Aon is proposing to buy Willis Towers Watson in an all-stock transaction that would combine the second- and third-largest insurance brokerages, Bob writes.
Why it matters: Employers hire Aon and Willis Towers Watson to help them choose health plans and pharmacy benefit managers for their workers, but the major consultants don’t always steer companies toward the best deals.
What’s next: The two companies don’t expect to close the deal until the first half of 2021, indicating they know antitrust regulators will be closely scrutinizing this.
Philadelphia-based Temple University has signed a binding definitive agreement to sell the Fox Chase Cancer Center and its bone marrow transplant program to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
The announcement comes after nearly a year of negotiations. Temple expects to complete the sale of the cancer center and bone marrow transplant program in the spring of 2020.
Temple also entered into an agreement to sell its membership interest in Health Partners Plan, a Philadelphia-based managed care program, to Jefferson. A closing date for the transaction has not yet been determined.
With the agreements in place, Temple and Jefferson are looking for other ways to collaborate. The two organizations are exploring a broad affiliation that would help them address social determinants of health, enhance education for students at both universities, collaborate on healthcare innovation, and implement a long-term oncology agreement that would expand access to resources for Temple residents, fellows and students.
“Healthcare is on the cusp of a revolution and it will require creative partnerships to have Philadelphia be a center of that transformation,” Stephen Klasko, MD, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, said in a news release. “For Jefferson, our relationship with Temple will accelerate our mission of improving lives and reimagining health care and education to create unparalleled value.”
Changes in insurance benefit design that shift greater financial responsibility to the patient, rising healthcare costs and confusing medical bills will continue to drive growth in bad debt — often faster than net patient revenue, according to a new report from Moody’s.
Legislative proposals to simplify billing have the potential to reduce bad debt, but the downside for hospitals is that they’ll likely introduce additional complexity to billing processes and complicate relationships with contracted physician groups. A recent accounting change will reduce transparency around reporting bad debt.
Higher cost sharing and rising deductibles are the main contributors to the trend of patients assuming greater financial responsibility, a trend that’s been occurring for more than a decade, and that will further increase the amount of uncollected payments. Hospitals and providers are responsible for collecting copays and deductibles from patients, which may not always be possible at the time of service; the longer the delay between providing service and collecting payment, the less likely a hospital is to collect payment.
On top of that, the higher an individual’s deductible is, the greater the share of reimbursement that a hospital has to collect. The prevalence of general deductibles increased to 85% of covered workers in 2018, up from 55% in 2006, and the amount of the annual deductible almost tripled in that time to an average of $1,573.
Multiple factors are driving the trend toward higher cost sharing, including a desire among employees and employers for stable premium growth despite steadily rising healthcare costs and the growing popularity of high deductible health plans.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
Hospitals face an uphill battle when it comes to reducing bad debt. Strategies include point-of-service collections, enhanced technology to better estimate a patient’s responsibility for a medical bill, and offering low-cost financing or payment plans.
A common feature of these approaches is educating patients about what portion of a medical bill is their responsibility, after taking into account the specifics of their insurance plan. But hospitals often find it hard to provide reliable cost estimates for a given service, which can thwart efforts to provide patients with an accurate estimate of their financial responsibility.
One difficulty is that medical bills partly depend on the complexity of service and amount of resources consumed — which may not be known ahead of time. There’s also the need to incorporate specific benefits of the patient’s own insurance plan. A certain amount of bad debt is likely to arise from patients accessing emergency care given the insufficient time to determine insurance coverage.
Another difficulty in billing is surprise medical bills, received by insured patients who inadvertently receive care from providers outside their insurance networks, usually in emergency situations. While the term “surprise medical bills” refers to a specific, narrow slice of healthcare costs, they have become part of the broader debate about the affordability and accessibility of U.S. healthcare.
THE LARGER TREND
To minimize surprise bills, Congress is considering proposals to essentially “bundle” all of the services a patient receives in an emergency room into a single bill. Under a bundled billing approach, the hospital would negotiate a set charges for a single or “bundled” episode of care in the emergency room. The hospital would then allocate payments to the providers involved.
This approach, which major hospital and physician trade groups oppose, has the potential to significantly affect hospitals and disrupt the business models of physician staffing companies, according to Moody’s. Many hospitals outsource the operations and billing of their emergency rooms or other departments to staffing companies. Bundling services would require a change in the contractual relationship between hospitals and staffing companies.
Another recent proposal in Congress would require in-network hospitals to guarantee that all providers operating at their facilities are also in network. This approach adds significant complexity because many physicians and ancillary service providers are not employed or controlled by the hospitals where they work. Some hospitals would likely seek to employ more physicians, leading to increases in salaries, benefits and wages expense.
Alarming statistics appeared this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, based on an analysis conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that showed that 20 percent of adolescents (ages 12-18) and 25 percent of young adults (ages 19-34) in the US are now prediabetic. These young people are at substantially increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, as well as related cardiovascular diseases, as they grow older.
The numbers are a staggering picture of what confronts the American healthcare system as the millennial generation (whose median age is now 30) and the younger “Gen-Z” generation (born after 1997) move closer to their prime care consumption years. These age cohorts are likely to be much more medically complex, and will drive even higher healthcare costs, than previous generations—especially since both of the younger generations are larger than those that preceded them. But the statistics also raise important health policy questions.
To what extent should we “medicalize” prediabetes? In other words, should we begin to flag and treat prediabetes, which is more of a predisposition than an actual medical condition, with medications and interventions? Surely the reimbursement system will create a powerful temptation to do exactly that—at exorbitant cost. Or will we instead focus efforts on “reversing” prediabetes, with more robust attempts to encourage lifestyle changes (diet, exercise) and drive environmental changes (neighborhood walkability, availability and affordability of healthy foods)?
And there’s an information privacy issue looming as well—how will “prediabetics” be flagged, and could prediabetes be viewed as a “pre-existing condition” that might be used in coverage (and even employment) decisions should the regulatory environment change? As much as we focus today on the healthcare impact of the aging Baby Boom generation, we need to get out ahead of some of the issues we’re certain to face as our younger citizens grow older (and sicker).