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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Medicare Crisis Calls for Leadership

Published December 30, 2010 8:48 AM by Valerie Newitt
 (Editor's note: This guest blog was written by Frank A. Corvino, president and chief executive officer at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, CT. )

The health of older adults nationwide remains in jeopardy now that Congress has failed once again to prevent a proposed 23 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

Instead of making a decision, federal lawmakers voted to postpone the pending Medicare cuts to Jan. 1, 2011, a decision that threatens to undermine the stability of the country's healthcare delivery system.

If the cuts take place, medical groups estimate that thousands of physicians will stop taking new Medicare patients and some would stop participating in Medicare altogether. For example, a survey by the Connecticut State Medical Society estimates that 78 percent of Connecticut physicians plan to limit access to care for Medicare patients if the cuts take effect. At issue is the flawed sustainable growth rate formula that determines physician payments.

This Medicare crisis puts the health status of 46 million older and disabled people into turmoil just when the first wave of baby boomers becomes eligible for Medicare. The number of older Americans will soon reach 49 million, with people over 85 representing the fastest growing segment. The elderly account for 43 percent of all healthcare costs.

The crisis comes as the nation's aging population places new demands on the delivery of healthcare. We have a serious shortage of primary care physicians and geriatricians to care for older adults, who often have chronic medical conditions.

Experts estimate that we need at least 2 million more primary care physicians, geriatricians, nurses, pharmacists, nursing assistants and home health aides to handle the demand. Long-term solutions include developing incentives, such as loan forgiveness programs for medical students who choose to become primary care physicians and geriatricians.

As a nation, we can no longer ignore the challenges that lie ahead to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens receive the high-quality medial care they deserve. The potential damage to the health of millions of older and disabled people is all too real. Federal lawmakers must find the courage to lead our country and find a permanent solution to the Medicare dilemma.

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