MDs Checking out of Medicare.(COMMENTARY)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

MDs Checking out of Medicare.(COMMENTARY)


Byline: Robert E. Moffit, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Doctors are giving up on Medicare. More and more of them are refusing to accept new

Medicare patients. Some physicians are withdrawing from the government health-care program for seniors altogether - even though, in the words of one orthopedic surgeon, it "breaks my heart."

"These are the patients that I love to see the most," Dr. Abraham Rogozinski of Jacksonville, Fla., told the New York Times. "They bake you pound cakes for Christmas because they are so happy with the care that you give them."

The reason for the physician flight: Medicare's complex pricing system.

Doctors have seen their reimbursements cut by 5.4 percent this year, even as they're forced to comply with a growing pile of practically incomprehensible regulations. Even the pay raise Congress will soon consider is a stopgap solution.

In many cases, the reimbursements don't begin to cover the cost of providing care to Medicare patients. And even if they did, there are the regulatory hurdles: A recent American Medical Association survey of doctors found that more than one-third spend an hour completing Medicare paperwork for every four hours of patient care.

The symptoms of deep discontent are unmistakable. More than eight out of every 10 health-care professionals say they don't consider Medicare's fee schedules "fair," according to a survey by Yankelovich Partners, a California-based research firm. And 71 percent said the reimbursement schedules don't ensure quality care. No wonder 17 percent of family doctors, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, are refusing to take new Medicare patients.

This is a bad omen, especially since America's population is aging rapidly. (The 77 million Baby Boom generation will start retiring in less than 10 years.) Worse, America's doctors are being held hostage by Washington's high-stakes politics. The American Association of Retired Persons, for example, opposes increased payments to doctors in Medicare unless Congress first agrees to provide a "meaningful" prescription drug benefit - meaning one that would cost about $750 billion over 10 years. That's almost twice as large as the leading Senate Democratic Medicare drug proposal, and it would guarantee a sharp increase in the program's rapidly rising costs. Seniors and taxpayers alike would pay a high price.

How could Medicare's condition have deteriorated so badly? Its problems are built into its bureaucratic structure. We're talking, after all, about a system of central planning and price regulation in which bureaucrats control nearly all aspects of the financing and delivery of medical services. …

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