3 New Unintended Consequences of Health Care Reform
As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues its gradual and bumpy rollout, health care providers are utilizing various strategies to comply and adapt. Many of these approaches, some of which include M&A activity, IT upgrades and shared service agreements are now creating new risks of their own.
1. Continuity of Care
Many aspects of the ACA and other healthcare trends are driving M&A or shared service agreements among hospitals, physicians and other providers. These new relationships can present serious challenges for managing a patient’s treatment across different organizations.
“There’s a risk that one organization might not provide care consistent with the other,” said Dan Nash, national healthcare practice leader, Zurich in North America. “Oftentimes, it’s not contractually required for them to do so.”
Patients being transferred from system to system might be exposed to different approaches to care and different levels of treatment.
Care managers can do a lot to help alleviate risks associated with continuity of care. Having a “concierge” that knows how each system operates can make transitions much easier for patients and explain why treatments differ from system to system.
“There’s a risk that one organization will not provide care consistent with the standards of the other. Oftentimes, it’s not contractually required for them to do so.”
— Dan Nash, National Healthcare Practice Leader, Zurich North America
“It creates a feeling that they’re working together,” said Dan Nash, national healthcare practice leader, Zurich in North America. “If you have a care manager through the process, it can give the patient a level of comfort that takes away anxiousness,” said Nash. “Then they feel like they’re being taken care of.”
Between the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a long list of other government organizations and mandates, there are serious demands on health systems.
“Real estate may be all about location, location, location but healthcare is all about compliance, compliance, compliance,” said Nash.
A lot of risk managers are focused on digital-related exposures, but a significant amount of serious data breaches are still the result of “paper losses.”
“One example happened on a subway in 2009 when a hospital worker left records for 192 patients on a train,” said Nash about an incident involving a mid-Atlantic hospital “It led to the hospital paying $1 million to the government in 2011 to settle the potential HIPAA violations.”
Despite the risks, health care providers are still reluctant to buy coverage around it.
“People used to look at banks with an eye toward their brick-and-mortar locations. ‘My money is safe because it’s housed within those walls,’ they’d think. While that thinking is antiquated when dealing with finances, it still rings true in the health care world,” said Nash.
“Often customers we talk to say it’s important, but not in budget this year,” said Nash. Furthermore, their IT departments seem to think they’ve got the problem figured out on the digital side and companies generally don’t pay enough attention to the possibility of paper losses.
To help combat the risk, Zurich offers to qualified customers a Breach Coach consulting service, during which an experienced cyber breach risk engineering consultant can assess where businesses are most vulnerable to a data loss.
3. Outpatient Treatment
Currently, 60% of hospital services are delivered inpatient with 40% of care delivered through outpatient facilities. Under the Affordable Care Act, the proportion will likely be reversed, so that 60% of care is delivered through outpatient facilities.
“It’s risky because patients generally see hospitals as places where they are safer in the event of an adverse reaction,” said Nash. “They might not have that same sense of security with an outpatient facility.
Nash compared that notion to the way many Americans thought about banks 20 or 30 years ago.
“People used to look at banks with an eye toward their brick-and-mortar locations. ‘My money is safe because it’s housed within those walls,’ they’d think. While that thinking is antiquated when dealing with finances, it still rings true in the health care world,” said Nash. “People feel safer and think they’re getting better care if they’re in a large hospital. At an outpatient facility, that comfort level isn’t the same.”
Another risk of having more outpatient procedures is that the health care provider has less time for observing patients. With patients going home after their procedure, it becomes even more important for the patient to carefully follow instructions: like taking medicine at scheduled times and doing proper rehab. Any health care provider can tell you that’s never guaranteed. But even if they don’t follow the care instructions, the hospital is still responsible.
This article was produced by Zurich and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.
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Coping with Cancellations
Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.
At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.
For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.
Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.
Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.
And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.
The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.
“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”
Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.
“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.
Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.
“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”
But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.
“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”
Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.
For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.
“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”
Electronic Waste Risks Piling Up
The latest electronic devices today may be obsolete by tomorrow. Outdated electronics pose a rapidly growing problem for risk managers. Telecommunications equipment, computers, printers, copiers, mobile devices and other electronics often contain toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Improper disposal of this electronic waste not only harms the environment, it can lead to heavy fines and reputation-damaging publicity.
Federal and state regulators are increasingly concerned about e-waste. Settlements in improper disposal cases have reached into the millions of dollars. Fines aren’t the only risk. Sensitive data inadvertently left on discarded equipment can lead to data breaches.
To avoid potentially serious claims and legal action, risk managers need to understand the risks of e-waste and to develop a strategy for recycling and disposal that complies with local, state and federal regulations.
The Risks Are Rising
E-waste has been piling up at a rate that’s two to three times faster than any other waste stream, according to U.S Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Any product that contains electronic circuitry can eventually become e-waste, and the range of products with embedded electronics grows every day. Because of the toxic materials involved, special care must be taken in disposing of unwanted equipment. Broken devices can leach hazardous materials into the ground and water, creating health risks on the site and neighboring properties.
Despite the environmental dangers, much of our outdated electronics still end up in landfills. Only about 40 percent of consumer electronics were recycled in 2013, according to the EPA. Yet for every million cellphones that are recycled, the EPA estimates that about 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
While consumers may bring unwanted electronics to local collection sites, corporations must comply with stringent guidelines. The waste must be disposed of properly using vendors with the requisite expertise, certifications and permits. The risk doesn’t end when e-waste is turned over to a disposal vendor. Liabilities for contamination can extend back from the disposal site to the company that discarded the equipment.
Reuse and Recycle
To cut down on e-waste, more companies are seeking to adapt older equipment for reuse. New products feature designs that make it easier to recycle materials and to remove heavy metals for reuse. These strategies conserve valuable resources, reduce the amount of waste and lessen the amount of new equipment that must be purchased.
Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels.
For equipment that cannot be reused, companies should work with a disposal vendor that can make sure that their data is protected and that all the applicable environmental regulations are met. Vendors should present evidence of the required permits and certifications. Companies seeking disposal vendors may want to look for two voluntary certifications: the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard, and the e-Stewards certification.
The U.S. EPA also provides guidance and technical support for firms seeking to implement best practices for e-waste. Under EPA rules for the disposal of items such as batteries, mercury-containing equipment and lamps, e-waste waste typically falls under the category of “universal waste.”
About half the states have enacted their own e-waste laws, and companies that do business in multiple states may have to comply with varying regulations that cover a wider list of materials. Some materials may require handling as hazardous waste according to federal, state and local requirements. U.S. businesses may also be subject to international treaties.
Developing E-Waste Strategies
Companies of all sizes and in all industries should implement e-waste strategies. Effective risk management should focus on minimizing waste, reusing and recycling electronics, managing disposal and complying with regulations at all levels. That’s a complex task that requires understanding which laws and treaties apply to a particular type of waste, keeping proper records and meeting permitting requirements. As part of their insurance program, companies may want to work with an insurer that offers auditing, training and other risk management services tailored for e-waste.
Insurance is an essential part of e-waste risk management. Premises pollution liability policies can provide coverage for environmental risks on a particular site, including remediation when necessary, as well as for exposures arising from transportation of e-waste and disposal at third-party sites. Companies may want to consider policies that provide coverage for their entire business operations, whether on their own premises or at third-party locations. Firms involved in e-waste management may want to consider contractor’s pollution liability coverage for environmental risks at project sites owned by other entities.
The growing challenges of managing e-waste are not only financial but also reputational. Companies that operate in a sustainable manner lower the risks of pollution and associated liabilities, avoid negative publicity stemming from missteps, while building reputations as responsible environmental stewards. Effective electronic waste management strategies help to protect the environment and the company.
This article is an annotated version of the new Chubb advisory, “Electronic Waste: Managing the Environmental and Regulatory Challenges.” To learn more about how to manage and prioritize e-waste risks, download the full advisory on the Chubb website.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Chubb. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.