Quality-Based Care

Bundled Care’s Place in Workers’ Comp

Bundled care programs are one alternative care model emphasizing quality over quantity.
By: | August 8, 2016 • 5 min read

Medicare continues wielding its leverage to push the nation’s medical systems away from fee-for-service arrangements toward alternative payment models expected to improve care quality.

But one mainstay alternative medical treatment model — bundled care— is off to a slow start in workers’ compensation as implementation hurdles remain.

Very few bundled care models have emerged for treating injured workers. Yet workers’ comp experts expect that the bundled payment concept will eventually flow into more treatments for workplace injuries.

Jacob Lazarovic, senior VP and chief medical officer, Broadspire

Jacob Lazarovic, senior VP and chief medical officer, Broadspire

“I think we will get there,” said Jacob Lazarovic, senior VP and chief medical officer at Broadspire, a third party administrator with a large workers’ comp book of business.

“There will be models that work,” he continued. “There will be entities that manage to put it together. I am pretty sure we are going to see an expansion of programs,” including a potential bundled care program Broadspire is developing for injured worker outpatient surgeries.

Bundled care and bundled payment refers to the coordinated delivery of all medical provider services needed to address a specific illness or injury. A medical group or hospital, for example, would bundle all services including imaging, anesthesia, surgery, follow-up doctor visits and physical therapy for repairing a knee or hip.

They would do so for one single bundled fee that includes financial incentives holding providers accountable for quality outcomes.

In contrast, under fee-for-service arrangements that dominate U.S. health care, claims payers receive bills for each patient interaction with a provider, encouraging treatment quantity over quality.

But Medicare is aggressively pushing nationwide adoption of value-based care delivery models, including bundled care. By the end of 2018, Medicare wants half of its payments flowing to alternative payment models.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services continues unfurling mandates to make that happen. In July, it announced that hospitals in nearly 100 markets would be accountable for the financial and quality outcomes associated with bypass surgeries and heart attacks.

By bundling care for those treatments Rising provides insurers, TPAs and self-insured employers greater cost predictability, administrative efficiency, and “concierge” level of service” for injured worker.

That follows a 2015 announcement impacting nearly 800 hospitals with a mandate for bundled programs for hip and knee replacements.

Advertisement




Experts frequently cite the government efforts among reasons they expect bundled payments will eventually spread from Medicare arrangements to private contracts such as those arranged to care for group health and workers’ compensation claimants.

Medicare’s efforts, for example, should help accustom medical provider groups to contracting with each other to arrange bundles.

“With Medicare we’ve seen quick diffusion of bundled payments,” said Shawn Matheson, a manager at Leavitt Partners, a health care consultant and intelligence firm. That will help private industry claims payers evaluate CMS challenges and successes as a base for additional program designs, Matheson added.

Developing Bundled Programs

For now, though, several workers’ comp observers said they can only cite two or three existing bundled care programs for treating worker injuries while other efforts are under development.

Treatment at the University of California Los Angeles’ Center for Behavioral & Addiction Medicine, for instance, is available through a bundled care program that R&Q Healthcare Interests arranged for workers’ comp claims payers.

“But it is important to recognize there are some difficult problems to be solved in comp that start with return to work and how you hold people accountable.” — David Deitz, managed care expert, David Deitz and Associates

R&Q’s program for injured worker pain and addiction treatment is the first bundled offering the company expects to develop under an existing contract it has with the entire University of California system, said Bill Lape, CEO at R&Q Healthcare, a unit of Randall & Quilter Investment Holding Ltd.

Broadspire, meanwhile, teamed up with a medical network provider to explore developing a pilot program of ambulatory surgery facilities offering bundled services for injured-workers, Lazarovic said.

Robert Evans, VP of repricing solutions, Rising Medical Solutions

Robert Evans, VP of repricing solutions, Rising Medical Solutions

Ideally, the arrangement would allow the collection of metrics for measuring outcomes such as patient satisfaction and return to work.

And Rising Medical Solutions now offers workers’ comp surgery care programs in regions of Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and Georgia. Those regions generally experience greater variation than normal in the pricing of routine surgeries for treating problems such as knee injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome, said Robert Evans, VP of repricing solutions at Rising.

By bundling care for those treatments Rising provides insurers, TPAs and self-insured employers greater cost predictability, administrative efficiency, and “concierge” level of service for injured workers, Evans said.

Evans will speak in November at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo in New Orleans as part of a panel discussion on strategies for bringing value-based care, like bundled arrangements, to workers’ comp.

Broadspire’s Lazarovic will also speak at NWCDC during a presentation titled “How to Use a Medical Expert So You Don’t Get Burned on Causation.” The conference agenda is available at www.wcconference.com.

Fee-for-service’s entrenchment in workers’ comp medical care, meanwhile, and work comp’s emphasis on issues that don’t exist in group health, like return to work, are slowing adoption of bundled care for injured workers.

David Deitz, managed care expert, David Deitz and Associates

David Deitz, managed care expert, David Deitz and Associates

Bundling care for ailments commonly diagnosed among injured works, like carpal tunnel syndrome, would be straight forward, said David Deitz, a managed care expert at David Deitz and Associates. But holding medical providers accountable for return to work remains a challenge.

Accountability could be difficult to enforce if, say, medical providers repair a worker’s injury as expected, but for some other reason the employee decides not to return to the job, Deitz elaborated.

“I think there is a really difficult problem here [but] it’s not insolvable,” Dietz said. “But it is important to recognize there are some difficult problems to be solved in comp that start with return to work and how you hold people accountable.”

Other obstacles to implementing bundled programs for injured workers include work comp’s state-by-state regulation and entrenched reliance on medical fee schedules based on fee-for-service arrangements.

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Absence Management

Establishing Balance With Volunteers

It’s good business to allow job-leave for volunteer emergency responders, whether or not state laws apply.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

If 2017 had a moniker, it might be “the year of the natural disasters,” thanks to a phenomenal array of catastrophic or severe events— hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms and floods.

Advertisement




Combined with smaller-scale fires and other emergencies, these incidents tax the resources of local and state emergency services, often prompting the need to call volunteer emergency responders into action.

But as lean as most organizations are already running, volunteer activities can sometimes cause friction between employees and employers. Handling conflicts the wrong way can potentially lead to legal headaches, harm employee morale and batter a company’s reputation.

State by State Variations

Most employers are aware of the various federal and state leave laws protecting their employees, including family and medical leave, pregnancy leave and military leave. But leave laws that protect the livelihoods of volunteer emergency responders are more likely to fly under the radar of some HR managers and risk managers.

Such laws don’t exist in every state, but more than 20 states do have some type of law in place to protect volunteers including emergency responders, firefighters, disaster workers, medical responders, ambulance drivers or peace officers.

Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management

The laws vary broadly. Nearly all specify that such leave be unpaid, and that employees disclose their volunteer status to employers and provide documentation for each leave. But there is a spectrum of variations in terms of what may trigger an eligible leave. Some, for instance, apply for any emergency that prompts a call from the volunteer’s affiliated responder group. Others may require a government declaration of emergency for the law to be triggered.

While many of the laws do not explicitly require employers to let employees leave work when called to an emergency during a shift, most specify that an employee may be late or even miss work entirely without facing termination or any other adverse employment action.

Some states mandate a maximum number of unpaid leave days that a volunteer can claim. But others may place more significant burdens on employers. In California, for instance, employers with 50 or more employees are required to grant up to 14 days of unpaid leave for training activities in addition to any leave taken to respond to emergency events. For multistate employers, keeping on top of what obligations may apply in each circumstance can be a challenge.

Significant Risks

Large or mid-sized employers may rely on absence management providers to keep them in compliance. For smaller employers though, it may be as simple as looking up a state’s law via Google to find out what’s required. However, checking in with the state department of labor or the company’s attorney may be the best way to get the correct facts.

“I would caution that just because you don’t find something [on the internet], it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” said absence management and employment law attorney Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management.

For example, Cardi said, an obscure Texas law provides job-protected leave for volunteer ham radio operators called into service during an emergency.

Cardi said employers should task HR to investigate the laws in each state the company operates in, and to ensure that supervisors are educated about the existence of these laws.

“If a supervisor is told by one of his or her employees, ‘Sorry I’m not coming in today … I’ve been called to volunteer firefighter duty for the [nearby region] fire,’” she said, you want to be sure that the supervisor knows not to take action against the employee, and to contact HR for guidance.

“Training supervisors to be aware of this kind of absence is really important.”

Advertisement




An employer that does terminate a protected volunteer for responding to an emergency may be ordered to pay back wages and reinstate the employee. In some cases, the employee may also be able to sue for wrongful termination.

And of course, “you don’t want to be the company in the headlines that is getting sued because you fired the volunteer firefighter,” she added.

If an employer bars a volunteer from responding, the worst-case scenario may be a third-party claim. Failure to comply with the law could give rise to a claim along the lines of “‘If you had complied with your statutory obligation to give Jane Doe time to respond, my loved one would not have died,’” explained Philadelphia-based Jonathan Segal, partner at law firm Duane Morris and managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute.

“That’s the claim I think is the largest in terms of legal risk.”

Even if no one dies or is seriously injured, he added, “there could still be significant reputational risk if an individual were to go to the media and say, ‘Look, I got called by the fire department and I wasn’t allowed to go.’”

The Right Thing to Do

What employers should be thinking about, Segal said, is that whether or not you have a legal obligation to provide job-protected leave for volunteer responders, “there’s still the question of what are the consequences if you don’t?”

Employee morale should be factored in, he said. The last thing any company wants is for employees to perceive it as insensitive to their interests or the interests of the community at large.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” — Jonathan Segal, partner, Duane Morris; managing principal, Duane Morris Institute

“How is this going to resonate with my employees, with my workforce, how are people going to see this? These are all relevant factors to consider,” he said.

There’s an argument to be made for employers to look at the bigger picture when it comes to any volunteer responders on their payroll, said Segal.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” he said. “Think about the case where’s there’s not a specific state law [for emergency responders] and you say to a volunteer, ‘No, you can’t leave to deal with this fire’ and then people die. You as an employer have potentially played a role, indirectly, because you didn’t allow the first responder or responders to go,” he said.

The bottom line is that “it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s not required by law,” agreed Cardi.

“I feel that companies should have a policy that they’re not going to discipline or discharge someone for absences due to this kind of civic service, subject to verification of course.”

Clear Policy

While most employers do strive to be good corporate citizens, it goes without question that employers need to guard their own interests. It’s not especially likely that volunteer responders will try to take advantage of the unpaid leave allowed them, but of course, it could happen.

That’s why it’s important to have policies that are aligned with state laws. Those policies could include:

  • Notifying the company of any volunteer affiliations either upon hire or as soon they are activated as volunteers.
  • Requiring that employees notify a supervisor as soon as possible if called to an emergency (state requirements vary).
  • Requiring documentation after the event from the head of the entity supervising the volunteer’s activities.

If at some point it becomes excessive – someone has responded to emergencies five times in nine weeks, then it’s time to examine the specifics of the law and have a discussion with the employee about what’s reasonable, said Segal. It may also be time to ask specifics about whether the person is volunteering each time, or are they being called.

Advertisement




In some cases, the discussion may need to be about finding a middle ground, especially if an employee has taken on an excessively demanding volunteer role.

“We encourage volunteers to pick the style that best fits their schedule,” said Greta Gustafson, a representative of the American Red Cross. “Disaster volunteers can elect to respond to disasters locally, nationally, or even virtually, and each assignment varies in length — from responding overnight to a home fire in your community to deploying across the country for several weeks following a hurricane.

“The Red Cross encourages all volunteers to talk with their employers to determine their availability and to communicate this with their local Red Cross chapter.”

Segal suggests approaching it as an interactive dialogue — borrowing from the ADA. “Employers may need to open a discussion along the lines of ‘I need you here this week because this week we have a deliverable on Friday and you’re critical to that client deliverable,’” he said, but also identify when the employee’s absence would be less critical.

No doubt there will be tough calls. An employer may have its hands full just trying to meet basic customer needs and need all hands on deck.

“That may be a situation where you say, ‘First let me check the law,’” said Segal. If there’s a leave law that applies, “then I’m going to need to comply with it. If there’s not, then you may need to balance competing interests and say, ‘We need you here.’” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]