STATEMENT OF KAREN IGNAGNI, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH PLANS Source: U.S. House. Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Health and

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1 STATEMENT OF KAREN IGNAGNI, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH PLANS Source: U.S. House. Committee on Commerce, Subcommittee on Health and Environment Managed Care Quality. 28 October Available online at house.gov/cchear/hearings.nsf/actionkey?openview&startkey=managed+care. Ms. IGNAGNI. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am Karen Ignagni, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), which is the principal national trade association representing HMOs, PPOs, and other networkbased health plans throughout the United States. The association represents approximately one thousand member plans serving over 150 million Americans over half of the population. AAHP and its members are dedicated to a philosophy of care that puts patients first by providing coordinated and comprehensive health care. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today s hearing, which focuses on one of the most prominent issues facing health policy makers today: how to address consumer needs for highquality, affordable health care, while at the same time promoting continued innovation and competition in the health care market. AAHP is proud of the leadership role it has taken in addressing consumer concerns through its ongoing Putting Patients First program. Because we are committed to improving consumer confidence in health plans, our association members must meet standards related to consumer information, physician-patient communications, physicians role in plan practices, formularies, grievance and appeals, and, of course, quality assurance. My comments today will focus on: A context in which to consider the appropriate role of the federal government in health care; and The impact of specific provisions included in H.R and H.R. 820 on the delivery of quality, affordable health services. I. CONSIDERING THE CONTEXT BEFORE ACTING There are a number of legislative proposals pending in both chambers that would add to the current regulatory framework governing health plans. The intent of these proposals is to protect consumers against unfair or harmful practices. AAHP and our member plans share the goal of protecting patients. However, we believe that before Congress acts, it should consider the existing regulatory structure, the reasons our health care system has had to change over the past decade, and the facts about how managed care plans work today. The Current Regulatory Structure for HMOs As a first step, it is important for Congress to survey the current regulatory structure for health plans, taking into account both public sector and private sector activities. Otherwise, it risks enacting duplicative or conflicting regulation that increases consumers out-of-pocket costs, adds to the number of uninsured American workers, and demands that resources be shifted to administrative overhead, while detracting from plans ability to focus on quality. Today, there are multiple mechanisms already in place to promote high quality care and health plan accountability. Some of these mechanisms have been developed by the plans themselves, others are products of federal and state regulation, and still others are the result of actions

2 taken by consumers and purchasers. Taken together, these elements have a significant impact. Already, they hold health plans to standards of quality and accountability never demanded in the old fee-for-service system. As a result, health plans have given consumers, for the first time, an opportunity to make choices about their health coverage that are grounded in meaningful information.... II. THE IMPACT OF H.R AND H.R. 820 ON QUALITY, AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE We question whether the Patient Access to Responsible Care Act of 1997 or the Health Insurance Bill of Rights Act of 1997 represents the appropriate role of government in health care. They duplicate current state and federal regulations and oversight, and propose a degree of federal micromanagement that both threatens health plans ability to continue to innovate and suggests a return to the failed old system. In our discussions with various policy makers and regulators both within the health care industry and from other industries, we have learned that any significant changes in the current regulatory framework that increase the cost of coverage must be carefully evaluated to understand their full impact on voluntary, employer-based health coverage. The ripple effect of rising health care costs is well documented more Americans lose their health insurance. With each 1 percent increase in premium costs, small business sponsorship of health insurance drops by up to 2.6 percent (Morrisey et al., 1994) and two hundred thousand Americans lose coverage (Congressional Budget Office, 1996). Employers, confronted with unaffordable health benefits costs, will be forced to reduce or eliminate coverage for employees, resulting in more uninsured Americans. (This will be true of mid-size and large employers, as well as small employers. Coverage rates in mid-size and large firms have dropped significantly over the last several years e.g., between 1988 and 1993, coverage among firms with employees declined from 71 percent to 68 percent; coverage among firms with 250 or more employees declined from 79 percent to 77 percent (EBRI)). Employees, faced with increased premiums, will drop coverage for their dependents. This loss of coverage, along with threats to quality and innovation, must be weighed when these bills are examined. We have a broad range of serious concerns with these two bills.... Requiring that Plans Conduct Annual Open Application and Review of Providers Health plans carefully develop and periodically evaluate their provider networks in order to ensure that they meet the plan s quality standards as well as the health care needs of their enrollees. H.R s requirement that plans accept and review all provider applications on an annual basis would be extremely labor intensive and time consuming. Moreover, it would be counterproductive to continually review applications from providers who do not meet the quality, specialty, network design, or geographic needs of a plan s enrollees. One AAHP member plan has estimated that it costs $350 to review each physician application. If one thousand physicians applied to a single plan even though the plan did not need any additional physicians, the added administrative cost which would not result in one iota of patient care or quality assurance would equal $350,000. Of course, at a time when AAHP is working to implement a uniform physician application form and physicians can use computer technology to easily submit applications to every plan in an area, the systemwide administrative costs of this requirement could be many hundreds of times greater than $350,000. An appropriate parallel one could draw from this would be a similar requirement imposed on congressional offices to accept applications and, once a year, interview every applicant regard-

3 less of whether they were qualified, had any evident commitment to the office s goals, or whether the office had any openings. Barring Plans from Considering Hospital Affiliation in Provider Selection Decisions Health plans that selectively contract with hospitals typically select qualified providers that practice at those hospitals to be a part of the plan s network. H.R would prohibit plans from considering whether a provider is affiliated with or has admitting privileges at a participating hospital. As a result, enrollees requiring surgery could be faced with the dilemma that their particular physician could not perform the surgery at a participating hospital forcing patients to either switch physicians at a critical time or pursue treatment at a nonparticipating hospital and risk paying for it out of pocket. Barring Plans from Ensuring that Enrollees Personal Health Professionals Are Trained in Coordinating Care In those plans that request enrollees to select a primary care physician (PCP), enrollees are generally requested to select a PCP from a subset of participating providers who have been chosen for their training and expertise in coordinating care. H.R would undermine plan efforts to identify this subset of care coordinators by permitting enrollees to select specialists as their PCPs. While special referral arrangements may be appropriate for some individuals on a caseby-case basis, permitting all specialists to serve as PCPs is not appropriate. Many specialists do not have the expertise or practice style to effectively serve as coordinators of care, since they are trained to look at a single body system rather than the whole patient. Prohibiting current plan practice of identifying providers appropriately trained to be PCPs could lead to fragmented, high-cost care without any improvement in quality. Notably, programs to retrain specialty providers in coordinating care are developing. This creates opportunities, without government micromanagement of plan operations, to devise new ways of managing care. Health Plan Liability The key to a quality health care system is continuously finding effective ways to address problems before patients are harmed rather than compensating them long after an injury or even death. The most incongruous aspect of H.R is that, while it undermines health plans ability to hold physicians accountable for delivering quality, affordable care, it at the same time exposes health plans and other insurers, their employees, administrators, employers voluntarily offering health benefits to employees, and anyone else involved in the business of providing or arranging for health benefits coverage to state tort liability. This provision s apparent purpose is to eliminate ERISA preemption of state law causes of action to recover damages for personal injury. Its practical effect will be to open the floodgates of litigation, leading to higher health care costs systemwide with no proven effect on the quality of health care provided to Americans. Several years ago the American Medical Association made a similar point about the potential for expanded, costly litigation when it testified about a related concept, enterprise liability. At that time, the AMA noted that enterprise liability may also increase the frequency and magnitude of medical liability claims as individuals become more willing to sue an anonymous deep pocket. The increase in litigation will have far-reaching effects on patients, beyond the cost increases that will put coverage out of reach for many. Patients will lose as physicians and health plans are pit-

4 ted against each other. As noted in a recent story on health plan liability in the August 1996 issue of Medical Economics, [M]any plaintiffs attorneys find HMOs more compelling defendants than doctors: As big, impersonal corporations with deep pockets, they re unlikely to evoke much sympathy from jurors. In fact, some lawyers will offer to settle or drop claims against treating physicians in exchange for their cooperation in a suit against a health plan. Moreover, the bill creates the strongest possible incentive for plans to completely restructure their relationships with physicians. Under the bill, plans would find it essential to become directly involved in physician practices and treatment decisions. Ironically, then, a bill intended to promote physician autonomy would eliminate the very considerable autonomy that physicians have today. The current medical liability system rightly has been criticized by physicians and others as inefficient, expensive, and frequently of little benefit to those who have been injured. According to a Rand Corporation study, only forty-three cents of every dollar spent on medical liability litigation reaches injured patients as compensation. Moreover, the medical liability system has become an uncertain litigation lottery that too often fails to provide relief to injured patients who deserve compensation and inappropriately rewards those who do not. This is why virtually every state has limited access to the flawed medical malpractice system by enacting tort reform. Expanding state tort law to expose health plans, insurers, their employees, and employers who voluntarily sponsor health benefit plans to medical liability lawsuits will only make a flawed system worse. New health plan medical liability litigation most certainly will bring with it a plethora of cases in which the very methods that have made health plans successful at delivering affordable, high quality care to Americans methods such as quality assurance programs, utilization management, provider payment systems, and provider credentialing are attacked as being the proximate cause of alleged injuries. Although in the end it is unlikely that such cases will be successful, the damage caused by increased litigation and other defensive costs arising from such cases will be irreparable. This provision also will foster lawsuits whose sole purpose is to influence the range and scope of coverage provided by health plans and insurers. Instead of making medical appropriateness decisions based on scientific evidence and objective best practice protocols, health plans will be influenced to make these decisions based on the latest jury verdict or court decision in a medical liability case. Additionally, some may use aggressive litigation tactics as a way to circumvent coverage limitations clearly articulated in the language of the plan documents. This will undermine health plans and employers ability to contractually fix the range and scope of coverage to be provided and to control the costs associated with such coverage. Plan sponsors not permitted to determine the coverage they will voluntarily offer may withdraw coverage altogether. As a result, in much the same way that physicians have been forced to practice defensive medicine, health plans will be influenced to provide coverage for unnecessary services that do not benefit patients in order to avoid costly litigation. Moreover, physicians could be influenced to recommend treatments that may not benefit the patient, knowing that the onus will be on the health plan to cover the cost of the treatment or face a possible lawsuit. Again, although these types of lawsuits may fail ultimately, the cost of defending against them will be significant.

5 In contrast, because of the capricious nature of the medical liability system, few of the isolated individuals who may have sustained a personal injury as a result of actual negligence will be compensated. It is important to keep in mind that ERISA plan beneficiaries already have the right to seek to recover benefits they believe they are entitled to under the plan. Moreover, they need not wait for an injury to occur to seek recovery. An ERISA participant or beneficiary who believes that he or she has wrongfully been denied coverage of a benefit may seek injunctive relief in the form of a court order to have the benefit provided long before any injury is sustained. In the end, the bill s liability provision will (1) expose patients to questionable care, (2) raise costs by undermining the cost containment mechanisms that have only recently brought health care expenditures under control, (3) reduce the availability of types of health plans that many patients have chosen, and (4) suppress new and better ways of organizing health coverage. Physicians still will be subject to suits. Employers and consumers will be forced to bear the brunt of the administrative cost increases associated with increased liability insurance and litigation. The health care system will become more adversarial, alienating consumers, health plans, and providers. H.R s liability provision is, quite simply, the wrong answer to the concerns it is attempting to address. It overlooks the important role of current processes and requirements designed to deal with a problem at the front end before errors are made and injuries are sustained. Clearly, what are needed are expeditious, accessible processes for resolving disputes. A more appropriate means for meeting consumer needs than increased exposure to litigation is to ensure that patients have access to fast, fair, and efficient processes and procedures for resolving disputes or grievances about their health care. Health plans are committed to achieving this through effective quality improvement programs, accreditation, and risk management programs. Health plans are, right now, developing innovations for the grievances and appeals processes they are already required to have under state law. In addition to state regulatory requirements, AAHP member health plans have committed themselves through Putting Patients First to appeals processes that provide timely notice to a patient when an adverse coverage recommendation is made and that include an easily understood description of the patient s appeal rights. Additionally, AAHP member plans are committed to providing an expedited appeals process within the normal time frames, for an appeal could jeopardize a patient s life or health. Moreover, AAHP member plans have supported the new regulations issued by the Health Care Financing Administration for the Medicare program which put in place an expedited review process for Medicare patients when required by their medical condition. AAHP is currently working with member plans to identify best practices among internal plan processes for dispute resolution. Typically, health plans continually monitor and review their handling of disputes. In their efforts to minimize confusion, avoid conflicts, and resolve disputes promptly and fairly, a number of health plans are involved in active outreach to consumer advocates, state and federal regulators, and others with an interest in this issue. Related to the appeals processes used by health plans and the Medicare system are new requirements emerging in a number of states for another level of review of health plan coverage determinations which is external to the health plan. These external review processes, if designed properly, may provide a further assurance to patients that the decisions made about their health care coverage are fair and being made based on scientific evidence and best practices. We are assessing the benefits and problems associated with these mechanisms, including how different

6 program designs affect the quality and cost of care (including how the quality of reviews themselves can be ensured). At this point in our review, it is clear that different program designs may produce dramatically different effects. III. CONCLUSION In conclusion, H.R and H.R. 820 ignore the current regulatory environment, the historical context for today s health care system, and the facts about how health plans work today. The health care system has evolved from a fragmented and costly system into one that is increasingly integrated and accountable. This progress should not be interfered with lightly. Congress must commit itself to asking the hard questions: What is the appropriate balance between competition and regulation? Has the balance been struck to allow sufficient flexibility to innovate? How should the various layers of regulation relate to one another? What is the balance between added regulation, affordability of care for businesses and workers, and the goal of insuring more Americans? Will this added regulation improve the health status of Americans? In the recent debate on health care reform, Congress expressed its preference for a health care system based upon competition and innovation, rather than federal regulation. This legislation presents a similar choice for Congress. It can either micromanage at the expense of quality and innovation or it can foster a system that promotes informed consumers and allows plans to adapt swiftly to consumers needs and preferences. Once again, AAHP remains committed to ensuring that consumers have access to high quality and affordable health care. Health plans recognize the need to improve consumer confidence in the care they receive and welcome continued exploration of how best to achieve this. At AAHP we are undertaking our own exploration of this issue by holding a series of meetings examining the current regulatory structure in health care and in other industries. However, while we urge Congress to explore these issues, we also urge the committee not to act on legislation that will compromise health plans ability to promote quality care and reduce employers and employees ability to afford quality health coverage.

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