Giving health-care providers a lump sum payment for certain treatments – touted as a way to save money and improve coordination of care — yielded disappointing results for some major California hospitals and insurers, a study found.
The RAND Corp. study, funded by a $2.9-million federal grant, looked at “bundled payments” for care of insured orthopedic patients under 65 at a handful of large hospitals and insurers in California.
Six of the state’s biggest insurers and eight hospitals started out in a pilot program in 2010, but only three insurers and two hospitals actually decided to enter contracts to adopt bundled payments. The others dropped out because they didn’t think bundled care, such procedures as total knee replacement surgery, would change the delivery of care significantly or lower costs, according to the study, published in the journal Health Affairs Monday.
The pilot project resulted in such a small number of hospital cases that it was hard to draw conclusions about how bundled payments affect health care quality or costs, which were the initial goals of the study, the researchers reported. Two ambulatory surgery centers managed to partner with an insurance company and had a higher volume of cases, but generally health plans have been slow to contract with them, the study found.
“That was unexpected,” said Susan Ridgely, the lead author of the study and a senior policy analyst at RAND, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank. “They were a bit more flexible and also wanted the business, but hospitals began to see that it required too much time and effort or maybe that it was not in their best interest.”
Under bundled payments, doctors, hospitals and other health providers share a fixed payment that covers the average cost of a “bundle” of services – caring for a person with a hip replacement, for instance.
Hospital and payer incentives were sometimes at odds. It’s in the best interest of doctors and hospitals, for example, to limit bundles to the lowest-risk patients. Also, to keep costs down and maximize profits, they want to shorten the period during which the bundled payment covers treatment. Insurers, on the other hand, want providers to treat a diverse population of patients for as long — and for as little money — as possible.