08:22am Saturday 30 May 2020

Analysis documents rural physicians' willingness, worries in accepting Medicare patients

The analysis was documented in a policy brief issued by the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. RUPRI is a national policy institute that helps policymakers understand the rural impacts of public policies and programs. The brief, titled “Medicare Beneficiary Access to Primary Care Physicians‚ Better in Rural, but Still Worrisome,” can be accessed online at: http://cph.uiowa.edu/rupri/.

“The willingness of rural primary care physicians to accept new Medicare patients is critically important to rural America’s elderly,” said Keith Mueller, Ph.D. (photo, left), co-author of the brief, director of the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis and professor and head of the UI Department for Health Management and Policy. “This policy brief explains rural physicians’ willingness to accept patients and it highlights the potential difficulties rural physicians face in treating Medicare beneficiaries.”

Using data from the Center for Studying Health System Change 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, the brief stated that 65 percent of rural primary care physicians would accept new Medicare patients versus 52 percent of urban physicians.

Rural physicians surveyed cited “having enough patients” as the most frequently reported reason for accepting no new Medicare patients. While “inadequate reimbursement” was urban physicians’ most frequently reported reason for accepting no new Medicare patients, according to the brief. Overall, the hierarchy of reasons to accept some or no new Medicare patients differed between rural and urban physicians.

“Rural physicians reasoning for not accepting new Medicare patients reflects a long-understood rural reality‚ the supply of physicians is inadequate given the demand for services,” Mueller said.

The brief also found “inadequate reimbursement” was of at least some importance to 90 percent of all the physicians surveyed.

The American Academy of Family Physicians reports the percentage of family physicians accepting new Medicare patients has been declining since the year 2000. In a recent survey from the academy regarding potential policy changes that would result in a Medicare physician payment cut, more than half‚ or 62 percent‚ of respondents said they may be forced to stop seeing Medicare patients if the payment cuts were implemented.

“Based on our analysis, rural health care would benefit from policies that both support rural practices as an attractive place to work and a payment rate that makes treating Medicare patients economically viable,” Mueller said. “By accepting Medicare patients in their primary care practice, rural physicians have a tremendous opportunity to prevent illness and treat patients before disorders escalate.”

The policy brief was funded, in part, by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, Health Resources and Services Administration.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4258 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Hannah Fletcher, 319-384-4277, [email protected]

PHOTOS/CAPTIONS: For a low-res image of Keith Mueller, visit http://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/faculty-staff/faculty/directory/[email protected]. For high-res images, contact Hannah Fletcher, 319-384-4277, [email protected].

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