Part of the new federal health care plan will be funded by cuts to Medicare, the existing government program that pays for health care for the elderly. Already, though, an increasing number of doctors are refusing to take on Medicare patients because the payments are too low. And starting on January 1 those payments are scheduled to be cut a whopping 25%. From The Washington Post:
Want an appointment with kidney specialist Adam Weinstein of Easton, Md.? If you’re a senior covered by Medicare, the wait is eight weeks.
How about a checkup from geriatric specialist Michael Trahos? Expect to see him every six months: The Alexandria-based doctor has been limiting most of his Medicare patients to twice yearly rather than the quarterly checkups he considers ideal for the elderly. Still, at least he’ll see you. Top-ranked primary care doctor Linda Yau is one of three physicians with the District’s Foxhall Internists group who recently announced they will no longer be accepting Medicare patients.
“It’s not easy. But you realize you either do this or you don’t stay in business,” she said.
Doctors across the country describe similar decisions, complaining that they’ve been forced to shift away from Medicare toward higher-paying, privately insured or self-paying patients in response to years of penny-pinching by Congress.
And that’s not even taking into account a long-postponed rate-setting method that is on track to slash Medicare’s payment rates to doctors by 23 percent Dec. 1. Known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and adopted by Congress in 1997, it was intended to keep Medicare spending on doctors in line with the economy’s overall growth rate. But after the SGR formula led to a 4.8 percent cut in doctors’ pay rates in 2002, Congress has chosen to put off the increasingly steep cuts called for by the formula ever since.
This month, the Senate passed its fourth stopgap fix this year – a one-month postponement that expires Jan. 1. The House is likely to follow suit when it reconvenes next week, and physicians have been running print ads, passing out fliers to patients and flooding Capitol Hill with phone calls to persuade Congress to suspend the 25 percent rate cut that the SGR method will require next year.
Does anyone have a solution for this?