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Monday, October 25, 2010

Medicare participation: Why, indeed?

As I write this entry, the "SGR Countdown" on the Family Practice Management (FPM) home page has dropped to less than 40 days. And it reminds me of a question that a family physician asked awhile back: "Why would any physician in his [or her] right mind want to participate in a system such as this [Medicare]?"

Why, indeed? I doubt it's for the money. I understand that Medicare is the best payer in some parts of the country (a scary thought as we head into Halloween!).  However, the fact is that the current Medicare physician fee schedule conversion factor ($36.8729) is less than it was in 2004. 

I also doubt that it's because of the simplicity and ease of interaction with Medicare. As documented in this blog and elsewhere, just getting enrolled in Medicare can be a nightmare, and once you're in, there are the myriad of other rules and regulations with which physicians must comply.

So, why do family physicians participate in Medicare? The most common answer that I've heard is that they do it for their Medicare patients. There is a relationship and obligation there that family physicians are reluctant to break. 

What confuses me about this answer is that the law allows physicians to privately contract with those patients and continue to treat them without being bound by Medicare's rules or low payments. Both FPM and the AAFP web site explain what this option involves and provide sample forms for pursuing the option. It does not seem difficult, and yet, the last that I heard, only about 10,000 of the more than 850,000 physicians in the U.S. had elected to pursue this option. 

In the end, I do not have a good answer to the question, although I still think it's a good question. What do you think?

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The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of FPM or the AAFP. Some payers may not agree with the advice given. This is not a substitute for current CPT and ICD-9 manuals and payer policies. See Terms of Use.

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