The 10 percent bonus that many primary care practitioners have been receiving to care for Medicare patients will end on Dec. 31. This incentive program, which began in 2011, was meant to address disparities in Medicare reimbursements between primary care physicians and specialists. Medicare generally pays lower fees for primary care visits to evaluate and coordinate patients’ care than for procedures that specialists perform. Doctors who specialize in family medicine, internal medicine, and geriatrics were eligible for the bonuses, as were nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
Since the program began, roughly 170,000 primary care providers have received bonus payments averaging $3,938, according to a 2014 report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC). In North Carolina, approximately $26 million in incentive payments were made under this program in 2012.
Not all primary care practitioners will miss the incentive program, according to a national survey of primary care providers by the Commonwealth Fund and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Only 25 percent of those surveyed said they received a bonus payment; half didn’t know the program existed. Of physicians who were aware of and received Medicare bonus payments, 37 percent said it made a small difference in their ability to serve their Medicare patients, and 5 percent said it made a big difference. However, nearly half – 48 percent — said it made no difference at all.
The majority of primary care doctors, aside from pediatricians, accept Medicare patients, according to the survey. While 93 percent of those practitioners nationwide take Medicare, a smaller percentage, 72 percent, accept new Medicare patients.