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Medicare Beneficiaries Access to Care Endangered

ACP-ASIM Calls For Halt to Planned Payment Reductions

(Washington, DC): A 5.4 percent reduction in Medicare payment rates for physician services in 2002 may reduce access to services for Medicare beneficiaries, according to the American College of Physicians - American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM). The new rates were announced today by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"There is no question that Medicare payment policies often have unintended consequences and require adjustments," stated William J. Hall, MD, president of the ACP-ASIM. "For examples, simply look at the number of managed care plans leaving Managed + Choice, the radiology center closings, and the problems with access to physician care already being reported by Medicare beneficiaries in areas like Austin and Denver. Medicare beneficiaries suffer when the health care system loses resources."

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 mandates a flawed formula to determine physician payments, according to the ACP-ASIM. This formula does not adjust rates based upon the cost of providing the services, but instead links the rates to the rise or fall of the Gross Domestic Product. Hospitals and other facilities are not similarly affected.

ACP-ASIM is asking legislators to freeze the current rates until the formula has been replaced.

"Health care costs are rising as we find new treatments and better technology," stated Dr. Hall. "Medicare beneficiaries access to care should not be endangered during an economic downturn."

"Internists provide more services to Medicare patients than any other medical specialty and will be disproportionately affected by the 5.4 percent decrease scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2002," Dr. Hall explained. "Nearly 40 percent of internists' income comes from the Medicare program. Our experience indicates that other federally subsidized health programs and many private insurers are likely to follow suit, compounding the effect of this cut."

"Recent reports show physicians are more likely to retire an earlier age or leave medical practice altogether because they no longer have the resources to continue," added Dr. Hall. "They've already tried increasing their patient load, decreasing their staff, and putting off buying new medical equipment; there is simply nothing left to cut for many of these doctors."

ACP-ASIM is the nation's largest medical specialty organization and the second largest physician group. Membership encompasses more than 115,000 internal medicine physicians and medical students.


Jack Pope, ACP-ASIM Washington Office, (202) 261-4556

Page updated: 11-03-03

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