Sunday, September 14, 2003

Patients in Florida Lining Up for All That Medicare Covers

The New York Times' Gina Kolata had a great piece (link is to Tampa Tribune's on-line version; the Times link has expired) in Saturday's paper about the Medicare culture in Florida. Here's an excerpt:
Doctor visits have become a social activity in this place of palm trees and gated retirement communities. Many patients have 8, 10 or 12 specialists and visit one or more of them most days of the week. They bring their spouses and plan their days around their appointments, going out to eat or shopping while they are in the area. They know what they want; they choose specialists for every body part. And every visit, every procedure is covered by Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.

Boca Raton, researchers agree, is a case study of what happens when people are given free rein to have all the medical care they could imagine. It is also a cautionary tale, they say timely as Medicare's fate is debated in Congress for it demonstrates that what the program covers and does not cover, and how much or how little it pays, determines what goes on in a doctor's office and why it is so hard to control costs.

South Florida has all the ingredients for lavish use of medical services, health care researchers say, with its large population of affluent, educated older people and the doctors to accommodate them. As a result, Dr. Elliott Fisher, a health services researcher at Dartmouth Medical School, said, patients have more office visits, see more specialists and have more diagnostic tests than almost anywhere else in the country. Medicare spends more per person in South Florida than almost anywhere else twice as much as in Minneapolis, for example.

But there is no apparent medical benefit, Dr. Fisher said, adding, "In our research, Medicare enrollees in high intensity regions have 2 to 5 percent higher mortality rates than similar patients in the more conservative regions of the country."

Doctors say that Medicare's policies are guiding medical practice, with many making calculated decisions about whom to treat and how to care for them based on what Medicare covers, and how much it pays.

"The bottom line is that the stuff that reimburses well is easier to get done," Dr. Carl Rosenkrantz, a Boca Raton radiologist, said.
"Romer's Law" ("a bed built is a bed filled is a bed billed") predicted that demand for health care services will follow supply in Field of Dreams fashion: If you build it, they will come. This article illustrates the unsurprising corollary: If you pay for it, they will order it.
posted by tommayo, 8:17 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter