act? It may be, let’s discuss and see!

April 13, 2017

The Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program (FIRSP) appears, at first read, to have provisions that would allow insurers to reduce premiums from current levels and keep them lower in years to come. It lacks some detail that the Secretary “shall” determine but let’s discuss what it could provide. BTW, is it interesting to you that when the Government offers to reinsure the plan they call it “invisible”? Just wondering, that’s all.

The FIRSP amendment Sec. 2205, at its core, would establish a stop loss level for insurers offering health insurance products in the Individual market. The stop loss coverage would reimburse an insurer for claim costs exceeding $1,000,000 on any individual. It would act as re-insurance for insurers so that insurers could set premiums knowing that claim costs for individuals above $1M and costs for members with certain health conditions likely to exceed $1M could be passed off to the “government’s” high risk pool. It would tend to lower and contain premiums as the insurer would not be subjected to claims associated with catastrophic illness or accidents.

This should make pricing plans easier for insurers because, pre-ACA, insurers would often purchase reinsurance for their products to pass off  a portion of their risk, above a certain threshold. Insurers are familiar with the costs associated in these reinsurance arrangements which should help as they negotiate with the government’s actuaries on pricing.

The amendment states that a portion of the premium collected by insurers would go to the government’s pool to cover the government’s risk of paying for claims above $1M. The percentage that a plan will pay to access this reinsurance will need to be determined but it will give the government a taste of what insurers faced trying to price plans with unlimited lifetime maximum benefits. Pre-ACA insurer’s plans would have lifetime limits ranging from $2M to $6M depending on the region. That’s one reason the ACA’s unlimited lifetime benefit was so scary to offer for insurers.

What about the GROUP MARKET
Initially, it appears that FIRSP does not apply to employer sponsored plans in what’s referred to as the group market. The group market has traditionally been divided into 2 or 3 group sizes; small group (2-50EEs), mid-size (51-100EEs) and large employers having 100+ employees.  I would suggest that FIRSP is shortsighted if it only covers individual market and should be expanded. The average size of employers in the small group market is under eight (8) employees per group but employers with less than three (3) employees is common.

The FIRSP would help keep the premiums lower and stable in this market segment and therefore should be included. Of course actions to help in this market segment could cause employers to purchase their coverage directly from insurers and stay away from their state-run exchanges.

If FIRSP does not accommodate the group market then it would lead one to believe that the authors are not supportive of the small group market. That would lead one to believe that it is just a ploy to take a step closer toward single payer because the government would still be controlling the strings.

To include the small group market in FIRSP the reinsurance stop loss level could be increased above the $1M in the individual market and could be negotiated based on region of the country, size of insurer, PPO vs HMO and so forth. Again, a one size fits all approach does not need to apply.

The first draft of FIRSP leaves much to the states which is the Republican narrative these days but also suggests someone is saying “I don’t want to deal with it”. Leaving decisions to the states could be problematic for large populations like those in California or New York. It would be easy for the Feds to establish the means and manner in which reinsurance claims could be paid and thus avoid the liberal minded states tendencies toward single payer. Heck, let a good TPA handle it for the Feds and problem solved.

Your author thinks that FIRSP makes sense but at this point it is just a band aid on the overall flawed AHCA. Any amendment, all by its lonesome, is like a bolt-on accessory for your crappy car. If your car engine does not run then bolting on fog lights and flashy decals won’t help much.
Sorry for over using the metaphors.

But, what do you think? Let me know.
And remember, we are all in this together.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

Should expanding ERISA be a part of Repeal and Replace? Let’s discuss it!

April 6, 2017

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, known as ERISA,  was enacted on September 2, 1974, and set the rules to establish minimum standards for pension plans for private employers. Probably due to in part to its name including “Retirement Income Security” people often think that ERISA regulates only pension plans, not true. ERISA also provides for the rules that impact employer sponsored employee health  benefit plans.

While its often misinterpreted, especially by legislatures and insurance departments, ERISA also included guidelines for individual employers designed to protect the member’s interests in their employer sponsored health plan. The term ERISA is often overused and misunderstood but ERISA could present a huge opportunity in the effort to reform (improve) our US healthcare delivery & finance system. To do so, it needs clarified, simplified and expanded.

Basically, ERISA made/makes it possible for individual employers to self-fund their employee benefit plans because it provides the regulations for “employee welfare benefit plans” which of course include employer-provided health care plans. Those employer benefit plans are designed to provide, through the purchase of insurance or in this case self insurance medical, surgical,  hospital care and other benefits caused by sickness.

ERISA’s overly broad and general language has made it difficult  for courts to apply the ERISA preemption provisions and provide clarity to employers, insurers, and state regulators. Basically, the preemption authority that ERISA provides says it “shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they . . . relate to any employee benefit plan.”  There’s more and  I could go on but you get the point which is ERISA has “broad preemption” authority over state insurance commissioners and legislatures that could be both simplified and expanded to help resolve the dilemma of selling across state lines, lack of competition in many regions, cost and access for small employers.

The policy-wonks in Washington, at the direction of HHS, (and us) could easily “wordsmith” the ERISA language to overcome the pitfalls or obstacles that individual state insurance departments and legislatures have created. Here are just a couple ideas for the “wonks” to ponder:

  • Limit individual state’s authority through ERISA to simply monitor insurer financial stability and little else.
  • Prevent individual states from implementing burdensome regulations that stifle competition such as setting minimum or maximum stop loss deductibles.
  • Prevent individual states from regulating how re-insurers determine Aggregate factors in their stop loss plans.

An example of how expanding ERISA could help would be to overcome legislation such as California enacted known as Senate Bill 161. SB161 was created to stifle self-funding for employers with fewer than 100 EEs and push those employers toward the state-run exchange. SB161 mandates both the minimum Specific deductible (minimum of $40,000) and the Aggregate stop loss calculation ($5,000/covered member or 120% which ever is greater) both of which caused stop loss plans to be over priced and not competitive. SB 161 completely shut down the use of self-funding with stop loss on health plans for employers with fewer than 100 EEs. Therefore those employers no longer have access to lower cost opportunities for their employer-sponsored health plans.

There are ERISA experts, far wiser than your author, who may nay-say the ERISA expansion idea. But, why should it be difficult to modify a small piece of IRC code enacted 43 years ago. The healthcare delivery system has changed dramatically since 1974 so let’s simply add a few lines of code specifically aimed at solving the issues we face today.

Expand preemption language and other aspects of ERISA so:

  • Small employers are not arbitrarily restricted access to competitive alternatives.
  • Smaller insurers can compete with the big insurers.
  • More insurers are competing in areas where there’s just one insurer now.
  • Allow fully insured plans to easily sell across state lines.
  • Competition has a serious chance of lowering premium and overall costs

Let us know what you think. It’s a big subject that’s been misunderstood by many for 40+ years, including the courts and scholars, so there is room for discussion.

As I always say, we are all in this together, even though the conversations we hear coming from Washington DC seem to argue against that sentiment.
However, I remain confident that common sense has a chance to prevail because the premium paying public is fed-up with the current status and politicians will need your support in 2018.

BTW, thanks for the emails and positive comments. Talk soon.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf

 

 

The need for Tort Reform is often associated with increasing healthcare costs and premiums. Is it possible to eliminate the affects of “defensive medicine” with tort reform legislation?

March 23, 2017

For the past 30 years we have heard the cry for Tort Reform. Is it true that providers practice “defensive medicine” out of fear of malpractice lawsuits and does it impact the cost and manner in which providers render care. Tort reform and malpractice awards in California have been somewhat contained because of Tort Reform legislation in 1987, often referred to as the “napkin bill” which refers to the initial process in which two CA legislators drew it up. But, has it helped hold down healthcare costs and premiums?

Don’t worry, this Post is not about that CA legislation or even potential legislative language that might be included in the new American Healthcare Act. Personally, I think it is possible to add straight forward language to the AHCA that would limit malpractice lawsuits but it might not control healthcare costs and thus might not help lower premiums.

Why would I suggest that we can create language in legislation to limit malpractice lawsuits without affecting healthcare costs? Because I am, as we all need to be, a student of human nature which helps us predict the effect of legislation intended to change behavior. Sounds silly but it’s a fact and let’s review why.

By human nature I am referring to the habits one establishes either knowingly or not in our every day life to gain or avoid a certain outcome. Providers fall into a unique category and regardless whether their actions are life-saving or preventive in nature a doctor’s practice will develop habits that may not be easily changed. In a doctor’s world a patient might be in pain plus someone else is usually paying the bill.

That isn’t to say that legislation can’t stop certain human activity completely simply by creating consequences to a certain action. For example, the risk of paying a $175 ticket and increased auto insurance rates for driving while talking on one’s mobile phone seems to have made an impact on that behavior.

However, we must also realize that a doctor’s request for more tests are often more than defensive. They may truly be diagnostic in nature to assist in treatment decisions which add a dimension not common in the habits for most of us in society. For years insurers, self-funded employers and other experts have complained that doctors run-up costs by over prescribing diagnostic tests and procedures, such as MRIs for example, simply to avoid malpractice lawsuits. This is why & where the term “defensive medicine” was  first muttered.

Doctors do have two additional variables affecting their decisions. One variable is the patient who may be expecting or even demanding a battery of tests that the attending doctor does not think are necessary. It’s  common for doctors to treat patients who are truly suffering and may have been for months or years. In those instance, how does a doctor say no to a patient’s demand or even pleading request for more diagnostic procedures. The patient wants the doctor to prescribe immediate pain-relieving treatment. Most of us will never be in that dilemma requiring us to decide the appropriate level of diagnostic cost necessary to determine the correct path of treatment.

The second variable is that in most cases a third party is paying for the doctor’s bill. Sometimes extra tests might seem worthwhile to a doctor if it makes the patient feel better emotionally. Who among us can honestly say we would not prescribe more evaluation even if the cost of that extra evaluation would not lead directly to a better decision. Saying “No” to a patient is not always easy and remember somebody else is usually paying the bill.

Imagine for a moment that you are a doctor who has been forced to practice defensive medicine for 20+ years. You’ve had your Malpractice Insurer scare you with tails of tort awards. You’ve attended countless industry seminars at which the fear of malpractice lawsuits is emblazoned on your brain. Or maybe you work for a large corporate practice that wants to avoid malpractice suits but also enjoys the extra revenues earned by extra diagnostic testing. Imagine any of those situations; then you go back to your practice Monday morning to see patients. How would you overcome the habit of practicing  “defensive medicine”?

But here’s a twist to this story about Tort Reform. I actually believe that after doctors have had time to practice their chosen “healing” profession, in a non-threatening legal environment, that the level of care as well as the cost and outcome of care would be better than it is now. I also think that, in time, patients would start to be more satisfied with the level of care they receive and may even learn to be more interactive with the doctor than they are currently.

I am sure this sounds odd coming from an admitted cynic of human nature. But, while human beings may be flawed in many ways I believe human nature, at least concerning our own healthcare, could begin to do the right thing.

We’ve discussed before that healthcare costs are the summation of the unit cost of care multiplied by the number of units of care consumed. When we talk about Tort Reform and the power of human nature it is easy to see that controlling the resulting value  of that equation is not an easy calculation.

It sounds naïve to state publicly that a solution to healthcare reform which combines patients and doctors and payers then adds big pharmaceutical & medical device companies, plus attorneys and legislators would be an easy system to reform?
However, I think it is possible as you have read in previous posts.

The hard part will probably be convincing legislators that they should want to make a difference and improve our healthcare delivery system rather than just making a difference for their own career or party. Sorry for that one last bit of cynicism.

We still need to discuss what Tort Reform language can be fashioned into the AHCA. We’ll tackle that over the next couple weeks.

Let me know what you think.
And remember, we’re all in this together!

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf