Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will hold a women-only forum in Hudson, Wisconsin “to bolster his support among women.” But McCain’s repudiation of the Senate’s recent compromise to halt the cut in Medicare physician reimbursement rates undermines women’s access to affordable health care.
While the senator said he supported providing “proper reimbursements to Medicare physicians,” he opposed the compromise because it tried to eliminate the government’s overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans. Thus, when given the choice between protecting womens’ access to physicians and continuing to subsidize private insurance companies, McCain agreed with President Bush and chose the latter.
But low Medicare reimbursement rates have already led many OBGYNs to stop accepting Medicare patients. In 2002, for instance, The Los Angeles Times reported that some Medicare patients “had a hard time finding a gynecologist and an ophthalmologist”:
Three or four OB/GYN offices told her they were not accepting new Medicare patients. Finally, she persuaded a friend’s doctor to take her. But now the 75-year-old is afraid her new doctors will drop her. “You’ve got to be careful not to step on your doctor’s toes,” Bowers said. “They don’t want to mess” with Medicare because of the low payments.
Similarly, in 2003, OB-GYN News reported that “Ob.gyn. practices are being affected as physicians nationwide are rethinking treating Medicare patients” and have “begun limiting the number of Medicare patients they take on…or–in some cases–have stopped caring for Medicare patients entirely.”
McCain’s choice to side with the insurance companies would have further restricted women’s access to doctors who simply couldn’t afford the lower payments:
- “Steven Polansky, who’s been an obstetrician and gynecologist in Sacramento, Calif., since 1977, said he couldn’t afford a 10.6 percent pay cut from Congress…”We haven’t gotten a raise from anybody in centuries,” Polansky said in an interview. “And it is becoming more and more difficult to run a private practice.”
- “There’s a threshold out there beyond which people can’t keep their doors open,” added Jerry McLaughlin, a Hobbs obstetrician and gynecologist who is the former president of the New Mexico Medical Society.”
- “‘We can’t compete with other cities,’ said local OB/GYN Dr. Paul Kocay. Some doctors already are moving towards cash-only practices. These ’boutique medicine’ clinics are going to increase if these cuts are enacted. Local doctors are between the 10th and 20th percentile in national salary averages. This could become a crisis situation in Kerrville.”
UPDATE: Steve Benen points out that “the key thing to remember here is that McCain’s record on reproductive rights and sexual health is utterly miserable. His rhetoric is awful, but his record is worse.”