Cost transparency in BILLING!

By Paul Kempen, MD, PhD

Price transparency is a fallacy regarding posting of lists of costs when insurance is involved. Perhaps transparency in BILLING is more reasonable to create individual outrage regarding outrageous bills. Please consider the following:

Cost transparency in BILLING!

I want to hear if anyone sees the following proposal as useful in separating physicians out from the “cost of care”. The issue of transparency is nebulous “going into” getting care for a number of reasons. Patients are often ill, in urgent need, in a “closed market” and poorly educated.  Perhaps it  would be useful to push for legislation creating transparency of ALL BILLS, especially those produced by insurance companies which serve to foster that impression that insurance somehow actually pays for care.  Insurance controls payments through ”negotiated prices”, limitation of care delivery and other aspects. I question if it would it be useful to have laws which Demand EVERY “This is NOT a bill” produced by corporate entities include the following data:

HOSPITAL AND INSURANCE STATEMENTS

1) Itemized price charged (i.e. charge-master and/or “full billed price”)

2) Amount ACTUALLY PAID by insurance independent of  patient portion separated from negotiated deductions

3) What Medicare would have paid for every BILLED service in A) HOSPITAL and B) regional Doctor’s office

4) All facility fees separated from total cost as a separate component

Imagine if everyone SEES the “facility fee” and recognizes that doctor offices are CHEAPER!!

If everyone sees the hyperinflated insurance/hospital costs over physician offices

If everyone sees that the PATIENT is paying for care via the deductible and sees just how LITTLE insurance companies are paying from the large premium and this is NOT hidden in the “negotiated deductions” which gives an appearance of “saving money” for patients.

Anyone producing a bill MUST have access to such data and making everyone aware of these realities would create pressure on OVERCHARGES

Debunking Myths that NPs Increase Rural Access and Lower Costs

The “increased rural access” and “lower cost” rhetoric used to support nurse practitioner autonomy is a complete fallacy and there is zero data to support these claims.  

1.  The market factors that make it difficult for physicians to practice in rural, underserved areas is not any different for NPs than it is for physicians.  NPs are not independently more altruistic than physicians.  Poor payer mix and the expense of excessive regulatory burdens will make it difficult for anyone to keep their doors open in these areas.  

2.  Look at the states that have allowed NP independent practice for decades, like Arizona.  NPs are practicing in the exact same places as physicians.  They do not go to rural areas.  There are maps available from AMA that show this quite clearly.  

3.  There are multiple studies that show NPs make more referrals to specialists, order more inappropriate radiology studies, and perform more skin biopsies than physicians.  This all INCREASES cost to the healthcare system.  In practice, I see NPs ordering tons of worthless tests in order to try to bridge the gaps in their knowledge.  They order tests and then have no idea what to do with them which leads to more tests and more referrals.  At a time when we are focused on decreasing unneeded healthcare waste, how does it make sense to use these undertrained non physicians.  

4.  If they are arguing for pay parity, how exactly do they decrease healthcare costs?

Data references demonstrating NPs increase cost and lower quality:

NPs order more biopsies: https://doc-10-58-docs.googleusercontent.com/docs/securesc/500pimnenqerpcb3jog4vu5k5j56276k/f3drubbtuuasggve85q8h4dmet2ru2n5/1570492800000/11904212300552749650/00862855625573411785/1Oa8BCwnGYyN8Qwxg4bk6NYPdEeaQETHw?e=download&nonce=5nnu0081r77o6&user=00862855625573411785&hash=rldhsra0pp9qca2lt28lrf0ccab5h8f2

NPs order more imaging: 
https://doc-04-58-docs.googleusercontent.com/docs/securesc/500pimnenqerpcb3jog4vu5k5j56276k/8gvilblg17297cb1rr7h0rg62tem57o5/1570492800000/11904212300552749650/00862855625573411785/1khlK1Uaw9ZKBES85GxnAICJW9_QUS4qi?e=download

NPs make more referrals to specialists: https://doc-0c-58-docs.googleusercontent.com/docs/securesc/500pimnenqerpcb3jog4vu5k5j56276k/pd0vv46pqfms4l8gfhefl9rtbjsjbnl9/1570492800000/11904212300552749650/00862855625573411785/1BYA0yZwLoHB0ozC8vOL6NVrHnDYj18MI?e=download

Prescribe more antibiotics =more antibiotic resistance: 
https://doc-00-58-docs.googleusercontent.com/docs/securesc/500pimnenqerpcb3jog4vu5k5j56276k/v0hj5lspvacc5qch9p312rn4hruf6b9u/1570492800000/11904212300552749650/00862855625573411785/1ifSQYhGKCQAzwqNWefUS5x7PA2G8HC5C?e=download

More general resources  https://drive.google.com/drive/mobile/folders/1FF7sTKg4XZa_L5mXpW2puGjlMU3BuwcO/1IwfXD0e5Lxk9BuJoPtD2egwQySsozxdS/1z-L86XfVOzW6KPFpolF13ltCEWrI3Vv5/1S3iJlDPUcGBiLZmVgK7CYolis8eiv41i?sort=13&direction=a

 

75 Years After D-Day It’s Time to End a Failed WWII-Era Economics Experiment … and solve the surprise billing quagmire too

It’s a sign of the divisive times: even the American business community is throwing its own under the Congressional bus. In a letter to the Senate HELP committee, a broad coalition of employers, including the National Restaurant Association, Auto Care Association, and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, is calling on Congress to impose price controls on others that they would not tolerate being placed on themselves.

Yes, even the “Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council,” is joining this coalition, whose arcane name is a throwback to 1970s era overregulation—ERIC, the ERISA Industry Committee—to ask for legislation that is anything but entrepreneurial.  

These businesses are part of the growing chorus asking Congress to “do something” to address “surprise” medical bills. But instead of focusing on the root causes of the problem, ERIC, and others are demanding heavy handed price controls that will harm the physicians who render life saving medical care — often small businesses themselves. 

And putting the squeeze on physicians with government set fees, that may not even cover costs bloated by complying with a sea of federal regulation, ultimately harms patients’ ability to obtain high-quality, timely care in situations where care is most needed.

Let’s take a closer look at the real cause of the problem, and solutions that will put patients in the driver’s seat instead of putting their access to care on the hot seat.

“Surprise, your insurance plan is not going to cover the care you received,” is another way to describe the situation. Of course, insurers want to limit their costs, as any business would, and those who provide care want to be paid well for their services. 

But how much should emergency medical care cost? In a functioning marketplace prices are determined through an immeasurable number of mutually beneficial transactions between customers and producers, not by federal fiat. 

But American medicine is anything put a healthy market. 

The fact that ERIC is demanding price controls points to a big reason this is the case. Employers are stuck between employees and their medical care thanks to the downstream consequences of wage controls in WWII that spawned tax-deductible employer-funded health benefits. D-Day was 75 years ago, and while Europe was freed, flawed government economic decisions from the War are still trapping Americans “in-network” with soaring medical prices, deductibles, and co-payments, not to mention premiums.

Because employers and other third parties are often in charge of paying the bill and negotiating costs, patients have lost their leverage and pricing becomes untethered from the marketplace mechanisms that, for instance, have put not just a chicken in every pot, but supercomputers in the pockets of virtually every American over age 13, and a car (or two) in nearly every garage.

It’s time to begin extracting the employer from the health care equation. ERIC and its members can be freed from the burden of overseeing and paying for their employees’ care. Employers don’t like shouldering this responsibility and employees shouldn’t want their employer interfering in the exam room or operating suite.  And, sorry Berniacs, Medicare for All is not the right way to go about winding down employer-based coverage.

One answer is to give patients better options to become independent of their employer for their care, like through expanding Health Savings Accounts with the flexibility to be used to buy catastrophic coverage or pay Direct Primary Care (DPC) arrangements.

Another more long term goal, but one in line with the American spirit of freedom and individualism is to end the $280 billion tax exclusion for employer-based insurance benefits altogether. Increase wages and salaries proportionately and cut taxes across the board. Employees can then decide for themselves how to spend their hard earned dollars, whether on insurance, directly on care, or however they choose.  

This would be a win-win-win, for employers, employees, and all patients. A re-energized marketplace will unleash more competition and more facilities and practices emulating the likes of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma (knee-replacements can be 50% less than through “coverage”) , Atlas MD (unlimited primary care for $50/month, $2 lab tests, and wholesale cost prescriptions), and Green Imaging (home of the $250 MRI) where direct-to-patient pricing, that eschews insurance contracts, is a fraction of what “in-network” options charge for the same care. And yes, competition even works to lower the cost of emergency care, as demonstrated by lower-cost transparent physician-run ER and urgent care options already popping up in Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere across the U.S.

So instead of a surprise bill, patients will be pleasantly surprised at how affordable and accessible high-quality medical care is even for emergencies, when they, not their employer, insurance CEO, Member of Congress, or government bureaucrat are the customer.


Action Item: Visit https://action.stoppricefixing.org/ and learn how to make an immediate difference in the fight to stop flawed legislation.

Market Institute Unveils National #StopPriceFixing Effort

The Market Institute is informing voters around the country about a price fixing scheme that Republicans are considering in Congress.

Sign petition today at: https://action.stoppricefixing.org/

The awareness campaign is taking place in over 25 Media Markets across 7 States (North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, South Dakota, and Wyoming). The effort includes Broadcast and Cable Television; Radio; Online and Social Media Advertising Campaign with a price tag of over $1,000,000.

The focus of the ad campaign is a bill that is currently under consideration in the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) that includes price controls and will further erode the doctor – patient relationship, S.1895. 

Charles Sauer, President of The Market Institute, says, “Surprise medical billing is problem that must be solved. However, S.1895 will put more control of our healthcare decisions in the hands of government bureaucrats and the big insurance companies. This price-fixing-scheme is a prescription for fewer doctors, longer wait times, and less access to care. Government bureaucrats and insurance companies should not be standing between patients and their doctor.”

The team at The Market Institute is delivering signatures to elected representatives in Washington, DC. Organization volunteers are also reaching out to registered voters through phone calls and text messages encouraging members of Congress to oppose price fixing in S. 1895.


For more information, please visit:
Organization Website: www.MarketInstitute.org
Project Website: www.StopPriceFixing.org
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/StopPriceFixing

Encourage Senator Grassley to Investigate GPOs

Senator Grassley has introduced a good bill, S 1227, that would launch an FTC investigation into anti-competitive actions of Pharmacy Benefits Managers. The bill would be even better if it specifically required the FTC to also investigate similar practices by Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs). Please call Senator Grassley’s office at 202-224-3744 and encourage him to add an investigation of Group Purchasing Organizations to S 1227, the Prescription Pricing for the People Act of 2019.

For more details, see the below letter from AAPS to Sen. Grassley, and this important video, from Physicians for Reform, explaining how PBMs and GPOs are driving the cost crisis while improperly interfering in patient care:

August 21, 2019

The Honorable Charles Grassley
Chairman, United States Senate Committee on Finance
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Chairman Grassley:

We are grateful for your work to find market-based solutions to lower the cost to patients and taxpayers of medical care and medications.

Thank you for introducing S. 1227, the Prescription Pricing for the People Act of 2019 directing the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the middlemen who are driving up costs without adding value. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) supports this bill, but we are writing to ask you to consider making one change.

Although you mentioned Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) in the Chairman’s comments about the bill, as we currently read S. 1227 it does not expressly require an investigation into the activities of Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs).  We respectfully ask that you consider amending the bill to specifically name GPOs as entities that the FTC is charged with investigating.

In our view, GPO abuse of the rebate safe harbor they were granted to the Medicare anti-kickback statute is an under-appreciated culprit increasing the cost of critical drugs and medical supplies used in hospital settings, while simultaneously causing or exacerbating shortages.

While the impact on prices caused by Pharmacy Benefits Managers is now on Congress’ radar screen, the harmful impact of GPOs has been all but ignored. This may be because patients do not see the direct effect. However anesthesiologists and emergency room physicians know all too well how the anti-competitive actions of these middlemen are putting patients’ lives at risk. They have been compelled to use drugs that may not be ideal for the patient, adding unnecessary challenges to delivering quality patient care. 

It is unacceptable for the United States to be in short supply of saline and common anesthesia and emergency room drugs for any reason. It is particularly shameful when the shortages are caused by those who abuse the shield of government protection from market forces and laws that would otherwise curb their harmful actions.

Thank you for considering our request and please do not hesitate to reach out to us anytime for further discussion.

Sincerely,

Marilyn M. Singleton, M.D., J.D.
President, Association of American Physicians & Surgeons

What is the Major Contributing Factor to the High Costs of Your Prescription Medications?

By N. Lois Adams, Consultant Pharmacist, MBA, HHCS HEALTH GROUP OF COMPANIES, LLC.

Have you ever heard of the “PBMs”?  No?  Well join the huge group of people- seniors, employers, workers-who look at me with the thousand- foot, stare in their eyes when I mention that term. I almost always get the answer. NO, what is that.

They, my friend, are the Prescription Benefits Managers or PBMs.. entities who have taken over a great part of the delivery of health care and have caused the prices to escalate upwards dramatically.

These entities started out as companies which only processed pharmacy prescription claims for insurance companies for you, the employee, the consumer, and any other person who received medicine which had to be billed to an insurance company so that they would receive reimbursement. Now they have morphed into gigantic entities which make billions of dollars at yours, the employers, the government entities, and others expense. They are no longer in the background of medicine. They are running many parts of it. 

They started out by touting that they ( the PBMs) would save all of us money.  They convinced the insurers that they could save money by establishing drug formularies whereby they divided medical problems into categories and developed drug lists which allegedly would contain necessary drugs in each category so that the physician could choose one of those to treat his or her patient. This was a beginning in medical practice whereby the physician could only choose a drug that was on “their” formulary in “their” designated category- no matter if that was the drug of choice to treat the disease or not. And how, in many cases, did they choose the drug in each category? Well, simple. They selected those drugs from manufacturers who gave them the largest rebates. It may not be the best drug for that particular condition but it was the only one “their” formulary would permit.

Then came the “Prior Authorization” (P.A) debacle which is the bain of the physician’s office staff’s existence. As a practicing pharmacist for over 50 years and the owner of pharmacy entities, I have interviewed people for employment at my organizations who have told me that most of those people who are engaged with giving decisions as to whether you need the drug or not, have no idea what the professional is asking them. They are , in many cases, only following a script and do not have any knowledge or training in medicine, the disease, pharmacology, etc. regarding the question as to whether the drug should be approved so that the physician may prescribe it..And the insurer can pay for it. It became my practice, if I was denied, to ask to speak with their Medical Director because “he had to be licensed somewhere.” This was only because the ill-informed gatekeeper would end the inquiry there and not allow any further questioning.

Their “off shore” offices were another step in obstruction. I was told that they would get back with me-perhaps in 2 weeks. My patient needed the medication and that was not sufficient. The next step was to “demand” that I be transferred back to the United States and I allowed  to speak with their medical director.  That usually was successful. The issue here also is that many office personnel or health care companies do not understand the lengths to which one must go to get approval and then what happens in that situation.? You get improper or inferior medical treatment.

It is necessary to enlighten my readers to let them know that the entire system and quality is based upon the number and amount of the rebates given by the pharmaceutical industry to the PBMs. Your doctor can no longer practice medicine in the way that he knows best…he has to engage the PBMs for permission to use the drug of choice. That is where we are today. It is “medicine by rebate”. I sincerely hope that our President will understand who the real culprit of rising medication costs is and take action to rescind the “Safe Harbor” laws so that the PBMs can no longer hide behind laws and regulations that only serve as a “Safe Harbor” for them…and certainly not for you and me.

I will be giving you more insight on the high cost of prescriptions for you and your family in a following column.  Please address any of your questions to me at , “ASK YOUR PHARMACIST”   Newsletter @AmacFoundation.org

Is New York’s “Surprise Bill” Law a Model for Federal Legislation? Yes and No.

There’s a big fight brewing in DC. No, not the one between the “Squad” and President Trump, which will likely be forgotten as soon as the outrage addicts need a new fix. The fight we’re talking about will have a much greater impact on Americans and is occuring between insurers and hospitals over various proposals to combat “surprise bills.”

The bottom line: as these behemoths clash, patients and physicians — those who need medical care, and those who deliver it — are set to be further marginalized.


We interrupt this blog post for a quick, but important, Action Alert: The bill furthest along at the moment is the Senate HELP bill, S 1895, which is now eligible for a vote on the Senate floor after passing through committee on July 8. A favorable (but unrealistic) CBO score has also been issued, increasing its chances for a vote. CALL BOTH OF YOUR U.S. SENATORS and tell them to VOTE NO on S 1895 if it comes up for a vote. The fastest way to reach your Senators is by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.


A review of the the major problems with S 1895, and others like it, can be found here, here, here, and here. S 1895, while containing potentially a few helpful provisions, is for the most part, putting band-aids on top of existing failed cancerous policies — band-aids that will exacerbate the disease instead of excising the tumor causing it. Not to mention that insurance-company controlled “unsurprise bills” may be a significantly bigger problem than surprise bills, as disintermediator Dave Chase explains. In addition the bill imposes system-wide rules to address a problem that is not as widespread as advertised. “The cost of surprise bills is a small portion of all health care spending…,” reports the CBO in its score of the bill.

In the physician community, some are suggesting that legislation like S 1895 would be acceptable if arbitration provisions are included. There is also a suggestion that a competing bill over on the House side, HR 3502 (Ruiz/Roe) is the compromise bill that can be supported, because it includes an arbitration option, and is modeled after New York’s heralded surprise billing regulations. [Update: similar arbitration provisions have now also been added to the House E&C legislation (HR 3630) addressing surprise bills.]

As state regulation of market transactions go, NY’s surprise billing law seems to cut a reasonable path. It prohibits abuses by hospitals without swinging the pendulum too far in favor of insurers. It permits a reasonable level of flexibility for patients and physicians to interact on mutually agreeable terms.

But does HR 3502 really mirror NY statue? Both do allow for arbitration, but aside from that the similarities meaningfully end.

Here are some key differences:

1) The NY law kicks in only with charges above 120% of the Usual and Customary, defined to mean “the eightieth percentile of all charges for the particular health care service.” That’s a pretty high bar that helps contain overregulation.
https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/FIS/602
https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/FIS/603

Conversely, HR3502 sets a benchmark price at “the commercially reasonable rate, as determined by the plan or issuer.” That is drastically one-sided in favor of insurers and likely unconstitutional, argues a former U.S. Solicitor General.

Yes arbitration may help provide relief from this extreme price setting to hospitals, and health systems, and “Wall Street-owned doctor groups” who can afford the expense, but arbitration is not a meaningful option for small or independent practices in many cases. 

2) Also the NY law defines “Surprise Bill” in a way that allows patients and physicians some ability to voluntarily opt out of limitations, if both parties desire, i.e.: “a surprise bill shall not mean a bill received for health care services when a participating physician is available and the insured has elected to obtain services from a non-participating physician….” And under the NY law, patients have to take an affirmative step to trigger a prohibition on balance billing: ” When an insured assigns benefits for a surprise bill in writing to a non-participating physician that knows the insured is insured under a health care plan, the non-participating physician shall not bill the insured except for any applicable copayment, coinsurance or deductible that would be owed if the insured utilized a participating physician.” https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/FIS/608

HR 3502, on the other hand, makes no provisions for patients and physicians voluntarily opting out of the provisions of the legislation, and in fact levies fines and penalties on physicians who don’t comply: “if such nonparticipating provider holds such individual liable for a payment amount for such an item or service furnished by such provider that is more than the cost-sharing amount for such item or service … such provider shall be subject … to a civil money penalty of not more than an amount determined appropriate by the Secretary for each specified claim.
https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3502/text

So back to the question posed in the title of this post, is the NY surprise billing law a model for federal legislation? If it were actually being followed as a model, the answer might be “yes.” But given the existing bills on the table in DC, the answer is “no.” NY law is being followed as a model in name only, not in practice.

Ultimately, the phenomenon of surprise bills signals a more fundamental problem: past failed policies that tilt the playing field in favor third party payment and punish direct payment limit patient options and are impeding market forces from squeezing out costs that line the pockets of administrators and middlemen who add minimal or no value. It is past time to level the playing field and unleash innovations that will allow those who care for patients the freedom provide an abundance of lower cost, high-quality options.