Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New physician payment Rules for CMS,different slicing of a shrinking pie

New physician payment rules from CMS have been proposed, can be found here and will likely go into effect January 2010. The Obama administration has found money to increase the pay of primary care doctors a bit ( about 6-8%) by taking it away from other doctors. Radiologists and cardiologists will be paid less. DrRich comments on the understandable reaction of the cardiology leadership here. In the coming months we may get to see how effective the lobbying efforts of organized cardiology will be in their damage control.

Sandy Szwarz in this entry from her blog Junkfood Science sees more in this proposal that the simple pay-this-doctor-less-to-pay- this- doctor-more. She speaks of the vision of things to come. I quote from her posting:

The core of the new CMS proposals (described in section 1413-P33) was a new method for determining fees for services based on their costs (called “resource-based practice expenses”) and their relative value, as determined by a survey called the Physician Practice Information Survey (PPIS). This survey compiled the returned questionnaires from 3,656 physician and professional groups and had been conducted in 2007-8 by The Lewin Group, the contractor for the American Medical Association and the government.

It does not go unnoticed that the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix which is part of United Health Group.See here for some details of the flawed data used by Ingenix and some of the legal actions against them. It is not clear if the Lewin Group derived data used to determine the new pay scales are also flawed.

I recommend that everyone read the rest of her essay to get a flavor of the type of changes and emphasis we can expect in Medicare as the "reform" plays out.Look for emphasis on "lifestyle medicine"as a key element in the prevention part of purported ways to save money.

As suggested by Ms. Szwarz the plan is basically to cut funds to providers and hospitals and institute a covering of "quality" measures so the claim can be made-see we spent less and quality improved.Look, when we pay the bills , we get to say what quality is.

The change (aka "reform") of health care that is promoted by the administration promises to increase coverage and decrease costs while increasing quality by the magic of the triple whammy consisting of electronic medical records, comparative effectiveness research and prevention. It is instructive to look at what comparative effectiveness research has to say about the extensive efforts that have been made to prevent coronary artery disease by attacking multiple risk factors. This is what the Cochrane Group has to say about that.

In many countries, there is enthusiasm for "Healthy Heart Programmes" that use counseling and educational methods to encourage people to reduce their risks for developing heart disease. These risk factors include high cholesterol, excessive salt intake, high blood pressure, excess weight, a high-fat diet, smoking, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. This updated review of all relevant studies found that the approach of trying to reduce more than one risk factor - multiple risk factor intervention - advocated by these Programmes do result in small reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol, salt intake, weight loss, etc. Contrary to expectations, these lifestyle changes had little or no impact on the risk of heart attack or death. Possible explanations for this are that the small risk factor changes are not maintained long-term or are not real but caused by some of the studies being poorly conducted. This review is based on the findings from 39 trials conducted in several countries over the course of three decades. Its authors discourage more research on the topic: "Our methods of attempting behaviour change in the general population are very limited. Different approaches to behaviour change are needed and should be tested empirically before being widely promoted. For example, the availability of foods and better access to recreational and sporting facilities may have a greater impact on dietary and exercise patterns respectively, than health professional advice."

As primary care physicians' practices have changed in large part due to the tightening of the reimbursement screws one of the effects has been the increased use of ER by the primary care doctors' patients ( in off hours and weekends) and/or those folks who cannot find a primary care doc to begin with. With this change one would think the increasing importance of the role of the ER docs should be evident to all including the policy wonks at CMS. Apparently they do not as their new pay schedule gives these figures for the ER physician and the chiropractor:EM docs are valued at $ 38.36 per hour versus chiropractors valued $65.33 a hour.

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