Health
1:34 pm
Fri October 7, 2011

Half of Texas Doctors Would Drop Medicare Patients If Cuts Come

Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled to be slashed by almost 30 percent in January unless Congress does something to stop that from happening. A new poll of Texas doctors shows that half of them would stop taking Medicare patients if the cuts take effect.

Medicare is a federal program that provides health insurance to about 47 million people over the age of 65. It also costs taxpayers $452 billion a year.

“Our Medicare patients are like family to us, but most doctors in Texas run small businesses,” former Texas Medical Association (TMA) president Sue Bailey told KUT News. “We have employees to pay. We have rents and utilities to pay just like any small business.”

Fifty percent of the 1,906 doctors who responded to the TMA survey said they are considering opting out of Medicare if reimbursement rates are slashed. The same poll also found that one-third of Texas doctors are already limiting the number of Medicare patients they serve.

In past years, when the looming prospect of severe Medicare cuts hung over Washington, Congress simply kicked the can down the road by enacting temporary fixes to the Medicare funding formula. Doctors groups are practically begging lawmakers to conduct a complete overhaul of the funding system so that they can continue their practice without this perennial uncertainty.

But this time, the threat of scheduled cuts comes as a deficit reduction “super committee” is trying to create a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over ten years. Allowing the Medicare payments cuts to take effect would slash $300 billion from the deficit over the next decade without lawmakers having to lift a finger.

Meanwhile, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), an independent Congressional agency, yesterday approved a controversial recommendation to lawmakers on how to address the funding crisis. You can see a PowerPoint presentation of the plan here.  

Basically, MedPAC suggested repealing the current funding formula for Medicare, which would eliminate the threat of automatic cuts. But the agency also recommended freezing Medicare payments to primary care physicians for ten years, and cutting many specialists by 6 percent for three years, Medscape reports.

MedPAC’s proposal could not be implemented without Congressional approval.

Kaiser Health News has this round up of reaction from doctors and hospitals to the MedPAC suggestion. As you can guess, most of them don’t like it one bit.