AHIP Attempts to Portray Doctors as Villains

Our guest blogger is Emma Sandoe, Health Policy Intern at the Center for American Progress

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has refocused its campaign on current insurance market practices as the cause of rising costs.

Attempting to shift the blame to doctors’ fees, Karen Ignagni and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a report yesterday on out-of-network physician billing. “No politician has asked how much is being charged,” Ignagni said. HR 3200 requires disclosure on out-of-network costs, reduces overpayments, and changes Medicare payment rates to doctors and hospitals.

The study compared out-of-network billing rates to Medicare rates. Out-of-network physicians are free to charge non-negotiated, often times higher rates. The study attempts to show the arbitrary nature of procedure pricing or as Dr. Uwe Reinhardt calls it, “lunacy”:

“Some out-of-network providers are charging exorbitant prices – several hundred or even over a thousand percent of the Medicare reimbursement for the same service in the same area. Recent examples: … $40,000 for a total hip replacement when Medicare would have paid $1,558.”

While physician fees are a part of the cost problem, this study does not show the role of private insurers in the billing process and fails to address in-network private insurance billing rates, which make up over 90% of claims. Including these lower in-network rates would undoubtedly prove that a vast majority of billing rates are lower than the excessive out-of-network rates.

Moreover, the procedures by the insurance industry are not comparable across Medicare and private insurers. Procedures such as hip replacement, coronary bypass, and cataract surgery are more common in the +65 year old population and oftentimes involve more expensive conditions in younger patients.

Highlighting Medicare as a comparison is deliberative. Back on the offensive, AHIP is resorting to their previous cost shift argument that the government reimburses too low forcing insurers to pick up the cost.