Trends Shaping Health Insurance and Health Care in 2020

As a new decade begins, the health insurance industry is on the cusp of making a leap towards improved, higher-tech management of health plan participants.

A recent paper by Capgemini, an insurance technology and consulting firm, predicts the following trends that will be taking shape in the health insurance industry and how they may affect businesses that are paying for their employees’ coverage.

1. Realigned relationships — Insurers are trying to shift risk between themselves and pharmaceutical companies in an effort to reduce drug outlays. The report says insurers are also working more closely with health care providers for early intervention in medical issues that may be facing participants. Addressing health issues early can reduce long-run treatment costs.

2. Fluid regulations — As we’ve seen, just because the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land, the regulations governing health care and health insurance have continued streaming out of Washington. If the last two years are any guide, this will continue to be the case. Also, the constitutionality of the ACA is now being litigated once again after an appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

3. Increasing transparency — More stringent regulations, along with President Trump’s recent executive order to improve price and quality transparency, are forcing the health care industry and insurers to become more transparent in their pricing.

One of the biggest focuses is on the drug industry and the role of pharmacy benefit managers, the largest of which have been criticized for being opaque in their pricing, discounts and how they handle drug company rebates.

Also, insurers are increasingly providing detailed information regarding services covered under their health plans, claims processing and payments. Additionally, some insurers are helping enrollees to make more informed decisions before they use a health care service by providing digital tools to help them reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Predictive analytics — Health insurers are using predictive analytics for risk profiling and early intervention for enrollees with health issues. Predictive analytics provide insurers with insightful assessments of potentially high-risk customers, in order to mitigate losses.

With advancements in technologies such as big data and connected devices, insurers now have access to vast amounts of customer data, which can be used to remind people it’s time for their check-ups, medications and other necessary medical services.

Insurers are using predictive analytics to identify and monitor high-risk individuals to intervene early and prevent further complications. This in turn can help reduce claims.

Congress Eliminates the ‘Cadillac’ and Other ACA Taxes

Congress before the new year passed legislation repealing the so-called “Cadillac tax” on generous group health plans, as well as two other taxes, finally putting to bed an issue that has plagued the Affordable Care Act since its inception.

Although it had not yet been implemented, employers didn’t like the Cadillac and labor unions came out against it as well. It was so unpopular that Congress voted twice to delay implementation, which was originally set to start in 2018. The latest start date had been pushed until 2022.

The Cadillac tax, an enacted but not yet implemented part of the ACA, is a 40% levy on the most generous employer-provided health insurance plans — those that cost more than $11,200 per year for an individual policy or $30,150 for family coverage. It was designed to only tax the portion of the premium that was above the threshold.

Effect of repeal on group plans

The tax would have been levied on health plans, which are legal entities through which employers and unions provide benefits to employees. It would have been paid by employers, but its impact on employees would be indirect and would have depended on how firms and health plan managers responded to the tax in offering and designing benefits.

None of these issues now need to concern employers offering group plans.

The tax was eliminated as part of a $1.4 trillion year-end budget bill that President Trump signed in order to keep the government open. Here are all the ACA-related taxes that the legislation eliminated:

  • The Cadillac tax, which had been expected to raise $197 billion over 10 years.
  • Starting in 2021, the health insurance tax, which had been projected to raise $150 billion over the next decade, and
  • The 2.3% excise on the sale of medical devices, which had been expected to generate $25.5 billion in the next 10 years.

High-Deductible Plans Saddling Workers with Bigger Drug Outlays

A new study has found that high-deductible plans and increased use of coinsurance are exposing health plan enrollees to higher and higher pharmaceutical costs.

One of the big problems for many enrollees in high-deductible plans is that their outlays for drugs may not count towards their health plan deductibles and, if they are enrolled in separate pharmaceutical plans, they may have to pay the full list price until they meet their drug deductible, according to the “2019 Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey.”

The report warns of a growing crisis for American workers, more and more of whom are struggling with their health expenditures, be they premiums, deductibles, copays and/or coinsurance.

Workers in small firms face relatively high deductibles for single coverage and many also are saddled with significant premiums if they choose family coverage, according to the study.

The cost of group health insurance is growing at about 4% to 5% a year, reaching $7,188 for single coverage in 2019 and $20,576 for family coverage.

Workers in small firms on average contribute 16% of the premium for single coverage, compared with workers at large firms (19%), according to the report. But small-firm employees contribute 40% on average for family coverage, compared to 26% for staff at larger firms.

That said, 35% of covered workers in small firms are in a plan where they must contribute more than one-half of the premium for family coverage, compared to 6% of covered workers in large firms.

But premium contributions are only part of the story. Eighty-two percent of covered workers have a general annual deductible for single coverage that must be met before most services are paid for by the plan, and that average deductible amount is $1,655. But, the average annual deductible among covered workers with a deductible has increased 36% over the last five years, and by 100% over the last 10 years.

The hidden cost-driver

With all this as a backdrop, the cost of prescription drugs is one of the largest challenges facing group health plan enrollees, especially those who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans, whose out-of-pocket expenses for pharmaceuticals can be especially burdensome. It is the hidden cost-driver in the system.

The Kaiser survey found that about 90% of covered workers are enrolled in plans where the health plan deductible must be met before prescription drugs are covered. But, this number has been shrinking as group coverage pricing increases and employers shift more of the cost burden to employees.

There are a few ways that employees are taking on a significant load with their drug expenditures:

  • First, more workers are enrolled in plans that carve out prescription drugs, meaning that their expenditures on medication do not count towards satisfying their health plan deductibles. About 13% of employees are enrolled in a plan with a separate annual deductible that applies only to prescription drugs.
  • Many people with workers face out-of-pocket costs linked to prescription list prices regardless of the actual net, post-rebate costs. That’s because coinsurance percentages are computed based on the price negotiated between the pharmacy and the plan or pharmacy benefit manager. These negotiated prices are typically close to list prices.

    Even worse, patients pay the entire negotiated price when they are within a deductible and do not enjoy the benefits of rebates that the PBM may have negotiated with drug makers. Patients with these benefit designs do not benefit from rebates, though major brand-name drug makers sell their products at half of the list prices.
  • In the past, health plans had two- or three-tier benefit designs for drugs, mostly for generics and brand-name drugs, with lower copays and coinsurance for the lowest-tier medicines. But as prices have started increasing, many plans have four tiers and sometimes five (the specialty tier).

    The disappearance of two- and three-tier benefit designs have made out-of-pocket expenses especially high for specialty drugs. Plans place therapies for such chronic, complex illnesses as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and HIV on the fourth and specialty tiers of benefit plan, for which the enrollee has to pay a larger share.

Average Family Plan Cost Hits $20,000 for First Time; What Can You Do to Cut Costs?

A new study has found that the average annual premium for a group family health plan has exceeded $20,000 for the first time in 2019, up 5% from 2018.

The average premium for single coverage plans in 2019 is $7,188, up 4% from the year prior, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual report on employer coverage.

The costs of high-deductible health plans are only slightly less than the average. The average premiums for covered workers in HDHPs with an attached health savings account are $6,412 for single coverage and $18,980 for family coverage.

Increasingly, workers are picking up a larger portion of the health care and insurance tab. In 2019, they are paying $6,015 on average in premiums for family coverage, or about 29% of the total tab. Workers with individual coverage contribute 17.3% toward the total premium.

Additionally, the average deductible for single coverage is $1,655 in 2019, which is unchanged from the year prior, however, the deductible is often higher for workers in small firms ($2,271) compared to large businesses ($1,412).

The average annual deductible among covered workers with a deductible has increased 36% over the last five years and 100% over the last 10 years, according to the report.

Also, 66% of workers have coinsurance and 14% have a copayment for hospital admissions. The average coinsurance rate for a hospital admission is 20%, and the average copayment is $326 per hospital admission.

Another survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Los Angeles Times found that 40% of group health plan enrollees had difficulty affording health insurance or health care, or had problems paying medical bills.

And close to 50% said that they or a family member had skipped or postponed getting health care or prescriptions in the past year due to costs.

Easing the burden

There are steps you can take to ease the burden on both your company and your employees.

Consider plans with telemedicine – More and more employers (69% of firms with 50 or more workers) are offering health plans that cover the provision of health care services through telemedicine. Telemedicine can greatly reduce the cost of care in terms of price for medical visits, as well as the time involved for the employee to travel to the doctor. Telemedicine can include video chat and remote monitoring.

Utilizing retail health clinics – More health plans will pay for services rendered by retail clinics, like those located in pharmacies, supermarkets and retail stores. These clinics are often staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants and treat minor illnesses and provide preventative services. They can greatly reduce the cost of care for these kinds of visits outside normal hospital systems.

Plans with narrow networks – If a health plan can contract with fewer doctors and specialists, there is often less outlay for care. At this point, the jury is still out on exactly how much can be saved, but there are also drawbacks such as:

  • Disruption of provider relationships
  • Employee backlash
  • Reduced access or convenience for employees
  • Lack of specialists.

Tiered or high-performance networks – These networks typically group providers in the network based on the cost, quality and/or efficiency of the care they deliver and use financial incentives to encourage enrollees to use providers on the preferred tier.

Telemedicine Taking Off, Reducing Health Costs

One of the fastest growing parts of the health care system, and which touches significantly on group health plans, is telemedicine.

From 2016 to 2017, insurance claims for services rendered via telehealth as a percentage of all medical claim lines ― grew 53% nationally, faster than any other avenue of care, according to “FH Health Indicators,” a white paper published by the nonprofit FAIR Health.

Telehealth uses technology to provide remote care via video conferencing and other means and is proving to be more and more effective, especially for time-pressed individuals or people who live in rural areas where patients often have to travel great distances for care.

Elderly patients especially find it useful, since it eliminates the need for transportation.

But as telehealth gains traction, the focus is shifting away from the novelty of connected devices and new technology and more toward providing patients with top-notch care ― and giving providers, physicians and nurses alike the power to deliver it effectively. As it evolves, it is also a promising new trend in terms of reducing health care delivery costs.

Telehealth can reduce the cost of care by eliminating the physical barriers that prevent patients from managing their health. As more patients take advantage of digital services like remote patient monitoring, automatic appointment reminders, and remote physician consulting using live video and audio, patients can use these services to reduce the cost of care and improve their chances of early detection.

And that can reduce your overall group health plan costs, as well as out-of-pocket costs for your employees.

Tech firms are coming up with more efficient ways for patients to communicate with their doctors that save time and money, and reduce liability for doctors as well. For example, more and more health care practitioners are adopting an online patient portal as a direct link between the patient and the doctor.

Doctors, patients embrace online portals

The portal can easily be password-protected for each patient and streamline routine interactions from appointment-setting to refilling prescriptions ― and everything in between. 

For example, when it’s time to get a prescription refilled, the patient simply makes a request to his or her doctor, via the patient portal or even via a cell phone or tablet app that can be proprietary to the practice. The doctor checks the dosage and approves the request in a few clicks, and in seconds the information is sent directly to a pharmacy so the patient can pick up the prescription.

The patient doesn’t have to get the doctor on the phone or bug the staff for a moment with the doctor, and the doctor doesn’t have to do additional paperwork or get on the phone with the pharmacy to call in the prescription after already having spoken with the patient on a separate call. The result is tremendous time savings ― and ultimately, cost savings for both the doctor and patient.

Online portals also facilitate communication between doctors and patients between appointments. If a patient has a question or clarification that does not warrant an additional office visit, the doctor or staff can quickly respond in an instant, without playing phone tag, and without having to route calls to busy doctors who can’t always be on the phone.

Physicians can also leverage these portal technologies to send lab results and images directly to the patient using a secured and encrypted link, and to make clinical summaries easily available online. When the doctor adds new information to the file, such as a lab report, the portal system can be programmed to automatically send an e-mail alert to prompt the patient to log onto the portal.

For all the technology though, we still have a way to go in implementing it. According to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine57% of respondents said they want to use their doctor’s website to review their medical records, but only 7% of those polled reported having made use of that technology to access their own information online.

A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 77% to 87% of individuals who used their physician’s portal to open at least one note, and who completed a post-intervention survey, said that the process helped them be more in control of their health care.

Court Rules ACA Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s decision that the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because the penalty was set to zero in 2017.

However, the fate of the entire law is still in play after the court remanded the question of whether that means the entire ACA should be declared void back down to the district court.

Proponents of abolishing the ACA say that its lack of a “severability provision” means that if any element of the ACA is found unconstitutional, the entire law must go. However, that would likely create chaos for the health insurance marketplace.

Two of the three judges on the court on December 18 upheld a lower court’s decision that the individual mandate is not constitutional because it cannot be construed as a tax.

The judges wrote: “The individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power. On the severability question, we remand to the district court to provide additional analysis of the provisions of the ACA as they currently exist.”

The decision prolongs the court process and ensures that the future of the landmark health care law remains uncertain.

There is much at stake in this case. If the entire law is thrown out by courts, it would reverberate through the health care industry, including insurance providers and hospitals, and put the coverage of millions of Americans at stake.

The decision would affect people who buy coverage in the individual market and those with coverage through Medicaid expansion, Medicare and from their employers.

The ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the 20 Democratic states that are now defending the ACA in this court fight against republican states that filed the suit to abolish the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Some background

The ACA individual mandate provision ― or “individual shared responsibility” provision ― initially required many people to own what the government classifies as solid major medical coverage, or else pay a penalty. Congress passed a tax bill in 2017 that included a provision setting the penalty at zero.

ACA critics challenged the mandate through a case that reached the Supreme Court in 2012.

In a ruling on that case, the Supreme Court held that a federal law that blocks challenges to new taxes protected the individual mandate provision, because the penalty was a tax.

Critics of the provision say that, now the new tax law has set the individual mandate penalty at zero, the individual mandate is no longer a tax and can no longer benefit from the legal protection accorded to federal taxes.

The takeaway

Because of this ruling, the lower court will likely start hearings on whether the entire law should be thrown out based on the elimination of the penalties for not securing coverage.

The other part of the ruling, that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, is destined for appeal to the Supreme Court. It’s unlikely that it would be heard in 2020 and that the issue about the fate of the rest of the law will take years to wind its way through the courts.

Happy New Year!

May this year bring new goals, new achievements, and a lot of new inspirations for life. Wishing you a year fully loaded with happiness! Cheers to a prosperous 2020!

Study Attributes 25% of Health Spending to ‘Waste’

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that about 25% of all health care spending in the U.S. is attributable to waste in the system.

The study, conducted by health insurer Humana and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, estimated that between $760 billion to $935 billion of health care spending in the country is wasteful.

The study is eye-opening and reflects the need for new approaches in the health care system and how medical care and pharmaceuticals are paid for. It also reflects the tremendous waste caused by complex administrative procedures, which again cries out for changes in the health insurance and care delivery models.

The researchers identified wasteful spending in the following six areas:

Failure of care delivery: $102.4 billion to $165.7 billion

Failure of care coordination: $27.2 billion to $78.2 billion

Overtreatment or low-value care: $75.7 billion to $101.2 billion

Pricing failure: $230.7 billion to $240.5 billion

Fraud and abuse: $58.5 billion to $83.9 billion

Administrative complexity: $265.6 billion

“This study highlights the opportunity to reduce waste in our current health care system,” William Shrank, MD, lead author and Humana’s chief medical and corporate affairs officer, said in a prepared statement. “By focusing on these opportunities, we could make health care substantially more affordable.”

With that much waste in the system, the industry is crying out for more efficiency in hospitals, medical services delivery, health insurance and administration across the spectrum.

The researchers said that if the industry worked on concrete solutions, it could reduce waste by up to $282 billion a year.

They identified the most promising areas for reducing waste, and said that value-based care and reimbursement models represent a major opportunity to reduce the greatest source of waste: administrative complexity.

Value-based care

They said that value-based care models could improve administrative coordination in the system, which is currently severely lacking. The researchers wrote:

“In value-based models, in particular, those in which clinicians take on financial risk for the total cost of care of the populations they serve, many of the administrative tools used by payers to reduce waste (such as prior authorization) can be discontinued or delegated to the clinicians.”

That, they said, would reduce complexity for physicians and give them incentives to reduce waste and improve value in their treatment decision-making.

Using value-based care in which all parties share some in the financial risk would benefit insurers, employers who sponsor health insurance for their workers, hospitals, doctors and patients.

More and more insurers are experimenting with value-based care, which is primarily a payment model that offers financial incentives to physicians, hospitals, medical groups and other health care providers for meeting certain performance measures.  Essentially, they are paid based on patient health outcomes.

Value-based care differs from a fee-for-service or capitated approach, in which providers are paid based on the amount of health care services they deliver. The “value” in value-based health care is derived from measuring health outcomes against the cost of delivering those outcomes.

Other waste

To further reduce waste, the researchers also recommended:

  • Addressing the high cost of pharmaceuticals (especially for high-cost specialty drugs).
  • Implementing hospital price transparency.
  • Implementing market competition policies.
  • Improving payer-provider collaboration to reform care coordination, safety and value.
  • Implementing new measures aimed at reducing fraud and abuse.

Preventative Care Services Available in All ACA-Compliant Plans

One beneficial change the Affordable Care Act brought about was the complete coverage of preventative care. With all approved insurance plans and Marketplace plans, several preventative services such as shots and screenings are provided at no cost to the policyholder.

Preventative Services For Adults

Marketplace plans and other insurance plans are required to cover a specific range of preventative services. If a policyholder has an annual deductible to meet and has not yet met it, these services are still provided for free. They must be administered by an in-network provider. 

The following list includes covered services:

  • One abdominal aortic aneurysm screening for men of certain ages who have smoked.
  • Blood pressure screenings for adults of all ages.
  • Aspirin for men and women of all ages for prevention of cardiovascular disease.
  • Colorectal cancer screenings for any adults over the age of 50.
  • Cholesterol screenings for adults in specific age and risk groups.
  • Alcohol misuse counseling and screenings for adults of all ages.
  • Diet counseling for adults in risk groups for chronic diseases.
  • Depression screenings for adults of all ages.
  • Type 2 Diabetes screenings for adults who have high blood pressure.
  • HIV and Hepatitis C screenings for adults in specific age and risk groups.
  • Immunizations and booster shots for infectious diseases and viruses.
  • Lung cancer screenings for adults who are at risk.
  • STI prevention counseling for adults who are at risk.
  • Obesity counseling for adults of all ages.
  • Tobacco screenings and cessation services for adults who are tobacco users.
  • Syphilis screenings for adults who are at risk.

Preventative Services For Women

In addition to any applicable services in the previous section, women also receive the following free preventative services:

  • Anemia screenings for pregnant women.
  • Breast cancer mammography every one to two years for women over the age of 40.
  • BRCA counseling and chemo prevention counseling for at-risk women.
  • Breastfeeding support and counseling for nursing women.
  • Chlamydia screenings for young and at-risk women.
  • Cervical cancer screenings for women of all ages who are sexually active.
  • Domestic violence screenings and counseling for all women.
  • Contraceptives and sterilization for women of all ages.
  • Gestational diabetes screenings for pregnant women.
  • Folic acid for women who are or who may become pregnant.
  • Hepatitis B screenings for pregnant women.
  • Gonorrhea screenings for at-risk women.
  • Rh incompatibility screenings for pregnant women.
  • UTI screenings for pregnant women.
  • Osteoporosis screenings for at-risk women over the age of 60.
  • Well-woman visits for women under the age of 65. 

Preventative Services For Children

Children receive a wide array of free preventative services. The following are included in all ACA-compliant policies: 

  • Autism screenings at 18 and 24 months.
  • Blood pressure screenings for children of all ages.
  • Alcohol and drug screenings for adolescents.
  • Behavioral assessments for children of all ages.
  • Immunizations and booster shots for children of all approved ages.
  • Depression screenings for adolescents.
  • Cervical dysplasia screenings for girls who are sexually active.
  • Height, BMI and weight measurements for children of all ages.
  • Dyslipidemia screenings for at-risk children.
  • Hearing screenings for all newborn babies.
  • Developmental screenings for children under the age of three.
  • HIV screenings for at-risk adolescents.
  • Gonorrhea prevention medication for all newborn babies.
  • Iron for children who are at risk for developing anemia.
  • Hypothyroidism screenings for all newborn babies.
  • Oral health screenings for children under the age of 10.
  • Fluoride supplements for children who are deficient.
  • Hemoglobinopathies and sickle cell screenings for at-risk newborns. 
  • Obesity screenings and counseling for children of all ages.
  • Lead screenings for at-risk children.
  • Hematocrit screenings for at-risk children.
  • Medical history for children of all ages.
  • TB testing for children of all ages.
  • PKU screenings for all newborn babies.
  • STI prevention counseling for at-risk adolescents.
  • Vision screenings for children of all ages.

To determine at-risk classifications and specific age groups, check an individual policy. For answers to questions, discuss any concerns with us.

Generic Drug Makers Sued over Pricing Practices

One of the country’s largest health insurers has sued a number of pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of running a price-fixing cartel of common generic drugs.

Humana Inc. has accused the companies of colluding on the prices of generics to the detriment of health insurers that have to pay for these drugs. Humana said in its lawsuit that this collusion prevented fair competition among insurers that could have reduced the cost of many of these drugs.

The background

The lawsuit comes after 45 states signed on to a suit last year over an alleged scheme among generic drug manufacturers to fix the price of some 300 medications. The states are seeking unspecified damages for what they say they had to overpay for drugs for Medicaid patients as a result of the alleged cartel. 

Humana accused Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest generic drug producer in the world, of being the ringleader of the alleged scheme, which fixed, increased or maintained the prices of more than 100 generic drugs.

“They leveraged the culture of cronyism in the generic drug industry to avoid price erosion, increase prices for targeted products, and maintain artificially inflated prices across their respective product portfolios without triggering a ‘fight to the bottom’ among competitors,” Humana wrote in the complaint, which it lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit adds to the troubles faced by generic drug companies. Earlier in 2019, a number of states joined to sue drug makers, including Teva Pharmaceuticals. The suit also named multiple executives from Teva and other generic manufacturers as individual defendants. 

An investigation by multiple states led by Connecticut accused generic drug makers of “illegal collusion,” refuting arguments by the manufacturers that price increases were caused by industry consolidation and Food and Drug Administration-mandated plant closures.

Humana says the drug companies conspired to set market shares and customers for each company, and that they also agreed not to compete with each other for those customers so that each company could maintain or raise the price of its generic pharmaceuticals.

This is the second lawsuit Humana has filed against generic pharmaceutical companies. It filed a similar case in August 2018 against a handful of drug makers, accusing them of price fixing. That case listed far fewer drugs than the latest salvo.

Lawsuit highlights industry chasing profits

The generics industry used to be highly competitive, but over the years, things changed and suddenly allegedly “coordinated price hikes on identical generic drugs became almost routine,” the <i>Washington Post</i> wrote in an article last year that covered the alleged scheme and lawsuit by states.

While generics account for 90% of the prescriptions written, they only account for 23% of the total drug spend in the country, according to the Association for Accessible Medicines. Despite that, there has been a noticeable and inexplicable uptick in the price of drugs in recent years, sparking outrage among consumers, health insurers and states that run their own Medicaid programs.

If the allegations are true, the parties affected run the gamut from consumers ― who have high copays or high deductibles for their pharmaceuticals ― to hospitals and insurance companies.