Obama’s Unintended Consequences for Anesthesia

island_rMichael Casey from the Associated Press Wire Service reported on an effort to preserve sea birds on Macquarie Island. All the cats on the island were removed or exterminated. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in the rabbit population. The rabbits destroyed the vegetation that the birds required for cover. Ultimately, the move hurt the birds far more than the cats ever could have. This story provides an illustration of the law of unintended consequences. Manipulation of complex and sensitive systems carries with it both risks and benefits. Change in one area typically impacts others. 

President Barack Obama has made health care reform a priority. In doing so the House has drafted a bill (e.g. HR3200), that in its present form will decimate the speciality of anesthesia, an unintended consequence. The president intends to insure affordable healthcare and improve access, but by doing so he will cause unintended consequences that will be counter to his objectives.   By using  the Medicare fee schedule as the basis for payment under the proposed  “Public Option” health plan the government has signed the death warrant for the specialty of anesthesia .

Medicare payments for anesthesia services are calculated using a different method and a different “conversion factor” than that used for other medical specialties. While Medicare pays primary care and other physicians an average of 80% of private sector fees, according to the GAO, Medicare rates for anesthesia providers average only about 33% of what private insurers pay for our services, across the country.  This unequal treatment is already driving many anesthesia providers to seek early retirement and it will ultimately limit patients’ access to anesthesia care as fewer anesthesia providers enter the specialty.  Payment rates in any health plan, including a potential “Public Option”, must be fairly negotiated to encourage all providers to participate.  Anesthesia providers need to educate House members on this unintended consequence so that it can  be removed from the bill or the bill modified to correct the unintended consequence for anesthesia.

What if Everyone Had Medicare?

HC reform cartoonThat is what the world will look like for the anesthesia providers if House Bill HR3200 passes in its current form. After weeks of hearings and closed door negotiations, Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives formally unveiled their health care reform proposal, H.R. 3200, the “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act,” yesterday afternoon. This historic bill includes a number of important delivery reforms that will expand access to insurance for the uninsured.  Much to the disappointment of anesthesia professionals across the country,  the bill contains provisions expanding Medicare’s flawed payment level for anesthesia services.  H.R. 3200 creates a new government-sponsored insurance option tied to Medicare called the “public health insurance option.”   Payments to providers under this plan would be based on Medicare rates.  Payments for anesthesia services would be based upon Medicare’s unacceptably low anesthesia conversion factor – a payment level calculated to be only 33% percent of commercial/private insurance levels.

Anesthesia professionals should contact their member of Congress Today – ITS EASY … CLICK THIS LINK

Committee action begins on the bill tomorrow.