Monday, August 27, 2012

Same Doctor Visit, Double the Cost / WSJ

Just another example of the crazy billing environment for medicine in the US.  From the WSJ:
"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...
Medicare pays substantially more for certain services if they are performed at hospital facilities. A 15-minute doctor visit, for instance, cost the program about $70 last year at a free-standing practice, but the same visit ran about $124 if it was billed as hospital-outpatient, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission... 
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... 

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