How About a Flat Fee?
More employers wanting predictability in the fees they pay workers’ comp third-party administrators are negotiating to pay a single, flat fee for bill-review services, sources tell me. The arrangements follow from criticisms some employers, their brokers and consultants have heaped on TPAs, saying traditional TPA charges for bill-review services obscure the ultimate cost of those services.
Under traditional arrangements, a TPA might charge an employer on a per-bill basis for each medical-provider bill reviewed. Or, they might charge on a per-line basis, tallying a fee for each expense line on a bill. They can also charge the employer according to the percentage of savings produced by the bill-review process.
The inconsistency in billing methods has fueled suspicion that some TPAs — operating in a highly competitive environment — win business by bidding to provide basic claim-handling and administration at a low cost, and then boost their revenue with additional charges.
TPA executives have countered that their billing measures are transparent, at times even arguing that brokers stir the controversy to attract consulting business. But questions remain.
TPAs also differ from one to the next in their billing formats for the broad range of other claims management services they offer. So employers with the resources to do so often pay their brokers or consultants additional sums to analyze their bills and to help them select the best TPA agreement for them.
Srivatsan Sridharan, senior vice president, product development for TPA Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., said more large employers are negotiating to pay a consistent flat, per-bill fee for all bill-review-related services for each claim. The employer then pays additional amounts for claims handling and all of the other TPA services required to resolve a claim, although the charges for those other services have tended to be more predictable than the bill-review fees.
Data collection has made it possible for TPAs to model an employer’s expected claims-management expenses and accommodate flat-fee deals, Sridharan said. Such arrangements won’t reduce the cost of managing a claim, but they can make bill review costs more predictable, he added.
In a similar vein, brokers meeting privately with TPA executives during the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, held in late November, asked TPAs about their willingness to charge one, all-inclusive fee for an employer’s entire book of claims business, said Joe Picone, chief claim officer for Willis of North America.
Ultimately, employers want to know the “true cost” of managing their claims and this “could be the next evolution of TPA pricing,” Picone said. “Why don’t we just say, ‘Instead of paying $1,500 per claim, my whole contract is worth $1 million or $500,000.’ ”
The mountain of workers’ comp claims data that TPAs collect could help make the broader flat-fee arrangement possible, at least theoretically, because TPAs could mine the data to predict the claims management costs an employer will generate when operating in a specific region and industry, with certain employee demographics and exposure differences.
We will have to wait and see whether innovative employers and TPAs go down that path.
But additional employer options for paying workers’ comp expenses would be a good thing. And with data increasingly available to help TPAs and employers understand claims-management costs, the time is right for employers wanting pricing predictability to seek change.