In a remarkable article that somehow* was accepted for publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the White House offered some friendly advice to American PCPs who may be wondering how Obamacare will affect them. That advice, to summarize, is: “We are the Borg. Prepare to be assimilated.”
* DrRich is forced to wonder whether yet another group of medical editors is auditioning for the death panels.
The article was written by Ezekiel Emanuel from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and Nancy-Ann M. De Parle, who is Mr. Obama’s Czar of Healthcare Reform. (A third author was from the McKinsey Group.) After reminding physicians of their moral obligation to the collective, the White House authors rhapsodized about all of the wonderful changes inherent in Obamacare that will help physicians to realize this obligation.
There’s actually no need to read the entire article, assuming you heard any of the 400 speeches President Obama delivered in his unsuccessful attempt to convince the public that his healthcare reforms ought to displace the holy writ as The Good News. The meat of the article, if you’re a physician, appears at the end:
These reforms will unleash forces that favor integration across the continuum of care. Some organizing function will need to be developed to track quality measures, account for and manage shared financial incentives, and oversee care coordination….These coordinating functions, to the extent that they currently exist, traditionally have been managed by hospitals or health plans….As physicians organize themselves into increasing larger groups — patient-centered medical home practices and accountable care organizations — they are, out of necessity, investing in information technology tools that are becoming both cheaper and more capable and investing in the acquisition or development of management skills that could provide these organizing functions efficiently for physicians groups….For physicians, this means a profession that is more rewarding, more productive, and better able to realize its moral ideal.
DrRich translates this message thusly: “Physicians! You have been neglecting your moral obligation to the collective, in favor of your archaic devotion to the individual patient. Under Obamacare you will need to join organizations which are devoted to the collective goals of Obamacare, and which therefore will guarantee the proper moral ideals. You must function not as individual decisionmakers, but as integrated cogs in a vast healthcare continuum, which will stretch from the centralized bastion of gleaming moral authority (from which we pen this message) all the way down to the humble tip of your stethoscope. You will be rewarded for your cooperation, or suffer for your resistance (resistance, of course, being futile). So rejoice for the health of the collective, and for your own well-being, and prepare to be assimilated.”
Ostensibly this message is for all American physicians, but it was submitted to the Annals of Internal Medicine for a reason. The Annals is the journal of record for doctors who practice internal medicine, and who comprise the largest group of PCPs. The White House in this article is speaking directly to American PCPs.
This is because PCPs pose the greatest short-term threat to Obamacare.
Most medical specialists have already been “assimilated.” Because they require lots of expensive stuff to practice their specialties – things like gamma cameras, operating suites, catheterization laboratories, hordes of highly trained medical technicians, &c. – it is very difficult for most specialists to function as independent operators. If you want medical specialists to follow the rules, all you have to do is make following the rules a requirement for keeping their access to all the technology and the complex infrastructure they need to practice their specialties.
Only PCPs can fairly readily make themselves independent from the collective. And more and more PCPs are choosing to do so.
The White House does not like this. The Annals article, DrRich thinks, is the administration’s first official attempt to curtail the PCPs’ fledgling independence movement. The threat is veiled – the article instead appeals to the PCPs purported moral obligation to the collective, and emphasizes the rewards that will follow when PCPs allow themselves to be assimilated into the Borg.
So this first attempt, for the most part, is merely creepy. The next step will not be as benign.
DrRich urges his PCP friends to take heed. If you have any thought of striking out on your own, and starting a direct pay practice – thus reasserting your profession’s real moral obligation, which is to your patients – you had better act now, before it becomes a federal crime to do so.