Monday, March 4, 2013

PBS’s NewsHour Interviews TMA Leaders on Declining Physician Participation in Medicare

PBS’s NewsHour traveled to Texas to speak with Texas Medical Association Executive Vice President Lou Goodman, PhD, and TMA physicians about waning physician participation in Medicare, the federal health care program that insures seniors, people with long-term disabilities, and military families. A recent TMA survey shows the number of Texas physicians who accept all new Medicare patients plummeted from 78 percent in 2000 to just 58 percent in 2012.

As a result, “patients are having a much harder time finding a doctor who will accept Medicare,” Dr. Goodman said.

This saddening statistic became a dismal reality for Nancy Martin, 78. After moving from Lubbock to Austin, Ms. Martin struggled for two years to find a physician who would accept a new Medicare patient.

“If I had something bad I just went to the emergency room,” she told NewsHour.

Doctors say the faulty formula Medicare uses to pay physicians, combined with red tape and government bureaucracy are to blame for the decreasing numbers. Every year for the past 10 years, physicians have faced steep Medicare payment cuts, and every year Congress has passed a short-term fix at the last moment. Ultimately, the uncertainty of payment forces physicians to reconsider their participation in the program. Last year, Austin Regional Clinic (ARC), one of Austin’s largest health care groups, stopped taking new Medicare patients.

“The issue was really one about survival,” said ARC CEO Norman Chenven, MD. “If our Medicare population grows beyond a certain percentage, then our profitability is going to go away.”

“I think we’re going to have a real shortage and a real problem,” Dr. Goodman told NewsHour. “Our surveys show we are going to have a huge influx of seniors, but also not enough doctors to take care of them no matter what. I think what could happen is our emergency rooms could get flooded, and as we know, emergency rooms are the costliest place to get care.”

The NewsHour segment airs at 6:23 (CST) tonight on your local PBS station.

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