Capping Payment Rates for Nonhospital Services Could Save Millions of Dollars for Contract Health Services

April 11, 2013

The Indian Health Service's (IHS) federal contract health services (CHS) programs primarily paid physicians at their billed charges, which were significantly higher than what Medicare and private insurers would have paid for the same services. IHS's policy states that federal CHS programs should purchase services from contracted providers at negotiated, reduced rates. However, of the almost $63 million that the federal CHS programs paid for physician services provided in 2010, they paid about $51 million (81 percent) to physicians at billed charges and about $12 million (19 percent) to physicians at negotiated, reduced rates. Payments for other types of nonhospital services followed similar trends, with about $40 million out of $52 million (77 percent) paid at billed charges. GAO estimated that IHS's federal CHS programs paid two times as much as what Medicare would have paid and about one and a quarter times as much as what private insurers would have paid for the same physician services provided in 2010. If federal CHS programs had paid Medicare rates for these services, they could have used an estimated $32 million in savings to pay for many of the services that IHS is unable to fund each year. Savings for the overall CHS program may be even higher, as this analysis does not include other types of nonhospital services or the CHS program funding that goes to tribal CHS programs, which the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Inspector General found also paid for nonhospital care above Medicare rates.

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