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$375 billion wasted on billing and insurance paperwork

Billing and insurance-related administrative costs in United States’ health care: synthesis of micro-costing evidence

By Aliya Jiwani, David Himmelstein, Steffie Woolhandler and James G Kahn
BMC Health Services Research, Online November 13, 2014

Abstract

Background: The United States’ multiple-payer health care system requires substantial effort and costs for administration, with billing and insurance-related (BIR) activities comprising a large but incompletely characterized proportion. A number of studies have quantified BIR costs for specific health care sectors, using micro-costing techniques. However, variation in the types of payers, providers, and BIR activities across studies complicates estimation of system-wide costs. Using a consistent and comprehensive definition of BIR (including both public and private payers, all providers, and all types of BIR activities), we synthesized and updated available micro-costing evidence in order to estimate total and added BIR costs for the U.S. health care system in 2012.

Methods: We reviewed BIR micro-costing studies across healthcare sectors. For physician practices, hospitals, and insurers, we estimated the % BIR using existing research and publicly reported data, re-calculated to a standard and comprehensive definition of BIR where necessary. We found no data on % BIR in other health services or supplies settings, so extrapolated from known sectors. We calculated total BIR costs in each sector as the product of 2012 U.S. national health expenditures and the percentage of revenue used for BIR. We estimated “added” BIR costs by comparing total BIR costs in each sector to those observed in existing, simplified financing systems (Canada’s single payer system for providers, and U.S. Medicare for insurers). Due to uncertainty in inputs, we performed sensitivity analyses.

Results: BIR costs in the U.S. health care system totaled approximately $471 ($330 – $597) billion in 2012. This includes $70 ($54 – $76) billion in physician practices, $74 ($58 – $94) billion in hospitals, an estimated $94 ($47 – $141) billion in settings providing other health services and supplies, $198 ($154 – $233) billion in private insurers, and $35 ($17 – $52) billion in public insurers. Compared to simplified financing, $375 ($254 – $507) billion, or 80%, represents the added BIR costs of the current multi-payer system.

Conclusions: A simplified financing system in the U.S. could result in cost savings exceeding $350 billion annually, nearly 15% of health care spending.

From the Discussion

Eliminating added BIR costs of $375 billion per year (14.7% of US health care spending) would provide resources to extend and improve insurance coverage, within current expenditure levels. Since uninsured individuals have utilization of about 50% of insured individuals, the current 15% uninsured could be covered with roughly half of the $375 billion. Remaining savings could be applied to improved coverage for those already insured.

http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/s12913-014-0556-7.pdf

PNHP release:  $375 billion wasted on billing and health insurance-related paperwork annually: study
http://www.pnhp.org/news/2015/january/375-billion-wasted-on-billing-and-health-insurance-related-paperwork-annually-stud

Comment:

By Don McCanne, M.D.

Previous studies have demonstrated the waste of billing and insurance-related functions in health care in United States. This study refines and unifies the estimates of these costs and shows how much could be recovered if we were to switch to a simplified financing system such as Canada’s single payer system for providers, and U.S. Medicare for insurers. The $375 billion recovered would be enough to cover the uninsured and bring the coverage for the underinsured up to standard.

The PDF of the full study is available through open access at the biomedcentral link above. It should be filed under landmark articles in every health policy library.