Survey: Payment cuts would lead docs to limit access for Medicare patients

Nineteen percent of doctors responding to a survey said their practices are already limiting appointments for patients with Medicare and the military health plan TRICARE, and nearly three-quarters said their practices would make changes to access for patients with the plans if a looming cut to the programs’ payment rates takes effect in March.

The online survey, conducted in November and December by the Connecticut State Medical Society, included 354 physicians. At the time, doctors were facing a 27 percent cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments scheduled to take effect at the start of this year. Congress ultimately averted the Jan. 1 cut by postponing it for two months. It’s now scheduled to take effect March 1 if Congress doesn’t act.

The potential cut is the result of a formula aimed at limiting the growth of Medicare spending. Congress has made a habit of overriding the formula-driven cuts, but doctors have become wary of the short-term fixes and are seeking a long-term solution.

According to the survey, 37 percent of respondents said they would stop accepting new Medicare or TRICARE patients if the cuts were to take effect, 32 percent said they would lay off staff, and 7 percent said they would close their practices.

Even if the cut scheduled for March 1 were reduced but still implemented, 17 percent of respondents statewide said they would close or consider closing their medical practices; among doctors in rural counties, 28 percent said they would.

“Lawmakers need to understand that patients are already being affected by their inaction. The frustration level among Connecticut physicians is at the boiling point,” medical society President Dr. Michael M. Krinsky, a neurologist, said in a statement. “Every day without a solution means more Connecticut physicians are forced to make difficult decisions and Connecticut Medicare and TRICARE patients are left not knowing if they will be able to see their physicians.”