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California Seniors' Health At Risk After U.S. Senate Vote, Family Physicians Say

September 23, 2017

Family physicians statewide warn that the 10.6% Medicare cut in payments to doctors taking effect July 1 puts California's seniors' health on the line. "The Senate's refusal to block the cuts yesterday sounded the death knell for access to physicians for thousands of people in our state," said Jeffrey Luther, MD, president of the 7,000-member California Academy of Family Physicians.

"Hundreds of my colleagues have already been forced by economic factors to stop seeing new Medicare patients, stop seeing Medicare patients entirely, or actually close their practices," Luther explained. "Medicare now pays less than it costs a doctor to treat the patient. Out of compassion, we have personally subsidized care for our patients, but this business model is unsustainable."

Family physicians from Grass Valley to San Diego say that as fewer physicians can afford to treat Medicare patients, seniors across the state will have to travel long distances and knock on many doors in hopes of finding the health care they need. The Medicare cuts come at a time when fuel prices and the cost of living are escalating and the state of California plans a 10% cut in Medi-Cal payments effective July 1. Like other businesses, physicians' practices cannot simply absorb a 10.6% decrease in fees for Medicare and 10% for Medi-Cal.

"In Grass Valley, for example, primary care physicians have closed their practices one after another, because the economics of caring for Medicare patients, among others, were just impossible," Luther said. "Private practice physicians and clinics across the state are struggling to keep their doors open as the federal 10.6% Medicare cut takes effect the same day the state's 10% Medi-Cal payment cut to physicians also hits. As physicians, we dedicate our professional lives to keeping people healthy and, when they're ill, helping them recover. Now the federal government is threatening patients' access to that care, just as Medicare enrollment is swelling. Where will the millions of Baby Boomers now entering system find care?"

A House-passed bill (HR 6331) that would delay the reduction in Medicare physician fees failed by one vote to receive the 60 votes in the Senate required to gain cloture yesterday. 'Gaining cloture' means debate would have been brought to a close, thus pushing the Senate toward a vote on a bill. California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer supported the Senate's effort to stop the Medicare cuts, and the House passed the measure by a veto-proof margin earlier this week.

The bill is similar to a measure (S 3101) by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that also failed to receive enough votes to invoke cloture.

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