Primary Care Physician Compensation Method in Medical Groups: Does It Influence the Use and Cost of Health Services for Enrollees in Managed Care Organizations?

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Abstract

Context

Growth of at-risk managed care contracts between health plans and medical groups has been well documented, but less is known about the nature of financial incentives within those medical groups or their effects on health care utilization.

Objective

To test whether utilization and cost of health services per enrollee were influenced independently by the compensation method of the enrollee's primary care physician.

Design

Survey of medical groups contracting with selected managed care health plans, linked to 1994 plan enrollment and utilization data for adult enrollees.

Setting

Medical groups, major managed care health plans, and their patients/enrollees in the state of Washington.

Study Participants

Sixty medical groups in Washington, 865 primary care physicians (internal medicine, pediatrics, family practice, or general practice) from those groups and affiliated with 1 or more of 4 managed care health plans, and 200 931 adult plan enrollees.

Intervention

The effect of method of primary care physician's compensation on the utilization and cost of health services was analyzed by weighted least squares and random effects regression.

Main Outcome Measures

Total visits, hospital days, and per member per year estimated costs.

Results

Compensation method was not significantly (P>.30) related to utilization and cost in any multivariate analyses. Patient age (P<.001), female gender (P<.001), and plan benefit level (P<.001) were significantly positively related to visits, hospital days, and per member per year costs. The primary care physician's age was significantly negatively related (P<.001) to all 3 dependent measures.

Conclusions

Compensation method was not significantly related to use and cost of health services per person. Enrollee, physician, and health plan benefit factors were the prime determinants of utilization and cost of health services.

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