The Best Laid Plans
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Hale Everson disliked silence and wasn’t bothered by visible distractions. A natural multitasker, he liked to keep D.C. Span, the 24-hour news channel devoted to Washington politics, on his office TV.
As the Human Resources director for the Southern operations of Fuego Motors, a leading European car maker, Hale had been working for years to create a state-of-the-art health care monitoring system for the automobile manufacturing plant’s employees.
On the computer monitor in front of him, there were no less than 10 open spreadsheets.
Hale loved data and along with the auto plant’s risk manager, he had compiled plenty of it.
Hale paused at his keyboard and shifted his attention to his TV set. The U.S. Senate was voting on the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“Come on boys, come on,” he said, as he watched the “yes” votes pile up. Hale wasn’t worried about the outcome of the vote. He’d been preparing for this day for years.
When it came to what he required to work well, Brady Heller, the CFO for Apex Care, a regional hospital, was a door-shut type, even though he had a corner office. Brady hated any sort of distraction.
It wasn’t until he got home late that night and watched the 11 o’clock news that Brady found out the Affordable Care Act had passed. Brady watched impassively as his wife sat next to him.
Always keeping his cards close to his vest, Brady quietly calculated what Apex Care had spent over the past four years to acquire numerous specialty practices to build a state-of-the art Accountable Care Organization.
Brady wasn’t worried about the outcome of the vote either. He’d also been preparing for this day for years.
Brady and Hale, friends since college, were walking down the fourth fairway at the local country club when the two community leaders, key members of the local chamber of commerce, put their well-disciplined heads together.
“Nice job picking up Neil Zane’s cardiac practice buddy,” Hale said to his friend with a smile.
“Thanks,” Brady said, as he scanned the grassy rise for his golf ball.
“From what I can tell, you’ve got all the pieces in place,” Hale said.
“I sure hope I do. Cost us enough,” Brady said as he turned to set up a 2-iron shot.
“Brady, hold on just second,” Hale said. Brady turned and looked soberly at Hale, alert to the business-like tone Hale had switched to.
“I think I’ve got all my pieces in place too, and I don’t want to wait ‘til the wind changes. I want to bring my entire workforce to Apex on a direct contract. I’ve got all the data…”
“I bet you do,” Brady said.
“And with my documentation we can get this done sooner rather than later,” Hale said.
“You got everybody ready?” Brady asked.
“I’ve got everybody on board, from Turin to where we’re standing right here,” Hale said, and Brady could tell that Hale meant every word.
Within three weeks, the local business weekly ran a story under the following headline and subhead.
“Fuego and Apex Ink Healthcare Pact”
“Savings and better quality of care in focus in multi-million-dollar arrangement”
The story featured a picture of Brady and Hale shaking hands over a conference table.
Under the direct contract with Apex, Fuego’s workers and their dependents would receive exclusive health care at the regional health giant for three years. The contract was set to renew as long as costs didn’t deviate more than five percent on an annual basis from projections.
Seven months after the direct contract deal was announced, Serge Bernstein, head of Apex’s high-profile bariatric medicine and weight loss clinic, requested a face-to-face meeting with Brady.
“I have to ask you, did you have access to Fuego’s health care data before you agreed to this deal?” Dr. Bernstein asked Brady.
“I know as a matter of fact that the company keeps excellent records,” Brady said as an opening defense.
“Well, I keep pretty good data on my end as well,” Dr. Bernstein said, as he expertly swiped his digital tablet to bring ups some figures.
“The contract with Fuego says costs can’t deviate more than five percent from projections,” he said.
“That’s correct,” Brady said.
“What would you say if I told you that I am seeing instances of diabetes in that population at about 250 percent of projections?” Dr. Bernstein said.
“I’d be very concerned,” Brady said.
“Then you should be very concerned,” Dr. Bernstein said.
Two weeks later it was the hospital system’s head of orthopedics, Krishnan Gilani, who was sitting in Brady’s office.
“I’ve got a four-week waiting list for initial non-emergency evaluations,” Dr. Gilani said.
“Why?” Brady said.
“Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act? This autoworker population requires a lot of care. Many of them are overweight, which complicates treatment. I’ve also got a threefold increase in overall caseload due to all the previously uninsureds coming on board under the new law,” Dr. Gilani said.
“Wow,” Brady said.
“Wow indeed, Mr. Heller,” Dr. Gilani said. “These are substantially out of whack figures and of great concern,” Dr. Gilani said.
Hale and Brady were mostly silent as Hale lined up a putt and the two of them digested the information that the increased number of insureds coming in for treatment was threatening to broadside their direct contracting arrangement.
“It’s the first year of the program,” Hale said after his putt lipped out. “I’m sure the numbers will settle down in years two and three.”
“You’re probably right,” Brady said as he stood over his putt.
“You’re probably right.”
Hale’s view of his in-office television screen is obscured by the bulk of the autoworkers’ union vice president. To the vice president’s left is the union president. Neither of them looks healthy and neither of them looks especially pleased.
“Eighteen months ago you sold this hospital deal to us, saying it would be better for the workers and their families. You said we’d get better treatment, cheaper, and better access to treatment,” the union president said.
“I did say that, that’s true,” Hale said
“None of that was true,” the vice president said.
“We got a guy on the line, he twists his back trying to keep an engine compartment bonnet in place. You know how long it takes him to see a back specialist?”
“I don’t…” Hale begins.
“How about five weeks?” the vice president said. “Five weeks!”
“And this is the only hospital we can go to,” the president said.
“I thought health care reform was about choice. You know what? We have no choice,” the union president said.
“Am I in Russia now because I feel like I’m in Russia,” the union vice president says to the union president.
The quarterly meetings between hospital management and the medical team leaders have become so fraught with tension for Brady Heller that they begin to feel like out-of-body experiences.
Dr. Bernstein, Dr. Gilani and Dr. Helen Beers, chair of the cardiac unit, have Brady in their cross-hairs.
“When you brought my practice into your system, I was assured that I could maintain my care standards, that my cost of risk would be reduced by 20 percent and that my revenues would increase by 30 percent,” Dr. Beers begins.
“None of that has happened,” she said, fixing formidable steel blue eyes on Brady through her titanium eyeglass frames.
“Instead I’m seeing delays in payment. I am seeing care standards that I never would have tolerated independently, and I am seeing this across a number of departments, not just my own,” she said.
“We want access to full financial documentation under the terms of our contracts or we are walking, I am not kidding you,” Dr. Bernstein said.
Brady looked from Dr. Bernstein to Dr. Gilani to Dr. Beers. Nowhere was there mercy or understanding.
Hale has a board meeting of his own to attend.
“If we pay them this $3 million that they’re asking for,” the CFO for North America says to Hale.
“On top of the contracted amount,” he says, looking around the table for emphasis, to make sure everyone is getting his point.
“On top of the contracted amount,” he says yet again, unmercifully.
“What assurances do we have that we’re not going to be shelling out another $3 million in six months to a year from now?” the CFO asks.
“I’m not sure that I can offer you any assurances,” Hale says.
“We’re seeing treatment delays and co-morbidities that are beyond the scope of our projections,” he adds.
“I thought this was the best health care money could buy,” the CFO says.
“It may be,” says the North American CEO, who has made a special point to be at this meeting.
“The issue is we didn’t know it would take this much money to buy it.”
The CEO fires Hale Everson that very evening.
A sizable regional employer and a large health care system come to grief when their directly contracted health care arrangement is blind-sided by health care reform implementation. The planners of the deal fail to take into account the delays in treatment that large numbers of previously uninsured patients coming into the system will create. Contrary to their promises, standards of health care deteriorate and key stakeholders become alienated.
1. The importance of good data: Data is only actionable if it is good data. Fuego Motors thought it had adequately measured the health care risks inherent in its employee population, but events proved it to be woefully wrong. The advent of the Affordable Care Act is going to impact medical treatment and loss projections are going to have to be altered.
2. Assess your contract: Direct contracts to provide health care services to employers might make a lot of strategic sense, but they can turn into straightjackets if not written with enough flexibility to account for increasing health care costs and the unknowns of health care reform.
3. Medical practice acquisition is fraught with perils: Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to health care business management. Conflicting work cultures and compensation and quality of care expectations can lead to disagreements, litigation or worse if contractual provisions aren’t spelled out adequately.
4. Health care regulation is in conflict: Federal health care reform is not the only wind sweeping the waters. There are numerous federal and state entities regulating health care and their missions and mandates are not in step with each other. Understanding the full lay of the land moving forward is a must.
5. Move with measured steps: There is so much going on in health care practice and regulation right now that the unknowns outnumber the knowns. Look at acquisition targets with more caution than ever before.
6. Be fully transparent: Both sides thought they had all the data they needed. But in the end, their failure to completely share with their data with their respective teams created unpleasant surprises. Being fully candid about all risks is the best strategy in this unsure environment.
The issues covered in this scenario were in part based on the impact of health care reform. This follow-up webinar focused on specific changes to the health care market in the wake of Affordable Care Act implementation and presented actions insureds can take to prepare themselves moving forward.
When a Claim Runs Off the Tracks
Mike is a 54-year-old construction worker. One day, he strains himself picking up a piece of lumber and goes home with shoulder pain. He reports his injury and five weeks later is taking Vicodin, an opioid, and Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory, and given an occupational therapy regimen.
That was the scene set for a crowded roomful of attendees at “Risk Scenarios Live! Navigating the Challenging Claim” session, presented at the 2014 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.
Mike begins taking more Vicodin per day than he’s prescribed, and performing duties at work that do not allow his injury to heal.
Eventually, he sees an orthopedic surgeon. She suggests Mike may have a rotator cuff tear, which would require surgery and an extensive recovery period that would keep Mike out of work for six months, at least. She orders an MRI to determine if there is a tear.
Even at this early stage of treatment, there are several red flags on Mike’s case, said experts on the panel that included Dr. Kurt Hegmann, associate professor at the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health; Dr. Robert Goldberg, chief medical officer at Healthesystems; and Tracey Davanport, director-national managed care, Argonaut Insurance Co.
Using an anti-inflammatory medication alone, without an opioid, often yields better outcomes and avoids the risk of addiction that comes with opioids, said Hegmann.
In Mike’s case, Vicodin was not medically necessary. His condition was not improving, and he was commuting to and from work and performing his job under the influence of an opioid, said Goldberg.
What should have been done to get this claim back on track? Every party involved – worker, employer, claims organization and prescribing physician – should have been communicating directly. That would have helped catch early abuse of painkillers and ensured that the physician is adhering to evidence-based guidelines.
Assignment of a nurse case manager may have also been necessary.
MRIs should be administered with caution, experts said. Such tests often turn up problems unrelated to the original injury, opening up a can of worms in terms of appropriate treatment and compensability.
“You have to treat the entire patient, not just the injury that brought him in,” Goldberg said, such as taking pre-existing conditions into account. Mike’s age, for example, significantly increased his risk for a slow recovery.
The MRI scan revealed a full-thickness tear of the rotator cuff. After surgery, Mike was prescribed Oxycontin to manage post-op pain. He then sat at home, gaining weight and drinking while taking his pain medication and neglecting to perform the at-home exercises his orthopedic surgeon advised.
When he went in for a check-up, the doctor decided to switch him back to Vicodin, although Mike still had a refill left on his Oxycontin. He envisioned doubling up the medications to achieve a new high.
At this point in the case, someone needed to step in to track Mike’s refills and limit his dosage.
“The patient can’t be the one to control the prescription pad,” Goldberg said.
Employers should also try to have workers return to modified-duty positions as soon as possible, which helps to maintain social connections and motivates the employee to get back to their pre-injury capacity.
“The patient needs to be engaged and motivated to get better,” Hegmann said. “If they choose not to do the work, then there’s nothing else a doctor can do for them.”
Mike was not motivated. He did not adhere to the restrictions placed on him in a light-duty position; he failed to dedicate himself to physical therapy and stay active; and he abused the opioids prescribed to him.
A year after his injury, he was 20 pounds heavier, had not progressed in strengthening his shoulder, and his employer’s workers’ comp claims organization was looking at a six-figure settlement for permanent disability.
Changing the WC Medical Care Mindset
Controlling overall workers’ compensation medical costs has been an elusive target.
Yet, according to medical experts from Healthesystems, the Tampa, Fla.-based specialty provider of innovative medical cost management solutions for the workers’ compensation industry, payers today have more powerful options for both offering the highest quality medical care and controlling costs, but they must be more thoroughly and strategically executed.
Specifically as it relates to optimizing patient outcomes and controlling pharmacy costs, the key, say those experts, is to look beyond the typical clinical pharmacy history review and to incorporate a more holistic picture of the entire medical treatment plan. This means when performing clinical reviews, taking into account more comprehensive information such as lab results, physician notes and other critical medical history data which often identifies significant treatment plan concerns but frequently aren’t effectively monitored in total.
Healthesystems’ Dr. Robert Goldberg, chief medical officer, and Dr. Silvia Sacalis, vice president of clinical services, recently weighed in on how using a more holistic, comprehensive strategy can make the critical difference in the ongoing medical care cost control battle.
Fragmentation, Complexity Obscure the Patient Picture
According to Dr. Goldberg, fragmentation remains one of the biggest obstacles to controlling overall healthcare costs and ensuring the most successful treatment in workers’ compensation.
Robert Goldberg, MD, discusses obstacles to controlling overall medical costs and ensuring the best treatment in workers’ compensation.
“There are several hurdles, but they all relate to the fact that healthcare in workers’ comp is just not very well coordinated,” he said. “For the most part, there is poor communication between all parties involved, but especially between the payer and the provider. Unfortunately, it’s rare that all the stakeholders have a clear, complete picture of what’s happening with the patient.”
Dr. Goldberg explains that health care generally has become a more complex landscape, and workers’ comp adds another level of complexity. Physicians have less time to spend with patients due to work loads and other economic factors, and frequently there isn’t adequate time to develop a patient specific treatment strategy.
“Often we don’t have physicians properly incentivized to do a complete job with patients” he said, adding that extra paperwork and similar hurdles limit communication among payers, nurse case managers and other players.
In fact, Dr. Sacalis emphasized that it’s not only the payer, but often the healthcare provider who is not getting a complete picture. For example, a treating doctor may not be the primary care physician and therefore they may not have access to the total healthcare picture for the injured worker.
“Most of all, payers need to adopt a more collaborative approach in their relationships with physicians, employers and patients, as well as networks involved. It will result in getting people back to work through appropriate medical care and moving the case along to a prompt closure.”
– Robert Goldberg, MD, FACOEM, Chief Medical Officer, Healthesystems
“It’s often difficult for multiple physicians to communicate and collaborate about what’s happening because they may not be aware of each-others involvement in that patient’s care,” she said. “Data sharing is lacking, even in integrated healthcare systems where doctors are in the same group.”
Done Right, Technology Can Bridge the Treatment Strategy Gap
Dr. Sacalis explained the role technology advancements can play in creating a more holistic picture of not only an injured workers’ post-accident state or pace of recovery, but also their overall health history. However, the workers’ comp industry by and large is not there yet.
“Today’s technology can be very useful in providing transparency, but to date the data is still very fragmented,” she said. “With technology advancements, we can get a more holistic patient view. However, it is important that the data is both meaningful and actionable to promote effective clinical decision support.”
Silvia Sacalis, PharmD, explains the role that technology advancements can play in creating a more holistic picture of an injured worker’s overall health.
Healthesystems, for example, offers an advanced clinical solution that incorporates a comprehensive analysis of all relevant data sources including pharmacy, medical and lab data as part of a drug therapy analysis. So, for example, the process could uncover co-morbidities – such as diabetes – that may be unrelated to a workplace injury but should be considered in the overall treatment strategy.
“Healthcare professionals must ensure there are no interactions with any
co-morbidities that may limit or affect the treatment plan,” Dr. Sacalis said.
In the majority of cases where Healthesystems has performed advanced clinical analysis, information gathered from the various sources has uncovered critical information that significantly impacted the overall treatment recommendations. Technology and analytics enable the implementation of best practices.
She cites another example of how a physician may order a urine drug screen (UDS), yet the results indicating the presence of a non prescribed drug were not reflected in the treatment regimen as evidenced by the lack of modification in therapy.
“Visibility and transparency will help with facilitating a truly effective treatment plan,” she said, “Predictive analytics are necessary tools for proactive monitoring and detection of trends as well as early identification of cases for intervention.”
Speaking of Best Practices …
Dr. Goldberg highlighted that the most important overall best practice needed to secure the optimal outcome is centered around getting the right care to the right patient at the right time. To him, that means identifying patients who need adjustments in care and then determining medical necessity during the entire case trajectory.
“It means using evidence-based medical treatment guidelines that are coordinated,” he said.
“You must look at the whole patient, which means avoiding the typical barriers in the workers’ comp treatment system, issues such as delays in authorizations, lengthy UR processes or similar scenarios that are well intentioned but if not performed effectively they can get in the way of expedited care.”
Dr. Goldberg and Silvia Sacalis provide recommendations for critical steps payers should take to achieve the best outcomes for everyone.
Dr. Goldberg noted that seeking out the most effective doctors available in geographic locations is another critical best practice. That requires collecting data on physician performance, patient satisfaction and medical outcomes, so payers and networks can identify and incentivize them accordingly.
“This way, you are getting an alignment of incentives with all parties,” Dr. Goldberg said, adding that it also means removing outlier physicians, those whose tendencies are to over-treat, dispense drugs from their office or order unnecessary durable medical equipment, for example.
“Visibility and transparency will help with facilitating a truly effective treatment plan. Predictive analytics are necessary tools for proactive monitoring and detection of trends as well as early identification of cases for intervention.”
– Silvia Sacalis, PharmD, Vice President of Clinical Services, Healthesystems
“Most of all, payers need to adopt a more collaborative approach in their relationships with physicians, employers and patients, as well as networks involved,” he said. “It will result in getting people back to work through appropriate medical care and moving the case along to a prompt closure.”
Dr. Sacalis added that from a pharmacy perspective, another best practice is becoming more patient-centric, using a customized and flexible approach to help payers optimize outcomes for each patient.
“Focus on patient safety first, and that will naturally drive cost containment,” she said. “Focusing on cost alone can actually drive results in the wrong direction.”
Dr. Goldberg explains how consolidation in the health care and WC markets can impact the landscape and quality of care.
Dr. Goldberg and Silvia Sacalis discuss if injured workers today are getting better treatment than they were twenty years ago.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Healthesystems. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.