Medicare to Reward Doctors Who Spend More Time with Patients

In an attempt to optimize patient care, a Medicare change to be enacted in 2007 will increase the reimbursement to doctors who spend more time with patients and their families. Specifically, Medicare will pay more to physicians who discuss their patient’s overall health, how to maintain it and how to improve it. Although there is no guarantee that this will have a meaningful effect on patient care, doctors and patient advocates applaud the move.

Medicare covers people age 65 and older and those under age 65 with certain disabilities. These patients typically experience more health problems and require more medications, all of which requires more time with their physician. But the current Medicare fee schedules don’t recognize the need for these patients to have longer visits. Furthermore, Medicare doesn’t reimburse doctors as much as private insurers do, all of which is causing some primary care physicians to no longer see Medicare patients.

Others are more skeptical that the new “reward for face time” incentive will be effective, believing that the length of time a physician spends with a patient depends on the individual physician and how his or her practice is run. In addition, Medicare plans to reduce payments by 5% next year, and it is not known if the reward program will survive after these cuts.

A survey by the American Medical Association found that if the 5% cut is enacted, nearly half of the physicians polled would no longer accept Medicare patients. Medicare says it must make these cuts to offset the increase in the volume of care patients are given.

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, December 10, 2006

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