Medicare patients’ ability to see a doctor will be severely hampered next year by a steep Medicare cut to physicians, according to a survey released by the American Medical Association (AMA). The survey, which jumpstarts a national campaign to stop next year’s 10% cut, was completed by nearly 9,000 physicians, and their responses paint a bleak picture for the future of Medicare.
“The AMA is deeply concerned by the alarming news that 60% of America’s physicians will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will be able to care for next year when Medicare cuts physician payments,” said Cecil B. Wilson, MD, board chair for the AMA.
Congress’ advisory committee on Medicare, MedPAC, has recommended that Congress stop next year’s 10% cut and update payments 1.7%, in line with practice cost increases. The AMA urges Congress to enact legislation now that will replace the looming cuts with Medicare payment updates based on practice costs.
“Congressional action is the only remedy that will help assure seniors’ access to doctors,” Wilson said. “We ask America’s seniors, and their loved ones, to join us in calling for legislation to help avert an access to care crisis for Medicare patients.”
Next year’s 10% cut is just the tip of the iceberg, according to an AMA press release. During 9 years, the cuts total about 40%, while the government estimates that the cost of caring for patients will increase 20%. Over the life of the cuts, 77% of physicians say they will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they treat.
“As physicians brace for nine years of steep payment cuts, it will be extremely difficult for them to continue accepting new Medicare patients into their practices,” Wilson said. “The baby boomers begin entering the program in 2010, and the Medicare cuts increase the likelihood that there may not be enough doctors to care for the huge influx of new Medicare patients.”
The impact of the cuts will reverberate beyond seniors who rely on Medicare. America’s military families will also be hurt, as the military health insurance program, TRICARE, faces the same physician payment cuts as Medicare. In fact, all patients should be concerned about the Medicare cuts, as more than two-thirds of physicians tell the AMA they will defer purchases of information technology next year. Over the life of the cuts, about eight in 10 physicians report they will have to forgo this important purchase used to improve health care quality. More than half of physicians said they will reduce their practice staff, and 14% will completely get out of patient care when Medicare cuts hit next year.
“In 6 short months the Medicare cuts will begin, unless Congress intervenes,” Wilson said. “We can’t sit idly by and let America’s seniors pay the price for a short-sighted government payment policy with reduced access to care – Congress must act.”