DOCTORS DONT WANT MEDICARE REIMBURSEMENT RATES CUT-Andrew Stelzer

07/18/06

Over the past week, doctors across the country have kicked off a campaign to prevent cuts to the amount which they are reimbursed by the federal government for caring for Medicare patients. This morning, several doctors gathered at St Joes Women’s hospital in Tampa, to get the word out that the quality of healthcare for millions of Americans at risk. Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, the vice speaker of the American Medical Association and a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, said that while the cost of providing medical care continues to increase, doctors are being reimbursed less and less, and many are having to stop accepting Medicare patients as a result.

ACT-Lazarus “The problem is that Medicare physician payments aren’t keeping up..already access is suffering, 1 in 4 patients had trouble finding a physician, 9 years, unless congress acts…and the cuts increases 22% and that doesn’t add up�

Medicare reimbursement payments to doctors would be cut by 37 percent if nothing is done by congress before January 1st. Tampa OB/GYN Dr. Madelyn Butler said that Florida, which has the 3rd highest number of Medicare beneficiaries, is particularly at risk.

ACT-Butler “This means in Florida, we will lose..19 billion over the next 9 years..that’s a huge loss and will effect..�

ACT-Butler “In Florida we have just 15 per 1000, national average is 20, as you can see this ratio will decrease..�

The AMA did a survey of physicians, to find out what changes they might make if the pending cuts are enacted, and more than half said they would have to stop accepting patients. Another national survey found that more than half of physicians between the ages of 50 and 65 plan to reduce their care load or get out of a physician setting In the next few years. Lazarus says that’s a particularly bad sign because almost half of Florida’s doctors are over 50 years old.

ACT Lazarus “By 2020, congress predicts a shortfall f physicians of 85k..we cant lose those we have..�

ACT-Lazarus “If Medicare is cut, 73 percent plan to get out..this is troubling…�

Physicians like Dr David Becker, a Pinellas county gastroenterologist; have been talking to their patients about the issue and asking them to contact their congressional representatives.

ACT-Becker “In Pinellas County it’s more amplified because of lots of seniors..nationwide physicians see 13 percent, FLA 16%..In Pinellas, my practice is 35 to 40% Medicare, so these profound cuts for an office like us it would effect access to patients, also how we can run out office, number of employees, information technology, upgrades, equipment…�

Dr Bruce Shepard is the president of the Hillsborough county medical association.

ACT Shepard “I went to school for 12 years to see patients….we want to keep the lights on in clinics but its become a major crisis with the current funding crunch..25% of places nationwide have trouble, that stat is low..�

Regardless of what happens this year, Lazarus says the problem will continue until congress fixes a 3-year-old formula, which calculates how physicians are reimbursed

ACT-Lazarus “…until they solve the formula, until that formula is fixed, and more tied, it will be yearly problem..it has to be fixed..payments for hospitals are based on actual costs, the payments for doctors are based on gross domestic product no real connection to real costs�

The cuts would not only affect Medicare recipients, but also people who are on tri-care, the US militarys’ healthcare program. Retired Major General Bob Lynn is a previous board member of the military officers association of America.

ACT-Lynn “Those payments are a threat to more than 9 million military and their families..in FLA alone it will effect almost 700k members…when there is a cut in Medicare it effects tricare..�

There are 600,000 Floridians on Tricare. Reducing payments rates would make the difficult task of finding a tricare doctor even harder. Lynn says it’s already the most difficult healthcare task for active and retied military, particularly those that live or serve in remote areas. Lynn says it’s a national security issue, in that a lack of proper healthcare could prevent people from signing up for military service.

ACT-Lynn “When our service members are sent in harms way they shouldn’t have to worry about their families finding a tricare doctor, or if the current on will continue to accept tricare patients..�

Dr Lazarus says that 80 Senators have signed a letter supporting a stop to the payment cuts, including senators Nelson and Martinez, and representatives Shaw, Brown Waite, Weldon, Young, Miller, and Foley are supporting a reversal of the cuts as well. In fact, it’s a bi-partisan issue with widespread support—the question is—will congress act or just let the issue slip on by?

ACT-Lazarus “Both parties agree payments were flawed..the question is action..the cuts were in 03..04 they avoided it, it 05 as well..so for this year payments stayed the same as 95..who was lobbying for this…it’s a matter of priorities..but we see access to care..it’s a budgetary issue, so congress has to weigh it priorities..ELECTIONS..last year final hour at the end of December..reteroactive payments came until January..will you be back here in a year?

The American Medical Association has set up a toll free hotline, which connects citizens with their member of congress to comment ion the issue. That number is 1-888-434-6200. For more information, log onto www.patientsactionnetwork.com

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