2010 Great American Physician Survey: Medicare Movement Minimal

September 9, 2010

With Labor Day fresh in the rearview mirror, it is only a matter of time until we are handing out Halloween candy, carving the Thanksgiving turkey, and watching Medicare reimbursements drop by 21 percent. Sorry about that last image, but it is becoming more of a reality that Nov. 30 is becoming a date that physicians are watching very closely on their calendars.

Note: This is the first in a series of blog entries about the results of our 2010 Physicians Practice Great American Physician Survey. Full results are now available at www.physicianspractice.com/great-american-physician-survey.

With Labor Day fresh in the rearview mirror, it is only a matter of time until we are handing out Halloween candy, carving the Thanksgiving turkey, and watching Medicare reimbursements drop by 21 percent. Sorry about that last image, but it is becoming more of a reality that Nov. 30 is becoming a date that physicians are watching very closely on their calendars.

Yes, we are just months away from a 23 percent reduction in physicians’ Medicare payments required under the current sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. Oh yes, and let’s not forget another cut of 6.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2011 - Happy New Year!

Remember back in June when President Obama swooped in and signed a law delaying the cut for six months, and threw in a 2.2 percent payment increase? Seems like ages ago, right?

Both before and after the president affixed his signature to the bill, we heard about practices trimming their Medicare rolls in Texas and other states nationwide in order to secure some certainty in their income. And this week,the National Center for Policy Analysis said the health reform bill and subsequent falling Medicare payment rates will push seniors “into a separate health care system,” as doctors abandon Medicare, and prohibit them from the same care received by younger Americans.

Not good news at all. Ah, but not everyone is fleeing Medicare in droves as some reports would have you believe.

According to our 2010 Great American Physician Survey, of 1,261 respondents, a whopping 59 percent said they accept Medicare and plan to continue that practice for the foreseeable future. Only 17 percent said they do not accept Medicare and another 12 percent said they would consider dropping patients under the federal payment plan.



Now in June, Congress let the reimbursement cut take effect then corrected their actions retroactively. One cannot assume how the political game of chicken will play out when the Nov. 30 deadline comes this time around.

But one congressman is already thinking ahead and making his stance known on the issue to help both doctors and seniors.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) recently voiced his commitment to making sure the looming reimbursement cut “never takes place,” saying it is time for Washington, D.C., to stop kicking the SGR can down the healthcare road and finally offer a solution and even take on tort reform. Now Cardin is not up for re-election this November, he can relax until next year to start campaigning, so we assume his pledge is genuine.

But even if Cardin’ pledge goes unanswered, our survey results indicate that you plan to stick with Medicare through thick or thin….reimbursements, that is.

So for the six in 10 of you that responded you were steering your practice through the Medicare waters, no matter the perils that lay ahead, I ask a simple follow-up: Why? Why keep what is essentially going to be a losing payer? Do you feel a sense of obligation to your patients?

I applaud the majority of you for staying put and I wonder if your answers might get some of the 12 percent on the fence to stay put as well.