Last month, it was announced that Congress may approve a healthcare bill to cut payment rates to Medicare healthcare providers by as much as 21 percent beginning in January 2010. In response, many healthcare providers across the country have ceased accepting new patients who are enrolled in the Medicare program.
Last week, the Senate voted against taking action to stop the proposed 21 percent cut. Additionally, the Senate voted against stopping additional cuts to reimbursements for healthcare providers that are anticipated over the coming decades. As a result, many doctors are responding by refusing to accept new patients who are enrolled in Medicare programs.
According to an article posted on CNN on November 1, most physicians at Kansas City Internal Medicine have already stopped accepting walk-in Medicare beneficiaries in response to the proposed reimbursement decrease. 65 percent of the facility’s approximately 70,000 patients are aged 65 or older, making them eligible for participation in the Medicare program.
The CNN article cited another example of how doctors will be directly impacted by the cuts. Dr. John Hagan, an ophthalmologist in the Kansas City area, already provides a reduced rate for his patients who are enrolled in the Medicare program. He reduces the rate for cataract surgery from $1,200 to about $600 already to match the Medicare reimbursement schedule rates. An additional 21 percent reimbursement cut will make it impossible for him to cover his expenses for the surgery. With 75 percent of his patients enrolled in the Medicare program, Dr. Hagan will have to make some serious changes to his practice if he’s going to be able to stay in business.
Millions of Medicare beneficiaries may be negatively affected if healthcare providers stop accepting new Medicare patients. Many question whether the quality of service will be the same when the rate cuts begin to take effect. Others worry that their physicians will stop accepting Medicare, requiring the beneficiaries to find new healthcare providers.
One solution for many Medicare beneficiaries may be to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, which allows Medicare beneficiaries to choose from a wide pool of healthcare providers who accept Medicare. Other Medicare subscribers may want to purchase Medicare Supplemental insurance so that they can be covered for services that are not already covered by Original Medicare plans.
However, if Medicare participants want to change their plans for next year in anticipation of the proposed healthcare changes, they need to make those changes during the upcoming annual Medicare Open Enrollment period, which lasts from November 15 to December 31 of each year.
Contact a Medicare specialist for more information about which plans may help to protect you and your loved ones, especially if the expected changes take place. For help finding the best Medigap plan or Medicare Advantage plan for your situation, contact Medigap Advisors at 866-323-1441.

Wiley Long is founder and president of Medigap Advisors, and is passionate about helping people navigate the confusing waters of Medicare. He is the author of The Medicare Playbook: Designing Your Successful Health Coverage Strategy, a clear and simple explanation so you can make the most of your Medicare coverage.