Despite all the verbiage packed into the ObamaCare bill, Democrats forgot to repeal the law of unintended consequences:
When the federal government began providing billions of dollars in incentives to push hospitals and physicians to use electronic medical and billing records, the goal was not only to improve efficiency and patient safety, but also to reduce health care costs.
But, in reality, the move to electronic health records may be contributing to billions of dollars in higher costs for Medicare, private insurers and patients by making it easier for hospitals and physicians to bill more for their services, whether or not they provide additional care.
So what is going on? Well, on the one hand...
Some experts blame a substantial share of the higher payments on the increasingly widespread use of electronic health record systems. Some of these programs can automatically generate detailed patient histories, or allow doctors to cut and paste the same examination findings for multiple patients — a practice called cloning — with the click of a button or the swipe of a finger on an iPad, making it appear that the physicians conducted more thorough exams than, perhaps, they did.
Critics say the abuses are widespread. “It’s like doping and bicycling,” said Dr. Donald W. Simborg, who was the chairman of federal panels examining the potential for fraud with electronic systems. “Everybody knows it’s going on.”
When Methodist Medical Center of Illinois in Peoria rolled out an electronic records system in 2006, Dr. Alan Gravett, a former emergency room physician, quickly expressed alarm.
He said the new system prompted doctors to click a box that indicated a thorough review of patients’ symptoms had taken place, even though the exams were rarely performed, while another function let doctors pull exam findings “from thin air” and include them in patients’ records.
But on the other hand...
Many hospitals and doctors say that the new systems allow them to better document the care they provide, justifying the higher payments they are receiving. Many doctors and hospitals were actually underbilling before they began keeping electronic records, said Dr. David J. Brailer, an early federal proponent of digitizing records and an official in the George W. Bush administration. But Dr. Brailer, who invests in health care companies, acknowledged that the use of electronic records “makes it faster and easier to be fraudulent.”
I will guess that Medicare does not cast the same keen eye on doctor's bills as the evil private insurers.