Fewer Doctors Are Accepting Medicare Cases

Published September 1, 2008

The number of Texas physicians willing to take on Medicare patients is declining, according to the Texas Medical Association, and even fewer doctors are expected to do so in the future.

Only 58 percent of Texas physicians are taking new Medicare cases, and only 38 percent of primary care physicians are doing so, according to a study conducted by the Houston Chronicle.

Across the country, only 600,000 of 1.5 million total physicians are currently willing to treat Medicare patients, the study notes.

“We are headed toward a two-tier health system. Unless something changes, we will be rationing care to the elderly the way health care is rationed in Canada,” said John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Lobbying for Government Money

“Once again we see the dismal failure of government-run health care. Everyone is bickering about reimbursement rates from politicians, rather than letting the market set prices for the goods and services,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, a watchdog group dedicated to advocating for fiscal responsibility in Texas government.

“The [Texas Medical Association] and other physician lobbying groups would be better served demanding the market set the rates,” Sullivan continued. “When they go along with the premise of government pricing, it becomes a battle of the best lobbyists, not the rational needs of patients and doctors expressed and priced through the market.”

According to the Texas Medical Association, 78 percent of the state’s physicians took new Medicare patients in 2000, which dropped to 72 percent in 2002 and 68 percent in 2004.

Looming cuts in the rates at which doctors are reimbursed for treating Medicare patients promise to depress those numbers even further in the coming months and years, analysts say.

Dragging Out Funding Debate

The lobbyists succeeded in part on July 15 when Congress overrode President George W. Bush’s veto of legislation that would have again delayed the 10.6 percent Medicare physician reimbursement cut originally scheduled for December 2007 and temporarily extended to July 1. The override prevented the cuts from going into effect.

At the time of his veto, Bush said he supported delaying the reimbursement cuts but did not agree with Congress’s plans to fund that extension by taking away public funding for private health care plans serving the disabled and the elderly.

Though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has enacted an emergency program to maintain reimbursements at the current rates while Congress continues working on related legislation, the overall financial state of the Medicare program is expected to force rate cuts in the near future.

Analysts say the cuts would lead to an even greater reduction in the number of physicians in Texas and across the country who are willing to accept Medicare cases.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.