ALERT: Senior citizens must support Medicare doctors in pay reductions

The time has passed when you consider becoming a doctor and all your friends assume right away you will be making tons of money.  I am not sure that was ever the real case, although there were a lot of docs driving around in Mercedes automobiles, and the general agreement was that specialist doctors were the ones who made the real money.  According to CNN Money, many docs today are just trying to survive, many hiding the fact they are about to go bankrupt.
This includes casualties from all fields including cardiologists, oncologists and the family physician.  To keep Medicare financially able, federal law says that annual reimbursement rates to doctors be reduced annually based on a formula that is connected to the health of the economy.  And even though Congress has blocked these cuts for ten years, the possibility still hangs over the heads of the docs creating an uncertain financial future for them.  The current cut is 27.4%.
Our family has witnessed this concern with every doctor who treats us and I was able to actually interview one recently on just where she stands on the issue.  I had heard her comments before about how little Medicare paid her for office visits, medical procedures and surgery.  Having seen the reports of payments, I agree.  But she really unloaded when asked about the current 27.4% cut.  She led with “many people think doctors are rich, but most are fighting the same battle as middle-class Americans.”
But she really got serious when reacting to the reduction, above, saying that most docs would have to drop Medicare patients if there is a reduction in payments of any percentage.  Her assessment was that special clinics would have to be set up for these folks for them to receive care.  And wouldn’t that cost taxpayers more than straightening out the Medicare and Medicaid entitlements?  Her judgment was that with a reduction of any amount would mean that it would cost most doctors to treat Medicare patients.
There are 45 million Medicare beneficiaries and that figure is certain to grow measurably in the future.  The aging population is most prominent in the rural areas, and those are the places that can least afford to lose their docs.  Since rural areas tend to be more conservative, and the conservative right has tried already to meddle in Medicare, even reduce benefits, these people had better rethink their politics if they want to keep their physicians.

Dr, Robert Wergin, a family physician in Nebraska, says that based on what Congress might do, he might be forced “to pick up his business and move to a community with a smaller Medicare population.”  Some doctors have as many as 80 percent of their patients on Medicare.  One group of family physicians did a survey and found that 62 percent of their members would drop their Medicare patients if any cuts are made.  Some docs are even considering leaving medicine. 
Deborah Chollet, senior fellow and health economist at Mathematica Policy Research comments that this standoff between doctors and Washington could go on for years.



Today’s Senior Citizens



There are 34.1 million Americans age 55 to 64, that will be collecting Medicare in the not-too-distant future.  There is another 45.1 million from 45 to 54 that are on Medicare’s horizon.  There were 60.6 million beneficiaries of Social Security as of November of 2011.  The U.S. must decide soon just how far we want to go in paying entitlements like these programs, and more important, how we plan to pay for them. 
Several ideas have been spun by both progressives and conservatives, neither of which will probably address the issue in an election year.  I like the one that changes the payment structure upward for the wealthy along with that elusive tax increase on the rich. 

Senior citizens should contact their congressional representatives now to let them know how you feel.  House of Representatives here; Senate here.

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