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Payment Cuts Might Not Lead Doctors to Avoid Medicare Patients

Provider groups have often raised the specter of physicians shutting their door to Medicare patients as a possible consequence of the perpetually looming Medicare physician payment cuts. But administration officials and the independent Medicare Payment Advisory Committee say the problem is not as dire as some suggest.

In an August 2013 report, the Health and Human Services assistant secretary for planning and evaluation found that the percentage of physicians accepting new Medicare patients has stayed stable over the past seven years. In 2012, 90.7 percent of all office-based physicians accepted new Medicare patients, the report said — only a small change from the 88 percent that accepted them in 2005.

“To the extent that there may have been a very small increase in the number of providers ‘opting out,’ that increase has been mitigated by an increase in the share of other physicians who accept new Medicare patients,” the report said.

In addition, the HHS report said the percentage of physicians accepting new Medicare patients was close to, and recently slightly higher than, the percentage accepting new patients with private insurance.

The independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission also found in a March 2013 report that beneficiaries’ access to physicians is not changing, and it is similar to that of privately insured patients ages 50 to 64. In 2012, 77 percent of Medicare beneficiaries said they never experienced a delay in getting an appointment for routine care, the report said. In 2008, 76 percent said the same thing.

MedPAC’s report also found that in 2012, 7 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were looking for a new doctor — the same percentage as those with private insurance. Of that 7 percent, 72 percent in Medicare said they had no problem getting a new primary care physician, while 75 percent of the privately insured group said the same.

In addition, MedPAC noted that physician surveys show that providers are mostly willing to accept new Medicare patients. It cited a National Ambulatory Medical Care survey that found that, in 2009 and 2010, 73 percent of primary care physicians said they would accept new Medicare patients.

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