NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Growing Numbers of Doctors Refusing to Treat New Medicare Patients

March 18, 2002

For years, doctors have grumbled about Medicare's complex regulations and reimbursements. But now many are simply refusing to take new patients who are on Medicare -- and the trend is spreading.

  • Medicare cut payments to doctors by 5.4 percent this year -- and doctors say payments no longer cover the costs of caring for the elderly.
  • The government estimates that under current law, the fees paid for each medical service will be reduced in each of the next three years -- for a total decrease of 17 percent from 2002 to 2005.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians says that 17 percent of family doctors are refusing new Medicare patients.
  • Doctors explain that the cuts come at the same time their expenses are climbing -- and that elderly patients require a lot of time and attention.

Spending for doctors' services accounted for nearly $41 billion of last year's total $238 billion Medicare budget.

Health policy experts predict the cuts will make it more difficult for elderly patients to find doctors -- even as the population ages. Medicare covers 40 million people and the number of beneficiaries is expected to double by 2030.

Other health care providers like hospitals, nursing homes and health maintenance organizations are also demanding more money.

Although Medicare can barely support all the benefits promised under current law, some Capitol Hill politicians are seriously considering adding new benefits -- such as coverage of prescription drug costs for the elderly.

Source: Robert Pear, "Many Doctors Shun Patients With Medicare," New York Times, March 17, 2002.


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