Lawmakers Introduce Revised Bill That Would Allow Physicians To Collectively Bargain with Health Plans
Reps. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) yesterday introduced HR 3897, a "more modest version" of a collective bargaining bill that would make it easier for doctors to collectively negotiate their contracts with health plans, CongressDaily reports. Barr and Conyers said that the new legislation would "level the playing field" for doctors during contract negotiations with health plans (CongressDaily, 3/7). Under the Health Care Antitrust Improvements Act, physicians in small and solo practices would be exempt from federal antitrust laws, allowing them to collectively bargain with health plans (American Medical Association release, 3/7). The measure would create six pilot programs to demonstrate the bill's effectiveness (CongressDaily, 3/7). Negotiations would be evaluated on reasonableness, in addition to factors such as patient access and quality of care (AMA release, 3/7). The new bill is similar to one passed by the House in June 2000, which would have allowed physicians to collectively negotiate contracts with insurers, but the legislation died in the Senate. That legislation would have exempted independent physicians from antitrust provisions in negotiating for fees and contract terms. Under existing law, physicians who are employees of an organization such as a hospital already have the right to negotiate collectively with their employers. The American Medical Association lobbied for the bill as a necessary tool to allow physicians to promote patient care in negotiations with managed care organizations (California Healthline, 11/20/01). The AMA, along with 35 other national medical specialty societies, said it supports the new legislation. Dr. Donald Palmisano, the AMA's secretary-treasurer, said, "Physicians are now at a severe disadvantage in their negotiations with large health plans," adding, "The proposal ... would reduce the imbalance of power between health plans and physicians that has reached critical -- even dangerous -- levels across the nation" (AMA release, 3/7). However, American Association of Health Plans President Karen Ignagni, said, "This is an unprecedented lessening of antitrust law that will cause health care costs to increase at a time when health care inflation is in double digits"(CongressDaily, 3/7).