Kansas City Internal Medicine doctors turn away Medicare enrollees, sparking ethics debate

November 4, 2009

medicare eldersHere’s a question for you: If you had a service to provide — and someone asked you to provide it for free, or at a radically reduced price — would you do it?

No, right?

Now try this on for size: If you were a doctor, and someone asked you to provide a service at a rate that didn’t reimburse you for the total cost of care, would you do it?

In nearly every line of business, one maxim holds true: “If you can’t pay, we don’t play.” So, why should doctors be viewed any different?

That’s the question doctors at Kansas City Internal Medicine, the largest private group practice in Kansas City, Mo., have been asking. For now, most of these doctors, who count 65 percent of their 70,000 active patients age 65 or older, have decided to stop accepting walk-in Medicare enrollees.

Dr. David Wilt, an internist at the group, tells CNN: Medicare doesn’t reimburse physicians enough to cover the cost of care. Matters will only get worse, he adds, if a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians takes place in 2010.

Should physicians be allowed to turn away patients because their funding source is being reduced? On the flip side, does the government have the right in a free-market economy to dictate payment terms to physicians for the performance of services?

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