Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Let's make a (Health Care) Deal!

So, an interesting confluence of seemingly disparate health care financing lawsuits. First, the Golden State is suing an outfit called Sutter Health for a number of issues, including "[g]ag clauses on hospital prices, 'All-or-nothing' contracts, [and] 'Punitively high' out-of-network charges."

I think it's safe to say that other provider networks and hospitals are watching this case very carefully, since it's likely that Sutter isn't a "lone wolf" in this. And of course, with all the mergers and hospital acquisitions the past few years, there are quite a few communities that have only one or two such organizations, and thus little (or no) competition to keep their prices in check.

Speaking of hospitals and pricing, our second story involves a concept called "reference-based pricing." Briefly, this is where an employer enters directly into a contract with a hospital (or other health care provider, one supposes, including DPC). This has some important advantages for the employer (else why would they bother?), but can carry additional risks, as well, namely balance billing. This is where the provider charge the patient/insured the balance between what's billed and the amount the insurance company pays. In a regular PPO-model insurance plan, this is verboten, but since this is a direct relationship  between the employer and the provider, it's perfectly legal (although apparently frowned upon).

And here's where that risk can become a real problem:

"The conventional wisdom is that this is rare ... And if balance billing does occur, it is easily resolved via a little back-and-forth negotiation between the hospital and the third-party administrator or employer. "

And that, your honor, is when the fight started.

[ed: one wonders, also, if that backroom "negotiating" isn't full of potential pitfalls and perils as well, including anti-trust and discrimination issues]

The thinking had been that no provider is going to risk the bad press that would come with suing a patient. But in this case, that thinking is wrong. Now it may have something to do with the size of the (balance) bill: over $80,000. But it also may be related to the phenomenon we noted above: that is, if you're the only game in town, then why would you care about bad PR?

Something to consider, no?
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