Sometimes I Feel Like a Piece of Bologna

Monday, November 30, 2009

Can You Find a Medicare Physician?

Elderly doctor making notes

As our elected representatives rush toward national health insurance, I keep reading reports of physicians opting out of Medicare. I’m not surprised – Medicare pays physicians considerably less than their costs. Yes, the government expects physicians to lose money providing medical care.

"Government payers, without question, are the worst payers in health care," said John Rivers, president of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. "Medicare shortfalls in hospital payments represent nearly $1 billion in Arizona alone. And those costs ultimately get shifted onto the backs of privately insured individuals in the form of a hidden health-care tax." As a result, the five physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Arrowhead, AZ practice will stop taking Medicare payments for primary-care services, effective Jan. 1, 2010. This will affect about 3,000 seniors. Five doctors have practices at the clinic. Multiply this across the nation and you get an idea of the impact of the monopoly the government already has on health care. This impact will increase over the next few years as the first of the Baby Boom generation, estimated at more than 78 million, begins to turn 65 in 2011 and qualifies for the nation's largest insurance program for seniors. The Medicare Board of Trustees has predicted that the program will be bankrupted by 2017.

This trend is exacerbating another equally disturbing trend. There is a shortage of internists nationally — the American College of Physicians, the organization for internists, estimates that by 2025 there will be 35,000 to 45,000 fewer than the population needs — and internists are increasingly unwilling to accept new Medicare patients.

So here’s the question: have you or your aging parent had difficulty in finding a Medicare physician? If so, how have you solved the problem?

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