The new state law also makes key changes in how insurance companies pay physician assistants. Up until now, doctors have billed for services provided by physician assistants in their office at the same rates that they charge. Now, physician assistants will have separate provider identification numbers that allow them to bill separately at rates that are typically 15 percent less than those paid to doctors.
“Doctors don’t like it, because they are losing 15 percent,’’ said Heather Trafton, legislative chair for the Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants. But, she pointed out, the change will end up benefiting doctors as insurers switch to a new payment system that puts physicians on a budget to treat groups of patients. Doctors who can provide care less expensively will be able to keep more of the budget as profit and fare better financially.
Noelle Lawler, a longtime physician assistant at Harvard Vanguard’s Kenmore practice who specializes in managing patients with diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, said giving physician assistants identification numbers will benefit patients in another way. It will allow insurers to collect information on the quality of care she and her colleagues provide, just as they do for doctors. “We’re going to be in the mix now,’’ she said.
Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.