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Issue Brief Examines the Evidence on Medicare Patients’ Access to Physicians

“The ongoing congressional debate about the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate, a payment formula that lawmakers have overridden repeatedly to avoid big payment cuts to doctors, may resurrect familiar questions about whether physicians are willing to take Medicare patients. A new issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation provides some answers. This review and new analysis of physician data from Medicare, along with key findings from numerous surveys and other studies, suggests that most Medicare beneficiaries can find a doctor when they need one and most physicians are accepting new Medicare patients.  A very small share of people with Medicare experience problems finding a doctor, similar to rates reported by non-elderly people with private insurance—suggesting that local market factors play a role in patient access to physicians.  The analysis finds that just 1 percent of physicians in clinical practice have formally “opted out” of the Medicare program, with psychiatrists accounting for the largest share of this group.  Overall, nine in 10 non-pediatric physicians report taking new Medicare patients, comparable to the rate accepting new patients with private insurance.  New analysis shows that the rates vary by state, ranging from about 8 in 10 physicians in Alaska, Rhode Island and Oregon to 98 percent in Florida.”


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