The nation’s biggest drugstore chain, Walgreens, announced today that it is extending its many-tentacled health care strategy into diabetes care — a move that’s sure to irritate the nation’s endocrinologists, and perhaps primary care docs, too.
The company’s senior vice president of pharmacy told the Wall St. Journal that the company aims to enhance primary care physicians’ services, not replace them. But the announcement comes at a time when primary care doctors are hoping to bring patients into all-inclusive, care-coordinated medical homes, not lose them piecemeal to various and sundry providers.
And, if the diabetic never makes it to the primary care physician — or only occasionally — he or she might not ever get referred to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists, in the quest for the diabetic patient, are also hoping to be the medical home care coordinator.
But endocrinologists are starting to feel like they might not get any patients at all. A Medicare rule that went into effect Jan. 1 means that endocrinologists and other specialists are no longer able to bill for the extra time it takes to meet with a patient who’s been referred by a primary care doctor or other specialist. These Medicare consultation codes were eliminated for 2010, in what some doctors see as a move to shift more dollars back to primary care.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) has led a petition drive to get Congress to adopt Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-Penn.) health reform bill amendment to delay the Medicare move by a year. Gastroenterologists also joined the effort.
As far as physicians are concerned, there may never have been an optimal time for Walgreens to announce it was trying to take a piece of their business away. But now seems an especially unpolitic time to do so.
— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)