As they released the results of a survey indicating that over 84 percent of seniors are concerned about losing their doctors due to a looming 25 percent cut in Medicare payments, Connecticut State Medical Society and CT AARP called on Congress Monday to pass a one year delay to those cuts before the end of this year’s lame duck session.
“The situation is critical,” said Robert Hill, the acting state president of AARP, “unless Congress acts by the end of this year, Medicare will no longer be able to pay to doctors what it costs to care for seniors.”
And according to a November survey by CSMS, this will likely result in doctors limiting the number of Medicare patients they serve or stop participating in the program all together. Over half of the doctors surveyed said they intended to in some way limit the amount of care they provide to Medicare patients and patients covered by TRICARE, the program covering veterans and military members.
If the cuts are not delayed, Connecticut doctors stand to lose more than $330 million for the health care of seniors, the disabled, and military members, according to CSMS statistics.
With over 560,000 Medicare patients, amounting to about 16 percent of all patients, and another 50,000 enrolled in TRICARE, Connecticut residents could be hit hard by the cuts if are allowed to take effect on Jan. 1, a CSMS statement said.
In November Congress passed a one month fix to temporarily defer the cuts from taking effect but AARP Connecticut State Director Brenda Kelley said a one year fix is necessary to give the next Congress a chance to work out a permanent solution to the problem.
The survey was made up of pointed questions, many of which focused on how seniors’ opinions of their elected officials hinged strongly on their work to protect Medicare coverage. For instance, the survey found that 68 percent of those surveyed would feel “much less favorable towards [their] Senator” if he “did nothing to stop this cut and let Medicare cut payments to doctors by nearly 25 percent.”
The numbers of the survey were fairly consistent regardless of the responders’ political affiliation. Sixty three percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans said they would feel “much more favorably towards [their] Senator” if they fought to stop the cuts.
“I have been part of a lot of AARP surveys,” Kelley said, “and this is one of the highest number of people agreeing across party lines that I have ever seen on any issue.”
If the cut is not stopped doctors will be forced to cut back care for Medicare patients whether they like it or not, according to Michael Krinsky, a doctor and CSMS president-elect.
“This a subtle thing.” he said, “It’s not as if you’re going to see a sign posted on the door or on the wall saying ‘we’re going to have to cut back on you folks’ but it’s going to begin to happen.”
Kelley said that in the past 10 years there have been five temporary fixes to the Medicare payment problem, but those temporary fixes only serve to create an air of uncertainty, leading many doctors to consider dropping the program.
The problem posed by this instability is more immediate than it appears, according to Krinsky who said a doctor who opts out of Medicare coverage cannot join the program again for a full two years.
Complicating the issue is a growing shortage of doctors in the state.
“It is not a pretty picture. We don’t have enough in virtually every area of medicine for a variety of reasons,” Krinsky said. “It has to do with aging; it has to do with the attractiveness of the state of Connecticut for bringing new physicians in.”
“There’s no cavalry coming folks, in Connecticut especially,” he told the group of seniors at Monday’s Capitol press conference.
When asked what the immediate effect would be if Congress did not address the problem before the end of the year, Kelley said she imagined her members would continue to grow more and more terrified, but noted the group would keep at the issue.
“We’re not going to go away on this issue,” she said. “We’re hoping we’re going to get the one year fix. If we don’t get the one year fix AARP is not going to be quiet.”