Medicare Physician Fee Schedule: Practice Expense Payments to Oncologists Indicate Need For Overall Refinements - GAO Report
|Date:||Oct. 31, 2001|
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Medicare's physician fee schedule establishes payments for more than 7,000 different services, such as office visits, surgical procedures, and treatments. Before 1992, fees were based on charges physicians billed for these services. Since then, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), which runs Medicare, has been phasing in a new fee schedule on the basis of the amount of resources used to provide that service relative to other services. The development of the resource-based practice expense component was a substantial undertaking. The implementation of the resource-based methodology has been the subject of considerable controversy, partly because of HCFA's adjustments to the underlying data and basic method and partly because payment changes were required to be budget-neutral--which means that total Medicare spending for physician services was to be the same under the new payment method as it was under the old one. As a result, Medicare payments to some specialties have increased while payments to other specialties have decreased. Oncologists claim that their practice expense payments are particularly inadequate for some office-based services, such as chemotherapy. Oncology practice expense payments in 2001 are eight percent higher than they would have been had charged-based payments continued. Oncology practice expense payments compared to their estimated practice expenses are about the same as the average for all physicians.