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Medicare Patients May Lose Their Doctors

Cutbacks May Force Some Doctors to Refuse Elderly Patients

WebMD Health News

Oct. 25, 2002 -- Time has run out for Congress to take legislative action before its election recess. Time may be running out on some Medicare patients, too.

That's because recent cutbacks in Medicare funding have led some doctors to reconsider whether they will accept new Medicare patients, according to studies by the American Medical Association. More than 40% of polled physicians indicated that they would not sign Medicare participation agreements if funding were cut again.

And the cut will very likely come. The only question is, will Congress soften the blow? Medicare's budget is tied to the gross domestic product, which led to a 5.4% decrease in funding on Nov. 1, 2001. Now, a cut of 4.4 % will occur on Jan. 1, 2003. The Senate is considering a "give-back" bill that could return $43 billion in reimbursement to Medicare providers. If passed, it would result in a Medicare payment in 2005 that would be 20% higher than if no action is taken.

In June, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would supplement Medicare reimbursements but the Senate must approve a version of the bill to make that happen.

But early indications don't look good. The Senate did not pass the bill before the election recess, and now if it is to be passed before January, it will have to occur during a lame duck session. "You never know how that's going to work. It's a big gamble, but it looks like it might be the last chance," Bob Doherty, vice president of the American College of Physicians, tells WebMD.

The annual poll of its members by the American Academy of Family Physicians indicated that close to 22% of doctors no longer take new Medicare patients, compared with 17% in a poll taken last year. "That's a significant access problem for the segment of our population that is most vulnerable," Warren Jones, MD, president of AAFP, tells WebMD.

Patients and doctors may be facing the crisis together, added Doherty. "Older physicians tend to have older patients." -->

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