Meet the Middleman’s Middleman – KFF Health News

Dan Weissmann

Some individuals who anticipated their medical health insurance to cowl some out-of-network care have been getting caught with huge payments.

One Kansas City, Kansas, couple paid hundreds of {dollars} out-of-pocket and up-front for care. They anticipated to get a partial reimbursement from their insurer. So, they had been shocked when as an alternative they received a invoice saying they owed much more than what they’d already paid.

It seems, a little-known information agency referred to as MultiPlan was working with their insurance coverage firm to counsel cuts to their protection. MulitPlan says it’s serving to management ballooning well being care prices by protecting hospitals and suppliers from overbilling. But it’s usually sufferers left paying the distinction.In this episode of “An Arm and a Leg,” host Dan Weissmann breaks down this complicated world of out-of-network care with New York Times reporter Chris Hamby, who not too long ago revealed an investigation into MultiPlan.

Dan Weissmann


Host and producer of “An Arm and a Leg.” Previously, Dan was a workers reporter for Marketplace and Chicago’s WBEZ. His work additionally seems on All Things Considered, Marketplace, the BBC, 99 Percent Invisible, and Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting.


Emily Pisacreta

Claire Davenport

Adam Raymonda
Audio wizard

Ellen Weiss

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Transcript: Meet the Middleman’s Middleman

Note: “An Arm and a Leg” makes use of speech-recognition software program to generate transcripts, which can comprise errors. Please use the transcript as a software however test the corresponding audio earlier than quoting the podcast.

Dan: Hey there! Paul and Kristin stay in Kansas City with their two children. Kristin and their daughter, the older child– they’ve some advanced medical points, have to see some specialised people. And a few of these people don’t take Kristin and Paul’s insurance coverage. They’re “out of network,” so Kristin and Paul pay out of pocket– rather a lot. Maybe $20,000 a yr. BUT their medical health insurance plan does reimburse some out-of-network care. 

o, in January 2023, Kristin referred to as a assist line related with the insurance coverage plan to learn how that was gonna work. 

Kristin H: They principally mentioned, certain, straightforward peasy, you pay and then you definately get on-line and also you click on this way, you present what you paid, after which we ship you a test and reimburse you. 

Dan: Kristin was on it. She constructed an entire spreadsheet to trace each invoice she paid, each reimbursement kind she’d submitted. And she waited for the checks. The insurance coverage firm gave itself months simply to course of the claims. And after they lastly despatched statements, the statements appeared … bizarre. They had been like: 

Kristin H: Here’s what you paid, and right here’s your reductions, and right here’s what chances are you’ll owe. 

Dan: And Kristin was like … what? 

Kristin H: Because I used to be pondering, nicely, I don’t owe something. We paid out of pocket, however then I used to be pondering, nicely, this should be the portion that they’re paying us again. But then the mathematics didn’t add up. 

Dan: Yeah. Not in any respect. Kristin was anticipating to get 50 p.c again, like her plan mentioned she would. But this quantity wasn’t something like 50 p.c. And what’s this “discount” enterprise? 

It took months– and a number of digging from Paul, and in the end a chat with a NewYork Times reporter– earlier than Kristin and Paul understood what was occurring, and why it was costing them hundreds of {dollars}. 

What they didn’t know till that New York Times story got here out was: Someone was making a multi-billion greenback enterprise out of experiences like theirs. As that story made clear, LOTS of people that anticipated their insurance coverage to cowl them for costly out-of-network care ended up on the hook for lots greater than they’d anticipated. 

That story launched readers to a personality who’s change into type of a TYPE on this present. Not a kind of particular person, however a kind of enterprise: A intermediary that works behind the scenes with insurance coverage firms. So we’ve seen that dynamic with pharmacy profit managers– the parents who determine what medication you may get and for a way a lot– and extra not too long ago, we checked out an organization that makes use of an algorithm to justify kicking people out of nursing houses. The intermediary on this New York Times story was an organization referred to as MultiPlan. 

Reporter Chris Hamby discovered MultiPlan and insurance coverage firms they labored with had been leaving sufferers on the hook for enormous quantities that they completely had not anticipated to pay. MultiPlan was additionally, together with these insurance coverage firms, pocketing massive charges. That story received some people’ consideration. A U.S. Senator has referred to as for motion from antitrust regulators. Those regulators may get . And we might wanna egg them on– so we’re gonna want to grasp the entire scheme. Whothis intermediary is– MultiPlan– and the way they received themselves in the course of 60 million individuals’s medical health insurance, by their very own estimate … and the way they make some huge cash. 

This is An Arm and a Leg, a present about why well being care prices so freaking a lot, and what we are able to perhaps do about it. I’m Dan Weissmann. I’m a reporter, and I like a problem. So, our job on this present is to take some of the enraging, terrifying, miserable elements of American life– and convey you a present that’s entertaining, empowering, and helpful. 

And this time, I’ve received assist. 

Chris Hamby: My title is Chris Hamby. I’m a reporter on the investigations desk on the New York Times. 

Dan: Yeah, and naturally, Chris is the one who spent months determining the story of this intermediary firm, MultiPlan. 

Chris Hamby: I used to be poking round quite a few areas associated to medical health insurance, and this title simply stored arising. 

Dan: Like in lawsuits. 

Chris Hamby: And it wasn’t at all times terribly clear what they did precisely or how they had been compensated. 

Dan: Or how medical doctors and sufferers– common individuals– had been affected. 

Chris Hamby: So that’s why I made a decision to try to determine this out, and it’s form of an opaque area as so many areas of well being care are as of late. 

Dan: Yeah. In truth, as a way to perceive this story in any respect– to grasp who’s doing WELL on this situation– we’ve gotta peel again a layer. It’s one thing we’ve talked about right here earlier than, however not for some time, and you already know, not even my mother remembers every little thing I’ve ever mentioned right here. 

This is in regards to the mechanics of how most medical health insurance individuals get from their job truly works: about who truly pays medical payments when your insurance coverage settles a declare. It’s not the insurance coverage firm. It’s truly the employer paying these payments. 

Of course, employers don’t know the best way to truly RUN an insurance coverage plan. [Unless the employer is Aetna, I guess]. So they rent insurance coverage firms to manage them. You get a card that claims Cigna or Blue Cross, however your employer’s funds truly pay the medical payments, so these are referred to as “self-funded” plans. But that is all stuff most of us are simply not conscious of. 

Here’s Chris Hamby: 

Chris Hamby: I hadn’t, till a few yr in the past, even heard of a self-funded plan. And I wish to assume that I’m moderately nicely knowledgeable on these things. 

Dan: Yeah, that’s placing it mildly. Chris made his title and received a Pulitzer Prize overlaying office well being points. So, simply park that for a minute: self-funded plan, the place the employer is the “self,” truly paying the payments, and paying the insurance coverage firm a charge. The insurance coverage firm is a intermediary. 

OK, now, subsequent layer: The intermediary’s intermediary. In this case, the corporate MultiPlan that Chris wrote about. What’s their job? So on this story, the job they’re doing– their intermediary job– is to handle what’s admittedly type of a troublesome query: If you go see anyone– a health care provider, a therapist– who doesn’t take your insurance coverage, what occurs? 

Chris Hamby: How do you establish what a good quantity to pay the supplier is? And by extension, how a lot is the affected person doubtlessly on the hook for the unpaid stability? And that has lengthy been a contentious situation. 

Dan: Because, in the event that they don’t take your insurance coverage, a supplier may cost … completely something. So is your insurer– and once more, that’s usually truly your employer– imagined to pay completely something? How a lot are they imagined to pay? Figuring that out, it’s a job. 

About 15 years in the past, one other intermediary firm doing that job received sued by the NewYork state lawyer normal. The state mentioned this earlier intermediary’s method of determining what to pay was screwing over each suppliers and sufferers. And the state’s lawsuit produced an answer. 

Chris Hamby: The insurance coverage firms agreed to fund the creation of a nonprofit entity that was going be form of an impartial, impartial arbiter of honest costs. It was going to gather information from all of the insurers and simply make it publicly out there. Make certain it was clear to everybody. 

Dan: This nonprofit known as FAIR Health, and its information is definitely public. It nonetheless exists. Like, you need to use it your self — you possibly can lookup the going fee for a knee alternative, a blood check, no matter. 

Chris Hamby: You can plug in your zip code, plug in your medical process and see an estimate of what, you already know, typical out-of-network expenses and in-network expenses could be for these. 

Dan: It’s cool! Check it out your self; it’s helpful. And all the foremost insurance coverage firms agreed to make use of it– to make use of FAIR Health’s benchmarks– to determine what to pay for out-of-network stuff. But, these agreements solely dedicated insurance coverage firms to utilizing FAIR Health for … 5 years. They expired in 2014. 

Enter intermediary firms like MultiPlan, saying to insurance coverage firms: Hey, you COULD use FAIR Health– or you possibly can route out-of-network payments to us: Hire us to get you a fair higher deal– higher costs. 

Chris Hamby: And it’s essential to notice additionally that it is a time when non-public fairness is investing in healthcare, and there are some legit considerations about driving up these record costs to ridiculously excessive ranges in a number of circumstances. So, there have been actual points that insurers had been saying that they had been responding to on the time.

Dan: OK, in order that’s the pitch. MultiPlan is saying to insurance coverage firms: We’ll show you how to maintain the road. We can prevent more cash than if you happen to used FAIR Health. Well, type of. Because right here’s the place we come again to the entire thing about self-funded insurance coverage. MultiPlan isn’t saying, “We can save YOU, insurance company, more money than if you used FAIR Health.” They’re saying, “We can help you save your CLIENTS– employers who do self-funded health insurance– more money. And when you save them money, you’re gonna make money. Because you can charge them a percentage of what you’re saving them. And we’ll get a percentage too.” A proportion of the financial savings. On each single invoice. That’s a really totally different deal than simply utilizing FAIR Health’s information. 

Chris Hamby: FAIR Health isn’t taking a proportion of the financial savings that they get hold of. They’re simply promoting you their information. And the insurers usually are usually not charging employers a charge for utilizing FAIR Health’s information. But in the event that they use MultiPlan’s information, each MultiPlan and the insurer usually cost a charge. 

Dan: A proportion. In examples from Chris’s story, the insurance coverage firm will get 35 p.c of these financial savings. 

Chris Hamby: And this has change into a big sum of money for lots of insurance coverage firms. Overall, UnitedHealthcare, is as much as, you already know, round a billion {dollars} per yr in recent times. 

Dan: UnitedHealthcare collects like a billion {dollars} in charges for these providers, principally, for utilizing MultiPlan particularly? 

Chris Hamby: And they sofa that by saying another out-of-network financial savings applications, however sure. 

Dan: Whooh! 

Chris Hamby: One factor that the insurers say is that the employers are conscious of this; they’ve signed up for it. 

Dan: That employers are hiring, say, Cigna, with MultiPlan to search out financial savings. And employers are agreeing to the charges. 

Chris Hamby: Where it will get a bit bit dicier from the employer’s perspective is if you see claims the place, for example, you find yourself paying the insurance coverage firm extra in charges than you paid the physician for treating your worker. 

Dan: yeah, one instance from Chris’s story: An out-of-network supplier wished greater than $150,000 on one invoice. And after the insurance coverage firm and MultiPlan did their bit, the employer, a trucking firm, ended up paying $58,000. Eight thousand for the supplier, and $50,000 to the insurance coverage firm and MultiPlan. So, on the one hand, the employer perhaps saved $90,000. But paying $50,000 for “cost containment?” Maybe doesn’t sound like such a cut price. 

Some employers and a union that runs a well being plan have filed lawsuits on the lookout for a few of that cash again. And there’s additionally a giant irony right here as a result of MultiPlan’s pitch is, you want us as a result of sticker costs are super-wildly excessive. But MultiPlan isn’t doing something to comprise the sticker costs as a systemic drawback. In truth, the upper suppliers crank up their sticker costs, the more cash MultiPlan and the insurance coverage firms they work with could make. But then there’s a giant query too, which is, what occurs to the remainder of that invoice for the sticker worth? Who pays that? That’s subsequent … 

This episode of An Arm and a Leg is a co-production of Public Road Productions and KFF Health News. The people at KFF Health News are superb journalists. Their work wins all types of awards, yearly. We’re honored to work with them. 

So, a supplier sends a invoice. MultiPlan and the insurance coverage firm say, “Woah, way too much.” And then what occurs? Well, it relies upon. Sometimes, MultiPlan negotiates with the supplier. They’ve received individuals who do that. And these negotiators drive arduous bargains. According to Chris’s story, negotiators generally inform suppliers: Here’s my supply, you’ve received a couple of hours to take it or depart it, and my subsequent supply may be decrease. 

Chris talked with a pediatric therapist who mentioned a proposal based mostly on MultiPlan’s calculation was lower than half of what Medicaid pays. Less than half. And Medicaid charges– they’re notoriously fairly low. Chris talked with a few of MultiPlan’s negotiators too. 

Chris Hamby: It was attention-grabbing as a result of a few of the negotiators felt that they had been doing their half to carry down prices and actually form of stick it to suppliers and hospitals that had been worth gouging. 

Dan: But …one informed Chris she knew the presents she made– they weren’t honest. “It’s just a game,” one other one mentioned. “It’s sad.” And perhaps the distinction is that a few of these negotiators had been pondering of a giant hospital charging $150,000  for one thing. And perhaps a few of them had been pondering of somebody like that therapist– the one who received provided lower than half of Medicaid’s fee. 

And I’m not gonna get into the query of who ought to be doing this sort of negotiating, or what’s honest. I imply, not as we speak, anyway. Because: in a number of circumstances with MultiPlan, there’s no negotiation in any respect. Negotiation solely occurs when the employer has informed the insurance coverage firm, look, defend my individuals. Figure out SOMETHING with the supplier so that they don’t go after my staff for the remainder. 

But that doesn’t at all times occur. Loads of the time, what occurs is: The supplier sends a invoice. The insurance coverage firm kicks in no matter it decides to … and that’s it. 

So Chris’s story opens with a girl who had surgical procedure. With MultiPlan’s assist, her insurance coverage firm determined to pay about $5,400. And she received caught with a invoice for greater than $100,000. 

And then there’s Kristin and Paul in Kansas City. They paid their payments upfront after which seemed to get reimbursed– stored a spreadsheet. But when their claims lastly received processed, the numbers didn’t add up. Here’s what they noticed: Like just about each insurance coverage plan, Kristin and Paul’s had a “deductible”– an quantity they needed to pay out of pocket earlier than insurance coverage would reimburse something. 

Kristin H: Then I began watching the deductible and you already know, once I calculated my spreadsheet of how a lot we had paid out of pocket, and after we noticed what was on like our out-of-network spend, these two weren’t matching. 

Dan: She actually couldn’t determine this out. 

Kristin H: I simply type of handed over all of my spreadsheets to Paul, and in order that’s when he began digging into the “your discount.” 

Dan: “Your discount…” That was this mysterious quantity on all of the statements from the insurance coverage firm. In addition to the supplier’s fee, and what insurance coverage may pay, the statements listed, quote, “your discount.” 

Paul H: And I’m like, what is that this? I don’t perceive why it’s speaking a few low cost. We are paying money out of pocket to the supplier at their billed fee, and our insurance coverage is saying that there’s some form of low cost. 

Dan: After a bunch of telephone calls, he figured it out: The low cost was … the distinction between the quantity on the invoice and what the insurance coverage firm– with MultiPlan’s assist– had determined was a “fair price.” 

Paul H: For instance, an occupational remedy invoice that may be $125, this third get together adjuster may come again and say, primarily what the market fee for that ought to be is $76. And so, your low cost, quote, unquote, is $49. 

Dan: Except after all, it wasn’t a reduction for Kristin and Paul. They had already paid that $49, after they paid the supplier upfront. Once Kristin and Paul discovered what the “discount” truly meant, they began to grasp who truly received the profit– the insurer. Because … 

Kristin H: That discounted fee is definitely what can be utilized to your deductible. So you’re not going to hit your deductible practically as rapidly as you assume. Right? Because we’ve primarily ignored half of your fee. 

Dan: This hits Kristin and Paul in two methods. 

First, it means they’re truly spending much more earlier than their insurance coverage kicks in. It additionally implies that when their insurance coverage does begin reimbursing them a proportion of what they’ve spent, the insurance coverage is simply paying a proportion of that decrease quantity. Overall, it means the reimbursements Kristin and Paul get are gonna be hundreds of {dollars} lower than they’d anticipated. 

I imply, it took a LOT of labor for Kristin and Paul to determine this out. At one level, Paul posted to Reddit asking for assist– that’s the place Chris Hamby discovered him. In Paul’s submit, he famous how no one ever even talked about this third-party adjuster– not till he had already talked to his insurance coverage firm for what he mentioned was “about 18 times.” Frequently on maintain for 45 minutes or extra. 

Kristin says as soon as they lastly found out what was occurring, they might work out the best way to finances for it. There had been sacrifices. She stopped seeing considered one of her suppliers as usually. But lastly determining what was occurring additionally allowed them to stay with it. 

Kristin H: The infuriating half was telling, like doing precisely what we had been informed to do, following the method, after which feeling like you’re loopy. Like why, why doesn’t this make sense? You know? And so I believe I’m lucky that Paul simply wouldn’t let it die and was gonna analysis till he figured it out. 

Dan: You did the entire work, you tracked it down, you recognized the issue, and also you, as you say, type of resigned your self to it. You’re like, okay, this Goliath isn’t– we don’t have the slingshot for this. Goliath is stomping throughout our city, and now we have to stay in that actuality. Having the data, having accomplished that work, provides you, it appears like, a capability to have some peace. Like having tracked it down implies that this sucks, nevertheless it’s not the identical as residing in a scenario the place like, now what? Like something may occur.

Kristin H: Yeah, you’re feeling loopy or hopeless. You know? Like I’ve accomplished every little thing and this doesn’t … So there’s simply the sense of like, am I lacking one thing? You know, is there something left for me to do? I acknowledge that everybody isn’t like this, however for me, data is a present. 

Dan: Chris Hamby says there’s hardly ever a option to get this sort of data upfront. He says you’re unlikely to search out these sorts of particulars in your insurance coverage plan doc. 

Chris Hamby: It usually is not going to say if you exit of community, we’re going to ship your declare to a 3rd get together that you just’ve by no means heard of to cost it. It will simply give some form of obscure language about aggressive charges in your geographic space. And if you happen to name up upfront of in search of the care to try to get an estimate, more often than not you’ll not get far more specifics than that. They inform you it’s important to simply go and so they’ll course of the declare and also you’ll see when the reason of advantages comes via. 

Dan: Yeah, and look, I hate to get you even angrier, however Chris says the foundations can change on you, with out discover. 

Chris Hamby: Lots of people that I speak with even have seen no change of their insurance coverage plan, however they’ve seen their reimbursement charges decline over time. 

Dan: Turns out, behind the scenes, their insurance coverage made a swap from a service like FAIR Health, which seems to be at what’s getting paid on the whole, to a service like MultiPlan, which seems to be for the steepest potential worth cuts. 

Chris Hamby: And the distinction between these two quantities will be huge. So you will have individuals who in some circumstances cease seeing their medical doctors as a result of their prices doubled virtually in a single day. 

Dan: Oh god. And nonetheless. Better to know. Better that as many people know as potential. That’s why Chris reviewed greater than 50,000 pages of paperwork, and interviewed greater than 100 individuals for that story. And why attorneys for the New York Times helped get courts to agree to provide him paperwork that had been below seal. 

Kristin and Paul– who had figured most of this out for themselves– they undoubtedly appreciated all that work. 

Paul H: When Chris revealed the article that he did, it was very validating to know we’re not the one ones who’re on this identical boat. And there’s truly individuals who have had far worse experiences than ours. Like, ours type of pale as compared. And then instantly, like, inside 24 hours to see 1,500 or 1,600 feedback on the article speaking about it. It’s like, okay, I may not have the stone that may slay the large, however perhaps The NewYork Times has the appropriate sling and so they may need the appropriate stone to at the very least begin the dialog. 

Dan: A number of weeks after Chris’s article got here out, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar despatched the highest federal antitrust regulators a letter: She wished them to take a tough have a look at MultiPlan. 

Chris Hamby: She expressed concern in regards to the potential for worth fixing right here. 

Dan: Actually, Chris says some suppliers have already filed lawsuits in opposition to MultiPlan based mostly on antitrust allegations. 

Chris Hamby: The concept is that each one the insurance coverage firms outsource their pricing choices to a standard vendor. They’re primarily fixing costs through algorithm is the allegation. 

Dan: As we famous right here a couple of episodes in the past, these antitrust regulators within the Biden administration have gotten fairly feisty. [That was the episode about the cyberattack on a company called Change Healthcare. It was called “The Hack,” if you missed it. Pretty fun!] 

And I imply, these antitrust regulators have their work lower out for them. And a number of targets. But I do need to egg them on right here. I believe you do too. Meanwhile, you’re egging US on. 

Listener 1: The first thought that went via my head was I’m going to struggle this as a result of that is completely ridiculous. I’ve already paid for this. 

Dan: A number of weeks in the past, we requested you for tales about your experiences with sneaky charges, usually referred to as facility charges. 

Listener 2: When the power charge is twice the workplace go to charge, it’s simply loopy. I imply, it’s a 10-minute appointment for a prescription. 

Dan: You got here via, and now we’re making some calls, digging in for extra particulars, and studying a lot. We’re gonna have a sneak preview for you in a couple of weeks. Till then, handle your self. 

This episode of An Arm and a Leg was produced by me, Dan Weissmann, with assist from Emily Pisacreta and Claire Davenport– our summer season intern. Welcome aboard, Claire!– and edited by Ellen Weiss. Adam Raymonda is our audio wizard. Our music is by Dave Weiner and Blue Dot Sessions. Gabrielle Healy is our managing editor for viewers. Gabe Bullard is our engagement editor. Bea Bosco is our consulting director of operations. Sarah Ballama is our operations supervisor. 

An Arm and a Leg is produced in partnership with KFF Health News. That’s a nationwide newsroom producing in-depth journalism about healthcare in America and a core program at KFF, an impartial supply of well being coverage analysis, polling and journalism. Zach Dyer is senior audio producer at KFF Health News. He’s editorial liaison to this present. 

And because of the Institute for Nonprofit News for serving as our fiscal sponsor, permitting us to just accept tax-exempt donations. You can be taught extra about INN at Finally, because of all people who helps this present financially. You can take part any time at

Thanks for pitching in if you happen to can, and thanks for listening.

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of KFF Health News and Public Road Productions.

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