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Medicare vs. Private Insurance

NPR reports:

There’s a lot of chatter about how public policy can influence doctors’ decisions about which new patients to see and which to turn away. One big question: Does the squeeze on Medicare that has limited the program’s pay increases to doctors lead them to see fewer of those patients?

Some researchers decided to look at recent data for clues. And they found a slight drop — a little less than 3 percent in the proportion of doctors taking new Medicare patients between 2005 and 2008.

But that drop, which still left 93 percent of docs taking new Medicare patients, wasn’t much compared with the hit for patients with typical private insurance.

For those people, there was a 5.5 percentage point drop, leaving about 88 percent of physicians who would add them as new patients.

The greater decline in doctors accepting private insurance was “unexpected,” the researchers write in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, where the findings appear.

What gives? After all, Medicare pays less than private insurance– in theory doctors should be dropping Medicare patients first, in favor of the bigger paychecks from private insurance. One theory put forth in the NPR article is that doctors are getting sick of the administrative hassles that come with private insurance– Medicare doesn’t always pay the most, but it’s reliable.

More information would be helpful here, but unfortunately the White House has announced that it’s halting a survey that would have used secret shoppers to call doctors offices to see how difficult it was to get appointments.

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