Payer/Provider Relations

Colorado’s Ambitious Public Option Could Impact Employer-Backed Insurance Market

Colorado received permission from the Biden administration on June 23 to go ahead with the final element of its so-called “public option,” the Colorado Option. Experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that the program’s design is likely to deliver more premium savings than Washington state’s public option — and that the savings could make their way to the commercial market, especially if Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements (ICHRAs) make further inroads in the Centennial State.

Experts tell AIS Health that the Colorado Option is innovative and could produce substantial premium savings, in large part because it has aggressive premium reduction goals. Starting in 2023, premiums for Colorado Option plans must be 5% lower than 2021 premiums, ultimately resulting in 15% cuts in premiums in 2025. After that, starting in "2026 and each year thereafter" premiums may increase "above the premium in the previous year by no more than medical inflation, relative to the previous year," per a summary of the law from the state legislature.

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CMS Fines 2 Georgia Hospitals for Non-Compliance with Price Transparency Rule

In the first enforcement action since CMS’s Hospital Price Transparency rule went into effect at the start of last year, the agency on June 7 fined two hospitals in Georgia a total of more than $1 million for non-compliance with price transparency requirements. Health policy experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that they hope CMS ramps up its enforcement efforts, which could help payers, patients, employers and other stakeholders benefit from price comparison and greater competition.

CMS levied an $883,180 penalty against Northside Hospital in Atlanta and a $214,320 fine against Northside Hospital in the Atlanta suburb of Canton, Ga. The penalties were announced the same week that a research letter published in JAMA revealed that only 5.7% of hospitals had complied with the federal transparency rule between six and nine months after the legislation was enacted on Jan. 1, 2021 — the latest in a series of studies drawing similar conclusions.

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FTC Will Take a Closer Look at UnitedHealth-LHC Deal

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on June 10 made a formal request for information to UnitedHealth Group regarding the integrated health care giant’s announced purchase of LHC Group, Inc., a home health care provider, which could be an indication that the antitrust watchdog will move to block the deal. Experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that it’s not a certainty that the FTC will take such an action, given the fragmented nature of the home health care industry, but add that UnitedHealth’s singular size and diversification exposes the firm to higher antitrust scrutiny than other national health insurance or provider firms.

UnitedHealth announced its plans to acquire LHC in April, saying it would spend about $6 billion to purchase the provider and amortize some of its debt. The health care giant revealed the FTC’s request for information in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. UnitedHealth has acquired dozens of smaller companies in recent years — and antitrust regulators have begun to pay closer attention as its spending spree has gone on. Notably, in February, the Dept. of Justice sued to block UnitedHealth’s bid to acquire Change Healthcare, Inc., a data and analytics company, joining the state attorneys general of New York and Minnesota in the antitrust enforcement action.

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Payers Worry About High Costs, Low Evidence for Gene Therapies

So far, the FDA has approved eight cell and gene therapies, but the agency is expected to approve several more medications in those classes in the next few years. That has caused concern for payers because such medications have high costs and limited clinical evidence, according to speakers who participated in an Avalere Health webinar on May 25.

As such, the federal government, PBMs, health insurers and other payers are testing innovative ways to reimburse hospitals, providers and pharmaceutical companies for administering cell and gene therapies.

Health Insurers, Hospitals Grapple With Inflation, Labor Costs

While inflation hits consumers at car dealerships, airline counters and grocery stores, health insurers and hospitals also are seeing inflationary pressure, particularly with the so-called Great Resignation underway and labor costs skyrocketing.

The Labor Department reported on May 11 that the Consumer Price Index rose 8.3% over the 12-month period that ended in April 2022, down only slightly from the four-decade high of 8.5% reported in March.

“There’s no question that the labor market is tight. So, as you think about inflation, we hear it certainly from our provider partners, and we see it in certain parts of our own business,” Anthem, Inc. CEO Gail Boudreaux told investors during an April 20 conference call to discuss first-quarter 2022 financial results, per The Motley Fool.

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The Vast Majority of Physicians Accept New Medicare and Private Insurance Patients

Most non-pediatric office-based physicians accepted new patients, with similar shares accepting new Medicare (89%) and privately insured patients (91%), according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis based on the 2019 National Electronic Health Records Survey. A smaller share of primary care physicians accepted new patients with Medicare or private insurance than physicians in other medical or surgical specialties. Across the nation, the share of physicians accepting new Medicare patients ranged from 95% in Iowa, Minnesota and Pennsylvania to 76% in the District of Columbia, similar to the range across states for privately insured patients. As of March 2022, only 1% of non-pediatric physicians formally opted out of the Medicare program, with psychiatrists accounting for 42% of these physicians opting out.

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Insurers Are Helping Patients, Providers Deal With Medical Debt

Although fewer Americans are dealing with medical-related financial hardships since the coronavirus pandemic began, the percentage is still high and could rise further as Medicaid redeterminations resume, major Affordable Care Act subsidy expansions expire and inflation eats away at people’s incomes and savings. To that end, payers are implementing ways to ease the burden of high out-of-pocket costs for patients and to help providers improve their collections, even as one expert calls the services a “Band-Aid attempt to cover the widening healthcare affordability gap.”

An Urban Institute report published on May 11 found that 16.8% of adults from 18 to 64 years old had medical debt in April 2021, down from 23.6% in March 2019. The Urban Institute cited several potential reasons for the decline, including a reduction in health care utilization, pandemic relief measures and growth in Medicaid enrollment.

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Study: 25% of Medicaid Docs Provide At Least 75% of Care

About a quarter of the practitioners in Medicaid managed care organization networks provide more than three-quarters of the services used by members, according to an article published by researchers affiliated with Yale and Cornell Universities in the journal Health Affairs this month. Experts say that this concentration of care likely limits access to care for members, and health plans need to do more to make sure their networks aren’t made up of so-called “ghost providers.”

The article, which analyzed claims and enrollment data from Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee during 2015-17, found that care delivery is highly concentrated in both primary care and specialists. However, the authors caution that their study of the states “might not generalize nationally” and only studied four specialties.

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Specialty Pharma Payer Deals Point to Outsourcing Trend

As prices for specialty pharmacy products continue to soar, payers are looking for new ways to gain more control over the distribution of expensive, often-provider-administered drugs. Last week, Kaiser Permanente and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield both struck deals aimed at managing specialty pharmacy spend — and one expert says that more deals like them are coming, especially from Kaiser’s new business partner, Cigna Corp. subsidiary Evernorth.

Kaiser Permanente (KP), the multistate integrated payer-provider based in California, doesn’t enter agreements with service providers outside its self-contained system very often. That said, Kaiser Permanente spokesperson Stephen Shivinsky tells AIS Health that “Kaiser Permanente and Accredo” — the specialty pharmacy division of Evernorth — “have had an existing relationship, which will expand further under part of this new agreement.”

Specialty Pharma Payer Deals Point to Outsourcing Trend

As prices for specialty pharmacy products continue to soar, payers are looking for new ways to gain more control over the distribution of expensive, often-provider-administered drugs. Last week, Kaiser Permanente and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield both struck deals aimed at managing specialty pharmacy spend — and one expert says that more deals like them are coming, especially from Kaiser’s new business partner, Cigna Corp. subsidiary Evernorth.

Kaiser Permanante (KP), the multistate integrated payer-provider based in California, doesn’t enter agreements with service providers outside its self-contained system very often. That said, Kaiser Permanente spokesperson Stephen Shivinsky tells AIS Health that “Kaiser Permanente and Accredo” — the specialty pharmacy division of Evernorth — “have had an existing relationship, which will expand further under part of this new agreement.”