Tag Archives: Scott Weltz

Milliman Medical Index: Typical American family faces $26,944 in annual healthcare costs

Milliman today released the 2017 Milliman Medical Index (MMI), which measures the cost of healthcare for a typical American family of four receiving coverage from an employer-sponsored preferred provider plan (PPO). In 2017, costs for this family will increase by 4.3%—which marks the lowest rate of increase in the history of this study—though the total dollar increase of $1,118 is consistent with the last decade of healthcare cost increases.

“The good news is that we are seeing a record-low 4.3% cost increase in this year’s MMI,” said Chris Girod, co-author of the Milliman Medical Index. “The bad news: Continuing a 12-year pattern, healthcare costs for a typical family of four this year increased by more than $1,100.”

In recent years, the Milliman Medical Index has reported notable increases in pharmaceutical costs. Last year, drug costs increased by 9.1%. That rate of increase fell to 8% in 2017, which is still more than twice the rate of increase for all other components of healthcare spending.

“We’re seeing a smaller rate of increase for prescription drugs this year,” said Scott Weltz, co-author of the MMI. “But the longer view reveals a different story. Since we began tracking this data in 2001, prescription drug costs for the typical American family have increased from $1,111 to $4,612.”

This year’s MMI includes analysis of dynamics driving healthcare costs, including the sometimes elusive nature of rebates in drug pricing. While rebates often do not result in cost savings for consumers at the pharmacy, they still impact the larger cost puzzle.

The MMI is unique among health cost studies because it measures the total cost of healthcare services used by the family of four, including out-of-pocket expenses paid at time of service. The MMI also separates costs into portions paid by employer versus employee. This year, the employer pays $15,259 of a family’s total healthcare costs and the employee—through payroll deductions and cost sharing at the time of service—pays $11,685.

“Back in 2001, the first year we measured the MMI, employees paid 39% of healthcare costs,” said Sue Hart, co-author of the MMI. “This year, the family’s share of healthcare costs reached 43% of the total—a $11,685 total. We’ve seen a long, slow shift toward employees as these plans look to control healthcare costs.”

This year’s MMI includes discussion of the major components of the cost of care – payments to providers and the frequency and type of services used – and how they might vary outside the employer-sponsored system. Different discounts and payment mechanisms in the public markets can impact the costs for private insurers and therefore for the MMI family of four.

To view the complete MMI, click here.

Repeal, replace, or reform: Key policy discussions affecting the individual health insurance market

How might the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) be affected by the incoming Trump administration? The new administration and the Republican Party are considering a number of policy ideas regarding ACA’s repeal, replacement, and reform. In this article, Milliman’s Scott Weltz, Fritz Busch, and Nick Krienke highlight key policy discussions to monitor that will have a significant impact on individual health insurers.

This is the first in a series of papers Milliman will publish as the country contemplates another round of healthcare reform. We have also compiled a reading list of relevant papers from our ongoing analysis of the ACA. To view that library, click here.

What can be done to slow healthcare inflation?

Weltz-ScottMany initiatives have been put forth to limit the rise of healthcare costs. Here I discuss some of those initiatives while using key figures from the 2016 Milliman Medical Index (MMI) as a backdrop to help better understand how each one fits into the complicated puzzle of managing healthcare costs while delivering high-quality care for the MMI’s family of four.

Consumerism
With the family of four spending over $11,000 between its payroll deduction for health insurance and average out-of-pocket expenses at the point of care, it is easy to see why consumers are hungry for actionable information to inform healthcare purchasing decisions. However, it is not as simple as supplying a price list of medical services, given the variations in payment and treatment patterns. In addition, as pointed out earlier, the people who consume most healthcare dollars reach their out-of-pocket maximums and thus have little financial incentive to be savvy consumers. As a result, some other concepts are gaining traction to address these issues.

Value-based insurance (VBI)
What is it? This is a term that means different things to different people. In health insurance, it usually refers to benefit plan designs that encourage behavior that keeps patients healthy. VBI includes things like reducing deductibles or copays for patients who follow a defined plan of care or have a certain disease. Sometimes VBI simply revolves around granting lower employee contribution rates for those who join an employer’s wellness plan.

Opportunities and challenges. Some VBI initiatives are focused on that small portion of the population driving the majority of the cost. Incentives are often put in place to encourage changes in consumer behavior, such as $0 copays for prescriptions that treat a chronic condition. In turn, the expectation is that an investment like this will result in better management of conditions, fewer inpatient admissions or emergency room (ER) visits, lower costs, and better health outcomes. However, these programs must be carefully designed to avoid simply increasing costs. The hope is that proactively taking these actions will curb long-term trends by improving treatment and limiting the onset of preventable conditions.

MMI2016_figure4Defined contribution
What is it? Employers typically subsidize the cost of coverage. As Figure 4 from the MMI shows, employers are subsidizing approximately 57% of the cost for the family of four. While the MMI focuses on typical PPO coverage, many employers offer other plans such as high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) or sometimes health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Offering multiple benefit plan choices creates financial risks for employers, varying with how much they subsidize each plan and the number of employees that enroll in each plan. To mitigate this risk, many employers are defining their subsidies via a defined contribution to the plan. Then employees simply pay the difference between the premium of their chosen plans and the employer’s defined contribution.

Opportunities and challenges. Offering multiple health plan options can encourage employees to enroll in plans that incentivize appropriate consumption of healthcare services. However, these plan options can be less attractive to many employees. In addition, employers know all too well that offering more choices brings with it more costs from administrative complexities and adverse selection as employees choose the plans that minimize their own costs (while increasing the employer’s costs). These challenges are getting more attention in the market as employers begin to question the value proposition of private exchanges, which often use defined contribution approaches. Until such challenges are addressed, it is difficult to say whether the movement to defined contribution will meaningfully reduce costs or simply continue cost shifting to employees. Although Figure 5 from the MMI only shows five years of changes, 2016 actually marks the sixth consecutive year of such cost shifting, whereby employees’ share of the MMI has increased.

MMI2016_figure5

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Healthcare costs for a typical American family will exceed $25,000 in 2016 and have tripled since 2001

Milliman today released the 2016 Milliman Medical Index (MMI), which measures the cost of healthcare for a typical American family of four receiving coverage from an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) plan. In 2016, costs for this family will increase by 4.7%—the lowest rate of increase in the history of this study—though the total dollar increase of $1,155 marks the 11th consecutive year that the total dollar increase has exceeded $1,100. The employer pays $14,793 of the total healthcare costs and the employee—through payroll deductions and cost sharing at the time of service—pays $11,033.

MMI2016_figure1_blog_600

“The MMI surpassed $25,000 this year, a significant and somewhat unsettling milestone,” said Chris Girod, coauthor of the Milliman Medical Index. “Given the steep cost increases we’ve seen in the 15 years we’ve been studying healthcare costs for the typical American family, in this year’s report we reflect on how we got to this point and where we go from here.”

Healthcare cost trends have exceeded the consumer price index (CPI) in every year since Milliman published its first MMI in 2001. Healthcare has represented an increasing share of the national GDP. With an average of 7.8% in annual increases, the MMI has more than tripled in 15 years.

Most of the components of care analyzed by the MMI (physician, outpatient, inpatient, other) experienced trends in line with recent years, and overall the annual medical cost increase has ramped down from more than 9% in 2001 to less than 4% this year. But cost changes related to prescription drug coverage have been more volatile, with drugs becoming a larger portion of family healthcare expenditures—this year reaching 17% of their total. While that number requires a caveat—it does not include prescription drug manufacturer rebates that employers may receive for specialty and other high-cost drugs—it also points to the increasingly important role that drug costs play in a family’s cost of care.

MMI2016_figure2_blog_600

The MMI is unique among health cost studies because it measures the total cost of healthcare services used by the family of four, including out-of-pocket expenses paid at time of service, and it separates the costs into portions paid by employer versus employee.

“Back in 2001, the first year we measured the MMI, employers paid 61% of costs while employees paid 39%. In 2016, the same split is 57% and 43%,” said Sue Hart, coauthor of the MMI. “This year, the family’s share of healthcare costs reached $11,033 out of a total of $25,826. It’s evident that employees are taking on an increasing proportion of healthcare costs. ”

“The steady decline in annual cost trends over the 15 years we’ve tracked the MMI provides a ray of hope,” said Scott Weltz, coauthor of the MMI. “Hopefully the current and future efforts to control costs will continue this trend.”

Reducing CSR-related cash-flow strain

Disparities in results between the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) advance payment formula and the actual CSR payment can strain an insurer’s cash flow. Insurers can request a revised payment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) if they can demonstrate a substantial difference during the plan year supported by an actuarial certification. In this paper, Milliman consultants Esther Blount, Frederick Busch, and Scott Weltz discuss what is required to receive more accurate payments throughout the year.

Financial considerations related to risk adjustment

Insurers on the healthcare exchanges should discuss the financial implications of risk adjustment throughout their operations and strategic planning. In his article “Winning with risk adjustment,” Milliman’s Scott Weltz highlights five areas that issuers should focus on to maximize their risk adjustment transfers.

1. Change internal reporting immediately to focus on medical loss ratio (MLR) net of risk adjustment by member
2. Optimize your product portfolio to maximize margins net of risk adjustment transfers
3. Work your risk adjustment member target list continuously
4. EDGE data accuracy is paramount
5. Grow with caution

For more perspective, read the entire article here.