Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office of how legislation affects the federal budget can tell a lot about Congress' priorities. Provisions in bills relating to specific health care sectors (e.g. physicians, hospitals, drug manufacturers, insurers) that the CBO scores as producing "savings" means that that particular sector is going to be hit with payment reductions or tax increases to fund other priorities in the bill. Provisions scored by the CBO as adding to federal budget expenditures means that the bill's sponsors have decided that the affected sector is a priority deserving of more federal dollars.
What does the CBO's preliminary estimate of the new House health reform bill tell us about Congress' priorities? That primary care and prevention are the sectors that Congress has identified as deserving as more federal spending, above all others, and that insurance companies in the Medicare Advantage program is the sector that will take the biggest hit. Other sectors facing steep reductions are hospitals (reduction in their market basket increase and disproportionate share payments), drug companies and home health agencies.
In fact, primary care physicians get the single largest bump in spending of any sector in the entire bill. Here is how:
$ 57 billion more will be spent over the next 10 years to increase Medicaid payments to primary care physicians so that they equal the Medicare rates. This is more than any other sector of providers, suppliers and health professionals will get, bar none.
$ 4.7 billion more will be spent to increase Medicare payments to primary care physicians for office, hospital, nursing home, home and emergency room visits.
$ 2.3 billion more will be spent to fund two Medicare and Medicaid pilots to reimburse primary care physicians for care coordination in a Patient-Centered Medical Home.
$ 1.5 billion more will be spent on Medicare GME, much of it directed at increasing primary care training.
Prevention and wellness programs will also get tens of billions in additional federal spending. The bill creates a $34 billion trust to fund public health investments in wellness and prevention, and another $10.7 billion to fund coverage of preventive services under Medicaid.
Now, I know that many of the regular commentators for this blog will respond with a shrug to the increased spending on primary and preventive care, because they will say that it is not enough to prevent a catastrophic shortage of primary care physicians. And they will have a point: I don't think the policies in this bill, by themselves, will suddenly result in thousands of more medical students choosing primary care, or necessarily persuade those in practice that there is a brighter future ahead, but I do believe that they begin to put in place programs that will help. Still, it is undeniable that the Congress has decided that primary care and prevention are priorities that deserve a lot more money: the combined $100 billion that the House proposes to spend directly on primary care, prevention and wellness over the next decade represents more than 10% of the bill's total net cost of $894 billion. The fact that primary care is now viewed as a top priority also is evidenced by introduction today of a bill, supported by the House leadership, that would repeal the Medicare sustainable growth rate and replace it with a new update system that will allow payments for primary care and preventive services to grow at a faster rate than all other services.
By any standard, a combined expenditure of almost $100 billion on primary care, prevention and wellness represents a huge shift in the priorities of the federal government, and one that I think deserves our recognition and support.
Today's question: What do you think the increased spending on primary care and prevention could mean to internists and their patients?