Glendale Arizona Leaves Medicare Patients Stranded

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Residents living in Arizona who are on Medicare will no longer be accepted at the Mayo clinic located in Glendale Arizona. About 3,000 Medicare patients who’ve been getting care at a Mayo Clinic facility in Arizona will have to pay out of their own pocket or find another doctor they can work with.

The five primary care doctors at a Mayo clinic in Glendale, Ariz. will stop accepting Medicare with no real warning as of January 1, 2010. Patients in the program who can afford to stay will have to pay $1,500 per year, Mayo spokesman Michael Yardley told the Health Blog. The clinic expects that most of the patients will find another place to get their primary care. “We know it’s been incredibly difficult for our patients,” Yardley said.

Last June President Obama praised and used the Mayo Clinic as an example of high quality care, efficiency while cutting costs below the national average. At that time the Mayo Clinic supported Obama's healthcare reform but as the bill started to take shape, Mayo Clinic later withdrew it's support.

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Early in December 2009, the Senate proposed extending Medicare from 55 to 64, The Mayo Clinic Health Policy Center sent notices to lawmakers criticizing the plan. They said, "it would ultimately hurt patients by accelerating the financial ruin of hospitals and doctors across the country."

According to a Mayo spokeswoman Lynn Closway, the Mayo organization had 3,700 staff physicians and scientists. They treated 526,000 patients in 2008. Last year they lost $840 million on Medicare. “Many physicians have said, ‘I simply cannot afford to keep taking care of Medicare patients,’” said Heim, a family doctor who practices in Laurinburg, North Carolina. “If you truly know your business costs and you are losing money, it doesn’t make sense to do more of it.”

Medicare typically pays doctors lower rates than private insurance companies. That makes some docs reluctant to accept Medicare patients, and can sometimes make it hard for Medicare patients to find primary care. Medicare covers about half the cost of a primary care visit at Mayo, while private insurance typically covers the whole cost, according to Yardley.

“We firmly believe that Medicare needs to be reformed,” Yardley said in a Dec. 23 e-mail. “It has been true for many years that Medicare payments no longer reflect the increasing cost of providing services for patients.”
Mayo will assess the financial effect of the decision in Glendale to drop Medicare patients “to see if it could have implications beyond Arizona,” he said. The new Medicare policy applies only to the Glendale facility, but it eventually could be expanded to other sites where Mayo provides primary care.

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