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Medicare Cuts to Physicians Will Harm Washington Seniors

AMA Makes 'House Call' to Washington, Discusses New National Physician


SEATTLE, Sept. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Medical Association (AMA) National House Call campaign visits Washington today to draw attention to an imminent access to care problem for Washington's more than 760,000 Medicare patients. Medicare plans to slash physician payments 10 percent on January 1, 2008, and physicians are deeply concerned about the cut's impact on seniors' access to needed health care.

"Washington seniors depend on Medicare for their health care coverage, and they will be hurt by Medicare cuts to physicians," said AMA Immediate Past President William G. Plested III, MD. "According to the AMA's recent physician survey, 60 percent of physicians say they will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they treat when the government cuts payment rates 10 percent next year."

Congressional action is the only way to stop the Medicare cuts and preserve seniors' access to physician care. The AMA and the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) are urging patients to contact Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and ask them to stop the Medicare physician payment cuts and provide physicians with a payment update in line with increases in the costs of caring for patients.

"Physicians want to care for seniors, but drastic Medicare cuts will force physicians to make difficult practice changes," said Dr. Plested. "Payments have not kept pace with the costs of practicing medicine for the past six years. Washington state physicians will lose $240 million for the care of elderly and disabled patients over the next two years due to 15 percent cuts in Medicare payments over 2008 and 2009. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would replace the cuts with payments that help keep up with the cost of providing care, but the Senate still needs to act."

"Seniors in Washington cannot afford to lose their doctors," said W. Hugh Maloney, MD, President of the Washington State Medical Association. "About 45 percent of Washington's practicing physicians are over 50 -- an age at which surveys have shown many physicians consider reducing their patient care activities. Cuts in Medicare payments that make it difficult for physicians to meet their practice costs could be the deciding factor for many to cut back or retire."

"These first cuts are just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. Plested. "The government plans to cut Medicare payments to physicians about 40 percent over the next nine years, while practice costs increase 20 percent. During that time, Washington state stands to lose almost $4 billion for medical care for Medicare patients. If that happens, 77 percent of physicians say they will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat."

"We are deeply concerned about patients' access to care in our state. Clearly, the Medicare access problem will become more severe as physicians find it increasingly difficult to subsidize this portion of their practice. Already in numerous counties across Washington state patients on Medicare are having trouble finding a physician who will see them," said Dr. Maloney. "Baby Boomers will begin aging into Medicare in just three years. Medicare cuts increase the likelihood that there won't be enough doctors to care for the huge influx of new Medicare patients," Dr. Plested said.

"Congress needs to act to preserve seniors' access to care and put Medicare on a firm foundation for the future. They must keep their promise to America's seniors," said Dr. Plested.

SOURCE American Medical Association
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