Trend: Primary Care Physicians are Accepting More Medicare Patients than Before

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MDC-thumb3Here’s one of those trends for which the long-term implication can be difficult to decipher.

According to Kelly Kennedy in USA Today, physicians are actually accepting more Medicare patients now than in previous years. This, in spite of the fact that 9,500 physicians opted out of Medicare in 2012 compared to 3,700 in 2009, a statistic that was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Apparently, the number of physicians, primarily older, who are bailing out of the system is being offset by an even larger number of primary-care physicians who are entering the industry.

In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services found that there are more new Medicare patients being accepted by physicians than there are new private-insurance patients being accepted by physicians.

To back this up, HHS says Medicare was billed by 1.25 million physicians in 2011 as compared to 925,000 in 2007.

According to the HHS report, “Ninety percent of office-based physicians accept new Medicare patients, a rate similar to those who take privately insured patients… The rate of Medicare patients who say they can find a new doctor in a timely manner is similar to those who are privately insured,” at 28 percent of 7 percent Medicare beneficiaries.

Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, “Overall, the clients we deal with have good access to physicians. We find the physicians who don’t take Medicare don’t take other insurance, either, but it’s not a problem we see regularly.”

Actually, it’s more difficult for Medicare patients to find physicians in cities with populations similar to New York, Washington, and San Francisco, Kennedy writes, but Baker said, “We’ve never not been able to find them a doctor who does take Medicare.”

Our question is this: how is the increasing employment of physicians by hospitals affecting these numbers? Are these primary-care physicians accepting more Medicare patients because their practice is now owned by a hospital or healthcare system? If that has nothing to do with it, then how will hospital employment impact the number of physicians who can accept Medicare patients?

As healthcare executives, what light can you shed on this trend?

One thing that can’t be discounted is the political element intricately woven throughout these numbers.

Jonathan Blum, principal deputy administrator for CMS, told Kennedy that “doctors talk to their patients more about insurance as Congress continues to delay the ‘sustained growth rate’ payment system, which could lower rates by 30 percent.”

In fact, he said, “That’s really been a political football. They tell their patients, ‘You should call your Congress person because if Congress cuts my reimbursement 30 percent, I won’t be able to see you.’”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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