The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has brought about many changes to the health insurance industry. As we are now in the sixth year of implementation of the Act, we are seeing more changes coming just around the corner.
Generally speaking, most health plans can be classified into two categories: HMO and PPO. With an HMO plan, you choose your physician group where you will seek services, and you choose a primary care physician that you will see for all of your needs, who will refer you to a specialist or other service facility, if needed. The HMO model is designed to be as cost-effective as possible, only providing services when the physician deems it necessary, or solely for the benefit of the patient.
Due to the ACA, with an HMO plan, a woman is no longer required to get a referral from her primary care physician to an OB-GYN, and a parent is not required to get a referral to a pediatrician for his or her children even though neither are classified as primary care physicians.
In contrast, a PPO plan has more flexibility for the patient. With a PPO plan you are encouraged to see physicians and providers that are participating in your plan’s network, but are not required to do so. You can, in fact, see any doctor or provider that you wish, when you wish to see them, and without a referral from your primary care physician.
However, times they are a-changin’. Beginning January 1, 2017, Covered California, California’s state insurance exchange, will require both HMO and PPO enrollees to specify their primary care physician during the enrollment process. If one is not selected, the plan will select one for the plan participant. A plan participant is allowed to change their primary care physician at any time. Right now, this is only being implemented for individual plan subscribers.
It is expected that this change will be implemented for group PPO plan subscribers in 2018.
Beginning in 2012, the ACA implemented the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee. This is a charge of $1 to $2 per enrollee, per year in a plan. If the plan is fully insured, the fee is paid to the government directly by the insurance carrier. If the plan is self-funded it is paid by the plan sponsor using IRS Form 720 and is due by July 31 for the previous plan year.
The purpose of the PCORI is to help analyze the overall costs of health care and identify trends to find ways to best reduce the overall cost of health care.
HMOs like Kaiser Permanente have fully integrated information systems that allow them to track each patient electronically so that they can see everything about the patient in one place. By tracking each patient, notes from the nurses and physicians, treatments, and medications, they can track costs and trends easily by mining the data from the system.
Most PPO plans do not track this data, in part because patients in the past have not had to choose a primary care physician or provider group. When they can see whomever they choose, it makes tracking of this data very difficult across multiple providers. In addition, participants in a small group, fully-insured plan are pooled with other small groups where claim data is not shared with the plan sponsor, and there is no need to track it closely as the information at the patient level is not relevant to the actuaries that calculate plan costs and premiums.
However, that is going to change. In order to study the overall cost of medical care, identify trends, and discover ways to curb inflating costs, data is needed, and selecting a primary care physician for plan participants is the first step.
Cigna, which provides both HMO and PPO plans, has implemented a Collaborative Care Program with more than 120 physician groups in 29 states, including provider group Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in the San Francisco Bay area. By tracking client claims data and patient outreach programs to help patients to remember to take their medications as prescribed and continue with follow up treatments, PAMF has been able to reduce its inflation trend by 5 percent compared to other providers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The goal is to duplicate and build on the success that Cigna has already shown through its program and control and reduce the cost of health care.
So when you or your employees are applying for health insurance, make sure that primary care physician information is handy, because it is going to be needed.
To stay on top of all the latest health care cost trends, read our breaking news release announcing the preliminary findings from our 2016 Health Plan Survey.