Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma physicians are asking Congress to fix the national payment formula for Medicare that they say threatens care for senior citizens and the disabled.

Oklahoma State Medical Association president Dr. K.A. Mehta said Wednesday that declining physician payments are forcing doctors to limit the number of Medicare patients they can accept. Mehta said that means less access to health care for the patients.

Right now, there are about 600,000 Oklahomans receiving Medicare benefits. That funding could be cut by as much as 21 percent. That could also affect the state's 200,000 Medicaid patients as well. Even though Medicaid is a state program, reimbursement rates are tied to Medicare, and that program could be cut by about 19 percent.

"That is going to restrict the access to health care access for a majority of Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE patients. TRICARE patients are the military and their family," Mehta said. "The cost has gone up by 25 percent, but our reimbursement rate has remained the same, which means that we are already at a 25 percent disadvantage," Mehta said.

Oklahoma County Medical Association president Dr. Larry Bookman said doctors want Congress to adopt a reimbursement system that reflects the true cost of providing care. That's why doctors across the country are asking those covered by Medicare to sign an online petition to get congress to fix the funding formula. Officials hope to gather at least 1 million signatures by mid-May.

"We're asking congress, this is ridiculous. Let's get this fix so we can continue to see our most vulnerable patient population in Oklahoma," said Ken King, Executive Director-Oklahoma State Medical Association.

Which for Oklahoma, it could soon be a reality.

"Many physicians have already expressed how they can opt out of Medicare, and that is going to be bad news for our patients," Mehta said.

The funding fix for the program was in the House version of health care bill, but it was the Senate version of the bill that passed, and the funding was not included in that version.