Industry Responds to Study Said to Demonstrate Link Between Physician Surgicenter Ownership and Volume of Surgeries
[Ed. note: We received the following response via email from the Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee to Kate Greenwood's post, "Study Demonstrates Link Between Physician Surgicenter Ownership and Volume of Surgeries." In the interest of fairness, it appears below without comment.]
The Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee Responds to Study Published
in Health Affairs
Industry Raises Concerns with Conclusions Drawn in New Study
Washington, D.C., April 7, 2010 – The Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee (ASCAC), a group of leading ASC operators, state associations and the ASC Association, is compelled to respond to the incorrect assumptions made about the ASC industry put forth in a new study published in the April issue of Health Affairs. The ASCAC reinforces the important role that ASCs play in providing patients with access to convenient, high-quality care at a low cost to the health care system.
The study authors make inaccurate statements about the relationship between physician ownership of ASCs and higher surgical volume, inferring that physician owners are driven to refer patients to their facility by financial incentives. While the study authors recognize limitations with their methodology, the ASCAC is particularly concerned with their sole reliance on surgical volume as a proxy for ASC ownership. Volume is not a valid method for identifying which physicians have ownership interests in ASCs. In fact, many non-owners practice at ASCs.
Research identifies a number of positive factors that have increased the volume of surgical procedures in an ASC, including the migration of procedures and services from outpatient facilities to the less-costly ASC setting as well as patient preference and cost savings.
In 2009, KNG Health Consulting produced a report, which found that 70 percent of ASC volume growth between 2000 and 2007 was due to migration from hospitals to ASCs. It noted that for established specialties of ophthalmology and gastrointestinal (focused on in the study), the volume growth due to migration was 94 percent and 78 percent, respectively. Additionally, a larger and aging population as well as increased patient demand and medical innovation that allows for less-invasive procedures are also contributing factors for higher surgical volume in ASCs.
Patients often prefer the ASC setting for their convenient locations, ease of scheduling, shorter waiting times and faster recovery times. Patients report a 92 percent satisfaction rate after having a procedure in an ASC. Additionally, ASCs have fulfilled an important role in providing patients with access to vital preventive services, such as cancer screenings. For example, ASCs perform 40 percent of Medicare colonoscopies and the U.S. Healthy People 2010 objective to increase cancer screenings would not have been met without this expanded capacity for colon cancer screenings.
The study authors failed to recognize the significantly lower cost to patients and payors when identical procedures are performed in an ASC as opposed to the hospital outpatient department (HOPD). Research shows that Medicare patients save more than a 50 percent on out-of-pocket costs, and overall, ASCs save Medicare approximately 40 percent annually. By shifting just half of all eligible outpatient surgeries to the ASC setting, Medicare could save an additional $2.3 billion annually.
ASCs are staffed by a team of experienced medical professionals, including physicians, nurses, physician assistants and other health care experts. Data indicate that their focused expertise leads to efficient care and better patient outcomes when procedures are performed in an ASC, including low rates of medical error, infections and/or complications leading to readmission.
“With a staff of highly trained and certified medical professionals, physicians in ASCs can perform more surgeries with superior patient outcomes and low rates of medical error in our facilities,” said Brent W. Lambert, MD, FACS, Board Member of the Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee and Founding Partner of the Ambulatory Surgical Centers of America, a physician-owned ASC development and management company. “ASCs are important providers of quality, patient-centered care and play an integral role in our country’s health care system.”
Many ASCs are privately owned by physicians, often in partnership with community hospitals or management companies. This structure enables proficient use of the facility, better control of scheduling and an environment conducive to the patient’s needs, as well as adaptable and innovative strategies for governance, leadership, efficiency and improved clinical care.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Ambulatory Surgery show that ASCs are much more efficient than hospitals. Hospitals have also recognized that ASCs are effective partners in providing high-quality, patient-centered care, with approximately 20 percent of ASCs owned in part or exclusively by hospitals.
Higher volume in the ASC setting can also result from patient-referrals, another scenario the study did not consider.
“A significant number of new patients who ultimately need a surgical intervention are referred to our facilities from current or former patients satisfied with the care they received,” added Dr. Lambert.
The ASCAC and its partners are dedicated to working with physicians, hospitals, policymakers and other health care stakeholders to ensure that ASCs continue their commitment to excellence in quality and outcomes so that patients have the access they need to vital medical services procedures.
About the Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee
Ambulatory Surgery Centers are health care facilitates that specialize in providing important surgical and preventive services in an outpatient setting. With approximately 5,200 Medicare-certified facilities throughout the country, ASCs perform more than 22 million surgeries per year. The Ambulatory Surgery Center Advocacy Committee is working on behalf of the industry to raise awareness of the important role that ASCs play in the health care system and the high-quality, cost-effective care that ASCs provide. The ASCAC includes the national and state ASC associations as well as representatives of all types of ASC operators and physicians. For more information about ASCs, visit www.advancingsurgicalcare.com.
Grassley and Baucus Seek to Further Define the Difference Between Charity Care and Bad Debt for Nonprofit Hospitals. As a Matter of Collections Timing?
Filed under: 501(c)(3), Hospital Finances, IRS, Nonprofit Hospitals
According to Inside ARM, an accounts receivable management online magazine, the Senate Finance Committee is presently contemplating imposing strictures upon nonprofit hospitals regarding when those hospitals may outsource the collection of unpaid bills and, presumably, the definition of “bad debt” as it relates to “community benefit.” Inside ARM states that “The proposal is meant to provide more free care and make not-for-profit hospitals more accountable for their tax-exempt status.”
Details of the initiative are said to be scant at this point, but according to Inside ARM, “Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top ranking Republican, propose requiring not-for-profit hospitals to follow certain procedures before initiating collection actions against patients.” Sen. Grassley has sought to require nonprofit hospitals to justify their tax exemptions since 2005, the year in which he sent what pretty much amounts to interrogatories to the nation’s leading nonprofit hospitals regarding billing practices and questionable characterizations of “community benefit.”
Although without detail, the new timing distinction for collections seems to be based upon the amount owed being designated as “bad debt,” or that which is essentially deemed “uncollectable.” The prospective prohibition would seem to require the amount owed to be deemed “uncollectable” or “bad debt” before it can be placed with a collection agency. A prospect the nation’s collectors, who generally work on commission, do not relish. But one hopes this provision is but one small piece of further defining “community benefit” in terms of actual charitable care.
Many nonprofit hospitals have characterized their uncollected receivables as a fulfillment of the ill-defined requirement that they offer a “community benefit” in exchange for the tax exemption they receive under 501(c)(3). Senator Grassley has said that “Neither the IRS nor Congress has done a very good job when it comes to establishing the criteria for enjoying this tax status since the IRS scrapped charity care for its community benefit standard in 1969″ (New York Times, 2/13/09).”
He has a point. But unless the prospective timing provision for outsourcing only “bad debt” is coupled with a prohibition upon characterizing mere “uncollected receivables” and payor “shortfalls” as “community benefit,” it is hard to see what effect this bad debt collections distinction will have–besides the expansion of in house hospital collection departments. One hopes that the pointed questions Senator Grassley asked of the nation’s leading nonprofit hospitals in ’05 will play a substantial role in the Senate effort to reform and redefine the obligations of tax exempt nonprofit hospitals now. I believe Mr. Grassley would well agree that a mere shift in the locus of collection activities will not constitute reform worth the name.
Perhaps some background is in order. As we posted here a little while back in “The IRS, Nonprofit Hospitals, and the Meaning of “Community Benefit,” the IRS recently published the results of a two year study of nonprofit hospitals functioning under 501(c)(3), a portion of the Internal Revenue Code which garners tax exemptions for those entities it harbors. For those of you who have not yet read our post on the topic, I’ve excerpted it here below (if you have already read the piece, you can scroll down to the paragraph before Grassley’s numbered questions for the concusion to this post). The excerpted post describes how uncompensated care, bad debt and “shortfalls” in payments from Medicare and even Private Insurers can, and often are, characterized as somehow providing a “community benefit” which justifies a tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals:
Under the strictures of 501(c)(3) nonprofits are confined to paying executives “reasonable compensation” and supplying “community benefit.” Unfortunately, neither of these terms are particularly well defined. In the study’s executive summary, the IRS puts it so:
“The community benefit standard is the legal standard for determining whether a nonprofit hospital is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.”
“Observations. Both the community benefit and reasonable compensation standards have proved difficult for the IRS to administer. Both involve application of imprecise legal standards to complex, varied and evolving fact patterns.”
These limitations may be seen in the characterizations of “community benefit” available to the hospitals in the study. Bad debt and Medicare payment shortfalls may be construed as “community benefit.” As the debt, the credit injury, and the collection calls all inure to the community member who received treatment but could not pay, one might question if the “community benefit” involved in a failure of collection practices might be distinguishable from the “community benefit” involved in intentional charitable care. In addition, there simply is no set criteria to determine the appropriate amounts to be charged as “community benefit.” The IRS study poses the following under the heading of
“Limitations: …although the IRS designated the general categories of activities that could be reported as community benefit for purposes of the study, determining what was treated as community benefit (for example, bad debt or Medicare shortfalls) and how to measure it (cost versus charges) was largely within the respondents’ discretion.
Which is to say that those being monitored (nonprofit hospitals) to gauge the amount of money spent– to justify their tax exempt status– were free to characterize their contributions in the manner they thought best.
Medicare shortfalls: So… if a non-profit hospital has a fee schedule rate of $100 for a procedure, and Medicare has a reimburse rate of $80 for that procedure, if a “charge” rate of measurement is used then there has been a $20 “community benefit” if the federally designated tax exempt nonprofit hospital accepts as payment the federally designated and predetermined Medicare reimbursement amount. Significantly, 19% of the hospitals also claimed “shortfalls” in payment from private insurers as uncompensated care/community benefit (See Chart: “Figure 82,” p. 105, full report).
Cost vs. Charge: So… if a procedure has a cost to the hospital of $80 and a fee schedule [or "chargemaster"] rate of $100, and the recipient of the procedure does not pay and the hospital categorizes the non-payment as “bad debt,” it has the ability to count as “community benefit” not only the cost of its unintended largesse, but also the amount it had expected as profit.
Perhaps even more telling than this latitude in characterization are the amounts actually submitted to the IRS as community benefit. Here are a few of the findings:
- The average and median percentages of total revenues reported as spent on community benefit expenditures were 9% and 6%, respectively.
- Uncompensated care accounted for 56% of aggregate community benefit expenditures reported by the hospitals in the study. Read more
Filed under: Health Benefit Costs, Private Insurance
Yesterday we took a look at Health Insurance CEO pay, and noted that Mr. Ronald Williams of Aetna made $467,309.85 per week in 2008, while Ms. Braly of Wellpoint was left to make ends meet on $189,311.76 per week, and Mr. Hemsley of United Health was forced to manage on $62,327.73 per week (though one might hope that Mr. Hemsley had the presence of mind to put a little something away the year prior when he had made $253,164.02 per week).
Today we take a brief look at how the other half lives. HealthCare Finance News reports that according to the Milliman Medical Index (MMI) the average medical bill for a typical family of four covered by an employer-sponsored preferred provider organization (PPO) program rose 7.4 percent from 2008 to 2009. In actual dollars:
The total 2009 medical bill for a typical American family of four is $16,771, compared with the 2008 figure of $15,609. The $1,162 increase is the highest measured by the MMI since the 2006 increase of $1,168, when cost trends were at 9.6 percent.
The MMI found that employers are expected to pay $9,9947, or 5.4 percent more than in 2008, while employees are expected to contribute $4,004 toward their health costs, an increase of 14.7 percent, and pay $2,820 in out-of-pocket expenses, an increase of 5.4 percent.
According to Health and Human Services: “The estimated median income for a four-person family living in the United States is $70,354 for FFY 2009″ (slightly more than Mr. Hemsley’s weekly paycheck). According to the MMI, of that $70,000, nearly $7,000 in employee wage goes to healthcare expense. That’s 10 per cent or $583.33 per month. That’s more than enough to make the payment on a brand new Cadillac.
In addition, one should also note that the employers’ contribution is nearly $10,000 per year, or $833.33 per month. Together, the actual total is $16,771 or $1397.59 per month. Which is to say that the average expense for medical for a family of four is $1400.00 per month. According to the Census Bureau, the average price of a house in the U.S. in March of 2009 was $201,400.00.
According to CNNMoney.com the current average for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage is 5.24% but rates are “all over the map.” We’ll use 7%. The monthly mortgage payment on $201,400 for a 30 year fixed rate at 7% is $1339.92. The average monthly medical expense amounts to $1397.59.
That’s a house. The average monthly medical expense for a family of four amounts to a house, maybe not one that Mr. Williams, Ms. Braly or Mr. Hemsley would live in, but a house nonetheless. Oh, and there’s still $57.67 left over– enough to catch the earlybird special at the Family Buffet.
I’ve never done this before (except perhaps to introduce Ezra Klein’s new site), but I came across a really good Health Law feed on Twitter from Mintz Levin Health Sciences Practice. Good enough that you can now find it in the “Resources” section of this Blog. I was particularly taken by the report on the progress of the amendments to the Fair Claims Act in Congress. We have written at length about the Fair Claims Act and its use as an enforcement mechanism, but I was impressed by how clearly and cogently Mintz Levin described the current status of the efforts to amend as well as the implications– in a very short space. This link is to their feed, and this one is to their Health Law Washington Beat: Recent Health Industry News – Issue 9. Click on Issue 9 and scroll down a little until you get to “False Claims Act Amendments Gain Traction in Both the House and Senate.”
A report released Tuesday by the HHS Office of Inspector General identifies South Florida as “a high risk area for fraudulent billings to Medicare” by suppliers of durable medical equipment. According to the report, South Florida accounts for 17% of Medicare’s total spending on inhalation drugs, but is home to only 2% of the nation’s Medicare beneficiaries.
While warmer climates are known to cause a variety of respiratory problems, that alone does not explain the “aberrant claim patterns” identified in the report.
In 2007, Medicare spent $143 million on claims for costly drugs to treat respiratory ailments in Miami-Dade County.
That’s 20 times more than the amount Medicare spent in the Chicago area, which has twice as many beneficiaries,
reports the Miami Herald.
The Herald explains the root of the alleged abuse is that two-thirds of the patients in South Florida listed on Medicare claims for expensive inhalation drugs did not have office visits with the physician who prescribed the treatment in the previous three years.
Additionally, medical equipment suppliers and pharmacies are alleged to have recycled the offending doctors’ names for ongoing patient billing, and billed far beyond the Medicare guidelines for inhalation drug therapy. As a result, the Herald says,
Medicare has spent five times more per patient on inhalation drugs in South Florida than the rest of the country — $4,400 versus $815 per beneficiary[.]
Read the HHS Office of Inspector General’s full report here (PDF).
Filed under: Drugs & Medical Devices, Medical Device, Medical Journals, Pharma, Prescription Drugs, Transparency
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Board of Directors announced yesterday their unanimous endorsement of revised principles to increase transparency in medical research through their newly revised PhRMA Principles of Conduct of Clinical Trials and Communication of Clinical Trial Results. The revised principles are part of an effort to encourage behavior that benefits the healthcare community and the public through objectivity in research and strengthened transparency in medical studies.
PhRMA states that the Principles of Conduct, which are to take effect on October 1, 2009, will:
Fortify our commitment to patients and healthcare professionals by increasing transparency in clinical trials, enhancing standards for medical research authorship and improving disclosure to manage potential conflicts of interest in medical research.
The pharmaceutical and biotech industries have been under recent pressure to become more transparent, specifically concerning the disclosure and publication of clinical trial results, the disclosure of physician payments/reimbursement for conducting clinical trials, and authorship standards.
Filed under: Biosimilars, Drug Pricing, Drugs & Medical Devices, Medicaid, Medical Device, Pharma, Prescription Drugs
A recent press release from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) reports that pharmaceutical and biotech companies continue to invest substantial amounts of money into research & development, despite the dismal current economic situation. Research from PhRMA and Burrill & Company shows that “pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies invested a record $65.2 billion last year in the research and development of new life-changing medicines and vaccines — an increase of roughly $2 billion from 2007.” There are almost 30,000 medicines in development in the country right now.
In a time when most other industries are struggling and the unemployment rate is the highest it has been in 25 years, it is encouraging to see that the biopharmaceutical industry, one whose existence and success directly impacts the health of our nation, is continuing to invest and advance. For example, this week we saw Merck make a serious investment through its $41.1 billion merger with Schering-Plough. In addition, as we posted in December, Merck announced its plan to enter the biosimilars market, which will cost an estimated $1.5 billion.
Biopharmaceutical companies are continuing to spend on R & D, and the great majority of their investments are within the US. According to “The Biopharmaceutical Sector’s Impact on the U.S. Economy: Analysis at the National, State, and Local Levels”, a study out this month by Archstone Consulting and Dr. Lawton R. Burns, this industry creates millions of US jobs and contributed three times as much to the GDP than the average of other industries and sectors in 2006.
Besides the struggling economy, drug companies face other challenges. As we recently reported, President Obama’s health reform plan may negatively impact pharmaceutical companies through an increased discount to Medicaid (from 15.1% to 22.1% of avg. manufacturer’s price). Despite the economic crisis and health care reform changes, it is hopeful to hear the industry’s continued commitment to progress. Said PhRMA President and CEO, Billy Tauzin:
America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are not immune to the challenges presented by our current economic crisis. However, the important work that we do every day in the battle with disease cannot stop. The U.S. is the world’s hotbed of medical innovation, and throughout the country, we remain committed today to finding tomorrow’s cures, despite the incredible challenges that are posed by the current economy.
Filed under: Drugs & Medical Devices, Medical Device, Physician Compensation, Private Insurance, Radiologists
The NY Times article “Good or Useless, Medical Scans Cost the Same” states that the use of outdated medical imaging machines and the growing number of unnecessary scans performed each year are contributing to excessive medical imaging costs. The article reports that the cost of medical imaging has reached $100 billion a year in the United States, with over 95 million high-tech scans being performed annually. However, an astounding number of these scans have been shown to be either unnecessary or useless; the result is a waste of resources, patients’ time, and money, and the creation of untold needless worry. According to a recent study by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the number of medical imaging tests increased by 40 percent from 2000-2005 and it is estimated that one third of these tests are inappropriate, costing the country between $3-7 billion a year.
It is not only the sheer number of medical imaging tests (necessary and unnecessary), such as MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans, that is contributing to the overall cost of medical imaging. Other factors adding to the fact that insurers’ expenditures on medical imaging are growing at 18-20% annually are the use of older imaging machines, the growing trend of physicians who have ownership interests in imaging machines, and radiologists’ high compensation.
Currently, imaging centers are not required to, but may choose to, become accredited by The American College of Radiology. Therefore, the age of an imaging machine is not regulated and older machines may produce blurry or poor scans. This leads to repeat tests and misdiagnoses, which can result in an illness remaining undetected or even unnecessary surgery, as is depicted in the NY Times article.
In the current system, compensation is not based on the quality of the scan and therefore there is no incentive for the facility or physician to purchase a new and very costly imaging machine. As the Wall St. Journal Health Blog points out radiologists read the scans and the insurer who pays for the scan never sees it to determine its quality. Read more
New Bill to Create Prescription Drug Benefit Through Original Medicare as CMS Expansion of Off-Label Drugs for Cancer Treatment Draws Criticism
Yesterday, Congressional Democrats introduced legislation (HR 684, S 330) that would allow Original Medicare to establish one or more plans to compete with private plans under the Part D prescription drug benefit, according to CQ HealthBeat. The legislation would also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for the prices of medications under Part D.
Additionally, it would strengthen the ability of Medicare beneficiaries to appeal denials of coverage for medically necessary medications under all Medicare Part D plans.
The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). According to Berry, the plans established by Medicare would have the ability to obtain discounts on medications that private plans could not match.
Dr. David J. Brailer, appointed by President Bush in 2004 as the first National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, has written an article for Health Affairs worth reading. Dr. Brailer notes that President-elect Obama “has pledged $50 billion to bring health information tools into widespread use (which is $49,950,000 more than President Bush gave me to spend).” (Note: as the present budget for the office of National Coordinator is a little more than $66 million, I believe Dr. Brailer meant to say that the budget during his tenure was roughly $50 million, which would make Obama’s $50 billion $49,950,000,000 more. Apparently, I’m not the only one confused by billions).
Having said that, Dr. Brailer has some suggestions worth noting, not the least of which is that ensuring structural compatibility and integration of data systems are paramount necessities which will require more than just “hiring the geek squad.” He states
Setting up an electronic health record is a complex task, requiring data integration, clinical algorithms and complex software customization. Likewise, helping physicians and other health care workers learn to work with electronic tools is more than point-and-click training. Electronic health records change the very nature of health care work – clinical decision-making, communications, documentation and learning. Our national transition to digital medicine requires a large supply of specialists – upwards of 50,000 people, including physicians, nurses and pharmacists – who understand both clinical medicine and information technology. It takes years to train these people, and they are already in short supply, so now is the time to start.
I have no contention with the assertion that “setting up an electronic health record is a complex task,” and surely, at the end of a $50 billion investment no one wants to look up to see a Med e-record Tower of Babel. But Dr. Brailer’s assertion that “helping physicians and other health care workers learn to work with electronic tools is more than point-and-click training” is somewhat at odds with recent articles in The NY Times, one of which shows what an electronic medical record looks like and explains how pertinent and potentially life saving information “is just a few clicks away.”
Dr. Brailer also states that we need to address what he characterizes as
…the growing chasm between the physicians and hospitals that have electronic records and those that do not. Most large and urban hospitals as well as larger physician practices are far along in using electronic health records. Rural hospitals, nursing homes and small physician practices lag far behind. They face many barriers, but foremost among them is the lack of capital to purchase and implement information tools.
Dr. Brailer states that “Sales pipelines and hospital and physician budgets show that electronic health record purchases have slowed, indicating that the market wave has gone as far as it can. Now is the time for government incentives to help along those who do not have these systems.”
But Brailer wants to incentivize the “use” of electronic medical records much in the way that Congress has done so regarding “electronic prescribing.” He states: “Medicare pays physicians a 2% bonus for using eprescribing on appropriate patients starting in 2009, and this incentive converts to a 3% penalty for those who do not eprescribe in 2013.”
Of course, Brailer is right to make the distinction between “purchase” and “use.” No one wants to subsidize a high tech, dust gathering coat rack. He makes the point that “We should not incent physicians and hospitals simply to purchase electronic records. We get no benefit when a physician or hospital buys an electronic record. What we should do is reward the use of these tools as part of a patient’s care.”
What he fails to address, however, in this incremental ROI “pay for use” approach is what he characterizes as the “foremost barrier” to those “Rural hospitals, nursing homes and small physician practices” on the other side of e-med record chasm: initial capital outlay.
Considering the financial difficulties of many hospitals-and the chilled credit markets- it is somewhat difficult to envision how the gradual return on investment through “pay for use” will offer great affect for those medical service providers who, at present, have a “lack of capital to purchase and implement information tools.” It is not, however, hard to envision how such a continuous “pay for use” incentive would benefit those larger providers who have already implemented electronic medical record systems.
Additional payments each time they used what they have already invested in would, no doubt, provide an additional dividend which these typically larger providers would greatly appreciate. It is not at all clear, however, that such a program, requiring significant investments of capital-which may well not be available at this time-will lessen the “chasm” by any great measure.
The New York Times has reported that
For most doctors, who work in small practices, an investment in electronic health records looks simply like a cost for which they will not be reimbursed. That is why policy experts say any government financial incentives to use electronic records – matching grants or other subsidies – should be focused on practices with 10 or fewer doctors, which still account for three-fourths of all doctors in this country. Only about 17 percent of the nation’s physicians are using computerized patient records, according to a government-sponsored survey published in The New England Journal Of Medicine.
The Times also reports that those who are presently using electronic medical records tend to be part of larger health care organizations.
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CQ Politics reports that President-elect Obama is committed to the elimination of Medicare Advantage plans. Obama told ABC’s “This Week” that Medicare Advantage plans are an example of cost-cutting government initiatives that do not work.
This is especially interesting in light of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ordering WellPoint to temporarily suspend enrollment and marketing efforts for its Medicare plans on Monday. The Los Angeles Times reports that the sanctions followed a “sharp” increase in complaints. Reportedly, some customers of WellPoint were unable to receive their prescription drugs while others were overcharged because of computer mistakes.
Along with President-elect Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has signaled his intent to “scale back” the Medicare Advantage Program, according to The Hill. Medicare Advantage plans offer health insurance to more than 10 million of the 45 million Medicare beneficiaries. However, the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee reports that Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 13% more per beneficiary on average than Original Medicare in 2008.
Democrats say that $15 billion of the annual $94 billion in subsidies granted to Medicare Advantage plans are the result of “overpayments.”
Surely, any attempt to eliminate Medicare Advantage plans from the Medicare program will be met with fierce opposition from private insurance companies. In response to the threat of elimination, America’s Health Insurance Companies said that the so-called “overpayments” are used to help purchase prescription drug coverage, vision care, and chiropractic services for which Original Medicare does not pay.
There may be some merit to this argument as Original Medicare is lacking in many crucial coverage areas, including dental services which left untreated can be fatal. Thus, it is quite possible that the elimination of Medicare Advantage plans could result in many seniors facing reduced benefits, limited health care choices and higher out-of-pocket costs, according to America’s Health Insurance Companies.
Filed under: Medical Home, Physician Compensation, Team Model
The NY Times reports that according to Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, “there’s a drastic decline in the number of geriatricians – and just 300 new ones are being trained each year – yet the number of people over 65 will double in the next 20 years. Those who work in geriatric care are among the worst paid in the health care system.”
That last statement, as shown in a recent post regarding physician compensation, is backed up by numbers. According to the American Group Medical Association (AMGA) the median compensation for a geriatrician is $179,344. The median compensation for a podiatrist is $180,080. These AMGA numbers have been approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for use in CMS related calculations.
Dr. Gawande “and others see a pressing need for new approaches to keep aging patients as healthy as possible and living independently as long as possible.” The Times reports that “Dr. Chad Boult, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, says the goal should be care that is well coordinated, and patients and families who are involved in and educated about the care plan.”
To that end, Dr. Boult is participating in the testing of a “team approach” which is somewhat reminiscent of the subject of a recent post, Alaska’s Southcentral Foundation’s “medical home” approach. Southcentral’s “comprehensive” health care strategy has shown some promising results. The Times reports that
Dr. Boult is involved in testing a team approach, in which nurses trained in geriatrics are helping physicians in the Baltimore-Washington area provide coordinated care for 50 or 60 of their highest-risk older patients. The nurses go to patients’ homes, develop comprehensive care plans, help the patients in self-monitoring, help them overcome obstacles to self-care and connect patients and their families to community agencies.
According to geriatrics experts, social workers trained in the problems of the elderly can also participate by performing home assessments, for example, to prevent falls and costly, disabling fractures. They can help overcome barriers to good nutrition, and they can help make the community connections for assistance with the activities of daily living, like shopping.
Dr. Boult said that “The Baltimore team project has already demonstrated an improvement in the quality of care that ailing elderly patients receive, and by keeping patients out of the hospital, he expects it will save money for insurers like Medicare.
The NYTimes also reports, however, that the current fee for services compensation scheme has not yet been structured so as to provide monetary incentives for such prophylactic care. The Times states: “While current insurance systems pay many thousands of dollars for hospital-based care, they cover only a fraction of the far less expensive care delivered by doctors and nurses that can keep patients out of the hospital,” and that experts say “a new model of care is needed.”
Read full article here.