The Lewin Group: Cited Often, Owned by UnitedHealth

August 23, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, “Health-care reform: Medical insurers poised to reap a healthy ‘bonanza,’”   the following paragraph concerning The Lewin Group caught my eye

One of the Democratic proposals that most concerned insurers was creation of a “public option” government-sponsored insurance plan. The industry launched a campaign on Capitol Hill, distributing arguments opposing the government option that often were grounded in a study published by The Lewin Group, a health policy consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth.

In an effort to stay abreast, I read a fair amount of opposition commentary–and “The Lewin Group” comes off the lips of Republicans and others opposed to the Public Option often enough. Although The Lewin Group connection with UnitedHealth has been made public by a number of sources, I’m not sure that it’s common knowledge. And perhaps, as always, when dealing with information–especially information doing duty as a foundation upon which Medical Insurers stand “poised to reap a healthy bonanza”–considering the source– and considering that the source of that information is owned by one of the nation’s largest insurers– may be worth a moment or two.

This description of The Lewin Group comes from The Lewin Group in their Testimony before the before the Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, dated June 25, 2009, and updated July 9, 2009

The Impact of the House Health Reform Legislation on Coverage and Provider Incomes

 About The Lewin Group

The Lewin Group is a health care and human services policy research and management consulting firm. We have over 25 years of experience in estimating the impact of major health reform proposals. The Lewin Group is committed to providing independent, objective and nonpartisan analyses of policy options. In keeping with our tradition of objectivity, The Lewin Group is not an advocate for or against any legislation. The Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, Inc.,which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UnitedHealth Group. To assure the independence of its work, The Lewin Group has editorial control over all of its work products. (emphasis added)

The Lewin Group was purchased by Ingenix (and thus UnitedHealth) in 2007, somewhat presciently in time for the Health Care debate. I do not doubt that The Lewin Group has a stated and formal editorial control over its work products; I do doubt that it looks to bite the hand that feeds it. And I would suggest that as an arm of UnitedHealth, despite Mr. Kellar’s claims above, self decapitation– at least in the corporate world– is less a “mystery” than it is an illusion.

A recent Washington Post article also noted The Lewin Group’s relationship to its immediate parent

Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association, a physician’s group, of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. Ingenix supplied its parent company and other insurers with data that allegedly understated the “usual and customary” doctor fees that insurers use to determine how much they will reimburse consumers for out-of-network care.

In January, UnitedHealth agreed to a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the AMA, covering conduct going back as far as 1994.

Ingenix chief executive Andrew Slavitt said the Ingenix data was never biased, but Ingenix nonetheless agreed to exit that particular line of business. “The data didn’t have the appearance of independence that’s necessary for it to be useful,” Slavitt said.

This may give us some idea of where Mr. Slavitt’s bar for data’s  “appearance of independence that’s necessary for it to be useful” is set. But there is of course a possible difference to be had between “useful” and “valid” and “valid as used.”  Distinctions the video below, as well as the Chicago Trib article, may help to clarify.

It should be noted, however, that according to WaPo,

Lewin Group Vice President John Sheils said his firm had nothing to do with the allegedly flawed Ingenix reimbursement data. Lewin has gone through “a terribly difficult adjustment” since it was bought by UnitedHealth in 2007, because the corporate ownership “does create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

“It hasn’t affected . . . the work we do, and I think people who know me know that I am not a good liar,” Sheils said.

Mr. Sheils also noted to WaPo that those who pay for studies also have the option of “burying” those studies:

But not all of the firm’s reports see the light of day. For example, a study for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association was never released, Sheils said.

“Let’s just say, sometimes studies come out that don’t show exactly what the client wants to see. And in those instances, they have [the] option to bury the study — to not release it, rather,” Sheils said.

I wonder if UnitedHealth gets the in-house rate.

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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Looks to Help “Navigate” Health Care Reform

May 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Reform 

As we posted back in January, “California Foundations Advocate for Health Care Reform,” the L.A. Times had reported that Paul Brest, “president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park and author of a book on philanthropic strategies” stated that: “What I’ve seen is foundations moving from thinking all we needed to do is support good research in the field and the rest will happen to realizing that unless we are going to support organizations to take the research and try to turn it into policy, then the research is going to sit in the bottom of a pile somewhere.” With a noted caveat (“Advocacy is risky for foundations, since most are categorized by the IRS as 501(c) nonprofits, which restricts them from direct lobbying or participation in partisan politics.”), one welcomes the foundations and their massive intellectual and financial capital further into the fray. They hold the talent and ability of some of the best and brightest among us.

Having said that, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has advanced the battle line one smart step forward. Whereas the lobbying spoken of above goes to delivery of the “message,” RWJF has undertaken to put the message in a more deliverable form.

There’s an interesting post on the subject over at the RWJF Health Reform Blog, The Users’ Guide to the Health Reform Galaxy. The post was written by Brian Quinn, Ph.D, a program officer in the RWJF Research and Evaluation Unit, and goes to the question of form regarding applied research, or “How to package the evidence for health reform.”

Mr. Quinn smartly points out that considering the abundance and complexity of journal articles and reports intent on health reform that each day brings, without some form of translation and synthesis geared to those who will actually make decisions about health reform, the “applied” portion of “applied research” may turn out to be nothing more than just an intent.

As a means of cultivating application, and assuring that worthwhile research doesn’t languish “at the bottom of the pile,” RWJF has initiated the Synthesis Project, “to produce user-friendly briefs and reports that synthesize research findings on perennial health policy questions.” The Project is timely and their work is well worth a look.

At the end of a post the other day, I noted some personal experience relating to the sensibility of providing cancer patients with “Navigators” to help them best understand and utilize the health care resources at hand. I finished the post by stating: “It is simply not reasonable to think that patients will do (or do well) that which they do not understand.” Substitute “policy makers” for “patients” and the statement still holds true.

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Employees, Fearing Increased Cost-Sharing and Loss of Benefits, Utilize Current Employer-Based Health Plans More

April 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 
Photo by Interplast via Flickr

Photo by Interplast via Flickr

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that a recent survey reveals that employees are utilizing employer-based health plans more in fear that their plans will increase cost-sharing or dissolve altogether.

KFF reports:

U.S. workers are making more use of their employer-sponsored health insurance benefits because of concerns that employers could cut benefits or increase costs during the economic recession, according to a survey released Friday by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s “Dollars & Sense” blog reports. IFEBP surveyed its members between March 30 and April 6 and found that one-third reported an increase in their workers filling prescription medications or undergoing costly medical procedures before their insurance runs out, the study found. Sally Natchek, senior director of research for IFEBP, said, “Plan participants are feeling anxious about the possibility of increased cost-sharing and a reduction in benefits due to the financial crisis.”

The International Foundation reports that:

[W]hile few plan sponsors (3.6%) are cutting or considering cutting health care benefits altogether, many are ramping up their cost-sharing approaches.  Thirty-five percent of plan sponsors are increasing employee deductibles, coinsurance or copays due to the financial crisis.  Nearly the same proportion are also increasing employee premiums.  Other cost-sharing actions that plan sponsors are taking include adding consumer-driven health plans as an option (12.8%), replacing a current plan with a consumer-driven plan (9.6%) and instituting spousal charges (10.8%).

The Foundation report confirms that more employers are using consumer-directed health plans in an attempt to rein in the cost of health benefits.

Perhaps the silver lining of this survey, though, is that there was also found to be “a heightened focus on wellness programs.  Eighteen percent of the respondents have introduced or are considering introducing wellness initiatives due to the economy (Foundation).” In a recent post, we noted that Kaiser had reported that

Eighty percent of large U.S. companies this year are offering chronic disease management programs for workers in an effort to reduce health care costs, up from 51% last year, according to a new survey by Hewitt Associates, the Houston Chronicle reports.

At the confluence of unfavorable economic conditions, rising health care and insurance costs and an administration which has vowed reform, these burgeoning trends may be only the forward guard in changes to employer-based plans. Driven by economic concerns, there seems to have been generated among employers an understanding that one way of avoiding the high costs associated with acute and/or catastrophic health care, is simply to help employees to avoid becoming sick (it may be only a matter of time before employers begin handing out “an apple a day.”) Unfortunately, with increasing frequency employers also seem to be learning that another means of avoiding the costs of  health care is to simply discontinue,  decrease, or “shift” the costs of health benefits. The numbers seem to suggest that employees have read the writing on the wall, and are visiting their doctors while they still can.

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Health Care Reform and the Public Insurance Plan: “Framing the Debate,” and Fording the Corporate Dam of Shareholder Wealth Maximization

April 20, 2009 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Medicaid, Medicare 

Kaiser.org has recently noted that “Liberal and conservative interest groups ‘have begun a fierce ideological battle, with each side trying to shape the public’s perception of a public insurance plan,’ the Christian Science Monitor reports.”

Kaiser states:

The Health Policy Consensus Group, a coalition of conservative interest groups spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, listed the creation of a public insurance option as the No. 1 “deal killer” for health care reform. The group argues that the government would use its “regulatory, pricing, and taxing authority” to make it nearly impossible for private insurers to compete, leaving U.S. residents without a private alternative.”

Let’s attempt to understand the argument against a public insurance plan. To do so, I would suggest that it will be of some help to understand the nature of a “public plan,” and, perhaps just as importantly, where the interests lie.

When we speak of “a public insurance plan,” we speak essentially of expansion, not creation: Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP are “public plans,” as are those administered by the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service.  At present, however, these plans are tailored to bring medical care to people who meet certain criteria. At present, this country is estimated to have close to 50 million people who are uninsured: primarily people who either lack the money or employment requisite to obtain private health insurance or who fail to meet the criteria requisite for enrollment in any of the public plans as they are presently configured.

The “public plan” proposal would expand the criteria for enrollment in extant “public plans” and perhaps constitute other service providers to administer to the need.   So…the argument against a public plan is essentially an argument against making these plans (or very similar plans) available to a greater number of people. Why? Simply put, those who would be serviced by an expanded “public plan” would thereby be rendered unavailable to Private Insurers as customers and generally speaking, less customers = less profit.

Understandably, those who oppose a “public plan,” such as America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), have proposed that as a means of achieving universal coverage, all Americans should be forced (“mandated”) to purchase health insurance from, well, Private Insurers. The plan calls for the Government to subsidize this purchase of private insurance. Given that there are close to 50 million uninsured, this would result in an increase of tens of millions of paying customers for Private Insurers.  This proposal has been rather aptly compared by Jeff Emanuel of The American Spectator to an automaker bailout which would require each American to buy a car.

The Heritage Foundation’s Health Policy Consensus Group, opposed to a public plan, is said to argue that with the advent of an expanded public plan

“the government would use its “regulatory, pricing, and taxing authority” to make it nearly impossible for private insurers to compete….” Read more

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The Health Reform Dialogue Group Recommends Health Care Overhaul

April 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Reform 
Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

Throughout the country, newspapers are reporting on the meeting of the Health Reform Dialogue Group (the “Group”).  The diverse group has been meeting to discuss the overhaul of the current national health care system.

The Associated Press reports:

Eighteen groups representing consumers, business, insurers, doctors and hospitals say they have reached agreement on how they would like to see the nation’s health care system overhauled.

The groups, calling themselves the Health Reform Dialogue, say the uninsured should be covered through a combination of expanded government programs and subsidies to purchase private health coverage.

The 18 organizations in the group have been meeting for six months. While they failed to resolve several major issues, their agreement could serve as a starting point for lawmakers trying to craft a plan this year that can win broad support.

Some of the major health care players within this 18-organization group includes: AARP, American’s Health Insurance Plans, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  This group represents both private and public interest groups.

As a result of the Group’s meetings, the Group issued a Report (PDF) containing multiple recommendations.  The Report states that the meetings have been productive: Read more

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