Next time you go to a college football game, be on the lookout for the Medicare blimp, which is busy advertising the program to seniors while trying to dodge political arrows.
In a letter last week to CMS Administrator Tom Scully, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) called the $600,000 blimp-which carries a sign with Medicare's toll-free number for beneficiaries-a "frivolous, misguided waste of taxpayers' money."
Not so, retorts the CMS, which has counted some 90 stories on the blimp that have run on 70 TV stations nationwide. "The earned media from the blimp is well worth the investment," an agency spokesman says. Two dozen newspaper stories have appeared as well, according to the spokesman, but Outliers found that some of those stories focused more on the blimp's cost than its marketing advantages.
The CMS' $30 million advertising budget equates to less than 75 cents per beneficiary, the spokesman points out, adding that the blimp and other efforts help seniors who need questions answered but don't know where to go.
As of last week, Scully's staff said he had not seen Foley's letter, which argued that "while Goodyear and Budweiser can spend their endless amounts of money however they choose, our government needs to be held accountable."
Foley also called for a suspension of the blimp ad campaign "until a full investigation has been completed." Outliers has to wonder if that's the right route to go-especially when we know congressional investigations can cost more than mere blimps.
Medicare won't foot this bill
He may not have a blimp, but a California podiatrist has been charged with finding a novel way to tiptoe around those pesky Medicare regulations that say providers must work on live patients to get lawfully reimbursed.
Debra Yang, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, charged Orange County foot doctor Robert Ken Kasamatsu, 41, of Chino Hills, Calif., with two counts of Medicare fraud, alleging that the podiatrist billed Medicare $630,000 for procedures never performed. Some of the claims submitted were allegedly for services rendered to patients who'd previously had one or both feet amputated and in some cases when the patients were suffering from the comorbidity of rigor mortis.
Questions remain about whether Kasamatsu actually performed the procedures on the dead patients, or just billed as if he had. At an arraignment hearing last week, Kasamatsu pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Calif. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
HHS' inspector general's office assisted in the investigation.
Attempts to reach Kasamatsu for comment were unsuccessful.
Cool the attitude, stop the suits
Rising malpractice insurance costs have caused healthcare providers to do a lot of talking this year. A new study, however, says more providers, surgeons in particular, should be doing more listening.
A report by the Woods Development Institute, a physician-owned and -operated education and risk management firm that serves healthcare organizations in the U.S. and Europe, supports earlier research indicating that a doctor's personality traits are strongly linked to his or her risk of being sued for malpractice.
The study, which focused on a group of 250-plus surgeons whose individual malpractice claims ranged from zero to eight during the past five years, found significant personality differences between the doctors with higher and lower number of claims. Surgeons with more claims scored lower on the survey in areas such as executive leadership, attention to detail and conformity to standards. They also tended to be independent, to have strong egos and entrepreneurial tendencies and to deny having problems with anger or impatience, according to the study.
"The results confirm what insurers and healthcare administrators have suspected for years," says Michael Woods, founder of the Oak Park, Ill.-based institute and a practicing general surgeon at Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colo. "Malpractice claims often result not so much from medical errors as from physician behavior or poor communication skills-both of which are influenced by personality."
The study was based on data from three large medical insurance companies, which surveyed their physician-clients using a customized personality survey developed by the Management Psychology Group of Atlanta. While personality surveys historically have been used in business as a screening tool for new hires, Woods says he saw an opportunity for applying the technique to physicians to create awareness and ultimately foster behavior change to reduce claims. The personality survey, or Physician Risk Assessment, is available online at the institute's Web site, wdi-inc.com, for healthcare organizations to use in determining which doctors may be high risk.
"Our goal was not to use the risk assessment as a punitive thing but rather in a way to help doctors proactively address issues we can identify," Woods says. Unarguable data compel physicians to be accountable for their behavior, and accountability drives change, he says.
In the coming months, the institute will expand the study to include both primary-care physicians and OB/GYNs.