Brokers List Legislative Priorities
You don’t have to spend your days watching C-SPAN to know that insurance issues are taking a prominent role on Capitol Hill lately.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the parochial interest [the insurance industry] holds having risen to the national priority that is the current environment,” said Joel Wood, senior vice president of government affairs for The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. “Agents have a lot of skin in the game.”
With the passage of the flood insurance bill, many agents are breathing a sigh of relief that the specter of massive rate increases won’t become a reality. However, several other pending issues could have weighty consequences for the insurance industry at large, and agents in particular.
The Affordable Care Act
“The independent agents are small business owners that are being impacted greatly by the implementation of health care reform,” said Mike Becker, executive vice president and CEO of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA).
“We’ve been incredibly loud advocates for the agent, ensuring that they’re able to participate, should they desire to do so, and they’re fairly and justly compensated for doing so, whether they’re participating in the traditional market or through an exchange,” he said.
PIA is currently asking members to find cosponsors for H.R. 2328, the Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors Act, introduced by U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and John Barrow (D-GA), to ensure that agent compensation is not disadvantaged by implementation of the ACA.
Wood pointed out that the current political climate during mid-year elections may make it difficult to achieve much change on the legislative end, so the CIAB is focusing more on regulatory issues related to health care.
“The pieces we’ve been engaged on are with respect to issues that impact ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] with the Department of Labor, to testifying on the wellness provisions, to working with the various agencies on trying to develop the right kind of nondiscrimination rule that has yet to come forward and the auto-enrollment rules that have yet to come forward.
“There are a million moving parts on the Affordable Care Act, and we try to engage on all of that impact our clients,” Wood said.
Another issue that is top of mind for agents is renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), which is set to expire at the end of the year.
“Almost every major commercial policy today has a rider on it that says that post-Dec. 31st 2014, terrorism coverage will not be in place depending upon the outcome of this debate,” Wood stated.
“It’s a product that’s not easily accessible in the private market without the terrorism risk and insurance program,” said Becker. “We support those programs and we’re going to be advocating for its passage.”
The CIAB is also focusing on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is designed to prevent tax evasion in transactions with offshore companies.
“We have unsuccessfully argued to the IRS that we should be exempted from implementation and reporting requirements on commercial insurance transactions,” Wood said. “Now, we’re moving to the implementation side and it’s going to be a burden both on the brokers and on their clients.
“Theoretically this sounds pretty simple, but there are unanswered questions. What is Lloyd’s of London, for example? Is that one insurance company or is it 200 companies, or is it 20,000 syndicates?”
To that end, CIAB is seeking clarification within the rules so that it can become a clearinghouse to help international insurers to comply with FATCA.
One of PIA’s biggest concerns involves federal regulation of insurance.
“We don’t think that there’s any further reason for federal regulation in this sphere,” said Jon Gentile, PIA national director of federal affairs.
“The insurance industry historically has been regulated at the state level. One of the things that came out of the financial crisis was that state regulation did, in fact, work and it worked well. We just want to make sure that our members are up on the Hill letting members of Congress know that state-based regulation does work well and has been for some time.”
However, the CIAB views this issue through a different lens.
“We think that it’s almost an embarrassment that our industry’s regulation is so fragmented when it comes to international trade,” said Wood. “We’re surprised at the degree to which some state insurance regulators have taken umbrage at the obvious role, as asserted in Dodd Frank for the Federal Insurance Office, to participate in reflecting U.S. goals in global talks.
“It’s a national business,” he said. “There has been a huge amount of consolidation. All the trend lines are going further in that direction.”
Wood also said that CIAB is advocating for passage of the National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers Reform Act that is designed to streamline interstate insurance licensing.
“It was big disappointment on not getting it [added as a rider to] the flood legislation. Shame on us, if we can’t get that to the finish line this year,” he said.
6 Emerging Supply Chain Risks You Should Know
Beware of Medical Hyper-Inflation!
Historically, medical inflation rates nationwide have been fairly consistent. However, data is now showing that medical inflation is not a “one size fits all” phenomenon, with hyperinflation spikes occurring in some locations…but not others.
This geographical conundrum means hyperinflation can occur as narrowly as two hospitals having dramatically different charges on the same street in Anytown, USA. So, uncovering these anomalies is akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“In recent years, workers’ compensation saw claim frequency decline, while severity rates went up. This basically means that increased job safety has offset increased medical costs,” explained Jason Beans, CEO of Rising Medical Solutions, a national medical cost management firm. “So, whenever a client’s average cost-per-claim went up, it was almost always caused by catastrophic, outlier-type claims.”
But beginning in 2013 and extending into 2014, Beans said, things changed. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my 20-plus years in this industry.”
“Our analytics made it very clear that small pockets around the country are experiencing what could only be described as medical cost hyperinflation. The big spikes in some clients’ claim costs were driven by a broader rise in medical costs, rather than catastrophic claims or severity issues.”
– Jason Beans, CEO, Rising Medical Solutions
Data dive uncovers surprising findings
On a national level, most experts describe medical costs increasing at a moderate annual rate. But, as often is the case, sometimes a macro perspective glosses over a very different situation at a more micro level.
“Our analytics made it very clear that small pockets around the country are experiencing what could only be described as medical cost hyperinflation,” explained Beans. “The big spikes in some clients’ claim costs were driven by a broader rise in medical costs, rather than catastrophic claims or severity issues.”
This conclusion is supported by several key data patterns:
- Geographic dependency: While many payers operate at the national level, only relatively small, geographically clustered claims showed steep cost increases.
- Median cost per claim: The median cost per claim, not just the average, increased greatly within these geographic clusters.
- Hospital associated care: Some clusters saw a large increase in the rates and/or the number of services provided by hospital systems, including their broad array of affiliate locations.
- Provider rates: Other clusters saw the same hospital/non-hospital based treatment ratios as prior years, but there was a material rate increase for all provider types across the board.
- Utilization increases: Some clusters also experienced a larger number of services being performed per claim.
One of the most severe examples of hyperinflation came from a large Florida metropolitan area which experienced a combined 47 percent workers’ compensation healthcare inflation rate. Not only was there a dramatic increase in the charge per hospital bill, but utilization was also way up and there was a shift to more services being performed in a costlier hospital system setting.
“The growth of costs in this Florida market stood in stark contrast to neighboring areas where most of our clients’ claim costs were coming down or at least had flat-lined,” Beans said.
An Arizona metropolitan area, on the other hand, experienced a different root cause for their hyperinflation. Regardless of provider type, rates have significantly increased over the past year. For example, one hospital system showed dramatic increases in both charge master rates and utilization. “Even with aggressive discounting, the projected customer impact in 2014 will be an increase of $773,850 from this provider alone,” said Beans.
ACA: Unintended consequences?
So what is going on? According to Beans, a potential driver of these cost spikes could be unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
First, the ACA may be a contributing factor in recent provider consolidation. While healthcare industry consolidation is not new, the ACA can prompt increased merger and acquisition efforts as hospitals seek to improve financials and healthcare delivery by forming Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). ACOs, the theory goes, can take better advantage of value-based fee arrangements in existing and new markets.
“As hospital systems grow by acquisition, more patients are being brought under hospital pricing structures – which are significantly more expensive than similar services at smaller facilities such as independent ambulatory surgery centers and doctors’ offices,” Beans said.
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that post-consolidation healthcare systems have become more efficient, only more expensive. For example, a recent PwC study reported that hospital IT infrastructure consolidation alone is projected to add 2 percent to hospital costs in 2015.
Another potential ACA consequence is group health insurers may have less incentive to keep medical costs down. An ACA provision requires that 85% of premium in the large group market must be spent on medical care and provider incentive programs, leaving 15% of premium to be allocated towards administration, sales and subsequent profits. “Fifteen percent of $5000 in medical charges is a lot less than 15% of $10,000,” said Beans. “This really limits a group health carrier’s incentive to lower medical costs.”
How do increased group health rates relate to workers’ comp? In some markets, a group health carrier may use its group health rates for their work comp network so any rate increase impacts both business types.
In the end, medical inflation is inconsistent at best, with varying levels driven by differing factors in different locations – a true “needle in the haystack” challenge.
What to do?
Managing these emerging cost threats, whether you have the capabilities internally or utilize a partner, means having the tools to pinpoint hyperinflation and make adjustments. Beans said potential solutions for payers include:
- Using data analytics: Data availability is at an all-time high. Utilizing analytical tools to spot problem areas is critical for executing cost saving strategies quickly.
- Moving services out of hospital systems: Programs that direct care away from the hospital setting can substantially reduce costs. For example, Rising’s surgical care program utilizes ambulatory service centers to provide predictable, bundled case rates to payers.
- Negotiating with providers: Working directly with providers to negotiate bill reductions and prompt payment arrangements is effective in some markets.
- Underwriting with a micro-focus: For carriers, it is vital that underwriters identify where these pockets of hyperinflation are so they can adjust rates to keep pace with inflation.
“This trend needs to be closely watched,” Beans said. “In the meantime, we will continue to use data to help payers of medical services be smarter shoppers.”