Physician Departures Could Undermine Medicare

Seniors across the nation are beginning to feel the effects of doctors leaving Medicare, and the problem is reaching crisis proportions in some areas, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

More and more physicians will not accept new Medicare patients because of increased health care costs, reductions in reimbursements and problems with Medicare HMOs. The problem has forced social service agencies in some communities to consider Medicare beneficiaries "medically underserved," the Times reports.

The article focuses on Colorado as 'one of the more dramatic examples of a trend that is sweeping the country and threatening to undermine Medicare.' In some areas, such as Colorado, six of 10 primary care physicians will not accept new Medicare patients.

In Boulder, many seniors now have to make as many as a dozen phone calls just to find a physician who is still accepting new Medicare patients. "Seniors are going without care, and patients are getting sicker," said Jim Peters, vice president of Boulder Community Hospital. "We are close to a crisis."

Reductions in Medicare reimbursements are a major reason why physicians are leaving the program. Medicare this year reduced physician reimbursement rates by 5.4 percent and plans to reduce the rates by an additional 4.4 percent next year. Before the election, bills to increase Medicare physician reimbursement rates were blocked by Republican lawmakers.

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