A unique self-insured option for employers

It’s no secret that health care pricing varies widely and has a direct impact to the bottom line for employers of all types and sizes.

As health care costs continue to increase, employers have sought innovative and creative strategies to lower expenses. One strategy, which has gained momentum, is referenced-based pricing (RBP). The RBP approach typically doesn’t involve a traditional insurance company or provider network negotiating covered services for the health plan. Instead, RBP sets limits on the amount a plan will pay for certain medical services.

Smart Business spoke to Michael Galardini, director of sales at JRG Advisors, to break down how RBP works and whether it might be right for you.

How does RBP work with health plans?

RBP sets limits on the amount a health plan pays for procedures or services performed in hospitals and free-standing surgical centers without the use of a PPO network. For physician charges, a national PPO platform is utilized. The limits are based on a percentage above the amount that Medicare pays, which is based on the cost that each facility files with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The limits are selected by employers in consultation with their benefits advisor, to provide a reasonable and fair profit to the provider. A good RBP model considers both Medicare reimbursement and the actual cost to deliver the service; and adds a fair profit margin for the provider.

If the employee is balance billed for the difference, the RBP provider assigns legal counsel to the employee, at no cost, including defending the RBP payment in court.

Employers often partner with a third party administrator (TPA) to establish the best limits for a given medical procedure. The TPA helps conduct market research and negotiate the most appropriate deals with providers. Finding a reliable TPA, which works well with your company and the RBP provider, is crucial for negotiating the best price for your employees.

What are the advantages of using RBP?

Because there is no assigned network for hospitals and surgical centers, covered individuals may seek treatment at any facility they desire. RBP generally provides anywhere from 60 percent to 70 percent savings from billed medical charges. Typical PPOs only provide 40 percent to 50 percent from billed charges.

Hospital billed charges are taken from a charge master that each hospital maintains. The charge master is a list of the retail price of services that the facility charges for patients without insurance, or network discounts. The charge master changes from time to time, however, generally the charges are about 800 percent to 1,000 percent above the amount that Medicare pays the facility. Even after PPO discounts are applied, employer health plans are paying 400 percent to 500 percent above the amount that Medicare pays.

Are there any drawbacks to RBP?

Given the complexity of RBP, employers and employees need to carefully consider a number of things and be properly educated on how RBP will work for their employees. It is vital to work with a trusted partner that is reliable and experienced in the RBP process.

Furthermore, not using an experienced partner (and its legal advocacy) could potentially leave you and your employees vulnerable to providers attempting to balance bills. While the potential for payment disputes between employers, participants and health care providers always exists over RBP, there has been little RBP litigation to date. Litigation is always a potential threat to both the employer and employees, but disagreements over these issues are typically resolved by negotiation.

RBP can be an innovative strategy for lowering health care costs. As the market continues to evolve, employers are seeking cost reductions. The RBP option is unique in its ability to potentially reduce costs and create informed consumers. Is your business ready to investigate this innovative approach?

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors