You’re Doing it Wrong in Care Management

An important paper recently released in the American Journal of Managed Care shattered the notion that care management can save money on high utilizers. The article reviewed recent studies of the effectiveness of health plan care management programs and found that, while many studies show significant savings, more rigorous studies concluded that savings were “limited or nonexistent.”  Mind. Blown.

We’re all familiar with the “80/20 rule” of the commercial health insurance market: 20% of members account for 80% of expenditures.  In government programs, Medicaid, Medicare, and now ObamaCare, it’s the “5/60” rule: 5% of members account for 60% of spending.  The AJMC article showed that across all payers in 2012, it’s “5/50“.  95% of the population accounted for just half of health spending, while the other half of spending was towards care for 5% of the population. The 5% of people needing to spend the most on health care spend an average of around $43,000 annually; people in the top 1% have average spending of almost $98,000. At the other end of the spectrum, the 50% of the population with the lowest spending accounted for less than 3% of all total health spending; the average spending for this group was $234.

The article then explored multiple studies on effectiveness of care management, concluding it’s mostly pointless.  It gave several reasons for why this might occur:

  • Many high-utilizers only stay in this category for a short period of time. Conditions causing them to need intensive care may resolve quickly, reducing costs, but a study lacking a control group may inappropriately attribute this savings to the care management program.
  • High utilizers suffer from a wide range of conditions and require a wide range of interventions, making it difficult for care management programs to tailor teams meeting each patient’s needs.
  • Providers working with a care management team may better identify conditions that were previously going untreated, leading to better outcomes, but also higher costs for additional services and therapies.

The author concluded that “for care management programs focusing on high-utilizing patients, it is crucial to select patients with long-term utilization patterns that are driven by the factors most conducive to change. Given the very limited direct evidence suggesting how to accomplish this, care management programs are best served by being kept small and focused on the highest-need patients, who may not necessarily be current high utilizers.”

This finding calls for a rethinking across our industry about care management.  For one thing, most health plans in our 19 years’ experience are still doing 1990s-style managed care: preauthorizations, referrals, concurrent review — what we refer to as “make work” medical management.  It’s look busy, high head-count work that does little to improve quality or reduce unnecessary spending.

Many GHG clients have been working with us to modernize this approach into data-driven care coordination “pods” providing a holistic model of care focused on high utilizers and those about to become them.  This study means we need to recommit to data analytics identifying and directing the work of care managers toward those beneficiaries with long-term needs that can be impacted.  This means greater emphasis on preventable episodes of care, and on end-of-life care preferences, advance directives and care plans. If you take the top 5% of the membership that is incurring the most cost and provide complex care management, including a higher level of home care, hospital diversion, medication therapy management, nutrition counseling, and wound care, plans and their provider organizations will see a reduction in avoidable medical expenses.

Savings can also be realized if that membership is appropriately placed in the right plan with the right network. Care Management might not be the answer but applicable coverage is a strategy. That’s where plan and benefit design is so important. Innovative plans are working with specialists to design products that reflect risk and chronic conditions of their members.  Our work with a prominent dialysis and kidney care provider is a perfect example: design a benefit and align a network that is tailored to patients with varying levels of chronic kidney disease, preventing disease progression and/or avoidable costs traditionally seen if CKD is not managed along the disease state continuum.  Progressive conditions like CKD, Alzheimer’s, and many cancers lend themselves well to “smart management” that spans clinical staff and benefit design alike.

The one thing you know about government beneficiaries is that if they’re not sick today, they’re gonna be.  The game has always been finding the ones who need extraordinary care before they need it, and ensuring they get it in the right place, at the right time, from the right provider.  That hasn’t changed.  This study underscores the point.  “Make work” care management must give way to “make it work”.



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