We interrupt this program . . .
January 2, 2012
by Brian Wolf

Medicare cuts pay to doctors by 27 percent.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you’re a senior (over age 65) this could change your medical care drastically.

This is a situation that’s been brewing in the background for a few years now. The government is threatening to cut Medicare payments to doctors by 27 percent as of Jan. 1.

At present, doctor’s offices throughout the country are limiting how many Medicare patients they can take. Even before paycuts, for most doctors, taking on Medicare patients at all represents a financial loss in their practice.

If you reduce what Medicare pays even further by 27 percent (or any percentage for that matter), you will see a mass exodus of doctors leaving the business of treating anyone on Medicare.

That means, if you are over age 65, you are going to have a hard time finding a doctor. If you think it takes too long to see your doctor now (or a specialist), well, just wait and see what this will do to you.

Let’s all understand that Medicare, for the most part, is a complete debacle. It provides huge amounts of healthcare for very little out-of-pocket dollars for retirees. Many people in this country are for this kind of benefit, but from a financial perspective, it may be one of the dumbest things our government has ever done.

It has to be fixed, and it needs to be fundamentally changed. With that being said, the fix doesn’t come from punishing the providers. It comes from changing the costs and benefits. Simply put, we need to pay more and get less for Medicare to continue. Without that, Medicare will fail.

David Walker, former head of the General Accountability Office(GAO) was interviewed by 60 Minutes in March 2007. In that interview, he said that the Medicare system as currently structured will sink our country financially. It’s blowing up in our faces right now. Here’s the bottom line . . . be prepared to pay more for your healthcare in the future, and maybe a lot more.

The following is the full Bloomberg article.

House Republicans have no plans to move a stand-alone bill to reverse a 27 percent cut in Medicare fees to doctors that’s set to go into effect Jan. 1, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner said.

Both the House and Senate have opted to address Medicare payments to doctors as part of the impasse over extending a payroll-tax cut set to expire at the end of the year. Congress is deadlocked over the tax, which has become the end-of-session vehicle for unrelated issues, including fees for Medicare, the US insurer for those 65 and older and the disabled.

House Republicans aren’t planning to address physician fees in a separate bill, said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, in an e-mail. If the cut isn’t reversed, doctors would absorb the largest single decline in federal reimbursements in the history of the program, raising concerns physician will limit how many new Medicare patients they accept.

“Medicare patients should not become the collateral damage of a political battle,” said Joyce Rogers, senior vice president of AARP, the largest advocacy organization for the elderly. “Congress should pass legislation that reinforces doctors’ faith in the Medicare payment system and gives current and future Medicare beneficiaries the security of knowing that they can get the care they need.”

Time to act

Medicare, in a statement sent to doctors and other health care providers said it can use administrative tools to hold off on actually making payments at the lower rates for 10 business days, though Jan. 17. That would give Congress time to come back and act, should the current effort fail entirely.

“We continue to urge Congress to take action to ensure these cuts do not take effect,” the statement said.

The American Medical Association, based in Chicago, has been coordinating lobbying by state medical associations and specialist societies against the cut. The group also ran TV and radio ads against the cuts.

“Waiting until the last week of the legislative session to address a problem that Congress knew was looming all year is not the way to conduct our nation’s business,” said Peter Carmel, the group’s president, in an e-mailed statement. “A permanent solution is the long overdue, fiscally-responsible approach.”

Closed offices

Doctors won’t be able to keep their offices open or see Medicare patients with the cut, Carmel, a pediatric neurosurgeon in Newark, New Jersey, said in an interview last month.

Cardiologists have been moving from private practice to hospital work to insulate themselves from uncertainty over Medicare reimbursements, said Jack Lewin, chief executive officer of the American College of Cardiology.

“Doctors will go in and take care of heart attacks and life-threatening cardiovascular conditions for people with Medicare,” he said. “But elective things – chronic conditions – people will think twice about whether they want to do that, because that’s how the financing goes. Patients will have less access to care.”

Stopping cuts to Medicare’s physician rates has become an annual ritual for Congress, which has faced the problem since the start of the last decade and passed short-term “fixes” that last for a year or six months. A permanent overhaul of the formula has been tough to come by, partly because of its $290 billion cost, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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