WSJ: Doctors turn away Medicare patients

Growing number of cash-only doctors is not expected to affect the ACA

New data show that nearly three times more physicians opted out of Medicare in 2012 than in 2009, and doctors who stayed in the program are limiting their patient load, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to CMS, 9,539 physicians who previously had accepted Medicare opted out of the program in 2012, compared with 3,700 who opted out in 2009. Further, a similar study by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) found that 81% of family physicians accepted new Medicare patients in 2012, compared with 83% who did so in 2010.

Physicians have noted several reasons for opting out of Medicare, including:

  • Low reimbursement rates;
  • Displeasure with the government's increasing involvement in medicine; or
  • Concerns about patient privacy.

Some physicians have said that Medicare's reimbursement rates—which can be as low as $58 for a 15-minute office visit—mean that they have to see as many as 30 or more patients per day. AAFP President Jeffrey Cain said, "Family physicians have been fed up for a long time and it's getting worse."

At the same time, fewer doctors are choosing not to accept new Medicaid beneficiaries, the Journal reports. A study in the journal Health Affairs this month found that 33% of primary care physicians did not accept new Medicaid patients in 2010 and 2011.

Health experts do not believe that the increasing number of physicians choosing to opt out of Medicare and Medicaid services will hurt the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. However, they say some U.S. residents may have a difficult time finding physicians who will accept their new benefits or face long waits for appointments with those who do (Beck, Wall Street Journal, 7/28).

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