Unintended Consequences of Eliminating Medicare Payments for Consultations

JAMA: 11/26/12

Background  Prior to 2010, Medicare payments for consultations (commonly billed by specialists) were substantially higher than for office visits of similar complexity (commonly billed by primary care physicians). In January 2010, Medicare eliminated consultation payments from the Part B Physician Fee Schedule and increased fees for office visits. This change was intended to be budget neutral and to decrease payments to specialists while increasing payments to primary care physicians. We assessed the impact of this policy on spending, volume, and complexity for outpatient office encounters in 2010.

Methods  We examined outpatient claims from 2007 through 2010 for 2 247 810 Medicare beneficiaries with Medicare Supplemental (Medigap) coverage through large employers in the Thomson Reuters MarketScan Database. We used segmented regression analysis to study changes in spending, volume, and complexity of office encounters adjusted for age, sex, health status, secular trends, seasonality, and hospital referral region. Read more