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Uncertainty Prevails as Medicare Cut Creeps Closer


As the 29.5% Medicare cuts loom on Jan. 1, physician practices are uncertain how much they will devote to Medicare patients and are already planning further cuts.

Physicians may be faced with a lot of uncertainty regarding Medicare payment cuts, but a large majority has already decided that if the proposed 2012 cut occurs they will not maintain their current levels of access for new Medicare patients, according to a Medical Group Management Association report.

MGMA received responses from more than 2,000 practices, representing more than 93,000 physicians. Currently, 95% of respondents replied that all physicians in the practice participate in Medicare.

However, should the 29.5% cut take place on Jan. 1, half will reduce the number of appointments for new Medicare patients, and a third will reduce for current Medicare patients. Only 9% would cease treating all Medicare patients.

“Medicare’s tenuous state is putting patients at risk and forcing physicians to make painful access choices to keep their doors open,” MGMA President and Chief Executive Officer Susan Turney, MD, MS, FACP, FACMPE, said in a statement. “If the cut occurs it’s going to be extremely difficult for patients to find physicians who are able to accept new Medicare patients.”

Although the cuts haven’t actually happened yet, the continual threat of them has made physicians change their practices over the years. Two-thirds have admitted that the uncertainty has made them delay purchasing new equipment; meanwhile, 60% have already begun to expand revenue from other sources. And more than half have reduced staff salaries and/or benefits.

And those numbers jump up when physicians consider that Congress might not intervene by Jan. 1. In that case, 68% will delay purchasing new equipment and 67.4% will have to expand revenue from other sources.

Overall, physicians just don’t know what will happen if the scheduled 29.5% Medicare cut goes as scheduled. While more than half of respondents expect their practices will either have all physicians participating in Medicare or some combination of participating and nonparticipating, 29.4% admitted that they are uncertain what their status will be in 2012.

“Our data reflects a dire Medicare environment for physician practices,” Turney said. “The five short- term congressional patches last year substantially diminished practices’ faith in Congress and the stability of the Medicare program. This time, practices are not waiting to implement tough business decisions.”

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