When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, the most contentious provisions – which are still the subject of challenges in federal courts – were the establishment of state-wide insurance exchanges, the “individual mandate” that compels eligible citizens to buy insurance, and the expansion of state Medicaid programs. Less well appreciated, but arguably more important, were a wide range of reforms to the Medicare program. Summarized here, they touch on almost all aspects of the program, but I want to concentrate on just one.
The law directed CMS to move Medicare from a strictly fee-for-service (FFS) payment model (“paying for volume”) to one in which the quality of care was factored into the payment received by hospitals and physicians (“paying for value”). As I have written previously I believe this is the right move. There are just too many challenges to improving care and lowering costs that derive from “straight” FFS that is disconnected from any assessment of quality. And while you may not have known that they grew out of the ACA, the payment reforms themselves have gotten a lot of attention. Penalties for readmissions, requirements for physician quality reporting, pilot programs for bundled payments and accountable care organizations are just of few of the Medicare reforms. Even though they currently influence a small percentage of overall Medicare spending, these changes may already be having a big impact on how care is delivered.
Continue reading Not Your Father’s Medicare
I wrote recently about the need to take into account patient characteristics when using patient outcomes to compare the quality of care provided by different physicians. That is a well-accepted principle, and the need for so-called “risk-adjustment” applies not only to evaluating physicians, but also to evaluating hospitals and larger care delivery systems. There has been a smoldering controversy, however, about which patient characteristics to consider and, in particular, the implications of including socioeconomic factors in such comparisons. This controversy played out again in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Here is the core of the issue.
Continue reading Adjusting Outcomes
I wrote recently about the release of physician billing information by CMS and noted that news organizations had quickly provided tools to look-up individual physicians. Propublica an “independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest” has gone one better. In keeping with their mission to “expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust… through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing” they recently posted a more powerful online tool for analyzing and viewing the CMS data along with a companion story of what they found by using it. Continue reading More Sunshine
Last week, with little fanfare, the federal government made public all of the “Part B” Medicare expenditures from 2012. For the first time, it became possible to view – by physician – the types of services being billed, the number of each type, the charges, and the actual payment from Medicare. Continue reading Medicare Physician Payments
I really do not understand how Congress “works.” While it busied itself with passing a law that fails to fix the clearly broken “sustainable growth rate” formula for Medicare physician payments, it added in a surprise for the entire healthcare industry: a provision that mandates a delay in the adoption of ICD-10 by CMS. Continue reading Now What?
October 1 marks what should be an important milestone in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), informally known as “Obamacare.” Sadly, this has been overshadowed and even threatened by irresponsible and reactionary posturing by Republican members of the US House of Representatives.
Today was supposed to be the day that a signature element of the legislation was realized – the opening of Web-based “exchanges” through which individuals without employer-provided health insurance could purchase it from private insurance companies with progressive government subsidies based on income. Together with federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid, the patch-quilt of state health insurance programs for the poor, the goal of providing affordable (get it?) insurance to nearly all citizens was to be achieved. Instead, the news is filled with talk of a government shutdown or even a default on repaying federal debt, either of which would be a completely avoidable, self-inflicted wound to our prosperity. Continue reading Opening Day
I have been thinking more about the price of health care services. I have already shared some thoughts about this, but this time I have a more personal story to tell.
I recently had an echocardiogram. I would score the indication as “uncertain” (not clearly appropriate or inappropriate) according to professional guidelines. As a cardiologist myself, however, I would have ordered one in similar circumstances without hesitation. So I did not think the test itself was a problem — until I got the bill. Continue reading More on Prices
Few things unite physicians as much as the belief that the current malpractice tort system is seriously broken. The litany of complaints is long and familiar: many suits are without merit; the cost of malpractice defense forces settlements even when the “medicine” was good if the outcome was bad; lawyers take too big a slice of the financial pie; we are all forced to practice defensively to avoid getting sued, thereby driving up the cost of health care. Of all of these, the belief that malpractice fear drives physicians to overtest and overtreat seems nearly universally held. Even so, there has been very little evidence to support it, and efforts to quantify the impact of “defensive medicine” on health care costs have been largely speculative. Continue reading Fear of Malpractice Claims and Defensive Medicine