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New Medical Drama “21” And The Evil SGR Conspiracy To Cut Medicare

Name: “21” (% to be cut from Medicare)

Protagonist: Dr. Rob and a cast of thousands of physicians (Kiefer Sutherland wouldn’t work for such small payment.)

Villain: Evil SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate) conspiracy to cut Medicare by 21% across the board.

Victim: The elderly population depending on Medicare for payment of their medical care.

Plot:  A follow-up to the popular drama “Lost” where members of congress were stranded in Washington D.C. with the task of reforming healthcare without any contact or communication from doctors and patients. This new drama “21″ tells the tragic tale of an industry under siege and a population facing possible disaster.

Already stretched to the limit by the paltry reimbursement from Medicare for primary care office visits, Dr. Rob and his band of physicians is hit by the evil conspiracy of SGR, a secret society whose goal is to harm the elderly people in the country by driving away all people willing to give them care. The congress, tired out from haggling over the healthcare reform bill, allows evil SGR to exert its power in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Independent Primary Care: The “Loss Leader” Of Medicine

Medicare’s sustainable growth rate, or SGR, has been the bane of doctors for years now. To encapsulate, this is the reason for Medicare’s annual threat to cut doctors’ fees by 20% or more, only to be staved off at the last minute.

Emergency physician Shadowfax has a nice take on it, explaining why it has devastated primary care:

Primary care has many fixed expenses in addition to those we bear: they pay rent, nurses and techs and secretaries, healthcare costs for their employees, equipment, scheduling software, etc etc. The fixed costs portion of a typical office practice can be much higher, consuming 60-80% of gross revenue. Worse, many of these “fixed costs” for primary care are not truly fixed, but increase annually consistent with inflation.

I wrote several years ago that primary care is the “cheap DVD” of the medical profession — a loss leader to bring people in the door for more lucrative services. Shadowfax agrees, arguing that it’s unlikely there will be any independent primary care practices in the near future:

I predict that, if nothing else changes in the overall model of physician reimbursement, within a decade there will be almost no independent primary care left in existence — they will all have been subsumed into hospital-owned or group practices to serve as “loss leaders,” existing solely to drive referrals to profit centers like surgical services and imaging facilities.

Bingo.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

AMA President Dr. Nancy Nielsen At The Medicare Policy Summit

nancy-nielsen-ama1I attended my very first Medicare Policy Summit conference today – and it was truly riveting (wonk alert). I took copious notes and will do my best to summarize some key points in a series of blog posts. This first post is devoted to the presentation by AMA President, Dr. Nancy Nielsen.

Dr. Nielsen began her lecture with an amusing story. She said, “congressional hearings are pure theatre” and described what she’d experienced three months ago at a meeting with Pete Stark. The conversation went something like this:

Stark: I’m sick of rich doctors driving up in their Porsches saying ‘I’m pulling out of Medicare.’

Nielsen: [Thinking to herself: First witness please?] I drive a GEO jeep.

Then Dr. Nielsen looked out at the Medicare Policy Summit audience and asked, “are there any doctors here?” I raised my hand enthusiastically at the back of the room. Then she responded, “Oh thank God. Well, you know we’re in the lion’s den…”

[Parenthetically, I didn’t see anyone else raise their hand – which is the subject for another conversation.]

What Is The AMA’s Current Agenda?

1. To expand coverage for the uninsured

2. To reform the physician payment system

3. To improve the quality and safety of healthcare

4. To improve public health

What Is The Bee In Nielsen’s Bonnet?

Nielsen explained that the sustainable growth rate is unsustainable. She stated:

“We can’t go through the annual death dance with congress over this. There is another 21% across-the-board cut in Medicare reimbursement scheduled for January 2010. And this cut will affect a group of small business owners (aka physicians) whose reimbursement has not increased since 2001 while their costs have increased 20%.”

What Does Nielsen Propose We Do?

1. Reform the system so that it reimburses for care coordination and prevention

2. Craft solutions based around patients’ needs

3. Rebase the SGR

4. Bundle services to increase value and reduce costs

5. Invest in disease prevention and wellness

6. Use comparative effectiveness to inform clinical decision-making (but NOT as a basis for coverage decisions)

7. Bring physicians into the policy decision-making process

Closing High-Five to Nurses

Dr. Nielsen closed with an amusing anecdote about inauguration day. Apparently she was standing in the sidelines of the parade route where Biden got out of his limo to greet the crowd. He gave a big hug to some nurses standing next to her and said, “I love nurses. They’re so much better than doctors.” Dr. Nielsen then had the opportunity to introduce herself to Biden and he responded, “Doctors saved my life, but nurses gave me the will to live.”

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