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Most Medicare patients have good access to doctors

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Media reports often claim that Medicare patients are unable to find physicians willing to take Medicare and for a variety of reasons are forced to go without medical care. These are troubling concerns as having good access to quality care means being able to find a doctor to see and then being able to schedule timely appointments to see them. It is especially disquieting as due to the aging of the Baby Boomers, the number of new Medicare beneficiaries is expected to grow at a rate of 2 million a year.

On Dec. 10, 2013, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a brief detailing its findings on Medicare patients and their access to physicians. The synthesis is comprised of several national surveys that are mostly conducted either annually or biennially although some are conducted only sporadically.

Studies found that the vast majority (96%) of Medicare patients have good access to Medicare, are more likely than non-Medicare patients to report that they never have to wait longer than they want for timely routine care appointments and have comparable success rates to non-Medicare users in finding new doctors.

Despite media suggestions to the contrary, less than 1 percent (0.7 %) of physicians in clinical practice have formally opted out of the Medicare programs. Psychiatrists make up the largest share (42 percent) of those who do choose to opt out. The number of physicians billing Medicare since 2009 has remained steady at approximately 12.3 physicians per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

The synthesis concluded that Medicare patients enjoy good access to physician services. That access is comparable to the experiences of privately insured patients. That’s not to say there are no problems at all. There are exceptions. In every state and including Washington D.C. a small (less than 5) percent of the population report they are never able to schedule timely appointments for either a doctor or other specialty care.

It also found that beneficiaries in poor (11%) and fair (6%) health, those who qualify because of a disability(8%), those with five or more chronic conditions (6%) and those who do not live in metropolitan area (6%) and lower income beneficiaries (5%) are more likely to report dissatisfaction with Medicare.

All in all, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most people with Medicare have a regular and reliable source of healthcare and in fact are more likely than younger adults (age 18-65) with private insurance to have a usual source of care.


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