Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The numbers are all approximately the same

Cigna Carelink is a problematic arrangement between Cigna and Tufts Health Plan. All medical claims go to Cigna. For claims in most states, Cigna uses Cigna’s network and Cigna’s pricing. For claims from Massachusetts providers, Cigna uses Tufts Health Plan’s network and Tufts Health Plan’s pricing. So the claim comes in to Cigna, Cigna sends it to Tufts Health Plan to process and assign a price, and then Cigna gets the relevant info back from Tufts Health Plan and Cigna generates the EOB and sends payment.

As a Cigna Carelink customer, I can only talk to Cigna. I cannot talk to Tufts Health Plan.

Tufts Health Plan has just priced a simple claim for us three times. The billed amount was $156.00 for seeing a doctor. The first two times, Tufts Health Plan priced the claim at $90.59. The third time, Tufts Health Plan priced the claim at $138.54.

When you provide the same input, you should get the same output. This is a single claim, with no change in the patient, health care plan, date of service, location of service, provider ID, procedure code, or diagnosis code. Why are the numbers changing?

This is not the first time I’ve seen erratic pricing and processing by Tufts Health Plan. I called Cigna today and asked why the pricing by Tufts Health Plan seems to be assigning random numbers. The supervisor I spoke with at Cigna said that the pricing from Tufts Health Plan is random. Too bad we weren’t on a recorded line.

Cigna cannot speak directly to Tufts Health Plan about pricing. When Cigna sends a query to Tufts Health Plan pointing out pricing problems or processing problems, the only response they have ever received from Tufts Health Plan has been “the claim processed correctly.” Tufts Health Plan has never admitted a mistake, has never acknowledged a difference in how they are processing identical claims for different dates of service, has never even acknowledged a difference in how they are processing the same claim when they process it a second or third time. The answer is $90.59. The answer is $138.54. The answer is correct, regardless of which answer it is.

Cigna claims they cannot audit the pricing from Tufts Health Plan, because they have no way to see any of the numbers themselves. They simply have to trust that it’s correct, and in turn assure us that it’s correct. Even when it clearly isn’t.

This is separate from how the pricing interacts with our deductible and our out-of-pocket maximum. That part happens after the pricing, as part of deciding how much we pay and how much Cigna pays.

Would you get away with this at your job? Provide an arbitrary answer, change the answer whenever you feel like it, and refuse to answer any questions about it?

Cigna claims that they offer this arrangement because Tufts Health Plan has a wider network in Massachusetts, and because Tufts Health Plan gets better pricing in Massachusetts. We haven’t personally run into any providers who are in-network for Tufts Health Plan and out-of-network for Cigna, and on the rare occasion that Cigna has been willing to look up their own pricing for a claim to compare it to the Tufts Health Plan pricing, the Cigna pricing has been comparable or cheaper. So why are they really doing this?

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