Your access to health care depends on Congress

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Our state faces a serious shortage of primary-care physicians. In fact, 55 counties in Georgia are now classified as primary care health shortage areas.


That's not good. Research has consistently shown that without the primary-care physicians who help you stay healthy, take care of you when you get sick and work with you to manage a chronic health problem, you have a greater chance of being hospitalized, developing potentially life-threatening problems and shortening your lifespan.

Why are so many counties going without enough primary-care physicians? The answer is complex, but a major contributor is the way we pay primary-care doctors for the services they provide.


Doctors' offices are vital to their communities, but they also are small businesses that must generate enough income to keep their doors open. For seven years - since 2000, when primary-care doctors saw an average 7 percent drop in their businesses' income - federal Medicare policy has been driving existing primary care doctors offices out of business and discouraging medical students from choosing a career in family medicine or general internal medicine.


For seven years, annual changes in Medicare reimbursement have either stagnated or dropped from the previous year. For seven years, Medicare reimbursement to physicians has failed to match inflation. In fact, the average practice revenue for primary care doctors plummeted 21 percent in 2005, according to a medical economics survey. And although primary care doctors saw a 2 percent Medicare reimbursement increase in 2006, annual inflation that year was 2.5 percent.


And even worse, most major insurers use Medicare's calculation to determine what they pay your doctor. No matter which way primary-care physicians turn, they cannot generate the business income they need to keep their doors open.

This year, Medicare will make the problem worse. Without congressional action this spring, federal health policy will require a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare's physician reimbursement rates on July 1, 2008 and an additional 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2009.


We've heard about this before. That's because, each year, Congress fails to change the Medicare formula. Instead, they choose temporary Band-Aids that postpone the inevitable.


That approach allows Congress the luxury of short-term planning. But it worsens the uncertainty for Medicare beneficiaries. Elderly and disabled patients do not have short-term health issues. They cope with an average of five chronic conditions that, if not properly treated and monitored, can cascade into life-threatening complications. Without a stable Medicare system on which doctors can predict revenues, these elderly and disabled people cannot be certain their physician will be open for business when they need medical care.


You can do something about it. Congress needs to hear from you. Contact Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and your local U.S. House member, and tell them to support legislation that provides adequate reimbursement for the care you, your family and friends receive from your doctor.

The writers are, respectively, a family physician in Ocilla, and president-elect of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians; and a general internist in Thomson, and vice president of the Georgia Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Comments (10) Add comment
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patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 04/20/08 - 05:41 am
0
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The answer is a state

The answer is a state operated clinic for those that wish to join in and contribute to this kind of system. Then the government can get out of the rest of the health care and insurance business and let market forces determine price and services for those that don't want their "help". It would provide a total "pro-choice" system for all.

Bizarro
13
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Bizarro 04/20/08 - 06:37 am
0
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Foreign physicians travel

Foreign physicians travel from Asia, Europe, Russia, etc to the U.S. to learn the newest techniques and improvements in medical care-you don't see American M.D.s traveling there to learn. With national health care you won't see that for long as we become another mediocre health care provider. Greed drives excellence better than altruism so a free market will work better than any socialized system-just human nature.

I4PUTT
5
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I4PUTT 04/20/08 - 06:43 am
0
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Well said Bizarro! The answer

Well said Bizarro! The answer is never the government. I have this image in my head of going to the DMV for emergency surgery or a heart attack. Please take a number...........

soldout
1283
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soldout 04/20/08 - 06:43 am
0
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Another solution is another

Another solution is another medical approach called NAET. You still need doctors for trama emergency room situations and some surgery but most other health care can be handled cheaper and easier by those trained in NAET. 80% of the work doctors now do would be eliminated and at least 90% of all medications would not be needed. Disease is a process where the body is trying to fix itself and it is better to find the source of the problem rather than cover the symptom with medication.

When a bone is broke it is reset and allowed to heal istead of taking medications to cover the pain. That is a correct process but most disease doesn't get this process. High blood pressure is a symptom of a problem and not a disease. It is the method the body uses to deal with the problem. Medication lowers the blood pressure numbers. If it fixed the problem then you could stop taking it after a while.

Some doctors are taking this new approach and as more do there won't be a shortage of doctors but there will be an surplus.
The doctors can do the technical kind of body repair that they are good at.

DeborahElliott2
4
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DeborahElliott2 04/20/08 - 07:20 am
0
0
Don't tell me you didn't know

Don't tell me you didn't know that one day your food will cost you a days wages and gas will be even more expensive to drive your car, and lets not forget my personal favorite, We will only have ONE government to oversee ALL nations. If you really honestly don't believe in God, well, don't tell me you didn't know!

KSL
144927
Points
KSL 04/20/08 - 11:15 am
0
0
In a free marketplae you CAN

In a free marketplae you CAN have the best doctor.

dani
13
Points
dani 04/20/08 - 11:25 am
0
0
The more that government gets

The more that government gets involved, the less doctors we will have. Why go into huge debt to earn a degree and then have to work long, hard, endless hours for pennies?

cdl
0
Points
cdl 04/20/08 - 01:37 pm
0
0
The only way our system will

The only way our system will ever be corrected is to not reimburse the cardiologist as much for 3 hours of stent work as a family doc makes in a month. What is the cost per knee or hip for the orthopedist and anesthesiologist versus the cost for the family doc for caring for the whole patient. It is not an issue of preventative care, but an issue of how much and when to pay for the procedures like the above. The promise of the 70s to create a family doc driven system was a lie, is a lie now and will remain a lie. Please beware all you young aspiring and smart kids. FPs will be replaced by superficially trained, cheap nurses. Especially in states like Alaska where they are poorly controlled. There is no future for the family doc unless you like being grossly underpaid and like fighting just to get paid. If you are smart enough to be a doc you can do anything and there is more money in law or business.
The future of medicine is continued super rich technology / procedure driven specialists augmented with nurse practitioners. It will be devoid of someone who knows you and your family and who has proven trustworthy, but your medical records will be computerized and centralized for the insurance companies to steal. They lick their chops to get everyone's records so they can be sure to only insure those without genetic tendency to illness. Your medical records are worth billions to them. They will steal them. Once centrally computerized records cannot be truly protected forever.

johnsmith
9
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johnsmith 04/20/08 - 07:51 pm
0
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grouse, it does not work in

grouse, it does not work in other countries. People die in other countries waiting months for procedures that happen here in days, regardless of your ability to pay. It's happened to friends of mine, which is to be expected, since it happens to tens of thousands of people a year in France and Spain, alone...

KSL
144927
Points
KSL 04/20/08 - 10:05 pm
0
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Cuba ain't that great either.

Cuba ain't that great either. Otherwise, why so much under the table spending for preferential treatment? Get this, no matter where you are, the more money you have to spend, the better the care you will get, especially in the socialist system.

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