NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Problems Finding New Medicare Primary Care Doctors Small but Growing

January 16, 2012

A federal survey of Medicare beneficiaries shows that slightly more patients are having difficulty finding new primary care physicians.  This difficulty in accessing health care comes in a time of Medicare uncertainty, as numerous proposals are being debated regarding reimbursements for care and treatment.  This uncertainty has made health care providers wary and has likely contributed to the small but growing problem of lack of access, says American Medical News.

  • Only 6 percent of Medicare patients looked for a new primary care doctor in 2011.
  • Of the 6 percent, 3.6 percent had "no problem" finding a new primary care physician.
  • Meanwhile, while 0.7 percent had a small problem and 1.3 percent had a big problem.

The survey, conducted by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, found that searching for a new family physician or internist who is accepting Medicare patients was even more difficult than scheduling an appointment with a new specialist.

  • Of all Medicare patients, 14 percent sought a new specialist in 2011.
  • Of the 14 percent, 12.1 percent had "no problem" finding a new specialist.
  • 1.1 percent had a small problem and 1 percent had a big problem.

This trend largely stems from concerns regarding physician compensation related to Medicare reimbursements.  The sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula, which establishes many of the reimbursement rates paid to doctors who are treating Medicare patients, will create significant cuts in payments.

  • The SGR was scheduled to reduce Medicare payments by 27.4 percent on January 1st, but Congress delayed the cut by two months, continuing a decade of deferment.
  • The cost of a repeal (measured in additional payments to health care providers) that would simply maintain current Medicare rates over 10 years has grown to $289.7 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Another option, repealing the formula and providing annual payment updates pegged to the increased costs over time of providing care, would cost $352.7 billion.
  • Yet a third recommendation has suggested a 10 year pay freeze for primary care with cuts for other services.

Source: Charles Fiegl, "Problems Finding New Medicare Primary Care Doctors Small but Growing," American Medical News, January 9, 2012.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues