CMS Needs to Halt the March to Health Care Gigantism

From a major speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to a recent report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, there has been a renewed interest by Democrats in monopolies and market consolidation. From tech to airlines, they argue, too many sectors of the economy are being dominated by a few big players.

In American health care, this is not only the case, but has been the default preferred stance. In health care, there is an almost Darwinian belief that the evolution to bigger is better. This is why last year saw 112 hospital mergers (up 18 percent from 2014), and the percentage of physician practices owned by hospitals doubled between 2004 and 2011. 

Yet, there is no evidence that consolidation of hospitals and physician practices leads to better clinical outcomes or cost reductions. In fact, recent studies suggest that small, physician-owned practices have a lower average cost per patient, fewer preventable hospital admissions, and lower readmission rates than hospital-owned practices.

That is why it is so unfortunate that, as part of the largest rewriting of doctor payment rules in a generation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unwittingly has drafted regulations that—as currently proposed—further neglect the power of physician independence and create strong incentives for further consolidation in health care.

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