Large self-insured employers lack power in hospital price negotiations

Dive Brief:

  • As some employers look to contract directly with hospitals in an effort to lower healthcare costs, researchers found that large self-insured employers likely do not have enough market power to extract lower prices, according to a study published in The American Journal of Managed Care.
  • The study examined the relationship between employer market power and hospital prices every year between 2010 and 2016 in the nation’s 10 most concentrated labor markets.
  • The study found that hospital market power far outweighs employer market power, suggesting employers will not be successful in lowering prices alone, but may want to consider forging purchase alliances with local government employee groups, the research paper said.

Dive Insight:

In recent years, some larger employers have cut out the middlemen to strike deals directly with hospitals.

For example, General Motors entered into an arrangement with Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System in 2018, joining other major employers such as Walmart, Walt Disney and Boeing.

Perhaps most notably, J.P. Morgan, Amazon and Berkshire Hathaway joined forces to bend the cost of care in the U.S. Despite all the fanfare, the venture, named Haven, later fell apart, illustrating how difficult it is to change the nation’s healthcare system.

By circumventing traditional health insurers, companies are hoping they themselves can negotiate better deals.

But this latest study throws cold water on that strategy, at least in part. “Our study suggests that almost all employers, operating alone, simply do not have the market power to impose a threat of effective negotiation,” the paper found.

One of the paper’s main aims is to measure market power of hospitals and employers, and the results are striking. The average hospital market power far exceeds that of the employer in the 10 metropolitan areas researchers examined.

The average hospital market power was more than 80 times greater than that of the employer, putting into context just how askew the power dynamics are.

These employers are not wrong for wanting to strike out on their own, the researchers point out.

Many self-insured employers bear the insurance risk while entering into administrative services only arrangements with insurers which provide just that, administrative type services.

But insurers in these arrangements may not have any incentive to lower prices. The paper pointed to another working research paper that found ASO plans pay more for the same service, at the same hospital compared to those in fully insured arrangements.

“The empirical evidence suggests that insurers, because they lack the incentive, may not be negotiating lower prices for their ASO enrollees,” according to the study.

Even though employers may not have enough market power on their own, researchers offered up a solution: team up with state or local government employee groups to increase market power to obtain lower hospital prices.

An “employee diaspora” is complicating network contracting

https://mailchi.mp/bade80e9bbb7/the-weekly-gist-june-18-2021?e=d1e747d2d8

Home - Diaspora Dialogues

This week we caught up with a benefits consultant colleague to get her perspective on how employers are thinking about health benefits as they come out of the pandemic. “It seems like employers and health systems have switched places in their enthusiasm for direct contracting,” she shared.

Prior to the pandemic, employer interest in working directly with a health system around a narrow network product to deliver coordinated care was growing, but there were few systems offering attractive solutions. Now more health systems are ready, but the number of employees working remotely has created a new obstacle for direct contracting.

One chief people officer for a large employer noted that while some employees have relocated permanently, others are still hopping from one Airbnb to another: “It’s at the point where I have no idea where half of our people are living on any given day.” In this new “employee diaspora”, some firms are seeing ten percent or more of their formerly office-based workforce now located outside the market, creating challenges for a geographically concentrated network to meet their needs.

How many companies will allow permanent telework, and how many employees will take them up on it, remains to be seen (our colleague suggested we’ll know more in the fall, after the return to school anchors many families in place). But for now, the best employer partners for direct contracting efforts are likely mid-sized regional employers, who are more likely to retain a local workforce, and face fewer obstacles to making benefit design changes.

In analyst call, Clover reveals it doesn’t have the customers it said it did during IPO

Why Clover Health Chose a SPAC, Not an IPO, to Go Public | Barron's

When it planned to go public through a SPAC merger, insurance startup Clover Health told investors that it already had 200,000 direct contracting lives under contract for 2021. But in new guidance shared on Monday, the company now plans to end the year just 70,000 to 100,000 covered lives from direct contracting. 

After telling investors that it would more than quadruple its membership base in a year, insurance startup Clover Health is cutting its projections in half.

The insurance startup now plans to end the year with between 70,000 and 100,000 covered lives from direct contracting, a new payment program launched last by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) services last year, according to its most recent earnings report. 

Last year, when Clover announced plans to go public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company backed by “SPAC King” Chamath Palihapitiya, the company told investors it already had 200,000 direct contracting lives under contract for 2021, according to a slide deck.

But its projections call into question the veracity of those shared when the company was looking to go public. In fact, Kevin Fischbeck, an analyst with Bank of America, called out the discrepancy when he asked the company about estimates that it would have nearly half-a-million members covered through direct contracting by 2023.

Clover could only manage a feeble response, with CFO Joe Wagner saying it was “too early to say in future years exactly where we’re going to end up.”

It’s not the only big question that Clover faces about its future. After a scathing report from a short-seller earlier this year, the startup confirmed it had received a request for information from the Department of Justice, which it hadn’t disclosed previously. A day later, the company received notice of an investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When asked about the current status of the investigation, co-founder and CEO Vivek Garipalli said it was the company’s policy not to comment on pending inquiries.

In an unusual move, the company fielded questions from Reddit during the investor call, alongside those from analysts.

Clover is one of 53 companies selected to participate in CMS’ direct contracting programs in 2021. The value-based payment models were created under the previous administration, which would allow the startup to strike contracts with doctors who are caring for patients under the traditional Medicare program and manage their care.

Under the new administration, CMS has stopped taking applications for the new direct contracting models, which are slated to launch next year. It also paused the rollout of an alternative model that would tie payments to the population health and cost outcomes for all residents of a specific location.

In the meantime, most of Clover’s business still comes from its Medicare Advantage plans, where it has 66,300 members, an 18% increase year-over-year. It brought in $200.3 million in revenue in the first quarter, up 21%, but its net loss jumped more than 70% to $48.4 million.

The company also decreased its revenue projections from what it originally told investors last year. The startup said it expects to bring in revenue of $810 million to $830 million by the end of 2021, a decrease from its previous projections of $880 million. A small portion of that, just $20 million to $30 million, would come from direct contracting.

Do employers want to buy “population health”?

https://mailchi.mp/0ee433170414/the-weekly-gist-february-14-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Image result for Do employers want to buy “population health”?

I’ve had two conversations this week with health system leaders who have been struggling to navigate conversations about direct contracting with large employers in their market. A system chief innovation officer expressed frustration about the pace of discussions with a regional employer: “They’re clearly interested in our network, and we’ve been designing a program for them. They’ve seen our performance results from our accountable care organization (ACO) and the savings we generated. But even after a year of meetings, I’m not sure it’s going anywhere.”

Direct-to-employer (DTE) contracting has proven much more difficult for health systems than anyone anticipated a decade ago, in the wake of highly publicized DTE contracts with Boeing and Intel. Most employers, even large ones, lack the sophistication and bandwidth to co-create DTE offerings with health systems.

But those two deals may have led health systems to mistake what employers are looking for in a relationship. Both Boeing and Intel keep their employees for decades, and are interested in solutions, like chronic disease management, that have a longer-term return on investment (think heart disease management for the 55-year-old engineer).

The average employer, on the other hand, keeps a worker for just a few years. They don’t have a “population health” problem: from a healthcare cost perspective, they won’t see an ROI from management of chronic conditions.

Their pressing healthcare cost problems result from high-cost events, like a premature baby in the NICU, an unexpected spine surgery or a new cancer diagnosis.

Most health system ACOs have been designed to manage the cost of aging Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic diseases via enhanced primary care—and are a mismatch for delivering what the average employer needs the most: high-cost episode management, behavioral health support, and ready, available, guaranteed access.

Striking successful DTE deals will require providers to augment their service offerings beyond traditional population health, and to demonstrate their success in managing the benefit costs of their own employees.

 

 

 

A new health system-employer partnership takes flight

https://mailchi.mp/192abb940510/the-weekly-gist-february-7-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Image result for direct contracting healthcare american airlines

This week, Dallas, TX-based Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH) announced a new relationship with American Airlines, creating a lower-cost, narrow-network health plan option for American’s 55,000 employees based in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region.

The new “DFW ConnectedCare” will provide employees access to over 5,000 doctors and 50 hospitals that are part of the Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance (BSWQA), BSWH’s accountable care organization; participants will also have zero deductibles and receive priority access to network providers. The American Airlines contract builds on a decade of work to move as many of BSWH’s contracts to total cost-risk arrangements as possible, delivering cost savings for Medicare beneficiaries, the system’s own employees, and other DFW-area employers, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which re-upped its direct contract with the system this year.

Whereas most accountable care organizations have focused on the Medicare population, three-quarters of the estimated 815,000 covered lives BSWQA will manage this year are in the commercial sector. With growing frustration with high deductibles and other forms of employee cost sharing, large employers like American Airlines, General Motors and others appear to be open to novel network arrangements that offer lower costs and other benefits in exchange for reduced choice—and are willing to work with regional health system partners for a subset of their employee population.

Health systems have a window of opportunity to demonstrate that direct contract arrangements can generate sustainable cost savings and provide the levels of access and service required for a long-term relationship with large employers. But to truly change the commercial market, these arrangements must also be scalable across medium and small employers, who have much lower purchasing sophistication and risk tolerance in selecting health benefits.