Nearly Half Of Physician Practices Owned By Hospitals, Corporate Entities


 
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By Samantha Liss

Nearly 70% of U.S. physicians are now employed by a hospital or a corporate entity, according to a recent report by a coalition of state doctors' groups. This is the first time the report included ownership by corporate entities outside of just hospitals.

Hospitals and corporate entities, which include insurers or private equity groups, own nearly half of the physician practices in this country, according to the report released Tuesday that examines the two-year period from 2019 through 2020.

This longtime trend was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report, which shows 48,400 physicians left private practice during the study period across all regions of the country.

Independent physicians are becoming increasingly rare in the U.S., which should raise some alarms.

This latest analysis shows that just three in 10 of the nation's physicians remain independent. More physicians left independent practice after the onset of the pandemic, according to the report. Of the 48,400 that became employed by either a hospital or corporate entity over the two-year period, 22,700, or about 47%, left after the pandemic started.

The advocacy group penned a letter to Congress, urging greater federal scrutiny with a plea for policies "to help protect the physician-patient relationship from undue corporate interference," the Monday letter stated.

"This report shows a startling shift towards the corporatization of healthcare across the U.S., which if left unchecked, may result in an inappropriate incursion into the practice of medicine," the group wrote.

Hospitals have increased their ownership stake in medical practices over the years. In 2018, 44% of physicians were employed by hospitals. By 2021, that figure increased to 49.3%, according to the report.

But it's not just hospitals that are interested in medical groups. Private equity groups and insurers have become increasingly interested in the space.

A recent report measured how many medical groups, and what kinds of practices, were acquired by private equity over a four-year period from 2013 to 2016. While many questions still need to be answered on private equity's influence on quality and care, researchers said the report was important to assess the scope of the trend.

Insurers are also interested in gobbling up physician groups as they seek to greater control through vertical integration. Recently, Humana acquired the remaining stake of Kindred at Home, the biggest home health provider in the U.S.

 
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