Private-practice doctors fear proposed Medicare changes

by: Peter Daut Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Patients and private-practice doctors are speaking out against proposed changes to Medicare, which they believe would have a major impact on procedures that treat pain.

Every three months, Pamela Ferguson gets epidural injections to treat severe back and hip pain. But she worries proposed cuts to Medicare may soon have her facing a new kind of pain, since the private clinic she depends on could shut down.

"I'm petrified," Ferguson said.

Medicare recently announced that starting next year private-pain management physicians across the nation face a 36 percent cut in payments and 58 percent cut for the most common procedures performed in an office. Doctors said the steep cuts are tied to the new health care law, and could force at least 40 percent of outpatient-based pain physicians to go out of business.

"What it's going to do is run a lot of these physicians out of the private practice setting, and into the hospital, where care is much more expensive and costly both to the taxpayer and individual patient," Dr. Jon French said.

Doctors also warn patient copays in hospitals will be four times higher than private offices, and the average epidural shot would jump from about $50 to $160.

"It'll cost taxpayers an additional $187 million in wasted money," added French.

Ferguson and patients like her are now scrambling to contact lawmakers, hoping to prevent the cuts from taking effect.

"Anyone that has the severe pain that I suffer, they need to have that medicine," she said.

More information can be found at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.