When illness strikes, it’s comforting to know that your local doctor is there to assist you. A local doctor that specializes in delivering the care that you and your loved ones need without costing you the increased expenses associated with unnecessary emergency room visits and inpatient care. A local doctor that cares about the patients they serve and who works in the best interests of their community, large or small, here in the Sunshine State.
However, the Medicare program has become increasingly unstable in recent years due to inaction by policymakers in Washington. This, in turn, threatens access to care and has led to increasingly high costs throughout our already broken health care system. Simply put, we cannot afford to have an unworkable Medicare program in a state where population growth is largely driven by vulnerable seniors who need access to their local doctors more often than most. Consequently, fixing the problems plaguing the Medicare program must happen sooner rather than later. If policymakers in Washington don’t act, local doctors will face increasing pressure to consolidate, shutter their practices in rural areas, or relocate elsewhere out of necessity.
Medicare should treat doctors the same way it treats hospitals, nursing homes and other entities that serve the most vulnerable members of our state. Unfortunately, this is not currently how the Medicare program operates. Instead, while other Medicare payment rates are updated to account for the growing expenses that all businesses across our state are experiencing, Medicare pays 2001 prices to doctors for the essential care they deliver in 2023. This is exacerbating our state’s physician shortage and will steer the next generation of doctors away from the Sunshine State.
Thankfully, bipartisan legislation in Congress would address this very issue and kickstart the process of further improving the Medicare program. This legislation, known as the Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act (H.R. 2474), will enable doctors to receive the critical resources they need to deliver the best care possible to patients, and we encourage members of Congress to support the measure, which already has co-sponsors from both parties in Florida and across the country.
If local doctors are given these crucial resources, they will be empowered to better help their patients avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital admissions, more appropriately use nursing home resources, and attain better health in general. This will ultimately lower health care costs for all Floridians by allowing patients to receive care in the most affordable setting possible.
Floridians deserve no less.
Doctors want a better health care system that serves the best interests of society. That is, a Medicare program that delivers economic fairness, exercises fiscal restraint, and promotes innovation, all without restricting or limiting access to care. And, moreover, all of this should be done while benefiting the nearly 5 million Medicare beneficiaries that occupy our state.
Ensuring that patients continue to have access to local doctors should be a top priority in Washington. Fixing our broken Medicare program and, for that matter, the broader health care system will take time and effort, but this is one step that can be taken immediately. Treating local doctors like all other Medicare participants so that our most vulnerable patients can continue to visit the highly trained clinicians they trust with their lives is utterly essential. But, to ensure this continues to happen both in the near future and for generations to come, we should begin by passing the Strengthening Medicare for Patients and Providers Act. In doing so, Floridians will experience superior quality, more affordable and more accessible health care.
Dr. Antonio Wong is a family medicine physician and president of the Broward County Medical Association.
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