From hospitals to insurers, you’ve probably heard many say that the goal is to provide the right healthcare, at the right time, in the right place. When it comes to the infusion of high-priced specialty drugs, location can make a huge difference. As an example, the variance in the cost of hospital-administered multiple sclerosis drugs can be staggering. One third party administrator saved a self-funded health plan more than $30,000 by moving a patient from a local hospital to a beautiful treatment facility in the Cayman Islands. The patient not only received their prescription in a beautiful, clean, state-of-the-art facility, but air travel and lodging were included.
Other cases compare the administration of specialty drugs in independent physician offices and patient’s homes rather than hospital outpatient settings. Savings ranged from $16,000 to $37,000 annually and the patient received the same level of personalized care without the hassle of a hospital visit. While the patient’s condition and circumstances always take precedence, finding a more appropriate location for treatment can make a positive difference for the plan and the patient.
In October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.
While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.
Experts agree that a lack of true price transparency has contributed significantly to the inefficiency in healthcare. Several websites compare the costs for certain procedures at varying hospitals, but it’s still very difficult, if not impossible, to make an informed choice when preparing for a non-emergency procedure. As a result, most people still go to doctors participating in a covered network and follow physician referrals when a specialist is required. In most cases, these choices are made without any knowledge of the cost.
Powerful Mobile Technology
Today, leading TPAs are providing self-funded health plan members with a variety of very powerful mobile transparency tools. One new mobile app enables members to identify fair pricing for more than 200 common procedures, including surgeries, imaging and diagnostic testing. By linking a rewards program, the app awards financial incentives when high quality, competitively priced providers are selected over those with lesser ratings.
Another software maker that describes a third of healthcare procedures as “shoppable”, has introduced a mobile app that enables plan members to search for physicians by procedure, location and price. This tool even goes beyond facts and figures to provide detailed descriptions of the procedure being searched. When members need further assistance, care navigators are available to provide online support via a live chat option.
Expert Administration Still Matters
While a totally open pricing system may never be possible in a business as complex as healthcare, TPAs are making self-funded health plans more transparent all the time. Strategies such as Reference Based Pricing and Concierge Health Advocacy are having a tremendous impact on cost and employee engagement. And while insurance carriers typically withhold claims data from fully insured groups, TPAs are experts at helping their clients put valuable claims data to work to identify cost drivers and manage chronic conditions in ways that help the plan avoid catastrophic claims in the future.
As the transition from volume to value-based healthcare continues, more responsibility will land in the hands of plan members. Smart employers know that a well-designed health plan can foster positive change and lower costs only if members understand their benefits. As long as self-funded plans, highly personal service and creative ideas are allowed to flourish, the number of engaged consumers capable of making economically wise healthcare decisions will continue to grow.
When Congress delayed the Cadillac Tax until 2020, the same law placed a one-year moratorium on the annual fee the ACA imposes on health insurance carriers. While the fee does not have a direct impact on TPAs or self-funded plans, it does sometimes impact stop loss premiums.
Since this fee applied to insurance carriers and not the majority of self-funded plan costs, some small group plans that moved to level funding may experience a slight cost increase in 2017. When the tax returns in 2018, the revenue targets are expected to increase. If the tax increases from its previous levels of 3% to 4%, the potential savings available to self-funded and level-funded plans will increase as well.
Transitional Reinsurance Premiums Coming Due
Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance issuers and self-funded group health plans are required to fund a Transitional Reinsurance Program from 2014 to 2016. This program is designed to stabilize premiums in the individual market inside and outside of the Marketplaces and will fund reinsurance payments for those insurers covering high risk individuals.
Many fully-insured organizations, negatively impacted by PPACA and hearing more and more about the benefits of self-funding, are looking to their advisors for information on self-funding. Often, these companies are told that they can easily move to a partially self-funded plan with their same carrier and there’s no need to involve a TPA. This is a disservice to the employer. Continue reading
Thanks to fine-tuning of the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), some self-insured employers have caught a break. Soon to be published rule modifications will exempt large, self-insured, self-administered health plans from paying reinsurance fees in 2015 and 2016. All employers will be required to pay the first-year fee for the program, beginning this year. Continue reading
Cost containment, medical management, voluntary wellness programs, higher deductibles, increased participant contributions, marketing your health coverage each year to find the “best” carrier rate, are all employer strategies that have been tried over the past ten years with the sole purpose of controlling the rapidly increasing cost of health insurance. However, according to the Kaiser/HRET Study, during the same period, health insurance premiums have increased four times as fast as general inflation and 3.5 times as fast as worker’s earnings. Perhaps it’s time to consider a different strategy? Continue reading