Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Want to negotiate with insurers? You better have these characteristics.

I had a conversation the other day with an expert on negotiating insurance contracts on behalf of doctors, groups, and hospitals. Here is what she told me:

"I am going to be brutally honest doc, because I don't want to just take your money, but you don't have a chance in hell."

Essentially, what anyone needs to successfully negotiate is leverage,which is what doctors in NY-metro just don't have. There are simply too many of us in every specialty. In fact, this woman told me that the panels are over filled already and that she spends most of her time just getting new doctors accepted into the plans under any terms. While it is not impossible to get a better-than-average contract, it is difficult. Essentially, you need to be special to do so. Here are some of the key elements as I interpreted them based on my conversation with the negotiator.
  1. Unique: If you are the only one of your specialty in a 20 or so mile radius, you may have some leverage.
  2. Efficient: If you can save the insurer money by operating at a lower cost to them, such as by doing in-office procedures, or with less errors due to an EMR, you may be able to make a case for the insurer to cut you a piece of the action in return.
  3. Desirable: If you are one of few doctors who does something that people want or need and will pay more to the insurance company for it in the form of premiums or plan selection--then the insurer may cut you into the action as well.
Notice that large size is not on the list. Size can work for you if your group becomes so large that it controls the market place. In a larger market place, such as NY, reaching this critical size can be difficult if not impossible. In addition for most large groups, lets say a 50 person group or larger, operating expenses become so high that they can become unable to sacrifice a contract worth 20% of their revenue. They simply could not survive the acute loss of revenue. Well managed groups, ones that know their numbers inside and out, may be able to determine if they can play hardball with an insurer and survive for the year or so that is needed to recoup the lost patients that will follow the lost contract. So know your numbers!

Finally, if you do successfully negotiate, don't brag about it: that could cost you the contract. . .and more. Most plans make their "special" docs sign strict confidentiality agreements with draconian penalties for non-compliance. So the next time you hear a doctor in the lounge bragging about his great negotiating skills know that he is either crazy or full of crap.

Therefore, don't feel like you are the only schmuck on the block that takes whatever contract is offered you. If you live and practice in an over saturated market and don't have one of the big 3 characteristics in my list, you simply must sign on the line and work like a dog.

Good luck.

The IU.