Friday, February 21, 2014

Cheating Medicare

Hearing my fee, the guest announced that he was on Medicare. I explained that I am not a Medicare doctor, so he would have to pay me up front. Unlike most elderly callers, he preferred another source of care, so I gave directions to a local clinic. I know all the urgent care clinics.

Medicare pays much less than the going rate for a housecall or an office visit. I don’t know any hotel doctor who accepts Medicare. Among the ninety percent of office physicians who bill Medicare, many work hard to tack on extra charges for tests and procedures and length-of-visit to compensate for the low reimbursement. This is cheating, but doctors routinely cheat Medicare. After all, they point out, Medicare cheats them.

Most doctors are conservative, so they blame Medicare’s behavior on stupid government bureaucrats. Being liberal, I blame society. The U.S. is a democracy, and most Americans don’t want to pay enough taxes to finance Medicare adequately. No elected representative, Republican or Democrat, would dream of suggesting otherwise.

As a result, a Medicare bureaucrat behaves like any intelligent person forced to pay bills without enough money. He quibbles, quarrels, delays, discovers errors in the invoice, makes partial payments and sometimes no payment at all. This infuriates doctors but allows the Medicare budget to last out the year. Paying bills promptly would exhaust the money early, infuriating the bureaucrat’s boss. 

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