Same Doctor Visit, Double the Cost —WSJ Reviewed by Momizat on . Insurers Say Rates Can Surge After Hospitals Buy Private Physician Practices; Medicare Spending Rises, Too    Anne Wilde Matthews at the Wall Street Journal rep Insurers Say Rates Can Surge After Hospitals Buy Private Physician Practices; Medicare Spending Rises, Too    Anne Wilde Matthews at the Wall Street Journal rep Rating:
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Same Doctor Visit, Double the Cost —WSJ

Insurers Say Rates Can Surge After Hospitals Buy Private Physician Practices; Medicare Spending Rises, Too   

Anne Wilde Matthews at the Wall Street Journal reports that the increased number of physicians going to work for hospitals is actually resulting in higher costs for patients.   Hospitals are acquiring physician practices and integrating them into hospital services, and while the stated goal is to improve care coordination, eliminate duplication of services and boost efficiency. However, Medicare and private insurers pay more for hospital services than the same service if done outside the hospital, such as in a doctor’s office.   One example:

After David Hubbard underwent a routine echocardiogram at his cardiologist’s office last year, he was surprised to learn that the heart scan cost his insurer $1,605. That was more than four times the $373 it paid when the 61-year-old optometrist from Reno, Nev., had the same procedure at the same office just six months earlier.

“Nothing had changed, it was the same equipment, the same room,” said Dr. Hubbard, who has a high-deductible health plan and had to pay about $1,000 of the larger bill out of his own pocket. “I was very upset.”

But something had changed: his cardiologist’s practice had been bought by Renown Health, a local hospital system. Dr. Hubbard was caught up in a structural shift that is sweeping through health care in the U.S.—hospitals are increasingly acquiring private physician practices.

Hospitals say the acquisitions will make health care more efficient. But the phenomenon, in some cases, also is having another effect: higher prices.

As physicians are subsumed into hospital systems, they can get paid for services at the systems’ rates, which are typically more generous than what insurers pay independent doctors. What’s more, some services that physicians previously performed at independent facilities, such as imaging scans, may start to be billed as hospital outpatient procedures, sometimes more than doubling the cost.

The result is that the same service, even sometimes provided in the same location, can cost more once a practice signs on with a hospital.

Major health insurers say a growing number of rate increases are tied to physician-practice acquisitions. The elevated prices also affect employers, many of which pay for their workers’ coverage. A federal watchdog agency said doctor tie-ups are likely resulting in higher Medicare spending as well, because the program pays more for some services performed in a hospital facility.

Renown said in a statement that cardiologists moving into hospital employment helps “eliminate duplication, improve coordination, and reduce hospitalizations,” and with “more proactive management of patients with heart disease, we are working to improve the health and well being of our patients.”

This year, nearly one-quarter of all specialty physicians who see patients at hospitals are actually employed by the hospitals, according to an estimate from the Advisory Board Co. That is more than four times as many as the 5% in 2000.

Physicians Are Increasingly Moving From Private Practice to Hospital Employment.  Does Efficiency Result?

More:

With private insurers, hospital systems with strong market heft can often negotiate higher rates for physician services than independent doctors get. The differential varies widely, anywhere from 5% or less to between 30% and 40%, industry officials say.

The bounce can be far greater: Blue Shield of California said that after one group of physicians based in Burlingame, Calif., came under the umbrella of thepowerfulSutter Health system in 2010, its rates for services increased about 140%. The insurer said it saw a jump of approximately 95% after a Santa Monica, Calif., group became part of the UCLA Health System in January 2011.

Every time a physician practice ties up with a hospital system, “there is a tangible, or sometimes really, really high increase in what we pay doctors,” said Juan Davila, Blue Shield’s senior vice president for network management.

Read the full piece

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