Despite concerns about the number of doctors leaving Medicare in recent years, a Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) analysis indicates that the percentage of doctors accepting Medicare patients is actually on the increase.
Looking at the period from 2005-2012, HHS analysts found a slight increase, from 87.9 to 90.7, in the percentage of doctors in the United States willing to accept new Medicare patients.
The analysis goes a step further, suggesting Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care “is comparable to or better than access reported by privately insured individuals.”
This latter comparison may not be the most valid conclusion in the analysis, however. While the vast majority of Medicare recipients are aged 65 and over, analysts compared the willingness of doctors to accept new Medicare patients to the willingness of doctors to accept new, insured patients belonging to another demographic—specifically, the 50-64 age group. It is uncertain whether comparing new Medicare patients’ access to doctors to doctor access among holders of other insurance in the same age group as the Medicare population—or even among the whole range of privately-insured people in the United States—might have painted a clearer picture.
The analysis does acknowledge what many observers regard as a thorn in Medicare’s side—i.e., the choice some doctors make to opt out of Medicare. Opting out involves establishing contracts between doctors and patients requiring patients, and not Medicare, to pay for care. The Wall Street Journal reports that over 9,500 doctors who had accepted Medicare opted out of the system in 2012, up from 3,500 in 2009.
HHS concludes, however, that this is a very small number compared to the number of doctors and other providers willing to accept Medicare patients. According to the analysis, in 2011 approximately one million providers, including about 650,000 doctors, accepted Medicare patients. Though acknowledging “concern that the number of physicians ‘opting out’ of Medicare has increased in recent years,” the HHS analysis argues that the small increase in the percentage of doctors and providers treating Medicare patients minimizes that concern.
As we reported in a previous post, one obvious problem associated with the departure of some doctors from Medicare is the growing difficulty some Medicare recipients have finding doctors to treat them—and, as a result, some Medicare patients do not receive the timely medical attention and treatments they need, even when they take wise precautions such as purchasing Medicare supplement insurance.
Yet HHS concludes that “based on multiple data sources, Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care appears to be excellent.” Certainly, this is good news—at least, for the majority of people on Medicare.
Does the HHS analysis reduce your concerns about Medicare? Please leave a comment!
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