Medicare Cuts Are Looming

The American Medical Association is warning you it might soon be harder and harder to find a doctor if you are on Medicare. That’s because Medicare is planning to cut reimbursements to doctors by 10 percent, making it hard for doctors to make ends meet.

Members of the American Medical Association held a news conference Tuesday morning in Little Rock saying that they’re trying to be proactive on this issue. They feel if they start fighting this battle now, that there’s a chance they can reverse some of these cuts.

AMA Board of Trustees member Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven says, “25 percent of seniors can’t see a new primary care physician. 25 percent is a lot of seniors and it’s only going to get worse.”

Hoven lives in Kentucky, where already some doctors have had to close their businesses because Medicare reimbursements just aren’t enough.

Hoven says, “Those solo practitioners particularly, and in rural Kentucky especially, it’s a very difficult situation. They’ve either had to leave their practice and join a bigger practice in a bigger city, leave their community because they couldn’t afford to do it.”

At Tuesday’s news conference, Hoven presented a chart that showed the growing distance between the costs for doctors to operate their offices compared to the Medicare reimbursement cuts.

Hoven says, “If you were running a business, you couldn’t survive in that environment.”

Here in Arkansas the impact could be great. We have just 12 doctors per 1,000 Medicare patients. Nationally the average is 20 per 1,000. Arkansas and Mississippi are the two states at the bottom of the list.

Hot Springs Dr. Brenda Powell says, “That’s a tremendous discrepancy in the availability of physicians to care for Medicare patients.”

With more than 400,000 Arkansans on Medicare, Powell is worried about her own future.

Powell says, “Baby Boomers, which I am one, will soon be gong on the Medicare rolls. Therefore, there will be a demand for primary care and specialty to look after these Medicare patients.”

The American Medical Association is urging patients to contact their Congressmen and Senators to ask for their help on this issue. It would take a piece of legislation to stop the cuts.

Today’s THV contacted all of Arkansas’ federal lawmakers. Here are there statements regarding the issue:

U.S. Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor issued the following statements Tuesday in response to the American Medical Association National House Call campaign stop in Little Rock to highlight the effects of Medicare physician payment cuts on Medicare beneficiaries:

“I’ve heard from physicians in Arkansas who have been forced to change their practices or even stop taking Medicare beneficiaries due to rising costs,� Lincoln said. “The Medicare cuts ultimately hurt lower-income seniors living in rural areas the most because of the hardships they face with access to care. Congress has put in place a temporary stop-gap measure in past years, and it is time to find a permanent solution.�

“I remain a strong supporter of making sure health care providers are adequately reimbursed for taking care of Medicare patients. If Congress does not act, we run the risk of having our best doctors drop out of the Medicare program because they cannot afford lower rates while medical care costs continue to increase,� said Pryor.

Congressman Vic Snyder: “As a family physician, I am concerned about the scheduled 10 percent cuts to reimbursement rates for physicians with Medicare patients,” said Congressman Vic Snyder. “I have worked to reverse cuts to these reimbursement rates in the past, and I will continue to support legislation that maintains these payments at adequate levels in the future. I believe the next step is to replace the current Medicare physician payment formula with one that more accurately reflects the costs of caring for Medicare beneficiaries.”

Congressman Mike Ross: “I fully support the American Medical Association’s (AMA) position to prevent the pending 10 percent cut for Medicare physician payments,” Ross said. “These cuts would not only hurt our health care providers, but also deny patients access to needed medical care. In the next five years, the first wave of baby boomers will reach the age of 65 and will turn to Medicare for their health care needs and we must provide them with the health care they deserve and expect. With my seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Health Subcommittee, I will continue to work on behalf of our practitioners to ensure the best treatment for Medicare patients.”

Congressman Marion Berry: “I have always been a strong advocate for Medicare. In Congress I will do everything in my power to ensure beneficiaries get the care they need and doctors are able to continue to provide services to Medicare recipients,� said Berry.

Congressman John Boozman: a representative from his office told Today’s THV that the congressman supports the efforts to eliminate the cuts on reimbursements. He would support a whole new funding formula and says the system is broke, it needs to be fixed.
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