Assessing Responses to Increased Provider Consolidation in Six Markets: Final Report

Source: Sabrina Corlette, Jack Hoadley, Katie Keith, and Olivia Hoppe, October 2019

From the press release:
Most employers are implementing few, if any, changes to their health plans for the 2020 plan year. That’s not surprising – employers are generally reluctant to make big or abrupt adjustments to provider networks or cost-sharing that could cause pushback from employees. But many health care experts believe that if we’re ever to truly tackle out-of-control health care costs in this country, the employer community needs to take the lead.

A newly released report from Georgetown CHIR finds, however, that there are significant challenges facing insurers and employers who seek to constrain the rising provider prices that have driven the annual family premium above $20,000 this year. In six market-level, qualitative case studies, we examined strategies that private insurance companies and employer-purchasers use to limit health care costs and how these strategies are affected by increased provider consolidation. We focused on the following mid-sized health care markets, all of which had recently experienced some kind of provider consolidation activity:

Detroit, Michigan
Syracuse, New York
Northern Virginia
Indianapolis, Indiana
Asheville, North Carolina
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Across the six markets, we found:
Hospitals are empire-building. Hospitals’ motivations for consolidation are similar, with stakeholders reporting a pursuit of greater market share and a desire to increase their negotiating leverage with payers to demand higher reimbursement.

Payers have tools to constrain cost growth, but they lack the incentive and ability to deploy them effectively. While payers in our markets identified several cost containment strategies such as narrow networks and provider-payer partnerships, all come with downsides. Furthermore, some third-party administrators for self-insured employers actually have incentives to keep provider prices high when they’re paid a percentage of the overall cost of the plan.

Employers’ tools to control costs are limited. Employers are frustrated with existing strategies to reduce cost growth such as the exclusion of certain providers or higher deductibles in the face of employee dissatisfaction and limited evidence of savings. However, emerging strategies that could be more effective may be challenging for many employers to implement, and employers lack access to basic data to inform their efforts.

Public policy strategies have had limited effectiveness. Anti-trust and other policies to limit the ill-effects of consolidation have had a limited impact in our study markets, but there are nascent state-level efforts to push back on provider prices that are worth watching.