Will the Senate preserve Medicare beneficiaries' access to care?

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By The Staff

In a few days, the United States Senate will consider legislation to preserve access to quality, affordable and timely health care services for our nation's seniors. As our Senators consider how they will vote on this important legislation, I ask them to keep in mind that patients and physicians are the central tenets of the Medicare program - one cannot function without the other. It is my sincere hope they will choose our state's seniors and disabled and not the special financial interests of the insurance industry.

Since its inception, the Medicare program has focused, promoted and protected the physician-patient relationship. This tenet is stronger today than at any point in the history of the program. Approximately 80 percent of all Medicare benefits are attributable to physicians. This statistic quantifies the important role of the patient-physician relationship and the responsibility physicians have in ensuring that beneficiaries secure the health care services they need.

As physicians, we place the needs and interests of patients above everything else. We are our patients' healer and advocate. This is why physicians pursue their medical education and the practice of medicine. It is also why current laws and regulations are so frustrating to the physician community - they impede our ability to be patient advocates.

Since 2001, physicians participating in the Medicare program have dealt with an uncertain and unstable payment methodology. As a result of this flawed methodology, physician payments will be cut 10.6 percent on June 30. An additional cut of 5 percent is scheduled for Jan. 1, 2009.

In fact, the current payment formula will produce dramatic reductions totaling greater than 40 percent over the next decade if not reformed. No business can be expected to operate under such economic strains. It is becoming increasingly apparent that physicians' ability to participate in the Medicare program is waning.

Our United States Senators have a choice to make. Will they vote to protect access to physicians for our states' Medicare beneficiaries or will they vote to protect the financial interest of the insurance industry?

Jerome Dixon, D.O., MNS, FACOFP