Medicare Cuts for Mesothelioma

You may have heard that Medicare cuts are to blame for the shortage of primary care physicians in America. There’s some truth in that, but not in the way you probably think.

Most graduate medical education in the United States is funded, at least in part, by Medicare. Back in 1996, Medicare decided it would pay for no more than 100,000 medical residencies a year, and that number hasn’t changed since. This in turn has limited the number of medical school graduates who can complete residencies and become certified doctors.

Why did Medicare decide to limit  funding of residencies? Believe it or not, a few years back there were predictions the nation was educating too many doctors. Medical journals of the 1980s and 1990s warned that there would be a glut of doctors in America. Some doctors worried the competition would erode their income. The American Medical Association and other professional organizations actually lobbied for the cap on the number of funded residencies.

Now the shortage is so acute that the only reason many of us don’t have to wait many weeks for a doctor’s appointment is that so many Americans have been without medical insurance. But the new health care reform bill is expected to enable many millions of Americans to obtain insurance who don’t have it now.

Further, that other famous glut called the Baby Boom generation is getting older and will need more medical services in the years ahead.

And even further, of those doctors who do finish their residencies and become licensed to practice medicine, fewer and fewer are becoming family practice physicians. There are several reasons for the shortage of primary care doctors, but most of them boil down to the fact that primary care doctors work longer hours and get paid less for it than doctors in other areas of medicine.

What about cuts to the Medicare program you might have heard about? Medicare is a critical concern to people suffering from asbestos cancer, because the cancer can take decades after exposure to asbestos to develop. Many patients receiving mesothelioma treatment are on Medicare and are no doubt worried that their doctors will stop accepting Medicare.

First, understand that the recent cuts in Medicare payments to physicians were not part of the health care reform bill, although I’m sure many people believe otherwise. Here’s the real story:
Many years ago, Congress established a payment formula for Medicare that was supposed to keep costs under control.  Reimbursements to physicians were supposed to be trimmed a little every year. But beginning in 2003, Congress voted to defer those cuts every year — until this year.

And now all those deferred cuts are going to be imposed all at once. and Medicare fees are being cut by more than 21 percent. In June Democrats in Congress tried to pass “doc fix” legislation that would have prevented these cuts, but Republicans blocked it. And yes, if you are on Medicare, you should be concerned.