A recent survey of Minnesota physicians suggests that the instability and uncertainty in the Medicare program is harming seniors' access to doctors and clinics.
About one-quarter of physician respondents to a recent survey said that because of the unpredictability of Medicare payments, they have placed new or additional limits on accepting Medicare patients in the last two years. The Minnesota Medical Association conducted the survey in October and November.
About 8 percent of the respondents said they have already been forced to close their practice to new Medicare patients in the last two years. "Congress has been trifling with the health care of seniors for several years, and it is taking a toll on the ability of Minnesota seniors to get access to physicians," said Minnesota Medical Association President Patricia Lindholm, M.D.
Both physicians and seniors are concerned about a 23 percent cut in Medicare's physician payments that is scheduled to go into effect December 1.
A recent AARP survey shows the overwhelming majority of AARP members in Medicare - 81 percent - are concerned that a Medicare pay cut could block their access to doctors. Whether they're Democrats or Republicans or Independents, AARP members believe that Congress has a responsibility to keep doctors in the Medicare program.
"With Boomers starting to retire, it's more important than ever that Congress take action to keep doctors in the Medicare program," said Minnesota's AARP Senior State Director Michele Kimball. "Maintaining an unstable payment system will inevitably mean more and more doctors - especially primary care doctors - will refuse to see Medicare patients - and seniors deserve to be able to see their doctors."
The Medicare payment problem is already impacting Minnesota communities. Linda Marden, M.D., a neurologist at Central Lakes Medical Clinic, in Crosby, Minnesota notes that the instability and inadequacy of Medicare payments has contributed to her decision to close down her practice in December.
About half of her patients are enrolled in Medicare and include people suffering from neurological disorders including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Her practice has been hit not only by Medicare's low payment rates but also by Medicare's decision to stop reimbursing for consultations.
"It breaks my heart, but I just don't see a way to salvage this practice with such a heavy concentration of Medicare patients," Marden said.
Looming 23% Cut
If this cut occurs, Minnesota physicians appear poised to join with others across the country who have closed their practice to new Medicare patients, or who have been forced to stop treating current Medicare patients.
"A cut this size will be devastating to Minnesota clinics and their patients," Lindholm said. "Minnesota physicians are dedicated to the patients they serve, but a lack of action in Washington is forcing clinics to decide whether they can continue to treat Medicare patients."
The Minnesota survey results also suggest that Medicare enrollees may not be the only ones to feel the pinch of the government's inaction - nearly 40 percent of physician respondents reported that because of the instability of Medicare payments they have increased fees charged to other patients. It has also hampered the ability of clinics to purchase or upgrade their equipment.
The Minnesota Medical Association is a professional association representing about 11,000 physicians, residents, and medical students, working together for a healthy Minnesota.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole.
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