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Health Spending Moderates, But Employers Still Waiting to See Benefits

Posted by Katie Holahan on Feb 13, 2019 2:35:28 PM

Health-care spending in Massachusetts grew less than a key state benchmark and less than the national average during 2017, but employers and workers are not yet seeing the benefits.

health_careThe annual Health-Care Cost Trends Report issued today by the state Health Policy Commission (HPC) indicates that total per-capita health-care expenditures in Massachusetts rose 1.6 percent during 2016, significantly less than the 3.6 percent benchmark set by the commission. The Massachusetts growth rate also fell below the national rate - 3.1 percent – for the eighth consecutive year.

But the health-insurance premiums paid by Massachusetts employers and employees increased 5.8 percent in 2017, leaving the average total premium for employer-based coverage among the highest in the country at $21,000 per year for a family plan and $7,000 for a single employee. These figures do not include out-of-pocket spending such as co-payments and deductible spending, which grew 5.9 percent in 2017 for commercially-insured enrollees.

Premiums for smaller employers increased 6.9 percent and are now the second highest in the country, according to the HPC. Fifty-seven percent of small-firm (1-50 employees) employees are enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

“AIM-member employers told us in a recent survey that the rising cost of providing health insurance to employees is their biggest concern,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts and a member of the Health Policy Commission.

“The HPC report contains good news about health-care expenditures, but also underscores the need to look at issues such as price variations among doctors and hospitals that are driving up insurance premiums.”

Part of the reason that employers are not seeing more benefit from moderating health spending may be the fact that commercial insurers in Massachusetts pay higher prices to providers than Medicare pays for the same services. For hospital inpatient care, average prices among the three largest Massachusetts insurers were 57 percent higher than Medicare prices for similar patients ($15,913 versus $10,117, respectively).

Commercial insurers also paid considerably more for typical outpatient services, including brain MRIs, emergency department visits, and physician office visits.

The HPC attributed much of the overall increase health-care expenditures to spending on prescription drugs (4.1 percent) and hospital outpatient services (4.9 percent). The commission also found that medical bills can vary as much as 30 percent from one hospital or medical group to another with no measurable different in quality of care.

The HPC makes 11 policy recommendations to continue health spending moderation. Highlights include:

Unnecessary utilization: The Commonwealth should focus on reducing unnecessary utilization and increasing the provision of coordinated care in high-value, low-cost settings. Payers and providers should reduce the use of avoidable high-cost care such as emer­gency department (ED) visits, behavioral health-related ED visits, readmissions, use of teaching hospitals and academic medical centers for community-appropri­ate inpatient care, and institutional post-acute care by ensuring access to high-value, low cost settings, and for shifting care, as appropriate, to these settings.

Provider price variation: Policymakers should advance specific, data-driven interventions to address the press­ing issue of continued provider price variation in the coming year.

Alternative payment methods: The Commonwealth should continue to promote the increased adoption of alternative payment methods (APMs). Also, as part of a strategy to reduce spending, payers should develop plans to lessen the unwarranted disparities in global budgets paid to different providers by establishing stricter targets for spending growth for highly paid providers, by moving away from historical spending as the basis of global budgets, and by using bundled payments for certain care episodes where evidence has shown effectiveness.

Pharmaceutical spending: The Commonwealth should act to reduce drug spending growth. Specific areas of focus should include authorizing the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to establish a process that allows for a rigorous review of certain high-cost drugs, increasing the ability of MassHealth to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for additional supplemental rebates and outcomes-based contracts, and increasing public transparency and public oversight for pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical device companies, and pharmacy benefit managers.

As a leader of the Massachusetts Employer Health Coalition, AIM is working with employers, employees, doctors, hospitals, and health insurers to reduce inappropriate use of emergency departments by 20 percent in two years. State officials estimate that a significant number of ED visits are potentially avoidable, a pattern that costs $300-$350 million annually for commercially insured members. Please check out our website for resources and information.

Topics: Health Care Costs, Health Insurance, Health Care

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