Senior access to medical care improved after 2001, study finds

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Access to physician services for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older stabilized following a decline between 1997 and 2001, study results show.

About 9.9% of these seniors reported delaying or not getting needed medical care in 2003, compared to 11% in 2001, according to a study released last week by the Center for Studying Health System Changes. Results suggest that the 2002 Medicare physician payment cut of 5.4% did not curtail beneficiary access, the report noted.

"However, with future payment cuts pending, policymakers still need to monitor beneficiary access because physician response to the 2002 cut probably was tempered by expectations that Congress would rescind additional payment cuts," said Paul B. Ginsburg, HSG president.

The privately insured near-elderly, ages 55-64, mirrored the trend for Medicare seniors during the stabilization from 2001 through 2003, and that group's spike in access problems in 2001 was comparable to that seen in Medicare beneficiaries, the study found.