In Brief

Extenders’ value rewarded through salary increase

MGMA survey shows boost for PAs

With reimbursement down and physicians stretched, there has been an increasing push for practices to make more use of midlevel providers to take on some of the patient burden in a busy practice. With the increasing value put on midlevels, their salaries are on the rise, according to the latest Physician Compensation and Production Survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) in Denver.

The survey looked at compensation during 1997. Practice Marketing and Management compared salaries with those reported in last year’s survey, which reflected 1996 compensation.

Physician assistants were the big winners, with non-primary care PAs and surgical PAs seeing strong increases in their compensation (see table, above). Other midlevels with positive showings included midwives, psychologists, social workers, and surgical assistants.

There were some extenders who saw declining fortunes, however. Nurse practitioners’ comp ensation dropped 3.7% from 1996 to 1997, and dietitians and nutritionists registered a 15% decline. Optometrists and pharmacists also had a drop in their compensation.

Copies of the survey are available by calling the Medical Group Management Association at (303) 799-1111.

MGMA elects officers; ACMPE new president

Robert Wright Jr., FACMPE, president of University Health Associates at West Virginia University in Morgantown, has been named new chairman of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA). He assumed the position at the association’s October conference.

Wright, who has spent the last 2½ years in his current position, replaces Michael Wilson, who resigned earlier this year.

Other new officers include Robert Goldstein, FACMPE, chief administrative officer of the McHardy Clinic in Metairie, LA, as vice chairman of the board; Larrie Dawkins, CMPE, associate director of Wake Forest University Physicians in Winston-Salem, NC, as finance/audit committee chair; and Lynda Venters, FACMPE, executive vice president of Anesthesia Associates in Albuquerque, as member-at-large. Thirteen others were elected as board members-at-large.

Also at the conference, the MGMA-affiliated American College of Medical Practice Executives named Sherry Gentry, MBA, FACMPE, as president. Gentry is executive director of operations for Presbyterian Medical Services in Albu quer que. She succeeds Patty Brewster, FACMPE, regional director of the Hughston Clinic in Atlanta.

The ACMPE also elected other new officers. President-elect is Robert Nelson, FACMPE, senior vice president of medical groups development at the Canon Group in Santa Barbara, CA. Karen Buck, FACMPE, was elected secretary/ treasurer. Buck is executive director of the Center For Health Care Medical Associates in San Diego. New board members include Norma Plante, FACMPE, administrator of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center in Red Bank, NJ, and Thomas Stearns, FACMPE, vice president of medical practice services at the State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company in Brentwood, TN.

Philadelphia physicians form union

A move by Pennsylvania-based Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield to lower reimbursement rates has spurred a group of Philadelphia area surgeons to join a union hoping to gain better bargaining leverage when it comes to plan payment rates.

Since this summer, some 300 Philadelphia-area orthopedic surgeons, urologists, and ear, nose, and throat doctors have joined the Federation of Phys icians and Dentists (FPD) union. Physicians in Independence Blue Cross Blue Shield’s network keep an average of only 40% of each dollar they make, says FPD spokesman Michael Connair. On top of this, last July, the plan instituted a 2.5% across-the-board fee cut to dampen a recent rise in health care costs averaging 5% to 8% annually.

Hardest hit by these cuts were surgical specialists who had a 16 % decrease in their reimbursements, says John Zamzow, vice president for contracting at Independence.

Because they are considered independent contractors, the surgeons are restricted from collective bargaining by the Sherman Antitrust Act. How ever, they have agreed to pay the Florida-based FPD annual dues in exchange for its consulting services on reimbursement and bargaining issues. One such service is a review and consultation on insurance company contracts along with assistance drafting counter-proposals. FPD also will gather information on customary charges for key medical procedures and reimbursement rates of other insurers in the Philadelphia area.

"We’re now being paid about one-third of what we got paid five years ago for the same procedure,’’ says Michael Okin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia. Affiliating with a union like FPD to help give physicians more leverage in contract negotiations is "the only venue we have left to save our profession," says Okin.