Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Medical Billing: The Ten Do-well Commandments (after Elisabeth Rosenthal)

Elisabeth Rosenthal, reporter of the monumental Paying Till it Hurts series in the New York Times and author of  An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back, has been out front with the "Ten Economic Rules of the Dysfunctional Medical Market" with which the book leads off -- e.g., on Twitter and on Medium.

To those of us who have saturated themselves in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton (which already feels like a relic of a bygone era), "10 rules"  inescapably conjure up The Ten Duel Commandments. So I have set them to imagined music below. At bottom, the rules as Rosenthal worded them.

A disclaimer: While the rules in isolation may seem excessively cynical, I don't think Rosenthal's point is that all providers follow them all the time, but that the incentives in our dysfunctional system pull them this way.  Another disclaimer: I haven't read the book yet. Too much current bad news to absorb. But I'll get there.

The Ten Billing Commandments

Number one: The treatment. More is always better.
Feed the bottom line, be a real go-getter.

Number two: Keep 'em coming. More is always more.
A lifetime of treatment trumps a simple cure.

Number three: Amenities and marketing are the way it's done.
Look like Cedars-Sinai and the battle is won.

Number four: Moore's Law, only in reverse:
Vintage 1980 will put money in your purse.

Number five: There is no China Price:
Your customers are captive so feel free to charge them twice.

Number six: Price in tandem with your rivals down the block.
A rising tide covers any sense of sticker shock.

Number seven: Economy of scale means too big to fail.
Can't buy your rivals? -- put yourself on sale.

Number eight:  Never fix a price for procedure or for test.
Size up your patient, charge what you think best.

Number nine: Set no limits on your billing...
Charge for every aspirin, payers usually will be willing.

Number ten:  Markup!
The Rosenthal rules:

1. More treatment is always better. Default to the most expensive option.
2. A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure.
3. Amenities and marketing matter more than good care.
4. As technologies age, prices can rise rather than fall.
5. There is no free choice. Patients are stuck. And they’re stuck buying American.
6. More competitors vying for business doesn’t mean better prices; it can drive prices up, not down. .)
7. Economies of scale don’t translate to lower prices. With their market power, big providers can simply demand    more.
8. There is no such thing as a fixed price for a procedure or test. And the uninsured pay the highest prices of all.
9. There are no standards for billing. There’s money to be made in billing for anything and everything.
10. Prices will rise to whatever the market will bear.

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