A growing number of doctors are declining to participate in the Medicare health program, due in part to disagreements with the program’s rate policies and an ever increasing list of regulations. The current number of doctors refusing to accept Medicare may still be an immaterial figure; however, this growing trend should be cause for alarm.
For the first time, the agency administering the Medicare program has released figures documenting this trend. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 9,539 doctors opted out of Medicare in 2012. This figure is a substantial increase from the 3,700 doctors who opted out in 2009. When comparing these figures to the total number of physicians who accept Medicare, 685,000 in 2012, the number of doctors opting out of the program seems marginal at best. However, this trend does not stop with physicians simply walking away from the program. Practices are also scaling back their acceptance of new Medicare patients, while others are simply refusing to take any new Medicare patients all together.
Doctors who choose to continue accepting Medicare are faced with difficult decisions. Physicians can choose to participate in the program and simply accept Medicare’s reimbursement rates and regulations, choose to charge up to 10% more than what the program reimburses and force their patients to cover the difference, or can choose to join the increasing ranks of their fellow physicians and walk away from the program all together.