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    Be Informed

    Articles, press releases and announcements about what is happening for anesthesiologists and our patients.

HB 2975: Anesthesiologist Assistants Add Value to the Team

HB 2975 would license Anesthesiologist Assistants as part of a physician-led team. New health care delivery system reforms hinge on a team-based approach to patient care. Anesthesiologists have been the leaders by practicing in a team care model for decades. Anesthesiologist Assistants are a welcome addition to the anesthesia team!

Contact your state legislator and ask for their support :

* A physician-led team model of care with flexibility under physician leadership ensures access to cost-effective and high quality health care. 

* The team model of care was found to be the safest compared to working alone. 

* Anesthesiologist Assistants (AA's) are providers that will help ensure that physician-led team based anesthesiology care will be available to all patients in Illinois.

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HB 312, HB 313, SB 625, and SB 642 : Education and Expertise Makes a Difference

 HB 312, HB 313, SB 625, and SB 642 would create a pathway for independent practice for advanced practice nurses. 

Contact your state legislator and let them know :

* Over the years there has been many negotiations between physicians and nurses that has preserved physician-led medical teams. Allowing non-physician practitioners to expand their scope of practice through legislation rather than education and training is neither a good solution nor good public policy for improving access to quality care.

* Physicians have the clinical expertise and training to exercise independent medical judgment. 

* Independent practice for APNs will not increase access to care: The American Medical Association has conducted extensive geographic distribution studies in all 50 states, concluding that nurse practitioners and physicians tend to distribute in the same patterns, regardless of the states' supervisory safeguards on the practice of medicine by nurse practitioners.

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HB 3382: Tell Legislators to Keep Physicians In the Room Where It Happens

HB 3382 seeks to remove the requirement that physicians remain physically present and available during delivery of anesthesia administered by a nurse anesthetist. 

Contact your state legislator and let them know that: 

​* Anesthesia is unlike other care settings, and is particularly different from the primary care setting. It is a complex, high-risk care setting where complications can present quickly that require immediate medical attention to prevent serious injury or death. 

* Physician anesthesiologist prevented 6.9 excess deaths per 1,000 cases in which an anesthesia or surgical complication occurred, according to an independent outcomes study published in the peer-reviewed journal Anesthesiology

* Physician-led medicine can save patients and payers money. A review article in the New England Journal of Medicine cites when a physician anesthesiologist was involved: 

1) medical consultation requests reduced by 75 percent; 

2) cost of laboratory tests reduced by 59 percent; and, 

3) cancellation of operations for medical reasons reduced by 88 percent.

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In the past several years, there has been a dramatic increase in media attention concerning bills patients receive from health care professionals who are not in the network of providers their insurance company contracted with to provide health services. The out-of-network bills these patients receive have been termed “surprise bills” by the insurance industry, but are also often termed “balance” or “out-of-network” billing. Balance billing occurs when a patient receives a bill for the amount remaining between the out-of-network provider’s charge and the payment made by the insurer after copay and deductibles. However, a more accurate label for this undesirable circumstance is “surprise insurance gaps.”

The focus of concern with out-of-network billing has often been with facility-based providers that patients assumed would be covered like their in-network surgeon and hospital. Facility-based providers include radiologists, pathologists, physician anesthesiologists, and emergency room physicians. Patients of scheduled and unscheduled procedures can find it difficult to ensure these physicians are within their insurer’s network. Instead of researching why insurance companies are contracting with fewer and fewer providers, lawmakers are being called on to fix this issue. Examples of legislation they are asked to promote include bans on out-of-network payments, requirements for cost estimates delivered to patients prior to procedures, and detailing dispute resolution measures. On the surface, each legislative approach looks reasonable. However, like most legislation, there is much more than meets the eye.

Are there truly fewer in-network providers and if so, what are the circumstances behind this? In recent years we have seen the rise of a myriad of different types of insurance networks and products that have made it confusing and difficult for consumers, providers, and legislators to understand. These include tiered networks, narrow networks, and high deductible plans that insurance companies have developed that seem to focus on increasing profit margins at the expense of network adequacy. Insurance companies are failing to create adequately supported networks, or are deliberately narrowing networks to force a conversation with legislators to regulate and set prices.

Furthermore, “surprise bills” would disappear if insurance companies were forced to adhere to a “fair payment” in an out-of-network payment setting. Maintaining an adequate network for all providers and all services is the key to solving the problem. Put simply, if insurers were required to have adequate networks and regulators held them responsible for maintaining an adequate network, there wouldn’t be situations where patients are surprised to learn they had or could be treated by an out-of-network provider.  In instances where a provider or service is out-of-network, a mechanism must be created to determine fair payment.

What would an appropriate out-of-network payment approach look like? To begin with, Medicare is not an appropriate benchmark for many medical specialties. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has already established that Medicare significantly underpays physician anesthesiologists. Additionally, pegging to in-network rates in certain settings can essentially turn into rate setting by the carriers. One must understand that these in-network rates are negotiated, discounted rates that are established primarily based on an established market value.  Turning that process upside down eliminates any incentive for insurance carriers to negotiate a fair in-network contracted rate.

Benchmarking to an independent database of billed charges within a specific geographic region for a specific service (not payment rates, not pegging to in-network rates in a certain setting, nor a percentage of Medicare) is the preferred approach. Fair Health has not only been cited as an example of a database that could be appropriately used; it was established as a result of a lawsuit against the insurance carriers that were found to be deliberately manipulating data to their advantage. In spite of this, insurance carriers still deliberately skirt the intent of Fair Health to be used for establishing benchmarked usual and customary charges.  According to the New York Times, “Though the settlement required the companies to underwrite the new database with $95 million, it did not obligate them to use it. By the time the database was finally up and running last year, the same companies, across the country, were rapidly shifting to another calculation method, based on Medicare rates, that usually reduces reimbursement substantially.”

The deception continues today as the statute of limitations on the settlement had a two-year window, and magically at the end of that window, a new database is being heavily promoted by the insurance companies. The database includes non-contracted and contracted rates which skews the data in a negative fashion.  In the confusing myriad of this environment, insurers attempt to convince legislators that the actual database created for the specific purpose of a fair, impartial entity should not be used, but the entity that they created which is a rebranded company of what was disbanded is the more legitimate one.

While insurance companies are trying to promote a narrative based on numbers by their own research tools, pushing benchmarking approaches that don’t relate to real numbers, and continuing to try to convince the public that this is a provider-driven problem, the health care community is pushing back to protect patients. Patients work hard to pay for their insurance policies, some of which are not transparent as to what the premium charged actually provides. 

Nonprofit medical and specialty organizations across the country are working together to promote the rights of patients to have minimal standards that are clear to understand for the policies they purchase. Insurance companies are being closely scrutinized by lawmakers that were asked to prohibit out-of-network payments in settings created by these inadequate and narrow networks. In many cases, these bills are being sent to study committees for a real objective analysis of the problem and for real consideration of real solutions for these surprise coverage issues.

Legislation that would solve these issues should hold insurers accountable for providing an adequate network for all providers and services, and in instances where they fail to do so, hold them accountable to making payments based on real market values, therefore preventing patients from having to deal with grossly inadequate and surprise coverage.

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In 1997 congress passed the Balanced Budget Act (BBA), to replace the Medicare Volume Performance Standard (MVPS), in an attempt to rein in the growth in physician expenditure and healthcare costs. The BBA was designed to ensure that the annual increase in expense per Medicare beneficiary did not exceed the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and tied physician reimbursement to GDP.

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Over the years there has been many negotiations between physicians and nurses that has preserved physician-led medical teams. ISA believes that only physicians have the clinical expertise and training to exercise independent medical judgment. Allowing non-physician practitioners to expand their scope of practice through legislation rather than education and training neither a good solution nor good public policy for improving access to quality care. Here are the highlights of those negotiations. 

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The ASA House of Delegates met this past October 22-26. It brought together hundreds of delegates representing eight regions in the nation.  Over the span of five days, I had the opportunity to partake in this gathering of innovative minds as the physician anesthesiologists who function as the primary legislative and governing body of the ASA met in Chicago. 

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The Veteran Affairs Department has finalized a rule that will allow advanced-practice registered nurses to practice to their full authority at VA facilities, however the new permission will not expand to certified registered nurse anesthetists following lobbying from anesthesiologists.

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The ISA had a practice management dinner seminar at Carlucci’s Restaurant in Rosemont in August with a discussion on the uses and misuses of patient surveys.   Our lead speaker was Bob Vosburgh, the President and Founder of Survey Vitals, who offers a specialized patient satisfaction survey tool dedicated to anesthesiologists. 

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Advocacy! If you attended the ASA in Chicago in late October, this phrase was utilized continuously. Why get involved, why not let others do the heavy lifting? It was obvious that the leaders of our specialty had a lot of actionable items to deal with. It was also obvious that their decision to raise yearly membership dues came about because of the continuous assault on our practice of medicine by the government, payors, non-physicians, and insurers which could affect the way we practice and cut our reimbursement by 15-20%.

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As I reflect upon last weekend’s 2016 ISA Leadership Conference, I am thankful to be a member of our organization.  The ISA continues to provide rich educational experiences at minimal to no cost for its members.  Drs. Torin Shear and Michael Shane continue to develop an amazing conference with excellent, thought-provoking speakers from around the nation.   As a short summary:

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