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    Do you ‘feel the Bern’? What a single-payer system portends

     

    But all of this at what cost? Ah yes, that little detail. As you can imagine, the cost estimates vary greatly depending on what assumptions you make, but in general it would not be cheap. Sen. Sanders’ plan itself calls for a 2.2% income tax on all Americans and a 6.2% levy on employers. That means for the average urologist who makes $400,000 a year, his taxes would go up $8,800. Ouch. But then I currently pay about $1,500 a month for health insurance for my family (the plan has a $6,300 individual deductible), so I’d actually save $9,200 a year.

    However, my company would also have to pay the 6.2% levy, so as a business owner, my pay would also go down. And that assumes the costs are what Sen. Sanders predicts. Probably the best summary of the pros and cons of a single-payer system is a Washington Post article, “What liberals get wrong about single payer.”

    With that in mind, let’s talk about something more germane, namely, how such a plan would affect my business directly. Note that nothing in this blog post discusses how such a plan would affect patient care, as that is a different topic entirely.

    Assumptions: We wake up tomorrow and all insurance companies are gone. All citizens have Medicare that covers 100% of costs with no premiums and no deductibles. (This is the Sen. Sanders plan in a nutshell).

    Read - Physician employment: Both good and bad results

    First, about 60% of my business is via private insurers and they pay about 25% more than Medicare, so my average patient pays about 115% Medicare now. That means I just lost 15% of my revenue, as my average patient now pays only 100% Medicare. Ouch. I realize this calculation is rough and that it varies greatly depending on your exact situation, but I doubt anyone would see a pay increase.

    There are, however, advantages from a business standpoint to a single-payer system as described. First, Medicaid and no-pay patients go away, which means that for the 5% to 10% of my business that currently pays pennies on the dollar, I would receive Medicare rates instead. That’s a plus. Additionally, I could probably save money on billing, as Medicare billing is much more straightforward that private pay. Further, Medicare does pay faster than most private payers, so my accounts receivable would also go down. My staff would also like the fact that most pre-authorizations would go away.

    The same could be said for all of my ancillary income. Suddenly, while I may make less per patient, the volume of cases at my ambulatory surgical center, for example, would increase because there would be no more narrow networks. I’d also wager that the overall volume of patient visits would increase, since patients who are delaying health care because they don’t have insurance or can’t afford to use the insurance they have would suddenly show up at our offices.

    I realize that this back-of-the-envelope calculation depends greatly on a group’s payer mix. For a practice that does a significant amount of Medicaid, this may be an advantage, whereas if your group’s average contract is 300% Medicare, your income will certainly decrease (and please email me the name of your contract negotiator as I would love her to redo my contracts).

    While I don’t know if I “feel the Bern” (a popular Sanders slogan) about a single-payer system, I also don’t think I would have to start looking for a second job if we transitioned to that system.

    More from Dr. Rosevear:

    How profit enters the product development equation

    Do you own an S corp? Why I made the switch

    On-Demand and on-target: Why AUA Course Pass is worth your time


    To get weekly news from the leading news source for urologists, subscribe to the Urology Times eNews.

    Henry Rosevear, MD
    Dr. Rosevear, a member of the Urology Times Clinical Practice Board, is in private practice at Pikes Peak Urology, Colorado Springs, CO.

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