Are physicians risking their seat at the Medicare table?

Last week the United States Congress chose physicians over insurance companies in overriding a presidential veto of a bill that repealed Medicare fee cuts by 10.6 percent.  The measure, in large part, was a move to save health care accessibility for seniors.

From The New York Times:

The vote “renews the light of hope for those who need our help the most, senior citizens who depend on Medicare,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader.

It seems a light of hope was all it was for some seniors.  This from Anne Zieger at Fierce Healthcare:

With Medicare cuts looming, many physicians vowed that they’d stop accepting Medicare patients entirely if and when the cuts went through. The thing is, even though Medicare cuts have been held off, large numbers of physicians are dropping out anyway. One example of this comes in Tennessee, where doctors are increasingly dropping out of the program. Not only are many refusing new Medicare patients, some are thinking about dropping current Medicare patients too. That’s because in some cases, doctors aren’t even getting paid enough to cover their expenses, they say.

While the bill that prevented fee cuts does nudge reimbursements up just a bit, the problem of low reimbursements has been well documented, especially for primary care physicians.  In fact, we’re less than 18 months away from another fee cut, this one topping 20 percent.  Some think a completely new approach to Medicare is needed—such a measure is likely necessary to save the Medicare program.

Amidst promises by physicians to stop accepting Medicare patients should the cuts have remained, politicians prevented such a catastrophe from happening.  But some physicians have reversed course.

Are physicians risking their place at the table when new Medicare payment policy is formulated?

Too soon to tell.  Granted, physicians need to support themselves and adding minuscule incremental fee increases doesn’t fix already notoriously low reimbursement schedules.  But are doctors risking their credibility with politicians, who supported them by preventing this year’s version of the traditional Medicare fee cuts, by not accepting or dropping Medicare patients?

Unlikely since Medicare needs physicians in order to make the program work, but it’s worth a discussion.

In politics, leverage is everything.

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