Slashed Medicare payments could close 10 percent of family medical practices - new survey

Slashed Medicare payments could close 12 percent of family medical practices - new survey

Slashed Medicare payments could close 12 percent of family medical practices - new survey reveals.

At a time when 56 million Americans struggle to gain access to primary care doctors, more than one in 10 family physicians face the prospect of closing their offices if Medicare slashes their payment next year. This finding comes from a recent survey of American Academy of Family Physicians doctors who have an ownership stake in their medical practices.

So if Medicare cuts go ahead and doctors quit their surgeries, that is going to make seeing a doctor much harder for seniors.

The AAFP survey asked family physicians about the impact of the 25 percent Medicare pay cut due to take effect on January 1 next year. Nearly 13 percent of respondents said they might stop seeing any patients, and 62 percent (more than six out of ten) said they might stop accepting new Medicare patients, and 73 percent (more than seven in 10) said they would have to limit the number of Medicare appointments on their books.

The results paint a bleak picture for elderly and disabled Americans who depend on Medicare for their health care coverage and for military families who depend on Tricare, according to Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“This survey demonstrates the serious threat to Americans’ access to health care that is posed by the current formula for paying physicians to care for the elderly and disabled,” Goertz said. “The most vulnerable Medicare patients are people in rural areas who are at risk of completely losing access to care if a practice in their small community closes.”

Goertz pointed to an October 13th AARP survey that showed 81 percent of AARP members who receive Medicare and 86 percent of members not yet eligible for Medicare are concerned about the impact of the Medicare physician pay cut on their access to a doctor.

“Americans understand the threat that Medicare pay cuts pose for their own health care and the health care of their loved ones,” said Goertz.

Family physicians are the primary source of medical care for 60 percent of people age 65 and older who report having an individual health professional as their usual source of care. Elderly and disabled Americans in rural and underserved areas, where family physicians often are the only health care professionals in town, would be particularly hard-hit.

But slashing Medicare payment to physicians threatens just such a loss, particularly for rural Americans, according to AAFP survey respondents:

“Medicare cuts would destroy my practice of geriatric medicine,” said one respondent.

“The 21 percent-plus Medicare cut would most likely put us and other small practices out of business and force us to eventually close our doors to our patients, because, soon after the Medicare cut comes, all commercial insurance will follow suit as their fee schedule is based on Medicare’s,” wrote one survey respondent. “And forget about getting care if you have Tricare… which, as a veteran myself, is an outrage.”

Others have already thrown in the towel.

“I have made a decision to close my practice,” wrote one respondent. “I am losing my shirt. This game with SGR is silly.”

The stagnant Medicare payments during 10 years of inflation have taken their toll on family physician practices. Many family physicians have remained open by cutting expenses, including their own salaries.

“Already closed one satellite office,” wrote one respondent. “Currently I’m in the red simply trying to stay afloat. Just liquidated my entire retirement IRA to pay office expenses/accountant and do not see any possible way to remain in business.”

“My partner and I did not pay ourselves last month due to the delay in Medicare payments,” said another respondent.

For further info, visit www.FamilyDoctor.org and www.aafp.org

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Authored by: Richard Lee

Richard has been traveling since he took a year off from college, where he was doing a BA in Journalism. He traveled half the world, backpacking with his girlfriend (now his wife). They spent time in South America, Asia, Greece and much of Europe. After writing about his experiences for several airline and travel magazines, he never went back to college.