Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Compensating Doctors for After-Hours Call Coverage

Should there be a premium added to physician compensation for on-call coverage after hours, or are Medicare rates enough?

This appears to be the central question between two competing hospitals in Longview, Texas where a $300,000 stipend was paid to a cardiology group by one hospital and not the other for cardiology on-call coverage.

Guess which one the doctors are promoting now?
Banos said the Diagnostic Clinic cardiologists recently approached Good Shepherd "demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from Good Shepherd for providing call coverage to the patients of Good Shepherd."

"This is in addition to whatever money they are able to bill and collect from patients and their insurance companies for the services they actually provide when they are called in to perform a procedure," Banos said in his e-mail to Good Shepherd employees.

Banos said he believes the demands for compensation were "veiled threats to move their elective procedures to Longview Regional if we did not pay." He added Good Shepherd's stand is that meeting the compensation demands would "not be fair to the many other physicians on our medical staff who selflessly and without any expectation of pay [from the hospital] provide call coverage to our patients each day as part of their commitment to the community."

"We cannot meet the needs of our community and pay doctors for doing something that they are already obligated to do as a part of their community obligation" Banos said.

Banos said he believes Longview Regional agreed to pay the cardiologists more than $300,000 a year for on-call coverage.

"We do not believe that it was by chance that it was only after this agreement was reached that these physicians touted Regional's 'commitment to quality care' and announced their 'choice' of Longview Regional for their patients." Banos said. "We knew that taking a stand could result in these physicians moving their elective cases to Longview Regional, and it did."
Before condoning the cardiology groups' actions strictly on the basis of greed, we should note that there is a precedent for higher pay for employees working after hours in industry. Hospitals, too, have resorted to paying "nocturnists" (night-shift hospitalists) higher salaries than their daytime hospitalist counterparts as they struggle to find staff willing to work the night shift managing inpatients. These salaries are not covered strictly by funds received from the paltry Evaluation and Management payments paid by Medicare, rather, they are subsidized by the hospital system.

Threatened with unprecedented pay cuts from Medicare, look for this trend to continue as doctors use their only remaining asset, patient referral clout, to negotiate their compensation going forward.



Anonymous said...

A hospital paying cardiologists for call to keep their referrals is a Stark violation, plain and simple. But a hosptial paying its empoyed hospitalists more for working overnight is just a normal shift differential. Nurses get that, too.

- NYC med amin

Anonymous said...

In our small city of 70K with two hospitals, several years ago BlueCross decided unilaterally to move all their patients to hospital A because neither hospital A or B would give them a discount. Didn't matter that the staff of A had only one GI doc and one interventional cardiologist so could not provide 24/7 coverage as could hospital B. Later BC was able to go to both hospitals and threaten to move/stay unless they were given a discount (both hospitals agreed to do so). Seems insurance companies have more rights than docs.