Developing a Coordinated, Considered Response to Predatory Health Care

Brian Klepper

Posted 9/21/14 on the NBCH Newsletter Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010In today’s New York Times, Elizabeth Rosenthal describes the growing and egregious over-treatment and overpricing practices by physicians and health systems, abetted by health plans.

The excesses detailed in this article are at the core of our national health care quality and cost crisis. The best solutions are collaborative, considered actions by group purchasers, potentially the most empowered of health care’s stakeholders.

When predatory anecdotes like these come to light, the benefits managers – or better yet, the CFOs – of local employers, unions and governmental agencies should immediately call the health plan and demand that the health systems, physicians and other providers involved be removed from the provider panel. (Small communities held hostage by a few dominant health care players are a separate topic that I’ll address soon.)

As Tom Emerick, former VP Human Resources at Walmart has stated repeatedly, health care will not improve until purchasers demand different behaviors from health care vendors, focusing business on organizations that facilitate high quality care at reasonable cost, and publicly avoiding those that do not.

This is a serious issue that demands a coordinated response. It is at the top of NBCH’s agenda. Join with us on this.

Brian Klepper is the CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health.

How Business Can Save America from Health Care

Brian Klepper

Published 6/09/14 in Employee Benefit News

ALP_H_BK_0010One of America’s most enduring mysteries is why the organizations that pay for most health care don’t work together to force better value from the health care industry.

We pay double for health care what our competitors in other developed nations do, but studies show that more than half of our annual health care spend – equal to 9% of GDP or our 2012 budget deficit – provides zero value. Every health care sector has devised mechanisms that allow it to extract much more money than it is legitimately entitled to. Health plans contract for and pass through the costs of products and services at high multiples of what any volume-based purchaser can buy them for in the market. Medical societies campaign for excessive medical service values that Medicare and commercial payers base their payments on. Hospitals routinely over-treat and have egregious unit pricing. There are scores of examples.

Decades of these behaviors have made health care cost growth the most serious threat to America’s national economic security. Medicare and Medicaid cost growth remains the primary driver of federal budget deficits. Over the past decade, 79% of the growth in household income has been absorbed by health care. Health care’s relentless demand for an ever-increasing percentage of total resources compromises other critical economic needs, like education and infrastructure replenishment.

Health care costs have been particularly corrosive to business competitiveness. Three-fourths of CFOs now report that health care cost is their most serious business concern. Commercial health plan premiums have grown almost five times overall inflation over the past 14 years. Businesses in international markets must overcome a 9+ percent health care cost disadvantage, just to be on a level playing field with their competitors in Australia, Korea or Germany.

The health care industry’s efforts to maximize revenues have been strengthened by its lobby, which spins health policy to favor its interests. In 2009, as the Affordable Care Act was formulated, health care organizations fielded eight lobbyists for every Congressional representative, providing an unprecedented $1.2 billion in campaign contributions to Congress in exchange for influence over the shape of the law. These activities go on continuously behind the scenes and ensure that nearly every health care law and rule is structured to the industry’s advantage and at the expense of the common interest.

Health care is now America’s largest and most influential industry, consuming almost one dollar in five. Only one group is more powerful, and that’s everyone else. Only if America’s non-health care business community mobilizes on this problem, becoming a counterweight to the health care industry’s influence over markets and policy, can we bring health care back to rights.

In every community, employers represent loose groupings of lives covered by health benefits, each with different approaches and results on health outcomes and cost. There are few standards and divergent opinions – mostly based on ideology rather than evidence – on plan structure, service offerings, cost sharing, incentives and many other variables.

Business health coalitions represent the opportunity for health care purchasers to collaborate and become more consistent. They can move collectively toward best practice and market-based leverage, with better health outcomes at lower cost. Coalitions like those in Savannah, Ga.  and Madison, Wisc., have shown impressive, measurable impacts. Many others could benefit from shared access to advanced risk management capabilities that can change how benefits and health care work.

Another critical missing component has been the direct involvement of business leaders. Many senior executives may not fully appreciate health care’s often blatant inappropriateness, and possibly haven’t thought through the scale of financial impact on their own businesses and the larger economy.

It will take businesses collaborating, harnessing their immense purchasing power, to disrupt health care’s institutionalized mechanisms of excess. By leveraging their collective strength, purchasers can convey that health care profiteering will no longer be tolerated, and that America’s economic success is dependent on the right care at much fairer pricing.

These goals are worth pursuing for our employees and their families, our businesses and the country. And we call on America’s employers to join us.

Brian Klepper, PhD, is chief executive officer, National Business Coalition on Health, a non-profit membership organization of purchaser-led business and health coalitions, representing over 7,000 employers and 35 million employees and their dependents across the United States.

Would A Single Payer System Be Good For America?

Brian Klepper

ALP_H_BK_0010berwick_donOn Vox, the vivacious new topical news site, staffed in part by former writers at the Washington Post Wonk Blog, Sarah Kliff writes how Donald Berwick, MD, the recent former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Founder of the prestigious Institute for Healthcare Improvement, has concluded that a single payer health system would answer many of the US’ health care woes. Dr. Berwick is running for Governor of Massachusetts and this is an important plank of his platform. Of course, it is easy to show that single payer systems in other developed nations provide comparable or better quality care at about half the cost that we do in the US.

All else being equal, I might be inclined to agree with Dr. Berwick’s assessment. But the US is special in two ways that make a single payer system unlikely to produce anything but even higher health care costs than we already have.

Continue reading “Would A Single Payer System Be Good For America?”

A Better Way To Manage Care and Cost

Brian Klepper

http://boards.medscape.com/forums?128@864.cQ5Savfkkqo@.2a59c1b3!comment=1 

Posted 10/10/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

When an employer sits down with his health care partners – broker, health plan, physician, hospital, drug and device firm, health IT firm – everyone but him wants health care to cost more, and each is typically in a position to make that happen.

Lynn Jennings, CEO, WeCare TLC 

ALP_H_BK_0010A new class of health care management organization is emerging that thrives by taking advantage of health care’s rampant and institutionalized waste. These firms mine the market dysfunction that has developed over decades, which will almost certainly yield enough fuel to drive a new way to manage care and cost.

The founders of these organizations have deep health care experience, and they understand the mechanisms of excess. More important, the ones I’ve met are mission-driven, with a deep sense of outrage that health care’s exploitation has become so pervasive and overt. So their businesses are purposeful.

Continue reading “A Better Way To Manage Care and Cost”

Why Employers Must Collaborate On Health Care

Brian Klepper

Published in the Columbus, GA Ledger-Enquirer on Sunday, 9/15/13

BK 711I recently was privileged to deliver a keynote at the Greater Columbus Chamber’s Healthcare Symposium. I get invited to meetings like this around the country because I lay out a deeply researched and frightening national problem that can only be remedied by business.

Health care is of course very important. But as has been documented over and over (to no avail), it is out of control, with costs that have become so excessive that they literally represent the greatest threat to our national economic security. At $2.8 trillion per year or about one dollar of every five of gross domestic product, health care has become our largest, wealthiest and most politically influential industry. In turn, this has allowed it to spin every piece of health care legislation to advantage.

Continue reading “Why Employers Must Collaborate On Health Care”

DOTmed – An Interview with Brian Klepper

Loren Bonner , DOTmed News Online Editor

August 15, 2013

ALP_H_BK_0010DMN: After Steven Brill’s blockbuster article in Time Magazine came out a few months ago, it feels like everyone is interested to know the real scoop on hospital pricing and what’s driving up the cost of health care. I think you have some opinions on this. Can you share your thoughts?

BK: Egregious hospital unit pricing is certainly one driver, but the truth is that over the last several decades, every health care sector has devised ways to extract money from the rest of us that they’re not legitimately entitled to. I’ve written extensively about the Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (or RUC), the secretive AMA committee that has jiggered the relative value scheme that Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial payment systems are based on, driving up cost. 

In my day job, I see health systems buying stakes in Pharmacy Benefit Management (PBM) firms, jacking up the generic pricing to their own members by 200% or more then telling their members that they’re managing their cost. Physicians are doing unnecessary procedures on patients, which not only costs a great deal but puts those patients at risk of physical harm. Primary care reimbursement has been driven down by Medicare and the commercial plans, which decreases visit time and increases the rate of specialty referrals and in turn produces much more costly care unnecessarily. Health plans push “choice” in networks, but having the right to go to a lousy doctor or hospital does nobody any favors, except by driving the cost up for less effective and efficient care. I could provide many, many more examples.

Continue reading “DOTmed – An Interview with Brian Klepper”

Hurtling Down the Road to Ruin

Brian Klepper and David C. Kibbe

Posted 6/21/13 on Medscape Internal Medicine

BK 711dckibbeA recent New York Times article that focused on colonoscopies highlighted the questionable science, predatory unit pricing, and overutilization that characterize this procedure and much of US healthcare. Patients get routine screenings that, in other industrialized countries, cost one half to one thirtieth of what they do here, then are gobsmacked by bills equivalent to the cost of a good used car. Reporters and healthcare writers have covered this topic in all its intricacies thousands of times.

But Elizabeth Rosenthal, the Times reporter, zeroed in on the root of the crisis, which is how healthcare interests have shaped market and policy forces to their own ends. “The high price paid for colonoscopies mostly results not from top-notch patient care, according to interviews with health care experts and economists, but from business plans seeking to maximize revenue; haggling between hospitals and insurers that have no relation to the actual costs of performing the procedure; and lobbying, marketing and turf battles among specialists that increase patient fees.”

One result is that healthcare’s cost drivers are a multiheaded monster, frustrating simplistic solutions. Many physicians own a financial stake in the care they deliver, rather than being paid to manage the care process well. Pricing is typically unrelated to cost or quality, varies wildly among providers, and often comprises dozens of components that are impossible to understand beforehand. Insurance companies may make a percentage of total cost and so are incentivized to allow healthcare to cost more. Every level of the system is rigged.

Using Strong Carrots and Sticks To Drive Health Care That Works

Brian Klepper

Posted 5/09/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010On a recent call with a large manufacturer, my company’s team expected to describe how we develop primary care medical homes that become platforms for managing comprehensive health care clinical and financial risk. But the team on the other end of the phone beat us to it. Their remarks – that health care cost is a multi-headed monster that requires a broad array of simultaneously executed approaches – were a breath of fresh air.

They wanted to avoid approaches that don’t work or are designed to accrue to a vendor’s disproportionate financial advantage, and focus instead on mechanisms that measurably improve health and reduce cost. Their conventional current clinic vendor wasn’t onboard, philosophically or in terms of capabilities, and so wasn’t getting results. They were looking for a replacement vendor that could help them drive more appropriate care, with clear rules for patients and providers.

Continue reading “Using Strong Carrots and Sticks To Drive Health Care That Works”

When Employers Get Serious About Managing Health Care Risk

Brian Klepper

Posted 4/07/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

ALP_H_BK_0010RostLast week I visited with Gary Rost, an unassumingly knowledgeable man and the Executive Director of the Savannah Business Group (SBG), arguably one of the most effective health care coalitions in the country. Their offices are only a couple hours away from my home on the Northeast Florida coast, so it was a quick trip up.

SBG was founded in 1982 as a way of mobilizing employer buying power for better care at lower cost. Its reach now extends beyond Savannah about an hour south, north into South Carolina and west from the coast. The vision described on its site is straightforward and easy for purchasers to appreciate:

“SBG endorses and adheres to the principles of value-based purchasing: performance measurement, transparency, public reporting, pay for performance, informed consumer choice and collective employer leadership.”

Continue reading “When Employers Get Serious About Managing Health Care Risk”

Why Only Business Can Save America From Health Care

Brian Klepper

Posted 3/24/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

BK 711For a large and growing number of us with meager or no coverage, health care is the ultimate “gotcha.” Events conspire, we receive care and then are on the hook for a car- or house-sized bill. There are few alternatives except going without or going broke.

Steven Brill’s recent Time cover story clearly detailed the predatory health care pricing that has been ruinous for many rank-and-file Americans. In Brill’s report, a key mechanism, the hospital chargemaster, with pricing “devoid of any calculation related to cost,” facilitated US health care’s rise to become the nation’s largest and wealthiest industry. His recommendations, like Medicare for all with price controls, seem sensible and compelling.

But efforts to implement Brill’s ideas, on their own, would likely fail, just as many others have, because he does not fully acknowledge the deeper roots of health care’s power. He does not adequately follow the money, question how the industry came to operate a core social function in such a self-interested fashion or pursue why it has been so difficult to dislodge its abuses. For that, we need to turn our attention to a far more intractable and frightening problem: lobbying and the capture of regulation that dictates how American health care works.

Continue reading “Why Only Business Can Save America From Health Care”

Them, Not Us

Brian Klepper

Posted 1/7/13 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

“How many businesses do you know that want to cut their revenue in half? That’s why the healthcare system won’t change the healthcare system.”

Rick Scott, Governor of Florida
Former CEO, Hospital Corporation of America
Quoted by Vinod Khosla at the Rock Health Innovation Summit in August (video here)

BK 711ahip-logoThe Washington Post recently reported that health plan lobbyists, charts at the ready, are working to convince legislators that unreasonable health care costs are everyone else’s fault. Karen Ignagni, the Executive Director of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) declared: “If you’re going to have a debate and discussion about what’s driving health care costs, you have to get under the hood.”

Her first argument is that many practices of doctors, hospitals, drug, device and health information technology firms make health care cost more than it needs to be. This is well-documented and true. But her second, that health plans are different than the rest of the industry, and that they do not negatively influence care or cost, is pure marketing.

Continue reading “Them, Not Us”

When Employers Collaborate To Manage Health Care Costs

Brian Klepper

Published 12/09/12 in the Eau Claire, WI Leader-Telegram

Note from Brian: This piece appeared last weekend in the Eau Claire, WI newspaper, and was written with the encouragement of employers in that community who, rightly, believe they’ve been raked over the coals on their health care costs.

This argument is mainly directed at other employers, as a way of explaining that there are alternatives. That said, the dynamics described here occur in almost every community in the country.

BK 711Even compared to national health care cost growth that has skyrocketed nearly 4 times as fast as general inflation for more than a decade, Wisconsin stands out and northwest Wisconsin stands out more. Eau Claire’s health care cost burden is a whopping 16 percent higher than the national average. This is pricing many individuals and employers out of the coverage market and sapping the region’s economic vitality and competitiveness.

As Robert Kraig meticulously details in Citizen Action’s Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings 2012, Eau Claire is Wisconsin’s second-highest cost health care market, with 2011 monthly premiums of $750.46, 9.1% higher than the state average of $687.68. (La Crosse is 1st, only a hair higher at $756.70.)

Continue reading “When Employers Collaborate To Manage Health Care Costs”

Will the Bubble Burst?

Brian Klepper

Posted 8/19/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care and Cost Blog

My recent 3-hour outpatient prostate biopsy generated nearly $25,000 in charges. My health plan will probably settle for four to five thousand dollars – this is the real market value – but if we were uninsured we’d be on the hook for the whole thing. All in all, a minor diagnostic procedure – nothing cured or treated – for the cost of a pretty nice car.

The capricious insanity of health care pricing is delivered with straight faces by health care professionals and executives to flabbergasted patients and benefits managers. It is the by-product of a system utterly devoid for decades of transparency, accountability or market pressures.

Continue reading “Will the Bubble Burst?”

Why US Health Costs are Higher Than Anywhere Else in the World

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Health Populi

The price of physician services, proliferation of clinical technology and the cost of obesity are the key drivers of higher health spending in the U.S., according to The Commonwealth Fund‘s latest analysis in their Issues of International Health Policytitled, Explaining High Health Care Spending in the United States: An International Comparison of Supply, Utilization, Prices, and Quality, published in May 2012.

The U.S. devotes 17.4% of the national economy to health spending, amounting to about $8,000 per person. The UK devotes about 10%, Germany 11.6%, France, 11.8%, Australia 8.7%, and Japan, 8.5%.

On the physician pay front, primary care doctors in the U.S. earn about $186,000 a year, compared with Australian colleagues who bring in about $92K a year, French peers at $96K per annum, Canadian PCPs earning $125,000, Germans at $131K, and British earning $160K.

Continue reading “Why US Health Costs are Higher Than Anywhere Else in the World”

How Health Consumers Think About Cost and Quality

Nick Vailas

Posted 4/24/12 on Healthcare Transparency Now

Recent focus groups conducted as part of a study funded by a federal agency reported the following:

  • People are loathe to make cost and resource use a consideration in choosing health care providers and treatments, even when they are in high deductible plans
  • People will assume higher cost = higher quality if only given cost data
  • People assume more tests and treatments are better, unless information is framed explicitly in terms of potential harms and risks
  • People are interested, for the most part, on what it costs them to get care
  • There are some measures that people think could be very useful that are“cost” measures that they can see are also “quality “ measures
  • Example: costs/level of “avoidable complications”

Much of the data currently available will not respond to what consumers care about: (1) It doesn’t address their costs, (2) It doesn’t take into considerations variations in insurance design that affect what different individuals pay and (3) It cannot be clearly linked to quality measures.

It has been my experience that lower cost providers tend to be high quality providers.  The explanation for this is that providers that end to do high volume services of a particular kind tend to have greater efficiencies.

The price variability among healthcare providers is extreme and what patients are paying for their services in many cases is not a reflection of what it costs to deliver the services.  Thus pricing is all over the place.  Often time’s people will go and seek services based on a doctor’s recommendation and patients are given the information and share it with their doctor.  This will often influence the doctor as to where patients should receive their services.

There is no doubt that price transparency in services will change purchasing behavior of physicians and patients in seeking alternatives.

Source:  Engaging consumers with a high value healthcare system, by Shoshana Sofaer (2011)