December 11, 2009

Reimbursement Fix Should Be Part of Medicare Buy-In

Expansion Could Limit Access in States with Low Reimbursement Rates

WASHINGTON - Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Tom Udall (N.M.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today highlighting their concerns regarding plans to expand Medicare to Americans between the ages of 55-64 without addressing inequities in current Medicare reimbursement rates. Such an expansion could exacerbate existing provider shortages in states that have low reimbursement rates.

Under the current Medicare system, states with more efficient health care systems are punished with reimbursement rates that lag significantly behind the rates of other states. Because states with low reimbursement rates already face a shortage of providers willing to accept patients on Medicare, an expansion of the program would simply see the same issue expanded to Americans between the ages of 55-64.

"We are concerned that a possible final health care compromise may include a Medicare buy-in program for Americans aged 55-64 without addressing inequities in the current Medicare reimbursement rates," the senators wrote. "We appreciate the rationale underlying the proposed Medicare expansion, but fear that provider shortages in states with low reimbursement rates such as ours will make such a program ineffective, or even worsen the problems these states are experiencing."

To remedy the situation, the senators urged Majority Leader Reid to hold on any expansion unless steps are taken to provide incentives for providers to see more Medicare patients.

The full text of the senators' letter to Majority Leader Reid appears below.