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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Is the doc-fix bill worse than SGR?

Here is what Dr. Scott Gottlieb has to say in his Forbes column on 3/19/15:

"The current Medicare reforms being put before Congress ( he was writing before the bill was passed) are better than the existing scheme, the so-called sustainable growth rate or SGR. But the new measures sill envisions Medicare actuaries and  at the center of a price setting process. Now they will also have the authority to mandate clinical practice standards. That this woeful development stands as an improvement to the status quo is a measure of how much our current approach has corroded so many aspects of medical care."

That is I believe the worse and most important part of MACRA. The folks at Medicare will mandate clinical practice standards that it turn will drive physicians compensation.Some well intentioned physicians working within various medical societies sincerely believe they can inject rationality into those yet to be written standards.Those well intentioned few are up against the lobbying powers of the various crony capitalists,the bureaucratic inertia of the administrative state, and the bully pulpit power of a subset of the leadership of professional organizations who either sincerely or cynically advocate for the purportedly calculable  good of the collective over the individual patient.

Yes, of course it is good that physicians no longer have the threat of a 21% immediate reduction in fees and to receive a slight increase (less than the rate of inflation) but after you look past that the slight and temporary  gains made now will seem like a Pyrrhic victory and I believe that Dr. Gottlieb may have been overly optimistic in his comments.

One of the reasons allegedly for the widespread support of MACRA was  that the impending 21% cut would force many physicians to opt out of Medicare. I submit that once the Merit Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) is implemented and understood by practicing physicians it will be likely that even more physicians will leave Medicare.

Will well meaning  physicians somehow find the time,money and energy to fix the heretofore inadequate or harmful quality measures replacing them with better ones?  Will the CMS quality "metrics" some how escape  the inescapable  reach of Goodhart's law?  A measure of something looses its value as a measure when it become a target. With quality measures as will be defined by CMS and resource utilization embedded into MICRA  more and more medical decisions will be made in Washington and physicians will be less and less able to act as the fiduciary agents of their patients with trust in physicians and reliance on evidence based medicine fading away.

For a detailed and frightening analysis of what MACRA contains please read this commentary by Dr. Arvind Cavale. See here.

There is so much to fret about that is explained by Dr. Cavale  not the least of which is the move to have your physician share the insurance risk with the insurance company. Have a nice day.

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