Finding a Doctor Who Accepts Medicare

BY Sarah Clune  March 4, 2013 at 4:26 PM EDT

Endless searching. Repeated rejection. Trips to the emergency room when all else fails. The horror stories are familiar to seniors who can’t find a new primary care doctor willing to accept their Medicare coverage.

But just how widespread is the problem? And why are doctors opting out of the program in the first place?

To find out, the PBS NewsHour health unit traveled to Austin, where the Texas Medical Association — one of the few state medical societies tracking the problem — recently found that the number of Texas physicians accepting Medicare patients dropped from 78 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2012..

“Patients are having a much harder time finding a doctor who will accept Medicare, in particular primary care physicians,” said the organization’s CEO Lou Goodman. “In Texas, about four million patients are Medicare, and that number is growing because of the baby boomer generation aging into Medicare.”

Seventy eight-year-old Nancy Martin is one of the seniors who had a tough time finding a physician.

“I felt frustration, disappointment and I would say despair. A lot of days I would get to the point where I would think, ‘I’m never going to find a doctor in Austin,’” she told the NewsHour. It took a full two years for Martin to find one.

But nationally, seniors with Medicare have roughly the same problem finding a new doctor as their counterparts who are privately insured.

“Our recent survey showed very few seniors have trouble finding a doctor will take Medicare,” according to Tricia Neuman, the director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program on Medicare policy. “When we ask seniors in our survey that question, only 3 percent said they had trouble finding a doctor who would take their insurance.”

Our full report will air Monday night on the PBS NewsHour broadcast. Watch a sneak preview above.