Hospitals: Funding the 'Doc Fix'

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , August 16, 2010
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Editor’s note: This piece is based on Philip Betbeze’s July 2 online column, “Hospitals Help Pay for Doc Fix
While Pharma Gets a Pass.”

Legislation to postpone the controversial 21% cut in physician reimbursement from Medicare was passed. Finally. But it’s not as simple as that. Included in the bill is a provision that would cause hospitals to at least partially fund the “doc fix,” as it has become known.

What’s interesting about this doc fix is that it will cut hospital reimbursement to pay for it, under a mechanism known as the 72-hour rule. The 72-hour rule states that hospitals will be reimbursed one amount for all related services within 72 hours of a patient’s admission, including the admission. Related is defined as having the same primary diagnosis. But under the new legislation, according to Rob Sutton, founding partner of IMA Consulting in Chadds Ford, PA, Congress wants hospitals to get one payment for all services within 72 hours—including those that aren’t related.

Never mind that hospitals’ median annual margin is 1% to 2%, which is not even enough to maintain staffing and technology needs. I suppose Congress sees that and assumes “they can afford it.” Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry, which was the first to cut a “deal” with the president over healthcare reform, makes money hand over fist.

“Both physicians and hospitals should be paid fairly, and I understand the methodology, but what I struggle with is that the hospitals and physicians have little to no control over prescription drugs,” says Sutton. “But pharma is not impacted at all, and they’re making 60% profit margins and nobody seems to say anything about it.”

On the lobbying front, the American Hospital Association did send two letters to Congress protesting that part of the legislation, but apparently their argument fell on deaf ears.

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