What Does It Cost Physician Practices To Interact With Health Insurance Plans?

By Lawrence P. Casalino, Sean Nicholson, David N. Gans, Terry Hammons, Dante Morra, Theodore Karrison, Wendy Levinson
Health Affairs
May 14, 2009

Physicians have long expressed dissatisfaction with the time they and their staffs spend interacting with health plans. However, little information exists about the extent of these interactions. We conducted a national survey on this subject of physicians and practice administrators. Physicians reported spending three hours weekly interacting with plans; nursing and clerical staff spent much larger amounts of time. When time is converted to dollars, we estimate that the national time cost to practices of interactions with plans is at least $23 billion to $31 billion each year.



Peering Into The Black Box: Billing And Insurance Activities In A Medical Group

By Julie Ann Sakowski, Jeffrey M. Newman, James G. Kahn, Richard G. Kronick, Harold S. Luft
Health Affairs
May 14, 2009

Billing and insurance-related functions have been reported to consume 14 percent of medical group revenue, but little is known about the costs associated with performing specific activities. We conducted semistructured interviews, observed work flows, analyzed department budgets, and surveyed clinicians to evaluate these activities at a large multispecialty medical group. We identified 0.67 nonclinical full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff working on billing and insurance functions per FTE physician. In addition, clinicians spent more than thirty-five minutes per day performing these tasks. The cost to medical groups, including clinicians’ time, was at least $85,276 per FTE physician (10 percent of revenue).


Much has been said about the large amount of premium dollars that are spent on the administrative excesses of the private insurance industry. These two important studies add additional evidence that the excesses of the private plans also increase the administrative burden placed on physicians and their co-workers.

The price paid for continuing to tolerate our dysfunctional, multi-payer system is tallied not only in manpower hours lost, but also in the monetary value of this wasteful burden placed on our health care professionals. Not quantified here is the price paid in loss of job satisfaction and the potential negative impact that could have on the enthusiasm for advocating for the best patient care possible within the resources made available.

Yesterday President Obama, boiling it down to basics, said, “But whatever plans emerge, both from the House and the Senate, I do believe that they’ve got to uphold three basic principles: first, that the rising cost of health care has to be brought down; second, that Americans have to be able to choose their own doctor and their own plan; and third, all Americans have to have quality, affordable health care.”

Americans have to be able to choose their own plan? Instead of having all essential care covered automatically by a single program, we have to choose a plan that limits coverage and limits choice of health care professionals? And for that we have to pay much more to cover the wasteful administrative costs of the insurers and the physicians? Why is that a basic principle?