Program Tips Doctors for Healthy Patients

Hope Schultz was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago.

"It was a pretty big lifestyle change," Schultz said. She may not realize it, but her health is worth money. If her diabetes (search) stays under control, her doctor gets a cash bonus courtesy of a new program called Bridges to Excellence, designed to lower health-care costs.

Dr. Paula Lafranconi, an internist at Bridges to Excellence, said that the program "monitors the progress the patients are making, what their blood-work results are, and whether they're following up with their doctors."

The program is funded by several big corporations like General Electric (search) and Ford Motors. Any patient who goes to a participating doctor is in the program, whether they realize it or not.

"It's improved reimbursement to the providers, it's happier, healthier patients and it's lower cost of care to the system," says Beth Hallgren from General Electric.

An independent group called the National Committee for Quality Assurance checks patient records to determine which doctors qualify for the program and who should be rewarded. The reward can be up to $160 per patient, which means some doctors could earn tens of thousands more dollars a year.

"It's disturbing that the only way we can get physicians to do the right thing for their patients is by paying them money," says Arthur Levin from the Center for Medical Consumers.

Critics fear an incentive program may encourage doctors to treat only the healthiest patients in order to get the financial reward.

However, Schultz said she is getting better treatment by going to a doctor in the program. "Otherwise its just in and out, blood tests, give you a pill, pat you on the back, and say goodbye," she said of out-of-program doctors.

The program is available in just four cities, but there are expansion plans, and Medicare is testing it as well. If the program results in healthier patients, it could mean that in addition to doctors' making more money, taxpayers might save money on medical costs.

Click in the video box at the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt.