Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The role of TPAs in the Health Insurance Eco System

This interview was first published in IIB Bulletin, Vol. 2, Iss. 4, 2016, pp.11-12


Malti Jaswal, has close to 30 years of experience in the General Insurance industry in India in different capacities; marketing, operations, claims management etc. She has worked with both public sector and multinational insurers. Since 2008, she is working in health insurance field and is an active member of multi‐stakeholder working groups on health insurance in India. She is a regular speaker at health insurance forums and she has published papers relating to Universal Health Care, Third Party Administrators (TPAs) best practices, claims management, and fraud control.  


She has also been a member of sub-committees of Ministry of Health on Categorisation of Hospitals and Costing of Care. As a Consultant, she worked on varied projects relating to health insurance training and education, Information Technology (IT), payer-provider exchange platforms, cost control, and fraud control.


She has developed a Certification Course on Health insurance for Insurance Institute of India. She is currently working as the Chief Operating Officer of the Health Insurance TPA of India Ltd (HI TPA), a joint venture of the four public sector general insurance companies in India, namely, National Insurance Company Ltd., New India Assurance Company Ltd., Oriental Insurance Company Ltd. and United India Insurance Company Ltd, along with GIC of India.


In a conversation with Dr. Nupur Pavan Bang of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Jaswal talks about the need for HITPA, the important role played by TPAs and fraud in Health Insurance claims.

You have worked extensively in the field of Health Insurance. Can you tell us about the role of TPAs in the Health Insurance Industry in India?

The concept of TPAs came to India around the years 2001-2002. That was the time the Insurance sector was opened up to the private players. The private players, when they started, didn't have in- house capability of running 24*7 claims support functions and wished to focus on core areas to build business. Public sector companies also did not have such capabilities though Mediclaim (generic term for health insurance product of PSUs) is being sold since 1986. Thus outsourcing seemed a natural choice. This gave birth to the concept of TPA in India. The TPAs were licensed by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) to ensure that certain minimum requirements were met to set up a TPA. 

There are 30 licensed TPAs in India. So what is the purpose of setting up another TPA- Health Insurance TPA of India (HI TPA), promoted by four public sector general insurance companies?

The growth of business in health insurance has been exponential in India in the last decade with a year-on-year growth of 25%-30%.  To handle the growing business, robust processes, latest systems and technology and trained people are needed. However, the required investment did not happen across the spectrum of TPAs and the TPA industry remains under capitalized even today.   

Most of the large private sector insurance companies, including standalone health insurers, gradually started setting up in-house TPA/claims management facilities to have better control and do not use TPAs in big way anymore. Public sector insurance companies however continue to use the TPAs because of certain peculiarities of 24*7 operations. The terms and conditions of employment contracts of public sector general insurance companies are not generally geared for engaging manpower for round the clock services nor is rest of infrastructure.  In my view perhaps, it is also realized that the demanding nature of 24*7 TPA services required by customers, could be delivered more efficiently and effectively through a non-public sector entity.

Thus it seems to be a considered decision for the four public sector companies to come together, pool capital and create such an entity. This way, adequate capital investment could be made in HI TPA from an IT perspective because robust IT infrastructure and trained manpower are the key requirements for the TPAs to handle complexities of current health insurance products and high volumes. The four companies already enjoy the benefit of scale when bargaining with the hospitals together under Preferred Provider Network (PPN) arrangements.

Would HITPA also provide services to private insurance companies? And would the PSU companies use only HI TPA’s services in the future?

As of now the TPA license given by IRDAI to HI TPA is only for the four public sector companies. We have represented to IRDAI to make the license open to service business of private insurers.

There is absolutely no doubt that PSU companies will continue to use multiple TPAs. There is no intention of moving business completely to HI TPA as voluminous business is being serviced by various TPAs and retaining competition in essential to ensure that all parties deliver value to the customer.  At the same time if there is an entity with adequate capital, trained and skilled resources, robust processes and IT infrastructure, which can in a way, set the benchmarks for the entire TPA industry in India; it will surely bring better practices and impact the market in a positive way.  HI TPA aims to be that entity.  

You mentioned that the concept of TPAs came to India around 2001-2002. Prior to that, the public sector companies were managing the claims in-house. Since many of the private companies are now setting up in-house TPAs and claims processing teams, why can’t even the public sector companies continue the earlier practise of settling the claims in-house?

Claims management is an integral part of any insurance operation world over.  Since inception public sector insurance companies have had high quality technical manpower to do so for all lines of their business. The companies were also managing health insurance claims in-house prior to 2002.

In 1986, retail Mediclaim was launched for the first time in India by the public sector companies. The practice from 1986 to 2000 was that the customer would pay the hospital from her pocket and get the expenses reimbursed later from the insurance company which could take many days/weeks. With the entry of private sector companies in joint venture with large and experienced international insurers, cashless facility was introduced, as one of most customer friendly service.

For cashless facility to work, TPAs were inducted to organize and facilitate the same 24*7*365. TPAs facilitate networking with the hospitals on one hand and cashless/claims processing for the customers on the other.   

So the TPAs only process cashless claims?

A claim is a claim whether on cashless basis or on reimbursement basis.  Cashless is a customer friendly process wherein customer need not pay for treatment and then file claim later.  However customer has every right to seek treatment in any non-network hospital (so long as it meets the criteria) and file for reimbursement claim.  A claim is admissible and payable depending on terms and conditions of the policy, on what risks are covered, to what extent etc. The TPAs process both types of claims, however traditionally (and even today), role of TPA is primarily considered to facilitate cashless and all other services around the same e.g. 24*7 call center, issuance of member id cards, hospital network etc.   

Does the TPA pay the claims?

As per IRDAI guidelines, claims are required to be paid and repudiated by insurers directly to customer/provider.  TPA’s role is to process the claims as per guidelines of the specific insurance company and subject to terms and conditions of the policy.   The TPAs do not carry the risk, nor are involved in selling or underwriting. 

Some accounts put Health Insurance frauds to the tune of 15% of all health insurance claims in India. That is huge and puts a lot of burden on the customers in the form of increased policy premiums. Would HI TPA be instrumental, to some extent, in controlling fraud in health insurance?

As the health insurance industry has grown in India, so has the number of fraud cases and also modus operandi of fraudsters is getting sophisticated.  High growth tends to loosen controls and here in India we do not have Health Regulator. HI TPA aims to fulfil the twin objectives of its creation - enhancing customer experience and bringing in greater efficiency in Health Insurance claims processing.  Efficiency in claims processing would also incorporate better handle on controlling and managing fraud.

Can you elaborate on the ways in which fraud may be controlled?

The main job of TPA is claims processing and managing the hospitals network. TPAs handle the claims process right from the point of intimation to the settlement of the claim. TPAs have good IT systems. Policy data is integrated with their systems. Policyholder and members’ (people covered in the policy in the case of family and group policies) profiles are available with the TPAs as also the details about network hospital. All this information, coupled with the knowledge about medical practices and hospital tariff should make it easy to detect any outlier behaviour or pattern.

For example, let’s say a customer reports a non-emergency claim 1000 kilometres away from home.  It should ring a bell. If it's a non-emergency claim, why would a patient go to a hospital which is so far away from home unless it’s a specialty treatment like cancer.  Another example, if there is a very large reimbursement claim of say Rs400,000 or more, it should raise an alert. Why a customer would chose to pay such a large sum out-of-pocket and not avail the cashless facility made available in so many good tertiary care hospitals in normal circumstances.

During the entire chain of events, from intimation to payment, there are at least 5 or 6 trigger points, which a smart system and skilled manpower should be able to detect. Next step is data analytics in retrospect. Sometimes small value claims can slip through. But if analysed appropriately, those leakages would also become apparent over a period of time and amenable to control.

In India, there is no proper definition of what is a financial/insurance fraud. In the absence of a clear definition, even if a fraud is detected, the companies may choose to not pursue it if the amount is small. Even when a company decides to take legal recourse, the battle is often very long drawn and not worth the effort. As an industry, are there any steps being taken to tackle this lacunae?

It's indeed a big lacunae – there is no definition of insurance fraud under Indian laws nor provisos to deal with the same. There are three angles to fraud management; one is detection, second is recovery, and third is prevention/deterrence and punitive action.  Right now the insurance industry in India is primarily focused on detection and to some extent on recovery.  Not losing the money is the first and foremost priority. Unfortunately, prevention through punitive deterrent action is missing because our legal system and penal codes have not yet caught up with the changes in the financial and insurance domain. The Insurance Act of 1938, in spite of the recent amendments to it, doesn’t carry any active provisions to handle fraud. Punitive action is necessary for effective deterrence.

There have been industry level discussions at the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Confederation of Indian Industries about what can be done to tackle fraud in the absence of legal provisions and health regulator. There have been suggestions to involve the Indian Medical Council to prevent doctors from conniving with the customers and hospitals to exaggerate claims or be a party to the fraud in any way. A few companies have started issuing letters to hospitals and doctors to seek explanation when a certain course of treatment seems unreasonable.   ‘Name & shame’ guidelines have been discussed.  

IRDAI has taken cognizance of growing menace and ways to control the same. IIB is also now directing lot of action to health data collection and analysis, hospital registry has been set up for the first time. Though a small step, data sharing of fraudulent customers and fraudulent hospitals has now started. Hopefully in times to come, we shall see more action on this front.  
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