Monthly Archives: August 2017

Group Insurance Health Care and the HIPAA Privacy Rule

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When I hear people talking about HIPAA, they are usually not talking about the original Act. They are talking about the Privacy Rule that was issued as a result of the HIPAA in the form of a Notice of Health Information Practices.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services official Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule is 25 pages long, and that is just a summary of the key elements. So as you can imagine, it covers a lot of ground. What I would like to offer you here is a summary of the basics of the Privacy Rule.

When it was enacted in 1996, the Privacy Rule established guidelines for the protection of individuals’s health information. The guidelines are written such that they make sure that an individual’s health records are protected while at the same time allowing needed information to be released in the course of providing health care and protecting the public’s health and well being. In other words, not just anyone can see a person’s health records. But, if you want someone such as a health provider to see your records, you can sign a release giving them access to your records.

So just what is your health information and where does it come from? Your health information is held or transmitted by health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers. These are called covered entities in the wording of the rule.

These guidelines also apply to what are called business associates of any health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers. Business associates are those entities that offer legal, actuarial, accounting, consulting, data aggregation, management, administrative, accreditation, or financial services.

So, what does a typical Privacy Notice include?

  • The type of information collected by your health plan.
  • A description of what your health record/information includes.
  • A summary of your health information rights.
  • The responsibilities of the group health plan.

Let’s look at these one at a time:

Information Collected by Your Health Plan:

The group healthcare plan collects the following types of information in order to provide benefits:

Information that you provide to the plan to enroll in the plan, including personal information such as your address, telephone number, date of birth, and Social Security number.

Plan contributions and account balance information.

The fact that you are or have been enrolled in the plans.

Health-related information received from any of your physicians or other healthcare providers.

Information regarding your health status, including diagnosis and claims payment information.

Changes in plan enrollment (e.g., adding a participant or dropping a participant, adding or dropping a benefit.)

Payment of plan benefits.

Claims adjudication.

Case or medical management.

Other information about you that is necessary for us to provide you with health benefits.

Understanding Your Health Record/Information:

Each time you visit a hospital, physician, or other healthcare provider, a record of your visit is made. Typically, this record contains your symptoms, examination and test results, diagnoses, treatment, and a plan for future care or treatment.

This information, often referred to as your health or medical record, serves as a:

Basis for planning your care and treatment.

Means of communication among the many health professionals who contribute to your care.

Legal document describing the care you received.

Means by which you or a third-party payer can verify that services billed were actually provided.

Tool in educating health professionals.

Source of data for medical research.

Source of information for public health officials charged with improving the health of the nation.

Source of data for facility planning and marketing.

Tool with which the plan sponsor can assess and continually work to improve the benefits offered by the group healthcare plan. Understanding what is in your record and how your health information is used helps you to:

Ensure its accuracy.

Better understand who, what, when, where, and why others may access your health information.

Make more informed decisions when authorizing disclosure to others.

A Prescription For the Health Care Crisis

With all the shouting going on about America’s health care crisis, many are probably finding it difficult to concentrate, much less understand the cause of the problems confronting us. I find myself dismayed at the tone of the discussion (though I understand it—people are scared) as well as bemused that anyone would presume themselves sufficiently qualified to know how to best improve our health care system simply because they’ve encountered it, when people who’ve spent entire careers studying it (and I don’t mean politicians) aren’t sure what to do themselves.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said that if he had an hour to save the world he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes solving it. Our health care system is far more complex than most who are offering solutions admit or recognize, and unless we focus most of our efforts on defining its problems and thoroughly understanding their causes, any changes we make are just likely to make them worse as they are better.

Though I’ve worked in the American health care system as a physician since 1992 and have seven year’s worth of experience as an administrative director of primary care, I don’t consider myself qualified to thoroughly evaluate the viability of most of the suggestions I’ve heard for improving our health care system. I do think, however, I can at least contribute to the discussion by describing some of its troubles, taking reasonable guesses at their causes, and outlining some general principles that should be applied in attempting to solve them.

THE PROBLEM OF COST

No one disputes that health care spending in the U.S. has been rising dramatically. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), health care spending is projected to reach $8,160 per person per year by the end of 2009 compared to the $356 per person per year it was in 1970. This increase occurred roughly 2.4% faster than the increase in GDP over the same period. Though GDP varies from year-to-year and is therefore an imperfect way to assess a rise in health care costs in comparison to other expenditures from one year to the next, we can still conclude from this data that over the last 40 years the percentage of our national income (personal, business, and governmental) we’ve spent on health care has been rising.

Despite what most assume, this may or may not be bad. It all depends on two things: the reasons why spending on health care has been increasing relative to our GDP and how much value we’ve been getting for each dollar we spend.

WHY HAS HEALTH CARE BECOME SO COSTLY?

This is a harder question to answer than many would believe. The rise in the cost of health care (on average 8.1% per year from 1970 to 2009, calculated from the data above) has exceeded the rise in inflation (4.4% on average over that same period), so we can’t attribute the increased cost to inflation alone. Health care expenditures are known to be closely associated with a country’s GDP (the wealthier the nation, the more it spends on health care), yet even in this the United States remains an outlier (figure 3).

Is it because of spending on health care for people over the age of 75 (five times what we spend on people between the ages of 25 and 34)? In a word, no. Studies show this demographic trend explains only a small percentage of health expenditure growth.

Is it because of monstrous profits the health insurance companies are raking in? Probably not. It’s admittedly difficult to know for certain as not all insurance companies are publicly traded and therefore have balance sheets available for public review. But Aetna, one of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies in North America, reported a 2009 second quarter profit of $346.7 million, which, if projected out, predicts a yearly profit of around $1.3 billion from the approximately 19 million people they insure. If we assume their profit margin is average for their industry (even if untrue, it’s unlikely to be orders of magnitude different from the average), the total profit for all private health insurance companies in America, which insured 202 million people (2nd bullet point) in 2007, would come to approximately $13 billion per year. Total health care expenditures in 2007 were $2.2 trillion (see Table 1, page 3), which yields a private health care industry profit approximately 0.6% of total health care costs (though this analysis mixes data from different years, it can perhaps be permitted as the numbers aren’t likely different by any order of magnitude).

Is it because of health care fraud? Estimates of losses due to fraud range as high as 10% of all health care expenditures, but it’s hard to find hard data to back this up. Though some percentage of fraud almost certainly goes undetected, perhaps the best way to estimate how much money is lost due to fraud is by looking at how much the government actually recovers. In 2006, this was $2.2 billion, only 0.1% of $2.1 trillion (see Table 1, page 3) in total health care expenditures for that year.

Is it due to pharmaceutical costs? In 2006, total expenditures on prescription drugs was approximately $216 billion (see Table 2, page 4). Though this amounted to 10% of the $2.1 trillion (see Table 1, page 3) in total health care expenditures for that year and must therefore be considered significant, it still remains only a small percentage of total health care costs.

Is it from administrative costs? In 1999, total administrative costs were estimated to be $294 billion, a full 25% of the $1.2 trillion (Table 1) in total health care expenditures that year. This was a significant percentage in 1999 and it’s hard to imagine it’s shrunk to any significant degree since then.

In the end, though, what probably has contributed the greatest amount to the increase in health care spending in the U.S. are two things:

1. Technological innovation.

2. Overutilization of health care resources by both patients and health care providers themselves.

Technological innovation. Data that proves increasing health care costs are due mostly to technological innovation is surprisingly difficult to obtain, but estimates of the contribution to the rise in health care costs due to technological innovation range anywhere from 40% to 65% (Table 2, page 8). Though we mostly only have empirical data for this, several examples illustrate the principle. Heart attacks used to be treated with aspirin and prayer. Now they’re treated with drugs to control shock, pulmonary edema, and arrhythmias as well as thrombolytic therapy, cardiac catheterization with angioplasty or stenting, and coronary artery bypass grafting. You don’t have to be an economist to figure out which scenario ends up being more expensive. We may learn to perform these same procedures more cheaply over time (the same way we’ve figured out how to make computers cheaper) but as the cost per procedure decreases, the total amount spent on each procedure goes up because the number of procedures performed goes up. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is 25% less than the price of an open cholecystectomy, but the rates of both have increased by 60%. As technological advances become more widely available they become more widely used, and one thing we’re great at doing in the United States is making technology available.

Overutilization of health care resources by both patients and health care providers themselves. We can easily define overutilization as the unnecessary consumption of health care resources. What’s not so easy is recognizing it. Every year from October through February the majority of patients who come into the Urgent Care Clinic at my hospital are, in my view, doing so unnecessarily. What are they coming in for? Colds. I can offer support, reassurance that nothing is seriously wrong, and advice about over-the-counter remedies—but none of these things will make them better faster (though I often am able to reduce their level of concern). Further, patients have a hard time believing the key to arriving at a correct diagnosis lies in history gathering and careful physical examination rather than technologically-based testing (not that the latter isn’t important—just less so than most patients believe). Just how much patient-driven overutilization costs the health care system is hard to pin down as we have mostly only anecdotal evidence as above.

Health Care Fraud – The Perfect Storm

Today, health care fraud is all over the news. There undoubtedly is fraud in health care. The same is true for every business or endeavor touched by human hands, e.g. banking, credit, insurance, politics, etc. There is no question that health care providers who abuse their position and our trust to steal are a problem. So are those from other professions who do the same.

Why does health care fraud appear to get the ‘lions-share’ of attention? Could it be that it is the perfect vehicle to drive agendas for divergent groups where taxpayers, health care consumers and health care providers are dupes in a health care fraud shell-game operated with ‘sleight-of-hand’ precision?

Take a closer look and one finds this is no game-of-chance. Taxpayers, consumers and providers always lose because the problem with health care fraud is not just the fraud, but it is that our government and insurers use the fraud problem to further agendas while at the same time fail to be accountable and take responsibility for a fraud problem they facilitate and allow to flourish.

1. Astronomical Cost Estimates

What better way to report on fraud then to tout fraud cost estimates, e.g.

– “Fraud perpetrated against both public and private health plans costs between $72 and $220 billion annually, increasing the cost of medical care and health insurance and undermining public trust in our health care system… It is no longer a secret that fraud represents one of the fastest growing and most costly forms of crime in America today… We pay these costs as taxpayers and through higher health insurance premiums… We must be proactive in combating health care fraud and abuse… We must also ensure that law enforcement has the tools that it needs to deter, detect, and punish health care fraud.” [Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), 10/28/09 press release]

– The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that fraud in healthcare ranges from $60 billion to $600 billion per year – or anywhere between 3% and 10% of the $2 trillion health care budget. [Health Care Finance News reports, 10/2/09] The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

– The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) reports over $54 billion is stolen every year in scams designed to stick us and our insurance companies with fraudulent and illegal medical charges. [NHCAA, web-site] NHCAA was created and is funded by health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the reliability of the purported estimates is dubious at best. Insurers, state and federal agencies, and others may gather fraud data related to their own missions, where the kind, quality and volume of data compiled varies widely. David Hyman, professor of Law, University of Maryland, tells us that the widely-disseminated estimates of the incidence of health care fraud and abuse (assumed to be 10% of total spending) lacks any empirical foundation at all, the little we do know about health care fraud and abuse is dwarfed by what we don’t know and what we know that is not so. [The Cato Journal, 3/22/02]

2. Health Care Standards

The laws & rules governing health care – vary from state to state and from payor to payor – are extensive and very confusing for providers and others to understand as they are written in legalese and not plain speak.

Providers use specific codes to report conditions treated (ICD-9) and services rendered (CPT-4 and HCPCS). These codes are used when seeking compensation from payors for services rendered to patients. Although created to universally apply to facilitate accurate reporting to reflect providers’ services, many insurers instruct providers to report codes based on what the insurer’s computer editing programs recognize – not on what the provider rendered. Further, practice building consultants instruct providers on what codes to report to get paid – in some cases codes that do not accurately reflect the provider’s service.

Consumers know what services they receive from their doctor or other provider but may not have a clue as to what those billing codes or service descriptors mean on explanation of benefits received from insurers. This lack of understanding may result in consumers moving on without gaining clarification of what the codes mean, or may result in some believing they were improperly billed. The multitude of insurance plans available today, with varying levels of coverage, ad a wild card to the equation when services are denied for non-coverage – especially if it is Medicare that denotes non-covered services as not medically necessary.

3. Proactively addressing the health care fraud problem

The government and insurers do very little to proactively address the problem with tangible activities that will result in detecting inappropriate claims before they are paid. Indeed, payors of health care claims proclaim to operate a payment system based on trust that providers bill accurately for services rendered, as they can not review every claim before payment is made because the reimbursement system would shut down.

They claim to use sophisticated computer programs to look for errors and patterns in claims, have increased pre- and post-payment audits of selected providers to detect fraud, and have created consortiums and task forces consisting of law enforcers and insurance investigators to study the problem and share fraud information. However, this activity, for the most part, is dealing with activity after the claim is paid and has little bearing on the proactive detection of fraud.

Expert Insider Steps to Begin Transforming Your Health

While yes, our team is born in a world of intense high athletic goals such as bodybuilding, it is not our goal to support people to become bodybuilders – FAR FROM IT!;-) So you can relax now!! But it IS our goal to share with you why the lessons from our experience of mastering human health & the body, & how developing a bodybuilder “mentality” for your own life can literally skyrocket you into a level of personal health you never thought possible, while showing you the shortcuts in how to get there! Sound good? Heck, it sounds GREAT to us, because we already know how it can CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

If you are serious about stepping into your greatness of feeling & looking great, take 3 minutes & glean our insight, because this is the single-most MISSING LINK that we see people repeatedly leaving out of their game plan to great health & why they continue to fail at achieving quality health for their lives.

When you have had an experience of taking your mental, emotional & physical self to the level that bodybuilding competition requires, as a coach for others it then allows you to see potential for your clients that they could never envision for themselves without you by their side AND TAKE THEM THERE, and that is the beauty of the gift that we REJOICE in offering others in order to achieve optimal health, energy, & joy for their lives. But to get there…to create a successful transformation of your health & body, you HAVE to begin INSIDE with our 5 MUST-HAVE Steps! Yes, that’s right – the focus begins in the MIND. Time & again we see this process work, and it’s our UNIQUE coaching psychology method that sets us apart, & why we are capable of producing jaw-dropping results with the level of motivational mentality we provide. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you fail to develop the DESIRE & MINDSET to IMPLEMENT it, you will never succeed.

Want the insider view to our winning approach to learn how to transform your own health & body? We’re here to offer you the scoop because it’s our desire to support you fully to achieve authentic, preventative health from the inside, out in your lifetime. So where do we begin? There is a prolific spiritual author named John Maxwell, maybe you’ve heard of him, maybe you haven’t – but he writes of numerous spiritual topics & speaks on how we create TRUE transformation for our lives. Below we adapt his words for our article today because it’s a brilliant synopsis of just why & how we work with clients to coach them through mastering their personal health, as there are so many levels to the process.

When we discuss transformation of the physical body, to be successful we cannot deny that mind, body & spirit are woven tightly together in our being & therefore EACH needs to be considered – not just one. Often people when wanting to conquer health or healing goals immediately BEGIN at the physical, they think weight loss, nutrition, exercise…but that is their first step to failure because they’re joining the race before they’ve even laced their shoes!! When we fail to address mind & spirit in the health process we eventually lose the vision of why we’re addressing the physical in the first place & sadly fall off course when interest wanes, times get tough, or we lose our way because the how-to’s become unclear or appear out of reach. But if we start INSIDE & work OUTWARDS friends, GAME ON!!

Our 5 Expert Insider Steps to Transforming Your Health & Body

So these 5 KEY STEPS must be addressed in order to achieve a complete & SUCCESSFUL health & body transformation, and they must also be achieved in order as follows…

1. When you change your (health & body) thinking, you change your (health & body) beliefs.

If you think what you’ve been taught is healthy by the mainstream media is where your learning stops, then don’t expect to achieve great illness-free, authentic preventative health because they don’t teach proactive health approach, they teach reactive wait til you get sick & then act health approach. Begin to change your thinking to change your belief system about your body and health potential.

2. When you change your (health & body) beliefs, you change your (health & body) expectations.

Once you begin to expand your thinking, start to also seek out experts in areas of health & body who have shown & continue to show PROVEN ABILITY TO CREATE TRANSFORMATION RESULTS in their own health & body that you would like to emulate. Begin to sponge knowledge from them vs. what mainstream media claims leads to great health results, & you’ll in turn raise the bar on what you expect from your own health. You’ll see your new mentor/s are just ordinary people too like you, who decided to blaze their own health path about the quality of health they wanted to achieve for their life by taking the road less followed for their own health in life, and YOU CAN TOO – if you follow in their footprints.

3. When you change your (health & body) expectations, you change your (health & body) attitude.

Once your mind becomes opened by experts to your new health possibilities, you’ll have a renewed attitude & confidence about your abilities & empowerment around your personal health & begin to realize that anything you put your MIND to, your BODY can achieve -with the right tools in your toolbox. And THAT is exciting!

4. When you change your (health & body) attitude, you change your (health & body) behavior.

Now that you come to the table with a revitalized health attitude of possibilities & an arsenal from your health mentor, your entire being & behavior begins to shift because your mentor connects you with your own personal ability to achieve great results for your health, and as that continues to happen over and over, your self-efficacy GROWS & GROWS around your capabilities to manage your own personal health, as you transition into your own personal mini-health-expert!