Opt out

Kudos to the New England Journal for providing a tidy summary of the latest Republican healthcare reform proposal. Up until now, your correspondent was only vaguely aware of the GOP’s evolution from the political party of “no” to one of “go,” albeit with lots of caveats.

It seems the Senate Republicans no longer want to repeal Obamacare and are OK with keeping many of its more popular reforms. Instead, they’re focusing on undoing selected provisions, such as repealing the minimum benefit, returning some aspects of medical underwriting and resurrecting the “block grants” for Medicaid.

But one of the more interesting wrinkles in the proposal is “auto-enrollment.”

Those of us from the bygone days of “disease management” may recall the debates over the merits of “opt-in” versus “opt out” participation in our programs. The former required persons to actively chose to be entered into nurse coaching, which had the advantage of committing resources to a highly motivated population. The latter approach assumed all patients with a condition were enrolled and, only if they specifically requested it, would they allowed to stop the coaching phone calls. Unfortunately, “opt-out” usually gathered many patients who never answered the phone and were “engaged” in name only.

Well, the Republicans are apparently proposing that states be allowed to “auto-enroll” persons eligible for premium payment support into an insurance plan or Medicaid without their up-front permission, just like the old “opt-out” disease management days. The tax credit would cover the insurance costs, no bills would be issued to the consumer and voilà! the risk pools would expand. Patient choice would be preserved, because persons could always just say no.

Your correspondent was always of fan of opt-in disease management. Not only were patients who wanted to be in the program more amenable to behavior change, it allowed the program to “flex” the nurses that we needed as the program grew in scope. However, when it comes to insurance, yours truly thinks the Republicans may be onto something with their opt-out insurance approach.

Count your correspondent as a fan.

Jaan Sidorov, MD, is a primary care internist and former Medical Director at Geisinger Health Plan with over 20 years experience in primary care, disease management and population-based care coordination. He shares his knowledge and insights at Disease Management Care Blog, where an earlier version of this post first appeared.

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It seems both ironic and inevitable: I won’t be getting any more “meaningful use” checks. It’s not that I didn’t qualify for the money; I saw plenty of patients on Medicare and met all of the requirements. I was paid for my first year money without much hassle. The problem I am facing is this: I am probably going to be “opting out” of Medicare, and once I do that I will cease to exist as far as HHS is concerned, and they are the ones who write the “meaningful use” checks. No existence equals no money.

This is ironic because I have gotten famous for how well I’ve used electronic medical records, have written advice for physicians trying to qualify for “meaningful use,” and am esteemed enough to be often asked for my opinion on the subject (culminating in a presentation last year for CDC public health Grand Rounds).  I have spent much of the past 16 years disproving the myths that small practices couldn’t afford EMR, that EMR decreases profitability, or that they reduce quality of care.  We not only could afford EMR, we flourished, using it as a tool to increase both productivity and profitability.  Not to overstate the issue, but my practice (and others like it) paved the way for the existence of “meaningful use.”  I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

But, as fate would have it, I am leaving the practice in which I did all of this work and am starting a new practice with a different payment system.  Instead of charging for office visits or tests done in my office, I am charging a monthly “subscription” fee for access to my care and to the other resources I offer.  But there isn’t a Medicare code for a monthly subscription fee, and the rules of Medicare are such that, as far as I can tell, I cannot have the practice I intend to build and be listed as a Medicare provider.  This is the case even if I never charge Medicare for any of my services.

Regarding my status as a Medicare provider, there are three options:

  1. Accept Medicare as a “participating” provider – This means that I see Medicare patients and accept what they say I will be paid.  I bill CMS for my services, which are based on my “procedure codes.”  My main procedure is the office visit, but I can also bill for things like immunizations, lab tests, and office procedures.  The more procedures I bill for, the more I get paid, but I must justify this billing in my documentation or run the risk of being accused of fraud.
  2. Become a “non-Participating” Medicare provider - In this scenario, I am paid by the patient for the encounter and then they are reimbursed for what they paid me.  The choice of what I bill happens the same way, and I still must set fees based on what CMS tells me (although I can bill a little bit more than I would if I was a participating provider).  Billing is, once again, based on the documentation of the visit.
  3. “Opt out” of Medicare altogether - Opting out means that I am no longer in the Medicare database as a provider and won’t get paid by them at all.  Patients are free to come to me, but they must pay what I charge, and I set my fees based on what I think is best. Continue reading “Tough Hard Decision: What To Do About Medicare”
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