Total knee replacements in the US is growing, according to an article today in Kaiser Health News.
660,000 are performed each year, and will likely grow to two million annually by 2030, as reported by Christina Jewett. Knee surgeries are one of surgery’s biggest potential growth markets, and one that the medical tourism industry needs to be aware of.
Ms. Jewett described how an orthopedic surgeon from the Bronx, underwent his own knee surgery in a Seattle-area surgery center performed by a friend of his. The surgery began at 8 am, and by lunch, the doctor was resting in his friend’s home with no pain and a new knee.
Medicare is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee surgeries outside of hospitals, either in free-standing centers or outpatient facilities. Several billions of dollars are spent every year by Medicare for knee replacements, so what may be a bold experiment, may soon be more standard.
However, this issue is dividing the medical world, and the issue of money is just as important as the issue of medicine, according to Ms. Jewett.
Some physicians are concerned that moving surgeries out of hospitals will land vulnerable patients in the emergency room, but proponents say it will give patients more choice and better care. In addition, they contend that it will save Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars.
An “overwhelming majority” of commenters, Ms. Jewett states, said they want to allow the surgeries out of hospitals, as specified in recent rule-making documents.
Even if a policy change is made, according to the article, Medicare would still pay for patients to get traditional inpatient surgery. There would be a huge shift in money, the article reports, out of hospitals and into surgery centers.
Medicare could save hundreds of millions of dollars if it no longer paid for multiple-day stays in a hospital, and investors at outpatient centers could profit greatly, as well as some surgeons, especially those who have an ownership stake in the facility.
An open question remains as to whether this shift is beneficial for patients. Patients on Medicare tend to spend nearly three days in a hospital, and forty percent also spend time in a rehabilitation facility for further recovery.
Data from 2014 suggests that Medicare patients are taking advantage of the post-operation support at hospitals and aftercare centers. However, it is unclear what the percentage of eligible patients would choose outpatient care.
Of equal concern to patients are the financial consequences, and here is where the medical tourism needs to pay attention, because even though less care is given, outpatient procedures require higher out-of-pocket costs.
Medicare covers inpatient procedures 100%, with no co-payment, but outpatient procedures require a 20% co-payment, which could easily add up to thousands of dollars for knee surgeries.
One surgery center in California advertises a knee replacement surgery for $17,0300, and those who support the change in policy believe that a strict criteria should be used by doctors to choose which patients are good candidates for outpatient surgery.
All this began in 2012, Ms. Jewett states, when Medicare first considered removing the surgeries from its “inpatient only: list. At that time, many doctors and hospitals protested, calling the proposal “ludicrous” and “dangerous”, and Medicare abandoned the idea.
Another objection cited research that showed that patients who received such surgeries as outpatients were twice as likely to die, and that even one-day stays were twice as likely to need follow-up surgery.
A panel recommended that Medicare remove the procedure from the “inpatient only” list in August, but if they make a change, it will not go into effect for a year or so later.
It is quite obvious to this writer what you in the medical travel industry need to do, but then again, when did you ever listen to what I say?