When Medicare Can't Guarantee An M.D.

GENERIC medicare medicaid health doctor medicine CBS/AP

When Army veteran Joe Barry retired to Virginia Beach, the last problem he thought he'd have, was finding a doctor.

He called six different physicians, and, as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, each one told him they no longer were taking new Medicare patients. One receptionist even told him if he needed help, to call Congress.

Barry says he was told, "You should bring it to the attention of your congressman cause it's something the government has to fix."

Dr. Mitch Miller is one of the physicians who turned Barry down. He says for years Medicare has paid physicians less than what it costs for patient care. For example, Miller receives $44 for a Medicare patient visit that costs him more than $50. He's not kicking any patients out, he says. He just can't afford any more.

"It frankly breaks my heart to turn somebody away for economic reasons," says Miller.

Dr. Alvin Ciccone of Norfolk, one of the top family physicians in the country, says Medicare doesn't recognize how time consuming elderly patients have become. He too is declining new patients.

"I feel horrible," Ciccone says, about having to turn down the most vulnerable patients out there. "I feel horrible, but I can't make it at two patients an hour."

According to a recent survey by the American Medical Association, almost half of the nation's doctors say they plan to limit the number of new Medicare patients they will take this year. However, in some communities, that understates the problem.

At the Norfolk senior center counselor Bobby Jarrell has to spend part of every day helping the elderly find doctors.

Jarrell estimates that about 95 percent of physicians in the area are not accepting new Medicare patients.

Congress knows that after years of budget cuts, Medicare is losing doctors. Recently, it gave physicians a raise of 1.6 percent - between 80 and 90 cents.

"Now, come on," Ciccone says with a grimace.

Almost 90 percent of all American doctors still participate in Medicare but the number is dropping.

For Barry and other seniors, Medicare might promise health care, but what it can't guarantee is a doctor.
  • Jaime Holguin

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