Commercial and Medicare Advantage Payment for Anesthesiology Services


Objectives: Anesthesiology services are a focal point of policymaking to address surprise medical billing. However, allowed amounts and charges for anesthesiology services have been understudied due to the specialty’s unique conversion factor (CF) unit of payment and complex provider structures involving anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). This study compares payments for common outpatient anesthesiology services by commercial health plans, Medicare Advantage (MA), and traditional Medicare.

Study Design: Analysis of 2016-2017 claims from Health Care Cost Institute.

Methods: We derived allowed amount and charge CFs for commercial and MA claims using the base units assigned to each procedure code, time units, and modifiers. We computed the ratio of the allowed amount and charge CFs relative to the traditional Medicare CF. We described these payment measures by provider structure and network status.

Results: Mean in-network commercial allowed amount CFs for anesthesiology services ($70) are 314% of the traditional Medicare rate ($22), whereas mean commercial charge CFs ($148) are 659% of the Medicare rate. Commercial payments vary widely and are higher to anesthesiologists than to CRNAs and higher out of network than in network. MA plan payments align with traditional Medicare with payment parity between anesthesiologists and CRNAs, both in network and out of network.

Conclusions: Common payment measures for anesthesia services—commercial allowed amounts, charges, or traditional Medicare—are highly divergent. MA plans’ relatively low payments likely reflect the cost-containing influence of competition with traditional Medicare and MA’s prohibition on balance billing. Out-of-network benchmarks for anesthesia services, such as the “qualifying payment amount” used in the No Surprises Act as a guidepost for arbitrators, may benefit from considering commercial payment differences across independent anesthesiologist, independent CRNA, or anesthesiologist-CRNA dyad provider structures.

The full study is available in AJMC.