GOP Senate Majority May Mitigate Policy Risk for Healthcare Industry
By Rachel Cohrs and Tara Bannow | November 4, 2020
Republicans appear likely to hang on to control of the Senate as more races were called on Wednesday, and a divided government would mitigate the risk of the most extreme healthcare policy reforms industry feared.
Democrats’ healthcare wish list items such as a public health insurance option and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices will likely be off the table if either party holds a narrow Senate majority. That improves the predictability of financial prospects for health insurers and drugmakers. However, divided government could also make it more difficult for Congress to nimbly respond to courts’ decisions on the Affordable Care Act.
Control of the Senate has not yet been officially called, though Democrats’ path to a majority is narrow.
“The real swing factor here was the Senate for everybody in healthcare,” said Stephen Tanal, a managing director with SVB Leerink.
A narrow Senate majority in either direction means one thing: status quo. For health insurers, that’s the best possible outcome.
“If you’ve got a really narrow Senate majority one way or the other, you can pretty much bet you’re not going to get huge, wholesale policy change,” Tanal said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Though Washington had buzzed in recent weeks about the possibilities of a public insurance option and other coverage expansions under an authoritative Democratic trifecta government, those possibilities have evaporated.
“Even if Democrats were to control the Senate, I think there are not enough individual Democratic senators who would feel they had a mandate to pursue aggressive coverage expansion,” said Philo Hall, senior counsel at Epstein Becker Green.
Most health insurer stocks soared Wednesday as election results settled into a narrow Republican majority in the Senate, with Anthem up almost 12% at Wednesday’s close from Tuesday’s close. Cigna’s share price jumped almost 15% in that time, while UnitedHealth Group grew by more than 10%. Shares of Centene, meanwhile, fell by about 1%.
Insurers have for years operated under the vague threat of Medicare for All or a public option, which analysts say lowered their stock value even before the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, in which Sen. Bernie Sanders touted his Medicare for All plan. The most radical iterations of those plans sought to wipe out commercial insurers altogether.
To read more, go to Modern Healthcare.
Physician Lawmakers Try New Approach to Shield Radiology From Millions in Medicare Cuts
By Marty Stempniak | November 2, 2020
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced legislation Friday aimed at averting reimbursement reductions to radiologists and other specialists, drawing praise from the physician community.
The “Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act” would do so by providing docs with temporary additional payments, covering the difference between 2020 and 2021 for two years. Reps. Ami Bera, MD, D-Calif., and Larry Bucshon, MD, R-Ind., sponsored the bill, and are acutely aware of the headwinds physicians are facing during the pandemic.
“No doctor should have to worry about large pay cuts while they work to get back on their feet as they continue caring for patients and battling COVID-19 on the front lines,” Bucshon, a cardiothoracic surgeon in private practice before joining Congress, said in a statement. He called this new proposal “practical, commonsense legislation that will hold doctors harmless and stave off pay cuts as they continue to be the heroes we need during these challenging times.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has long planned to significantly boost pay for outpatient evaluation and management services beginning in January. But that requires roughly 10% cuts to others who do not bill for such services in order to balance the budget, lawmakers noted.
The American College of Radiology and other physician specialty groups have lobbied hard against these payment reductions in recent months. ACR praised the legislation on Friday.
“We strongly urge Congress to pass the provider and patient protections included in this vital legislation,” Howard Fleishon, MD, chair of the college’s board of chancellors, said in a statement.
Reps. Michael Burgess, MD, R-Texas, and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., introduced their own remedy in October, proposing to waive budget neutrality requirements for one year under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. Radiology advocates hope this new “hold harmless” proposal from Bucshon and others will gain favor in Congress.
“Given the ongoing concerns about the cost and precedent associated with an unrestricted waiver of budget neutrality, the more targeted approach of this bill should help encourage congressional leadership to include the legislation in a year-end legislative package,” Josh Cooper, ACR’s vice president of government relations, economics and health policy, told Radiology Business Friday.
To read more, go to Radiology Business.
Microsoft Advances Into Radiology with New Cloud-based Medical Imaging Server
By Matt O’Connor | November 2, 2020
Tech giant Microsoft is inching further into the radiology space with a new medical imaging server solution, the company announced recently.
The Redmond, Washington-based firm unveiled its new Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare offering on Oct. 28. Part of this new solution includes the company’s cloud-based DICOM server which can be used alongside Microsoft’s Azure programming interface for fast healthcare interoperability.
Healthcare systems can utilize this tool to merge clinical health information with imaging files and perform tasks that are difficult and expensive to complete with current “on-premises” systems.
Radiologist and Corporate VP of Microsoft Health Next, Gregory Moore, MD, PhD, said imaging makes up 74% of all medical data and may contain clues to “connect the dots” for detecting diseases and guiding treatment strategies.
“As a radiologist, I am excited to see the development of Microsoft’s imaging server,” Moore said in an Oct. 28 announcement.
Microsoft has been wading deeper into healthcare territory in recent months, including a $40 million artificial intelligence initiative launched in January to tackle issues such as biomedical data-sharing and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
In September, the tech leader also publicized a partnership with Nuance on a voice-recognition solution that automatically takes notes during virtual visits and makes them available immediately afterward.
To read more, got to Health Imaging.
Radiology’s Average Salary Ranks 10th Among Specialties, with Overall Physician Compensation Holding Steady
By Matt O’Connor | October 29, 2020
Radiology continues to sit among the top earning medical specialties, even in a pandemic-stricken year that’s seen imaging volumes plummet, according to new data.
Physician member network Doximity surveyed nearly 44,000 U.S. doctors between 2019 and 2020 for its fourth annual Physician Compensation Report released Thursday.
Overall, radiology recorded an average annual compensation of $485,460, positioning the field as the 10th highest earning medical specialty. The group’s 2019 annual survey—which analyzed data from 2018-2019—pegged rads’ annual compensation at $429,000.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed healthcare on center stage and the average doctor’s pay has remained relatively flat, increasing by 1.5% according to this year’s figures, compared to up to 4% in years past.
“This is striking given that healthcare prices continue to be one of the fastest rising components of the consumer price index,” the report authors noted. “So, while healthcare prices are rising faster for patients, these price changes do not translate into increased compensation for medical professionals.”
Radiology’s annual compensation fell just behind gastroenterology ($485,817) and came in slightly ahead of urology ($472,941). Radiation oncology took the eighth overall spot at $516,016 per year.
In the 2018 iteration of the report, radiology was pinned with the fourth-highest wage gap between men and women. Male radiologists earned an average of $442,000, while women earned $349,000, a difference of 21%. Imaging wasn’t listed in the top or bottom five in the data published on Oct. 29.
Here are the top five medical specialties with the highest annual compensation in 2020:
The five specialties with the lowest annual compensation are as follows: