NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Telling Medicare Patients To Look Elsewhere For Treatment

February 19, 2001

Growing numbers of doctors are limiting the number of Medicare patients they see, or are refusing to accept new Medicare patients at all. The trend, which began in rural areas, has now spread to major cities. The revolt stems from Medicare's onerous rules and low payments, doctors say.

  • Medicare covers 39 million disabled and elderly Americans, and most doctors still participate in it.
  • But a recent survey in Colorado found that only 15 percent of doctors were accepting new Medicare patients.
  • The problem is reported to be growing in such large cities as Denver, Austin, Atlanta and Spokane -- where doctors are not only rejecting Medicare but also insurance in general, preferring to accept only cash-paying patients.
  • The federal government contends the physician participation rate in Medicare is 91 percent -- but that does not include the percentage of doctors who have closed their doors to new Medicare patients.

Analysts say doctors are becoming increasingly frustrated with Medicare because of the volumes of paperwork Medicare requires and the continuing threat of fraud investigations.

Those factors, coupled with low rates of compensation, may be the warning signs that a longer-term and more widespread crisis is brewing.

Source: Julie Appleby, "Rejections Rise for Medicare Patients," USA Today, February 19, 2001.


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