EP372: Step One for Employers and Unions—Get Your Data, With Cora Opsahl
Relentless Health Value™July 07, 2022
372
33:4746.39 MB

EP372: Step One for Employers and Unions—Get Your Data, With Cora Opsahl

In this healthcare podcast, I am speaking with Cora Opsahl, who directs the 32BJ Health Fund.

Be sure to catch part 2 in episode 373.

Important to know about Cora’s background is this: In previous roles, she’s worked deep in the inner workings of the healthcare industry. So, she came to 32BJ armed with a BS meter that is finely tuned, which is, unfortunately, an essential skill for anyone trying to help the patients and members relying on them to successfully navigate the healthcare industry.

So sorry to have to say that, but employers and unions, your employees and members need your help. If you do not help them, then your employees can find themselves defenseless against so many pit traps of financial toxicity and also clinical decision-making that is not made by patients and their clinicians in the service of improving patient outcomes but made by some other party in the service of financial maximization. It is really frightening what goes on in some cases.

I really appreciated this interview with Cora Opsahl, which will be two shows, this week and next week. This whole conversation has been really a big bright spot for me and will provide hope, I think, for any employer/union who is seeking ways to protect their members and patients, the ones on their plans and therefore under their aegis and whom they have a fiduciary responsibility to look out for.

It also should be a bright spot for dedicated clinicians out there suffering under the weight of moral injury because you are expected to do things that you know are not in your patient’s best interest—or not do things, as the case may be.

This whole conversation should put on notice health systems and others who have been really taking advantage of employers who are asleep at the wheel. Change is always really, really slow—until it hits a zeitgeist and then it’s not slow anymore. I just attended the MTVA (Moving to Value Alliance) in Connecticut last month, and there were 30 employers there listening and learning. I hear similar numbers from business coalitions across the country penetrating their local markets (Houston, Indiana, for example). Also, spoiler alert, upcoming conversations with Dave Chase will continue this “yeah, there’s good things happening out there” theme.

So, let’s start here with a little bit more about the 32BJ union and their Health Fund that we’ll hear about in this episode. 32BJ represents about 200,000 members. They are mostly in residential and commercial real estate—so, for example, your doormen, your maintenance workers, your security, your cleaners, amongst others. Members are in about 11 states, but a lot of them are in the New York City metro area. These union members who are in the fund work for over 5000 different employers. The 32BJ Health Fund has zero-dollar premiums. Also, employees have no premium contribution. Wowza on that point—that’s a huge benefit.

Here’s one more thing that I’m gonna say about the 32BJ Health Fund overseen by Cora Opsahl, my guest today. Let’s talk about their amazing leadership, because I do not, nor should anyone else, take exceptional leadership for granted. We have had one guest after another on this podcast who, when asked what it takes to actually attain value for plan members or attain the quadruple aim, what it takes to navigate and overcome bureaucracy and inertia, every one of those thought leaders asked the “What does it take?” question came back with the following included in their list: It takes leadership. Real leadership.

The mark of an exceptional leader is one who can conceive of a big mission statement, a goal to deliver better for their members at lower costs, and also the chops and determination to operationalize that vision.

This operationalization requires brainpower and relentless dedication to untangle the deliberate opacity that some current healthcare stakeholders absolutely rely on as a business strategy. It takes work to get to the bottom of and disarm some deliberately labyrinthine and noncompetitive contract terms.

Let me just pause for a beat on these basically egregious contract terms. Certain healthcare stakeholders seem to consider it somehow their birthright and their privilege to demand that employer and union customers sign on some pretty insane dotted lines—to the detriment of members and employees.

By the way, if anyone is thinking CAA right now, I’m right there with you. Talking about the new Consolidated Appropriations Act that went into effect late 2021, and it’s gonna take a lot of C-suite executives by surprise when they’re named in class action lawsuits. So, there is another impetus to question bad contract terms if anyone at an employer or union needs an additional reason besides the health and safety of employees and members to justify getting their healthcare house under control.

For more on the CAA, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, listen to the show with Christin Deacon (EP342).  

But as I mentioned a moment ago, we are breaking this conversation up into two power-packed episodes. This first one gets into everything that the 32BJ Health Fund does with their data. They have lots of data. They demand it. Next week’s show gets into their unprecedented decision to kick a major local health system out of their network. This decision was also a data-driven decision, but it’s a whole other conversation, which is why it is now a whole other episode.

So, besides kicking out overly expensive health systems from their network, here’s other things that 32BJ is currently doing with their data and which other employers and unions may get a few ideas from. If you have the data, you (like 32BJ) can use it to:

  • Make smart benefit decisions that are validated, not just guesses. Before you decide to do something (add a wellness program etc), be able to model it accurately for how much it will actually cost you—which, spoiler alert, is most of the time not what the vendor will estimate. You have way more data than the vendor does, so you can certainly use it to great effect in this way.
  • Make sure that the right members are being communicated with so that benefit designs are successful. As Ashleigh Gunter said in EP368, success when changing benefit designs has a lot more to do with communication than many realize.
  • Create dashboards for leadership that may show trend lines, for example, which could be very helpful to ensure that the fund doesn’t run out of money etc … little things like that.
  • Figure out how much the fund is spending on various procedures and where. There’s all this talk right now about the crazy variability of prices for the same exact service in the same local market. At one hospital, a colonoscopy could literally cost $10,000; and in another hospital—same quality, same basically everything—that same colonoscopy will be $2000 or $3000. I mean, there’s a 500% delta or something in some of these cases.
  • Ensure that if a vendor said they were going to do something, that they are actually doing it. This is especially meaningful for point solutions because of the whole squeezing the balloon thing. I can save money in a silo, and you won’t realize that those dollars are getting transferred elsewhere unless you are doing your own math. This is a big deal if you start thinking about how pharmacy benefits are typically siloed from medical benefits. So, if I’m a pharmacy benefit manager, I can talk about how much I’m saving by denying patients drugs without consideration of the medical downstream implications of that.
  • Ensure you’re not paying a bill and writing a check for more than the bill was for, which is weirdly common. There’s a whole show with Dawn Cornelis (EP285) about this.
  • 32BJ has an engineering team that is creating an app to help members navigate to great doctors with fair prices.

All of these things roll into basically three categories:

  1. Cutting wasteful spending and finding fraud
  2. Making smart benefit decisions
  3. Being able to see trends and forecast the future, which is really helpful for financial solvency etc

As Cora Opsahl says, “I think we [all can] recognize [that] you [cannot] make smart … decisions and be a fiduciary of [a] fund without having [data].”

You can learn more at 32bjhealthfundinsights.org

Cora Opsahl is the director of the 32BJ Health Fund, a self-funded plan that provides affordable, comprehensive, and innovative health coverage to 200,000 union members and their families. During her time at the Health Fund, Cora has led the implementation of multiple benefit changes: removing NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital System and physicians from the network, transitioning to a new pharmacy vendor and pharmacy group purchasing coalition, and implementing an expanded Centers of Excellence program administered by Mount Sinai Hospital System. These efforts are projected to save over $35 million in 2022. Prior to joining the 32BJ Health Fund, Cora spent 12 years with Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager. During her time there, she held a variety of roles, including Medicare Part D, strategy and acquisitions, operations, and account management.


08:55 How much data does 32BJ Health Fund have, where do they get it, and how do they use it?
10:56 How did 32BJ Health Fund successfully demand their data from 100% of their vendors?
11:45 “We feel it’s really important that we own this information ourselves.”
12:08 “It always concerns me—if a vendor doesn’t want to give you the information, what are they hiding?”
12:34 “It’s not just getting the data; it’s then using the data.”
15:44 “Without data, you’re really just taking a guess; and guesses are never gonna get you where you need to go.”
17:23 EP285 with Dawn Cornelis.
17:42 Is the cost of creating a data analytics team worth the cost savings of those data discoveries?
21:07 “The use of data has really built our knowledge.”
22:55 “It’s really important to us that as we make benefit decisions, we’re doing it smartly.”
27:34 EP358 with Wayne Jenkins, MD.
27:42 How is 32BJ Health Fund making their data knowledge actionable?
30:14 “If we can figure out how to make telehealth accessible … there may be an opportunity for telehealth … to upset some of these … monopoly systems or low-choice options.”
32:25 “It’s really easy to think that we can solve this problem through benefit design … but in the end … it’s the price.”

You can learn more at 32bjhealthfundinsights.org

Value-based care,care,digital health,employee health,employer health,health,health care,healthcare,32bj health fund,

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