Outpatient surgery profits soar

    Health care can be a profitable business — especially for outpatient surgery centers. A new report from a group that tracks health care costs finds these centers are multiplying across Pennsylvania.

    Health care can be a profitable business — especially for outpatient surgery centers. A new report from a group that tracks health care costs finds these centers are multiplying across Pennsylvania.

    Listen:

    [audio:091118kgsurgery.mp3]

    Outpatient surgery centers in Pennsylvania have quadrupled in the last decade. They also have an average profit margin of 26 percent.

    These centers provide outpatient care such as endoscopy, dialysis and eye surgeries. They have a lot going for them: super efficient practices, hefty Medicare reimbursements, and they typically care for less complicated and insured patients. The result is that hospitals get the more expensive, less insured patients.

    Robert Field is a professor at Drexel’s Law School.

    Field: It’s actually a problem for hospitals. What some of these surgery centers do is what economists call cream skimming – where they take the most profitable, cream of the crop, patients and skim them away from hospitals.

    Priscilla Koutsouradis is the spokeswomen for the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, which represents area hospitals.

    Koutsouradis:
    The ambulatory surgery centers do not provide as much charity care for folks who can’t afford their care. Do not provide as much financial assistance and do not serve as many medical assistance or Medicaid patients.

    Some centers do care for uninsured, poor patients. Main Line Endoscopy East says it turns none away.

    Marc Zittin is the medical director of Main Line Endoscopy East. He says centers multiplied because rules governing them relaxed, and doctors realized they could be more efficient in outpatient settings.

    Zittin:
    We can be leaner, we don’t have to have the same state guidelines in terms of room size and things like that. And we are more efficient, because we’re smaller, less spread out, we can be much more efficient, perform more procedures in a single day and do it just as safely and just as efficiently.

    The report comes from the state-funded Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

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