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Nov
5

Changes in Medicare reimbursement will increase WC physician payments in 2005

CMS, the federal agency that oversees Medicare, announced yesterday that it will be increasing payments to physicians across the board effective 1/1/05. The increase will directly affect Worker Comp fee schedules, which (in large part) are based on Medicare’s fee schedule.
CMS’ announcement includes the following:
“The Physician Fee Schedule sets rates for how Medicare pays more than 875,000 physicians and other health care professionals. In 2005, CMS projects that aggregate spending under the fee schedule will increase 4 percent to $55.3 billion, up from $53.1 billion in 2004. The spending increase is due in part to an MMA provision that increased physician payment rates by 1.5 percent, a move that negated a previous law’s planned cut of payment rates by 3.3 percent for 2005.”
We have been telling clients and state agencies for years that basing fee schedules on Medicare is a bad idea for several reasons. Here is a clear demonstration of one of them – the state effectively cedes control over pricing to the feds.
Others include a much different mix of services (comp – musculoskeletal, Medicare geriatric, oncology, cardiac) and completely different communications requirements (none in Medicare, intensive in comp for RTW, care management, etc.)
Here’s the net. Comp insurers and self insured employers will be paying more for physician services (on a unit cost basis) than they did this year. Moreover, with the change from the planned reduction to an increase, the impact is almost 5%.
The news is not all bad for the simple reason that price per unit of service is but one of the drivers of medical inflation in workers comp. But therein lies the rub; with the overwhelming emphasis on price controls in the WC managed care industry, many have neglected utilization and frequency which are significantly more important contributors to medical trend increases.


Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates

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A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.

 

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