Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
Alex Berenson’s article “Sending Back the Doctor’s Bill” in the July 27,2007 NYTimes demonstrates the problems the mass media is having in a world of changing communication. Unfortunately, articles such as Mr. Berenson distort and misrepresent the facts.
Mr. Berenson says “Americans generally do not seem to mind the fact that doctors are well paid. In public opinion surveys, doctors usually rank as the most trusted professionals. Congress has repeatedly blocked Medicare’s efforts to reduce the amount it pays for each procedure doctors perform, even though overall Medicare payments to doctors are soaring and the cuts are legally required to keep the program’s budget balanced.”
It is important to study Mr. Berenson’s words carefully. He says “doctors usually rank as the most trusted professionals.” I believe that is true and is deserved. However, he and others are doing their best to destroy that public trust. The trust between a patient and physician (patient/physician relationship) is part of the therapeutic effect. Effective medical care is not a commodity. The therapeutic effect has a personal component that is being destroyed by our present environment.
Mr. Berenson implies that the government must “reduce the amount it pays for each procedure doctors perform.” He ignores the fact that the hospital charge for a procedure done in the hospital is greater than the physician charge to do the procedure. The hospital’s reimbursement is greater than the physician’s reimbursement for his skill and intellectual property. Recall the insurance company paid the hospital twice as much as they would have paid Dr. Westbrock if he was allowed to do the same x-ray.
Mr. Berenson’s last sentence is a warning. It should alert us to what we are in for with universal coverage, and single party payer system. It is socialized medicine.“Congress has repeatedly blocked Medicare’s efforts to reduce the amount it pays for each procedure doctors perform,” This is not true. Congress has decreased the percentage of reimbursement reductions sort by Medicare. Significant physician fee reductions have occurred yearly.
Mr. Berenson goes on to say “even though overall Medicare payments to doctors are soaring and the cuts are legally required to keep the program’s budget balanced.” Physician reimbursement has not been soaring. It has been declining. Hospital costs and administrative payments to the insurance industry have soared. The last phrase portends what we have in store for us with socialized medicine. We will see limitations to access of care, restriction of care and longer waits for care because it has to fit in a budget. We need only think of the examples of England and Canada.
The wonderful Surgeon’s Blog by Sid Schwab touched on this the other day in a post called “Times Two.”
Dr. Schwab is a general surgeon nearing retirement age who writes about the challenges in surgery. He has an excellent and informative blog.
“Working hard for its own sake, striving for excellence without any tangible recognition will be seen in some — but hardly most– doctors if they go on a salary. Because, unsurprisingly (or maybe surprisingly, to pundits) that’s not how it works in real life. I’ve been in the military, and I’ve worked at VA hospitals. Try getting a case on after three p.m. Try getting a lab test or Xray thenabouts. Work another patient into a crowded schedule? Stay through lunch, after hours, come in early? Sorry. That’s what ERs are for. If Alex Berenson (the NYT editorialist) is ok with it, so am I. Sleep, I’ve discovered, can be a pleasant thing.”
In “Sending Back the Doctor’s Bill” (Week in Review, July 29), you compare the incomes of American physicians with those earned by doctors in other countries and suggest that American doctors seem overpaid.A more relevant benchmark, however, would seem to be the earnings of the American talent pool from which American doctors must be recruited.
Any college graduate bright enough to get into medical school surely would be able to get a high-paying job on Wall Street. The obverse is not necessarily true. Against that benchmark, every American doctor can be said to be sorely underpaid.
Besides, cutting doctors’ take-home pay would not really solve the American cost crisis. The total amount Americans pay their physicians collectively represents only about 20 percent of total national health spending. Of this total, close to half is absorbed by the physicians’ practice expenses, including malpractice premiums, but excluding the amortization of college and medical-school debt.
This makes the physicians’ collective take-home pay only about 10 percent of total national health spending. If we somehow managed to cut that take-home pay by, say, 20 percent, we would reduce total national health spending by only 2 percent, in return for a wholly demoralized medical profession to which we so often look to save our lives. It strikes me as a poor strategy.
Physicians are the central decision makers in health care. A superior strategy might be to pay them very well for helping us reduce unwarranted health spending elsewhere.”
I believe you have heard that from me repeatedly. Someone should be paying attention.
I have followed Dr Reinhardt for years. He has finally figured it out. Bravo Dr Reinhardt! Maybe we have a chance. Maybe everyone will figure it out. Maybe a presidential candidate will figure it out.