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Doctors group warns of less access for seniors

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Scores of doctors will stop seeing new Medicare patients or decrease the number they see if the federal government goes ahead with a proposed cut in their reimbursement rates, the American Medical Association warned on Thursday.

The association is the lead lobbying group for physicians in Washington. It's calling for changes in the formula used to reimburse doctors for more than 7,000 health care services. The formula calls for a cut of about 4.6 percent next year.

About 29 percent of doctors responding to an online survey said they planned to decrease the number of new Medicare patients they see if the cut occurs. Also, 16 percent said they planned to stop accepting any new Medicare patients, the AMA said.

The results of the association's survey are comparable to last year's, when the organization successfully lobbied Congress to void a cut required under the formula.

``Physicians want to treat seniors, but Medicare cuts are forcing physicians to make difficult practice decisions,'' said Dr. J. Edward Hill, the AMA's president.

In recent years, reimbursement rates have held fairly steady. However, doctors are also ordering more procedures per patient, such as lab tests and cardiovascular stress tests, which increases their payments from the government.

A nonpartisan research group, the Center for Studying Health System Change, reported last year that its analysis showed that doctors continued to see new Medicare patients at comparable rates after Congress cut payments by 5.4 percent in 2002.
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