TMA Survey: Medicare Forcing Out Physicians

Physicians will be forced to limit the number of Medicare patients they treat if the 10.5-percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians occurs on July 1, a sobering TMA physician survey  [ PDF ] shows.

"I wish I could report to you that all is well, that one thing Medicare recipients don't have to worry about is finding a physician to care for them," A. Tomas Garcia, MD, a member of the TMA Board of Trustees and president of the Harris County Medical Society, said at a news conference in Houston in late March. "But that is not the case."

Among the survey results are:

  • The percentage of physicians who accept all new Medicare patients has declined to an all-time low of 58.1 percent.
  • Nearly one-third of physicians have decided to accept fewer new Medicare patients in the past three years. Only 4 percent are accepting more.
  • For internists and family medicine specialists, who are on the front lines providing primary care to patients on Medicare, the situation is even bleaker. More than 45 percent say they have cut back on new Medicare patients in the past three years.
  • Texas physicians will not refuse their current Medicare patients. Nearly 70 percent say that is something they will not do.
  • But, more than 45 percent are considering accepting no new Medicare patients.
  • Charity care may be an early casualty of the Medicare funding crisis. One-fourth of physicians say they already have reduced the amount of charity care they provide. An additional 17 percent say they will make that change. Looking to the future, another 28 percent say they are considering reductions in charity care.

"With no real increase in Medicare payments to physicians in five years, and with constant drama and uncertainty over possible cuts in those payments, we're out on the edge of the cliff," said Dr. Garcia, a Houston cardiologist with a heavy Medicare practice. "And the fall will be a steep and painful one."

Also at the news conference was U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who explained how his new legislation,  Ensuring the Future Physician Workforce Act of 2008  (S 2729), would stop the cut and reverse this dangerous trend.

Senator Cornyn's bill, which is receiving strong support from TMA, repairs the flawed formula Congress uses to calculate physician reimbursements and saves seniors' health care.

While physicians face annual cuts, the other key Medicare providers - hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmaceutical companies - receive annual cost-of-living increases because their pay is calculated differently from physicians' reimbursements. Physicians received between zero- and 2-percent increases over the last four years, and they face significant cuts in 2008.

But Senator Cornyn's bill reverses that, fixing the flawed physician reimbursement formula, the Sustainable Growth Rate formula. TMA physicians urge Congress to support Senator Cornyn's new legislation to reverse the dangerous trend so that Medicare-covered patients are not left without physicians to care for them.

Read the Texas Medicare Manifesto to find out how TMA is working to solve the Medicare crisis.

Action , April 1, 2008


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