No Doctor In the House: New Legislation Calls
For Action To Create Medicare Clinics
February 10, 2010
Juneau, Alaska - Today three Democratic legislators called for
action to address a growing problem for Alaska's seniors. Many
Alaska physicians won't provide medical care for seniors on Medicare.
The effort is supported by AARP's Alaska chapter. "The problem's
been the same, regardless of which party's been in charge in
Washington," said Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). "It's
a major problem that requires action now, not later." Gara,
has sponsored the Medicare and Primary Care Access Act with Reps.
Sharon Cissna and Lindsey Holmes (both D-Anchorage).
"Too many seniors are losing access to their doctors. It's
important that we work towards solutions to this problem, and
this is part of the solution," Holmes said.
"So many seniors find themselves without access to primary
care. Federal solutions seem far away, yet this bill brings action
now on a serious local issue," Cissna, a longtime leader
on health issues, said.
A Federal Problem; a State Solution:
Medicare has under-compensated
medical providers in Alaska for general office visits, or "primary
care", for many years. According to a University of Alaska
study, only 15 out of 75 surveyed Anchorage physicians would
see new Medicare patients, and 20 would not accept Medicare under
any conditions. Senator Mark Begich recently called for a vote
on legislation he's co-sponsored. The legislation, S 1776, would
solve this problem directly by increasing Medicare reimbursement
rates in places like Alaska, where they are too low. A vote on
that legislation was blocked this fall by Senate filibuster rules.
While states are currently precluded under federal law from increasing
Medicare reimbursement rates, federal law does allow states an
option - to help create Medicare clinics. It is one of the few
state approaches allowed under Federal law. Clinics designated
as "community health centers" are allowed, under federal
law, to bill Medicare at a much higher rate, making treatment
at those clinics cost-effective. HB 335 creates a grant fund
to help spur the creation and expansion of Medicare clinics for
patients who cannot find a medical provider to treat them.
"AARP is in strong support of this effort to enable more
Alaska older citizens to have access to a physician. The situation
is critical in many communities and is getting worse every day,"
said Pat Luby, Advocacy Director of the Alaska Chapter of the
AARP. Joan Fisher, who runs Anchorage's main community health
center and has long-sought a solution to this problem, stated:
"Medicare beneficiaries find themselves without a primary
care physician at a time in their life when adequate care and
access is critical. Community Health Centers play a vital role
in serving Medicare patients and solving the primary care health
services shortage throughout Alaska."
Currently at least two Medicare clinics are under discussion.
Dr. George Rhyneer is trying to organize an effort to start an
Anchorage clinic, and Providence Hospital has discussed the possibility
on a clinic as well. It is hoped legislative help might move
projects like these forward.
A prior legislative effort, HB 178, sought to make up for low
Medicare reimbursement rates by granting medical providers a
bonus for seeing significant numbers of Medicare patients. However,
this summer federal officials stated it would likely violate
the federal ban on supplemental Medicare payments.
Download the study:
Hard Is It for Alaska's Medicare Patients to Find A Family Doctor?
By Rosyland Frazier and Mark Foster - University of Alaska Research
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Rep. Les Gara
Rep. Lindsey Holmes
Rep. Sharon Cissna
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