A side effect of COVID-19, disrupted contract updates between health insurance payers and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) have created a new normal for negotiations. For ASCs, leveraging a thorough understanding of the pandemic business realities for both payers and providers is more critical than ever as the industry recovers.
“Payer resources have been intently focused on their provider networks capacity to manage COVID — whether it was ensuring enough beds or ventilators, teleconference access, physicians’ capabilities, or testing,” says Andrea Woodell, Vice President of Managed Care at Regent RCM. “The virus caused a seismic shift in the payers’ focus. Naturally, we lost momentum in our ASC contract negotiations. Now, 12-16 weeks into it, we’re picking up the discussions again.”
As contract talks resume, Woodell shares observations to keep ASCs’ negotiations focused on the facts:
- Costs, But Also Savings: While payers have incurred some new costs due to the pandemic, they also have realized savings that balance out those costs. “The decline in elective cases has resulted in substantial savings for health plans. As a negotiator, we should incorporate the savings which offset new COVID expenses,” Woodell says.
- Shifting Payer Mix:COVID-19 has forced a change in payer mix that should be addressed in negotiations. Says Woodell: “Because of COVID, there are 40 million people unemployed now. We’re going to see a spike in uninsured, an increase in Exchange coverage, an increase in Medicaid, and especially in metropolitan areas, we’ll see some commercial coverage migrating from PPO and HMO plans to a lower-paying Exchange product. The impact of these payer mix changes, if not offset during negotiations, would decrease ASC reimbursement for surgeries.”
- A Better Site of Care: Woodell says the benefits of moving procedures to the ASC setting have never been clearer. ASCs afford Medicare patients 55% savings over the same procedure at a hospital. And, with hospital space and priorities stretched by COVID, the advantages of a separate location for elective surgeries become even more important and valuable. “I think it’s important to include in negotiations what the spend would be on their managed Medicare product for an HOPD setting versus your ASC setting,” she explains. “Use that. If I have both a managed Medicare product and a commercial product with a certain payer, I quantify the amount saved by moving the case to an ASC versus HOPD setting. We know the Medicare population does not want to go to the hospital right now, and they are unlikely to go there due to COVID. A shift in site of service is great for the payers, but often leaves the ASC unprofitable. My goal is to demonstrate the saving on their managed Medicare lives and shift some of that savings to the commercial cases It is a fair and logical discussion to support long-term success of both the ASCs and the health plans”
Finally, Woodell predicts ASCs will see a quick uptick in volume as things reopen, followed by a plateau or decline as the industry satisfies demand that was put on hold. “The volume will come, but it’s going to come back slowly. In terms of reimbursement and payer contract negotiations short term, if we push the money will be there. ASCs’ value should be recognized and rewarded.”
For more information on managing ASC payer contracts, contact Woodell here.