More than four out of every 10 physicians say they will no longer participate in the Medicare program if additional cuts are imposed by Congress, underscoring growing concerns about access to care for America's elderly, according to a new survey by the American Medical Association. After struggling with a 5.4% decrease in Medicare payments since January, physicians now face an additional 12% cut over the next three years unless Congress enacts legislation to boost reimbursement. According to the AMA's online survey, 24% of physicians have either limited the number of Medicare patients they treat or plan to reduce their number of Medicare patients in the next six months because of reduced reimbursement.
Along with many other healthcare organizations, the AMA is stepping up political pressure in Congress for a hike in Medicare payments. The Senate is now considering legislation similar to a measure passed in the House that would provide a 6% increase in Medicare payments over the next three years, reversing scheduled cutbacks of 12% over that same time frame. The AMA's online survey supports similar studies which suggest Medicare cutbacks are reducing access to care. In July, the American Academy of Family Physicians released a survey showing that 22% of its members are no longer accepting new Medicare patients. Meantime, the Medicare Rights Center, a not-for-profit patient organization, found that Medicare beneficiaries in 15 states and the District of Columbia were having trouble finding a doctor who accepts new Medicare patients. -- by Michael Romano