Fed-up doctors are fleeing Medicare

More physicians are opting out of the government program for seniors, just as baby boomers are becoming eligible.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 29, 2013 1:54PM

Medical doctor (© Creatas/SuperStock)Baby boomers might hit a medical roadblock in their golden years. 

Just as millions of Americans are aging into the Medicare system -- designed to provide health care for people older than 65 -- the number of doctors opting out of the program has almost tripled, The Wall Street Journal reports.

More than 9,500 physicians who had previously accepted Medicare decided to leave the program last year, up from 3,700 doctors who did so in 2009, the publication said, citing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

Why are doctors cutting off Medicare patients? The program's payment rates haven't kept up with inflation, while some physicians are concerned about government regulations. In 2015, Medicare will start penalizing doctors who fail to use electronic medical records and send data to the government on quality measures, the newspaper noted. 

There's also the threat of lower payments. Doctors could see reimbursements cut by one-quarter starting next year unless Congress agrees to delay the reductions, which it has in the past, the piece added. 

Still, even with the increase opt-outs, the number of doctors leaving Medicare is a small percentage -- 1.4% -- of the 685,000 physicians who accepted payments from the program last year. 

"Family physicians have been fed up for a long time, and it's getting worse," Jeffrey Cain, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told The Wall Street Journal. 

The 77 million baby boomers, people born from 1946 through 1964, are likely to put additional demands on Medicare. Under current law, the program's funding is slated to be exhausted in 2026 because of the additional benefits required to cover boomers.

The result? With a flood of Medicare recipients and fewer doctors, patients could face long waits to get appointments or have difficulty even finding one that accepts the benefit. 

While some doctors are fine with the new regulations, some are rebelling, economist Paul Ginsburg, the president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change, told the paper. He said: "There are a lot of physicians, particularly older physicians, who say, 'I don't want to do this. Let me run out the rest of my career practicing like I've always done.'"

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Jul 29, 2013 3:05PM
In 33 years of general medical practice, never turned down a patient for financial reasons. Never made a lot but always enough, and always enough to live comfortably. Unfortunately the new generation of physicians don't like hard work and long hours for salaries they regard as substandard. How many of the physicians opting out are in high income specialties (because heaven knows it is hard to live on 375 K when you are used to 450....)
Jul 29, 2013 3:22PM

Way to go, Obama.  didn't you say my cost would go down AND, I could keep my Doctor?


You have destroyed America.


Worst President, ever.

Jul 29, 2013 3:16PM

Everyone will have Obama Care and the majority will be paying more, but there will be no doctors to treat you. To Obama this is still a win. We don't need voter ID, we need voter IQ tests.  

Jul 29, 2013 2:41PM
Just wait until they opt out of ObamaCare, and then the enitre medical industry.  Government will kill this industry too.
Jul 29, 2013 2:21PM

This is predictable. Opting out of Mdicare/ Medicaid is about the only rational thing a doctor can do. Cuts in payments, failure to reign in lawduits, additional regulation and reporting requirements will take its toll on the accessability to DRs care over the coming years. Add to this, fewer enrollments in med schools, additional patients under Obamacare, swelling of eligible Medicare participants.

While this article references a small percentage of doctors opting out, expect this to escalate each year resulting in more difficulty for those seeking care.

Of course congress and the government will solve this. NOT

Jul 29, 2013 3:42PM

For the few that don't get it Obama Care is just going to be another failed democratic experiment. At its basics it doesn't take into account that more and more americans will have the United States Government as its Grantor. Anybody with a brain bigger than a peanut knows that 40% population can't take care of 60% population. The tax tables aren't design for it. Medicare ain't designed for it. Social security ain't design for it. Hell America itself wasn't designed on slougness. Thats why this stuff ain't going to work folks. America was at its best when we didn't have all the "free" stuff. And people got off thier a** and became productive. This socialized medicine is only the tip of the iceberg.

Jul 29, 2013 2:58PM

Problem is as reimbursements rates drop for medicare patients, the cost of other private health insurance, workers compensation, etc. rises to "offset" this loss for doctors & hospitals.  Nobody ever stops to ask, why are the costs of medical care so high?  The Blue Cross reimbursement rate for a basic 10-15 min go to the Dr because you're sick visit is $100! 


My mother in law, who's on medicare,  recently had a hard valve and double bypass done.  8 day stay in the hospital along with the surgery and everything $40,000.  Private insurance is probably twice that!

So we really need to look at the costs associated with health care, then the cost of insurances will be reduced.

Jul 29, 2013 3:03PM
We really need to look at the Swiss model. All insurance companies can join, i.e. buy a share of the insurance pool. Everyone is required to have insurance for minimum level at least. Insurance cost at minimum level premium is sliding scale based upon income, government backed kick-in to make up the gap for lower income insured. You can upgrade to higher levels of protection for additional premium cost. All levels includes hospitalization, meds, doctor with small or no co-pays. No one dies on the steps, no one goes untreated, no one has the right to die because they don't have money.
Jul 29, 2013 3:24PM

Does anyone remember a physician who went to medical school to help people rather than get rich?  There are a lot of doctors and very few healers--if it's not in a medical book--good luck finding a doctor who will take the time to look for what is wrong instead of just prescribe pills to eliminate symptoms.  We need to produce Physician's assistants, midwives and let pharmacists prescribe all but class III narcotics.  Medicine has become a business and the doctors, businessmen.  They deserve to earn a very good living--and most do--but too many believe that "too much is not enough" when it comes to money.  Doctors need to listen to the patients before dragging out the prescription pad.  I thought the idea expressed in the television show NORTHERN EXPOSURE was a good one.  Small communities paying the medical expenses in return for a guaranteed number of years of medical care from the doctor.

Jul 29, 2013 3:26PM
Medical records to the government, how else will the government death panels know, who to get rid of first. 
Jul 29, 2013 3:15PM
If I were a doctor, that's what I'd do.  Thank God mine hasn't (yet)!  Congress has no incentive to fix this.  Their health care is great (and assured)!  One way to fix this may be to remove all wage caps on Social Security deductions.  If the upper 2% had to pay SS deductions on ALL their wages, bonuses and stock offerings, perhaps they'd push to have something done about it.
Jul 29, 2013 4:30PM
I'm just going to learn Spanish and go to the emergency room for all my health care. It works for the illegals.
Jul 29, 2013 3:29PM

There is a two step solution to this problem:

1. Don't get sick

2. Don't get old

Or as John Belushi said: "Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse!"

Jul 29, 2013 3:22PM

Freaky sez: "BUT, BUT! Bo-Dumbo said you can keep your doctor.

Did he lie?? Hmmmmmmm??"

Hey Freaky,  Every time my employer changes insurance carriers I lose my doctor.  Go on a HMO and lose your doctor.  So what else is new, Einstein?

And death panels?  They're being run by the insurance bureaucrats right now.  Hell, insurance tries to reject every claim I make based on some weird rule.  My daughter had to have surgery.  The doctor was covered in full, but not the anethiesiologist (sic)?  i should have asked while they were rushing her off to surgery?

Give me reform any day over what we currently have in this world......everyone trying to deceive, scam and steal every penny they can from me.  Everyone wants to be famous and rich...and they don't care who they need to step on to get it.  Pathetic low lives everywhere you turn. 

Jul 29, 2013 3:19PM
The older docs who have done a good job of retirement planning will leave.  The younger docs, burdened with educational debt, are trapped.  There aren't enough willing and capable people to support many concierge practices.
Jul 29, 2013 3:24PM
Why don't you report what specialties are dropping out? I work in Family Practice and the very few doctors I know of that are no longer accepting Medicare are specialists. And, they changed to not accepting Medicare before the Affordable Care Act was passed. Yes, Medicare reimbursements are low, and yes, they are going to be lower, but not for all specialties. Medicaid reimbursements are the lowest, but since the vast majority of Medicaid patients are children, physicians are not going to quit seeing children. In fact, with the Affordable Care Act going into full swing in 2014, doctors should see an increase in reimbursements because more people will be going to the doctor because they have insurance. that's simple logic. Physicians cannot opt out of Obamacare as OneFungi noted, unless they have a practice that does not accept ANY insurance, and those are few and far between. People need to understand the FACTS in this law, and not just what they hear on the street, or online! In fact, the parts of the law that are already in effect are very popular with many patients, such as no copay on wellness and allowing your children to stay on your insurance until they are 26.
Jul 29, 2013 3:48PM
so to shorten this,  yet another industry is regulated to death? more mandates and burdons on the doctors while cutting payments.  way to go!  yet another disaster brought to you by our current administration and too much government..
Jul 29, 2013 3:25PM
These programs have been in trouble for many years and the Government keeps cutting back on reimbursement dollars  to the Doctors.  Obamacare is gouging the dollars out of both programs to fund the new Affordable Health Care Act / Obamacare.  When the Tidal Wave hits we will all be in dissolution by the aftermath.  To be sure, none of these plans will be in the best interest of the consumer or the people who worked hard to fund them.  We have been screwed once again by Washington D.C. and the Democrats.
Jul 29, 2013 3:04PM
So only 1.4% of doctors have opted out of providing services to Medicaid. I'll let others decide if that statistical insignificance  is deserving of a scare headline, but to put it in perspective more people than that opt out of getting their  free sandwich in the McDonald's Monopoly game. 
Jul 29, 2013 2:52PM

I'm concerned that many doctors, like some have done already, are going to adopt a  membership-based practice. They'll charge a fee based on household size in exchange for limiting the practice to a certain size, which improves access (time to get appt., longer appts., etc.)


Some of the pushback tactics that are permit by law to the healthcare industry, but might force the government's hand, resulting in a single payer system.

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