Los Angeles Times Examines National Shortage of Medicare Physicians
The Los Angeles Times today examines the increased number of physicians who will not accept new Medicare patients because of increased health care costs, reductions in reimbursements and problems with Medicare HMOs. The problem has forced social service agencies in some communities to consider Medicare beneficiaries "medically underserved," the Times reports. According to the Center for Studying Health System Change, about one in nine Medicare beneficiaries in 2001 said that they delayed care or could not find a physician. In some areas, such as Colorado, six of 10 primary care physicians will not accept new Medicare patients. Some analysts attribute the problem to reductions in Medicare reimbursements for physicians. Medicare this year reduced physician reimbursement rates by 5.4% and plans to reduce the rates by an additional 4.4% next year. Although Congress has considered several bills to increase Medicare physician reimbursement rates, "action this year appears unlikely," the Times reports. In addition to low reimbursements, physicians maintain that "complex billing codes" for Medicare services and "paranoia" over allegations of "fraud and abuse" have contributed to the problem, the Times reports (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 11/4).
In related news, the Times reports that physician house calls have "quietly reclaimed a small but important role in health care," in part because of the increased number of home-bound Medicare beneficiaries. The number of house calls nationwide last year rose to about 1.6 million -- a 100,000 increase from 2000 -- in part because of an increased number of seniors with disabilities or chronic illnesses that require frequent care. In addition, several private companies have expanded their businesses to provide care to patients at home. The companies serve affluent U.S. residents, who pay increased prices for house calls because they offer "convenience, privacy and the comfort of receiving medical attention in one's home," the Times reports (Miller, Los Angeles Times, 11/4). CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports" on Friday also reported on the "comeback" of physician house calls (Cohen, "Wolf Blitzer Reports," CNN, 11/1). A transcript of the program is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.