KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Fewer N.C. Physicians Seeing Medicare Patients; Hospitals Try To Cut Medicare Readmissions

News outlets look at a variety of issues surrounding Medicare.

WRAL: "The national health care reform law, which was was designed to provide insurance coverage and access to physicians to more Americans, has no provision to help a group already having difficulty finding doctors to treat them – senior citizens. According to a report from Cigna Government Services, which processes Medicare claims in North Carolina and 17 other states, more than 80 physicians in North Carolina have opted out of Medicare in the past year. That's in addition to the 100 physicians statewide who stopped seeing Medicare patients in 2008, the report states. … The gap has grown every year … as salaries and overhead costs have increased while the reimbursement rate under Medicare has remained relatively flat" (Chou, 8/23).

Modern Healthcare: "HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced $32 million in funding to help improve access to healthcare services for rural Americans. The funding will be allocated to seven programs that are administered by the Office of Rural Health Policy in HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. ... According to HHS, more than $22 million will go toward the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, which supports improvements in healthcare quality in communities served by critical access hospitals; efforts to improve the hospitals' financial and operating performance; and the development of collaborative regional and local delivery systems. More than 1,300 hospitals have converted to critical access hospital status with help from this program, HHS said" (Zigmond, 8/23).

MarketWatch: "About one in five Medicare patients suffers complications or other health problems that send them back to the hospital within a month of going home -- and a lack of communication between hospitals and patients about follow-up care is a major reason why, experts say. But with new Medicare rules coming soon that will slash payments for return visits, hospitals nationwide are testing a simple solution to a problem that can lead to higher costs and sicker patients: They're spending more time on discharge instructions to patients and their doctors and other caregivers. … Medicare spends $17.4 billion annually on unplanned readmissions that occur within 30 days of the patient being discharged, according to a 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine" (Martin, 8/24).

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