After-hours work could pay off for primary-care docs in Maryland

The Maryland General Assembly and insurers are hoping that paying more to primary-care physicians who work off-hours will pay off with healthier patients and lower overall health costs.

Always in short supply, primary-care physicians often are not able to take new patients because of a full practice, or are not available in all geographic areas. As a result, part of the health population, usually the uninsured, may use emergency rooms as a substitute for preventive care, or not seek care in a timely manner. Maryland's Task Force on Health Care and Reimbursement estimates that an ER visit costs six times the amount of a doctor's office visit.

Knowing the cost and care implications, the General Assembly has enacted legislation that, effective Oct. 1, states that insurers must pay primary-care physicians more if they see patients between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays, during the weekends, or on national holidays. The amount of extra payment will need to be negotiated.

This step "provides money for a service that really is needed and helps provide some continuity of care in the primary-care environment," said Dr. Mel Stern, a pediatrician in Howard County who testified in favor of the legislation.

Providing more money to the primary-care profession may help staunch the physician exodus from the state. Gene Ransom, the executive director of MedChi, the state's medical society, said that almost three-quarters of Maryland-trained physicians leave to practice elsewhere.

To learn more:
- read the Baltimore Business Journal story