Some Lawrence physicians are fed up with the lack of Medicare reimbursements and are cutting off new patients to help make ends meet.
Dr. Matthew Buxton, of Free State Dermatology in Lawrence, is one of them. Since Jan. 1, he hasn't been accepting new Medicare patients.
"It just got to the point where I couldn't continue to increase the number of patients I was seeing at that level of reimbursement," he said. "The increases that we are getting for Medicare patients aren't even meeting inflation. So as time goes on, we are getting reimbursed less and less compared with our costs."
In fact, the Senate approved legislation late Wednesday that would void a 10.6 percent pay cut for doctors treating Medicare patients.
Lawmakers were under pressure from doctors and the elderly patients they serve to void the cut, which kicked in July 1, because of a funding formula that establishes lower reimbursement rates when Medicare spending levels exceed established targets. There are 10,500 Medicare patients enrolled in Douglas County, and 400,000 statewide.
The bill, which was approved by the House in late June, now awaits President Bush's approval. The White House has threatened to veto the measure because of provisions written by Democrats that would reduce payments to private insurers who participate in an alternative program, Medicare Advantage.
Until the legislation passes, 73 doctors and 22 mid-level practitioners at Stormont-Vail HealthCare's Cotton-O'Neil clinic in Topeka won't accept new Medicare patients because of what they called a "draconian cut." They are, however, continuing to care for their current 42,000 Medicare patients and current patients who simply become eligible.
"It's just a huge hit for us. We just didn't feel like we could take that kind of a cut and still continue to take care of those tens of thousands that we are trying so hard to take care of," said Nancy Burkhardt, hospital spokeswoman.
Dr. Donald Hatton, an internist with Reed Medical Group in Lawrence, said doctors in his practice are not taking new Medicare patients because of inadequate reimbursements; some have even left for jobs in government or hospitals. With about 75 percent of their business coming from Medicare patients, it can be tough to remain sustainable, he said.
Hatton, chairman of the Board of Governors for the American College of Physicians, predicts if long-term changes aren't made in the Medicare system, there will be an access issue.
Dick Lind, 69, said he was surprised when he recently called to make an appointment at Buxton's office and was turned away because of the Medicare cut. He plans to make an appointment with his primary-care physician and hopes that the Medicare cuts don't continue to affect his health care.
"It could be really a serious handicap and very costly to people my age and older if that happens," he said.