Medicare Resurrects Doctors' House Calls
August 2, 2002
By 1966, the year Medicare was created, U.S. doctors had more or less stopped making house calls to treat patients. Now that trend is being reversed, thanks to an increase in Medicare reimbursements for home visits to treat the elderly.
- The number of home visits paid for by Medicare shot up more than eight-fold to 1.5 million in 2001 from 195,700 in 1996, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- With at least two million Americans chronically ill and homebound, there is an enormous demand for home visits and doctors are making thousands of them each month.
- Prior to the 1950s, nearly half of all doctor-patient contact occurred during home visits.
- In 1998, Medicare raised payments for home visits by as much as 50 percent -- thereby encouraging doctors to venture forth from their offices.
House-call doctors say home treatment for many elderly patients will cost less over the long term than repeated trips to emergency rooms, extended hospital stays or even nursing-home care. Some urban hospitals are even adding house-call doctors to their staffs.
Medicare will reimburse doctors as much as $266 for a new patient treated at home -- versus $182 for treatment at the office. The average allowed charge for a house call in 2001 was $131.
Source: Kelly Greene, "Doctors Revive House Calls, Lured by Medicare Fees," Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2002.
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