Currently Viewing:
The American Journal of Managed Care October 2018
Putting the Pieces Together: EHR Communication and Diabetes Patient Outcomes
Marlon P. Mundt, PhD, and Larissa I. Zakletskaia, MA
Primary Care Physician Resource Use Changes Associated With Feedback Reports
Eva Chang, PhD, MPH; Diana S.M. Buist, PhD, MPH; Matt Handley, MD; Eric Johnson, MS; Sharon Fuller, BA; Roy Pardee, JD, MA; Gabrielle Gundersen, MPH; and Robert J. Reid, MD, PhD
From the Editorial Board: Bruce W. Sherman, MD
Bruce W. Sherman, MD
Recent Study on Site of Care Has Severe Limitations
Lucio N. Gordan, MD, and Debra Patt, MD
The Authors Respond and Stand Behind Their Findings
Yamini Kalidindi, MHA; Jeah Jung, PhD; and Roger Feldman, PhD
The Characteristics of Physician Practices Joining the Early ACOs: Looking Back to Look Forward
Stephen M. Shortell, PhD, MPH, MBA; Patricia P. Ramsay, MPH; Laurence C. Baker, PhD; Michael F. Pesko, PhD; and Lawrence P. Casalino, MD, PhD
Nudging Physicians and Patients With Autopend Clinical Decision Support to Improve Diabetes Management
Laura Panattoni, PhD; Albert Chan, MD, MS; Yan Yang, PhD; Cliff Olson, MBA; and Ming Tai-Seale, PhD, MPH
Medicare Underpayment for Diabetes Prevention Program: Implications for DPP Suppliers
Amanda S. Parsons, MD; Varna Raman, MBA; Bronwyn Starr, MPH; Mark Zezza, PhD; and Colin D. Rehm, PhD
Clinical Outcomes and Healthcare Use Associated With Optimal ESRD Starts
Peter W. Crooks, MD; Christopher O. Thomas, MD; Amy Compton-Phillips, MD; Wendy Leith, MS, MPH; Alvina Sundang, MBA; Yi Yvonne Zhou, PhD; and Linda Radler, MBA
Medicare Savings From Conservative Management of Low Back Pain
Alan M. Garber, MD, PhD; Tej D. Azad, BA; Anjali Dixit, MD; Monica Farid, BS; Edward Sung, BS, BSE; Daniel Vail, BA; and Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD
CMS HCC Risk Scores and Home Health Patient Experience Measures
Hsueh-Fen Chen, PhD; J. Mick Tilford, PhD; Fei Wan, PhD; and Robert Schuldt, MA
An Early Warning Tool for Predicting at Admission the Discharge Disposition of a Hospitalized Patient
Nicholas Ballester, PhD; Pratik J. Parikh, PhD; Michael Donlin, MSN, ACNP-BC, FHM; Elizabeth K. May, MS; and Steven R. Simon, MD, MPH
Currently Reading
Gatekeeping and Patterns of Outpatient Care Post Healthcare Reform
Michael L. Barnett, MD, MS; Zirui Song, MD, PhD; Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH; Sherri Rose, PhD; and Bruce E. Landon, MD, MBA, MSc

Gatekeeping and Patterns of Outpatient Care Post Healthcare Reform

Michael L. Barnett, MD, MS; Zirui Song, MD, PhD; Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH; Sherri Rose, PhD; and Bruce E. Landon, MD, MBA, MSc
Is specialist “gatekeeping” in modern health maintenance organization (HMO) insurance associated with differences in outpatient care? The study finds that HMO gatekeeping may meaningfully reduce specialist utilization.
ABSTRACT

Objectives: As US healthcare spending increases, insurers are focusing attention on decreasing potentially avoidable specialist care. Little recent research has assessed whether the design of modern health maintenance organization (HMO) insurance is associated with lower utilization of outpatient specialty care versus less restrictive preferred provider organization (PPO) plans.

Study Design: Observational study of Massachusetts residents aged 21 to 64 years with any HMO or PPO insurance coverage from 2010 to 2013.

Methods: We examined rates and patterns of primary care visits, new specialist visits, and specialist spending among HMO versus PPO enrollees. We estimated multivariable regression models for each outcome, adjusting for patient and insurance characteristics.

Results: From 2010 to 2013, 546,397 and 295,427 individuals had continuous HMO or PPO coverage, respectively. HMO patients had fewer annual new specialist visits per member versus PPO patients (unadjusted, 0.37 vs 0.43), a difference after adjustment of 0.05 annual visits, or a 12% relative decrease among HMO members (P <.001). These visits were more likely to be with a specialist in the same health system as the patient’s primary care physician (44.9% vs 40.7%; adjusted difference, 2.8 percentage points; P <.001). Mean annual spending on new specialist visits and subsequent follow-up per member was lower in HMO versus PPO patients (unadjusted, $104.10 vs $128.10), translating to 12% lower annual spending (adjusted difference, –$16.26; P <.001).

Conclusions: Having HMO insurance was associated with lower rates of new specialist visits and lower spending on specialist visits, and these visits were less likely to occur across multiple health systems. The impact of this change on overall spending and clinical outcomes remains unknown.

Am J Manag Care. 2018;24(10):e312-e318
Takeaway Points

Is specialist “gatekeeping” in modern health maintenance organization (HMO) insurance associated with differences in outpatient patterns of care?
  • Compared with preferred provider organization insurance, HMO insurance was associated with lower rates of new specialist visits.
  • These visits were less likely to occur across multiple health systems.
  • HMO insurance was also associated with 12% lower specialist visit spending, which was largely driven by lower use, not lower price.
HMO gatekeeping may meaningfully reduce specialist utilization, although the impact of this change on overall spending and clinical outcomes remains unknown.
The majority of private health insurance options in the United States fall into 1 of 2 broad categories: preferred provider organization (PPO) plans and health maintenance organization (HMO) plans. PPO plans generally have broadly inclusive physician networks with little barrier to self-referral, whereas lower-premium HMO plans generally have less inclusive networks and rely on provider-facing managed care strategies, such as requiring primary care physicians (PCPs) to approve referrals to access specialists (ie, “gatekeeping”).1,2 As of 2014, across the United States, HMO insurance products accounted for 24% of enrollment in the employer-sponsored insurance market, whereas PPO products accounted for nearly 50% of the market.3 In Massachusetts, the setting for this analysis, HMO insurance was 39% of the commercial market, with an additional 19% with point-of-service (POS) coverage and 37% with PPO coverage in 2016.4 One concept underpinning the provider-facing strategies used by HMOs is that PCPs can reduce the use of low-value specialty care and ensuing downstream utilization by either treating a condition in the primary care setting or directing specialty referrals to higher-value providers within their health system. This is in contrast to the consumer-facing cost-control strategies seen in PPO plans that may impose higher cost sharing but retain open provider choice and access at the discretion of the enrollee.5,6

In general, HMO plans require enrollees to identify a PCP to help direct their downstream utilization. Conceptually and empirically, a single PCP with overall responsibility for a patient’s care could lead to better-coordinated care while reducing potentially avoidable outpatient specialist referrals.7,8 Such gatekeeping arrangements, however, can also create problems for both patients and PCPs when disagreements arise over whether a specialist is needed.

The extent to which such gatekeeping affects specialist utilization or costs has mixed results in studies that are largely more than 15 years old.9-15 Little recent research has assessed whether the design of modern HMO insurance is associated with lower utilization of outpatient specialty care compared with modern PPO plans. Moreover, broadly understanding the effect of insurance design on specialty utilization across a large heterogeneous payer market is an important policy-relevant question recently made feasible through the availability of statewide all-payer claims databases (APCDs).

We used the Massachusetts APCD to examine the association between insurance design and outpatient care utilization patterns in multiple HMO and PPO arrangements. In Massachusetts, the primary distinction between HMO and PPO plans relates to gatekeeping requirements (ie, a referral requires PCP approval), in contrast to the existence of “closed-model” HMOs like Kaiser Permanente (ie, regardless of PCP approval, referrals outside the internal network are largely unavailable), which do not currently have market share in the state. We hypothesized that HMO enrollment would be associated with more PCP visits and fewer new specialist visits, with a larger share of specialty care received within the PCP’s health system.

METHODS

Data Source and Study Population

The Massachusetts APCD contains detailed data on healthcare utilization, insurance eligibility, and provider credentialing across all commercial payers and public health insurance programs in Massachusetts, representing approximately 90% of the nonelderly population in Massachusetts.16,17

Our study cohort included all Massachusetts residents aged 21 to 64 years who had 4 calendar years of continuous enrollment with any commercial HMO or PPO product from an APCD-participating commercial insurance provider from 2010 to 2013; public insurance was not included. We focused on members with this length of continuous enrollment because we were interested in the long-term association between HMO or PPO membership and specialist use among patients with stable benefit design. Enrollees may change from an HMO to a PPO plan or vice versa because of their plans for specialist use, which we wanted to reduce as a source of bias. We did not include children given the unique characteristics of the pediatric healthcare market in the state. The key exposure of interest was whether an individual was a continuous member of an HMO versus a PPO product, as defined by the insurer submitting data in the APCD member eligibility file. These designations are used by the insurers themselves to distinguish HMO from PPO plans for administering health plan benefits and requirements. We defined an HMO product as any product designated as HMO or POS (9.6% of all members, or 15.2% of HMO members in the final study sample), which have very similar benefit designs among the large insurers in Massachusetts.18 PPO products were defined as those with a designation of PPO or exclusive provider organization (EPO; 1.5% of all members, or 4.3% of PPO members in the final study sample), which have similar flexibility to PPO plans.19 We used diagnoses from all outpatient and inpatient claims in 2010 to measure baseline comorbidities for risk adjustment. We then performed cross-sectional analyses that focused on the period from 2011 to 2013. We defined continuous enrollment as 11 or more months of insurance coverage in a year, such that those with a short period of discontinuous enrollment, often due to an administrative error, were not excluded from the analyses. This project was approved by the Committee on Human Subjects at Harvard Medical School.


 
Copyright AJMC 2006-2019 Clinical Care Targeted Communications Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
x
Welcome the the new and improved AJMC.com, the premier managed market network. Tell us about yourself so that we can serve you better.
Sign Up