Cut looms for Medicare payments to doctors

Marketwatch/The Seattle Times reports on the looming 21 percent cut to physicians' Medicare payments. "The cut was to take effect March 1 until Congress delayed it by 30 days. The Senate then voted last Wednesday to postpone the cut an additional six months as part of a larger bill that extends unemployment benefits. The measure now moves to the House." Yet despite the confusion and media attention on when -- or if -- such a reduction in reimbursements will come, "most beneficiaries can find the care they need, experts said. In fact, Medicare patients have an easier time finding doctors than their privately insured counterparts who are age 50 to 64, according to the new annual report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent group that advises Congress. Only 6 percent of Medicare beneficiaries looked for a new primary-care physician in 2009. Within that group, 12 percent said finding a doctor to treat them proved to be a big problem, the study found. That compares with 8 percent of privately insured people ages 50 to 64 who looked for a new primary-care doctor last year, 21 percent of whom said finding one was a big problem. The number of Medicare beneficiaries reporting a problem finding a doctor last year represented less than 2 percent of the total Medicare population, according to Medpac" (Gerencher, 3/16).

NPR reports on specific changes in Medicare payments that will impact cardiologists. "A move by the agency that oversees Medicare to cut payments Jan. 1 for certain cardiac procedures has resulted in cardiologists suing the federal government. Their push back is an example of how difficult it is to make even small changes in the health care system" (Silberner, 3/16).

Kaiser Health News/NPR Shots Blog reports on how one California cardiology group is dealing with these steep Medicare cuts. The group has enlisted "a tactic that may irk patients who already face soaring health costs in that state: Beginning April 1, Pacific Heart Institute, in Santa Monica, will charge some patients annual fees ranging from $500 to $7,500, in addition to the regular fees paid by patients and insurers. These steep fees provide an unusually vivid example of a phenomenon called 'cost-shifting,' one of the many reasons economists say your health insurance costs so much. The premise is that doctors and hospitals charge privately-insured patients higher rates to make up for the lower fees paid by Medicare and other public programs, as well as uncompensated care for uninsured people. The new annual fees were announced in a Feb. 25 letter to patients of the nine-doctor cardiology group" and "will offset recent cuts to Medicare, the letter says" (Weaver, 3/16).


http://www.kaiserhealthnews.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Daily Health Policy Report is published for Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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