A key question in our specialty is “How will ObamaCare affect anesthesiology?”

I don’t have a crystal ball, but based on what I’ve read, what I’ve observed, and what I’m hearing from other physicians, these are my predictions on how ObamaCare will change anesthesia practice in the United States:

  1. There will be more patients waiting for surgery. Millions of new patients will have ObamaCare cards and coverage. A flawed premise of ObamaCare is that a system can cover more patients and yet spend less money.
  2. Reimbursement rates will be lower. How many anesthesiologists will sign up for Medicaid or Medicare-equivalent rates to care for patients? Large organizations such as university hospitals, Kaiser, Sutter, and other HMO-types will likely sign up for the best rate they can negotiate. As a result, their physicians will have increased patient numbers and lower reimbursement for their time. The insurance plans that patients purchase will have higher deductibles, and most patients will have to pay more out of pocket for their surgery and anesthesia. This will lead to patients delaying surgery, and shopping around to find the best value for their healthcare dollar.
  3. Less old anesthesiologists. Older anesthesiologists will retire early rather than work for markedly reduced pay.
  4. Less young anesthesiologists. The pipeline of new, young anesthesiologists will slow. Young men and women are unlikely to sign up for 4 years of medical school,  4 – 6 years of residency and fellowship, and an average of $150,000 of student debt if their income incentives are severely cut by ObamaCare.
  5. More certified nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). It seems apparent that ObamaCare is interested in employing cheaper providers of medical services. CRNAs will command lower salaries than anesthesiologists. The premise to be tested is whether CRNAs can provide the same care for less money. Expect to see wider use of anesthesia care teams and of independent CRNA practice. Expect the overall quality of anesthesia care to change as more CRNAs and less M.D.’s are employed.
  6. A two-tiered system. Anesthesiologists who have a choice will not sign up for reduced ObamaCare rates of reimbursement. Surgeons who have a choice will not sign up for reduced ObamaCare reimbursement. Expect a second tier of private pay medical care to exist, where patients will choose non-ObamaCare M.D.’s of their choice, and will pay these physicians whatever the physicians charge. This tier will provide higher service and shorter waiting times before surgery is performed. This tier will likely be populated by some of the finest surgeons–surgeons are unwilling to work for decreased wages. A subset of anesthesiologists will work in this upper tier of medical care, and these anesthesiologists will earn higher wages as a result.
  7. Will the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model stumble as the Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) model did in the 1990’s? ObamaCare provides for the existence of ACO’s, which are hospital-physician entities designed to provide comprehensive health care to patients in return for bundled payments. In this model the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the hospital (i.e. nurses, pharmacy, and the medical device industry) will divide up the bundled surgical payment. In this model it’s essential that an anesthesiologist leader has a strong presence at the negotiating table. A worrisome issue with the ACO model, as it was with the HMO model, is the flow of money. Physicians will no longer be working for their patients, but will be working for the ACO. The  primary incentive will be to be paid by the ACO, rather than to provide the best care possible.
  8. Anesthesia leadership skills will change. The physician leader of each anesthesia group must be a powerful and effective politician and economic strategist. These traits are not taught during anesthesia residency, and these traits have nothing to do with being an outstanding clinician.
  9. What about the Perioperative Surgical Home (PSH)? The American Society of Anesthesiologists is proposing the model of the PSH, in which anesthesiologists will assume leadership roles managing patient care in the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative arenas. This is a desirable goal for our specialty. No physician is better equipped than an anesthesiologist to supervise patients safely through the perioperative period with the highest standards of quality and cost-control. The Perioperative Surgical Home is designed to work with the model of the Accountable Care Organization. How these systems of the Perioperative Surgical Home and the Accountable Care Organization will evolve remains to be seen. It will be the role for individual anesthesia physician leaders in each hospital to seize the new opportunities.  Rank and file anesthesiologists will likely follow their leadership.

10. Consolidation of anesthesia groups. Small anesthesia groups will likely merge into bigger groups in an effort dominate a clinical census, and therefore to negotiate higher reimbursement rates. In November, 2013, the 100-physician Medical Anesthesia Consultants Medical Group, Inc, of San Ramon, California was acquired by Sheridan Healthcare Inc, a 2,500-physician services company based in Florida. Per Sheridan’s CEO, John Carlyle, the acquisition “provides a platform that will accelerate our expansion in the California marketplace.” This was the largest merger in Northern California anesthesia history.

11. Requirement of more anesthesia clinical metrics. Government and insurance payors will require more metrics to document that the provided clinical care was excellence. A typical required metric may be a high percentage of patients who received preoperative antibiotics prior to incision, or a low percentage of patients free from postoperative nausea and vomiting. Each anesthesia groups will need to establish computerized data-capturing systems to present this information to payors. The effort to tabulate these metrics will be another incentive for anesthesia groups to merge into larger clinical entities.

In summary:  More patients, more cases, less money, more bureaucracy, less money, more CRNA providers, and less money. These are the challenges ObamaCare presents to anesthesiologists. Stay tuned. Legions of patients with ObamaCare cards will be knocking on hospital doors. The government is expecting enough anesthesiologists to sign up for ObamaCare contracts to make the new system successful. It’s impossible to tell what behaviors ObamaCare will incentivize. Each anesthesiologist has the benefit of 25+ years of education, and each anesthesiologist will make intelligent choices regarding their career and their time.

Bob Dylan once sang, “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.”

Time will tell if ObamaCare is Maggie’s Farm for physicians.





Introducing …  THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.

Publication date September 9, 2014 by Pegasus Books.

On October 2, 2014 THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN became the world’s  #1 bestselling anesthesia Kindle book on Amazon.com.

To reach the Amazon webpage, click on the book image below:


Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.

Equal parts legal thriller and medical thriller, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan examines the dark side of relationships between a doctor and his wife, a father and his son, and a man and his best friend. Set in a rural Northern Minnesota world reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan details scenes of family crises, operating room mishaps, and courtroom confrontation, and concludes in a final twist that will leave readers questioning what is of value in the world we live in.


5.0 out of 5 stars The Doctor and Mr Dylan, March 3, 2015
prabha venugopal (chicago, il USA) – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
Gripping from the beginning to the end. Very well written, bringing to the forefront all the human emotions seen in an operating room spill over into real life. I cannot wait for Dr. Novak to wrote another book! As another physician in the same profession, my admiration for his book knows no limits.


Bang-Up Debut Novel, November 16, 2014

By Norm Goldman “Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures”

This part legal and medical thriller is structured with a mixed bag of situations involving relationships, jealousy, evil, lies, courtroom drama, operating room mishaps as well as moments that engender conflicting and unexpected outcomes. Noteworthy is that as the suspense builds readers will become eager to uncover the truth involving a mishap concerning Nico and a surgical procedure that has unanticipated ramifications.

This is a bang-up debut from a writer who understands timing and is able to deliver hairpin turns, particularly involving the courtroom drama,that you would expect from a book of this genre.


TwinCities.com PIONEER PRESS Entertainment

by Mary Ann Grossman, Entertainment Editor, St. Paul Pioneer Press mgrossman@pioneerpress.com, January 4, 2015

“The Doctor & Mr. Dylan” by Rick Novak (Pegasus Books, $17.50)

Dr. Nico Antone doesn’t hide the fact he hates his wife, but he says he didn’t kill her during an operation. The authorities think otherwise and his trial is the riveting suspense in this novel that is part medical thriller, part legal thriller, part exploration of family relationships.

Nico is an anesthesiologist (as is the author) who leaves his wife, their plush life in California and his job at Stanford to move to his hometown of Hibbing so their son, Johnny, has a better chance of getting into a prestigious college. Johnny hates the idea of moving to a small, cold town, but he’s popular from the first day in school. Nico doesn’t do so well. He’s envied by Bobby, an anesthetist who’s jealous of the better-educated Nico. But it’s hard to take Bobby seriously, since he thinks he’s the young Bob Dylan and lives in the house where Bobby Zimmerman grew up. To complicate matters, Nico is attracted to the mother of the young woman his son is dating. When the two teens get in trouble, Nico’s furious, rich wife comes to Minnesota and needs an emergency operation that puts her on Nico’s operating table.

Novak grew up in Hibbing, where he worked in the iron ore mines and played on the U.S. Junior Men’s Curling championship teams of 1974 and ’75. After graduating from Carleton College, he earned a medical degree at the University of Chicago and spent 30-plus years at Stanford Hospital, where he was an associate professor of anesthesia and Deputy Chief of the Anesthesia Department. His courtroom scenes are based on his experiences as an expert witness.

The Physician’s Late-Night Reading List

Two Pritzker alums pen captivating tales

By Brooke E. O’Neill, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, editir, Medicine on the Midway Magazine

For most physicians, writing — patient notes, case histories, perhaps journal articles — is part of the job. But for anesthesiologist-novelist Rick Novak, MD’80, and neurosurgeon-memoirist Moris Senegor, MD’82, it’s a second career that consumes early morning hours long before they step into the OR.

Fans of John Grisham will find a kindred spirit in Novak, whose fast-paced medical thriller, The Doctor & Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014), transports readers to rural Northern Minnesota, where an accomplished physician and a deranged anesthetist who thinks he’s rock legend Bob Dylan see their worlds collide in the most unexpected ways.

Delivering real-life twists and turns — and a love letter to the Bay Area — is Senegor’s Dogmeat: A Memoir of Love and Neurosurgery in San Francisco (Xlibris, 2014), a coming-of-age tale chronicling the author’s away rotation with renowned neurosurgeon Charles Wilson, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco. Brutally honest, it spares no details of a time Senegor, who also served as a resident under the University of Chicago’s famed neurosurgery chair Sean Mullan, MD, describes as “one of the biggest failures of my life.”

One a vividly imagined nail-biter, the other an intimate peek into the surgical suite, both books deliver an ample dose of intensity and drama.



The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Pegasus Books, 2014) by Rick Novak, MD’80

“I thought it was a novel way of killing someone,” said Rick Novak, deputy chief of anesthesiology at Stanford University, describing the imagined hospital death that was the genesis of his dark thriller The Doctor & Mr. Dylan. A huge Bob Dylan fan — the rock icon was born in Novak’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, where the story takes place — he then dreamed up a possible culprit: a psychotic anesthetist who thinks he’s Dylan.

From there, the words flowed. “I would write whenever I was with my laptop and had a free moment: in mornings, in evenings, in gaps between cases,” said Novak, who also blogs about anesthesia topics. “I don’t sleep much.”

After finishing the manuscript — one year to write, another to edit — came the challenge of finding a publisher. “In anesthesia, I’m an expert,” Novak said. “In the literary world, I’m an unknown.” After 207 responses of “no, thanks” or no answer at all, he landed an agent. Two months later, she informed him that Pegasus Books had bought his debut novel.

“I started crying,” Novak admits. “I have a third grader and at the time the big word the class was learning was ‘perseverance.’ That was it exactly.”


Dr. Joseph Andresen, Editor, Santa Clara County Medical Association Medical Bulletin, from the January/February 2015 issue:


This past month, Dr. Rick Novak handed me a hardbound copy of his debut novel The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. Rick and I go way back. It was my first week of residency at Stanford when we first met. A newcomer to the operating room, all the smells and sounds were foreign to me despite my previous three years in the hospital as an internal medicine resident. Rick, a soft spoken Minnesotan at heart, in his second year of residency, took me under his wing and guided me through those first few bewildering months, sharing his experience and wisdom freely.

Fast-forward 30 years later. Dr. Rick Novak, a novel and mystery author? This was new to me as I sat down and opened the first page of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan. I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect. Few books highlight a physician/anesthesiologist as a protagonist, and few books feature a SCCMA member as a physician/author. However, a medical-mystery theme novel wasn’t at the top of my must read list. With my 50-hour workweek, living and breathing medicine, imagining more emotional stress and drama was the furthest thing from my mind. However, three days later, as I turned the last page, and read the last few words. “life is a series of choices. I stuck my forefinger into the crook of the steering wheel, spun it hard to the left and …” This completed my 72-hour journey of and free moments I had, completely immersed in this story of life’s disappointments, human imperfections, and simple joys.

Rick, I can’t wait for your next book. Bravo!


Hibbingite writes twisted medical tale

HIBBING — Readers who are looking for a whodunit that will keep them up all night are in for a treat.

Hibbing native Rick Novak recently released his first book “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a fiction set in Hibbing that merges anesthesia complications, a tumultuous marriage and the legend of Bob Dylan.

“The dialogue is sometimes funny, and there are lots of plot twists,” he said.

Novak said the book will not only entertain readers, but teach them about anesthesiology, Dylanology, the stressful race for elite college admission, and life on the Iron Range.

“The book is very conversational and streamlined,” he said. “I try to write as one would tell a story out loud.”

Novak said “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan” took him three years to perfect. He is currently working on his second book.


5.0 out of 5 stars I Sense We Have Another F.Scott Fitzgerald Emerging on the Literary Scene, December 1, 2014
Deann Brady (Sunnyvale, CA USA) – See all my reviews
I found Rick Novak’s first novel, “The Doctor and Mr. Dylan,” a most exciting combination of biting sarcasm, mystery and daily activity spun with fresh new phrases that made me turn my ear back to listen to the literary cadence of his words again and again even though, on the other hand, I was anxious to turn the pages to see what would happen next. His brilliant handling of scenes is reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A compelling read!Deany Brady, author of “An Appalachian Childhood”




allan mishra

This review is from: The Doctor and Mr. Dylan (Kindle Edition)

Just finished Dr. Novak’s delightful novel. I sincerely enjoyed his honest take about the pressures and values that exist within California’s Silicon Valley. He also brought the North Country of Minnesota to life with memorable characters and a twisting, addictive plot. Buried beneath the fun and funny story is a deeper message about how to best care for your kids, your relationships and yourself. Very well written and highly recommended.


Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at rick novak.com by clicking on the picture below:




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