Access to quality physicians under Medicare is going to get worse before it gets better. In 2013 Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals, nurses, therapists, medical suppliers, and drug providers will be reduced by two percent. “The new budget cuts could lead to serious access-to-care issues for patients,” says American Medical Association President Jeremy A. Lazarus, M.D.
With this in mind, here are some tips that will help you find a good doctor who does take Medicare.
- Move to a rural area or one with a lot of seniors. This may seem extreme, but when medical care is a high priority to you, it may be worth it. If you live in a big city it’s much harder to find doctors who accept Medicare. Big-city practitioners have a much larger patient pool to choose from, and can afford to cherry-pick patients who have private insurance or who can pay out of pocket. In rural areas doctors have to take Medicare or they won’t have patients at all. Where there is a preponderance of seniors in an area, like South Florida or Arizona, the local doctors are likely to take Medicare.
- If you’re considering a Medicare Advantage plan, review the plan details. Find out how many doctors in your area take that plan and if the doctors are taking new patients. Don’t sign up for a plan that local doctors don’t take, even if it’s the cheapest.
- Go on Medicare.gov. and do a provider search. Medicare.gov has a new and improved physician finder tool on its site.
- Call the 800 number for your state’s SHIP (State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Programs), which you’ll find on the back of the Medicare & You booklet all Medicare recipients get. Ask for assistance.
- Network, network, network. Ask your friends who they use. Ask everyone you can, like nurses, pharmacists, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations at a hospital.
- Do research online. There are many doctor review sites that review physicians in specific areas. You may get information on them about which doctors take Medicare. If there’s nothing specific about their Medicare policy, call and ask.
- Be persistent. Many primary care physicians who take Medicare will tell you they aren’t taking new patients. If you are told this when you call, ask to be put on a waiting list, and keep calling. Eventually you’ll get an appointment.
- Be willing to travel to find a good specialist. There is a shortage of specialists in certain areas, and you may have to cast a wide net to find a top-rated specialist who is willing to take Medicare.
- See the physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner at a large practice if you can’t get in to see an M.D. Once you’re a patient at that practice, you’re more likely to get in eventually to see one of their physicians.
- Be willing to pay up front and be reimbursed. One top doctor in his field who practices at a nationally known hospital charges Medicare rates but requires that patients pay up front. His office submits invoices to Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans, which reimburse the patient. This procedure is rather cumbersome and unorthodox, but it works. Don’t assume that doctors only care about money. This particular physician could easily charge five times what Medicare pays, but he doesn’t feel that quality care should be only for the rich.