Jury deems Centura Health $230K surgical bill ‘unreasonable,’ awards $766

This article was published on June 21, 2018 on BenefitsPro, written by Greg Land. Photo Source: BenefitsPro.

hospital-bill-benefitspro

A Colorado jury declared a hospital’s billing unreasonable, turning aside its lawsuit demanding almost $230,000 from a patient whose insurer already covered the cost of her surgery.

The patient had already paid her deductible and her insurer had paid the hospital about $75,000, which an audit deemed the “reasonable value of the goods and services” she had been provided, her lawyer said.

Lead attorney Ted Lavender of FisherBroyles’ Atlanta branch, who represented the former patient with office partner Kris Alderman and Denver partner Frank Porada, said testimony in the case revealed just how murky hospital billing can be and how some patients are targeted for whopping bills to make up for those who pay substantially less for the same services.

“The hospital experts explained how the rates get set, and it ultimately devolved into this idea that paying patients have to pay more to make up for nonpaying patients, the uninsured, those on Medicare and Medicaid, who don’t pay full price,” Lavender said.

In his client’s case, records showed that surgical spinal implants cost the hospital about $31,000.

“They turned around and charged $197,640 for those items on the hospital bill,” said Lavender. “That is a 624 percent markup.”

The hospital is represented by Traci Van Pelt, Michael McConnell and David Belsheim of Denver’s McConnell Fleischner Houghtaling.

Van Pelt said they will file posttrial motions and appeal the verdict.

The case involved back surgery performed on Lisa French in 2014 at St. Anthony North Health Campus, north of Denver. Hospital filings said French’s surgery was to relieve back pain and was “considered elective.”

French’s employer had a self-funded ERISA insurance plan, and she was told prior to surgery that she would owe $1,336, of which she immediately paid $1,000.

French’s contract included phrasing that she “understand[s] that I am financially responsible to to the hospital or my physicians for charges not covered or paid pursuant to this authorization.”

St. Anthony’s billed her insurance plan $303,888 after the surgery and for two presurgical consultations based on its “chargemaster” billing schedule, an industrywide practice whereby providers list all the prices they charge.

As Lavender explained, French’s employer’s insurance plan contracts with a health care consulting firm, ELAP Services, which audits claim costs and negotiates with providers for self-funded insurers. On its website, ELAP says it “assists in plan design and jointly establishes limits for payment of medical claims that correlate to the providers’ actual cost of services.”

ELAP audited the fees St. Anthony’s charged French and determined that her actual charges came out to about $70,000, Lavender said. Between her co-pays and the insurance plan, St. Anthony’s was paid $74,597.

St. Anthony’s parent company, Centura Health Corp., sued French in state District Court in Adams County, Colorado, seeking an additional $229,112 in 2017.

ELAP provides legal representation to clients facing suit pursuant to its services, and Lavender, Alderman and FisherBroyles Denver partner Frank Porada were assigned French’s defense.

According to defense filings, Fishers contract with St. Anthony’s contained no stated price and was thus ambiguous.

The hospital was already paid the reasonable value for the services, according to a defense account. The chargemaster rates are “grossly excessive and defendant had no choice but to sign the Hospital Service Agreement, making them unconscionable” and thus unenforceable, the defense said.

During a six-day trial in Brighton, Colorado, before Judge Jaclyn Brown of Colorado’s 17th Judicial District, Lavender said the entire dispute was over the prices and methodologies medical providers use.

“We had one expert, and they had three,” said Lavender. “They spent $100,000 on experts.”

“The reality is that there’s nobody to say how much they’re charging is reasonable,” Lavender said.

The jury made that determination for French on June 11, answering “no” when asked whether her bills were reasonable. The panel agreed she had a contract with St. Anthony’s to pay “all charges of the hospital,” but that those charges were “the reasonable value of the goods and services provided,” not those set by the hospital’s chargemaster.

The jury awarded the hospital $766.74.

The hospital’s attorneys did a good job explaining how hospitals have to shoulder the burden for underpayments and nonpayment by other patients, Lavender said.

“They know they’re not going to collect from everybody,” he added. “But in the end, it just reveals how antiquated and nontransparent the system is, because nobody understands the bill.”

controlling-costs

Are Costs Really Beyond Anyone’s Control?

medical-moneyIn at least one big city, a major carrier is providing 100% coverage to public employees for MRIs, CT Scans and other imaging services only when free-standing, non-hospital based facilities are used. What do you know? Independent TPAs have been helping self-funded health plans do things like this for years.

Too many people have long considered rising health care costs to be a condition we simply must live with. Fact is there are alternatives, most of which can only be implemented when the plan’s best interests are first and foremost.

Detailed Reporting Needed

In contrast to a fully insured plan or self-funding with a carrier-owned ASO, using an independent TPA enables the plan to make informed decisions based on detailed reporting – reporting that the plan owns.

There is no secret to controlling plan costs. It requires discipline and the tools to monitor individual parts of the plan, such as prescription drugs, imaging, chronic disease management and more. Analyzing expenditures such as these can yield huge savings over the course of a year, but only when your administrator is free of carrier or provider affiliations. Having checks and balances in place can make all the difference.

ebso-self-funding-works

CMS Modifies Bundled Pay Requirements

ebso-bundled-paymentsWhile hospitals in 34 geographic areas will still be required to participate in the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model, hundreds of acute care hospitals in other areas have received a reprieve. In addition to modifying CJR model compliance, CMS recently finalized plans to cancel the Episode Payment and Cardiac Rehabilitation Incentive Payment Models, both of which were scheduled to become effective on January 1, 2018.

While a number of hospitals will voluntarily participate in the CJR model and others have expressed interest to participate in the two cancelled models, the agency said there would not be enough time to restructure the models prior to the planned 2018 start date. Even though some have criticized the Trump administration for a lack of interest in value-based care, the administration has expressed a strong commitment to value-based payment, but says it prefers voluntary models.

ebso-self-funding-works

Commonsense Reporting Bill Introduced

commonsense-reportingIn October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.

While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.

ebso-self-funding-works

Doing What We Can

ebso-doing-what-we-can-blogWe often hear of professional athletes succeeding under pressure by staying “in the moment” and remaining focused on the things that are within their control. This challenge can be applied to the uncomfortable position all of us find ourselves in today – somewhere between complying with existing laws and anticipating the unknowns coming from Washington.

While the IRS has relaxed enforcement of the individual mandate and acknowledged problems in the ACA reporting system, it has confirmed that an applicable large employer is still subject to an employer shared responsibility payment if it fails to offer coverage to 95% of its full-time employees. We continue to help large employers offer minimum essential coverage to avoid penalties, when appropriate, and track offers of coverage to comply with reporting requirements on IRS forms 1094 and 1095.

Other matters remain up in the air as well, including the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans and any changes in maximum contributions that may be made to HSAs, which would require legislative action. While any significant ACA repeal, replace or repair efforts appear to be overshadowed by the Administration’s interest in tax reform, we continue to monitor developments in healthcare reform and keep our clients and partners informed. It’s our way of doing what we can and remaining “in the moment.”

ebso-self-funding-works

Employees Contributing More

hsa-piggy-bankThe gradual transition to high deductible health plans is having a significant impact on out-of-pocket costs, according to a study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust. In 2016, for the first time, just over half of all workers (51%) with single coverage faced a deductible of at least $1,000. The study also showed that 29% of workers were in high-deductible plans compared to just 20% two years earlier.

ebso-self-funding-works

Self-Funding Keeps Growing

With time running out on an opportunity for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment season approaching, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses are likely bracing for another round of premium increases. A growing number of employers, however, will choose to avoid the uncertainty plaguing traditional group insurance markets by moving to a self-funded health plan – an option that provides an opportunity for savings and far more plan design flexibility.

Healthcare benefits continue to be perhaps the biggest obstacle facing small and mid-sized businesses. The Self Insurance Institute of America reports that between 2011 and 2016, the average annual deductible for employer-sponsored plans increased by 49% and the percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees still providing health benefits fell from 68% in 2010 to 55% in 2016.

Self-funding on the other hand, has proven to be a far more responsible alternative for employers, enabling thousands to not only use their health benefit plan to attract and retain high quality employees, but to do so at an affordable cost. While self-funding has long been a staple for the nation’s largest employers, nearly a third of companies with 200 or more employees now offer at least one self-funded option.

Everyone Benefits from Flexibility

There are many reasons for the growth of self-funding, with flexibility and access to valuable claims data high on the list. Since self-funded plans are governed by ERISA, they avoid many of the costly mandates governing fully insured plans. To manage risk, stop loss coverage is obtained to cover claims that exceed anticipated levels. If claims are below anticipated levels, the plan retains the savings that would have been paid to an insurance carrier in the form of non-refundable premiums. Benefits can be customized to meet the unique needs of the group. When an independent TPA is engaged to administer the plan, claims data can be analyzed to identify chronic conditions and other key cost drivers. Services such as telemedicine and mobile transparency tools can be added to make physician access more convenient and more affordable. From plan design to data analysis, everyone benefits from the flexibility that a self-funded plan can provide. It’s the biggest reason why more small and mid-sized companies continue to move to self-funding with help from an independent TPA.

ebso-self-funding-works

Small Businesses Doing More

ebso-smallbusinessAccording to Deloitte Consulting LLP, small and medium sized employers with 100 or more workers are contributing considerably more towards the cost of employee and dependent healthcare benefits than legally required – about 73% of the total cost, on average. Regional differences also exist, with companies in the Northeast contributing more toward the cost of family coverage and companies on the West coast contributing more to individual coverage.

Even as healthcare costs continue to increase, consultants agree that employers of all sizes will continue to contribute significantly to healthcare benefits as the job market continues to tighten and retaining top talent remains a top priority.

ebso-self-funding-works

EBSO Helps 40 Square Cooperative Solutions Celebrate Open Enrollment!

EBSO 40 Square40 Square Cooperative Solutions, a health care cooperative formed to help Minnesota agricultural producers and their employees obtain affordable health care coverage, officially began open enrollment on November 1st.

40 Square contracted EBSO to design and administer new self-funded health plans. With the cost of health insurance continuing to skyrocket throughout the U.S., forming a health care cooperative has been on the minds of Minnesota farm families for many years.

During the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature and Governor Mark Dayton approved a law that enabled farmers, in Minnesota, to form health care cooperatives to provide a LONG TERM SUSTAINABLE HEALTH PLAN option for farmers. The rule paved the way for 40 Square Cooperative Solutions to begin offering a self-funded health plan to Minnesota farmers.

Farmers who are considered an ‘employer’ with at least one common law employee and work in production agriculture in MN are eligible. Once part of the co-op, employees can register for 40 Square Consortium self-funded health plan. Those interested will work with a broker to make sure the best individual or family plan is chosen.

EBSO, who is based in St. Paul, MN, is proud to have been contracted as the third party administration (TPA) firm to design and administer the new self-funded health plans.

“Flexibility and cost control have long been advantages of self-funded group health plans and the 40 Square Cooperative plan is no exception,” stated Terri Moxley, Senior Sales Specialist with EBSO. “To meet the specific needs of Cooperative members and their families, six different plan designs will be available when open enrollment begins on November 1, 2017,” Moxley added.

For more on the member-owned health care cooperative, visit www.40square.coop online, call 800.643.5822 or speak with your insurance agent.

ebso-self-funding-works

Healthcare Tech Sector Hot

ebso-mobile-marketing-blogMention healthcare startup and you probably think of Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, there’s plenty of healthcare technology happening in the Midwest, with Minnesota leading the way. According to Twin Cities magazine, 98 health technology startups raised more than $420 million in capital in 2016 alone, bringing the total to $2.75 billion since 2009. From mobile app developers to medical device manufacturers, more than 430,000 Minnesotans are employed by healthcare-related companies.

ebso-self-funding-works