News Releases

Murray Grills Medicare Director Over Medicare Regional Inequity

Jun 12 2002

Tom Scully repeats his view that regional inequity "is not a problem"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) The head of the nation's Medicare program reiterated his view that regional inequities in the Medicare system are not a problem for Seniors.

Appearing before the Senate Labor, Health & Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, the Director of the Center for Medicare Services, Tom Scully, told Senator Patty Murray that "so far, we have not seen, as a matter of access, a major drop-off in access."

Mr. Scully made news in April during a town hall meeting in Bellevue, Washington. After hearing horror stories from seniors unable to find a physician willing to take Medicare patients, Scully shocked the audience by dismissing their concerns about access, saying, "I don't think it's a significant problem for seniors."

During yesterday's hearing, Murray responded, "well, I would just tell you it is an access problem in my state. I was up in Sequim, Washington, a small community with a high number of seniors. And they are livid because of the number of doctors who are refusing to take Medicare patients. And a woman came up to me in a parking lot with a cast on her arm, and told me she had broken her arm. About a month before, a doctor had put a cast on it. She went back, but he's now not taking Medicare patients and she's wondering how she's supposed to get the cast off. This is a huge access problem."

Under the current Medicare program, states like Washington lag far behind the rest of the country in Medicare reimbursements. Washington state receives about $3,900 in annual, per-patient Medicare reimbursements, while the national average is $5,500.

Because Medicare reimbursements rates are so low, many seniors are having trouble finding physicians who will see them under the Medicare program.

According to a survey by the Washington State Medical Association, 57 percent of Washington physicians are either limiting their Medicare patients or dropping all Medicare patients from their practice.

The problem has become so dire, that the Washington Medical, Nurses, and Hospital Associations joined Senator Murray and most of her delegation colleagues in proposing new legislation to fix the regional inequity.

Murray's "MediFair Act" would raise all states to the national average in per-patient Medicare reimbursements. She is currently working with Senate colleagues from other states to build a coalition of support for this important legislation.

Despite Scully's unwillingness to acknowledge the problem of access, Murray reached out to the Bush Administration to find a solution. "You know, I want to work with you on this. I'll work with the Chairman (Sen. Harkin, D-Iowa). I'll work with anybody else, and I'm going to keep talking about this to anyone who will listen," Murray offered.