Like it or not, the ACA is a done deal, regardless of who gets inaugurated in January 2013. The best thing you can do as a doctor is to prepare for its effects. Here are five areas to focus on.
1. Prepare for More Patients At least three components of the ACA will lead to a rise in the number of patients visiting doctors’ offices: 1) the extension of coverage to 32 million more Americans; 2) requirements for insurance companies to cover more preventive care procedures; and, 3) prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. All of this could mean more patients for your practice, so you should evaluate your ability to accommodate them. You might, for example, want to expand your staff or extend your office hours.
2. Make Decisions Regarding Medicare and Medicaid Medicaid payments are rising to match Medicare rates–a sizable jump over the next few years. Unfortunately, that’s still only 81 percent of private insurance reimbursements, a rate that’s projected to drop due to $716 billion in cuts for Medicare and Medicare Advantage payments. In addition, changes in qualification criteria may result in many people moving from a private insurer to Medicaid, as happened when CHIP was established in 1997. As a result, many doctors are facing the difficult decision to stop accepting Medicare or Medicaid patients unless they can find ways to offset the costs.
4. Consider Going Rural To improve access to care nationwide, the ACA creates a number of incentives to encourage physicians to practice in “underserved areas.” This primarily comes from the expansion of the National Health Service Corps , which provides loan repayments and scholarships to doctors practicing in rural areas. If you’re a young doctor considering a move, it might be worth exploring these incentives.
5. Evaluate Bundled Payments and ACOs ACA creates Accountable Care Organizations (ACO)–groups of physicians who coordinate care for an individual patient or set of patients. By sharing information and taking joint accountability, an ACO can theoretically reduce the overall cost of care, with half the savings passed on to the providers as a bonus. Whether this will work remains to be seen–the results of the ACO pilot project suggest that for most providers this will result in more red tape that doesn’t improve care.
But whether you choose to participate in an ACO or not, government payers will be shifting from separately reimbursing physicians, labs and hospitals to “ bundling payments .” This means you’ll have to collect payment for any treatments performed at a hospital from that hospital or a mutual association rather than from Medicare directly. This may require changes to your billing practices.
Of course, all of this is speculative. Large-scale initiatives like the ACA have a way of resulting in unintended consequences, and it’s impossible to forecast all the financial impacts it might have on medical practices. So, expect the unexpected–but do expect that the ACA will be there.