As payment for physicians' services continues its steady decline, practices across the country are exploring new ways to thrive. For pediatrician Jesse Hackell's five-physician practice, part of the solution was joining a large multi-specialty pediatric group.
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"We found that payments were not keeping pace with inflation and hadn’t been for many, many years, and that was becoming an untenable situation," says Hackell, whose practice is located in Pomona, N.Y. "What joining a large group enabled us to do was finally level the playing field a little bit in negotiating with the insurance companies. It gave us some strength by virtue of our numbers."
But while partnering up might provide some practices with negotiating leverage, it may only be a temporary solution to a more permanent problem. The results of Physicians Practice's 2013 Fee Schedule Survey indicate that the downward reimbursement trend continues. Between 2012 and 2013, average commercial payer reimbursement for all new and established office visits fell nearly 9 percent. That's on top of a 10 percent decline that occurred between 2011 and 2012. (More in-depth survey data is available in the accompanying survey results and online at PhysiciansPractice.com.)
Editor's note: The results of our annual Fee Schedule Survey are in. See where your practice stacks up when it comes to payment for top codes.
Eventually, even negotiating higher rates with payers won't get practices very far.
But it's not all bad news. As fee-for-service declines, more payers are exploring value-based reimbursement models, in which practices receive higher pay if they provide high-quality, low-cost care. And while many physicians are hesitant to embrace such models — only 16 percent of our fee schedule survey respondents said the shift in payment methodology would be good for their practices — experts say a proactive approach is the best course. "The world's changing and the market's changing, and I think that all too often physicians like it the way it was, and it’s not going to be like that," says John Lutz, managing director at Huron Healthcare, a healthcare consulting firm based in Chicago. "I think that the sooner people start looking forward instead of looking in the rearview mirror, we'll be better off."
But finding the best path forward is not easy, and the broad array of emerging value-based payment models and incentives makes it even more difficult. Here's a closer look at some of the most prevalent value-based models and incentives, and what the experts say your practice can do to get involved.
Getting paid for value does not mean your practice needs to jump headfirst into a full-fledged value-based payment model, such as an accountable care organization (ACO) or a bundled payment arrangement. Many payers are offering smaller-scale value-based incentives, such as pay-for-performance incentives, to practices that reach quality and/or cost targets.
Though pay-for-performance incentives are nothing new, the bonus targets set forth by payers are becoming "much more sophisticated" as the shift toward value gains momentum, says Randy Cook, president and CEO of consulting firm AmpliPHY Physician Services.
For example, in the past, a practice may have received a bonus if it prescribed generic medication to a certain percentage of its patients. Now, a practice may receive a bonus if a certain percentage of its diabetic patients have their A1C levels under control. "That's what's called an outcome measure," says Cook, who is based in Columbia, Tenn. "[You] have to accomplish a whole lot of other things in order to create that outcome."