Texas may be the “friendship” state (state motto), but let’s hope Texas is not a bellwether of things to come nationally for doctors opting out of Medicare. But a recent trend in the Lone Star State is cause for concern. Cause for disappointment and derision, however, would be the fact that the President’s 2,700 page government takeover of healthcare law does nothing to address this troubling issue.
According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, the number of Texas doctors opting out of Medicare is growing. “In what is now an established trend, Texas doctors frustrated with declining Medicare reimbursement continued to drop out of the government-funded program for seniors at a rapid rate in 2011,” says article author Todd Ackerman. And 2011 was the fourth straight year the opt-out numbers in Texas have been in the hundreds.
“‘I’m not surprised – that’s just the tip of the iceberg…things are going to get worse before they get better,’” said Dr. Bruce Malone, president of the Texas Medical Association. Dr. Malone estimates that for every doctor who opts out, another 100 doctors restrict access to Medicare patients. This could come in the form of refusing new Medicare patients, limiting appointments for current Medicare patients, or allowing pre-Medicare patients to simply age out of a doctor’s practice.
According to the Texas Medical Association, in 2011, already 34 percent of Texas doctors either limit Medicare patients or don’t accept new ones while a full 50 percent of Texas doctors are considering opting out.
“‘It’s like we’re standing on a cliff and the ground below is being eroded by incoming waves,’” Dr. Malone says. “‘When it goes, it’s really going to go.’”
Dr. Bruce Malone, President of the Texas Medical Association, conveyed the immediacy of the problem and its unfortunate consequences just yesterday:
"Our Medicare participation in Texas has just hit an all-time low; only 51% of doctors accept new Medicare patients. Moreover, the impending SGR crisis will create a massive physician withdrawal from the program. The response will be swift. Earlier cuts were painful but doctors just kept working. Any future cut will be an "office closer" forcing many doctors into retirement. Ironically, a provider shortage will shift costs to taxpayers because a $68 office visit instead will become a $1,200 ER visit. No good news from Texas unfortunately."