Patients can get an outside professional advocate, often a senior nurse, to advise them about recommended and alternate treatments. Some will come to the hospital to listen to doctors and advise. Others can interact with patients and doctors on Skype or Google video chat. Cost can be $90-$200 per hour, cheaper than poor health care. As long as doctors and hospitals have hidden incentives to avoid care, patients need expert advocates. (The parallel is with courts, where most people would get a lawyer, in spite of the cost.)
National directories are at:
Free telephone help will not be as effective, but it is free for the very ill from Patient Advocate Foundation on skin, breast, cervix, ovaries, prostate, and colorectal cancer, narcolepsy, heart valves, Aetna claim problems, and dealing with other insurers.
B. How Patients Can Manage Risk
The heavy penalties which Medicare puts on hospitals for readmitting patients, mean that doctors and hospitals may advise patients not to get treatment, if there is much chance of readmission, even when the treatment would help the patient.
So patients need to worry that advice from doctors, hospitals, or Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) can be biased away from treatment.
Patients who want treatment can avoid being a subject of hospital penalties and hospital risk by:
Regardless of exemptions, it is possible doctors who primarily see ordinary Medicare patients will have a habit of minimal treatment, even for managed care and private insurance patients exempt from the penalties.
Insurance premiums for Medicare and Medigap policies are described in 9 pages on SeekingAlpha. There is also information on SeniorCare and Medicare Rights Center about differences in Medigap plans. Medigap covers a lot of copays not covered by Medicare Part A and B. You can't use Medigap if you have Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage). If you don't get a Medigap policy when you start on Medicare, in most states you may not get it later.
Community Health Centers get federal grants and often have lower costs than average.
Cost disclosures are in flux. Checkbook has a good article.
The Wall Street Journal has a good free guide to looking for health care costs, no matter if you pay with Medicare, other insurance, or cash. Finding costs before you get treatment is hard. Dr. David Belk explains about the confusing cost of office visits, including higher pay from HMOs than from fee-for-service. The Atlantic describes 2019 laws and practices of debt collection for unpaid hospital bills.
Each patient's cost depends on his or her insurance.
Doctors' fees under Medicare are in the Specialists tab above. They show what Medicare pays, and the list price for each procedure from each provider. Medicare costs include the total paid by Medicare, supplemental insurance and patients.
Hospital fees for the most common 100 diagnoses are in hospital spreadsheets from Medicare, and are mapped nicely at ClearHealthCosts.
For example the data files show that surgeon costs for knee replacement are typically around $1,500, assistant surgeon $300, anesthesiologist $200, and hospital costs (for "major joint replacement or reattachment of lower extremity") averaged $14,000 if there were no major comorbidities and complications (MCC), or $23,000 if there were.
For a few procedures (primarily imaging, tests, counseling, dental extractions or implants, cosmetic procedures), ZendyHealth gives (free) a range of local prices within a radius you choose. They offer you a doctor based on how much you want to pay ($49 referral fee). You cannot use insurance with the doctor, but Zendy helps you submit a claim to your insurance company, so your cost counts against the deductible. For these and other procedures they offer a free consultation. You have to pay their legal bills if there's a problem ("indemnify"), and accept arbitration. You have no choice of provider, and see the name assigned to you only after you have paid the referral fee. For example different MRI centers have different strength magnets, and you are likely to get the cheapest, weakest magnets, which give less precise images. If you have time to search the Specialists tab above, you can find the lowest price providers and negotiate directly.
Costs in New York state are at pndslookup.health.ny.gov/
Costs for treatments in North Carolina are available from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, based on their patients and their contracts with providers: bcbsnc.com/content/providersearch/treatments. These have actual costs for a treatment episode, including hospital and doctors. Very easy to access. The free system compares all providers within any radius of a zip code, up to the whole state. You can sort by cost, name or distance. However there are only 1,200 procedures, no info on how often each doctor does the procedure, voluminous output with typically 3 providers per screen, not downloadable, only North Carolina, no procedure codes, so it is hard to be sure what each item covers, no lab costs or drug costs. Their data come from one year, but they don't say which year.
Doctors' incomes derive from the payments above and the volume each doctor does. Average incomes (after expenses) by specialty range from $240,000 per year for Public Health and Pediatrics to $580,000 for Plastic Surgery, with wide variation. Top pay is in KY, TN, AL, MO, probably because of standard payments combined with lower costs. Concierge practices have 1% of doctors. The most rewarding parts of the job are gratitude and relationships with patients, doing a very good job and making the world better. They average 15 hours per week on paperwork and administration. 27% would not choose medicine again, varying by specialties. Wealth averages $1-2 million, depending on specialty and age. A quarter of doctors have over $1 million by the time they are 35, and two thirds do by the time they are 50.
Most doctors at hospitals work for large groups (TeamHealth, Schumacher) which contract to provide hospitalists, radiologists, emergency doctors, etc. Some companies provide doctors to hundreds of hospitals (Envision + Amsurg). Hospital doctors earn $200,000 - $400,000 per year. About half feel fairly compensated. Only a quarter "regularly" discuss the cost of treatment with patients. Over three quarters would choose medicine again and the same specialty.
Insurance payments are complex, and are further discussed throughout this site. A glossary defines insurance terms.
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