July 5, 2012-
America’s shortage of doctors is a widespread concern, and the stories you’ve heard about the difficulties experienced by doctors are true. Their payments from Medicare have been slashed. As a result, many physicians aren’t accepting new Medicare patients.
Their difficulties were aptly explained by a 2012 study mentioned in an article published by Medscape Medical News. The doctors’ plight has often been repeated since.
That also indicates ominous prospects for patients’ access to healthcare – a problem not solved by ObamaCare.
The headline: “26% of Small Practices May Close, Survey Says.” Doctors with small group practices – 10 or fewer people – expected their 2012 income to be less than the year before.
Their financial situations may prompt more than a quarter of them to stop treating patients.
Forty-nine percent told the study’s sponsor, medical-news Web site MDLinx, they have cut operating expenses by slashing services and staff.
“This poll is quite startling in the revelations about small practices, the healthcare lifelines to many communities,” says MDLinx Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Smith, according to Medscape. “Physicians have had missiles raining in on their practices at an increasing pace – the economy, regulations, paperwork, insurance, lawsuits, etc.”
Twenty percent of the responding physicians have had to borrow money for operating expenses, and 23 percent have resorted to tapping into their personal assets.
The data is less bleak for larger practices – 13 percent believed they’ll earn less income.
In scanning the poll’s responses, Medscape noticed that 56 percent of the doctors indicated that 75 percent of their income is derived from Medicare.
If Congress doesn’t reverse the decision to slash Medicare payments by $500 billion, 61 percent indicated they’ll have to cut back more services. Seven percent said they’d go dormant.
“The coming retraction this survey hints at,” Mr. Smith says, “would mean longer drives to less-personal, higher-cost medical care for millions of Americans.”
In a letter to the editor at The New York Times, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus as president-elect of the American Medical Association, addressed the Medicare-payment dilemma.
“We agree that Congress must pass a permanent solution to the broken physician payment problem that plagues Medicare with frequently scheduled cuts, but eliminating this problem by putting in place other physician cuts rather than true payment reforms will only continue to threaten patients’ access to care,” he wrote.
Dr. Lazarus said the doctors’ Medicare payments have stayed the same for 10 years, but physician costs are up more than 20 percent.
“It is time for Congress to permanently eliminate the flawed payment formula, end the scheduled Medicare cuts, and put in place a payment system that reflects the cost and practice of 21st-century medical care and provides stability for physicians and patients,” he added.
Amen. Listen Congress.
Medicare must work for both patients and doctors. Further, instead of capitulating to the lobbying of lawyers, something concrete needs to be done about the high cost of malpractice insurance.
Just like any other business, physician practices need to be profitable. Turnaround situations aren’t hopeless. But doctors have to implement the right strategic plan.
P.S. Senior citizens with whom I’ve talked fear the Medicare changes. Seniors and all concerned citizens should contact their elected officials in Congress to lobby them to do the right thing for their doctors and for themselves.
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