Aetna gets tentative OK
* A federal judge in Miami last week tentatively approved a landmark settlement between Aetna and groups representing about 700,000 U.S. doctors, who have accused Aetna and other large insurers of systematically shortchanging doctors on payments and interfering with patient care. U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno set an Oct. 13 hearing to consider final approval. The settlement calls for Aetna, Hartford, Conn., to pay $100 million to the physicians, establish a $20 million charitable foundation and pick up about $50 million in attorneys' fees (May 26, p. 9). Aetna was the first big insurer to break from a pack of defendants involved in a class-action lawsuit stemming from dozens of cases dating to the late 1990s.
So many patients, little time
* Doctors say they are spending more time with patients, but more physicians also are complaining that they don't have enough time for patient care, according to a survey released last month by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington. The average number of hours per week physicians spent on patient care jumped by two from 1997 to 2001, and the proportion of a physician's working day spent on direct patient care increased to 87% from 81%. However, the percentage of doctors reporting inadequate time with patients grew to 34% from 28%.
Cardiology staffing costs rise
* Staff costs for cardiology or cardiovascular-thoracic surgery practices jumped by about 14% in 2001, according to a survey released last month by the Englewood, Colo.-based Medical Group Management Association. Practices also experienced an increase in operating costs and professional liability premiums, the survey reported. Median operating costs rose about 16% to $422,659, and support staff costs per full-time-equivalent physician climbed from about $193,400 to approximately $220,100.Liability costs, meanwhile, rose an average of about 12% per FTE physician, a figure expected to be far higher in the MGMA's 2002 survey.