On March 1st Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled to be cut by at least 21 percent. The reasoning is that cutting provider costs will contain Medicare spending and provide a clear and veritable means to fund expensive health care reforms being proposed by President Obama and the Democratic majority. Even though these types of unpopular payment cuts have been stopped in the legislature many times before, Democrats refuse to eliminate the proposition entirely because of the fact that it is an easy alternative in a quickly shrinking pool of cost containing measures.
How will cutting payments to physicians help heal our health care system?
The answer is it won’t – and will certainly make matters much worse.
One of the biggest challenges facing the health care system is the shortage of practicing primary care physicians. With fewer doctors, patients have less access to care. A recent article cites a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association which notes that there has been a substantial decline in doctors’ total number of work hours per week in the last decade, coinciding with declining pay rates. In fact, perhaps not surprisingly, the study shows that doctors who worked in cities with higher payment rates worked longer hours than those with lower rates.
Longer wait times and decreasing quality of care will be the only result of fewer physicians taking on more and more patients. One of the main targets of health reform is to improve access to care in the system. So it seems rather counterintuitive for government to create more barriers to achieving that very goal – in fact you could say it’s an attempt to solve a problem by creating an even bigger problem.