The Impact of the Health Insurance Marketplace on Healthcare - Saint Mary's University of Minnesota Skip to Main Content

2024 Minneapolis Graduate Commencement information and livestream
First year students submit deposit here

Go Back

The Impact of the Health Insurance Marketplace on Healthcare

December 21, 2016

University Services HHSA

The uncertainty and complexity of healthcare post-Obama and the transformation of the health insurance marketplace are undeniably affecting the healthcare industry—one that health administrators need to understand if their organizations will stay in business. The health industry’s business practices are transitioning from a growing number of insured people to changing financial models. Ryan Johnson, an operations administrator at Mayo Clinic and an instructor in the Master of Arts in Healthcare Administration at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, explains that more patients with health insurance seeking care are impacting the system, as are changing financial models.

“There are a number of rapidly changing initiatives that are starting to play out,” says Johnson. “It’s such a critical component for organizations to really keep their finger on the pulse because of how impactful it is to operating margins.”

Lower Reimbursement Rates

One significant impact has been the way the ACA has affected reimbursement. Many previously uninsured patients signed up for plans through the exchange markets or became newly eligible for Medicaid, providing them coverage. Still, those options don’t reimburse healthcare organizations for services nearly as much as commercial plans do. “This area is probably a top three priority for healthcare executives on how it will shape revenues and margins and how to respond,” says Johnson.

Declining reimbursement rates also change the way contracts for coverage are being negotiated. Some healthcare organizations aggressively negotiate based on their high value and quality to justify higher rates, while others try to compete by working to drive down costs. In addition, some insurers offer programs requiring healthcare providers to meet specific standards, after which they become preferred providers for various treatments and care. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Blue Distinction and Center of Excellence are programs that qualify providers to offer specialized care for their customers.

Ready to Advance Your Career?

Pursue your degree in Master of Healthcare Administration at the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota online to advance your health and human services career.

Changing Financial Models for Changing Needs

The health industry is moving away from a fee-for-service model, which rewards higher volumes of tests with more reimbursement, toward a value-based model that focuses more on population-based health and preventative care. Johnson gives the example of a community of 100,000 people, where an organization is responsible for 60,000. Each member would pay a fee—perhaps $5,000 per patient yearly. The organization would be responsible for managing the care of those 60,000 people within that total budget. “The idea behind it is great—less utilization, lower costs overall, it would drive down the burden on government programs and hopefully incentivize healthier behaviors that would lower the rate for medication and hospitalization.”

While it is widely believed that the new model will eventually bring down costs, “Organizations are reluctant to move from fee for service since it’s a known reimbursement model as far as what kind of margins you can drive,” says Johnson. “Today, surgeons and specialists drive all of the revenue and margin, and they are a focal point from a recruitment and retention perspective. Whereas in population health, especially in a community setting, primary care becomes almost like the quarterback of the system.”

The population-based model also poses a highly complicated shift due to many moving parts, such as diverse populations, organizations of different sizes with their systems, different ways of managing and treating disease, changing laws and regulations, and hundreds of other factors.

Accountable Care Organizations and Bundled Care

Healthcare organizations are trying a couple of different models to keep costs down. First, accountable care organizations (ACOs) are healthcare providers joining to provide coordinated, high-quality care to Medicare patients. Coordinated care helps to avoid the unnecessary duplication of services as well as costly medical errors. When ACOs succeed in doing this and managing their spending, they share with Medicare in the savings.

Bundled care is generally reserved for acute care situations involving surgeries such as spinal surgery or hip replacement. A flat overall payment is negotiated. The healthcare organization then is responsible for managing that payment and working to ensure a positive outcome that avoids expensive readmissions or complications. Other organizations are merging with or acquiring other organizations to form networks or partnerships to secure a more significant marketing share for their services.

The Growing Value of Data

While it is notoriously difficult to figure out how much healthcare treatments cost, that is slowly changing—at least for insurers. Johnson notes that insurers use healthcare data to show the relationship between costs and outcomes, putting pressure on hospitals and medical networks to leverage their data more effectively. Johnson notes that in Minnesota, the costs for various procedures and services at area healthcare organizations such as the Mayo Clinic and Allina Health are published, which means the companies with the higher costs are often called on to justify them with insurers. But while costs are one concern of healthcare administrators looking at analytics, there are other reasons to gather and analyze the data, says Johnson: “As an organization, we’re a lot more focused on how we capture the complexity of our patients and the outcomes.” Johnson admits that the current situation is chaotic as healthcare organizations and insurers grapple with many changes and try to implement new solutions. But ultimately, he thinks the move from fee-for-service to a model that rewards the combination of quality care with financial management will be successful. “There’s an opportunity for all organizations to provide the same level of care at a lower cost,” Johnson says.

To learn more about how changes in the health insurance marketplace impact healthcare administrators’ decisions, request information or call 877-308-9954 to speak with an enrollment counselor today about the online Master of Arts in Healthcare Administration degree from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.