Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

How does managed care affect physician incentives to reduce care?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Oct• 30•08

Patients generally believe that managed care systems are put in place to restrict their access to care.  Many patients believe that physicians who receive capitation compensation will provide less care to their patients than physicians who are paid on a fee-for-service basis.  A paper by Fang and Rizzo (2008) investigates whether or not this is really they case.

The authors find that “both capitated and noncapitated managed care significantly increased physician incentives to reduce care during 2000-2001.”  This is just what economists would predict.  When physicians receive capitation payment, they receive non-positive marginal revenue, giving them an incentive to reduce care.

By 2004-2005, however, Fang and Rizzo found no statistically significant difference in physician desire to reduce care between physicians in managed care organizations and those who were not.  Capitation compensated doctors still were more likely to reduce care levels than other doctors but this was only marginally statistically significant (p<.08) and of a much smaller magnitude.

What can we conclude from this?  Likely it is the case that over time, managed care organizations have become less managed; non-managed care organizations have put in place more restrictions over time.  Separately identifying how managed care incentives (e.g., referral restrictions) and physician compensation incentives (i.e., capitation vs. fee-for-service) impact care levels is very important as insurance plans become more homogeneous.

If you are interested in how physician compensation affects surgery rates, you can read my paper “Operating on Commission: How physician financial incentives affect surgery rates.”

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