By: Ron E. Peck, Esq.
Let me first begin by reporting some good news. Those who follow our organization closely recall back in July that I announced my wife’s diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Six months later, I am pleased to announce that she is in complete remission. It will be some time before she can be deemed well and truly “cured,” but this news is still something I am thrilled to share with you. To the many (many) people who sent me well wishes, prayers, and requests for updates; thank you. Relevant to this blog post, however, I also want to thank the providers – the people who saved my wife’s life, and ensured my three year old son still has his mother.
As I work on behalf of the self-funded health benefits industry, including employers, employees, brokers, stop-loss carriers, MGUs, TPAs, and pretty much every entity that plays a role in the formation and administration of said plans – one attitude consistently seems to pop up. As payers, we assume the worst of the payees. In other words, we routinely state that the rising cost of health care is the providers’ fault. The affordability of health benefit plans (or lack thereof) is driven solely by exorbitant – and dare I say it – criminal pricing by hospitals and providers.
This desire to place all the blame on providers demonizes them, casts them in the light of an “enemy,” and eliminates any chance of coordinating with providers in an effort to peacefully resolve differences of opinion – hopefully before a patient is negatively affected – and fix the system we agree is flawed.
Many times have I been asked to assist in a situation where a provider has billed one amount for services rendered, the benefit plan pays a lesser amount it deems to be reasonable, and the patient is balance billed. After reviewing the entirety of the situation with the provider, sometimes they agree to accept some amount situated between their original charged amount, and the amount paid. The offer is fair, yet upon reviewing it with the plan sponsor or administrator, they refuse to pay more. The rationale sometimes has to do with fiduciary duty (fair), sometimes relates to financial limitations and stop-loss availability (understandable), but sometimes the stated rationale is akin to: “I’m tired of those crooks milking me for all I’m worth, and I refuse to negotiate with terrorists.”
It pains me to see this happening. I count myself lucky to live in an area where there are so many incredible providers of healthcare. More of my friends are providers than any other profession, and without exception, they are all 100% focused on improving patients’ health, and 0% focused on charge-masters, billing schemes, and squeezing plans dry. The issues (and there are many of them) are more a symptom of a broken system than intentional malfeasance on the part of all providers. Most providers, like us, are people so exasperated by their day-to-day duties that they throw their hands in the air and default to an “us versus them” mentality.
If payers and payees cannot work together to identify a middle ground that works, is fair, and is viable long term for all involved, then “someone else” will do it for us… and I fear what that “solution” will look like. Feel the burn?
This is why I am asking every person who reads this missive to step back, and remember who we are dealing with, and perhaps – on occasion – give them the benefit of the doubt. They, like us, are caught in a broken system whose shortcomings perpetually fuel a death spiral; and they – like us – are just trying to do right (as they see it) for their employer and their industry.
Do we truly believe hospitals want to bite the hand that feeds them, or do they look at their own (albeit inefficient and poorly conceived) processes, witness how we in the payer community are trying to “shortchange” them, and they – like us – become defensive?
The bottom line is this. We need to adopt and obey a process by which providers are adequately rewarded for their noble work, and on both sides waste is eliminated, innovation is awarded, and cost-containment isn’t a dirty word. Lastly, we need to change our perspective and understand that we are all (payer and payee) part of the same entity – the healthcare industry – and that without one, the other will cease to thrive.