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Physician survey shows 13 percent would close practices under Medicare cut

Nearly 13 percent of family physicians say they face the prospect of closing their practices entirely if Medicare slashes their payment next year by the proposed 25 percent, according to a recent survey.

The survey was conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and asked family physicians about the impact of the proposed cut required by law to take effect Jan. 1. The results showed that nearly 13 percent of respondents would consider no longer seeing any patients, more than six out of ten (62 percent) said they may be forced to stop accepting new Medicare patients, and more than seven in 10 (73 percent) said they would have to limit the number of Medicare appointments.

The results paint a bleak picture for elderly and disabled Americans who depend on Medicare for their health care coverage and for military families who depend on TRICARE, according to Roland Goertz, MD, president of the AAFP.

"This survey demonstrates the serious threat to Americans' access to health care that is posed by the current formula for paying physicians to care for the elderly and disabled," he said.

The new AAFP survey received a large number of disgruntled responses from doctors, whose quotes have been kept anonymous. "Medicare cuts would destroy my practice of geriatric medicine," said one.

The Medicare cut "would most likely put us and other small practices out of business and force us to eventually close our doors to our patients, because, soon after the Medicare cut comes, all commercial insurance will follow suit as their fee schedule is based on Medicare's," wrote another. "And forget about getting care if you have TRICARE. Which, as a veteran myself, is an outrage."

According to the survey, others have already thrown in the towel. "I have made a decision to close my practice," wrote one respondent. "I am losing my shirt. This game with SGR is silly."

"Already closed one satellite office," said another respondent. "Currently I'm in the red simply trying to stay afloat. Just liquidated my entire retirement IRA to pay office expenses/accountant and do not see any possible way to remain in business."         

"My partner and I did not pay ourselves last month due to the delay in Medicare payments," said another.

The loss of family physicians would be especially devastating to Americans in primary care shortage areas, according to Goertz "We have reached a point where all patients - children, their parents and their grandparents - face the real prospect of losing their doctors," said Goertz. "Medicare - the program designed to ensure that our elderly have access to health care - could force the very doctors who care for them out of business. And if that happens, all patients in that community - regardless of their insurance coverage - would lose access to needed healthcare."

"The most vulnerable Medicare patients are people in rural areas who are at risk of completely losing access to care if a practice in their small community closes," he said.