Medical Costs

Plans Take Wait-and-See Approach to Vendors Promising Help with Weight Loss Medication Costs

As the use of and interest in GLP-1 medications for weight loss increases, numerous vendors are pitching self-insured health plans on solutions to manage the demand and high costs of the medications. However, benefits experts say employers are approaching these outside companies with caution and are still trying to figure out how to manage the significant expenses associated with GLP-1 drugs.

Chantell Sell Reagan, Pharm.D., WTW’s national pharmacy clinical leader, estimates that about 25 to 30 vendors are marketing solutions to employers to help with FDA-approved weight loss medications such as Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Zepbound (tirzepatide). Wegovy and Zepbound are also approved to treat type 2 diabetes under the brand names Ozempic and Mounjaro, respectively.

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Remote Physiologic Monitoring Use Among Medicaid Enrollees Skyrocketed From 2019 to 2021

Between 2019 and 2021, the use of remote physiologic monitoring (RPM) via wearable devices and mobile applications soared by more than 1,300% among Medicaid enrollees, which was driven by a small number of providers, according to a recent Health Affair study.

Based on Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System Analytic Files data from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2021, the study found that the number of RPM recipients per 100,000 Medicaid enrollees increased from 2.1 recipients in 2019 to 29.6 recipients in 2021 and started to accelerate with the March 2020 onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Among over 5,600 distinct providers who billed RPM claims for Medicaid enrollees in 2021, more than half of the claims were from 5% of providers.

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As Hospitals’ Commercial Prices Keep Rising, Experts Float Solutions

Hospital and outpatient service prices paid by commercial health plans grew in 2022, reaching a national average of 254% of Medicare’s compensation rate that year, according to RAND Corp. researchers. Experts tell AIS Health that they agree with the study’s conclusions that market consolidation is a key contributor to high prices and that higher costs are not correlated with higher quality. But they also say payers aren’t powerless to stem the tide of rising costs.

According to the May 13 RAND research, which is based primarily off an analysis of commercial claims data from all 50 states and all-payer claims database data in states where it is available, hospital and outpatient prices have grown substantially since earlier versions of the same research was published that studied the 2010s. (For a more detailed look at the RAND data, see this infographic.) In addition, the study concluded that there is a strong correlation between market consolidation and high prices.

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Little Engines That Could? Analysts See Lots to Like in Insurtechs’ 1Q

Although first-quarter performance was decidedly mixed for the country’s largest publicly traded health insurers, three startup “insurtechs” — Oscar Health, Inc., Alignment Healthcare, Inc. and Clover Health Investments Corp. — largely impressed industry analysts with their financial results.

Oscar had a particularly outstanding showing, as the Affordable Care Act marketplace-focused insurer recorded its first quarterly profit since its founding in 2012 (the firm went public in 2021). Its adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) were $219 million, which was approximately $100 million ahead of the Wall Street consensus estimate. The firm reported diluted earnings per share of 62 cents, compared to an 18-cent loss in the first quarter of 2023.

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Hospitals Charged Private Health Plans 2.5 Times Medicare Rates in 2022

Employers and private insurers, on average, paid 254% of what Medicare did for the same inpatient and outpatient services at the same facilities in 2022, according to a new RAND Corp. study.

The report examined data from more than 4,000 hospitals across all U.S. states except Maryland and found that average relative prices paid by private insurers increased from 241% of Medicare rates in 2020 to 254% in 2022, which was largely driven by growth in inpatient relative prices.

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Telehealth Policies May Get Extended, but Conference Speakers Call for More Research

Although telehealth policies that were put in place in March 2020 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire at the end of the year, congressional leaders are taking steps to extend the policies for an additional two years. Even if the legislation passes, more research needs to be done to assess the benefits and downsides of treating people virtually from a payer, provider and patient perspective, according to speakers at a May 1 panel organized by the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation.

The House Ways and Means Committee on May 8 unanimously advanced legislation that would preserve Medicare beneficiaries’ access to telehealth through 2026. Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) are sponsors of bill H.R. 8261, which is known as the Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act.

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California’s 3% Health Care Spending Target Prompts Angst, Anxiety

California recently became the latest state to implement a limit on health care spending growth, with a new state agency targeting an increase of no greater than 3% by 2029. Commercial payers have largely backed the spending targets, but providers have argued that the targets aren’t reachable and Medicaid stakeholders — including the state’s largest managed care organization — are concerned that the target may curtail access for beneficiaries and harm the solvency of safety net providers.

The spending target was set by the board of the Office of Health Care Affordability (OHCA), which was established in 2022. The board’s membership was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat. The board set target spending growth rates of 3.5% in 2025 and 2026, 3.2% in 2027 and 2028, and 3.0% in 2029. OHCA will require payers regulated by the state and providers alike to meet the designated spending targets. Organizations that don't meet the spending targets will be subject to a state-overseen corrective action plan and possibly fines.

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HSA-Eligible Plans Have Mixed Impact on Health Care Use, No Impact on Spending

People with health savings account-eligible high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) use less outpatient services and fill fewer prescription medications than people with PPOs, but HSA plan enrollment appears to have no impact on total health care spending, according to a recent study published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

As of 2022, 57.9% of employees were enrolled in an HSA-eligible health plan, while 32.3% of them were in an HDHP that was not associated with an HSA.

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Medicaid MLRs Dent Centene, Molina 1Q Earnings Reports

Higher-than-expected medical loss ratios (MLRs) in Medicaid were a common — albeit minor — pain point for both Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare, Inc. when the companies reported their first-quarter 2024 financial results.

Centene, which reported its quarterly results on April 26, recorded an MLR of 90.9% for its Medicaid line of business, which was higher (worse) than the Wall Street consensus estimate of 90.3%.

Chief Financial Officer Andrew Asher said during the company’s earnings call that the figure was “a little higher in the quarter than we expected as we continue to work through the appropriate matching of rates and acuity in the short-term.”

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Analysis Tallies Premium Impact of Provider Markups on Specialty Drugs

If providers charged the same price as specialty pharmacies for specialty medications, $13.1 billion in spending on health insurance premiums and premium equivalents could have been avoided in 2024, according to a new analysis from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, commissioned by AHIP.

Provider-administered drugs can be delivered directly to clinicians from specialty pharmacies — known as white bagging — or providers can purchase the drugs directly and store the drugs until they are needed for patient care, which is called “buy and bill.” When the “buy and bill” method is utilized, the providers can charge a markup for the drug that is passed through to the patient’s bill.

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