Correction to This Article
The article said a survey found that 29 percent of Medicare recipients had problems finding a primary-care physician, compared with 17 percent of younger people who were privately insured. The finding referred only to people who were looking for a new primary-care physician.

On Medicare And Scorned By the Docs

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, April 6, 2008

When Pamela Baldwin moved from the Washington area, she never thought she would have trouble finding a doctor who would accept her as a new Medicare patient.

A former attorney with the Congressional Research Service, Baldwin was happy with her decision to relocate to a suburb of Raleigh, N.C. Housing costs were lower, and she was near one of her sons. But the move came with a distressing side effect.

When she had lived in the Washington area, she was comfortably established with all the doctors she needed.

"When I moved down here, I thought the only difficulty would be in finding good ones," she said. "But it turned out that I would call a place and say, 'I have Med -- ' and they wouldn't even let me finish."

Since I started writing this column, I have heard from other readers who have had problems finding doctors who would accept them as new Medicare patients. I ran into the same problem when my mother moved up here from Texas. When I tried to schedule an appointment for her with my longtime general practitioner, his staff was unequivocal: no new Medicare patients.

For most people, the transition to Medicare at age 65 is fairly seamless. By all accounts, the odds are that your doctor will continue to treat you once you become a Medicare patient.

"It would be very unusual for a physician to say, 'I'm going to stop seeing you now because you are on Medicare,' " said Cecil B. Wilson, former chairman of the American Medical Association's board of trustees.

But Medicare recipients who move, or who need a new doctor, sometimes find that the doors are closed.

The most recent survey for the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent congressional agency, found that 29 percent of Medicare beneficiaries had problems finding a primary care doctor, compared with 17 percent of younger patients who were privately insured.

On the other hand, more of the privately insured younger patients had problems finding a specialist than did Medicare beneficiaries.

Most doctors do participate in Medicare. About 95 percent of all physicians are enrolled, said Herb B. Kuhn, deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But there is a national shortage of physicians at a time when the demand for medical services is growing, according to Wilson, who is an internist in Winter Park, Fla. In addition, some practices limit the number of their Medicare patients because Medicare reimbursements have not kept up with inflation.

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