Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Texas doctors opting out of Medicare at alarming rate

Back in 1965, Lyndon Johnson was able to enact legislation that established the Medicare health care system for seniors. I had just returned from a tour in Korea (peace time) and was again entering the business world. From that time on, I paid into the Medicare pot with my employer paying a matching amount. 40 years later, it was my turn to reap the benefits. I have not lost a doctor yet, because they are exceptionally caring professionals, but they must spend less time than they want with each patient in order to make a decent wage and keep their practices solvent. Reimbursement rates are falling.

While illegal aliens do not qualify for Medicare, they do affect the amount doctors receive. Reimbursement rates to hospitals are based on formulas that consider total hospital costs. The influx of illegals overload the emergency rooms and are a huge cost to these hospitals thus increasing their reimbursement. Since Congress has put limits on the total pot, decreases in physician reimbursements are necessary.

Results such as those in Texas are not surprising. ObamaCare will only make it worse for doctors.

Texas doctors are opting out of Medicare at alarming rates, frustrated by reimbursement cuts they say make participation in government-funded care of seniors unaffordable.

Two years after a survey found nearly half of Texas doctors weren't taking some new Medicare patients, new data shows 100 to 200 a year are now ending all involvement with the program. Before 2007, the number of doctors opting out averaged less than a handful a year.

“This new data shows the Medicare system is beginning to implode,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the Texas Medical Association. “If Congress doesn't fix Medicare soon, there'll be more and more doctors dropping out and Congress' promise to provide medical care to seniors will be broken.”

More than 300 doctors have dropped the program in the last two years, including 50 in the first three months of 2010, according to data compiled by the Houston Chronicle. Texas Medical Association officials, who conducted the 2008 survey, said the numbers far exceeded their assumptions.

The largest number of doctors opting out comes from primary care, a field already short of practitioners nationally and especially in Texas. Psychiatrists also make up a large share of the pie, causing one Texas leader to say, “God forbid that a senior has dementia.”

The opt-outs follow years of declining Medicare reimbursement that culminated in a looming 21 percent cut in 2010. Congress has voted three times to postpone the cut, which was originally to take effect Jan. 1. It is now set to take effect June 1.
Read Houston Chronicle article here.

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