POLICY: The times they are a changin’?


I am not quite sure what to make of this. In this past Sunday’s (18-Jun-2006) edition of the St. Louis (my fair city) Post Dispatch on Page 1, above the fold, was a story headlined  Is your doctor paid to keep you healthy? Probably Not.

Typically, physicians get paid only when their patients receive care, and more complex care often brings bigger paychecks. At the same time, doctors complain that paltry payments for office visits force them to rush through checkups instead of educating patients about their illnesses, medications and healthy living – all of which might lower future medical bills.

It’s a system that gives doctors little financial incentive to keep patients well. And, experts say, it might be contributing to dangerous, unnecessary care as well as high medical bills.

So, the writer (Mary Jo Feldstein) has got the problem identified. Good. The rest of the story is about three things:

  1. Medicare Advantage (“like” an HMO)
  2. Disease Management & Care Coordination
  3. Essence, a Medicare Advantage plan owned by a big medical group here in St. Louis

The article speaks glowingly about “better quality at a lower cost”, acknowledges in passing that Medicare Advantage beneficiaries all go to doctors chosen by the plan, but then (get this) does not dwell on the restriction of “choice”. This is uncharacteristic of this newspaper. Wow. Oh, and Maggie Mahar’s book gets yet another plug in the article. I thought she’d like to know that.Then on the front page of today’s (22-Jun-2006) WSJ, above the fold is a story (sub req’d) about how the New York State Medicaid department has discovered Disease Management. In a deal struck between the state and Mount Sinai Hospital, their outpatient clinics were designated “Diagnostic and Treatment Centers” which brought higher Medicaid reimbursements. In return Mount Sinai runs a DM program around CHF, and the state’s total Medicaid payments to Mount Sinai Hospital have fallen. But this is evidently OK with the hospital: they have been running at 95% capacity, and would much rather have a bed filled by (say) a commercially-insured ortho patient than by a Medicaid CHF patient. Evidently things are working as expected. The government of New York State has begun to pay docs to keep patients — OK, they’re not healthy. Healthier. Or at least out of the hospital and more functional.So? With attitudes towards the loss of “choice” changing evidently among patients and (significantly) the press, and with a new apparent willingness to pay doctors and allied pros to think and talk to and teach patients, maybe — just maybe the stage is being set for a resurgence of `70s idealistic Managed Care Organizations. Toss in a handful of transparency, shake it up a bit, let it marinate a few years and it could be we have an environment where the Enthoven Plan doesn’t look so revolutionary. Or scary.

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