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One Client’s Comparative Expense Analysis Experience

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko; MBA

[Publisher-in-Chief]

Hospital Costs

A colleague posted an interesting essay recently on his blog The Incidental Economist. Austin Frakt PhD is a health economist with an educational background in physics and engineering. After receiving a PhD in statistical and applied mathematics, he spent four years at a research and consulting firm conducting policy evaluations for various federal health agencies. Here is the post.

Link: http://theincidentaleconomist.com/index.php?s=Kaiser%2FHRET+

The Survey

In his essay, Austin reported these figures from a cited survey:

“The 2009 Kaiser/HRET employer health benefits survey found that employees pay 17% of the $4,824 annual premium for single coverage and 27% of the $13,375 annual premium for family coverage (all average figures)”.

Case Report Model

So, if the survey is correct, it got me thinking about how much a long-time client paid as a doctor-employer, when she last practiced in a certain medical group back in 2000. And, especially about how much she would be paying today if still in business with the same group. This brief case-report with comparative expense analysis [CEA} is the up-shot.

My Client’s Story

Her health insurance premium costs including doctor-partners, was about $13,500 annually, per employee. This was a sunk cost, but an above the AGI line deductible business expense to the practice and entirely employer paid as a fringe benefit [all valid corporate expenses are deductible as there is no AGI line on a business tax return]. She and her three partners were both very magnanimous to their employees, and naïve. They became virtually insolvent a few years later and were bought out by a larger medical group for a pittance. Today, they are grunt employee doctors in a 25 plus physician group practice.

My Numbers

Now, if I crunched the numbers correctly as an citizen economist, on my HP12-C calculator, using health insurance inflation rates of 3%, 5% and 7% respectively for a decade [low], she would be now be paying somewhere between $18,143 and $21,990 and $26,556 in 2010 [dangerously assuming linear economics]. Each of her 15-18 employees at the time was a female, head of household, with 1-4 dependents of their own; no singles. Her own family unit included a professional husband and young daughter in private elementary school. They were the most health conscious of the bunch.

Her Situation

So, she left the group in 2000, and we transitioned her to solo private practice with a HD-HCP indemnity-styled [better] plan that pays 100% after her $5,000, and later $10,000, deductible. She has 100% prescription drug coverage, no OB coverage and no networks, second opinions or pre-certification requirements. Today, she has more than $50-K in the savings portion [cash account earning 3.5%, tax deferred].

Her Reaction

As she just turned age 55, there as was significant jump in her family coverage premiums from about $1,350/quarter to $1,650/quarter! Of course, her carrier offered a ten percent discount to $1,485 quarter, when she pitched a fit, and completed a health and wellness survey which “they” verified.

My Intervention

So, I used my “insider” knowledge as a doctor, financial advisor and insurance agent and went back to the open market place for coverage. Her new direct halth insurance coverage [she used a non-fiduciary insurance agent intermediary previously] is better, and her premium is only $1,248/quarter or about $5,000 annually to age 58. Bye, bye insurance agent. Link:  www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com

Now, if we use the non-inflated [a conservative unlikely scenario] 27% employee premium contribution for the present value projections of $18,143 and $21,990 and $26,556 today – each employee would be responsible for about $4,898, $5,937 and $7,170 respectively [please again recall both our conservative nature and the repeat danger of linear economic assumptions].

Where Did the Money Go?

So, under the 3-5% health insurance inflation scenario, my client would have been contributing about $5,417 for her heath insurance. This is very close to what she is annually paying now! So, where did the much larger employer’s contribution portion of the money go? Probably to overhead costs, marketing, advertising, sales and commissions, HR, high-risk pool premiums, ie … down the drain?

What did my client do with the monetary difference? Well, she paid all family doctor and drug bills that were under the high-deductible threshold; some went to her annual family health club membership dues, covered extras and various “wants and nice-to-haves”, and the remainder of course, went into her savings account portion. In other words … not down the drain.

There is an additional $1.000 “catch up” savings provision for those over age 55. She paid it – to herself.

The Road Ahead – More Expensive

I informed my colleague-client that there likely will be another big premium jump when she turns 58, 60 and age 62 respectively. We will report back to ME-P readers on market competition and related health insurance pricing at that time, ceteris paribus.

Assessment

Does the competitive open marketplace find a way to reduce HI costs– sooner or later? High Deductible HealthCare Plans were launched as a temporary pilot project in 1997 and initially sold poorly. In the past few years however, there has been a boom in HD-HCPs and the pilot project was made permanent. What other HI innovations may be in the future?

Of course, President Obama was against them in his original healthcare reform plan. But, now in his weakened political position, they seem acceptable to him. So, go figure. Utility depends on political winds, not economic efficacy, I suppose. 

Conclusion

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