Who’s Paying For Health Care?

America spent 17.3% of its gross domestic product on health care in 2009 (1). If you break that down on an individual level, we spend $7,129 per person each year on health care…more than any other country in the world (2). With 17 cents of every dollar Americans spent keeping our country healthy, it’s no wonder the government is determined to reform the system. Despite the overwhelming attention health care is getting in the media, we know very little about where that money comes from or how it makes its way into the system (and rightfully so…the way we pay for health care is insanely complex, to say the least). This convoluted system is the unfortunate result of a series of programs that attempt to control spending layered on top of one another. What follows is a systematic attempt to peel away those layers, helping you become an informed health care consumer and an incontrovertible debater when discussing “Health Care Reform.”

Who’s paying the bill?

The “bill payers” fall into three distinct buckets: individuals paying out-of-pocket, private insurance companies, and the government. We can look at these payors in two different ways: 1) How much do they pay and 2) How many people do they pay for?

The majority of individuals in America are insured by private insurance companies via their employers, followed second by the government. These two sources of payment combined account for close to 80% of the funding for health care. The “Out-of-Pocket” payers fall into the uninsured as they have chosen to carry the risk of medical expense independently. When we look at the amount of money each of these groups spends on health care annually, the pie shifts dramatically.

The government currently pays for 46% of national health care expenditures. How is that possible? This will make much more sense when we examine each of the payors individually.

Understanding the Payors

Out-of-Pocket

A select portion of the population chooses to carry the risk of medical expenses themselves rather than buying into an insurance plan. This group tends to be younger and healthier than insured patients and, as such, accesses medical care much less frequently. Because this group has to pay for all incurred costs, they also tend to be much more discriminating in how they access the system. The result is that patients (now more appropriately termed “consumers”) comparison shop for tests and elective procedures and wait longer before seeking medical attention. The payment method for this group is simple: the doctors and hospitals charge set fees for their services and the patient pays that amount directly to the doctor/hospital.

Private Insurance

This is where the whole system gets a lot more complicated. Private insurance is purchased either individually or is provided by employers (most people get it through their employer as we mentioned). When it comes to private insurance, there are two main types: Fee-for-Service insurers and Managed Care insurers. These two groups approach paying for care very differently.

Fee-for-Service:

This group makes it relatively simple (believe it or not). The employer or individual buys a health plan from a private insurance company with a defined set of benefits. This benefit package will also have what is called a deductible (an amount the patient/individual must pay for their health care services before their insurance pays anything). Once the deductible amount is met, the health plan pays the fees for services provided throughout the health care system. Often, they will pay a maximum fee for a service (say $100 for an x-ray). The plan will require the individual to pay a copayment (a sharing of the cost between the health plan and the individual). A typical industry standard is an 80/20 split of the payment, so in the case of the $100 x-ray, the health plan would pay $80 and the patient would pay $20…remember those annoying medical bills stating your insurance did not cover all the charges? This is where they come from. Another downside of this model is that health care providers are both financially incentivized and legally bound to perform more tests and procedures as they are paid additional fees for each of these or are held legally accountable for not ordering the tests when things go wrong (called “CYA or “Cover You’re A**” medicine). If ordering more tests provided you with more legal protection and more compensation, wouldn’t you order anything justifiable? Can we say misalignment of incentives?

Managed Care:

Now it gets crazy. Managed care insurers pay for care while also “managing” the care they pay for (very clever name, right). Managed care is defined as “a set of techniques used by or on behalf of purchasers of health care benefits to manage health care costs by influencing patient care decision making through case-by-case assessments of the appropriateness of care prior to its provision” (2). Yep, insurers make medical decisions on your behalf (sound as scary to you as it does to us?). The original idea was driven by a desire by employers, insurance companies, and the public to control soaring health care costs. Doesn’t seem to be working quite yet. Managed care groups either provide medical care directly or contract with a select group of health care providers. These insurers are further subdivided based on their own personal management styles. You may be familiar with many of these sub-types as you’ve had to choose between then when selecting your insurance.

Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) / Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO):This is the closet managed care gets to the Fee-for-Service model with many of the same characteristics as a Fee-for-Service plan like deductibles and copayments. PPO’s & EPO’s contract with a set list of providers (we’re all familiar with these lists) with whom they have negotiated set (read discounted) fees for care. Yes, individual doctors have to charge less for their services if they want to see patients with these insurance plans. An EPO has a smaller and more strictly regulated list of physicians than a PPO but are otherwise the same. PPO’s control costs by requiring preauthorization for many services and second opinions for major procedures. All of this aside, many consumers feel that they have the greatest amount of autonomy and flexibility with PPO’s.
Health Management Organization (HMO): HMO’s combine insurance with health care delivery. This model will not have deductibles but will have copayments. In an HMO, the organization hires doctors to provide care and either builds its own hospital or contracts for the services of a hospital within the community. In this model the doctor works for the insurance provider directly (aka a Staff Model HMO). Kaiser Permanente is an example of a very large HMO that we’ve heard mentioned frequently during the recent debates. Since the company paying the bill is also providing the care, HMO’s heavily emphasize preventive medicine and primary care (enter the Kaiser “Thrive” campaign). The healthier you are, the more money the HMO saves. The HMO’s emphasis on keeping patients healthy is commendable as this is the only model to do so, however, with complex, lifelong, or advanced diseases, they are incentivized to provide the minimum amount of care necessary to reduce costs. It is with these conditions that we hear the horror stories of insufficient care. This being said, physicians in HMO settings continue to practice medicine as they feel is needed to best care for their patients despite the incentives to reduce costs inherent in the system (recall that physicians are often salaried in HMO’s and have no incentive to order more or less tests).
The Government

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Hospital Leadership, Strategy, And Culture In The Age of Health Care Reform

With just eleven months to go before the Value-Based Purchasing component of the Affordable Care Act is scheduled to go into effect, it is an auspicious time to consider how health care providers, and hospitals specifically, plan to successfully navigate the adaptive change to come. The delivery of health care is unique, complex, and currently fragmented. Over the past thirty years, no other industry has experienced such a massive infusion of technological advances while at the same time functioning within a culture that has slowly and methodically evolved over the past century. The evolutionary pace of health care culture is about to be shocked into a mandated reality. One that will inevitably require health care leadership to adopt a new, innovative perspective into the delivery of their services in order to meet the emerging requirements.

First, a bit on the details of the coming changes. The concept of Value-Based Purchasing is that the buyers of health care services (i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, and inevitably following the government’s lead, private insurers) hold the providers of health care services accountable for both cost and quality of care. While this may sound practical, pragmatic, and sensible, it effectively shifts the entire reimbursement landscape from diagnosis/procedure driven compensation to one that includes quality measures in five key areas of patient care. To support and drive this unprecedented change, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is also incentivizing the voluntary formation of Accountable Care Organizations to reward providers that, through coordination, collaboration, and communication, cost-effectively deliver optimum patient outcomes throughout the continuum of the health care delivery system.

The proposed reimbursement system would hold providers accountable for both cost and quality of care from three days prior to hospital admittance to ninety days post hospital discharge. To get an idea of the complexity of variables, in terms of patient handoffs to the next responsible party in the continuum of care, I process mapped a patient entering a hospital for a surgical procedure. It is not atypical for a patient to be tested, diagnosed, nursed, supported, and cared for by as many as thirty individual, functional units both within and outside of the hospital. Units that function and communicate both internally and externally with teams of professionals focused on optimizing care. With each handoff and with each individual in each team or unit, variables of care and communication are introduced to the system.

Historically, quality systems from other industries (i.e. Six Sigma, Total Quality Management) have focused on wringing out the potential for variability within their value creation process. The fewer variables that can affect consistency, the greater the quality of outcomes. While this approach has proven effective in manufacturing industries, health care presents a collection of challenges that go well beyond such controlled environments. Health care also introduces the single most unpredictable variable of them all; each individual patient.

Another critical factor that cannot be ignored is the highly charged emotional landscape in which health care is delivered. The implications of failure go well beyond missing a quarterly sales quota or a monthly shipping target, and clinicians carry this heavy, emotional burden of responsibility with them, day-in and day-out. Add to this the chronic nursing shortage (which has been exacerbated by layoffs during the recession), the anxiety that comes with the ambiguity of unprecedented change, the layering of one new technology over another (which creates more information and the need for more monitoring), and an industry culture that has deep roots in a bygone era and the challenge before us comes into greater focus.

Which brings us to the question; what approach should leadership adopt in order to successfully migrate the delivery system through the inflection point where quality of care and cost containment intersect? How will this collection of independent contractors and institutions coordinate care and meet the new quality metrics proposed by HHS? The fact of the matter is, health care is the most human of our national industries and reforming it to meet the shifting demographic needs and economic constraints of our society may prompt leadership to revisit how they choose to engage and integrate the human element within the system.

In contemplating this approach, a canvasing of the peer-reviewed research into both quality of care and cost containment issues points to a possible solution; the cultivation of emotional intelligence in health care workers. After reviewing more than three dozen published studies, all of which confirmed the positive impact cultivating emotional intelligence has in clinical settings, I believe contemplating this approach warrants further exploration.

Emotional intelligence is a skill as much as an attribute. It is comprised by a set of competencies in Self-Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management, all leading to Self Mastery. Fortunately, these are skills that can be developed and enhanced over the course of one’s lifetime.

Keeping the number of handoffs and individuals involved in delivering the continuum of care, let’s examine how emotional intelligence factors into the proposed quality measures the Department of Health and Human Services will be using come October, 2012:

1.) Patient/Caregiver Experience of Care – This factor really comes down to a patient’s perception of care. Perceptions of care are heavily shaded by emotions. Patients consistently rate less skilled surgeons that have a greater bedside manner as better than maestro surgeons that lack, or choose not to display, these softer skills. Additional research into why people sue over malpractice also indicates how perceptions of care are formed. People don’t sue over a medical mistake in and of itself. People sue because of how they felt they were treated after the error occurred. From the patient’s perspective (and often their family’s) there’s a difference between being cured and being healed. The difference often can be found in the expression of authentic empathy through healthy, professional boundaries.

This is a key driver in patient decision-making as well. Patients tend to choose a hospital based upon one or two criteria; the recommendation of their primary care physician (with whom they have an established relationship) and/or upon the recommendations from family members or friends that have experienced care in a particular hospital or an individual surgeon. A quick look into the field of Applied Behavioral Economics supports this finding. Economic decision making is 70% emotionally driven with the remaining 30% based in rational thought. In many instances, it would appear that a lot of hospital marketing initiatives don’t seem to reflect an understanding of this phenomena. Waiting room times in Emergency Rooms have little to do with why patients choose a hospital, yet we see billboards everywhere that have the actual E.R. wait times electronically flashing along the roadside.

A patient’s experience (and perception) of care can be highly impacted at the handoff points within the continuum of care. Any new model of care will require exceptional cross-organizational communications to emerge. This requires a high level of engagement and commitment to the new vision at every patient touch-point.

This metric also addresses the caregivers’ experience of care. This speaks largely to the experience of nurses that are delivering that care. The research related to the impact of cultivating emotional intelligence in nurses clearly demonstrates a reduction in stress, improved communication skills, improved leadership and retention, the ability to quickly connect and engage patients, as well as a reduction in nurse burnout (which leads to turnover and additional stress amongst the remaining staff).

2.) Care Co-ordination – Again, this will require optimal engagement and pro-active communication intra-organizationally and cross-organizationally. Each handoff introduces opportunities for variable care to emerge that must be seamlessly co-ordinated. Poor co-ordination also introduces the risk of eroding the quality of the patient’s experience.

3.) Patient Safety – Research shows that the cultivation of emotional intelligence competencies in nursing contributes to positive patient outcomes, lowers the risk of adverse events, lowers costs at discharge, and reduces medication errors, all while lowering nurse stress, burnout, and turnover. Each time a nurse resigns it adds to the nursing shortage on the floor, requires additional hours from other nurses, and costs the hospital approximately $64,000, on average, to backfill the open position. Improving how an institution cares for its nurses improves the level of patient care and safety as well. In many institutions, this will require a shift in leadership’s perspective in order to support a culture that embraces and values the critical role nurses play in maintaining patient safety.

4.) Preventive Health – Elevating Self-Awareness and Social Awareness in clinicians helps them quickly connect and effectively communicate with patients. Subtle, non-verbal cues become more readily apparent, helping clinicians understand the fears and emotions of their patients. Self Management and Relationship Management helps clinicians communicate appropriately and supports the expression of authentic empathy through healthy, professional boundaries. All of these factors come into play when speaking with patients about lifestyle choices, course of treatment, and preventive health care.

From our own personal lives we’ve all learned we cannot “fix” other peoples’ behaviors. We can, however, be in relationship and help support healthy changes they’re ready to embrace. Pro-actively moving to improve preventive health will require deeper, more authentic relationships to emerge between front-line health care providers and patients.

5.) At-Risk Population/Frail Elderly Health – Like preventive health, being measured on the care of the community’s at-risk population and elderly will require an innovative approach to community outreach and pro-active communication. These are not populations that can be easily reached via Facebook or Twitter. Building effective relationships with these demographics will require trustful, human contact and deep engagement with each population, both of which are supported through the developme

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