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Coburn touts concierge plan for Medicare

After a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on Tuesday, obstetrician and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, had some guidance for the nation's physicians.

"Go into concierge medicine," Coburn said, adding that this option will result in doctors "enjoying medicine better and they can do that with Medicare patients."

Coburn and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)—co-sponsors of legislation called the Seniors' Choice Act—were panelists at a discussion about Medicare one day after the program's trustees released their 2012 report. A key element of the Coburn-Burr plan is a premium-support model to compete with traditional Medicare fee-for-service that would begin in 2016.

In a brief interview after the panel discussion, Coburn noted that his legislation also calls for a commission to ensure that seniors are not adversely selected. According to a summary of the bill, the board—to be called the Medicare Consumers' Protection Agency—would oversee the bidding process, while the CMS would still oversee bids for the government plan. Coburn said concierge plans would work either in a premium-support environment or under the current system.

"You come in to see me, you pay $800 for the whole year; I give you an office visit, which you file under Medicare," Coburn said, explaining how current Medicare patients could still opt for concierge services. "But I don't file it as a physician."

Coburn also emphasized why the federal healthcare program needs to be changed sooner rather than later.

"Are we going to wait until the trust fund is bankrupt to fix it?" he asked.

"Here's the other thing that's happening: Fewer and fewer doctors are taking Medicare. Why is that? So you have a healthcare program and you say, here's your Medicare, but you can't find a doctor?" he continued. "Is that the kind of program we want? We're going to ration it based on the lack of availability of care?

The Medicare Trustees Report on Monday projected that the Medicare program will remain solvent until 2024.

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZigmond.

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