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Eye on the Issue: Seniors' Access to Doctors

Today, 39 million seniors depend on Medicare to ensure that they have access to doctors. These doctors counsel patients on ways to stay healthy, treat patients when they are sick, and help patients and their families make critical decisions about their health. Unfortunately, Congress is undermining seniors’ ability to find a doctor because it has failed to replace an unstable payment formula that results in steep cuts in how much doctors are paid to treat Medicare patients. As a result, many doctors have made the decision to stop accepting Medicare patients, which puts seniors’ health in jeopardy.

Doctors are scheduled to receive more than a 21 percent pay cut this year. Although Congress temporarily blocked this cut from going into effect through the end of November — just as it has done many times over the last 10 years — it refuses to find a long-term solution that would provide seniors with the peace of mind that they will be able to find a doctor.

Congress’s failure to find a long-term solution to the problem is having serious consequences for seniors. According to a recent study by MedPac, an independent agency that advises Congress on Medicare, nearly 22 percent of beneficiaries who were looking for a new primary care physician reported problems finding one. Surveys show that physicians are limiting the number of Medicare patients they accept because of the instability and uncertainty of Medicare payments.

Seniors have worked their whole lives to earn the right to Medicare and they deserve to know they’ll be able to find a doctor when they need one. That’s why AARP is calling on Congress to protect seniors’ access to doctors by replacing Medicare’s broken physician payment policy with one that stabilizes pay for doctors and rewards those who provide patients with the highest-quality care.

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