Despite increasing concern over Medicare beneficiaries' access to physician care, a study published in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine shows that doctors are abandoning contracts with private insurance at an even faster rate. According to researchers' analysis of data from a national survey run by the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics, doctors reported about a 3 percent drop in Medicare acceptance from 2005 to 2008--surprisingly low compared to the 5.5 percent drop for privately insured patients during the same time period.
Although the revelation that just 88 percent of physicians were left accepting new patients with traditional insurance--vs. 93 percent of doctors accepting Medicare--was unexpected, lead author Dr. Tara Bishop, an internist and assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told NPR that physicians may be rejecting the high administrative hassles and delays associated with private insurance.
Bishop and others expressed concern that the trend will worsen under the increased demands for healthcare under health reform's coverage expansion in 2014.
"At a moment when the country is poised to achieve near-universal coverage, patients' access to care could be a casualty of the collision between the medical profession and the insurance industry," Bishop said.
On the payer side, Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, told Bloomberg News that health plans' increased scrutiny of who they contract with may also be leading physicians to accept fewer patients, adding that doctors must do a better job of filing requests for payment correctly and on time.