Medicare Cuts May Force Doctors to Turn Away Patients

The Battle is just beginning

For millions of baby boomers about to turn 65 and begin utilizing their Medicare benefits, the battle of finding a physician who accepts the government-run health care plan may be just beginning.

With ‘Obamacare’ politics having significantly affected Medicare, some physicians are refusing to accept or are significantly limiting the number of new Medicare patients.  According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), physicians may be facing a near 30% reduction in Medicare reimbursement. The reduction is based upon the Standard Growth Rate, a formula based upon the Gross National Product.

Limiting and Denying Basic Care

The idea of slashing Medicare reimbursement is not new.  Physicians have been fighting a losing battle for the last several years, knowing that inevitably they would feel the heat.  In fact, in 2010 they were given a reprieve from the cuts when Congress delayed the cuts until this year.  It’s not just the physicians who will be feeling the burden from the cuts. Many of their patients who qualify for Medicare benefits will also be feeling the pain.

According to a 2010 article published in USA TODAY,  primary care physicians have been restricting or limiting their acceptance of Medicare.  In separate surveys The American Academy of Family Physicians and The American Osteopathic Association saw a significant number of physicians, 13% and 15% respectively, not participating in Medicare.  In addition, the American Medical Association says that 31% of surveyed primary care physicians are restricting the number of Medicare patients in their practices.

While many believe these cuts will affect society’s most vulnerable, President Obama was quoted in an AARP bulletin saying that the “adjustments to programs like Medicare will ensure that they’re still around for future generations.”

David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP, believes such cuts will make it harder for patients to find access to medical providers. “The deeper you cut payments to providers, the more you create disincentives to treating people on Medicare,” he says. In a 2010 AARP survey, a overwhelming number of responding members were already concerned with the impact Medicare cuts would have on their ability to find accepting physicians.

Cuts Run Deep

Restricting or limiting patients is just one way medical practices will help to compensate for the reimbursement cuts.  In a large survey conducted by the Medical Group Management Association, alternative cost saving measures may include cutting clinical staff and administrative staff, delaying the implementation of electronic medical records and foregoing the purchase of new facilities or equipment. All, of these “solutions” are to the detriment of the patient.  Without adequate staffing, mistakes are inevitable and the already dread wait time is certain to increase.  For clinicians who are deciding against purchasing new equipment they are making the choice to sacrifice updated medical technology for cost savings.  It’s a no-win situation.

We will not know the full impact of the budget cuts until December when the 12-member congressional committee submits their budget proposal to Congress. And even then, it won’t be a matter of if there are cuts, but rather to what degree.

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