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The ice between capitated physicians and insurers may be thawing a bit. Just recently physicians in two states scored some policy changes they’ve been pursuing for quite some time. In Georgia, the Atlanta-based office of Aetna announced these changes, effective Jan. 1, 2001:
• Independently contracted primary care physician practices with 200 or fewer Aetna U.S. Healthcare HMO members will receive fee-for-service payments.
• Physicians will receive 90 days advance notice of significant payment or administrative changes to provider contracts that will have a material adverse financial impact.
• Regular meetings with the Medical Association of Georgia will be scheduled to discuss ongoing issues.
• Computer discounts and free Internet access will be available to all physicians, dentists, nurses, and medical students across the country via an agreement with Hewlett-Packard Co. and NetZero.
Aetna HMO enrollees will also see some new flexibility, given these changes:
• simplification of the precertification process, including the areas of outpatient surgery, most durable medical equipment, and many types of injectable drugs;
• the option to use specialists as a principal physician for members with serious illnesses.
Georgia physicians called upon Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine to achieve these changes. "These policy changes are just the beginning of our overall efforts to strengthen relationships with Georgia physicians and, indeed, with all our constituents," says Aetna’s Georgia-based General Manager Mary Louise Osborne.
Oxendine describes the changes as a move in the right direction. "We have been working for some time to improve the relationship between doctors and HMOs for the ultimate benefit of consumers," Oxendine says. "I’m glad our work is paying off. Aetna’s announcement represents a significant first step."
Two weeks earlier, Aetna made a peace offering to California physicians who have vociferously protested high drugs costs amid what they decry as rigid, underpaid capitated agreements. Aetna announced that it will immediately pay doctors the cost of any new vaccines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in Chicago and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. This includes payment for the newly released vaccine, Prevnar, which protects infants and children from pneumococcal infections that can cause ear infections and meningitis.
Once the appropriate capitation increases are determined and Aetna and the physician medical groups sign the new contracts, the medical groups will regain financial responsibility.
"Through our conversations with the [California Medical Association] and the AAP, we were made aware of the financial challenges physicians are facing to provide the new vaccines to their patients prior to the change in their contracts," says Howard Arkans, MD, regional medical director for Aetna in San Ramon, CA. "This policy will ensure that our [policy holders] in California receive the appropriate immunizations for their children and that physicians are compensated accordingly for the cost of providing the vaccine to our members."
Aetna officials are touting these changes as significant shifts in corporate attitude. "This commitment by Aetna shows that health plans and physicians can sit down together to find solutions that are in patients’ best interests. Our discussion and Aetna’s decision could mark the beginning of a new kind of managed care — one in which physicians, patients, and health plans can work together toward the best care within a financially sound, quality health care system."