Physicians clinging unhappily to Medicare

At one point, it was beginning to look like the Medicare program was losing traction with doctors. In fact, in the summer of 2008 the Texas Medical Association released a survey concluding that only 58 percent of the doctors in the state were accepting new Medicare patients, down from about 90 percent before 1998. Another frightening result was that only 38 percent of primary-care physicians surveyed were ready for Medicare patients.

By the end of this year, though, the dire warnings seemed a bit hollow. Despite the tough talk, the recession seems to have forced physicians to keep taking Medicare clients, like it or not. In fact, a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change concluded that almost 75 percent of doctors accepted all or most new Medicare patients in 2008.

There's no doubt that physicians' willingness to participate in Medicare is fragile, and that the numbers of doctors participating could drop abruptly if the reimbursement equation changes too much. In the meantime, it seems, few providers are in a position to debate the matter. Let's see how the final count comes out for 2009.

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