Friday, October 29, 2010

CT managed care report card out and medical loss ratios

The CT Insurance Dept. has published this year’s comparison of health insurers with interesting comparisons across managed care plans. (Study up for next month’s webquiz). Near the end, on p. 48, medical loss ratios are reported across insurers. It is important to note that the MLR definition used for the report is stricter than the proposed federal reform standards. Even so, all CT HMOs are well above the 85% level that will be required January 1st. Among CT indemnity insurers below 80% (the standard for individual coverage), Golden Rule is the only company with over 350 members.
Ellen Andrews

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Health information privacy complaint filed against Hartford Hospital

State employee unions have filed a complaint with HHS’ Office of Civil Rights about Hartford Hospital sending letters to union members and patients about tense rate negotiations with Anthem. The union contends that the hospital is trying to scare patients to create leverage in their negotiations with CT’s largest insurer. The state uses Anthem’s network to provide health care to most of the plan’s 200,000 employees, retirees and dependents. The complaint alledges that the hospital improperly used protected patient information to influence payment negotiations.

"Hartford Hospital is manipulating our members, many of whom are deeply worried about the future of their medical care," said Jean Morningstar, president of University Health Professionals, Local 3837 in AFT Connecticut. "The hospital is simply trying to achieve a better financial outcome in their negotiations with Anthem. This is a shameful and dangerous tactic to engage simply for profit."

Ellen Andrews

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CT Health Foundation seeks a communications Officer

The CT Health Foundation is hiring a Communications Officer to manage their Web, social media and e-mail efforts and contribute to overall Web vision and strategy. The Foundation is looking for at least five years experience in journalism or communications, strong writing and editing skills, extensive experience with Web sites and hands-on knowledge of social media tools. Knowledge of health policy and the world of philanthropy are a plus.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CID will hold rare public hearing on Anthem’s 2011 increase request

The CT Insurance Dept. has decided to hold a public hearing on Anthem’s requests for 2011 premium increases. The Commissioner was strongly criticized for approving Anthem increases of 47% for the end of this year with little review and no modification. Anthem has not yet submitted their proposal for 2011 rate increases, and the hearing date has not been set. As part of a $1 million federal grant, CID will now publish all insurer rate requests online. Politico is reporting that Commissioner Sullivan, who has been critical of national health reform, was “aggravated” by a strongly worded letter from HHS about the Anthem rate approval given the federal grant. Reportedly, he would have preferred a private phone call over a public letter.
Ellen Andrews

Monday, October 25, 2010

Countering campaign spin and negative ads

Yesterday’s NY Times top editorial is a list of fact checks on campaign distortions about national health reform, the Accountable Care Act. For the record, the law does not require patients to go through a bureaucrat to reach a doctor, reform is not a “government takeover” of health care – the law relies heavily on the current, very private, fragmented, inefficient, purely American health care system, some lousy insurance plans that don’t meet minimal standards for value won’t count as coverage (but the administration is being very generous with waivers, so maybe they will), health care costs are going up but it has little to do with the law, under reform Medicare is stronger and most recipients will be far better off with preventive care and lower drug costs, the vast majority of Medicaid costs are covered not by states but by the feds (states are big winners under national reform), and the law is already helping people with changes that became effective last month.
Ellen Andrews

Friday, October 22, 2010

New campaign describes benefits of Connecticut reforms

The Universal Health Care Foundation of CT has launched a new public education campaign about the benefits of SustiNet and national health reform to our state. A new brochure describes SustiNet, outlines the savings it will bring to businesses and individuals, and why we need Connecticut needs health reform now.
Ellen Andrews

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CT teen pregnancy rates down

The rate of pregnancies among CT teens dropped to 22.9 per 1,000 girls in 2008, down from 23.1 the year before and 35.8 ten years before. CT’s rate has consistently been below the national average; our 2008 rate was the fourth lowest in the nation behind only MA, NH, and VT. The bad news is that racial and ethnic disparities among CT’s teens are very large. Non-Hispanic black teen girls in CT are 4.5 times more likely to be pregnant than whites and among Hispanics the rate is 8 times higher. Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be preterm and low birthweight than babies born to mothers in their twenties.
Ellen Andrews

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Large employers urge Hartford Hospital to be reasonable in Anthem negotiations

Rate negotiations between Anthem and Hartford Hospital have become tense as the October 31st contract end date nears, according to a CT Mirror article. On Monday a coalition of self-funded health plans, including the Office of State Comptroller on behalf of CT’s state employees, sent a strongly-worded joint letter to Hartford Hospital questioning the hospital’s case for double digit rate increases and critical of efforts to frighten patients. The large plans are not part of the negotiations but will have to pay large rate increases and out-of-network costs if reasonable rates cannot be agreed on. Next year’s state budget is expected to be $3.4 billion in deficit. The letter urges Hartford Hospital to agree to performance-based payment reform, to improve the quality and efficiency of care, ensuring that any increases are linked to increased value.
Ellen Andrews

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Feds urge CT Insurance Dept. to reverse Anthem 47% rate hike approval

HHS has sent a letter to CT Insurance Department (CID) Commissioner Sullivan asking him to reconsider the department’s approval of Anthem 47% health insurance rate hikes for next year. "The consumers of Connecticut expect and deserve transparency and a fact-based rationale as to why their rates are increasing," according to the letter. The insurance department recently received a $1 million federal grant to build capacity for better rate reviews.

"HHS is therefore surprised that, after being awarded this grant, the CID has
approved a substantial increase by Anthem Insurance Company without holding a
public hearing, without having tested or validated the proposed rates and the
assumptions underlying those rates, and without publicly disclosing any data
filed by Anthem, analysis done by the CID, or correspondence between the CID and
Letter from Jay Angoff, HHS

Anthem and the Commissioner blame the new national health reform act for the increases, but actuaries allot increases of only 2 percent to the new act. Other CT insurers have asked for far more modest increases. No hearings were held before the department approved the rate hikes without any modification.
Ellen Andrews

Friday, October 15, 2010

Celebrate 30 years with the Hispanic Health Council

Join the Hispanic Health Council in celebrating their 30th anniversary. The party is next Thursday, October 21st from 5 to 8pm at the HHC offices, 175 Main Street in Hartford. For over three decades, HHC has been a pillar of Hartford’s large Latino community -- working to improve health, fighting for social justice, and building a healthier community. Click here to RSVP.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Office of Health Care Advocate saved CT consumers over a million dollars this quarter

CT’s Office of Health Care Advocate (OHA) returned $1.36 million in savings to health care consumers in our state between July and September of this year. OHA assists consumers struggling with insurance companies to access the care they need. So far this year, OHA has saved consumers $3.3 million in health costs. The savings include the costs of services denied by health insurers; without OHA’s help those costs would have been shifted onto consumers or providers. With rising unemployment OHA’s caseload is up 24% over the same period last year. Anyone needing help accessing care from an insurer can call OHA toll free at 1-866-HMO-4446 or email
Ellen Andrews

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SustiNet Board considers governance and structure recommendations

At today’s meeting the SustiNet Board considered three different structural options for the new SustiNet Plan. Options varied in whether the new SustiNet governing body will oversee or directly administer the plan, whether the SustiNet option will be a licensed state insurance product offered in the new state health insurance exchange, the relative roles of SustiNet and existing state agencies, liability and responsibility for complying with federal Medicaid laws, and layers of administration. Pros and cons of offering SustiNet inside and/or outside the new exchange were discussed – federal premium subsidies are only available inside the exchange, but undocumented immigrants may not purchase coverage in the exchange. Concerns were raised about levels of authority, raising capital reserves necessary for state licensure under current state law, and ensuring SustiNet is compatible with efforts to coordinate delivery system and payment reform across all payers. Next month we get the cost and financing numbers.
Ellen Andrews

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Contrasting gubernatorial candidates on health care

Health policy has emerged as the latest disagreement among CT’s candidates for Governor. Dan Malloy’s and Tom Foley’s positions on health care are significantly different.
Ellen Andrews

Saturday, October 9, 2010

HUSKY HMOs made $19 million profits last year; families paid $323.16 to HMO profits

At the very end of yesterday’s Medicaid Care Management Oversight Council meeting, DSS reported that the HUSKY HMOs made $18.8 million in profits on the program during 2009. This profit is on top of their administrative costs. Aetna made most of that profit -- $14 million – despite having only one fourth of total enrollment. While the medical care ratio (better term than medical loss ratio) for the program overall was a respectable 90.7%, it varied considerably by program. Worst was 62% for AmeriChoice’s HUSKY Part B plan; none of the HUSKY Part B ratios would comply with federal Accountable Care Act standards.

As bad as the state’s loss of millions to HMO profits, worse is overcharging HUSKY families. There are currently 1,260 children in HUSKY Part B Band 3; these families are paying an extra $323.16 in premiums annually to HMO profits. Families in this band have incomes over 300% of the federal poverty level ($54,930 for a family of three) and pay the full cost of HUSKY coverage for their children. Even worse, 1,279 children lost HUSKY Part B Band 3 coverage in the last year because they couldn’t pay premiums. It is unknown how many of those children may have kept coverage if premiums were $323.16 lower and reflected only the HMOs’ costs.

The HMOs defense to criticisms about large profit taking was that the profits served to partially offset losses on the Charter Oak program. Council members pointed out that the state and CMS do not allow cost shifting between programs, especially from one that is federally matched to one that is supposed to be fully state and consumer funded. Advocates have been concerned for years that HUSKY rates are set at overly generous levels to subsidize the politically favored Charter Oak program.
Ellen Andrews

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More state health policy in New Orleans

Yesterday, I finished up at the NASHP conference hearing the latest from VT’s Blueprint for Health and a panel on how FQHCs are stepping up to provide coordinated care and patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs). VT is planning to expand their Blueprint PCMH program to the entire state in three years. Primary care practices certified as PCMHs by NCQA are paid a flat per member per month fee based on their level of certification; the Blueprint does not include a quality or performance based payment provision. The pmpm rates vary from just $1.39 to just over $2, far below CT’s $7.50 pmpm in our PCCM program. Preliminary results are very promising both for savings and improving health status. The program also includes community health teams with a team of clinicians for each community; the team offers more intensive care coordination services to any patient in the community regardless of payer or insurance status. The clinicians on the team and services offered are locally based, no remote disease management, and are based on an assessment of local population needs. Each team serving about 20,000 people costs $350,000/year. All four private insurers in the state contribute to the community health teams. Because of the health teams two insurers have been able to cancel their expensive disease management contracts with outside companies. It is not clear yet if premiums to consumers will be reduced to reflect the savings.

The panel on FQHCs and PCMHs highlighted the natural fit between the two models of care and the cost advantages of linking the two. Iowa had a bare bones coverage program with limited provider participation, similar in many respects to Charter Oak. Also like Charter Oak, IowaCare quickly began sinking under its own weight from adverse selection and administrative issues soon after it was implemented in 2005. Iowa wisely decided to transition the program to a PCMH model based on their FQHCs. IowaCare Medical Homes are paid a monthly care management fee as well as performance payments.

Building on their successful PCCM program, Montana also created a flexible, locally controlled PCMH program through their FQHCs. Patients are referred to the program by a prospective payment risk assessment system or by referral from primary care providers; many PCPs state that they can tell which of their patients are at risk of incurring high medical costs before they would be picked up by a claims based system. Primary care providers hire the care managers, who meet patients where they are – in their homes, in their cars, at the grocery store, at a laundromat, etc. Care managers must become certified within three months of hire. They engage in a conversation with patients and their families to see “what the problem is and find a way to fix it.” That may mean arranging reliable transportation to appointments, pulling out carpet, cleaning drapes, or finding a vacuum cleaner for someone with asthma whose cleaner broke a year ago and hasn’t been able to replace it. Since care managers are local residents connected to their communities, they can identify informal resources and donations. The switch from using outside disease management companies to local community programming has expanded benefits and reduced costs for patients in the program. The total number of care management FTEs has increased from 4 to 25 now and soon will be 45 at a lower cost to the state.
Ellen Andrews

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More health policy from New Orleans

A long day at the NASHP conference today. We heard about challenges facing states; the common theme was planning deep reforms on very short timelines with limited staff capacity and growing budget deficits. William Hazel, recently hired Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services, pulled together the heads of departments to look for savings. When they all told him they had been cut to the bone, he commented that it was pretty funny that they sent them an orthopedic surgeon as the new Secretary. Another speaker compared giving insurance cards to people without making sure they can access care and get appointments, is like giving a parking permit to a college kid – it’s just a license to hunt.
We learned about the parameters of building state insurance exchanges, updates on states building patient centered medical homes, and the challenges of measuring and paying for quality. Rosemary Gibson, author of the Treatment Trap, described the dangers and costs of overtreatment. A fascinating panel focused on undocumented immigrants, completely left out of public coverage programs, and the likely impact on the safety net. New data from SHADAC estimates that there are 10.4 million undocumented immigrants in the US and 3.7 million of them live in low-income households (138% or less of the federal poverty level) that would have qualified for Medicaid but for their immigration status. SHADAC researchers estimate that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 undocumented immigrants in CT and between 10 and 19% of CT low income adults are undocumented immigrants, one of the highest proportions among states.
Ellen Andrews

New Orleans health care – five years after Katrina

Yesterday, the NASHP conference in New Orleans started with a plenary session on the state of health care in the city. Things were not great before Katrina – the city was at the bottom of national list for health care access and outcomes. 80% of the housing stock was lost; health care institutions were devastated. Progress in rebuilding has been slow and the BP oil spill has cut into available resources. One speaker compared it to trying to pursue national health reform when two thirds of the nation is under water. EMRs became critical as most medical records were destroyed and patients scattered across the nation. Patient-centered medical homes became a necessity as the lack of providers required teams; coordinating care and engaging patients in their own care was critical. Approximately 90 clinics have grown around the city sponsored by a wide diversity of groups including payers – government, religious, civic groups, foundations – serving different populations – musicians, pregnant women, specific communities. Speakers noted that this diversity is an important strength – if one payer drops support, such as the state – the system can adjust. However, thoughtful planning has hit roadblocks. The state offered to pay all the costs to build desperately needed mental health care capacity, but hospitals refused, instead building transplant services to attract patients from outside the area.
In other news, the big story in New Orleans this morning is that Blue Cross Blue Shield of LA and East Jefferson General Hospital have not been able to reach an agreement. Thousands of patients will no longer be able to get care there. Sound familiar?
Ellen Andrews

Monday, October 4, 2010

CT uninsured rates vary significantly by geography, income, race/ethnicity and citizenship

New numbers from the Census find that last year minorities in CT were more likely to be uninsured, but not being a citizen raised your risk by more than four fold. CT residents with household incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 were most likely to be without coverage. Fairfield County led the state with 11% uninsured; Tolland was lowest at 5%. The survey found that uninsured rates in all CT counties dropped from 2008 to 2009. Almost one in five Stamford and Bridgeport city residents lacked insurance. For more, check the CT Health Policy Project issue brief.
Ellen Andrews

Friday, October 1, 2010

CT gets federal grant for health care workforce planning

The CT Employment & Training Commission and the CT Office for Workforce Competitiveness were successful in their application to HHS for $150,000 to support the CT Workforce Investment Strategies in Health Care (WISH) Planning Grant. The funds will be used to produce a statewide health care workforce plan, coordinate disparate planning efforts, strengthen regional workforce planning efforts, and improve data collection and data sharing capacity about licensed health care professionals across the state. The planning grant puts CT in a position to apply for subsequent federal grants to expand the state’s workforce over the next decade. State partnership members have committed over $100,000 in matching funds for the project.
Ellen Andrews