Entries in Consumers (70)

Friday
Dec072018

Premium and Deductible Cost Sharing: A Dozen Key Findings from the Commonwealth Fund

by Clive Riddle, December 7, 2018 

CMS has just touted the National Health Expenditure growth of 3.9% for 2017 is at historic low levels, with the Office of the Actuary stating “prior to the coverage expansions and temporary high growth in prescription drug spending during that same period, health spending was growing at historically low rates. In 2017, health care spending growth returned to these lower rates and the health spending share of GDP stabilized for the first time since 2013.” 

Meanwhile, The Commonwealth Fund paints a different picture from another perspective, and has just released a 21-page DataBrief: The Cost of Employer Insurance Is a Growing Burden for Middle Income Families, with lead author Sara Collins commenting “The cost of employer health insurance premiums and deductibles continues to outpace growth in workers’ wages. This is concerning, because it may put both coverage and health care out of reach for people who need it most — people with low incomes and those with health problems. Policies that would reduce health care burdens on employees include fixing the Affordable Care Act’s family coverage glitch, requiring employers to exclude some services from the deductible, and increasing the required minimum value of employer plans.” 

The Commonwealth Fund tells us their study uses “the latest data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (MEPS–IC) to examine trends in employer premiums at the state level to see how much workers and their families are paying for their employer coverage in terms of premium contributions and deductibles. We examine the size of these costs relative to income for those at the midrange of income distribution.” 

Here’s a dozen key findings: 

  1. Average employee premium contributions for single and family plans amounted to nearly 7 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5 percent in 2008. 
  2. In 11 states (Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas), premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.
  3. Premium and deductible costs amounted to nearly 12 percent of median income in 2017. Added together, the total cost of premiums to workers and potential spending on deductibles for both single and family policies climbed to $7,240 a year in 2017. 
  4. This combined cost ranged from a low of $4,664 in Hawaii to a high of more than $8,000 in eight states (Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia). 
  5. In two states, Mississippi and Louisiana, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.
  6. Premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in nearly every state in 2017. After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, overall premiums for employer health plans (employer and employee share) grew more sharply in 2017, by 4.4 percent for single plans and 5.5 percent for family plans. 
  7. Annual single person premiums rose above $7,000 in eight states (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Wyoming) and family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states (Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Wyoming) and the District of Columbia. 
  8. Average premiums for families increased overall in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
  9. As employer premiums have risen, so have workers’ contributions. Between 2016 and 2017, employee premium contributions rose by 6.8 percent to $1,415 for single-person plans and by 5.3 percent to $5,218 for family plans.
  10. Contributions for single plans increased in 32 states, ranging from a low of $675 in Hawaii to a high of $1,747 in Massachusetts. 
  11. Contributions for family plans rose in 35 states and the District of Columbia, with the lowest increase in Michigan ($3,646) and the highest in Delaware ($6,533).
  12. The average deductible for single policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, a 6.6 percent increase. Average deductibles rose in 35 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire.

 

Friday
Oct262018

Two Reports on Cost Driven Deferred Medical Care

By Clive Riddle

Two reports were published this week on deferred medical care driven by cost considerations, based on survey findings. Earnin’s report: Waiting to Feel Better: Survey Reveals Cost Delays Timely Care is based on two surveys – a commissioned online Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults and an Earnin poll of their users, “many of which live paycheck to paycheck.” AccessOne’s report: AccessOne Patient Finance Survey- Analysis on how healthcare costs impact is based on a survey conducted by ORC International of 693 people with at least $35,000 in annual household income, weighted by age, sex, geographic region, race and education.

Earnin tells that 54% of Americans “have delayed medical care for themselves in the past 12 months because they could not afford it, “ with the top three most delayed types of care being dental/orthodontic work (55%), eye care (43%), and annual exams (30%.) Earnin reports that “23 percen) have put off getting medical care for more than one year because they could not afford it. Among those whose household is living paycheck to paycheck or not making enough to get by, the rate of this extremely delayed care averages 36 percent. Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) say their health tends to take a back seat to other financial obligations.”

 

AccessOne reports that “Twenty-seven percent of households with children are likely to delay care because they can’t afford to pay for it.” Focusing on the dollar amounts involved and financing issues, they tell us that
  • 21% of families who had trouble paying their medical bill reported that their accounts had been sent to collections.
  • More than half of respondents were concerned about their ability to pay a medical bill of less than $1,000; with 35 percent being concerned about paying a bill that totals less than $500 – 20 times less than the average healthcare balance of a person in the U.S.
  • Only 21 percent of respondents said their healthcare providers have spoken to them about available patient financing options in the past two years.
  • Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they prefer to discuss healthcare costs and financing options before care of service is delivered.
  • Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they would use a no-interest financing option for a balance of $1,000 or less, and 57 percent said availability of a no-interest finance option is important or very important in evaluating a provider.
So if the AccessOne report implications bear out that improving financing options up front will reduce deferred medical care, the question is, will our younger generations that have had to assume much greater overall burden of college debt, also assume a growing burden of medical debt?

 

Wednesday
Jul252018

The Sounds of Silence

By Kim Bellard, July 25, 2018

Listen closely, healthcare organizations and professionals: those sounds you are not hearing are the voices of people not speaking up, including patients. And that’s a problem.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: a new study found that even when physicians actually asked patients why they were there, on average they only listened to the patient’s explanation for eleven — that’s 11 — seconds before interrupting them.

Think about that, and then think back to a doctor’s visit you had about something that was worrying you: could you have explained it in eleven seconds?

Believe it or not, that’s not the worst of it. Only 36% of the time did patients even get a chance to explain why they were there. Even then, two-thirds of them were interrupted before they had finished.

Primary care doctors did better, allowing 49% of patients to explain their agenda for being there, versus only 20% for specialists. Hurray for the primary care physicians…

The researchers say there are many reasons why physicians aren’t listening better, including time constraints, burnout, and lack of communications training. But still…11 seconds? For the minority that even get the chance to talk?

As Bruce Y. Lee said in Forbes, “A doctor’s visit shouldn’t feel like a Shark Tank pitch.”

As bad as this is, it is not the only area where not feeling able to speak up is a problem in healthcare. For example, a study in BMJ Quality and Safety found that 50% to 70% of family members with a loved one in the ICU were hesitant to speak about common care situations with safety implications.

It’s not just patients who are silenced. One study found that 90% of nurses don’t speak up to a physician even when they know a patient’s safety is at risk. Another survey, of medical students in their final year of school, found that 42% had experienced harassment and 84% had experienced belittlement.

A couple of years ago ProPublicalooked at why physicians stay silent about other physicians they know commit medical errors, including ones who do so repeatedly. One physician, speaking about his hospital, told them:

There’s not a culture where people care about feedback. You figure that if you make them mad they’ll come after you in peer review and quality assurance. They’ll figure out a way to get back at you.

It’s about power: who has it, or at least who we think has it. We trust our doctors (although not as much as our nurses!). We assume that more experienced doctors have more knowledge than newer doctors, that doctors know more than nurses, and that healthcare professionals know more than we do. We’re at the bottom of the knowledge tree.

But that may not be true. Dave deBronkart — e-patient Dave — likes to cite Warner Slack’s great quote: “Patients are the most underused resource.”

But healthcare professionals must be willing to listen, and they must ensure that they ask. And we must take the initiative to speak up.

Our values are wrong if we allow reimbursement considerations to squeeze our time with physicians to the point we’re not talking and they’re not listening. Our values are wrong if we’re conditioned to think our opinions and concerns do not matter. Our values are wrong if everyone is not only empowered but also expected to speak up, especially when we see or experience something we think is a problem.

Anybody listening?

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

Wednesday
May232018

Too Many Poor Excuses

Too Many Poor Excuses
 

By Kim Bellard, May 23, 2018

 

I am so tired of reading yet another story about how we — Americans — cannot afford things. Not luxury item. Increasingly, it seems like too many of us can’t afford what most people would consider basics — food, housing, child care, transportation.

 

And health care, of course.

 

new study by the United Way ALICE Project found that 51 million households can’t afford a basic monthly budget that includes food, housing, health care, child care, and a cell phone. That is 43% of all U.S. households.

 

ALICE stands for Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Of the 51 million households, two-thirds are ALICE ones. These are working households that, in a prior era, might have been thought of as middle class.

 

Now they are living paycheck to paycheck, and fearing sudden expenses — like an unexpected health care bills. Maybe they can’t afford their insulin, their inhalers, or their epipens anymore. And, of course, God forbid they end up in the emergency room or get out-of-network care.

 

Indeed, a hospital stay may result in a permanent reduction in income, even if you have insurance, according to a study released earlier this year. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Commonwealth Fund recently found that the percentage of Americans who feel confident they can afford the health care they need continues to fall. Only 62% re very or somewhat confident, down from 69% just three years ago. Twenty-four percent reported health care has become harder to afford over the last year.

 

Another new study found that 40% of us skipped a recommended test or treatment due to cost, and 44% skipped seeing a doctor when sick or injured due to concerns about costs. More feared the cost of a serious illness than they did the serious illness itself.

 

That is seriously wrong.

 

And there are no signs of anything improving. The number of uninsured is rising again. Actions by the Trump Administration to undermine the ACA exchange markets are estimated to have drastic increases on health insurance premiums — potentially jumping by 35% to 94% over the next three years. Plus, HHS has proposed rules for so-called short-term health insurance policies that the CMS

 

Actuary says will simply increase costs for everyone else, not to mention that those “covered” under those policies will find that coverage to be skimpy if/when they need it.

 

This all adds up. Kaiser Health News reports that, in addition to bankruptcies due to health care bills, nearly 40% of adults under 65 have had their credit scores lowered due to medical debts. A 2014 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found that almost 20% of credit reports had at least one medical collection account listed.

 

The sad truth is that only 39% of Americans say they could handle an unexpected expense of even $1,000 — and 34% had had a major unexpected expense over the past year. Not surprisingly, we are doing a terrible job saving for retirement. Increasingly, we’re both saying we’ll have to rely on Social Security for our retirement income, while lamenting that we’re not very confident it will be there when we need it.

 

These problems are not about our having enough money. We do. They are not just problems for “poor people.” They are problems for the majority of us. These are problems of priorities, and somewhere along the way our have gotten screwed up.

 

We’re making too many poor excuses for not doing more and for not doing better. It’s time to stop.
 
This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

 
Friday
May112018

The Disconnect with Consumers and Health Plan Costs

The Disconnect with Consumers and Health Plan Costs
 

By Clive Riddle, May 11, 2018

 

eHealth this week released a new eleven page report: Costs and Consequences in the ACA Market: A Survey of Individual and Family Health Insurance Consumers, presenting findings from more than 1,700 consumers who purchased their ACA-compliant plans via eHealth that included:  (1) “Consumers’ idea of a fair price is hard to find in today’s market;” (2) Policyholders aren’t willing to pay extra for key ACA benefits;” and (3) “Voters are bringing health care frustrations to the mid-term elections this fall,” (66% said it was one of their top three issues.)

 

Consistent with a number of previous studies, there is a significant disconnect between consumers sense of where healthcare prices should be in the market, and what they actually are. Health reports that the average individual monthly premium cost during the last open enrollment was $400,  Only 3% surveyed felt $400+ was a fair price. Only 9% felt $300+ was fair. Only 25% felt $200+ was fair. So what is fair? 38% felt premiums should be $100 or less. Another 36% felt $200 or less was fair.

 

The disconnect carries over consumer sense of the value of specific benefits. 61% want mental health benefits, 60% want maternity care and 55% want birth control coverage (which are all ACA required), but only 25%, 24% and 16% respectively, want to pay for them. Even emergency room benefits experience this disconnect: 80% want the benefit and 54% are willing to pay for it.

 

ACA compliant HDHPs are prevalent in the ACA marketplace, and continue to gain the large group environment as well. Benefitfocus this week released a new eleven page survey report: The State of Employee Benefits 2018 - Industry Edition that examined benefit trends for four sectors: education, health care, manufacturing and retail, with an emphasis on examining the impact of HDHPs in each sector.

 

Benefitfocus found that regarding HDHP prevalence by sector:

·         Education: 50% of employers offer HDHPs compared to 23% in 2016.

·         Healthcare: 73%% of employers offer HDHPs compared to 56% in 2016.

·         Manufacturing: 88%% of employers offer HDHPs compared to 54% in 2016.

·         Retail: 76%% of employers offer HDHPs compared to 55% in 2016.

·         All Industries: Healthcare: 70%% of employers offer HDHPs compared to 58% in 2016.

 

When large employers offer other type plans and HDHPs side by side (many employers do not offer both), the HDHP employee enrollment rates by sector were: Education: 34% (30% in 2016); Healthcare: 27% (23% in 2016); Manufacturing: 29% (46% in 2016); Retail: 40% (27% in 2016) and All Industries: 35% (40% in 2016).

 

What would drive such different results by sector? Employee premium HDHP contributions compared to last year decreased 27% in Education, increased 4% in healthcare, increased 46% in manufacturing, increased 20% in retail, and increased 4% overall for all industries.

 

So just as in the individual marketplace, much comes down to price, even though there is a disconnect in the value that price reflects.