Physician Compensation

Do doctors tailor the care they provide based on the patient’s health plan?

Many studies (including my own) have shown that physicians paid via capitation  perform fewer services than those paid via fee-for-service (FFS).  In the current health care world, however, most physicians treat patients from a variety of different insurance systems (notable exceptions are doctors working at Kaiser and the VA).

Two important research questions come to mind:

  • Do doctors tailor the care they provide to individual patients based on their insurance or is care provided based on the overall mix of a physician’s panel?
  • Are these same effects observed for physicians who own their own practice compared to those who are employees?

According to a paper by Landon et al. (2011), “ Physicians in highly capitated practices had the lowest total costs and intensity of care, suggesting that these physicians develop an overall approach to care that also applies to their FFS patients.”  The authors used data from the Community Tracking Study Physician Survey to reach this conclusion.

This result, however, was only shown to hold for primary care physicians.  The reimbursement differences for each individual patient may be smaller than the physician’s time (and psychic) cost to determine each patient’s payor and alter their recommended treatment regimen accordingly.  Thus, this conclusion makes sense for PCPs.

For specialists, however, this conclusion may or may not hold.  Particularly, for specialists who generally provide expensive procedures, altering care recommendations for individual patients based on their insurance coverage could have a very significant effect on the practice’s bottom line.

Thus, although I think this is an interesting study, it would also be interesting to see how the results were similar or different in the case of specialist compensation.


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