Prime Healthcare hospitals cut ties with UnitedHealthcare, citing low reimbursement

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/prime-healthcare-hospitals-new-jersey-cut-ties-unitedhealthcare-citing-low-reimbursement

Unitedhealth group Stock Photos & Royalty-Free Images | Depositphotos

Prime Healthcare’s New Jersey hospitals announced this week they would terminate their contracts with major insurer UnitedHealthcare, citing significant underpayment compared to the rates of neighboring facilities, and lower reimbursement rates than those offered by Medicaid.

The decision impacts Saint Clare’s Health in Denville, Dover and Boonton, Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, and Saint Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic.

Dr. Sonia Mehta, regional CEO and chief medical officer of Prime Healthcare New Jersey, said in a statement that the hospitals have been underpaid for years, including some rates well below that of Medicaid, and added that UnitedHealthcare’s contract proposal jeopardizes the organization’s ability to deliver quality care.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

Due to new disclosure requirements by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, all hospitals must now disclose their contracted rates. Prime Healthcare said it learned it had been underpaid compared to what United has been paying neighboring hospitals.

The New Jersey Hospital Association reported that Prime Healthcare hospitals provide quality healthcare services and that its cost of care is among the lowest in the State of New Jersey.

“We are patient-focused and are committed to delivering the most compassionate care by exceptional physicians using state-of-the-art technology,” said Mehta. “Undercutting our payments is unacceptable, and so we are taking the necessary step of providing notice of our intent to provide care out-of-network. We realize it is a bold move, but a necessary one to separate our hospitals from organizations that work contrary to our mission and commitment to our patients.”

Prime’s New Jersey hospitals will continue to honor the rates and services in the agreements until the end of the cooling off period, which is December 16 for the Medicaid product and December 31 for the commercial and Medicare products.

All patients can continue to use Prime’s emergency services at its New Jersey hospitals, regardless of insurance, and the hospitals are willing to negotiate single patient agreements for elective services. The hospitals will also honor all continuity of care services for United members.

UnitedHealthcare told Healthcare Finance News that Prime’s demands are unreasonable.

Prime is demanding a 14% price hike in just one year for our employer-sponsored and individual plans, which is unsustainable and would increase healthcare costs for New Jersey residents and employers,” said spokesperson Cole Manbeck. “We hope Prime will work with us to ensure the people we serve have continued access to Prime’s hospitals at an affordable cost.

“While we have agreement on rates for our Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans and proposed to Prime that we finalize the contract for these plans, Prime refused unless we accepted its 14% price hike demands for our employer-sponsored and individual plans,” he said.

“This unnecessarily puts thousands of New Jersey residents in the middle of our negotiation, presumably because Prime hopes the potential disruption in care for our most vulnerable members would pressure us to give in to its price hike demands.”

THE LARGER TREND

Prime Healthcare New Jersey is part of Prime Healthcare, a health system operating 45 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states. In 2020, Prime successfully completed its acquisition of St. Francis Medical Center, a 384-bed Los Angeles County medical facility that had previously been owned by Verity Health.

Prime acquired St. Francis for a net of more than $350 million, including a $200 million base cash price and $60 million for accounts receivable.

Just last week, CMS blocked four Medicare Advantage plans from enrolling new members in 2022 because they didn’t spend the minimum threshold on medical benefits, with three UnitedHealthcare plans and one Anthem plan failing to hit the required 85% mark three years in a row. Medicare Advantage plans are required to spend a minimum of 85% of premium dollars on medical expenses; failure to do so for three consecutive years triggers the sanctions.

In June, UnitedHealthcare backtracked on a proposed policy retroactively rejecting emergency department claims. The policy, which was slated to take effect on July 1, meant UHC would evaluate ED claims to determine if the visits were truly necessary for commercially insured members. Claims deemed non-emergent would have been subject to “no coverage or limited coverage,” according to the insurer.

UHC rolled back the policy – for now. The insurer told The New York Times that the policy would be stalled until the end of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, whenever that might be.

Reducing Administrative Costs in US Health Care: Assessing Single Payer and Its Alternatives

Administrative costs in the US healthcare system are known to be higher than those in any other country, even than other countries with private health insurance systems. There also is widespread agreement the excessive US costs generate little, if any, value, and that they impose a tremendous burden on physicians. With administrative costs even for primary care services approaching $100,000 per year per physician, there is a growing recognition that reducing healthcare-related administrative costs is a policy priority.

Despite the longstanding concerns about these escalating costs, there is little understanding of what generates them and how we can reduce them. To the degree there has been any academic inquiry into administrative costs imposed on US providers, it has compared them to the much lower costs in other countries with nationalized systems. These comparisons are unflattering to the US system and are designed to encourage wholesale healthcare reform.

Our paper published in Health Services Research begins at the retail level, focusing on the specific administrative costs inflicted by our payment system on providers. We examine the complex contractual arrangements between insurers and physicians and measure the efforts that physicians must endure to get paid.  It then offers a simulation model to estimate how certain policy reforms would result in nationwide administrative savings.

Currently, each health plan and each physician or physician group (and each hospital) negotiates over a contract for services on a periodic basis. Our analysis examines three separate costs that result from this type of market structure: architectural costs (the enormous number of contracts that are generated annually to provide services to patients), contractual complexity (the difficulty of following all of the requirements of each agreement to receive payment), and compliance costs (the costs of not following the rules in submitting a bill).

Based on this framework, we ask two questions: First, what if physicians entered into simpler contracts with insurers? And second, what if physicians (who accept patients with many kinds of insurance) agreed to a single boilerplate contract with all insurers rather than individualized contracts with each insurer? Put more simply, what if contracts were simpler and standardized?

Our simulation predicts that simplifying contracts would reduce billing costs by nearly 50%, standardizing contracts would reduce those costs by about 30%, and both simplifying and standardizing contracts would reduce those costs by over 60% percent.

We then used the model to estimate administrative cost savings from a single payer “Medicare-for-All” model. Consistent with claims made by advocates for nationalized health insurance, we estimate that a Medicare-for-All plan would reduce administrative costs between 33-53%, largely by standardizing contracts. But these cost savings are less than those generated from standardizing and simplifying contracts within our current system of private health insurance because we modeled that a Medicare-For-All plan would retain Medicare’s complex payment models and have increased compliance costs compared to private payers.

We think this is good news. Though we find that a single-payer system will reduce certain administrative costs, we also find that reforms to our current multi-payer system could generate at least as great a reduction.

There might be benefits to pursuing national health reform, but we can reduce burdensome administrative costs through much simple and less disruptive paths.  The even better news from this study is that we can now have a more precise understanding of where administrative costs arise in our health system, and we have the means to evaluate the effects of other kinds of reforms. Understanding is the prerequisite to reforming.

UnitedHealthcare’s policy will limit outpatient surgery payments to hospitals

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/unitedhealthcare-s-policy-will-limit-outpatient-surgery-payments-to-hospitals.html?oly_enc_id=2893H2397267F7G

Related image

UnitedHealthcare has expanded prior authorization requirements and site of service medical necessity reviews for certain surgeries in an effort to shift surgical procedures to less expensive locations, according to Modern Healthcare.

The outpatient surgery policy will limit the circumstances under which UnitedHealthcare will pay for certain surgeries in a hospital outpatient setting.

Taking effect in November for fully insured groups in most states, UnitedHealthcare will only pay for a surgical procedure performed in an outpatient hospital setting if the insurer determines the site of service for the procedure is medically necessary, UnitedHealthcare told Becker’s Hospital Review.

“Medical necessity reviews for site of service occur during our prior authorization process and are only conducted if the surgical procedure will be performed in an outpatient hospital setting,” UnitedHealthcare said. “We utilize our Outpatient Surgical Procedures – Site of Service Utilization Review Guideline to help make our site of service medical necessity determinations. Site of service medical necessity reviews are currently being conducted for certain surgical procedures and will apply to additional surgical procedures beginning on Nov. 1, 2019 for most states.”

In California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, medical necessity reviews will begin for certain surgeries occurring on or after Dec. 1, according to a UnitedHealthcare bulletin. Site of service medical necessity reviews do not apply to providers in Alaska, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas.  

With the outpatient surgery policy, the insurer said it hopes to reduce healthcare spending by guiding patients toward ambulatory surgery centers, where care may be cheaper when there isn’t a substantial medical reason for the surgery to be performed in a hospital outpatient setting.

Hospital Giant Sutter Health Faces Legal Reckoning Over Medical Pricing

Hospital Giant Sutter Health Faces Legal Reckoning Over Medical Pricing

Economists and researchers long have blamed the high cost of health care in Northern California on the giant medical systems that have gobbled up hospitals and physician practices — most notably Sutter Health, a nonprofit chain with 24 hospitals, 34 surgery centers and 5,000 physicians across the region.

Now, those arguments will have their day in court: A long-awaited class-action lawsuit against Sutter is set to open Sept. 23 in San Francisco Superior Court.

The hospital giant, with $13 billion in operating revenue in 2018, stands accused of violating California’s antitrust laws by leveraging its market power to drive out competition and overcharge patients. Health care costs in Northern California, where Sutter is dominant, are 20% to 30% higher than in Southern California, even after adjusting for cost of living, according to a 2018 study from the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California-Berkeley cited in the complaint.

The case was initiated in 2014 by self-funded employers and union trusts that pay for worker health care. It since has been joined with a similar case brought last year by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The plaintiffs seek up to $900 million in damages for overpayments that they attribute to Sutter; under California’s antitrust law, the award can be tripled, leaving Sutter liable for up to $2.7 billion.

The case is being followed closely by industry leaders and academics alike.

“This case could be huge. It could be existential,” said Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at the University of Southern California. If the case is successful, he predicted, health care prices could drop significantly in Northern California. It also could have a “chilling effect” nationally for large health systems that have adopted similar negotiating tactics, he said.

The case already has proved controversial: In November 2017, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow sanctioned Sutter after finding it had intentionally destroyed 192 boxes of documents sought by plaintiffs, “knowing that the evidence was relevant to antitrust issues.” He wrote: “There is no good explanation for the specific and unusual destruction here.”

Antitrust enforcement is more commonly within the purview of the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice. “One of the reasons we have such a big problem [with consolidation] is that they’ve done very little. Enforcement has been very weak,” said Richard Scheffler, director of the Nicholas C. Petris Center. From 2010 to 2017, there were more than 800 hospital mergers, and the federal government has challenged just a handful.

“We feel very confident,” said Richard Grossman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Sutter has been able to elevate their prices above market to the tune of many hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Or, as Attorney General Becerra put it at a news conference unveiling his 2018 lawsuit: “This is a big ‘F’ deal.”

Sutter vigorously denies the allegations, saying its large, integrated health system offers tangible benefits for patients, including more consistent high-quality care. Sutter also disputes that its prices are higher than other major health care providers in California, saying its internal analyses tell a different story.

“This lawsuit irresponsibly targets Sutter’s integrated system of hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and affiliated doctors serving millions of patients throughout Northern California,” spokeswoman Amy Thoma Tan wrote in an emailed statement. “While insurance companies want to sell narrow networks to employers, integrated networks like Sutter’s benefit patient care and experience, which leads to greater patient choice and reduces surprise out-of-network bills to our patients.”

There’s no dispute that for years Sutter has worked aggressively to buy up hospitals and doctor practices in communities throughout Northern California. At issue in the case is how it has used that market dominance.

According to the lawsuit, Sutter has exploited its market power by using an “all-or-none” approach to contracting with insurance companies. The tactic — known as the “Sutter Model” — involves sitting down at the negotiating table with a demand: If an insurer wants to include any one of the Sutter hospitals or clinics in its network, it must include all of them. In Sutter’s case, several of its 24 hospitals are “must-haves,” meaning it would be almost impossible for an insurer to sell an insurance plan in a given community without including those facilities in the network.

“All-or-none” contracting allows hospital systems to demand higher prices from an insurer with little choice but to acquiesce, even if it might be cheaper to exclude some of the system’s hospitals that are more expensive than a competitor’s. Those higher prices trickle down to consumers in the form of higher premiums.

The California Hospital Association contends such negotiations are crucial for hospitals struggling financially. “It can be a great benefit to small hospitals and rural hospitals that don’t have a lot of bargaining power to have a larger group that can negotiate on their behalf,” said Jackie Garman, the CHA’s legal counsel.

Sutter also is accused of preventing insurers and employers from tiering benefits, a technique used to steer patients to more cost-effective options. For example, an insurer might charge $100 out-of-pocket for a procedure at a preferred surgery center, but $200 at a more expensive facility. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that for years Sutter restricted insurers from sharing information about its prices with employers and workers, making it nearly impossible to compare prices when selecting a provider.

Altogether, the plaintiffs allege, such tactics are anti-competitive and have allowed Sutter to drive up the cost of care in Northern California.

Hospitals in California and other regions across the country have watched the success of such tactics and taken note. “All the other hospitals want to emulate [Sutter] to get those rates,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access.

A verdict that finds such tactics illegal would “send a signal to the market that the way to compete is not to be the next Sutter,” said Wright. “You want them to compete instead by providing better quality service at a lower price, not just by who can get bigger and thus leverage a higher price.”

Along with damages, Becerra’s complaint calls for dismantling the Sutter Model. It asks that Sutter be required to negotiate prices separately for each of its hospitals — and prohibit officials at different hospitals from sharing details of their negotiations. While leaving Sutter intact, the approach would give insurers more negotiating room, particularly in communities with competing providers.

Consolidation in the health care industry is likely here to stay: Two-thirds of hospitals across the nation are part of larger medical systems. “It’s very hard to unscramble the egg,” said Melnick.

California legislators have attempted to limit the “all or nothing” contracting terms several times, but the legislation has stalled amid opposition from the hospital industry.

Now the courts will weigh in.