DrRich has long argued that a non-negotiable necessity of Obamacare will be to gain complete control over the behavior of American physicians. Most of the important medical decisions which doctors make – the ones that cost the government the most money – will be forcibly centralized. That is, panels of experts will determine which services are to be delivered to which patients under which circumstances, and doctors who fail to follow the experts’ dictates, in all their particulars, will be prosecuted as criminals.
This is more than just a matter of cost management. Placing control of most important decisions into the hands of sanctioned experts is a central tenet of the Progressive program. Centralizing decisionmaking – rather than leaving it in the hands of individuals, who will always operate for their own selfish benefit rather than for the benefit of the collective – is the principle mechanism by which the Progresive program (i.e., achieving the perfect society) is to be realized.
In recent years, growing numbers of doctors who recognize that their independence is quickly being taken away, and that the principle ethical precept of their profession (i.e., to always act for the benefit of their individual patient) is quickly being converted into a mortal sin, and that their own professional organizations are acquiescing with these changes, are realizing that the only way left open for them to retain some of their professional autonomy and professional integrity is to opt out of the system altogether, and begin contracting directly with their patients for medical services.
While the trend for doctors to opt out has not yet become widespread enough to have reached the consciousness of the broad public, it has certainly grabbed the attention of our Progressive leaders. For autonomous physicians pose the greatest possible threat to Obamacare, or to any Progressive healthcare system. And Progressives simply cannot abide these physicians who establish direct-pay practices.
So it has never been a question to DrRich whether our Progressive leaders will act to stop direct-pay medical practices. The only question has been how they will do it.
Over the past couple of months, DrRich has developed a theory about this. He hopes his theory is wrong, but he fears it is not.
DrRich believes that the medical profession is about to become nationalized, and doctors will become government employees, just like the airport security screeners. Furthermore, the mechanism by which they will become nationalized is the very same mechanism by which the airport security screeners were nationalized into the TSA, an event which occurred, DrRich reminds his readers, with barely a peep of protest from American conservatives, or anybody else. That is, it occurred precipitously, out of dire necessity, due to a grave national crisis that seemed to leave us little other choice.
DrRich believes the outline of the crisis that will justify the nationalization of the medical profession is becoming discernible. He believes the crisis will be precipitated by a provision of Obamacare that, for most observers, has just come to light.
On August 10 Medicare announced that, by March 23, 2013, most American physicians – at least 750,000 of them – will have to recertify their Medicare credentials. Now, for most Americans this prospect does not sound too odious. But be assured that it is.
The Medicare certification process is always a bureaucratic nightmare, and the nightmare will be greatly magnified when three-quarters of a million doctors are recertifying nearly at the same time.
All doctors have gone through Medicare certification at least once, and many have done it more than once. Because several common activities – such as changing your address – trigger the need to recertify with Medicare, doctors go through this process on an average of every decade or so. And most dread the experience.
Certifying requires filling out a 60-page form, a form which is absolutely masterful in combining obtuseness, opacity and redundancy, and then submitting it, along with all sorts of additional documentation, to one of several Medicare administrative contractors. These contractors are famous for their incompetence, their indifference, and their glacial bureaucratic pace. DrRich has experienced the ordeal himself, and knows countless doctors who have as well. The experience is nearly universally painful and expensive.
It is very common – possibly the rule – for submitted applications to be “lost,” at least once. (Officially, of course, the doctor never sent them in.) This event is so routine that doctors know to check with the contractor to confirm that their paperwork has been received. But the contractors have caught on to this gambit, and now refuse to reply to such queries for some specified period, usually for 30 days (at which time, it often turns out, the paperwork has disappeared into the ether). When the doctor finally gets to the point where the contractors will admit to having the documentation, there is another prolonged period of enforced silence, while the contractors painstakingly comb through the documents for misplaced commas, “X’s” typed over the line, or any other trivial excuse for discarding the application and notifying the physician (often, 2 or 3 months after originally submitting it), that they must begin the whole process again, and submit new forms. It is common for the entire process of recertification to take 3, 6 or even 12 months.
And the best part is, during the time the documentation is being reviewed, the physician cannot bill Medicare for any services. So during the recertification process the physician must either stop seeing Medicare patients, or continue seeing them without hope of payment. It is standard to lose at least a month – and very often more – of Medicare income during the recertification procedure.
These cost savings, of course, are why Medicare demands recertification every time you change your address, or add a partner, or sneeze. And this is why a slow, bureaucratic, demeaning recertification process is not only perfectly OK with the “system,” but is lovingly nurtured.
That, DrRich reminds you, is what happens during the typical recertification. The en masse recertification mandated by Obamacare, when 750,000 physicians will be going through this process at the same time, promises to become much, much worse. Doctors certainly believe it will be much worse.
“Tough luck for you doctors,” many loyal readers are now saying, “but what’s that got to do with the TSA-ification of American physicians?”
There are many thousands of PCPs today who are strongly considering opting out of Medicare, or who would like to opt out but they are afraid to take the chance. That is, they’re on the fence. There are many thousands more who are hoping to retire within several years, and are hanging on almost on a year-by-year basis, waiting either to meet their target retirement funding, or until things get so bad that they just can’t do it any more.
DrRich thinks that a great many of these on-the-fence physicians will be tipped by the prospect of having to recertify for Medicare, especially under circumstances in which the process of recertification promises to be much worse than even the usual stomach-turning process. If a doctor is thinking about getting out anyway, and now faces the prospect of losing (most likely) several months or possibly a year of Medicare income, then he or she is much more likely to just do it.
If this doesn’t do the trick, then add to it the fact that Medicare reimbursements to all providers are likely to be reduced by something like 25%, when the pre-deadlocked Congressional Super Committee* fails to agree on the necessary budget cuts later this year. And last Thursday night, when the President announced that the Super Committee will have to find $2 trillion instead of only $1.5 trillion in budget cuts by Thanksgiving (in order to pay for his Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! bill), the likelihood that doctors will take a 25% cut in pay increased even more.
*The Super Committee is pre-deadlocked because: a) the Republicans audaciously appointed at least one Tea Party supporter to the committee; b) the Democrat leadership (specifically, the Vice President) has identified the Tea Party as terrorists, a designation they have never been willing to assign to any other group, for instance, to Islamic extremists; and c) it is well known that one does not negotiate with terrorists.
DrRich thinks the Progressives, whether by design or by blind luck, are now precipitating a crisis in healthcare. They are giving American doctors a huge incentive – probably two huge incentives – to opt out of Medicare all at once (instead of opting out gradually, as they are doing today).
If this occurs, the shortage of doctors who accept Medicare will become a hyper-acute problem. Panic will take hold. The media will decry the crisis, running heart-rending stories about old people dying in their homes because they cannot get an appointment with a doctor, and blaming it all on the abiding greed of physicians (who, after all, probably still owe the government for their education, and hold their professional licences at the pleasure of the state). Medicare beneficiaries will flood their congresspersons’ offices with emails, letters, and their very bodies, demanding immediate action.
The autonomy of physicians may be OK in theory. Classic medical ethics might be a nice idea – a nice-to-have – if you can afford it. The doctors who “opted out” might actually be standing on principle, instead of on greed. But little matter. However you cut it we’ve got a real crisis here. The public’s right to healthcare is being violated. People are dying. The very security of the country is in jeopardy.
Not even conservatives will be able to withstand the tide of public opinion. Something will have to be done to compel doctors to provide that which they owe the public. In the war on illness, doctors need to be good soldiers. So like real soldiers, if they fail to volunteer for duty in sufficient numbers they will need to be drafted – and like soldiers they will need to work for, and receive their orders from, the government.
The politicians will be sorry about this. Nobody wanted it this way, they will say. A little less greed, a little more compassion, and we could have avoided this. The doctors brought it on themselves, and have nobody to blame but themselves. The welfare of the public must take precedence.
Anyway, that’s DrRich’s theory. With luck, he is wrong. (Perhaps, for instance, many fewer physicians than DrRich thinks are on the fence about opting out.) But if he’s wrong, he’s more likely wrong about what, specifically, will precipitate the crisis that will finally justify taking away what remains of doctors’ autonomy, than he is about the general outline of what the end-game for American doctors will look like.
Progressivism often “progresses” toward its goal not gradually, but in major, discrete leaps – and it usually does so as the result of some “crisis” that causes the people to go along with changes they would never otherwise agree to. Which is why, if you’re a Progressive, a good crisis never goes to waste.
And the requisite “good crisis,” more often than one might think, turns out to be something you can goose along, just when you need it.