Why You Can Not Find a Physician Who Accepts Medicare

CMSSGR (sustained growth rate) is a policy and law put in place by the U.S. Congress signed into law four Presidential administrations ago and kept in place year after year by our non-creative elected Federal officials. It was designed to keep the costs of health care growth down by reducing payments to providers if they exceeded the health spending budget for the previous fiscal year. The problem is that health care spending has climbed continuously and it has never stayed within the budgetary guidelines legislated by Congress.

After the first year of the law the General Accounting Office noted an 8% increase in health care spending above the budgeted amount. Congress was supposed to reduce health care payments to providers by 8% the next year, but the providers howled about an 8% reduction and the President and the Congress backed down. Instead of a reduction they gave providers a cost of living increase. The GAO showed that the increased spending was not due to physician pay increases or physician generated costs but due to increased usage and expense in areas outside provider control. Every subsequent year since the SGR became law, the Congress has backed down and granted a miniscule increase instead. The difference between what was budgeted and what was actually spent has accumulated from year to year and each subsequent Presidential administration and U.S. Congress has been reluctant to correct the SGR because the monetary difference would appear on their administration’s balance sheet and legacy. That continued until the Affordable Health Care Act (Obama Care) passed and signed into law before anyone who voted on it actually read it, made correcting the SGR part of the law.

On January 1, 2013 the SGR was due to be repealed by Congress and health care providers were due to receive an 18%- 45% reduction in fees for services. Congress kicked the can down the block until January 1, 2014 and again until December 31, 2014 when Obama Care made the reduction mandatory. The last Congress kicked the issue down the road until April 15, 2015. They were supposed to settle the issue before their spring recess but they adjourned for the spring recess with promises of passing new legislation upon their return on Monday April 13, 2015. That was yesterday when Conservative Republicans announced that after two weeks of consideration they had major problems with provisions of the legislation they had agreed to pass before their spring recess. Their delay will go beyond April 15th.

The Centers for Medicare Services or CMS decided simply to not process any bills or make any payments to health care providers until Congress makes up its mind. Since April 1st they have paid no one except themselves. If no legislation is agreed upon by midnight tonight, CMS will begin processing payments to providers retroactively to April 1, 2015 with a minimum 21% reduction in fees compared to the 2014 payment rates. Physicians are reacting just as expected. Many have decided to no longer see Medicare patients. Those that do see Medicare patients will require payment for services by cash or credit card at the time of service with payments up to 115% of the 2014 Medicare allowable rate for that service. Many will leave the Medicare system entirely.

Our office will continue to see Medicare patients at the current time under the existing payment systems and we will give this Congress an opportunity to fix the problem. When we refer you to specialty physicians we have no way of knowing who will be seeing Medicare patients and who will not. We suggest you ask that particular office before your planned visit so there are no surprises at the check in check out window.

Haste Makes Waste in Meeting Core Measures

Affordable Care ActOnce again government regulators have put in place well-meaning rules without anticipating the consequences. We all hate sitting around in the Emergency Department waiting to be seen and to be treated. On October 15, 2014 as part of the new Affordable Health Care Act and the patient satisfaction portion, hospital ER’s will have about 180 minutes from the time you arrive and sign in to evaluate you , treat you and make a disposition or decision. The game starts on Oct. 15 but already hospital administrators have their systems operating to prepare to comply. If you fail to comply the hospital will be punished financially with fines and reductions in payments. Take the case of LH who is 88 years old, demented and lives with her loving and nurturing son in South Florida. She went to the beach with her son on a hot humid day in August with temperatures in the 90 degree range and humidity of almost 80 percent for a feels like temperature of 110. While she sat under an umbrella for several hours, the beers she drank to celebrate her birthday did not react well with her medications for dementia. She stood up and swooned to the ground and ended up in the ER. Labs, EKGs and Chest X Rays were done and it was decided that she was dehydrated. She was given some fluids and sent home. Two days later a urine culture obtained at that visit became positive indicating an excessive number of bacteria and she was placed on an oral antibiotic for ten days.

Six days later she was still feeling weak and shaking when she stood up and moved about. Her son took her back to the ER concerned that she was having seizures. She was evaluated by the ER staff and noted to be running a fever. A Chest X Ray was taken and was read as left lower lobe pneumonia by the radiologist without comparing it to her film six days prior. As I was finishing up with my last morning patient I received a phone call from the ER physician advising me that my patient was there with pneumonia and fever and required admission. He told me he had obtained blood and urine cultures and started her on Rocephin. I reminded him she was already on an antibiotic trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole for a urinary tract infection. I told him I could be there in about 30 minutes and asked him to keep her in the ER until I got there. He said that was fine. To meet the Core Measures need for a quick disposition I suggested that the patient be admitted to a medical floor on my service, be given a clear liquid diet and I would take care of the rest. He said that was fine.

In August, Boca Raton, Florida is a sleepy seasonal vacation town enjoying the offseason quiet with its two colleges and seasonal visitors off on holiday. Restaurants are never full. There are no lines at the movies. There are few if any traffic jams and beds are readily available in the hospital. The hospital is usually 1/3 to ½ full at best. Our brand new emergency room is bright, wonderfully equipped with digital and manual blood pressure cuffs, otoscopes and opthalmoscopes at each bedside in marked contrast to the paucity of them on the hospital inpatient floors. It is always easier to be thorough and complete in your exam in the emergency department where you are not wasting time looking for equipment to examine the patient. I arrived at the ER in 40 minutes and was met by the icy stare of the staff nurse who said, “She has a bed upstairs can I send her?” My response was, “Not until I have a chance to take a history from her and her son and examine her.” While I was taking the history and doing the exam my cell phone went off. It was another physician in the ER department calling to talk to me about another patient who was in the department having been sent there by his surgical specialty physician who had just examined him in his office for a problem. I excused myself and walked toward another section of the ER when my patients nurse asked, “are you finished can I send her up?” I again declined and informed her that Dr L in the urgent care session wished to talk to me about a patient now and I would be back. My patient was not critically ill. Antibiotics, food and fluids had been ordered. Taking a short break to speak to the other ER doctor would not jeopardize her care or safety.

I returned 10 minutes later to learn that the nurse had called the Nurse Practitioner working with the hospitalist service and she had written admitting orders in my absence to speed the process along the way. In the hospital’s view the most important issues were to move the patients along, get the medication reconciliation form filled out and get the form on preventing phlebitis and use of anticoagulants filled out so they can meet their Core Measures goals. I went into the patient and son , completed my exam, explained my findings and disappeared into the physician computer room to enter orders, dictate the admission summary after I had reviewed the nurse practitioner’s orders, reviewed the chest x ray and all the lab data. The computerized orders revealed the patient had been admitted to a medical floor, on antibiotics, on heparin for phlebitis and pulmonary embolus protection. They had missed the fact that the patient had executed a “Do Not Resuscitate “form and her son had brought it with him. This was not recorded in the orders. They had also missed the fact that the pneumonia or left lower lobe consolidation they diagnosed was the same on the x ray from 6 days prior and another from one year prior. I walked over to the radiology reading room and pointed this out to the radiologist who said what was being called a pneumonia was actually an innocent long standing hiatal hernia appearing behind the heart on x ray. Despite not having pneumonia, the patient was sick, weak, and febrile and needed admission to sort it out. I sat down at the computer and spent thirty minutes on the orders and admission notes and then spoke to the patient and family. At that point I allowed the ER nurse to call the transporter and bring the patient up to the floor. The nurse literally scowled at me and told me I was violating their Core Measures policy and their director would not be happy and would want to talk to me. I told her I had another patient to see and that if her director wanted to talk to me they knew where to find me since I have been on staff for 35 years. I reminded her Core Measures criteria did not officially start for three more months and that with an empty ER she needed to take a deep breath, count to ten slowly and relax. My comments were not appreciated.

The next morning I arrived at the hospital and looked up the patient’s location. To my surprise despite requesting a medical bed for a “DNR” patient she had been located on the cardiology telemetry floor and was hooked up to a monitor measuring her heart rhythm. Why would I put a patient who asked not to be resuscitated, who was not having irregular beats, who did not have blood chemistries favoring the development of an arrhythmia on a cardiac monitor? The hospital gets paid a flat fee for her admission practically independent of how much service we deliver. I had no idea how this happened but realized that on the computerized order sheet even though it listed the bed as “medical” the nurse practitioner had ordered a cardiac monitoring bed. This flaw in our computer entry ordering system does not allow visitors to see the type of medical bed requested unless you know to click on it. The extra cost of the monitor approaches a $1000 per day. Her antibiotics for the pneumonia she doesn’t have also were quite costly. Yes the hospital expedited her trip to the floor to meet Core Measures but did so at the expense of making the wrong diagnosis, applying the wrong treatment and providing an expensive service the patient did not need. Haste makes waste. This is just the tip of the iceberg. On October 15th the best is yet to come. Pity the poor patients.

Haste Makes Waste in Meeting Core Measures

Obamacare v1Once again Government regulators have put in place well-meaning rules without anticipating the consequences. We all hate sitting around in the Emergency Department waiting to be seen and to be treated. On October 15, 2014 as part of the new Affordable Health Care Act and the patient satisfaction portion, hospital ER’s will have about 180 minutes from the time you arrive and sign in to evaluate you , treat you and make a disposition or decision. The game starts on Oct. 15 but already hospital administrators have their systems operating to prepare to comply. If you fail to comply the hospital will be punished financially with fines and reductions in payments. Take the case of LH who is 88 years old, demented and lives with her loving and nurturing son in South Florida. She went to the beach with her son on a hot humid day in August with temperatures in the 90 degree range and humidity of almost 80 percent for a feels like temperature of 110. While she sat under an umbrella for several hours, the beers she drank to celebrate her birthday did not react well with her medications for dementia. She stood up and swooned to the ground and ended up in the ER. Labs, EKGs and Chest X Rays were done and it was decided that she was dehydrated. She was given some fluids and sent home. Two days later a urine culture obtained at that visit became positive indicating an excessive number of bacteria and she was placed on an oral antibiotic for ten days.

Six days later she was still feeling weak and shaking when she stood up and moved about. Her son took her back to the ER concerned that she was having seizures. She was evaluated by the ER staff and noted to be running a fever. A Chest X Ray was taken and was read as left lower lobe pneumonia by the radiologist without comparing it to her film six days prior. As I was finishing up with my last morning patient I received a phone call from the ER physician advising me that my patient was there with pneumonia and fever and required admission. He told me he had obtained blood and urine cultures and started her on Rocephin. I reminded him she was already on an antibiotic trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole for a urinary tract infection. I told him I could be there in about 30 minutes and asked him to keep her in the ER until I got there. He said that was fine. To meet the Core Measures need for a quick disposition I suggested that the patient be admitted to a medical floor on my service, be given a clear liquid diet and I would take care of the rest. He said that was fine.

In August, Boca Raton, Florida is a sleepy seasonal vacation town enjoying the offseason quiet with its two colleges and seasonal visitors off on holiday. Restaurants are never full. There are no lines at the movies. There are few if any traffic jams and beds are readily available in the hospital. The hospital is usually 1/3 to ½ full at best. Our brand new emergency room is bright, wonderfully equipped with digital and manual blood pressure cuffs, otoscopes and opthalmoscopes at each bedside in marked contrast to the paucity of them on the hospital inpatient floors. It is always easier to be thorough and complete in your exam in the emergency department where you are not wasting time looking for equipment to examine the patient. I arrived at the ER in 40 minutes and was met by the icy stare of the staff nurse who said, “She has a bed upstairs can I send her?” My response was, “Not until I have a chance to take a history from her and her son and examine her.” While I was taking the history and doing the exam my cell phone went off. It was another physician in the ER department calling to talk to me about another patient who was in the department having been sent there by his surgical specialty physician who had just examined him in his office for a problem. I excused myself and walked toward another section of the ER when my patients nurse asked, “are you finished can I send her up?” I again declined and informed her that Dr L in the urgent care session wished to talk to me about a patient now and I would be back. My patient was not critically ill. Antibiotics, food and fluids had been ordered. Taking a short break to speak to the other ER doctor would not jeopardize her care or safety.

I returned 10 minutes later to learn that the nurse had called the Nurse Practitioner working with the hospitalist service and she had written admitting orders in my absence to speed the process along the way. In the hospital’s view the most important issues were to move the patients along, get the medication reconciliation form filled out and get the form on preventing phlebitis and use of anticoagulants filled out so they can meet their Core Measures goals. I went into the patient and son , completed my exam, explained my findings and disappeared into the physician computer room to enter orders, dictate the admission summary after I had reviewed the nurse practitioner’s orders, reviewed the chest x ray and all the lab data. The computerized orders revealed the patient had been admitted to a medical floor, on antibiotics, on heparin for phlebitis and pulmonary embolus protection. They had missed the fact that the patient had executed a “Do Not Resuscitate “form and her son had brought it with him. This was not recorded in the orders. They had also missed the fact that the pneumonia or left lower lobe consolidation they diagnosed was the same on the x ray from 6 days prior and another from one year prior. I walked over to the radiology reading room and pointed this out to the radiologist who said what was being called a pneumonia was actually an innocent long standing hiatal hernia appearing behind the heart on x ray. Despite not having pneumonia, the patient was sick, weak, and febrile and needed admission to sort it out. I sat down at the computer and spent thirty minutes on the orders and admission notes and then spoke to the patient and family. At that point I allowed the ER nurse to call the transporter and bring the patient up to the floor. The nurse literally scowled at me and told me I was violating their Core Measures policy and their director would not be happy and would want to talk to me. I told her I had another patient to see and that if her director wanted to talk to me they knew where to find me since I have been on staff for 35 years. I reminded her Core Measures criteria did not officially start for three more months and that with an empty ER she needed to take a deep breath, count to ten slowly and relax. My comments were not appreciated.

The next morning I arrived at the hospital and looked up the patient’s location. To my surprise despite requesting a medical bed for a “DNR” patient she had been located on the cardiology telemetry floor and was hooked up to a monitor measuring her heart rhythm. Why would I put a patient who asked not to be resuscitated, who was not having irregular beats, who did not have blood chemistries favoring the development of an arrhythmia on a cardiac monitor? The hospital gets paid a flat fee for her admission practically independent of how much service we deliver. I had no idea how this happened but realized that on the computerized order sheet even though it listed the bed as “medical” the nurse practitioner had ordered a cardiac monitoring bed. This flaw in our computer entry ordering system does not allow visitors to see the type of medical bed requested unless you know to click on it. The extra cost of the monitor approaches a $1000 per day. Her antibiotics for the pneumonia she doesn’t have also were quite costly. Yes the hospital expedited her trip to the floor to meet Core Measures but did so at the expense of making the wrong diagnosis, applying the wrong treatment and providing an expensive service the patient did not need. Haste makes waste. This is just the tip of the iceberg. On October 15th the best is yet to come. Pity the poor patients.

Small Medical Practices Result in Fewer Hospital Admissions

Quantity-v-QualityThe American College of Physicians and the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare”, are blatantly trying to make small independent medical practices obsolete. Under a barrage of rules, regulations and requirements all punishable by fines and or a reduction of payment for Medicare payments, the government is herding small practices into selling their practices to large hospital or health care systems. The goal is to provide more complete care in a paperless, seamless system of coordinated care. The American College of Physicians has gone as far as to aggressively push medical practices to become a Patient Centered Medical Home. This is all being done at the expense of mom and pop practices that have long term relationships with their patients but lack the resources to build and maintain the infrastructure that government and insurers demand from health care providers today.

It must have come as quite a shock to the ACP and the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) when a study published in Health Affairs and reviewed in the 08/21/2014 MedPage Today discussed a survey which showed that smaller primary care practices with fewer than 10 physicians had fewer preventable hospital admissions among their Medicare beneficiaries than larger practices.

The data was obtained between 2007 and 2009 and its publication produced the expected response from CMS and the ACP. They theorized that Patient Centered Medical Homes were just getting started and speculated that if the data from today was reviewed it would tell a different story. The problem is that when one looks at data from small medical practices, such as the data presented by the MDVIP concierge group from their small practices nationwide, you see exactly the same trend. Not only do the small practices hospitalize less but they score higher on quality measures designed by the government and insurers themselves.

The authors of the current study noted that 83.2% of US office based physicians are practicing in small practices of 10 or less physicians. Small practices in which physicians know their patients long term and are accessible and available clearly outperformed the larger health system and government sponsored mega groups.

Think about that the next time you look for a doctor. Which health care setting do you want your insurance plan to cover?

The Affordable Care Act – Choice Still Matters

Affordable Care ActThe Affordable Health Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) has led to the purchase of physician practices as hospitals and health care systems organize narrow networks of health care providers to cash in on the influx of newly insured patients.  The insurers are contracting with the health systems at discounted rates to provide care. The insurers are requiring the newly insured to see physicians who are in their contracted network and sacrifice choice.  This week in an article published on the front pages of the NY Times insurance company executives were discussing how having a choice is over rated and unimportant. They are beginning to develop a public relations and marketing campaign to sell that idea to the public that having a choice of physicians to perform your surgery or radiation therapy is unimportant.

I have practiced adult medicine for 35 years now and let me, without reservation, tell you that is simply not true. My 85 year old golf and tennis playing patient survived replacement of two heart valves riddled with infection because he was sent to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where statistics show patients survive more often with fewer complications. I have three survivors of multiple myeloma treated at Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, University of Arkansas in Little Rock and Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. I have scores of athletic seniors dancing and running and home from the hospital in 48 hours after having their hips replaced with the minimally invasive anterior approach by surgeons with 2000 or more of these under their belts rather than just a few. Then there are the lymphoma survivors from MD Anderson and Dana Farber Cancer Center who survived multi-drug treatment regimens at places that perform these services more frequently than other places.

Some physicians and medical centers are better than others. Some are the experienced researchers and teachers who show the rest of us how to handle difficult diseases so our patients can benefit from their experience.  Choice matters! Do not let your human resources person, employer or health insurance marketing guru sell you on price over choice. It will cost you or your loved one your life or your health if you do!