patients lost the ability to reach physicians at an alarming
rate between 1997 and 2001 - but then their access stabilized
in 2002 and 2003, according to a new survey by the Center
for Studying Health System Change.
proportion of Medicare beneficiaries who reported they had
to delay care or couldn't find care when they needed it
was 9.9 percent in 2003, roughly the same as 1999's level
of 9.8 percent and down sharply from 2001's 11 percent.
But one-fifth of seniors said they faced long waits for
appointments in 2003, up from 14 percent in 1999.
may have gotten used to longer waits for appointments, and
this may explain why fewer patients believe they've "delayed"
receiving care, notes the study ("An Update On Medicare
Beneficiary Access To Physician Services," Issue Brief
Center warns that policymakers risk reducing access to Medicare
once again if steep cuts to physician payments take effect
from 2006 to 2013.
Center's report comes on the heels of a similar report from
the Government Accountability Office that stated Medicare
beneficiaries had improved physician access from April 2000
to April 2002. The percentage of beneficiaries receiving
physician services rose from 42 percent in April 2000 to
46 percent in April 2002, said the GAO report ("Medicare
Fee-for-Service Beneficiary Access to Physician Services:
Trends in Utilization of Services, 2000 to 2002," GAO-05-145R).
proportion of Medicare services performed by participating
physicians increased, and this meant physicians were less
likely to be able to "balance bill" patients for
a charge in excess of the Medicare allowable plus copayment,
the GAO notes.