Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

The Most Powerful Health Care Group You’ve Never Heard Of

 

By BRIAN KLEPPER AND PAUL FISCHER in their 9 August 2012 post at The Health Care Blog

Excessive health care spending is overwhelming America’s economy, but the subtler truth is that this excess has been largely facilitated by subjugating primary care. A wealth of evidence shows that empowered primary care results in better outcomes at lower cost. Other developed nations have heeded this truth. But US payment policy has undervalued primary care while favoring specialists. The result has been spotty health quality, with costs that are double those in other industrialized countries. How did this happen, and what can we do about it.

American primary care physicians make about half what the average specialist takes home, so only the most idealistic medical students now choose primary care. Over a 30 year career, the average specialist will earn about $3.5 million more. Orthopedic surgeons will make $10 million more. Despite this pay difference, the volume, complexity and risk of primary care work has increased over time. Primary care office visits have, on average, shrunk from 20 minutes to 10 or less, and the next patient could have any disease, presenting in any way.

By contrast, specialists’ work most often has a narrower, repetitive focus, but with richer financial rewards. Ophthalmologists may line up 25 cataract operations at a time, earning 12.5 times a primary care doctor’s hourly rate for what may be less challenging or risky work.

 

These differences in physician worth and payment didn’t just happen. Instead, they have been driven by a 31 doctor – 26 specialists and 5 primary care physicians – American Medical Association panel, the Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC), which for 20 years has been Medicare’s sole advisor on the value of physician services. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency overseeing the program, has historically accepted nearly 90 percent of the RUC’s recommendations with no further due diligence. So the RUC has huge financial impact throughout health care, not only for Medicare but for many commercial health plans that follow Medicare’s lead on payment…

t is clear that it will be impossible to get American health care under control unless we can recapture regulation and reconfigure it to act in the common rather than the special interest. Until that is accomplished, America’s and our children’s diminishing prospects will be directly tied to our failure to stop the health industry’s rapaciousness.

 

August 9, 2012 - Posted by | health care | , , , ,

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