Physician Fee Schedule
Last summer, physician fees paid by Medicare were slashed by 10.6% and then restored—with a 1.1% increase—when Congress overrode a presidential veto. SHM members were among the many physicians who fought the fee cut with letters and e-mails to Congress. However, the current fee schedule is short-lived: A 20% fee cut is scheduled for 2010. Will hospitalists and others have to go through the same battle all over again to maintain their Medicare payments?
Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, chief of the hospitalist section at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a member of SHM’s Public Policy Committee, points out “there are some proposals to modify the SGR [sustainable growth rate] formula, so this may not be the hot issue it was in 2008.” The SGR is used to set reimbursement rates for specific services and have been targeted by numerous stakeholders as flawed.
Regardless of the reimbursement formula, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) physician fee schedule might become less crucial to hospitalists’ income. “In the context of healthcare reform, you have to wonder if fee-for-service is even going to be relevant,” Dr. Flansbaum explains. “I think that Congress and MedPAC will think things through and admit that we can’t keep Band-Aiding a broken system.”
A major system overhaul might be looming. “This may not happen this year,” he says, “but I think that if Congress needs to avert the pay cut, then they will say they’re doing this one more time, with the caveat that payment will be drastically different” in the near future.
Delivery System Reform
A third hot topic for 2009 is legislation and consideration of changes in the healthcare delivery system, including payment reform, healthcare information technology, and improving care coordination.
“We think that payment reform is central to reshaping the healthcare system,” Dr. Siegal says.
As for moving toward a fee-for-quality system: “Well, there’s politics and there’s policy,” Dr. Flansbaum says. “Politics says we need to reward quality. However, the policy is that the methods of measuring quality haven’t evolved to the point where we can go forward. Everything is in beta-testing right now; we’re not ready to make any sweeping decisions. The delivery system has to be well-thought-out. It’s complicated.”
For example, in 2008, the CMS published a proposed inpatient prospective payment system rule, which included additional categories of hospital-acquired conditions that would no longer carry higher Medicare payments. The list caused industry alarm because some of the conditions—including Clostridium difficile-associated disease (see “Clostridium Difficile Infection: Are We Doing Enough,” p. 12)—were seen as only partially preventable in hospitalized patients or not entirely hospital-acquired.
The lesson learned? Any reform to healthcare delivery must be carefully considered, along with input from the medical community. “Healthcare is 16% of the gross domestic product. You don’t take that and spin it around in one day,” Dr. Flansbaum says. “It’s best to approach reform slowly and really think it through.”
Even so, there is no guarantee that reform legislation will make it through Congress.
“Another aspect to consider is that there are ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans,” Dr. Flansbaum adds. “ … Many Republicans are miles away from [Democrats] ideologically. Further still, with Daschle’s exit, it is unclear how his replacement will approach any overhaul.”
Of course, nobody has a crystal ball. This year may bring forth less drastic changes than hospital medicine is predicting. Then again, considering the economic and political climate, reform could take place faster than seems possible.
Only time will tell. TH