Fewer doctors are taking Medicare patients

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 11, 2016

In a recent discussion with one of my doctors, he and I spent a few minutes discussing the ongoing changes and challenges facing physicians who practice medicine today, and more importantly the impact on new doctors just starting to practice.

Many of today’s doctors leave medical school with a great deal of debt accrued during the pursuit of a medical degree, and few new graduates can afford to go into a sole private practice. A majority of recent graduates join a group or a hospital to avoid the costs of office rent, equipment purchases, liability insurance, staff costs and the monthly expenses involved in opening a new business.

Medicine used to be a patient-centered and was often a very lucrative career. But with hundreds of government regulations, and new reporting requirements increasing virtually geometrically in the past decade plus the impact of reduced reimbursements from private insurance and Medicare, it’s a whole new world of medicine.

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Here’s one of the unintended consequences that has made the practice of medicine not only less enjoyable for many doctors, but will affect a number of boomers. While it might not impact everyone now turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare, it will add some challenges to doing so for some.

If you don’t already have a primary physician or might require a specialist, you may be surprised to learn when seeking a doctor, that a growing number won’t expand the current size of their current practice with new Medicare patients. So while you may soon be eligible for Medicare, you might struggle to find a doctor who will accept new Medicare patients.

The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a research survey and found that 21 percent, or about one in five, physicians are not accepting new Medicare patients and 14 percent are not willing to take privately insured patients. Some physicians may or may not accept traditional Medicare patients that provide payments to those doctors based upon a fee schedule dictated by the government. Other physicians may not be willing to accept Medicare Advantage plans where paid fees are negotiated with private insurers, plans like the AARP United HealthCare, Humana and Blue Cross/Shield “Advantage” plans.

What this means to those of us that live in western North Carolina is that it might be a very good idea to make sure that your current physician, if you have one, will continue to see you when you become a Medicare patient and will accept the Medicare plan you choose. Not all doctors will accept all plans, especially certain Medicare Advantage plans.

If you’re going to become eligible for Medicare in the coming months, get in front of this potential problem.  By doing that you’ll know that the doctor you have or choose will accept the plan you wish to select or help guide you in the selection of a plan that includes him or her.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. His podcasts can be heard weekly at www.seniorlifestyles.net. Contact Ron at 828-696-9799 or by email to drron561@gmail.com.