Doctors: New Health Care Plans Raise Red Flags

By Louise Radnofsky
The Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2013

Physicians groups told Obama administration officials Tuesday that they are worried that new insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act offer only limited networks of providers and low reimbursement rates for doctors, and that could make it difficult for millions of those enrolled to actually get health care.

As the Journal has reported, some health plans don’t include big brand-name health providers in their networks and are slashing how much they’ll pay medical practices for treating the newly covered.

Representatives from the major physician lobbying groups raised these issues Tuesday in a White House meeting with health officials including Chris Jennings and Jeanne Lambrew of the White House, and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“Some of the things were not a surprise to them… they’re acutely aware,” Shawn Martin, a top lobbyist for the American Academy of Family Physicians, said after the noon meeting.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American College of Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association, the American Medical Group Association and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners were among the groups present, participants said.…

The new health plans to be offered in the exchanges are avoiding excessive premium increases by using narrow networks of physicians and by lowering payment rates for health services. The leaders of our nation’s leading organizations of health care professionals are concerned enough about what this might do to patient access that they met with Obama administration officials at the White House.

The administration officials were already “acutely aware” of these problems. Of course, they were. They result from fundamental design flaws in the financing model of the Affordable Care Act. The model was designed by and for the private insurance industry.

It is likely that members of these professional organizations are not only concerned about the patients, narrow networks and lower payments have a direct effect on their livelihoods. In a well designed system, patients must always come first, but the professionals taking care of the patients should be content as well. Grumpy doctors and nurses detract from an optimal patient care environment.

There will be more discontentment as the Obamacare model of high-deductibles, narrow networks, and payment restrictions extend to employer-sponsored private plans. These trends will no doubt expand with the proliferation of private insurance exchanges catering to employers – exchanges outside of the government-operated Obamacare exchanges. Even the private Medicare Advantage plans are being modified in response to their overpayments being pared back. UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest private insurer, has notified thousands of physicians that they are being dropped from their Medicare Advantage network.

Do we really want to keep headed in this direction?

The traditional Medicare program does not use narrow networks. Patients have their choice of their health care professionals. Medicare payment rates are higher than the rates expected to be offered by most of the exchange plans. It would not take much to improve Medicare, and then it would be an ideal program for covering everyone.

You can bet that the representatives of these professional groups didn’t ask for single payer to be put on the table. Too bad.