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New AMA Survey Finds Medicare Cuts Will Hurt Seniors

WASHINGTON, -- Medicare patients' ability to get in and see the doctor will be severely hampered next year by a steep Medicare cut to physicians, according to a new survey released today by the American Medical Association (AMA). The survey, which jumpstarts a national campaign to stop next year's 10 percent cut, was completed by nearly 9,000 physicians, and their responses paint a bleak picture for the future of Medicare.

"The AMA is deeply concerned by the alarming news that 60 percent of America's physicians will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will be able to care for next year when Medicare cuts physician payments," said AMA Board Chair Cecil B. Wilson, M.D.

Congress' own advisory committee on Medicare, MedPAC, has recommended that Congress stop next year's 10 percent cut and update payments 1.7 percent, in line with practice cost increases. The AMA urges Congress to enact legislation now that will replace the looming cuts with Medicare payment updates based on practice costs.

"Congressional action is the only remedy that will help assure seniors' access to doctors," said Dr. Wilson. "We ask America's seniors, and their loved ones, to join us in calling for legislation to help avert an access to care crisis for Medicare patients."

Next year's 10 percent cut is just the tip of the iceberg. Over nine years the cuts total about 40 percent, while the government estimates that the cost of caring for patients will increase 20 percent. Over the life of the cuts, 77 percent of physicians say they will be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they treat.

"As physicians brace for nine years of steep payment cuts, it will be extremely difficult for them to continue accepting new Medicare patients into their practices," cautioned Dr. Wilson. "The baby boomers begin entering the program in 2010, and the Medicare cuts increase the likelihood that there may not be enough doctors to care for the huge influx of new Medicare patients."

The AMA is helping Americans share their concerns about the Medicare cuts with a Web site http: www.patientsactionnetwork.org and phone number 1-888-434-6200 that puts patients in touch with their senators and congressional representative.

This week, as Congress returns from its recess, the AMA is publishing a full-page ad in Capitol Hill papers to remind lawmakers of the urgent need for action. The AMA ad features a Medicare patient with high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels with the headline, "This patient thinks she's healthy. A doctor would tell her she's not. Too bad she may not have a doctor." Also this week, the AMA's "House Call" program hits the road, with physicians on the AMA Board of Trustees visiting local communities to raise awareness of the problem.

The impact of the cuts will reverberate beyond seniors who rely on Medicare. America's military families will also be hurt, as the military health insurance program, TRICARE, faces the same physician payment cuts as Medicare. In fact, all patients should be concerned about the Medicare cuts, as more than two-thirds of physicians tell the AMA they will defer purchases of information technology next year.

Over the life of the cuts, about eight in 10 physicians report they will have to forgo this important purchase used to improve health care quality. Also troubling, more than half of physicians say they will reduce their practice staff, and 14 percent will completely get out of patient care when Medicare cuts hit next year.

"Physicians are working hard to improve quality of care for patients, but this short-sighted government payment policy makes it difficult to purchase new technologies used to help improve care," said Dr. Wilson. "Congress needs to take a long, hard look at how Medicare cuts affect seniors who rely on the program for health care, and all patients who rightfully expect high-quality care."

"In six short months the Medicare cuts will begin, unless Congress intervenes," said Dr. Wilson. "We can't sit idly by and let America's seniors pay the price for a short-sighted government payment policy with reduced access to care -- Congress must act."


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