Changes In Scope Of Healthcare Practice = Conflict, Too
February 4, 2010
Earlier this week I wrote about the inevitability of conflict arising out of the leading ideas behind healthcare reform. Restructuring healthcare payment systems to reward efficiency and quality rather than volume will only be effective if they result in a decrease in overall spending. With that “smaller pie” will come disputes over how to slice the pie. But efforts to contain healthcare costs will not be limited to elegant reform measures based on lofty principles. Especially when government payers are involved, healthcare cost containment may take a more direct approach.
Witness the “turf war” between anesthesiologists and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (“CRNAs”) going on in California. As reported by James A. White in The Wall Street Journal Health Blog, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last year exercised an option under the Medicare program to permit CRNAs in California to administer anesthesia without a supervising anesthesiologist. The California Medical Association and the California Society of Anesthesiologists filed a lawsuit to block Schwarzenneger\’s decision. Prior to California\’s decision, 14 other states had opted out of the physician supervision requirement.
Healthcare cost containment by government payers can occur through licensing and enforcement proceedings that directly or indirectly change the scope of practice permitted in a given healthcare sector. A health care adviser to California\’s Governor told Anesthesiology News that “the purpose of the opt-out decision was to reduce pressures on and increase access to services at small and rural hospitals.” Hmm. The WSJ Health Blog notes that California has the largest number of anesthesiologists in the U. S. at 5,400. Leaving aside the debate on patient safety, it is not hard to understand that paying unsupervised CRNAs costs less than paying for physician supervision.
Once states take action to change a permissible scope of practice, the action shifts to how that change will be applied by hospitals, physicians and third party payers. The California rule change did not mandate the use of unsupervised CRNAs. But when payers demand lower prices and hospitals compete for patients, possible cost reductions have a way of becoming necessary cost reductions. That\’s when the fun begins.
[Image: Turf War Graffiti at Glanmoelyn, Llanrug, United Kingdom, by Eric Jones, August 12, 2006]