With passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act earlier this year, big changes are afoot in the way Americans practice medicine. In a plethora of articles, blogs, and broadcast spots, the media have focused on what the new law portends for the average employee, employers, and the uninsured—but what, exactly, does it entail for ObGyns and their patients?
To find an answer to that overarching question—and 13 others—we invited Lucia DiVenere, director of government relations at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, to join us in an extended discussion of the law and its ramifications. She offered insight into ACOG’s extensive lobbying efforts on behalf of women and the specialty and described the many ways ObGyn care will change in the near and proximal future, focusing on questions that you might find yourself asking, including:
- Will I see a lot more patients?
- What reforms are woman-specific?
- How will my practice change?
- Which of my services will be fully covered?
- Will expanded coverage improve birth outcomes?
- Is “femaleness” a preexisting condition?
- What happened to tort reform?
- Is the system repairable?
1. Will ObGyns see a lot more patients?
OBG Management: The most talked about change the new law heralds is the addition of roughly 32 million people to the insurance rolls. Is the most significant impact of the legislation for ObGyns likely to be an increase in the number of patients they will be seeing?
Lucia DiVenere: Congress wanted to increase the ranks of the insured and expand access to health care, and it addressed these goals with individual and employer mandates, state exchanges, Medicaid expansion, and insurance reforms.
But that isn’t the most significant change in store for us. Congress also wanted to reform our health care system in a number of fundamental ways, some of which are designed to change the way physicians provide care to their patients.
For example, Congress wanted to “bend the cost curve”—to reduce the expected rate of growth in health care spending over the long term. That doesn’t mean that health care costs in 2020 will be less than they were in 2018, but it does mean that annual and long-term growth rates should level off and become sustainable. To accomplish this goal, Congress created an Independent Payment Advisory Commission, which may prove to be extremely powerful in reducing health care costs and is likely to significantly affect all physicians. Greater protections against fraud and abuse, experiments with new kinds of payment and delivery systems, including “medical homes,” and increased reliance on nonphysician practitioners—all included in the law—are also expected to reduce costs.
OBG Management: What other changes are coming?
DiVenere: Congress was determined to alter the practice of health care, ensuring higher quality for each dollar spent and consistent delivery of care. It also sought to kick-start our health care system—especially in the physician arena—into greater and, theoretically, more efficient reliance on electronic health records (EHR). Medicare and Medicaid physician payments will be juggled to increase reimbursement for E&M services and for physicians who provide greater value in relation to cost. Physicians will be required to participate in the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) program in 2015 and beyond to avoid stiff penalties. And EHR systems are required to adopt uniform standards for electronic transactions.
OBG Management: What initiatives are planned for the care of women, in particular?
DiVenere: Congress recognized the importance of reforming women’s health and included many provisions advocated by ACOG in our “Health care for women, health care for all” campaign.
Probably the most important of these provisions is the guarantee of direct access to ObGyn care without need of a referral or pre-authorization from a primary care provider or insurance company. Nor can an insurance company restrict a patient’s direct access to her ObGyn to a certain number of visits or types of services.