It began almost as a footnote.
Five months after Obamacare was passed, members of the Obama administration quietly published an article in The Annals of Internal Medicine describing the law’s planned impact on physicians.
Shortly thereafter, the piece disappeared and was replaced with a more benign one, with the obvious cooperation of the journal.
You won’t be able to find the original. It’s been wiped from the internet.
(And no, not “like with a cloth or something.”)
What was so controversial about the article?
The admission that the law aimed to eliminate private medical practices — and drive physicians into the arms of hospital bureaucrats and huge medical groups.
From the original:
“The economic forces put in motion by [the ACA] are likely to lead to vertical organization of providers and accelerate physician employment by hospitals and aggregation into larger physician groups … Physician practices that accept the challenge will be rewarded in the future payment system.”
The article’s authors were Nancy-Ann DeParle, JD, Office of Health Reform director, Robert Kocher, MD, formerly from the Obama National Economic Council — and the now rather infamous Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, Obamacare architect and a really special kind of bad guy.
What’s “vertical organization?”
In Medscape Medical News coverage of the piece, the writer likened “vertical organization” to the military and the federal government.
“This business catchphrase refers to enterprises
with a hierarchal structure and centralized management.
An integrated delivery system that owns hospitals,
medical practices, and other healthcare services is a prime example.”
Wow. Sure sounds like single payer, doesn’t it?
And the Obamacare masterminds have been largely successful in moving the medical community in this direction. Journalist Keith Speight observed in 2013 that:
“While the shift away from private practices was already under way prior to Obamacare, the legislation definitely threw gasoline on the fire.”
In its 2014 survey, the Physician’s Foundation found that “only 35% of physicians describe themselves as independent practice owners, down from 49% in 2012 and 62% in 2008.” In contrast, 53 percent of the survey respondents described themselves as hospital or medical group employees, increasing from 38 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2012.
Many of the physicians remaining in small practices have already been heroically laboring to comply with ACA and other federal requirements, spending evenings and weekends transmitting patient data through expensive electronic health record systems.
The newest iteration of health reform,
MACRA (the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act),
will break their backs.
MACRA (previously covered here) restructures physician pay by rewarding more patient data-gathering and obedience to government-dictated clinical and electronic activities.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the agency fleshing out the MACRA regulations, admits that its new rules will penalize 87 percent of solo practitioners and 69.9 percent of practices with 2 to 9 doctors. Over time, many small practices will lose up to nine percent of their Medicare reimbursements. Meanwhile, only 18.7 percent of clinicians in groups of 100 or more will be penalized.
Tom LaGrelius, MD, president of the American College of Private Physicians, explains that “small organizations cannot possibly comply” with MACRA’s complex data-reporting requirements and will be unable to absorb the MACRA penalties. “Such practices are already running on very narrow margins with 70 percent-plus overheads.”
The Physician’s Foundation reported that even pre-MACRA Medicare reimbursement has risen only 3.6 percent since 2001, while overhead expenses “have increased well over 20 percent.”
Orthopedic surgeon Tony Francis believes “compliance will be difficult or impossible” for small groups.
“Just reading a 962-page proposed rule would be daunting enough.
Comprehending the meaning of it is something else.
That would take a full team of lawyers and CPAs.
What small practice has that kind of resources?”
Why force independent physicians into hospital jobs? Physician and health policy expert Scott Gottlieb explains:
“It will be easier for Medicare to gain
more direct leverage over their clinical decisions.”
And you know what that means.
The inevitable results of the proposed MACRA regulations are these:
- We can expect an increase in the “silent exodus” of physicians from clinical care, either through retirement or career change. Even health IT whiz John Halamka, MD, finds the MACRA proposals to be “so overwhelmingly complex that no mere human will be able to understand them… as a practicing clinician for 30 years, I can honestly say that it’s time to leave the profession if we stay on the current trajectory.”
- Some will no doubt surrender their positions as “the knuckle-draggers who just won’t get with the Managed Care 2.0 program,” and join corporate medicine, a move that didn’t turn out well in the 1990’s, and will certainly devalue the medical care Americans have enjoyed in the past.
- Others will decide to opt out of the Medicare program and treat Medicare patients through private contracts.
- Wisely realizing that private insurance companies (the Aetnas and UnitedHealths of the world) will eventually make these very same data-collection demands, many physicians will terminate all insurance contracts, offering private individually-tailored care only through direct-pay or concierge arrangements.
If the MACRA regulations are finalized, not only will independent practices suffer, but so will Medicare beneficiaries. Small physician-owned practices are already known to result in fewer preventable hospital admissions than hospital-owned practices. As the Physicians Foundation points out, while mega-health systems “can handle government rules and regulations,” they simply cannot provide “the personalized care found in the offices of private practices.”
Patients, physicians, and other stakeholders can voice their opinions about the destruction of our physicians’ small businesses at http://bit.ly/macracomment.
Your opportunity to comment will close on June 27, 2016.