Medicare pillWe’ve repeatedly heard the claim by critics of Medicare that doctors are refusing to see Medicare patients because of poor reimbursement and government intrusion into their practices.  From such accusations one might conclude that doctors are shying away from Medicare patients in huge numbers.

A new study conducted by experts at the Department of Health and Human Services, released last month, shows that there is little truth in that assertion.

MedPage Today notes: “… the percentage of all office-based physicians who report accepting new Medicare patients has not changed significantly between 2005 and 2012, with 87.9% of physicians accepting new Medicare patients in 2005 and 90.7% in 2012.

“The percentage of physicians who report accepting new Medicare patients is similar to, and in recent years slightly higher than, the percentage accepting new privately insured patients.

“Medicare beneficiary access to care is high and has remained stable over the past five years. “An August 31 editorial in the NY Times makes additional observations:

“The number of doctors opting out (roughly 9,500, about 1.3%) is tiny compared with the number of doctors, 735,000, who remain in Medicare.”

“ … the overall picture is clear: nationwide there is no shortage of doctors for Medicare patients. It is likely to stay that way, because Medicare is a big insurer that few medical practices can afford to ignore.”

Looking ahead it seems likely that extending healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act to the 50 million currently uninsured Americans will stress the system.  However, I believe the answer to this increased demand is not to prolong the status quo by denying them coverage, but to meet that marketplace demand by training more health care providers.  After all, it is jobs, jobs, jobs . . .

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Dana E. Wilson, M.D.   AARP Executive Council Volunteer.   Dr. Wilson’s views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of AARP. 

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