Doctors Are Opting Out of Medicare
By JULIE CONNELLY
EARLY this year, Barbara Plumb, a freelance editor and writer in New York who is on Medicare, received a disturbing letter. Her gynecologist informed her that she was opting out of Medicare. When Ms. Plumb asked her primary-care doctor to recommend another gynecologist who took Medicare, the doctor responded that she didn’t know any — and that if Ms. Plumb found one she liked, could she call and tell her the name?
Many people, just as they become eligible for Medicare, discover that the insurance rug has been pulled out from under them. Some doctors — often internists but also gastroenterologists, gynecologists, psychiatrists and other specialists — are no longer accepting Medicare, either because they have opted out of the insurance system or they are not accepting new patients with Medicare coverage. The doctors’ reasons: reimbursement rates are too low and paperwork too much of a hassle.
Of the 93 internists affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital, for example, only 37 accept Medicare, according to the hospital’s Web site.
Two trends are converging: there is a shortage of internists nationally — the American College of Physicians, the organization for internists, estimates that by 2025 there will be 35,000 to 45,000 fewer than the population needs — and internists are increasingly unwilling to accept new Medicare patients.
In a June 2008 report, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal panel that advises Congress on Medicare, said that 29 percent of the Medicare beneficiaries it surveyed who were looking for a primary care doctor had a problem finding one to treat them, up from 24 percent the year before. And a 2008 survey by the Texas Medical Association found that while 58 percent of the state’s doctors took new Medicare patients, only 38 percent of primary care doctors did.
29 percent of Medicare recipients can't find a physician who is willing to take them as patients. That's huge. How high would that number go if most of the country became Medicare or Medicare-like recipients? How high will this number go if the federal government's scheduled 21% cut in Medicare payments to physicans comes real (on January 1st, 2010)?
Yeah, give everyone free coverage, but don't be surprised when you can't find anyone willing to accept it.