A federal plan to cut the amount of money doctors receive next year for Medicare patients takes the health system for seniors, and the doctors who treat them, in the wrong direction, Sen. Maria Cantwell said Friday.
“We can’t afford to have these cuts put into place,” Cantwell said during a meeting with local doctors, business representatives and seniors in Spokane. “Our seniors are already having difficulty finding a physician that accepts Medicare.”
The Washington state Democrat recently introduced a bill that would cancel a planned reduction of 4.3 percent in Medicare reimbursement rates that is scheduled to take effect in January. Her bill would replace it with an increase of 2.7 percent.
There are other congressional plans to change the Medicare reimbursement formula, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, by raising premium rates charged to seniors. Cantwell’s proposal, however, would pay the extra money – $24 billion in 2006 and $60 billion in 2007 – out of the federal budget.
She hopes some of that money might be recouped by negotiating better prices for prescription drugs for Medicare patients from the pharmaceutical companies. But even if that’s not possible, seniors can’t afford to shoulder the extra costs, she said.
The lower reimbursement rate is just a part of a bigger problem that doctors in Washington state face with Medicare, she said. Rates vary from state to state and Washington ranks 45th in the nation for reimbursement rates.
Because of those low rates, many doctors have cut back on the number of new Medicare patients they will take, or refused to accept new Medicare patients, Dr. Jeffrey Clode of St. Joseph’s Care Center, a nursing home.
“We get calls constantly,” Clode said. That doesn’t mean the patients don’t eventually get care, but it sometimes comes after a treatable medical condition has become more serious, or when a patient goes to a hospital emergency room. That means the Medicare system winds up paying out more, for the higher-priced treatment.
Cantwell noted that members of the Washington congressional delegation have fought for years to raise reimbursement rates to the state, but without success. She hopes the debate over the scheduled reduction for all reimbursement rates will put a spotlight on that problem, but Congress may need to see data from hospitals and clinics that support the state’s arguments.
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